Reflecting on a reflective consultation

The consultations that we run as an Alliance can be frustrating to some. Those people who like to leave gatherings with a list of things to implement can be disappointed. The purpose of these events is not to set the objectives of individual organisations, but to listen to God and one another as we seek to define a larger context for ourselves.

I’m not sure it’s a perfect analogy, but I keep turning to sporting metaphors. Imagine players and a coach turning up for a game of football, only to find no pitch marked out and no idea what kind of game they are supposed to be playing. Through these consultations, we are trying to create some broad objectives and to mark out a rough pitch, before inviting the teams (or the Organisations) to take the broad framework to apply to their context. It may be that a game of American Football breaks out in one place, Soccer in another, and Rugby Football in another, that’s OK as long as the principles are applied and the teams playing have agreed upon what’s happening.

The point is, the Organisations take the broader principles and then ask what it means in their context.

The analogy is messy. I could have talked about us making up the rules, but rules aren’t what a consultation is about. Rules are another level of detail that comes further on.

As I said, some people struggle with these kinds of events, they like a nice defined list of objectives, but I love them. It’s the opportunity to really dig into an issue and hear perspectives from all parts of the world. Just to give you an example, at this last consultation, there were representatives from, Switzerland, Romania, Brazil, Hong Kong, Norway, Canada, US, Kenya, Cameroon, New Zealand, France, Slovakia, Singapore and Colombia. 

Some personal notes

As much as I loved the consultation, this was the toughest trip I’ve made yet. Sophie, my youngest daughter had been ill for a while, but it got worse just as I left. She had a visit to the hospital on my second night away and is now being treated for a chest infection. I don’t like being a flight away from home when my kids are ill.

On the second day, I picked up an eye infection. The middle morning of the consultation I spent at the doctor’s surgery getting treated. By the morning of the final day the infection was clearing up, only for that evening the second eye beginning to show the same symptoms.

Having said all that, it was wonderful to be prayed for by so many friends and supporters and to know the peace that God gives when things are beyond your control.

Mission and the church

When God called his followers to tell others about the good news that Jesus is for this world, he didn’t create global mission agencies, instead, he called his church to the task. Mission agencies, like the Wycliffe Global Alliance that I work for, haven’t replaced the church in this role (or at least we shouldn’t have), but we have found that at this point in history, for some tasks (like Bible translation) agencies such as the Alliance appear to be the most effective way of achieving some things.

However, the call to the church hasn’t disappeared or been replaced by the agencies. So, we as an Alliance face a challenge, to consider how we work as an expression of the church’s missional calling.

What does that look like isn’t an easy question to answer. While the Church is global, there are many different churches. Some international, some local, with a variety of structures and a variety of attitudes to mission all mixed in. Should we be listening to all of them? How? What happens when they disagree?

This week I’m in Germany taking part in a Consultation on Ecclesiology – a conversation about the place of the church in the way the Alliance works. I hope we will get into some of these questions and begin to think about the kind of attitudes we should have to the church and consider how we should be making space for the church to speak into the Bible translation movements.

If that sounds a bit dry and technical, maybe I’ll be able to write more later in the week that illustrates what this is all about.

2017 Global Bible translation statistics

Every year the Wycliffe Global Alliance publishes an update to the Bible translation statistics. It’s great to be able to compare one year against another and see that there has been progress. 670 languages with complete Bibles (636 in 2016), 1,521 with New Testaments or more (1,442 in 2016), 3,312 languages with some scripture (3,223 in 2016).

It all sounds pretty impressive until you reflect on the fact that there are almost 7,000 languages in use around the world today. The gap between 670 languages with complete Bibles and every language that needs a translation having one is still significant. In fact, our research suggests that there’s a need for translation projects to begin in 1,636 languages.

There’s a lot more data in the full statistics and more information about what these numbers really mean in the FAQs. However, numbers aren’t just numbers, they represent language communities and these communities are made up of people. Individuals like you and I, trying to work out how to make their way through life the best they can. It’s fine to talk about the 1,636 languages that need Bible translation to begin, but just remember that behind that number are individuals who could well be missing out on knowing the fullness of God’s love for them because of the barrier of language.

