Interview: OneVerse Director on Engaging Youth in Bible Translation

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Is Bible translation only for missionaries? No, declares father and son team Roy and Wes Peterson. Young adults are more than welcome to play an important role in the process,.

Roy Peterson, the president of Wycliffe-affiliated The Seed Company – a ministry bringing together Christian resources and partnerships to facilitate Bible translation – and his son Wes spoke to The Christian Post recently about the ministry’s new project, OneVerse. The new project allows young adults and interested Christians to sponsor a verse of a Bible translation project for under $30.

Wes, the director of OneVerse, shared about the overwhelming success of OneVerse at the recent Passion Conference and his vision to attract the younger generation into the world of Bible translation.

CP: How did the idea for OneVerse start?

Wes: Basically in January 2004, Mark Matlock (CEO/president of WisdomWorks which puts on Planet Wisdom conferences for high school-aged kids), Susie from Wycliffe and I started to ask if we can help provide young people with a way to connect to Bible translation as a large scale Seed Company project.

For so long, Bible translation seemed so far away – just a person at a table translating that had nothing to do with me – but we wanted to connect the youth to the process. That was how the idea was conceived.

It took a year for us to flesh out the concept, build a method/business model, and contact and form relationships. Mark helped promote OneVerse during his tours across the country where he reached thousands of kids.

CP: How has the Passion Conference helped OneVerse?

Wes: It was the largest group OneVerse has ever reached at one time. It was a ‘God moment’ where Christians in America that said whatever to being a part of Bible translation were able to make an impact by themselves, in a group, through a church, a business, or a family.

Passion also helped us expand to reach churches. We were thrilled when some churches volunteered to take on whole Bible translation projects.

Also, overseas Christians watching through broadcast from Japan, Indonesia, and the Philippines saw the OneVerse presentation and later contacted us to get involved.

So through Passion we were able to reach a larger group of youth, the church, and international Christians.

CP: Has OneVerse help make Bible translation faster?

Wes: Yes, one of the factors that is slowing down Bible translation is resources. So OneVerse is providing resources of money, but we also hope to build an infrastructure to pray for this project as well.

CP: How do you choose which country to fund translation?

Roy: We are working in about 40 countries right now. The people groups are chosen based on their circumstance which include: a language that does not have the scripture, the people group is not bilingual enough to understand already translated version, and in many places request by believers for a translated Bible. Sometimes Jesus Film Project asks us to translate parts of the Bible for a people group they want to reach.

CP: Do you translate the whole Bible?

Wes: Most of the Seed Company projects involve translation of the New Testament. We start off working with the Gospels of Christ because of the importance of that message and depending on the people group and religious group we will also translate portions of the Old Testament.

On average it costs about $150,000-$190,000 to translate the New Testament which has 7,943 verses. In the Old Testament, we usually translate Jonah, Genesis and other parts of the Old Testament.

We divide our projects into either “full-scale” or “special focus” depending on the people group. Full-scale projects usually take about eight to ten years and include the complete New Testament, Jonah, Genesis, and maybe other parts of the Old Testament.

For special-focus projects or “starter” projects, we set out to provide the basic scripture to help those involved in evangelism – such as the book of Luke for the Jesus Film. We translate books depending on the specific needs.

CP: Can you evangelize someone without a translated Bible version in the person’s language?

Roy: If a person is bilingual enough then the Gospel can be shared with them even if they don’t have a Bible in their own language. But at the end of the day, people need the scripture if we truly want to disciple them and if Christ is to replace any barriers. So having a Bible in a person’s own language is so important.

Also, when I work with these people group, I felt God’s love for these people. Through the Bible translation we want to say that their culture is not forgotten by God and He loves them as much as any other group. We usually work with tribal and ethnic groups in remote areas – the poorest of the poor in the world.

Usually we have a pastor translate the text in their own language and through the process he begins to finally understand the theological truth behind Christianity. Once he understands he start to preach and teach in his heart language. You have to understand that these pastors went to seminary schools in a language other than their heart language.

CP: Is there anything you want to add?

Roy: There are currently over 2,000 languages that still don’t have the scripture in their own language. These languages are used by hundreds of millions of people.

I also want to acknowledge that U.S. Christians and the churches in America have given and done so much in terms of Bible translation. I estimate that Wycliffe globally has helped translate 1,500 languages in the last 70 years through the help of billions of dollars donated by American churches and individual Christians.