Catherine Young

Catherine has worked in a number of countries across Asia and is now part of a global leadership team overseeing literacy and linguistics in support of Bible translation and language development.

Our focus is not on the languages people speak, but on the people that speak those languages. Our call by Christ is not only to do a task, but to care about people where they are today. We want people to have hope.

Language has a huge impact on people’s lives. Individuals, communities, and even nations are shaped by the fact that there are barriers to effective education and development because of the languages that people who are experiencing poverty or hunger speak.

We want people to have hope

Wycliffe and its partner organisations work to develop minority languages because we know that God cares about each of the people speaking those languages. We work to translate the Bible because everyone has the right to have the Bible in their language. But we also have a responsibility to look at the big picture of how we serve minority language communities and of the wider impact our language development work. As this video about the ripple effects of Bible translation shows:

Life in all its abundance

When I was a teenager I was part of a girl’s club in Scotland and the motto of the club was ‘life in all its abundance’ (John 10:10). For me, this is what the gospel is and it’s been the basis of my motivation all along. This always includes people knowing the gospel and coming to Christ. It means meeting people where they are and also looking at the bigger picture of how – given our expertise with languages – we serve minority language communities well.

Mission was part of my upbringing and my growth in Christ. When I was very small our family was part of a church plant, so the idea of mission, and sharing the love of God with people, was not an unusual thing but was part of my experience.

Mission was very much part of the life of the church

After graduating from university and completing my training as a teacher of the Deaf, I got my first job as a teacher in Rotherham in South Yorkshire. The headmaster encouraged me to talk to other teachers in the school about the churches they went to.

Orthography (spelling system) testing in South Asia

So I went to an Assemblies of God (AOG) church and the welcome and the work in the community was such that I became part of the church. The church had speakers visiting to talk about mission each month, so talking about the work of God globally, and not just locally, was very much part of the life of the church.

‘I could see you doing that’

On one occasion, my pastor invited Marie McDonagh, who was serving with Wycliffe, to speak about her work. Afterwards, someone just walked past me in church and commented: ‘I could see you doing that.’ And I thought, ‘Yes, I could.’ In fact, all through Marie’s talk I was thinking, this sounds just like something I would love to do – sharing the word of God with people and being able to use my skills, training and experiences.

God had given me so many cross-cultural experiences as he prepared me for this

I began exploring serving with Wycliffe, listening to what God was saying, and talking to my pastor. God had given me so many cross-cultural experiences as he prepared me for this. For example, as a teacher of the Deaf in Rotherham, which is a multi-ethnic, multilingual education authority. My church was very supportive, and they encouraged me to became an associate missionary with AOG. These were all part of my journey into Wycliffe.

Sharing Jesus

I went specifically to work with the Palawano community, who live in a fairly remote area in the southwest of the Philippines. They had a very low literacy rate, and my focus was to be on the literacy side of things. At that point they had no Scripture published and no specific literacy work; now they have the complete New Testament and portions of Genesis.

A Palawano village in southern Palawan

We worked in collaboration with local people and churches to share Jesus with the Palawano people. There was lots of really good collaboration, all focused on how best to serve this community. It was exciting to be part of it for eight years: the gospel work is still continuing there, and a formal government school is using the Palawano language, which makes a huge difference in education. One AOG church in Notting Hill played a really key role in helping fund the training for the first teacher in that school. It was also a great encouragement that people from my church, as well as the AOG national missions director and others in AOG leadership, came to the Philippines to visit and see the work.

The church should be influencing the world

I was asked to be more involved in training and working with the national government on education policy for minority language communities. That is something I felt very strongly about. As well as making a local contribution we also have a wider national contribution to make as we seek to be the people of God and to be influencers in the world. I discussed this with my pastor and the regional and national missions director for AOG at the time and they were very supportive, believing that the church should be influencing the world.

We also have a wider national contribution to make as we seek to be the people of God and to be influencers in the world

As part of this I was then asked to work in another country in South Asia. A lot of international development agencies were working there, but were looking for assistance to work effectively with minority language groups.

Travelling by boat in South Asia

Now some of the larger development organisations have become a lot more experienced in how to work with minority language groups. It was a really good time of collaboration, looking at how language is a driver of poverty and how the experience of translators working with minority languages – often writing those languages down for the first time – can play a role in supporting more effective education and other development work. I loved this work because it was so needed.

In God’s economy very little is wasted if we live our lives open to his leading

I came back to be based in the UK when my parents were in their early 80s, and my role now involves providing support for Bible translation and literacy through the language and development domains – dictionaries, linguistics, language assessment as well as literacy.

This work is about caring for the most marginalised people and fulfilling the responsibility God has given us to look after those the world doesn’t. It is about showing that God’s Church cares and that there is no one beyond the love of God. God doesn’t love me any more or any less than the most marginalised people around the world. It’s about giving people hope and, ultimately, we want everyone to know who they are in God.

We want people to know God loves them and values them

My experience is that in God’s economy very little is wasted if we live our lives open to his leading and his guiding. I had no idea how my early experience as a teacher would prepare me for this work. If we are obedient to God’s calling in our life then it will be something that he has prepared for us.

Supporting literacy programmes in South Asia

Live open to God’s leading and direction

To people who are thinking of serving with Wycliffe I would say to live open to God’s leading and direction. Start with being embedded in a local church, be available and take the opportunities to serve God that the church offers. The relationship with the churches that support you is so important. There are people and churches who have been praying for me for over 30 years now.

At this stage, the Bible translations that aren’t finished are difficult for geographical, political, religious or social reasons. There are really challenging Bible translations left to do in places that are hard to reach, but each person speaking those languages is loved by God.

We want people to have hope. We want them to know they are important, to have self-respect, to know God loves them and values them. It’s about the integration of all the things Wycliffe cares about – translation, literacy, Scripture engagement – so that people might know abundant life in Christ.

Pray for Catherine:

  • Pray that we can support community members who are giving leadership in language and development activities for their language – particularly those involved in orthography (spelling systems) development and the preparation of reading materials for adult and children’s education programmes.
  • Pray for us as we work closely with partner organisations to support effective engagement with the translated Bible using print and digital materials.
  • Pray for effective relationships with governments and international agencies globally – that we would be advocates for marginalised communities.