Foundation stories

Organisations often get hung up on trying to craft mission statements that are brief and memorable, but nearly every organisation – especially in the world of Christian mission – has a foundation story that’s worth recounting from time-to-time.

That of the Wycliffe Global Alliance is tied to the story of Cameron Townsend, who went to Guatemala to sell Spanish Bibles and share the gospel.

Townsend soon became aware of a large gap in the missions efforts in the beautiful country of Guatemala: Sixty percent of Guatemalans were indigenous, yet mission efforts were focused solely on reaching the Spanish-speaking population, the Ladinos. Townsend became convinced that reaching the Cakchiquel people required speaking their language. He also soon realized that for them to truly understand the Scriptures, they would need to have God’s Word in Cakchiquel, so that they could read it for themselves.

[Read the full article on wycliffe.net or see below]

Townsend’s awakening to the needs of the Cakchiquel people occurred 100 years ago, this month. Since then, organisations associated with the Wycliffe Global Alliance have been involved in the translation of Bibles and New Testaments in more than 900 languages.

Still, today, Bible translation is needed. Of the nearly 7,000 languages in use around the world today, fewer than 700 have access to the complete Bible.

Very soon we will be publishing the latest update to the Bible translation statistics. The numbers of complete Bibles available will increase but there’s still more to do if everyone is going to have access to a Bible in the language that they understand the best.

What Cameron Townsend began 100 years ago is still going strong around the world. The way translation work is undertaken has changed a lot over the years, and we are still learning and improving, but the desire for all people to have the Bible in a language that speaks to their heart so that they can understand the good news of Jesus, remains a core motivation.

 


The full article I quoted above will eventually disappear from the Alliance website, so I’ve obtained permission to post a copy below:

100 Years Later, 100 Organizations Strong: Following the Footsteps of God

One hun­dred years ago, in Oc­to­ber 1917, Cameron Townsend, a col­lege stu­dent from Cal­i­for­nia, stepped off a steamship onto the streets of San José, Guatemala. Townsend had ac­cepted a friend’s chal­lenge to take a year off from col­lege to do mis­sion­ary ser­vice. He vol­un­teered as a trav­el­ing sales­man, sell­ing Span­ish Bibles in the in­te­rior of Guatemala, and shar­ing the gospel with peo­ple he met along the way. Townsend had planned to re­turn to the US at the end of his com­mit­ment, to fin­ish his ed­u­ca­tion and be­come a pas­tor. How­ever, God was call­ing him to a work that would have a much greater King­dom im­pact. For it was in Guatemala that Townsend met Fran­cisco Díaz, a com­mit­ted Cakchiquel Chris­t­ian who be­came the cat­a­lyst to ig­nite an in­no­v­a­tive new move­ment in mis­sions that would even­tu­ally spread around the globe: the trans­la­tion of God’s Word into peo­ples’ heart languages.

Francisco Díaz & his wife Francisco Díaz, who helped start the global Bible translation movement, poses with his wife

Fran­cisco Díaz, who served along­side Cameron Townsend sell­ing Span­ish Bibles, quickly be­came a close friend and men­tor to the pas­sion­ate young worker from the North. To­gether they spent hours walk­ing the trails from town to town, farm to farm, sell­ing Bibles and shar­ing God’s good news – and see­ing lives changed. Díaz trans­lated for Cakchiquel peo­ple they met along the way, and Townsend was im­pressed with his abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate bib­li­cal truths to other Cakchiquels. Through his re­la­tion­ship with this quiet Chris­t­ian man, Townsend soon be­came aware of a large gap in the mis­sions ef­forts in the beau­ti­ful coun­try of Guatemala: Sixty per­cent of Guatemalans were in­dige­nous, yet mis­sion ef­forts were fo­cused solely on reach­ing the Span­ish-speak­ing pop­u­la­tion, the Ladi­nos. Townsend be­came con­vinced that reach­ing the Cakchiquel peo­ple re­quired speak­ing their lan­guage. He also soon re­al­ized that for them to truly un­der­stand the Scrip­tures, they would need to have God’s Word in Cakchiquel, so that they could read it for themselves.

