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SpaceX and Starlink: How they're involved in latest breakthrough in Bible translation

Papua New Guinea Bible Translations Continue Despite Violence
Two women with copies of the New Testament in their own language. |

The people in Sima’s tiny village on the side of the mountain in South Asia work hard to provide for themselves, and for each other. They are a small community that lives on little. As a Bible translator in her spare time, Sima makes the 2-hour trek through the jungle with her baby and her laptop to reach a small town that has an internet café. There, she has just enough bandwidth to send a text with updates.

Sima knows something that few in her village know: that God is going to meet them through His Word. What she may not yet know is that this may happen sooner rather than later thanks to the latest technology of low-earth satellites.

Nearly 600 years ago the Bible went to press with less than 200 copies in distribution but something big had happened—the Gutenberg Printing Press was born. Today, over 100 million copies of the Bible are printed every single year. Thirteen years ago, the most popular Bible reading app, YouVersion, brought God’s Word to even more people—this time in digital form. Last year, the app saw a record 600 million searches.

Sima’s neighbors are among the 1.5 billion who don’t have a full Bible in their language. In fact, 167 million people have no Scripture in their language.

Bible translation has always been integral to God’s mission. Because of those who translated, most of us in the United States have access to God’s Word in our heart language. But many of us forget—or maybe aren’t aware—that others have been left behind.

For hundreds of years up until now, the translation process has been slow and tedious, sometimes taking more than ten years to get God’s Word translated into a heart language. Today, that is changing. God is on the move through terms like high speed and low latency.

And because of that, Sima and millions of others will have access to God’s Word in their heart language at an exponential pace. Bible poverty will finally be eradicated.

No, this is not the Jetsons—that fictitious and magical animated sitcom where George Jetson and his family experienced travel in whimsical ways. We can’t teleport across the world in person. But we can still instantly be there—a reality that will allow Scripture to finally be translated more efficiently and quickly into every language which still does not have it.

Enter Starlink satellites by SpaceX—low-earth satellites about the size of a refrigerator that are rapidly allowing those in every nook and cranny of this world to be connected to high-speed internet. For many in rural, remote contexts, this means access to education and healthcare and family resources. And it means access to the only hope that transcends the harsh realities of our world—God’s Word.

For decades, countless Bible translators have labored tirelessly to translate Scripture into languages all over the globe. They knew what God meant when they read that “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Like Sima, they would travel by foot for miles just to connect to the internet.

Many still do, because unlike those in more developed countries, many in remote areas have no access to the internet. The biggest hurdle to Bible translation is not a lack of desire. It’s a lack of internet connectivity. Without this, the translation process is long and laborious; consultants and Bible software are critical to the process, and without either easily accessible, translation projects languish, and hope is deferred.

Five years ago, I couldn’t have dreamed that we would have in our sights the possibility to get God’s Word into every heart language within just a few years. But God is on the move through low-earth satellites and other technologies that speed the process.

God used the Gutenberg Press. And radio. And television. And computers and smartphones and apps. “How long, O Lord?” many of us have asked as we have longed for the day when all would have access to God’s Word. Today, in the near distance, if you listen long enough, you may just hear a rumbling that sounds something like, “Soon…”

In the latest technological marvel, Wycliffe Bible Translators has designed a unique network device called Nomad that allows our Bible translation databases to utilize the newly-launched SpaceX low-earth satellites. Developed by Wycliffe missionaries, Nomad is an entire network including server, storage, firewall, and a commercial access point that allows up to 150 people to use the wireless network at the same time. It also fits in a durable, compact travel case that can be carried easily on the back of a motorcycle or bicycle. It can connect to any internet service and the equipment is designed to withstand the high temperatures, humidity, and dusty environments often found in the remote parts of the world where Bible translation projects need to happen. 

Now, rather than making a difficult and lengthy trek every few months transporting translation documents and hard drives from a remote area to the nearest city with WiFi, translators can simply upload their translation progress digitally from rural locations. Consultants can check translation work daily instead of making long and sometimes dangerous flights into remote villages once or twice per year.

God, through His Word, is coming to every darkened part of this world, and He is using space satellites. Communities will be changed for the better as those like Sima’s finally have equal access to the wonders of Scripture just as many have had for hundreds of years.

It is time. May the whole earth be filled with God’s glory (Psalm 72:19)!

Andrew Flemming is the Wycliffe Bible Translators VP for Global Partnerships.

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