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.

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.

A Passion for Mission

Yesterday afternoon I joined a few hundred church and mission leaders at All Souls in central London for Global Connections, Passion for Mission conference.

There were two key elements to this year’s event. The afternoon session hinged on the theme: God’s Mission in a Time of Transition. What is the role of the UK in mission today in a world that has changed so much and continues to change? Before an evening session where we celebrated the contribution of outgoing director Martin Lee and welcomed incoming director, Anna Bishop.

The following write-up is compiled from my sometimes sketchy notes.

Martin Lee opened the conference by emphasising that the UK still has a vital role to play in world mission, but that role is, today, very different from what it has been in the past. He reminded mission leaders that they needed to listen to other voices, including the voices from the margins.

We then had three short presentations from leaders representing different parts of the world. Peter Rowan of OMF, who is from the west; Louisa Evans of All Nations Christian College, who is Malaysian; and Israel Oluwole Olofinjana of Woolwich Central Baptist Church, who is Nigerian.

Peter Rowan – OMF International

Imperatives for missional connectiveness

Peter began by reflecting on the imperative of listening. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it like this, ‘The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them.’ So, the first service we owe to mission is to listen to others.

Revelation opens with prophetic messages – the instruction at the end of each message is to all the churches, ‘Whoever has ears let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches’. No single church/mission organisation has a monopoly on the Spirit or the word.

We should make sure that we don’t concentrate so much on what we are doing that we miss what God is doing in the world. We need to listen to voices on the margins. Those places where we used to serve are where God is at work.

The deep spiritual sickness afflicting the rich north might actually be healed when the voices from the other world are heard and understood – David W Smith.

The imperative of unity

‘Jesus calls the church to missional effectiveness by working for unity’ – Ross Hastings

Reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel – see Ephesians. So what are the social implications of the Gospel of reconciliation? What does this mean for our evangelism and our mission?

Paul wrote to the Romans, wanting to involve those congregations in his mission to Spain. They had to cooperate with each other before they could cooperate with Paul on his mission. They had to love Christians beyond one small circle.

Our churches need to address our attitudes to each other, and our patronising attitudes to the churches in the majority world.

Seeking to maintain Gospel integrity and the unity of the church are not mutually exclusive goals.

The imperative of radical acts of service

Sometimes it takes a radical act for people to start listening to each other.

On July 1st 1997. Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty. In contrast to the pomp and ceremony, the pastors of six congregations held a foot washing service at St Andrews church.

‘Rev. John Aldis, senior pastor of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church – the largest English-speaking congregation in Hong Kong – wept as he read a statement of repentance to Chinese pastor Jonathan Chan. Speaking as a representative of Britain to the Hong Kong Chinese people, Aldis asked for forgiven ess for “our injustice, our pride and our isolation.”’ – Read the full story on OMF’s website

Followers of Jesus are called to take courageous steps to embody the gospel. This needs to start with mission leaders, between churches and between agencies. Are there missional connections of a peacemaking kind that need to begin, even here, today?

Louisa Evans – All Nations

In an Asian culture, there is…

A holistic view of Christianity

This applies to the whole family – Family orientation in the global south means that once saved, the saved person will not stop praying for the family. Acts 16:31

The whole nation

The whole person

The spirit man – we live in a context where spiritual encounters are commonplace. Yet some of Louisa’s most common spiritual encounters were in London. The devil is alive and well in the UK but few Christians in the UK believe in the work of him and know what to do.

Suffering

Louisa had to go to church secretly for two years because of parents (non-religious Buddhists). When she did tell them she had become a Christian she only went to church when they allowed her to.

The freedom to worship is not appreciated here in the UK.

One M man’s father tried to kill him in his sleep. In Malaysia, Allah is claimed for Muslims only. Christians cannot read the Bible in their own language because of this.

One Christian pastor was kidnapped in broad daylight – and the police said that they had no information about what happened.

What should be our response?

We need to pray – but our assumption is that persecution is out there and not here. Can we continue to assume that?

The opposition that we see is a reminder that this world is not our home and suffering for our faith is a reminder that we live in the end times.

She also reflected on the fact that often, when we pray for persecuted Christians, we pray for ‘them’. Shouldn’t we think about the language we use when we pray for our brothers and sisters?

Friendship as a way forward

Friendship in mission is the only way forward. It’s true that Global South Christians were looked down upon. But now, some global south Christians have built up their own superiority.

We need to acknowledge our mutual need of each other.

Move from a posture of learning from to learning with. This is only possible if we are friends, so we need to ask how can we build true cross-cultural friendships.

We need to be intentional in the building of cross-cultural friendships.

Frequently, coffee breaks and meal tables at Christian events in the UK are segregated. To build cross-cultural friendships we need to do the uncomfortable thing of reaching out to those who are different to us, this that are from different cultures. Not just nationalities, but those of different statuses.

  • As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all will know that you are my disciples if you love one another. – John 13:35

Israel Oluwole Olofinjana – Woolwich Central Baptist Church

Learning from the Global South, he would prefer the term ‘Majority world’.

We need to learn from people in other continents, but we can also learn from those that have come to the UK. And this doesn’t mean that people from the global south have it sorted.

Building bridges and tunnels in our relationship

Relationship is very, very important. We have to be intentional in our networking. Who are your closest friends? Are they people like you?