Cam & Elvira Townsend Cameron and Elvira Townsend learned Cakchiquel to work with Díaz in Bible translation

A part­ner­ship was born. Díaz, with Townsend’s help, set out to start a Cakchiquel-lan­guage school, and Townsend, by then newly mar­ried, be­gan with his wife to learn the Cakchiquel lan­guage in earnest. Soon they be­gan work to­gether with Díaz to trans­late the Bible into Cakchiquel. It was not easy, es­pe­cially when ob­sta­cles were thrown in their way. Townsend’s mis­sion or­ga­ni­za­tion was not ready to adopt this new way of work­ing. Then, trag­i­cally, Díaz con­tracted malaria and died, leav­ing Townsend with­out a trans­la­tion part­ner. But Fran­cisco Díaz’s his­toric legacy had been firmly es­tab­lished by God: the birth of a Bible trans­la­tion min­istry that would even­tu­ally reach around the world.

To­day – a hun­dred years af­ter Townsend set foot on Guatemalan soil and learned from Díaz that not all peo­ple had ac­cess to hear­ing about God in their own lan­guge – about 100 or­ga­ni­za­tions around the world that make up the Wycliffe Global Al­liance are in­volved in Scrip­ture trans­la­tion, or in sup­port of the Bible trans­la­tion move­ment. The seed of this vi­sion be­gan with the re­la­tion­ship be­tween these two men, who came from two dif­fer­ent cul­tures, and spoke two dif­fer­ent lan­guages, but whose hearts and foot­steps met in one mis­sion – that the mes­sage of the gospel, and the truths of God’s writ­ten rev­e­la­tion, be­come avail­able to peo­ple in the lan­guage that they un­der­stand best.

Townsends and Cakchiquel children The Townsends with Cakquikel school children

Please cel­e­brate with us the 100th an­niver­sary of a young 21-year-old cross-cul­tural worker fol­low­ing the foot­steps of God as he en­tered Guatemala. And for the 35-year-old Cakchiquel man who walked the trails along­side him, and taught him so much, as they shared the gospel and Bibles in vil­lages through­out Guatemala and in neigh­bor­ing coun­tries. Praise God for all that he has done to build a net­work of peo­ple and or­ga­ni­za­tions around the world to ac­com­plish the trans­la­tion of his Word into thou­sands of lan­guages. Pray for the steps taken each day by peo­ple in about 100 Bible trans­la­tion or­ga­ni­za­tions world­wide that make up the Wycliffe Global Al­liance. They are com­mit­ted to com­ing along­side lan­guage com­mu­ni­ties that are trans­lat­ing God’s Word into the lan­guages that speak to their hearts.

There is much work left to be done. What steps will you take to be part of God’s mis­sion to reach all peo­ples who need to learn of God’s love through his Word?

More… about Bible translation

On Wednesday I shared a short video about Bible translation. It’s a simple little cartoon story about the motivation that many of us that work with Wycliffe Bible Translators share.

The thing is, in being so short it misses some of the great other stories that can be told as a result of this work.

The following is a longer video, filmed in Uganda where a translation project has just completed the New Testament. I like this so much because it not only tells the story of a Bible translation project and the impact of that on the local church but also how the work brought benefits to the wider community.

  • It talks about the efforts to help people get engaged with the translated New Testament.
  • The competitions to write new music based on the translation.
  • How new school materials are being produced to help children learn to read and write (including topics on health, hygine, clean water, taking care of babies, local stories and HIV/AIDS).

There’s a 3-minute version of this video available too

 

About Bible translation

I work for an organisation known in the UK as Wycliffe Bible Translators.

In the last year, they’ve been involved in a big project to update their image. This has meant a new set of resources that talk about what they do. I consider it a great privilege to be involved in this work. If you’d like to find out how you can play a part, feel free to drop me, or them, a line.

My wonderful wife

Today marks the one-year anniversary of Tany leaving the NHS to step out in business on her own.

It strikes me, that over the last few years, she’s taken a number of significant steps to enable me to work for Wycliffe Bible Translators. Initially, it was surviving a long commute to Harrow for work. Today, it’s being self-employed, running Liberty Home Physio, in order to maintain a reasonable quality of life at home, especially during the times I need to travel.

Who knows what the next year will hold? We are both incredibly grateful for the way that God has provided for us over this last year but we need Liberty Home Physio to continue to provide while also increasing the number of people supporting us, enabling me to continue to work with Wycliffe.

