Three ministries render a Bible translation tool for oral cultures

By March 8, 2016
(Screen capture Render courtesy FCBH)

(Screen capture Render courtesy FCBH)

International (FCBH/MNN) — What do you do when you want to merge the elements of multiple audio projects into a single new entity?

You render it.

Taking from this idea, Render is new Bible translation software geared specifically for the oral cultures around the world. It’s been developed and tested by three partnering agencies: Faith Comes By Hearing, Pioneer Bible Translators, and The Seed Company.

FCBH notes that there are more than 1,800 oral cultures — representing perhaps 1 billion people — that don’t have the Bible in their own language. Under traditional methods, Bible translators would have to build a vocabulary, create an alphabet, and then develop syntax and a whole written language before being able to begin translation work. Essentially, it was a lifetime’s work to create a written Bible, much less doing one in audio.

However, the program Render eliminates the need to create a written language for an oral culture, represents a new way of thinking. It means non-literate people can join a process that previously excluded them. For many oral communicators, there is the heart language and the trade language. That’s where Robin Green, the Render project manager, decided to connect a few more dots. “What Render does is allows someone who is a speaker of more than one language to listen to a recording of Scripture in a language that they understand and then do the translation orally into their mother tongue, and then record their translation.”

(Screen capture Render courtesy FCBH)

(Screen capture Render courtesy FCBH)

Simply put, says Green, they just need a translation approach that accommodates their skills and talents. “We work with Bible translation organizations who do the translation of Scripture, and then we record that translation. Render allows that translation and the recording to happen at the same time.”

As with most innovative Bible translation projects, questions about accuracy arise. Green says Render helps with drafting, peer review, revision, community testing, back translation, and consultant checking, and also manages workflow.

“If you’re doing it in an oral way, how do you make sure that Scripture remains Scripture over time? Now, with technology, we have the ability to record the translations and distribute them. There is a record there that is kept digitally for years.”

This has been a project that spotlights ingenuity, perseverance, and God’s timing. Faith Comes By Hearing began to consider the possibility of audio-to-audio translation in 2012. But Jonathan Huguenin, Language Recording Division Manager at Faith Comes By Hearing, ran into brick wall after brick wall. Then one day, someone handed him Green’s master’s thesis, and he quickly determined that her ideas could help make the concept a reality.

Not knowing how to contact her, Huguenin sent letters to five individuals named Robin Green;he finally received a voicemail from the correct Robin Green about one month later. Green joined Faith Comes By Hearing soon afterward, and the three organizations worked together for 2 1/2 years to design, build, and test the software for oral Bible translation.

Today, Pioneer Bible Translators President Greg Pruett says the software has the potential to revolutionize Bible translation. The end game isn’t a book anymore…and there’s a growing sense of urgency. Green agrees. “Once that passage of Scripture gets through the entire translation process and is approved, then it is distributable Scripture. We don’t have to wait for an entire book or an entire Testament to be able to distribute something.”

(Screen capture Render courtesy FCBH)

(Screen capture Render courtesy FCBH)

Faith Comes By Hearing records audio Bibles and relies on its partners to do the translation. Render is an example of translation and recording coming together at the same time. It allows oral cultures to take ownership in having the Bible in their own language. Green says the first project aimed at actually producing distributable Scriptures will be in Uganda in May. “One way to pray is for the people who will be receiving God’s Word in their heart language for the first time, that through this tool, people can have their lives transformed by the power of the Word of God.”

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