Martin and Eva Horton
Martin and Eva both play a crucial role in the work of Bible translation. He helps build up the foundation of prayer that pushes Bible translation forward, and she produces language maps used from the first stages of translation right through to engaging people with the translated Scriptures. Here they tell the moving story of how God called them to this important work.
Martin: As far back as I can remember, I’d always wanted to be an actor. I’d also wanted to be a stuntman, an air steward and a zookeeper – but I never imagined joining Wycliffe and being the editor of the prayer diary!
I didn’t grow up in a faith-filled family. Somehow, and I don’t know how this happened, I found a book in the house about a boy who went to a Christian youth group, and I strongly believe this provided a foundation for my faith.
My faith journey involved many twists and turns
My faith journey involved many twists and turns, but the short version is that I gave my life to Jesus as the result of an Alpha course in Cambridge in 2003. Later that year, I moved to Sheffield, where I did a year out with the church I’d started attending. God did a lot of healing in my life at the time, but it was also a period where I was able to get an overview of the Bible, the seeds of a passion for prayer, and my first experience of a mission trip.
For the first time I understood God’s gift of grace
Eva: I am from Slovakia. My MSc is in Environmental Technology, and when I finished my study in Bratislava, I started a PhD focused on Environmental Studies in Prague, Czech Republic. I got a scholarship for one year to go to London.
When I was in London, my supervisor there invited me to do Alpha. It was a great way to feel free to ask hard questions and also a time of building great friendships. Soon after that, in the church where I did Alpha, I became a Christian, because for the first time I understood God’s gift of grace.
Martin: My first mission trip was to Indonesia, visiting seminaries and a few churches linked with the Baptist church I was attending. This trip provided a pivotal moment in my young faith, revealing to me the power of prayer. During ministry times, I’d be praying for someone and God was clearly doing something, but it had nothing to do with what I was saying because we didn’t speak each other’s language.
After some time studying in Sheffield, I moved to London, where I gained an MA in acting in TV, film and radio. I graduated and got an agent. Every actor’s dream. The doors appeared to be opening. Or maybe not. About six months later, my agent let me know that she was ending her business. This came as a huge shock to me, but not to God.
Eva: The church where I became a Christian went for a weekend away to the Wycliffe Centre, which at that time was based in Horsley’s Green. I had never heard about Wycliffe before, but I liked that Wycliffe did Bible translation. The history of my country Slovakia is that our writing system was done by people who came to translate the Bible hundreds of years ago, so I could understand how important it was, and I’d never realised that there were so many people that didn’t have the Bible in their language.
The history of my country Slovakia is that our writing system was done by people who came to translate the Bible hundreds of years ago
A few months later, I met Irene Tucker, a cartographer (map maker) for Wycliffe. She came to see me because she had heard that I had asked about who made the maps included in some Bibles. By that time I’d had experience of making maps for my research, which was focused on modelling air pollution, and also from working with satellite images of deforestation over longer periods of time. Irene explained the broader uses of mapping work in the Bible translation process. In many ways she recruited me, although I didn’t know that at the time! Then she asked me if I would like to work for Wycliffe as there were many needs for people who could make maps.
I got an invitation to join a team based in Thailand that needed a map maker. I was hesitant to go, because, though I had experiences in living in other countries, it was always in Europe. So my first answer was no. I think I was too afraid. Then I got an email again, asking me to reconsider my decision, and suggesting that I come to Chiang Mai first for the short term, and after that I would be in a better position to decide whether it was the right place for me to work long term.
I gave it into God’s hands and God provided
I admit I cried, because by that time I had accepted that working with Wycliffe probably wasn’t for me. But I gave it into God’s hands and decided that if he wanted me to go then I’d go. First, I’d need enough funds for the journey. I doubted I’d be able to raise that amount. But God provided. I can’t say it was all smooth and straightforward, but later that year, in 2005, I was flying to Chiang Mai. Looking back, I am very glad I did.
