You might think technology and age-old traditions are in conflict. In fact, where Bible translation is concerned, they go hand in hand. Rather than replacing traditions such as storytelling, music and dancing or visual art, modern technologies support these valuable traditions and preserve them for future generations.
Printed copies of the Bible are no longer the be-all and end-all. These days Wycliffe Bible Translators and our partners are involved using technology to produce Scripture in many different formats, and to help preserve local culture.
The man in the picture above speaks one very old language being supported by modern technology: the Naro language, a click language spoken in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa by 12,000 people. The Naro Bible was first produced in printed form, but very few Naro speakers could read it. On listening to an audio Bible like the one in the picture, another Naro speaker said, ‘For the first time the Bible makes sense, and it feels as if God is talking to me.’
Many cultures around the world have primarily oral rather than literary traditions and are better suited to audio Bibles. Other cultures may have a long history of communicating important things through visual art; they connect most strongly with a story told through culturally authentic artwork. Deaf language communities all over the world communicate using three-dimensional languages that can’t be printed on paper, making video Bibles a good option for them. Speakers of all these languages are benefiting from the technology that makes audio Bibles, video Bibles and local versions of the JESUS Film not only possible but relatively easy to create.
Modern technology has made recording Scripture a different ball game as well. More affordable, user-friendly technology means it has become easier than ever to create audio Bibles, even for remote language communities. And whereas audio Scriptures used to always follow a written version, now teams may start recording Scripture before a written version, to prepare a people group for the full Bible, or even instead of a printed version.
Once the Bible is recorded in a local language, the gospel spreads and its impact is multiplied through inexpensive, solar-powered digital players built to last (the MegaVoice and the Proclaimer). Cheap smartphones are becoming remarkably widespread in most developing countries, and providing phone-friendly Scripture has proved an extremely effective strategy when it comes to spreading the gospel. Mobile-friendly Scripture can be easily shared from phone to phone in a village setting without the use of internet.
A man called Toli cried tears of frustration when he was given a copy of the Bible in his own language – he wanted to engage with God’s word but he couldn’t read. Later, he received a MegaVoice audio player which he spent hours and hours listening to. The result? Toli says: ‘Now the message is clear.’ The people group Toli belongs to – the Pinai-Hagahai of Papua New Guinea – have a history of being a lawless community, who were especially hostile to outsiders. But the launch of the audio Bible in 2008 led to transformation and societal change. According to the Pinai-Hagahai, hearing the Bible in a language they fully understand changed their behaviour towards each other, brought community transformation and opened up new opportunities.
At the end of the day, whatever the method, Wycliffe Bible Translators is excited to be part of bringing the word of God to people across the world. When we hear testimonies from all over the world about Scripture changing people’s lives, we are encouraged to keep at the task until everyone is able to read the Bible in their own language.
‘When we read God’s word in Portuguese [Brazil’s national language], it was like a piece of blank paper. We got nothing from it. But now when we read the Scripture in Kaiwa, it is like a crystal clear stream. We can see to the very depths of it.’
This story is adapted from an article that originally appeared in Evangelicals Now.