The COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges for Bible translation efforts worldwide, but Wycliffe Bible Translators USA has pressed on with its mission despite the challenges.
For 79 years, Wycliffe has led the effort to translate the Bible into every language. Currently, the group and its partners are at work on over 2,700 translation projects in 167 countries, CEO John Chesnut said. Even so, 1.5 billion people still don’t have a Bible translation in their own language.
Many of the countries in which Wycliffe works have poor healthcare, non-unified governments and limited communication technologies. The pandemic has also impeded Wycliffe’s efforts to work with people who speak languages without a Bible translation.
To overcome some of the challenges the organization has been facing, Wycliffe used technology originally designed to accelerate Bible translation, Chesnut told CP. In the last 17 years, Wycliffe increased its rate of Bible translation from 7.5 translations per year to 29.4 per year.
“Over the last two decades, Wycliffe made significant investments in technology in order to accelerate our work. As a result, our digital infrastructure allows us to communicate, coordinate, research, and keep the momentum going on translation projects,” he said. “It used to take one translation team in one community 30 years to finish a New Testament translation. Today, projects are primarily started and led by local churches.”
God’s providence has given some Wycliffe Bible translators around the world opportunities to turn the disaster into a way to advance the Gospel, said Chesnut. In 2019, Wycliffe Thai missionaries Nate and Ivy Cheeseman started passing out MP3 audio recordings of the Bible in local languages. As the word spread, hundreds of people requested audio Bibles.
“It seemed like everywhere we went … we kept meeting people who wanted to get the Bible out,” Ivy told Wycliffe.
When the pandemic hit, many people became believers after listening to the new Bibles, the Cheesemans said. New Christians received the discipleship they needed.
In Tanzania, another Wycliffe Bible translation team paused its Bible work to make videos for deaf people on how to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines, said Chesnut.
“We are humbled and amazed at how God continues to advance Bible translation and bless this ministry despite the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic,” Chesnut said. “We continue to work with our partners to keep projects moving forward safely during this time to the extent possible.”
The most challenging part of translating the Bible into every language is the vast amount of languages around the world, he said. Although geographically isolated regions or hostility to Christianity can make translation difficult, the logistics still prove the greatest challenge.
“Access to the Bible in a language we understand is a precious gift many of us take for granted, but 1.5 billion people don’t yet have the complete Bible in a language they can best understand,” said Chesnut. “Our vision at Wycliffe Bible Translators USA is for people from every language to understand the Bible and be transformed.”