Bible translation innovation: cooperation

(Photo courtesy Wycliffe Associates)

(Photo courtesy Wycliffe Associates)

International (MNN) — On January 12, Mission Network News published an article about Wycliffe Associates entitled “Bible Translation Jumps Ahead By Light Years.”

The gist of the story was about a pilot translation acceleration project tested in South Asia called MAST or Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation.

Bruce Smith, president and CEO of Wycliffe Associates, shared in that story, “It was really quite a miraculous experience. 13 translators drafted and checked half of the New Testament in just two weeks.”

At the time, he explained it as working in parallel (with teams of more than 13 translators tackling several books at the same time), rather than in series (one large group working on one book at a time).

From his earlier interview, Smith explained that it’s really organizing a “group of people coming together with complementary resources and skill sets to assist a language group as they launch the Bible translation process in their language, and to train them and coach them in a new strategy that accelerates the process of drafting and checking Bible translation.”

This set off a firestorm. Comments from readers questioned Wycliffe Associates’ credibility, accuracy, source text, education, and process. Smith first comments, “The questions in the preceding posts are the very same questions that our team has been asking. The answers have come from a lot of different sources and have often surprised us.” He went on to say, “MAST is our response to the Church who is increasingly unwilling to wait for God’s Word in their language and is looking for ways to accelerate the process of getting translation completed.”

Photo courtesy of Wycliffe Associates

(Photo courtesy of Wycliffe Associates)

That’s not to say there are no translation experts involved. “We are also committed to providing them every possible resource during the process of translation up front so that they have every resource that they need in order to have a high quality outcome.” Plus, “The source text, of course, is always Scripture. Typically, during any translation, several sources of prior translations are consulted in that process. That was certainly the case that I described in South Asia. During the checking process, using these experienced translation consultants, the results were checked against the original languages.”

Having observed the pilot project, Smith added, “During the consultant checking of these five translations, I think everyone was surprised that the quality of the work from the untrained team was equal to the quality of the work by the four teams that had received two weeks of training. The other thing that surprised many of us was the pace at which these teams worked. They were not rushing or frantic. They were focused, reflective, prayerful, and very productive.”

At the end of the first workshop, the translators who had missed the training were so excited to have this first Scripture in their language that they asked if they could return with a larger group to translate more Scripture. In the subsequent months, they recruited a group of 26 multi-lingual mother-tongue *Ng speakers, and Wycliffe Associates adjusted their support plan to involve this larger number of translators.

wassmithSmith witnessed an early Church ethic to this group of workers. As far as attention to details goes, “My observation was that they spent about 25% of their time drafting and 75% of their time checking. This includes checking available reference resources in multiple languages (available in the Paratext software), peer checking, community checking, and finally checking by experienced Bible translation consultants. At the end of two weeks, several of them stayed up all night to print the first copies of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and 1 & 2 Timothy, so they could take them back home.”

What’s the rush? A traditional approach to translation involves a great deal of time spent training, learning, and teaching. Although technology has sped the process, a New Testament translation can still take years, even decades, before it gets into the hands of the people. There’s just not enough time. “It has left thousands of languages without God’s Word in our lifetime, and it is not satisfying to the Church who is dying of thirst for God’s Word.”

The Ng team hopes to finish the early stages of translating the New Testament by April 2015. Smith remarks, “If I can offer a cup of cold water, I will gladly give it–and drill a well for more water. Other language groups are hearing about this parallel translation approach and asking for our help. We are responding.”

Lastly, this story is ultimately about working together, recognizing different strengths and abilities, in the name of Christ. “We readily acknowledge that this is not a global/universal solution that is going to work for every language group. There could be a variety of factors that make it unfeasible in a variety of places. But the early indications are that there are at least dozens–and I think the number will soon be hundreds of languages–that want to incorporate these principles into their translation process in order to get God’s Word sooner instead of later.”