Martin: The year my agent ended her business, I met a girl called Eva. We first met online, and corresponded for a few months as Eva worked in Thailand with Wycliffe Bible Translators. When she was home on furlough, we met in person in her homeland of Slovakia.
One of the things that most intrigued me about Eva was her work as a cartographer, and the fact that she lived and worked in Thailand. Up to that point, I’d never heard of Wycliffe Bible Translators, though the more I got to know Eva, the more my interest in her work grew, so as soon as I had the opportunity, I went to a Wycliffe and Me day (now called Discover Wycliffe).
This was both eye-opening and encouraging, especially as I discovered how I could combine my passion for the arts with my faith. I truly believe that if someone from Wycliffe had come to my church and shared how I could serve God by helping people engage with the Bible through the arts, then I would have signed up there and then. God just happened to use Eva to open the door.
We received news that would change everything
We got married in 2011. The plan was for us to go to Thailand, where Eva would continue with mapping and I would train people to bring the gospel into oral cultures through working with local musicians, actors, dancers, artists and storytellers.
Eva: We planned to go to Thailand in early 2015, but in January, we received news that would change everything. I was diagnosed with cancer. I’d had back pain for some time and we’d thought of all kinds of explanations for the cause – cancer had not been one of them.
I was diagnosed with low grade and high grade Lymphoma. The high grade they planned to treat with chemotherapy. The low grade will be floating around in my bloodstream for the rest of my life. This means it could come back. Maybe not for years, but it could return. The chemotherapy treatment was successful. The tumour, which had been the size of a grapefruit, was now next to nothing. However, our plans to live and work in Thailand were over.
You really appreciate having a God you can be totally honest with
Martin: Thankfully, Eva could continue to work from England, as long as she had her laptop. Now we needed to find out what I was going to do.
I was baffled that we could get so close to fulfilling the calling that God had for us, only for this to happen. At times like this, you really appreciate having a God you can be totally honest with. I wrote in my journal: ‘Your plans for Eva and me have changed. No more Thailand. Where are you calling us to, Lord? UK? Sheffield? Somewhere totally different? Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man plans his course, but you determine his steps.” I pray we will see a glimmer of light... We want to do your will, Lord.’
That glimmer of light came in the form of working for the Wycliffe Church Engagement team, visiting churches in Sheffield to raise awareness of the need for Bible translation. In time, though, another opportunity came up. One which, if I’m being totally honest, knocked me for six – the position of prayer diary editor.
I’d be the first to admit that being organised is not my strongest skill, so being asked to collect and craft four months of prayers, three times a year, terrified me. But God had it all under control, including providing me with a gifted mentor.
I amaze myself at what God accomplishes through me
Issue by issue, I have grown in confidence and ability. And each edition is therefore better than the one before. At times, I’ve felt that it’s only through answers to prayer that I’ve managed to craft all the material by the deadline, as I amaze myself at what God accomplishes through me.
Eva: In our mapping team, we take the data that language surveyors collect and turn it into maps. That sounds simple, but it can actually be quite complex, especially in places like Southeast Asia, where one language can be spoken in several places across a number of different countries – and be known by various different names. So it can sometimes be a bit like detective work to make sure the map is accurate. But personally I really enjoy the challenge of that!
It can sometimes be a bit like detective work
Maps are used all the way through the process of Bible translation. Before translation starts, they give translators a clear picture of where the people who speak the language live. They are used by linguists when working on writing the language down, often for the first time. They are used to guide the work of teaching people to read and write. And knowing where speakers of a language live is essential in shaping the work of encouraging people to engage with the Bible in that language.
The maps our team produces are generally considered the most authoritative language maps available, and are used by both Christian and secular organisations around the world.
Martin: Being able to carry out this role is a great honour. Knowing that prayers I’ve crafted are flowing like incense up to God, and that, in heaven, I may see the answer to some of them, is beyond my imagination.
Martin and Eva Horton
Wycliffe members do not receive a salary for their work, instead relying on the support of fellow Christians and churches to enable them to do what God has called them to.
Martin and Eva need to raise more ongoing support so they can continue to map languages in Asia and raise up prayer for Bible translation around the world.