Persecuted Christians in South Asia celebrate New Testament translation in hostile territory
'A rare beacon of hope for these beleaguered people, penetrating the surrounding spiritual darkness'
An international organization is sowing the seeds of the Gospel in dangerous parts of the world by helping train local Bible translators to present God's Word to remote rural villages.
Wycliffe Associates equips Christians in Bible translation in countries where believers face immense persecution, including throughout the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Trainers communicate with the locals on the ground by communicating through a gateway language — such as English, French or Spanish — and provide technology, including laptops and translation software for these projects.
Trainers completed a recent translation project in an unnamed Muslim-majority country in South Asia. Two weeks ago, Wycliffe Associates participated in a New Testament dedication event to commemorate the first completed Bible translation project in a minority language in this region of the world.
Even though a Bible translation already exists in the nation's official language, there wasn't a translation for minority languages in remote areas.
According to Tony Tophoney, director of field training for Wycliffe Associates, the translation project in South Asia took around three years to complete.
He believes the cost of the project was about $55,000 and the organization’s translation projects can cost up to $100,000, which covers the expense of the training and the technological devices. Wycliffe Associates raises money by sending donors fundraising letters and hosting summits explaining their mission to people and inviting them to donate.
Tophoney said it almost seemed as if the recent project would be unable to continue for a while, but not for lack of knowledge on the scholars’ part, who had biblical education and spoke multiple languages.
“They got derailed by so many different things and found themselves almost unable to continue the translation work, but the Lord was faithful,” the field training director told The Christian Post in an interview. “And when they finished it, everybody was like, 'Wow, that was one that we just weren't sure if it was ever going to get completed!'”
“Not because the work wasn't being done well and it wasn't being checked properly, but because the local police were investigating them the whole time,” he added.
At one point, the government police interrogated everyone involved with the project. During the dedication event, where hundreds of people were gathered in a safe location, police showed up, saying that the group should have obtained a permit first. Tophoney said he heard through reports that around half a dozen police officers showed up.
He explained that authorities' tactics usually involve taking people aside to see if their stories match up, and if they get suspicious, they take people in for further interrogation.
“We were able to smooth it out; the local leaders were able to smooth it out with the police,” he said.
One of the trainers, a 25-year-old female who attended the dedication, told Tophoney that the police were likely just trying to mess with the group and create disruption, adding: “It’s what they do.”
Elaborating on the perception of Christians in the country, Tophoney said that a majority of the region is Muslim.
“But then there are ethnic groups within this country, and the ethnicities in South Asia are trying to preserve their individuality, their sense of community from being overtaken by Muslim or Arabic culture that bleeds its way into a country when Islam is a majority religion, and also when the leader of the country says, 'Hey, Islam is our national faith!'” he continued.
For example, some Hindu communities might view their members who identify as Christian as traitors since they’re supposed to unite against being Muslim.
“You’re surrounded on all sides by religious persecution,” Tophoney said about the treatment of Christians living in this particular South Asian country.
In order to safely conduct its translation projects, trainers meet with local leaders in capital cities in the regions where Christians face persecution, places where, according to Tophoney, it would not be strange for Westerners to visit.
The trainers then assist the leaders with translating the Bible, and they provide the necessary technology to complete the translation. After receiving the training, the leaders take the information back to their villages and lead the members through the work.
Tophoney said the people Wycliffe Associates works with usually request that they assist a specific group, and the organization attempts to help as best it can. In some areas, however, the organization cannot help due to the dangers in the area or a lack of people who speak a gateway language.
The organization will typically decide to assist a region after receiving a reference from a local leader they trust, such as bishops that have risked their lives for the sake of Christianity that Wycliffe has previously worked with.
“They come to us, and they say, 'These people are interested,’” Tophoney said. ‘“I’d like permission to meet with them and talk with them about what Wycliffe Associates does.’”
After receiving the request, the organization waits to see if local leaders in the area feel it’s safe or culturally appropriate to begin helping the person who requested assistance. The field training director emphasized that Wycliffe trusts the local leaders in these areas and understands that letting them have ownership over the project from beginning to end is necessary.
“This is their Scripture; this is their culture,” Tophoney said. “They know it better than we do. They can go to the places we can't go, so we have to trust them.”
Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: email@example.com. Follower her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman