SE Asia (MNN/WAS) – Can you make sense of this statement? “Although they’ve had the Gospel for 182 years, they’ve never had the Word of God in their own language.” It’s what Wycliffe Associates President and CEO, Bruce Smith said about a group of believers in Southeast Asia.
To explain his meaning, he added, “It was always worshiping and studying the Bible in a foreign language.”
In essence, it’d be similar to saying you speak a village dialect of Chinese, but you’ve always had to study God’s Word and worship in Mandarin. It works, but some of the subtle meaning can get lost in translation. For this group, time was of the essence as “they’ve struggled to teach the Scriptures to their young people in other languages.”
Smith was excited to witness a breakthrough for this SE Asian language group — a first since missionaries initially shared the Gospel with the language group in 1834. A group of mother-tongue translators are finalizing the New Testament project using the Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation (MAST) program.
“The opportunity for them to advance Bible translation in their own language, just within the two week workshop while we were there, they translated 18 books in the New Testament. They’re actually now, right now, as you and I are speaking, they’re finishing their New Testament translations this week.”
What is MAST? It’s an innovative method where translators work in teams, drafting verses concurrently during the mornings and using a five-step process to check the verses in the afternoons and evenings.
“They’ve been told for generations they have to keep waiting until Westerners can translate the Bible for them,” says Smith. Now equipped with the means to take ownership in their own spiritual walk, he adds, “Ultimately, the decision about how much of God’s Word, how soon, is really now in their hands. My expectation is that they will move forward directly with translating the Old Testament.”
They’ve done so with gusto, even though they’re surrounded by antagonistic unbelievers. “Because of that, we want to be careful not to increase their risk…but, they are actually quite bold in their own testimony. This was in a public place. The church is a known part of that community.”
Translation experts have confirmed the quality and accuracy of the work. Dr. John Luton, who has participated in checking the work of 52 translation projects around the world says, “The work produced through MAST methodology is excellent. It compares very favorably with texts produced through other methods.”
Wycliffe Associates provides the equipment, technology, and support for language projects using MAST, at a cost of approximately $50,500 per language. The support of Wycliffe Associates also ensures that translators’ work will be kept safe, as MAST processes include the immediate upload and backup of the translated Scriptures.
The Southeast Asia language group is one of 14 people groups, representing 17 million people. Smith says, “Pray for them as they bring this New Testament translation to a conclusion, that as they publish it, and as they start disseminating it that this will be begin to shed light into a pretty dark arena.”
More than 2,000 translations are in progress worldwide. Wycliffe Associates estimates that more than 3,300 translations still need to begin.