In the meantime, I’ll just celebrate my wife, friend, mother to my children and self-employed physiotherapist who has survived her first year in business. Well done Tany.

Searching for peace

Yesterday was fascinating. I spent the afternoon in London with a load of mission leaders talking about the theology of risk. The premise being that, the attitude of mission agencies and the western church is risk-averse, yet the areas of the world that could still reasonably called unreached carry a significant risk for Christians that want to work there.

Maybe I can write more about this in the next day or two. But, after the meeting, I headed over to St Paul’s Cathedral for choral evensong. I don’t go very often, but on occasion, I’ve found it provides an hour of calm and space for reflection in the midst of chaos. After the last two weeks of business, today it was welcome.

I arrived slightly late, in the middle of the singing of Psalm 88. Considering the conversations of the day about our attitude to risk, I was left wondering exactly what Heman the Ezrahite was going through to compose this…

Psalms 88 (NLT) 
O Lord, God of my salvation,
I cry out to you by day.
I come to you at night.
Now hear my prayer;
listen to my cry.
For my life is full of troubles,
and death draws near.
I am as good as dead,
like a strong man with no strength left.
They have left me among the dead,
and I lie like a corpse in a grave.
I am forgotten,
cut off from your care.
You have thrown me into the lowest pit,
into the darkest depths.
Your anger weighs me down;
with wave after wave you have engulfed me.

Interlude
You have driven my friends away
by making me repulsive to them.
I am in a trap with no way of escape.
My eyes are blinded by my tears.
Each day I beg for your help, O Lord;
I lift my hands to you for mercy.
Are your wonderful deeds of any use to the dead?
Do the dead rise up and praise you?

Interlude
Can those in the grave declare your unfailing love?
Can they proclaim your faithfulness in the place of destruction?
Can the darkness speak of your wonderful deeds?
Can anyone in the land of forgetfulness talk about your righteousness?
O Lord, I cry out to you.
I will keep on pleading day by day.
O Lord, why do you reject me?
Why do you turn your face from me?
I have been sick and close to death since my youth.
I stand helpless and desperate before your terrors.
Your fierce anger has overwhelmed me.
Your terrors have paralyzed me.
They swirl around me like floodwaters all day long.
They have engulfed me completely.
You have taken away my companions and loved ones.
Darkness is my closest friend.

Searching for peace

It has been pretty lousy few days. The car broke and is now at a second garage as they try to diagnose how much damage has been done to the engine.

The car broke and is now at a second garage as they try to diagnose how much damage has been done to the engine.

I’ve had a couple of days of difficult work conversations.

Add to that, there are a few aspects to my work that require all my concentration right now. I’m not sure I have ‘all’ my concentration to give.

So, tired and frustrated, I opened my Bible and read Psalm 34 (NLT).

I will praise the Lord at all times.
I will constantly speak his praises.
I will boast only in the Lord;
let all who are helpless take heart.
Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness;
let us exalt his name together.
I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
He freed me from all my fears.
Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy;
no shadow of shame will darken their faces.
In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened;
he saved me from all my troubles.
For the angel of the Lord is a guard;
he surrounds and defends all who fear him.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!
Fear the Lord, you his godly people,
for those who fear him will have all they need.
Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry,
but those who trust in the Lord will lack no good thing.
Come, my children, and listen to me,
and I will teach you to fear the Lord.
Does anyone want to live a life
that is long and prosperous?
Then keep your tongue from speaking evil
and your lips from telling lies!
Turn away from evil and do good.
Search for peace, and work to maintain it.
The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right;
his ears are open to their cries for help.
But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil;
he will erase their memory from the earth.
The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help.
He rescues them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
The righteous person faces many troubles,
but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.
For the Lord protects the bones of the righteous;
not one of them is broken!
Calamity will surely destroy the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be punished.
But the Lord will redeem those who serve him.
No one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

Verse 10 really stuck out, ‘Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the Lord will lack no good thing.’

I went ice skating with Amy this morning as an early birthday celebration – I’m going to be away for her actual birthday. The kids are fine, healthy and happy. Tany’s doing well, we can encourage and support each other, even when things are tough.

And while work and car issues are frustrating, difficult and costly, we’ve never been left short of what we need. Yes, we’ve been ‘hungry’ for a while, but never completely without.