An excerpt from a recent issue of our bilingual magazine, Wycliffe News Cymru:

Joan getting started in the Waura village (Left to right: Ruth, Mick Joan and Jackie)

Joan Richards was born in September 1932. Her father, John Richards, was a missionary priest in Iran who subsequently got involved in the translation committee of the Y Beibl Cymraeg Newydd (the ‘New Welsh Bible’). Joan spent her early childhood in Iran before the family returned to Wales for her secondary school years.

She felt called to mission work and in 1965 Joan joined Wycliffe Bible Translators and was sent to her first assignment in Brazil. She first spent a period learning Portuguese and doing training before being sent with another worker, Jackie, to the Waura people in December 1965. Joan’s service with Wycliffe spanned the rest of her life. The majority of this time was spent translating the New Testament into Waura. As there was no written form of Waura, Joan spent her days listening and making tape recordings before transcribing the sounds phonetically to develop an alphabet. They worked on the grammatical structure of the language and then developed resources to teach Waura people to read.

Map drawn by Joan of the location of the Waura village

The team experienced many frustrations in their work, such as the government’s refusal for foreign missionaries to remain in the community. Despite this she saw God’s provision. For example, when a young Waura man broke his leg, he was brought to hospital in the town where Joan lived. Joan supported the hospital staff as an interpreter and spent a long time with him, teaching him to read Waura. He became the first person to read the language. His success led to Waura people putting pressure on the government for Joan to be allowed back into their region.

At the time of Joan’s formal retirement, the New Testament was drafted and checked, and in the following year half of the Waura New Testament was published. Following the death of the person who had taken over the translation work, Joan continued working with translator John and his younger brother Seeri over the internet from Penarth, with occasional visits to Brazil until her death in January 2020.

Stuart Bell, the minister of one of her supporting churches in Aberystwyth, recalls: ‘I can still remember the impact of interviews when I asked her publicly during a service how many people spoke the Waura language – less than 300 at the time. You could hear the cogs whirring in the minds of the congregation that Joan was odd to give herself for such a “small” cause.

Rhifyn diweddar o Wycliffe News Cymru

So the next question was, “Why on earth are you giving your life to such a small language group?” to which her reply came, “I’m looking forward to seeing some of the Waura people gathered before the throne of God along with others from every tribe and language group across the world.” There could be no criticism of that answer.’

Carwyn Graves

If you would like to read more articles about Wycliffe’s work, and especially our Welsh colleagues, please click on the link below:


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