Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Paul's Epistle to the Bayote

Hebrews 4:12 says: For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

One of the most powerful experiences I had during this Bible translation time in Guinea-Bissau was witnessing this verse come to life.

My team of Djola-Bayote-Aramme speakers were wrapping up their translation of the sixth chapter of  Galatians when João Manga stopped and exclaimed: “This is amazing! It’s as if the apostle Paul is speaking directly to our Bayote churches right here today!” When I asked him to explain what he meant, this is what I learned:

Translating Galatians into Djola-Bayote-Aramme
Bayote tribal customs continue to run deep in their local culture. One of those is a major animistic ceremony that happens every few years in which young and old men alike must go through the tribal rites of circumcision. Unlike the Old Testament Jewish case, where God had both spiritual identity and health considerations in mind for circumcision, the Bayote see this strictly as a sign of tribal loyalty and, most likely, a means of appeasing the demons and spirits. As a result, Bayote Christians have resisted participating in the ceremony.

Doing so, however, has brought with it significant persecution. Last year, a mob attacked and totally destroyed a brand-new church claiming it was being built as a place to hide boys in order to keep them from the circumcision rites. So, when my friends read in Galatians, Paul’s strong admonition not to follow those who were trying to promote the old legal Jewish regulations of circumcision, but to find salvation in the cross of Christ alone, they said, “This is exactly what our people need to hear today!  Paul says, ‘Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised… they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’” (from Gal 6:12-14) 

Furthermore, they exclaimed that being able to read these words of Paul in their own Bayote language dialect brings not only new relevance to the Bible but will also be a tremendous encouragement to stand up in the face of community opposition.

If you’re interested to hear Joao Manga personally share this story, here's a YouTube link to a short video interview I did with him where he explains just how impactful Galatians will be for his people: https://youtu.be/GNMHxXHOB7Y

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Standing at the MAST

MAST is an acronym for Mobile Assistance Supporting Translation. It’s a revolutionary method of helping bi-lingual speakers translate God’s Word into their native tongue in a relatively short time frame.

The team of national translators I worked with at the MAST event 
Up until recently, the traditional approach to Scripture translation involved a professional linguist who would painstakingly learn a target language and then carefully figure out how to put the original Greek and Hebrew words of the Bible into that language. Unfortunately, this process has often mean an average of twenty to thirty years to complete just the New Testament. And when you add up the total costs of that process, it can easily cost over a million dollars. With thousands of languages in the world still without a Bible, you can imagine how long and expensive it would be to rely solely on this approach for translation.

Then, a couple of years ago, Wycliffe Associates, that historically was strictly the volunteer support organization of the professional Bible translation world, began experimenting with a method used to teach English to national translators as a means of also helping them produce translated Scripture. That experiment is what is now called MAST. It’s based on the following assumptions:
·        Many people in the world are actually bi-lingual and fluent in both their native tongue and another key trade language, like Arabic, Swahili, French, Portuguese, etc.

  • ·        There are roughly fifty of those key languages in the world that provide a gateway to virtually all of the rest of the languages that have never had a Bible.
  • ·        If a good quality Bible were to exist in that gateway language, then people should be able to translate it fairly easily directly into their native tongue, eliminating the need to first become a Greek and Hebrew scholar or a professional linguist.
  • ·        By bringing clusters of native, bi-lingual speakers together for 10 to 14 days and guiding them in a disciplined eight-step process through a facilitator, a significant amount of Scripture can get translated to a first draft quality. Second and third level translation accuracy can then be achieved by subsequent checking involving more speakers from the language community and ultimately, leaders with theological training.
  • ·        By involving enough people and getting them together frequently, it is possible to get an entire New Testament translated in less than a year.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, not everyone is convinced about this methodology. You can easily understand someone who has spent the better part of their ministry life slaving over a particular Bible translation wondering what kind of true quality a one-year New Testament project might have when it has been done by untrained lay-people. Since I’ve been promoting this MAST concept for Wycliffe Associates, I decided I needed to answer that question for myself by actually participating in a MAST event. That is what has taken me to Guinea-Bissau for the past two weeks.