We need to build both bridges and tunnels. Bridges are obvious, tunnels aren’t. The tunnels are the times behind the scenes. Can we eat together? Can we sit and relax together? It is when we relax together that we work things out. Our friendships should not be reduced to activities.

Turning our ideas into reality

There’s been talk about the centre of gravity of Christianity having shifted, this talk can remain as lip service. How has that informed and shaped our practices? How does it inform and shape how we do things?

Be intentional in our organisations to reflect the Global Church

We need to look at how our structures can change to reflect the reality.

Having one or two people from the global south in our structures is good, but we shouldn’t stop there.

We also need to read books by global south practitioners. We need to listen to their ideas.

Martin Lee – Global Connections

The world is a different place – even our maps were down by people from the north and west.

The old power blocks are changing. We are seeing the rise of nationalism and the rise of religious fanaticism.

The global church is still in a time of transition. Europe and North America is no longer the place of power.

If you are Pentecostal – you are probably young, female, poor and from either Africa, Asia or South America, and you are the real face of world Christianity today.

We look at our falling church attendance and see churches that have abandoned global mission, and usually operate from a come and see point-of-view.

There is a vital role for global mission in the UK church – it’s just a different role to what it used to be. God hasn’t asked us to abandon his call. The issue is that it needs to be different.

What could it look like:

Even in a globalised world there are many places where Christ is not known or not heard

There are a large number of Christians in Asia compared to 100 years ago, but as a percentage of population it is very small at just 8%

There are still vast numbers of people in the Middle East, Asia and Central Asia who have not heard of Christ. There aren’t Christians in Saudi because you are killed.

Yet 85% of Christian mission is aimed at other Christians. We are still trying to sustain the growth of churches in Africa, Asia and South America. Many Hindus and Buddhists still don’t know a Christian.

What abmiddle-classlass Buddhists in Japan? It’s still difficult to raise support for those working in business communities.

In an urbanised world people are everywhere, and we need to be going and telling them.

Places where Christ is not known

There are more people alive today that do not know of Christ or who have ever met a Christian. We cannot ignore this and something needs to change

Is ensuring we serve the hard places a key part of the UK Church’s strategy?

How can we genuinely partner with the church in the global south?

‘We need to tackle our inherent national pride. We need to shift that we need more from the global south.’

‘British Christians prayed for revival and when it came they did not recognise it because it was black.’

It’s hard for a westerner – we are used to power and money. Our response is that we’ve got all the resource. So maybe we try to assimilate others into our structures. And that makes us look like we are doing well. Yet it’s often the structures that get in the way of us reaching the hard to reach places.

‘Much of the Muslim world is hostile to Christian witness; the forms of mission that we have been used to for generations won’t work in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait – we need creative approaches to have access in these situations.

Not only that, but much of the Muslim world is hostile to people from Western countries; let’s face it, we’ve not done much to win their friendship over the last few decades. However, the church is no longer mainly Western; perhaps it is a generation of Chinese, Philippine, African and Latin believers who will take the Gospel to the Muslim world.

Lastly in the heightened antagonistic atmosphere of the early 21 century, witnessing to Jesus in the Muslim world can be a dangerous enterprise. People have died taking the Gospel into the Muslim world and in all likelihood it will cost the lives of many more believers before we see large numbers of Muslims coming to Christ. We need a generation of Christians who believe in something bigger than their own lives, who are willing to live and work in hostile situations, perhaps seeing very little tangible fruit for their work and who are willing ultimately to lay down their lives. In a risk averse, litigious society it is hard to find people and organisations willing to put lives on the line in this way, but it must be done.’ – kouya.net

Global south missionaries are not using our structures and systems but they are taking the gospel with them. They tend to come from less affluent countries and understand poverty and suffering, and don’t come from a background of global dominance.

So how do we partner with them?

Mutual respect and collaboration

We need to be flexible and bent out of shape. There’s no magic formula for partnership.

What place does the western church and mission movements have as part of the new worldwide church?

Can the church engage in the mission of God in new ways?

‘Together we can be a new community – 100 places learning from each other, with no one single centre or single type of mission activity’ – Andrew Walls

What does a learning relationship look like?

God is interested in character as we transition leadership

It comes down to our character and how god has changed us.

In the majority world we often see more prayer, depth in relationships, etc. Yes, there are issues even here. The church in the global south is sinful, just as we are in the west.

However, there’s a huge contrast in the spiritual poverty of the churches in the west to those in the majority world.  The western church could be described as ‘one inch wide and not even an inch deep’.

Where’s the power of god in my life and my dependency on him?

The UK church needs to have more commitment to prayer. a discovery of a deeper spirituality. We can learn much of this from global south churches. Prayer and fasting is a normal part of a church congregation.

We need a dose of radical discipleship and service ourselves. We need to learn.

Integrity

Whatever we do, God is ultimately interested in the character of us. Integrity is key. Whatever plans, strategies, meetings… God is interested in our integrity and faithfulness.

John the Baptist ‘I must decrease that he may increase’

Nothing is more important than God’s mission.

As the power base in the church transitions, the west no longer has power, only influence. Let’s influence through character, not misuse of power.

Can the UK church become a christlike in it’s attitudes, thinking or others more than ourselves.