International (MNN/WYC) — The Bible is God’s Word to us — something that everyone should be able to understand in their own language. It’s a given, right? Not for millions of people around the world.
Bob Creson, president and CEO of Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, says, “If people understand and appreciate God’s Word in their mother tongue, here in this environment–mostly likely English, Spanish, or one of the major languages of communication in the United States, they’ll begin to understand why people need to hear the Truth of Scriptures in their mother tongue, as well.”
That’s why Wycliffe exists: to help these remaining languages get the Bible for themselves. Here are the numbers: More than 1,300 languages have access to the New Testament and some portions of Scripture in their language. More than 550 languages have the complete translated Bible. Around 2,400 languages across 130 countries have active translation and linguistic development work happening right now. Just under 1,800 languages still need a Bible translation project to begin.
The end goal is transformation. When people finally get the Bible in their own language, lives often change in amazing ways. People are transformed as they are led to Jesus Christ and a right relationship with God. Creson says, “What we used to do is assign one team to one language for one lifetime. It would take 20 or 30 years to produce the New Testament.” The pace meant that millions went into eternity, never intersecting with the Gospel. With the advent of technology and creative strategies, there are regular reports about translation innovation underway, and with it, acceleration.
Imagine what it’s been like for a translation trailblazer. George Cowan is a retired Wycliffe staff member. His whole life has been dedicated to creating access to God’s Word. For example, as a young man, Cowan moved to Mexico where he met and married his wife, Florence, in 1942. During their time in Mexico, they studied the Mazatec language — one that can be spoken or whistled — and helped translate the New Testament, which was completed in 1961.
Cowan has also held a number of leadership positions over the years. A few of these include director of SIL* Mexico (1951-1953), president of Wycliffe Bible Translators International (now called Wycliffe Global Alliance — 1956-1981), and director of linguistic schools in Canada, England, Germany, and the United States. In addition, he regularly lectured at Perspectives courses from 1988-2008 and taught at Wycliffe’s orientation course for new members from 1981-2014.
At his age, one thing Cowan has is perspective. Creson says, “George actually sees the pace of translation increasing to the point where, in this generation, we will see the remaining Bible translation needs started.” He also notes that where Bible translation is today would not have happened without the pioneers who gutted it out without satellite technology, computers, the worldwide web, or many of the other tools used today in Bible translation work. “This 100th birthday is a very big thing for all of us, including George. We stand on the shoulders of people like George and Florrie, who gave us this opportunity to accelerate the pace of Bible translation to the pace it is today.
Even when Cowan wasn’t working in the field anymore, he never stopped working. Perhaps one of Cowan’s best-known contributions has been as a prayer warrior. Creson says no one understands the nature of spiritual warfare better than those who’ve experienced it firsthand.
To that end, Wycliffe is still asking for prayer cover. In the last two decades, the trend emerging on the mission field is partnership.
First, their partnership with like-minded groups. Nobody needs to re-invent the wheel, anymore. ”Across Bible agencies, Wycliffe partners very closely with the United Bible Society; we partner very closely with SIL, which is one of our primary field partners; we partner with the American Bible Society, which is part of the United Bible Society; we partner heavily with The JESUS Film and Faith Comes By Hearing; YWAM is a major partner for us today.”
Second, the ownership of the Bible translation work has shifted to the local Church body. ”There is great capacity now, within local communities, to partner with us to produce Scriptures. As opposed to us telling people what they ought to do in relation to Scripture translation needs, they’re coming to us asking us for help to accomplish the needs that they’ve already perceived.”
As the new partnerships advance the Gospel, so, too, do spiritual challenges advance. Don’t forget: this is war. Creson observes, “The enemy always loves to attack at our point of unity and at our point of cooperation and partnership. I would just ask that listeners would pray that God would protect us as we work together toward what we really believe is God’s mission.”
On February 23, friends and family will celebrate George Cowan’s 100th year on earth. They’ll celebrate a legacy of love and focus: strive for faith and perseverance for people still waiting for the Bible in their own language.