Eddie Arthur spent 12 years in the Ivory Coast helping to translate the Bible for the Kouya people.
He now heads up Wycliffe Bible translators and believes more Christians need to be aware of efforts to spread the scriptures across locations and languages.
1. What is Wycliffe?
In one sense Wycliffe does what it says on the tin. We translate the Bible. We’re currently involved in translating the Bible into 1400 different languages around the world.
We also realise that the people for whom we’re working are impoverished in terms of educational development so we work with them to develop literacy and health materials. The focus of our work is the minority languages of the world.
2. How did it start?
Wycliffe was founded in the 1930s by an American called Townsend who was distributing Bibles in Guatemala. He was in a market town giving away Spanish Bibles and an indigenous Guatemalan said: 'If your God is so clever how come he doesn't speak my language?' At that point he realised there was no use carrying Spanish Bibles around because most Guatemalans didn’t speak Spanish.
3. You have a remarkable story about how you got involved, don't you?
Yes, the story starts in 1958 with the Kouya people in West Africa. The first missionaries came. When they got there they told people the good news about Jesus and no one wanted to hear about it, apart from one man, a 25 year old. He became the first Christian there.
He didn’t fully understand what happened and no one was there to disciple him. He wanted to read the Bible but there wasn’t one in his language. He prayed that someone would come and live in his village and translate the scriptures.
Every day of his life he prayed for someone to translate the Bible into his own language.
Sue and I were born in 1958. Every day of my life, for 30 years, he was praying for me. In 1988 we arrived.
I got involved in Wycliffe because a man who could hardly read or write prayed the whole of my life that I would come and translate the Bible into his own language.
4. Why are you so passionate about Bible translation?
I always felt a call to mission work since I was 16. My wife is a professional translator and I was a scientist. We discovered that those gifts combined with the Bible were Bible translation.
I’m passionate about getting people reading the Bible. Around the world, there are still 350 million people without a single word of scripture in their language. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.
5. Does it frustrate you to see so many English language versions of the Bible when some languages don’t have one?
It drives me up the wall quite frankly. When I saw they were revising the NIV yet again, I found it quite difficult.
That being said, many of the translators do use their profits to support Christian ministry around the world. So the people who publish the Living Bible are very generous benefactors to Wycliffe.
I can’t complain entirely, but I do wish we’d stop lavishing resources on ourselves and offer resources to the rest of the world. It’s the spiritual equivalent of obesity being a huge problem in the Western world while there are millions around the world who are starving.
6. Do you think Christians are unaware of the need for more translations?
It’s one of the best kept secrets of mission. You talk to Christians in the UK about it and they are shocked.
If there is a famine, organisations will put out pictures of starving children which attract attention, quite widely and draw us in. But a picture of someone without a Bible is never going to be very exciting. So to get that message across is very hard work.
Anyone who loves their Bible would hopefully realise how difficult it would be if they didn’t have one in their own language.
7. What’s the best Christian book you’ve read?
There are two I would thoroughly recommend. One is called The Book That Made Your World by Vishal Mangalwadi. It’s a book about the Bible. We think of it as something that shapes our lives as Christians, but we forget how much it has impacted civilization.
The other book I’d recommend is Kingdom Without Borders by Miriam Adeney. It’s a brilliant book about how God is working throughout the world.
8. You’ve said that the West used to send missions to other countries, but now the reverse is happening. Explain more about that.
The Christian gospel is this amazing thing. It isn’t owned by any country. We in the West have done a great job in spreading the gospel around the world. We did so well that the centre of Christianity is now in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The church is growing at a real pace in those countries, in a time where the church is struggling in Europe. I’m excited about the idea that we learn from the nations that we previously blessed. Now they bless us in turn. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still be involved in mission. Mission used to be from the West to the West, but now it needs to be from everywhere to everywhere.
9. What’s God been teaching you recently?
I keep getting taught the same lesson because I don’t learn it very well. God gave us a Sabbath for good reasons and I need to slow down and rest and spend time with him. It’s so easy in Christian work to get fired up by your passion but that can get life out of balance. There’s a need to take Sabbath rest and reflect on where you’re going.
10. What can people do to support Wycliffe?
The most important thing they can do is pray. Christian missionaries always say that, but it’s true. I don’t think we take prayer seriously enough. It’s not that prayer is powerful, but that God is powerful and he has said he will answer our prayers.
We desperately need people, and not just linguists. We need teachers, IT people – you can imagine the difference a PC makes to Bible translation. So we need software developers and people who can repair computers. And if you have a bit of money, we’ll take that as well.
There are nearly 20 million people around the world without scriptures. We need to be woken up because the challenge is there and it’s up to the Church to deal with it.
May 8th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes