Bringing the Word to the World
A conversation between Pastor Priji and Pastor Jobby Prasanan on the importance of Bible translation, Language statistics and processes involved for Bible translation work.
Pastor Priji: So you’re into Bible translation and the organization that you work with is called Unfolding Word. Why is it important and how serious is this task of Bible translation and why should the church take it seriously?
Pastor Jobby: We have Bibles in our own languages. Therefore the pain of not having to know of other languages is not much for us because we are not involved in that particular language or culture. It so happens that when we have Bibles available in our own languages we assume the fact that this is what it takes for people to know the Lord. But over time people have realized that a language that does not have a Bible is a language that is least unpreached and because Bibles are not available in that languages most of the time people might read from their own languages in groups or in common language rather than their own language. What happens is eventually their own language loses their value and then only when a person moves to a city and goes back into their city is now introducing something he learned from the new language or common language, which most people from local languages wouldn’t understand. So if gospel is preached out of context, they feel that this God that is being preached about doesn’t speak their language. That is why our organization stepped in and made sure to translate so people can read.
Pastor Priji : While I was talking to you I realized, we assume that Bible is actually available in every language in the world, so what’s the point or need of translation now. So would you help us with some statistics of how many languages are there in the world and how many the Bible comes in?
Pastor Jobby : According to the Bible translators, the current statistics, which keep changing often, right now one in every five people are still awaiting Bibles in their own languages. We have around 7053 languages in the world, of which 698 languages of Bibles. So about 6000 or more languages that require Bible.
We have part of the New Testament scriptures for 1500 languages, and 1100 languages with some portion of the Bible, and 2670 languages which have active translation work going on. But still a lot of work to get done.
Pastor Priji : And here we are sitting, thinking that because Bible is there in English, our local languages, that it’s reaching everywhere and every place. So how does the process of translation happen because you’ve been in this ministry for a while. What goes into translation ? How is the process and finally reach the hands of a person who’s speaking the language?
Pastor Jobby : If a new translation process is undertaken, by those involved in the translation, they would send one of their missionaries into that local culture and move as a family, stay there, learn their culture, learn the language etc, these are all expats. They might not even be from the same continent. They are all missionaries who’ve moved to that place.
So that is our traditional approach and the language is first learned, the culture is learned, and then translation process begins. The missionaries are basically consultants trained for Bible translation work. You need to undergo 7-8 years of training to qualify as a consultant and Bible translator. This is usually a 30-40 year process.
Pastor Priji : A language group or a people group would have to basically wait for about 30-40 years from the time a missionary decides to go there to the time they actually get a Bible in their language?
Pastor Jobby : Yes and because of that usually a generation would be lost without knowledge of the Lord. And how do you establish churches without scriptures. 30 years is a long time for anybody and any culture to be waiting for a Bible to be available in their language.
Pastor Priji : So what is the method that current generation Bible translating companies are doing?
Pastor Jobby : This was an initiative taken Wyliffe organization. According to what the Bible says ‘ The Gospel shall be preached to the ends of the earth ‘, as opposed to those who think Bible is preached only at the pulpit and in the church. In order for the Gospel to be reached to the ends of the earth, Wycliffe organization decided that they would start an initiative process that they would expedite the bible translation to such an extent that the language and culture would have their Bible in only 3-5 years. So the process was put in place and that is when all the traditional Bible translation agencies and jumped in and it was a big paradigm shift, because it is not easy to move from one traditional movement to another movement. But there was a lot of resistance. But through this resistance have realized that they need to take a middle stand but also by 2030 that all these 7000 plus languages, bible translation process should have started.
Pastor Priji : Now that people are getting into Bible translation, you mentioned how it goes through various levels of accrediting, background checking etc. Can you share the process with us how it finally reaches the end of the reader?
Pastor Jobby : What we do is our organization partners with the churches, you can be part of any churches, we bring together all the evangelicals and give out the vision to them. We hire or get people from these local languages and these people should not be influenced by any other languages. So these people should be thinking in their own language, communication tool that is being used needs to be their own. So we equipped them and trained them in translation tools, such as Bible notes, academy translation to equip the translators. We put them through 15 days of training and to draft the first page of the book of Luke, because Luke’s main objective of writing was for the Gentiles, which gives us a bit more perspective. Then the language communities understand and then they draft the first phase of the translation, after that is done, goes to the 2nd phase where larger communities are called in and they check through these and come up with their own suggestions, people who are doctors, engineers, housewives, cobblers, students etc, and get their input because it has to be clear for all the people groups. After that suggestions are incorporated into the text and then to the higher communities where the church and network leaders look into that check the work and clear it from their end. Then it goes to the theologians and consultants, then once they approve it, then we have a translation tool to see where a text stands if it’s whether in dynamic or literal side, then it goes into publishing.
Pastor Priji : The listeners of this podcast, some of them are working, studying, young people, in ministry, in churches, how can they get involved in a ministry like this and partner?
Pastor Jobby : 3 ways.
1 – through prayer. We have seen many involved in the translation work go through a very tough time especially in debt, health issues, things are not easy because we are not fighting flesh and blood but forces of darkness.
2 – developing tools, to help, programmers to help in the work we’re doing. Individuals with some theological background with knowledge in Greek and Hebrews can help with translation and aligning text etc.
3 – Giving. Financial support, this is a huge process and not a one day’s job, we need a lot of monetary work in our program. Usually we charge 10$ per verse, we have around 7000 verses in the New Testament and the Old Testament is 3 times of New. We’ve been able to revise for 14 languages in india in a span of 14 months, which praise God has set a record in the translation community. We have 1200 languages being worked on in India, which we don’t really have funding for through unfolding.org website.
Pastor Priji : I liked what you said ‘ when we work for the Lord we are just working for a particular duration, but when we work at bringing God’s work to the people, the Word lives on even after our lifetime. It’s a great way to invest into the generations to come. More than the churches that we plant and posts we put up etc, this is for generations to come. So you live in Ajax which is just adjacent to Toronto, Canada?
Pastor Jobby : Yes we live there, God was pushing us to move there. We were living in Toronto then the Lord moved us there to Ajax. My wife is working and I am involved in Bible translation work, not just focused on India but Africa, Georgia, Indonesia, China. Especially pray for China because doors are completely closed over there for missions work and for our ministers, so please pray for doors to be open in China.
To connect :-
Website – unfoldingword.org
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