Friday, June 25, 2010

Putting in a good word for getting a Bible in every language

This article was published in June 26, 2010 Salt Lake Tribune.

Wycliffe Bible Translators’ Last Languages Campaign is aiming for a lofty goal: See the Bible translated into every one of the world’s 6,909 spoken languages by 2025.

Wycliffe, the largest Bible-translation organization, estimates more than 350 million people do not have these Scriptures written in their language.

The estimated 2,200 languages that remain without a Bible fall mostly in the area Christian missionaries commonly refer to as the 10/40 window. This is a rectangular region of the Eastern Hemisphere that extends from 10 degrees to 40 degrees north of the equator, stretching from North Africa across to China. This region boasts the largest population of non-Christians and is reported to be home to most of the world’s poor.

Translating the Bible is an endeavor that began almost 2,000 years ago. The original Old Testament text was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek. The first English translation appeared in the 14th century. Translating the Bible is an arduous task because of the vast differences that exist in languages and cultures. But many of the languages that still do not have a biblical text have the added challenge of being nonwritten. Translators, therefore, must first develop an alphabet before even beginning the Bible work. Additionally, primers must be created to teach many people to read their language; otherwise the written Scriptures are of no avail.

While technological advances have hastened the process, Wycliffe acknowledges its ambitious goal will require vast monetary resources and missionaries willing to transplant themselves to some of the poorest places on the planet.

Christians believe the Bible is God’s word and that through this medium the Almighty most often speaks and provides guidance and instruction for daily living. The Apostle Paul declared, in 2 Timothy 3:16, that “ all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” That’s why Christians are admonished to study the Scriptures regularly.

While some Christian converts must wait decades before the Word is available in their language, some Western Christians take the Scriptures for granted. A 2000 Gallup poll showed barely a third (37 percent) of Americans read the Bible at least once a week.

I heard a story from a Bible translator working in a remote area in East Africa: After years of toiling, a translation finally became available in the indigenous language. Word spread around the villages that the missionaries had completed their work and would be distributing New Testaments. Hundreds walked for miles and the demand soon outweighed the supply. But the people could wait no longer. They began to divide up the newly bound and printed Bibles so that each person could return home with at least a portion.

The Bible teaches that God’s word can transform lives. Christians who believe this should be committed not only to their personal study of it but also to ensuring that it be available to everyone.