Fighting violence in Africa with Bible translation

Photo courtesy of Wycliffe Associates

(Photo courtesy of Wycliffe Associates)

Central African Republic (MNN) — What’s something you care about so much that even when the challenges come along, you’re going to face them anyway? Family? Your job?

It’s both for Wycliffe Associates: they care dearly for the family of God and for their work of getting the Bible into all languages in order to grow that family.

Bruce Smith of Wycliffe Associates speaks about a particular area of the world that poses many challenges to translators.

“The challenge in Africa for Bible translation is quite large–it’s the second-largest concentration of translation needs in the world, behind Asia,” Smith says.

According to Wycliffe Associates, there are 776 languages in Africa alone that have become a priority for Scripture translation.

However, Africa is fraught with political and religious violence, including bombings, hostage takeovers, shootings, etc. These are the stories you may happen to see in the news; but Smith explains that there is an important aspect missing for those who care about the Gospel going out to all the nations.

“Bible translation teams end up being either directly attacked or indirectly impacted by that kind of violence. [They] have to move out of their home areas or maybe begin translation from neighboring areas,” he says.

The environment, especially to the north, is disruptive, insecure, uncertain, and just plain difficult. Yet, Wycliffe Associates have made translation a strategic priority.

We can see a better picture of this if we focus on Central African Republic–one country full of violence that doesn’t usually make headlines.

Smith says, “They’ve been struggling now for several years, continuing to have uprisings and violence.”

To address the implications this violence has on translators, Wycliffe Associates distributes Bible Translation Acceleration Kits (BTAKs) including a portable laptop and communication devices with a solar panel, battery, and power supply.

“Those tools have been very critical to them as they’ve been able to sort of pack them in their backpack [and] haul them out with them as they’ve had to move and migrate away from the violence. It’s enabled them to both communicate for their own security but also resume Bible translation very quickly.”

Wycliffe Associates works with local partners–people who have a heart for their own home and community.

“They’re stakeholders in the outcome and really have a strong desire to see God’s Word change their country from the inside out,” Smith explains.

That’s why Wycliffe supplies whatever tools they can to assist the work of translators. In addition to the BTAKs, they help with facility upkeep and repair, physical infrastructure, and transportation needs.

The local translators provide the manpower, heart, and connections to get the work done.

Smith shares an example of what some of the direct conflicts look like for translators. A couple of years ago in CAR, rebels were overthrowing the government and pillaging the capital city of Bangui. They held several workers hostage at a translation compound. Nobody was killed in the end, but the facility was robbed and damaged. Wycliffe Associates is still trying to find a way to repair the facility so the compound, which manages Bible translation, will be up and running to its full effectiveness.

“This kind of story is actually happening all across sub-Saharan Africa,” Smith says. “It’s the clash of Islam and Christianity that occurs right at that latitude. [It’s] where Christian missions has had great success over the past decades reaching people and people turning to Christ in Central African regions, but not so much to the North.”

It is both political and religious violence that inhibits the work of translators.

Especially in the Islamic-majority north, this type of violence is growing.

“The indications are that this is the reality that we face for the coming years. So, we can either abandon our task, abandon our mission of getting God’s Word into that arena, or we can find creative ways to keep it moving forward so that men’s hearts can be changed. Ultimately I believe–and I think we all believe–that God’s Word and the power of God’s Word is the only thing that can really change this kind of circumstance.”

The effectiveness of political moves, economic sanctions, and military control is limited.

Central African Republic is just one of several nations included in a new initiative with Wycliffe Associates called “Africa Advance.” It is an effort to raise $625,000 to support Bible translators.

It will help provide the technical tools needed, facility management, direct support to the translators (many live on extremely low incomes), training, and other supplies.

“We want to come alongside of them, be partners with the local church who’s caring forward the strategies of Bible translation in their own languages, and come alongside of them in every possible way,” says Smith.

They want to make a serious dent and a serious impact in Africa with the Gospel.

“With more than 700 languages throughout the continent that are still without Scripture, we need to generate the resources and the strategies that will begin working through those number of languages in order to get God’s Word into them.”

If you’d like to help with the financial aspect, click here.

And when you watch the news and see stories about Africa, remember these same stories are affecting the translation work going on there. Take a moment to pray for the countries mentioned.

Smith says even though it seems like a lot of people in the West have lost touch with struggles around the world, they have found a lot of people still care a lot, are generous, and view Gospel-sharing as a priority.

And the response has been encouraging.

“As much as the bad news hits the major media outlets, and that’s all we hear, the good news is that God’s Word is making a real impact both for time and for eternity in these places. And we get the stories of the progress and the impact in the villages where people are so joyful to have God’s Word that they’ve got each family giving a cup of millet or a cup of corn, or whatever they have available, in order to support the translation work, because the Word of God is so dear to them.”

Smith says Wycliffe Associates are encouraged by these stories and are up for the challenge.