Bible Translators in Dangerous Countries Facing Persecution 'Every Week'

A man reads the Holy Bible.
A man reads the Holy Bible. | (Photo: Reuters)

A leading international organization helping Bible to be translated in mother tongues around the world is urging Christians in the United States to pray for the translators, saying it is receiving new reports of oppression "literally every week."

Florida-based Wycliffe Associates says it has seen a rise in the oppression of Bible translators.

"We are getting new reports of oppression literally every week," Bruce Smith, the group's President and CEO, said in a statement. "Spiritual warfare has become the 'new normal' for many national Bible translators. When national translators gather in a workshop to launch a new language, it's actually unusual for everything to go 'as expected.'"

Wycliffe Associates, which started a project last year to help mother tongue Bible translators to start translation in 314 languages in 76 countries, explained that the most severe and brutal persecution occurs in areas where Christianity is fiercely opposed. The group didn't disclose the locations of the persecuted translators due to their safety concerns.

Last month, Dr. Vernon Brewer, president and founder of the Christian humanitarian organization World Help, said in a statement, "At no other time in history have Christians been as persecuted as they are now. Some estimate more Christians have been martyred for their faith in the past century than in the previous 19 combined, and persecution in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia seems to be on the rise."

While oppression and persecution of the translators have increased, there has also been a "dramatic increase" in requests for help from indigenous churches and language groups for the translation, the group said.

It's a spiritual warfare, Smith believes, as his group has received reports of translators falling ill, often without explanation, translators being arrested and thrown in jail, some cruelly tortured, translators being assaulted and murdered, and translators' family members experiencing sudden problems that kept the translators from their work.

One translator died in her sleep after the first day of a translation workshop, the group pointed out.

"When I was growing up in suburban Chicago, my church didn't deal with anything called 'spiritual warfare," Smith said. "For a long time, I thought this kind of activity belonged to a long-ago era. To me, it was ancient history. But I have seen too much, with my own eyes, not to believe that spiritual warfare is happening today."

Prayer can deal with the situation, Smith said. "We have seen firsthand the power of prayer this past year, more dramatically than ever. The work of Bible translation cannot advance without prayer. I firmly believe, as we stand behind Bible translators in prayer on the authority of the Scriptures, they will be strengthened. They will be protected. Their work will go smoothly and speedily."

In 2014, Wycliffe Associates developed a program, called MAST, or Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation, in which mother-tongue Bible translators work in parallel to translate books of the Bible while maintaining the highest levels of accuracy and quality.

Within a year since its beginning, a group in Asia drafted 48 percent of the New Testament in their language in two weeks, compared to traditional translation methods that can take as many as 25 or 30 years for the completion of an entire New Testament, the group said.

The entire New Testament has been completed in 58 languages this year thus far, and there are 100 more translations nearing completion. In 2017, Wycliffe Associates plans to launch 400 new Bible translation projects.

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