The first chapter of Galatians ever to be printed in the
Djola-Bayote-Aramme language
During this time, I’ve been one of five facilitators for a team of native speakers. My particular team was from the Aramme dialect of Djola-Bayote language group. Together, we learned all about the eight MAST disciplines and then jumped right in tackling the books of Galatians, Titus and Philemon. I’m happy to report that we got all three books done, checked and printed by the last day of our event—the first ever in their language. 

What is my opinion of the process? I have to say I’m impressed. Without question, the eight MAST disciplines are critical to keep folks on track with as accurate a translation process as possible – especially the final step of back translating to be sure the new language preserves the same sense as the Bible used as a source text. Does it produce a perfect translation? Certainly not at the first level draft stage. But, with the subsequent second and third level checking process, I’m more confident than ever that an excellent native translation is possible--one that clearly presents the Truth of God’s Word. And, by using low-cost print-on-demand technology, new, corrected copies of Scripture can quickly and inexpensively replace earlier translated versions.

Most important of all for me, however, was coming away with a sense that although a MAST translation may not have the quality of an ESV or NIV Bible, it is definitely not going to produce such inaccuracies that people reading it would fall into some sort of theological heresy. And, most important of all, MAST is very viable way to start getting Bibles into the hands of the thousands of languages that need them in order to support evangelism, church planting and discipleship. If we’re serious about the urgency of completing the Great Commission, than we need to be equally serious about the urgency of getting to the point where all people on earth can hear God’s Word in their heart language.

And after these past two weeks, the Djola-Bayote-Aramme people can do just that!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Return on Investment

It’s not often that you get to see the return on an investment made in a young African leader. However, during these past two weeks here in Guinea-Bissau, I’ve been able to do just that.

Miguel Idibe was someone I was introduced to three years ago by Bruce Smith, president of Wycliffe Associates. Bruce had met Miguel at a conference on Bible translation and recognized him as a young leader needing some special help by someone who could communicate in Portuguese . That introduction started a three year friendship and mentoring relationship in which I’ve had the privilege of helping Miguel establish a registered non-profit Bible translation organization, recruit a board of directors and find some funding to refurbish administrative facilities. Today, the Instituto de Tradução e Alfabetização (ITA) is the primary national entity in Guinea-Bissau initiating, coordinating and monitoring Bible translation.

Stepping out of my typical coach/mentor shoes, I decided to accept an invitation to be a facilitator at an ITA-sponsored Bible translation event. Coordinated by a Wycliffe Associate’s team of assistants from the US and Brazil, this event, called a MAST (Mobile Assistance Supporting Translation,) has gathered four different language translation teams to tackle a range of New Testament and Old Testament books. Since the MAST methodology is quite new (and not without a certain amount of controversy) I will dedicate another blog post just to that.

But, what was really special for me arriving here was seeing the sparkle in Miguel's eyes as he welcomed us and the forty-some national translators on our first evening and then proudly oriented us to his African bush “campus” refurbished from an old inherited WEC missionary compound. For me, it was a chance to see the dream he presented to me three years ago in a Dakar restaurant now transformed into a living reality. 

Like I said above, it’s not always that I get to see the fruit of consulting, emails and actual visits to Africa like I am getting to do this week. Without question, it’s one of those times when it’s clear that that investment has paid off. On top of that, Miguel and ITA are well on their way toward making significant impact in eradicating Bible illiteracy among the twenty-some languages in this tiny but strategic country in West Africa.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Dinner with Justice

Victor Tukura sharing his vision with us and his MSL Board
Having served on a number of boards, I’ve learned that you can usually expect a nice dinner at the conclusion of the meetings either in someone’s home or at a nice restaurant. However, never have I experienced a board dinner at the home of a Supreme Court Justice—until last night!

For the past year my Nigerian friend, Victor Tukura, has been sharing with me a vision for a major project that could significantly ramp up Nigerian involvement and support for global missions. As an extension of the Missions Supporters League (MSL), a ministry he and his wife founded, this project would take his mission to a whole new level of outreach and impact. Recognizing that I couldn’t give Victor all the consulting help he needed for this project, I was able to recruit my Spokane colleague, Scott Rodin, to share in that consulting role. As a result, we’ve just spent the last two days here in Nigeria meeting with the MSL board of directors.

