I recently heard a story from Nate and Ivy Cheeseman, Wycliffe Bible Translators USA personnel serving in Mainland Southeast Asia. Several months ago, they started passing out audio Bibles — Scriptures translated and recorded in a local language and distributed on MP3 players. A local church asked for a few copies, then returned for five more. Another request came for 40 more, and another request after that, and before they knew it the requests were pouring in!
“God just kept networking us with local Christians in our city who wanted to give these [audio Bibles] to their friends or neighbors,” Ivy said. “It seemed like everywhere we went — whether it was our homeschool co-op, a coffee shop or even while on vacation — we kept meeting people who wanted to get the Bible out.”
The Cheesemans helped distribute hundreds of audio Bibles, then enforced lockdown measures started in their local area in response to the pandemic.
As the people in their community retreated into their homes in self-isolation, Nate and Ivy realized how God had been working, pushing ahead to get his Word into the hands of people before they could no longer meet together in their churches and Christian communities. God provided the anchor of his Word before the storm of the pandemic arrived.
Now Nate and Ivy are hearing about how, even in isolation, people have become believers and new Christians are being discipled through God’s Word because they have access to the Scriptures in a language and form that meets their needs during this global pandemic.
Advancing the Work
We know many of our Wycliffe USA personnel around the globe have similar stories of God’s provision during this uncertain time. Even now when the body of Christ isn’t able to meet together, we can see and trust that God is working in people’s hearts through his Word, and his Word will not return void.
Along with our partners, Wycliffe USA continues the important work of bringing Christ’s love through God’s Word to people in ways they can best understand: online, in apps, in video, print and audio forms. Technology is crucial to the continuation of Bible translation during this time. For example, when local translation teams can’t meet together because of self-isolation measures, they still have an abundance of exegetical and translation materials at their fingertips through a database called the Digital Bible Library and other online resources. Collaborative software also allows translators and Bible scholars to work together across the globe to continue translation efforts.
With these technologies and other advancements in translation, we see God’s anchoring provision. It’s encouraging and exciting that the first complete video Bible in the American Sign Language Version was completed in June, despite the pandemic. We also celebrate that more than 420 million unique devices have installed YouVersion’s Bible App. God is moving!
Another Bible translation team in Tanzania found a very practical way to show Christ’s love to the Deaf community around them. When they realized that the Deaf had no access to information about COVID-19 safety and local guidelines, the team paused Bible translation and developed informative health and procedural videos to share with them. These videos helped the Deaf protect themselves and abide by local regulations, and served as a tangible way for the translation team to demonstrate their genuine concern and care for their community.
Light in the Storm
We have a tremendous opportunity as Christians, right now while so many of the distractions of the world are on hold, to love our neighbors across the world in the most important way of all — by communicating Christ’s love to them.
Did you know that there are over 171 million people in the world who still need Bible translation to begin in a language and form they can best understand? Many of these unreached people live in some of the most difficult areas of the world, often making their communities the ones in greatest danger and most in need of spiritual nourishment. But when people in these communities finally have the opportunity to experience God’s Word in their own language, their lives are transformed!
How can we as the body of Christ respond to the millions of people without the Bible? How can we practically communicate Christ’s love to them?
Let’s first recognize that God is here with us speaking to us through his Word. Let’s in turn speak truth and encouragement into people’s lives in this time that is often filled with loneliness and fear. Let’s look for specific ways we can be the hands and feet of Jesus to those around us.
Next, let’s join in the global Bible translation movement by earnestly praying for Bibleless people and the missionaries God has in place right now for this time. Let’s invest in God’s Kingdom by partnering financially to bring the hope and truth of the Bible to all people. Let’s spread the word to our churches and friends.
Finally, let’s use this opportunity while so many of life’s distractions are on hold to refocus and recenter our attention on God. Let’s use this time of uncertainty to anchor ourselves in God’s certainty and be a beacon of hope which draws others to him as Lord and Savior.
John Chesnut is Wycliffe Bible Translators USA President/CEO.
Wycliffe Bible Translators USA is a nonprofit organization that has helped people around the world to translate the Bible into their own languages for over 75 years. Its vision is for people from every language to understand the Bible and be transformed. To learn more about Wycliffe USA and the ministry of Bible translation, visit wycliffe.org.