How do you translate “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” in a culture where the stomach, rather than the heart, is the seat of the soul? How do you translate “Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” in a culture that builds no buildings, but lives in yurts, particularly if the ring at the top of the yurt (the “Shanirach”) is the piece that holds all the other pieces together and gives stability to the entire home? What if the term “Christian” (itself only found three times in the New Testament) is understood primarily ethnically and is associated with foreign oppression? Proclaiming the gospel in foreign cultures involves both a thorough understanding of a new language and a nuanced and sociologically informed understanding of how language is used within that context. How many missionaries have heard the famous Inigo Montoya line, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”?
Bible translators with Wycliffe and The Seed Company work hard to develop accurate translations of the Bible for people groups who have no complete Bible in their language. Dave and Joyce Briley have spent a lifetime laboring in Papua, Indonesia, translating the Bible into the Bauzi language. Since their work is largely focused on tribal people, they have been involved in literacy training, educational development, and collaboration with others working on similar languages. The Seed Company involves an accelerated strategy hiring nationals and doing some translation from the already complete translated manuscripts of related languages. Second’s adopted project, also in Indonesia, has moved forward, despite fears that the leaders of the established religion in the area will respond with violence when they discover the Bible and other Christian literature making its way into their community.
While selecting the best words to convey the gospel in print is essential, helping young leaders learn to interpret those words is no less significant. Many have grown up with a competing world-view and have been trained from childhood to interpret certain biblical truths incorrectly. If one has been trained from childhood that God is great and cannot have a biological son, and that those who teach so are blasphemous, how will that student understand terms like “Son of God” and phrases like “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”? Church leaders need teachers, like Mike and his wife, Stephanie, who have committed their lives to helping former Muslims understand the person and work of Jesus and the Bible, which speaks of Him. They combine seminary level instruction with personal life-on-life involvement that helps young leaders holistically “interpret” the Bible. They also help students think through communication strategies they might use when they return to their communities and teach others the Word of God.
Even in Christian nations like Malawi, where 80% of the population would in some way profess to be Christian, knowledge of the Bible is often very superficial. In the rural areas the literacy rate is very low, so few people, even pastors and church leaders, even own a Bible. World Relief Malawi helps mobilize the church, beginning with a discipleship program called “Integral Mission.” This Scripture-based curriculum helps integrate the Bible and a biblical worldview into all of life. Second members have joined with local World Relief staff like Fletcher Mdena to serve these church leaders, offering seminars on pastoral leadership, family life, and youth ministry.