Scott Rodin and me showing off our Nigerian caftans along with Justice Clara,
her husband, Paul, and Victor Tukura
It just happens that the chairperson of the MSL board is none other than a thirteen-year veteran of the Nigerian Supreme Court. On top of that, she’s one of the first ever women to be appointed to that prestigious role in her country. As a full day of board meeting discussions came to an end, we were whisked off to the home of Justice Clara, as she likes to be called. However, before departing our hotel, we were also handed a couple of packages and asked to don official Nigerian caftans for the event. Seated around a huge outdoor table, Scott and I definitely felt like we blended in (sort of) with the forty others invited to the sumptuous buffet dinner.

What a privilege it was to not only get to know Justice Clara personally but also her husband, Paul, who is a renown surgeon at one of the main hospitals in the capital. Their humility, exemplary marriage relationship, and love for God was so evident as we sat together at our end of the long table chatting about everything from presidential elections to our two countries’ Supreme Court value systems.

We’re looking forward to seeing MSL bring a successful completion to this important project they are embarking on. But one thing is for sure, a large part of that success will be a result of board members with impressive credentials and a heart for the advancement of God’s Kingdom.


When they heard the news, the cheering and dancing went on non-stop for twenty minutes!  What made it all the more amazing, is that most of the three hundred people from surrounding villages had never seen a real, live white person before!

It was place called Anasibe, just a cluster of huts in the middle of the eastern coastal rain forest of Madagascar that doesn’t show up on any official government map. But it was also one of several thousand locations in the forest where a house church has been planted recently, thanks to the amazing efforts of the Islands Mission. Starting some eighteen years ago as the vision of a young native of Madagascar, Dinah R., this indigenous mission has had incredible success using the church-planting principles of DMM—Disciple Making Movements. Trained, itinerant church-planters not only have started house churches in remote villages and logging their geographic coordinates with a hand-held GPS unit, but also intentionally trained the next generation of church planters.  Islands Mission now boasts more than six generations of church-planters numbering well over a thousand.

So why the cheering and dancing? Along with my colleague, Al Hawthorne of Wycliffe Associates, we had come to share the news that there was a way we could help them translate God’s Word into their own language. Spoken by more than two million forest people, Bitsimisaraka is a language that does not have one sentence of the Bible translated yet. And because 95% can’t even speak Malagasy, the one national language that does have a Bible, all of those newly planted churches have to use strictly oral transmission as their means of communication—something that is eventually prone to mistakes and misinterpretation.

Dinah surrounded by his friends from Anasibe
Forty-eight hours after flying back to the Madagascar’s capital of Antananarivo by helicopter, curtesy of Helimission, Al had already scheduled the first translation event to occur in less than thirty days. We learned those villagers were particularly anxious to get started because the coming rainy season would inhibit forest travel.

It sure makes you wonder what this world would be like if everyone had the same hunger for God’s Word as the people of Anasibe.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Multiplying Effectiveness with Electronic Tablets

One fun sideline of my personal ministry is preparing digital libraries on electronic tablets for national church leaders who have a hard time getting printed resources. Part of that fun is trying to stay abreast of the new technology that is now available but the most fun is actually witnessing the increased productivity that occurs when leaders actually use the tablets to enhance their ministry.

New tablet users from two countries in North Africa
During this trip to North and West Africa, I’ve had some neat opportunities to witness some of that excitement first hand. In the first country we visited I was able to deliver three tablets and two mini LED projectors to a team that wants to use them in doing church-planting in some remote areas in the mountains. Because both tablet and projector can operate on battery power for up to two hours, it allows a complete showing of the Jesus Film in a house church meeting. In another country, I met with three men who had received their tablets several months ago and were able to give me a report on how well they were working. “These are such great tools,” they affirmed. “It is so fantastic to have all these resources together in this one small device.”

