Interview: Wycliffe Associates CEO on Southeast Asia Development Projects

Bruce Smith, president and CEO of Wycliffe Associates, spoke to The Christian Post last week about the ministry’s new initiative to begin eight new community development projects in Southeast Asia alongside Bible translation projects.

The following are excerpts from the interview:

CP: Why is Bible translation important to evangelism?

Smith: Bible translation is important to any Christian ministry that is going on around the world. If you do not have scripture in a form that can be referenced, it unfortunately becomes changed as it is communicated from one person to another.

So with church planting, evangelism, discipleship, or any kind of ministry activities that is being conducted around the world, the availability of scripture in the local language that people understand best communicates with their hearts and mind. Second, it becomes an available resource to check against the teachings that are being taught in the communities about Christianity. They can become critical thinkers and go back to the scripture to check if that is exactly what God said in His Word.

CP: Why is community development important for Bible translation, in particular, Southeast Asia?

Smith: It is particularly important in that arena because you are working in countries that are not necessarily pro-Christian, and that is true in other parts of the world as well. Basically the government’s responsibility to their citizens is to care for their general well-being. So their first concern is that the work people are coming to do in their country is positive and constructive to the local communities and the citizens.

So one of the things we can do is demonstrate the love of God through our action – through tangible services to the communities, to the families, and the societies. So through our services we don’t just talk the talk but we walk the walk of Christianity.

It’s important that we combine those two together and not try to accomplish one without the other. They are mutually supportive because they add credibility to the message of the Gospel so that people can not only understand it intellectually but can see it and experience the change that the love of God has made in the lives of the people there serving in their communities.

Many of these places also work at a very low economic level of subsistence. In contrast, we enjoy a pretty high level of living here in the United States. So one of the things we can do is to bring physical subsistence to them to help improve their life and situation.

CP: For countries hostile to Christianity, does the community development or Bible translation team go in first?

Smith: Each situation is unique. But in general our desire is that these things happen hand in hand. It is really not possible to impact people with the idea of the gospel unless you are meeting their needs on a physical and social level. They are not even able to consider the impact of spiritual things when they are trying to survive physically.

We look at ministry to the whole person … our approach is to basically bring all the resources together that will have the most impact on the community and create the most fertile soil for the gospel to take root.

CP: What activities does “community development” include?

Smith: Our particular role at Wycliffe Associates involves Christian professionals using their professional skills from their work place as part of the Bible translation team. Usually these cases involve construction work or repair so people with construction skills are among the core skills we use. In addition to that, I’m aware of other projects that include agricultural and ranching assistance, water management, and health program.

CP: Are these Christian professionals volunteers?

Smith: Yes, they are all volunteers. The involvement of volunteers depends on their availability and can range from a few hours to almost full-time ministry for several years on end. Our commitment is to meet the volunteers on their terms and on whatever availability they have rather than us saying that we require a certain commitment of time.

CP: What is the age range for the volunteers?

Smith: I guess the primary age range for our volunteers would be 55-75 years old. But we also have some that are younger and we also have some that are older. Not too long ago we had a couple that was in their late-80’s that was managing a guest house for us.

It really depends on the individual circumstance.

Availability is the primary qualification that any volunteer needs to have – to make themselves available to be used by God.
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