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23 February 2023

Teamwork in Bible translation


CMS missionary Diane Lovell, together with Nathan, serves in training and working with Christians from all over Africa in communicating the gospel of grace. Here Diane speaks of the great value of teamwork in translation. 

God is a speaking God—most clearly through the Bible. Therefore, working to share God’s Bible with people around the world is a worthy task. But it’s not an easy one: we need translation, and we need teamwork. 

Translating the power of words 

I have always been fascinated by languages.

For words not only describe the world around us; they have power to change the world.

We know of the power of ‘positive thinking’ and ‘positive self-talk’. We are aware that reminding ourselves of the truth in the Bible has a powerful effect on our minds and spirits. When we hear God’s word, we are transformed in the way we think, the way we believe, and the way we see the world and ourselves. By God’s Spirit, this enables us to grow into the people God wants us to be.  

But not all people, and not even all Christians, have the privilege of reading or singing or listening to the Bible in their own language. Current statistics are shocking. There are well over 7,000 languages in the world, but only 724 complete Bible translations! 

Since moving to South Africa in 2011, I’ve been involved (on and off around raising two children) in two translation projects. A print Bible for the MaFwe people in rural western Zambia, and a video Bible with the South African Sign Language project for the Deaf. Every time I’ve met with either team we have gathered as brothers and sisters eager to hear God speak and to teach and transform us.  

Hearing God’s good news is difficult if it’s in another language. Imagine if the only Bible you had on your shelf was in isiPedi, or Chatino language, and that was the only access you had to God’s word. Words in those foreign Bibles wouldn’t be the ones you use to describe your world. They wouldn’t burn in your heart when you heard them, unless perhaps you became an expert in those languages. The words would be meaningless. We need Bible translation.  

The Bible translation team at work. From left to right: Jim, Cosmas, David, Innocent and Rhoda.

The joy of working together

One of the best things about translation projects is working with local Christians.

God uses the whole body of Christ together to make a translation happen. This process can be summarised in three steps. 

Firstly, we need to understand the Bible text both from a theological perspective, as well as in a technical and linguistic way.  

Secondly, we need to know the people who hear or read what we are saying. What words are new (like ‘pharisee’ or ‘sanctification’)? What ideas are familiar (words like ‘ancestor’; or styles of storytelling)?  

Thirdly, we must share our skills to craft new translations. I don’t know ChiFwe or South African Sign language, but my translation teammates do. They share language and culture with me. I share some theological training and knowledge of translation strategies.  

It’s a joy to be involved in the way God has chosen to make himself known to every tribe, tongue, and nation. Please keep praying for the translation teams and for me. Pray that we would be faithful, so that people might know God better.  

PRAY

Pray with Diane for her work with translators, and that through their work the word of Christ would dwell richly in African Christians (Colossians 3:16). Pray also for more Christians in Africa to be able to access the Bible in their heart language.