Illuminating the world: Collaboration in translation

For thousands of years, the church has been working to translate God’s Word into every language on earth. Today, thanks to unprecedented unity, increasing resources, and new technology, Bible translation is accelerating like never before.

There are more than 7,000 languages globally. Today, only 695 of these languages have full Bibles, 1,554 have New Testaments and 972 have access to some Scripture in their language. But in more than 3800 languages there is still little or no access to Scripture at all.

In more than 3800 languages there is still little or no access to Scripture at all.

Through illumiNations, an alliance of Bible translation agencies and resource partners, the translation community is working to get everyone a Bible in a language their heart can connect with. We call it “eradicating Bible poverty,” and we hope to accomplish it by 2033. Under the illumiNations umbrella, 10 Bible translation organizations – the American Bible Society, Biblica, Deaf Bible Society, Lutheran Bible Translators, Pioneer Bible Translators, Seed Company, SIL, The Word for the World, United Bible Societies, and Wycliffe USA – are targeting the translation finish line together.

How to reach the whole world

The unprecedented, “other-centered” cooperation between these organizations – which together are involved in 90 percent of the world’s Bible translation work – has reduced duplication and redundancy in the work of Bible translation and has delighted donors who were weary of being approached by translators duplicating each other’s efforts. Now that these organizations are all working together, givers know their money is better spent.

illumiNations advocates for every verse of God’s Word to be translated into every language, according to the expressed need of God’s Church. As we strive toward that ultimate target, however, we envision a day very soon when every people group on earth has access to at least some Scripture in their heart language – the language they think in, dream in, and pray in – the language in which God’s Word will resonate most deeply with them. This vision is expressed in the goals for we’ve set for the year 2033: 95 percent of the world’s population will have access to a full Bible in their heart language; 99.96 percent will have access to a New Testament in their heart language; and 100 percent of the world’s population will have access to at least some portion of Scripture in their heart language. In the world’s most strategic 100 written languages, at least two viable Bible translations will be available.

For many of the world’s remaining Bible-less people, these goals mean that their first heart-language Scripture will be oral Bible stories, the “JESUS” Film, or audio recordings. These goals require translation for the world’s 400 sign languages – none of which has a complete Bible yet. And of course, they mean printed Scripture for millions who have been waiting.

From a digital library to a model for sharing

The collaboration began with the creation of a shared repository for digital and audio texts – the Digital Bible Library – in 2010. This group of translation agencies recognized it was better to work together as they pursue their goals. While working on the library, the agencies learned to trust one another, leading to additional cooperation. Together, they’ve adopted a common framework for the process of Bible translation and are developing a comprehensive “ecosystem” of tools and information. This shared commitment to common operating principles, processes, and outcomes, as well as access to common data, now enables shared planning and implementation. How many more ministries could learn from this model!

Perhaps most remarkable, though, is how the illumiNations partners are working together to raise the funds required for this immense undertaking. Until recently the individual organizations each worked independently to invite givers partnering to fund the Bible translation movement. As a result, they periodically bumped into each other, in a sense competing for givers’ funds. What’s more, as the various agencies interacted with their donors, they were only able to share their vision for their own relatively small part of the overall task, instead of explaining the far-more-engaging and inspiring ultimate goal.

But through illumiNations, these partner agencies share a unified vision and are coordinating with each other as they invite givers to become engaged in translation. In 2015, Seed Company opened up its annual major-donor fundraising weekend event to other translation organizations. At that gathering, donors were exposed to the global need for translation and matched with the most appropriate translation agency, based on their passions for particular regions or people groups, even if that agency was not Seed Company.

Partner agencies share a unified vision and coordinate with each other as they invite givers to become engaged in translation.

Because stewardship responds to vision, leadership, and momentum, the results were spectacular! Gifts of $75,000 or $300,000 or $1 million to single agencies have become gifts of $600,000 and $1,500,000 and even $10,000,000. Where individual agencies might have enjoyed first-time gifts of $10,000, $25,000, or possibly $50,000, working together through illumiNations the movement is now regularly seeing initial gifts of $420,000 or $960,000 and even sometimes much more. Since 2014 a total of nearly $160,000,000 has been given by about 400 givers. Stories of how God (owner of the cattle on a thousand hills) has raised up stunningly generous givers to underwrite the vision affirms the hope provided by the Word of God and evidence that all nations are coming to God’s light (Isaiah 60:3).

Scripture makes clear that the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller (2 Corinthians 9:6-8, among others), but that the world of the generous grows larger and larger (2 Corinthians 9:8-11). The illumiNations community of givers and Bible translation leaders attests to the fact their world is getting larger and larger each day as they choose to lay their lives down to see the very least of these, those without access to the gospel in their language, be lifted up. We know that the greatest picture of generosity in all history is the cross. And in light of what God did for us there, how can we do anything but offer back to him all we have and are?

We know that the greatest picture of generosity in all history is the Cross. And in light of what God did for us there, how can we do anything but offer back to him all we have and are?

All nations will come to your light

For centuries, faithful men and women have laid their lives down for the sake of advancing the gospel. Today, as Bible translation becomes more and more a work that is occurring at the most local expression of the church, almost always led indigenously, the addition of stunningly generous financial partners is making it highly likely the 2033 goals will be realized, and that the vision of Bible poverty being eradicated will come to fruition! Standing on the shoulders of spiritual giants, generations whose faithful work carried God’s Word to the corners of the earth, this group is working better and faster to finish the task.

Today, at a pace the world has never seen, God’s Word is reaching and transforming people, communities, even whole nations. Leading Bible translation agencies are unifying their efforts and riding the technological revolution. And the goal of having heart-language scripture in every language is becoming more achievable by the day. The global Church, with its members working in complementary fashion, stands on the verge of bringing Scripture to every nation, tribe, people and language on Earth.

God will have the ultimate victory, drawing all people to him!

Photo: Sarah Shaffer, Unsplash

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