So what kind of practical resources are on those tablets? Here are some these units in North Africa were equipped with:
  • Complete Bibles and Bible commentaries in both French and Arabic.
  • A collection of Arabic discipleship lessons
  • The “Bridges One” Scriptures In Use story-telling training
  •  Five lessons in French of City Team’s DMM (Disciple Making Movement) workshop
  • A collection of videos in French and Arabic including the Jesus Film, More than Dreams and Magdalena (the Jesus Film for women.)
  •  Unfolding Word—fifty story picture-book Bible produced by Wycliffe Associates available in multiple languages and even some audio soundtracks
  • Translation Studio—also from Wycliffe Associates, a free Android-based, self-contained Bible translation application that even features different keyboards for languages that don’t use Roman script
  •  PDF Maps with a complete digital atlas of Africa custom-designed by my friend, Marv Bowers of Information Learning Systems (ILS) that turns the tablet into a powerful research tool with GPS-encoded digital pushpins.

Example of PDF Maps App showing GPS push-pin markers
I’m particularly pleased with the latest model of electronic tablet supplied to these North African friends because it is one of the few I’ve found that not only has a slot for a 64 GB external SD card, but also has a mini HDMI port allowing a direct connection to a larger TV or projector. So, I’ve also pre-installed a PowerPoint application so that these friends can use them for training workshops. Now, whether in the mountains of the Maghreb or the sands of the Sahara, with just a tablet and a mini projector, these friends will have all they need to conduct complete evangelistic meetings or a discipleship training.

If you’re interested in helping to subsidize more of these tablets for future applications like these, please let me know.  I have a special fund set up at One Challenge just for that.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Decision with Historic Impact

It’s not often that one has the chance to stand on the very spot where a single decision changed the course of human history. That is exactly the privilege I had yesterday when, along with a group of new friends, I stood in the middle of the ruins of an ancient Roman amphitheater located in North Africa.

The year was 203 A.D. It was a time when persecution against Christians was widespread across the Roman Empire, but which had done little to stem the growing movement of faithful Christ-followers. Among them was Perpetua, a young woman of noble birth from the city of Carthage and her faithful slave, Felicitas. Discovered to belong to an outlawed band of Christians, they were both condemned to face wild beasts in the amphitheater. Despite last-minute pleas from her father to recant, Perpetua, instead decided to be true to her faith and face the beasts. It was a choice whose impact would ripple down through the next several centuries and set the course for the future of Christianity. Boldly nursing her newborn baby one last time, she handed it to her father, and along with Felicitas, climbed the stone steps to the amphitheater’s main floor where they were gored by wild animals and eventually put to the sword by gladiators.

Believed to be among the crowd of spectators that day was an attorney by the name of Tertullian. According to tradition, not only did the experience propel him to Christianity, but ultimately to become a biblical scholar of great reputation. His influence ultimately shaped the training of a protégé by the name of Cyprian who, in turn, became the mentor Augustine, a young Berber from the nearby city of Hippo Regius (Algeria.)

Two hundred years after that fateful day in the amphitheater, Augustine, serving as a leading church bishop, presided over the Council of Carthage during which the historic affirmation of the New Testament canon was made.

Next to ruins of the basilica where in 397 AD the Council of Carthage
confirmed the canon of the New Testament
What made my experience of standing in the midst of those famous ruins even more moving was to be accompanied by a small band of young North African men whose life decisions to follow Christ are in many ways as dramatic as those of Perpetua and Felicitas. Having endured life-threatening rejection from their families, some know in no uncertain terms what it may mean to become a minister of the Gospel in this part of the world.  Yet they have jumped at the chance to help me and my traveling companions to research how, when and where to facilitate locally-led Bible translation projects so that every language group of North Africa might have God’s Word in its mother tongue. Wow—talk about being privileged and humbled at the same time!

It may not be the context of a Roman coliseum, but without question, the price of living out our Christian faith in our contemporary world is certainly becoming more and more challenging and equally demanding of life-shaping decisions. Thank God for the historic example of these young women that inspire and encourage us to be equally faithful and courageous in our world today.