Thursday, August 22, 2013

Wycliffe and "the Guatemalan Connection"

As I promised in my previous post here is an article that will show you the Guatemalan Connection to Wycliffe.

William Cameron Townsend

By Claude Hickman

"The greatest missionary is the Bible in the mother tongue. It needs no furlough and is never considered a foreigner." - William Cameron Townsend
William Cameron Townsend was one of the three most influential missions leaders in the last two centuries. This was the statement that Ralph Winter made after hearing that Townsend had passed away in 1982. 'Cameron' was born in California in 1896 into a time of poverty for the country. He was raised in the Presbyterian Church and decided to stay in California, enrolling in Occidental College in Los Angeles.
The influence of the Student Volunteer Movement, though in its early beginnings, had gained enough momentum to reach from the East coast to Cameron in the West. During Townsend's junior year, the movement's lead visionary, John R. Mott, visited Occidental and challenged students to give their lives to the evangelization of the world in this generation. Cameron met with Mott and joined the SVM, committing his life to the Great Commission. He had joined the National Guard in 1917, and was prepared to serve his country in the war, when he was challenged by a missionary on furlough to obey his SVM commitment and go to the mission field instead of the battlefield. He applied for a discharge in order to become a missionary to Guatemala and was surprised to get it approved by his commanding officer.
Cam left for Guatemala in August 1917, with a Bible association that sold Spanish Bibles there. He was serving a one year commitment in Guatemala, and almost finished when, on one day, something radically changed his perspective and eventually the course of missions history. One afternoon, one of the Cakchiquel Indians that Cameron had been living among last few months, approached his table and looked curiously at the Spanish Bible, asking what it was. Townsend explained to him that it was the words of God, the creator of all mankind. The man replied, sarcastically to Cameron, "If your God is so smart, why doesn't he speak my language?" Cameron was stunned to find that this man, though he lived in Guatemala, was one of the 200,000 Cakchiquel people and spoke zero Spanish.
The cutting remark left Cameron with a scar that he would never get rid of. It began to burden him that there were thousands of individuals, and hundred of other tribes, without one page of scripture in their language. Townsend would not return from his one year missions trip. In fact, he dedicated the next 13 years of his life to Cakchiquel Indians, translating the Bible into their language in an incredible 10 years. Cameron allowed the gospel to interrupt the course of his life. He began an organization known as Wycliffe Bible Translators, named after the Reformation hero who first translated the Bible into English.
Concerned about other minority language groups, Townsend opened Camp Wycliffe in Arkansas in the summer of l934. The camp was designed to train young people in basic linguistics and translation methods. Two students enrolled. The following year, after a training session with five men in attendance, Townsend took the five to Mexico to begin field work. From this small beginning has grown the worldwide ministry of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, Wycliffe Bible Translators, and Wycliffe Associates. No cultural group is considered too small, no language too difficult. Pioneering continues as several thousand workers break new ground in many parts of the world. The highest standards of linguistics and anthropological orientation are upheld. Service is stressed. All field work is done in cooperation with host governments, universities and philanthropic groups. Portions of the Christian Scriptures are translated for people in their mother tongue, the language of their hearts.
"Uncle Cam" as he is known by Wycliffe staff was also credited for beginning the final missions era that we are living in today. It is an era that focuses not on just reaching continents and inland countries, but on every distinct ethnic group, or people group in the world. This people group focus, taken from the original meaning of the word 'nations' (ethnos) as it was used in the New Testament and in the Great Commission, is the commitment to pioneer into every ethno-linguistic group. Cameron truly was one of the greatest missionary pioneers of our time. Today Wycliffe has the goal of translating the Bible into every language on the earth. Currently, there are over 3,000 languages without scripture, but 4,000 have at least portions in their dialect, all because Cameron stumbled on the idea of People Groups.

Visit of the Consultant

In November of 2012, I wrote about the agreement that I signed with the Guatemalan Bible Society. I mentioned that one of the major contributions the Bible Society could make to us, was providing us with a consultant to check and approve the translation that we are working on. Initially we planned for the consultant to come some time in March, but due to a number of reasons this did not happen. However, I am excited to say that the consultant finally came. 
While on furlough in Canada, I received word from the Guatemala Bible Society that they had finalized the agreement with the consultant and that she would be able to travel to Cubulco from August 5-9. This worked out good for me as we would be back from our furlough and would be able to go to Cubulco and meet the consultant. I was able to spend three days with the consultant, the translation team, and some members of the Bible Society. After some brief introductions and talking about the history of the translation work, we spent several days delving into several portions of the translated word of God into Kubultzij (Cubulco Achi). The consultant chose different texts from the Old and New Testament each with different genres. It was immediately apparent the value of this step in the translation process as the consultant asked pointed questions about how words, ideas, and concepts were being translated. The first text we tackled was Mark 1 and the first issue we ran into was how "repentance" was being translated. The New Testament had been previously translated by two Wycliffe missionary women, but one of our previous translators had done a revision and made some changes. One of the changes was with regards to this text and he had translated the word repentance as "washing away of sin" instead of asking for forgiveness. The original Wycliffe translators had translated the idea correctly, but the former translator in his "zeal" (or arrogance) to better the translation made it worse. It could perhaps also be a problem with doctrine as many evangelicals in places like Cubulco mistakenly believe that repentance includes being baptized in a river since the river will wash away one's sins. The consultant picked up on that instantly as she did on other things and I am sure she will find many more things that will need to be changed.
As you can see the work of the consultant is crucial to ensure a faithful translation. I am grateful for the consultant. She is very qualified for the work and a good fit for our translation team. Her name is Isela and she is from Mexico. She is Presbyterian and therefore holds to the Reformed faith and has a high view of Scripture. She has a doctorate's degree and various other degrees in anthropology, Biblical sciences and languages. She has been involved with Bible translation work and has experience with Mayan languages. 
Translation work is a challenge as there are words, ideas, and concepts that are not found in the language of the receptor. Some languages do not have words for "repentance, forgiveness, atonement, etc". Often literal translations are done to overcome some of these problems, but at times this can cause the receptor to misunderstand the Word of God. For instance in Cubulco Achi a literal translation of "hardness of heart" means "bravery" instead of "stubbornness" "unwilling to submit or repent" or "rejection of God's grace". Therefore an idiomatic translation is important so that the term "hardness of heart" can be translated in such a way that the receptor will understand what it means.
Please pray for the consultant Isela, the translation team, and the Guatemalan Bible Society. Please pray for the translation of the Bible being done all over the world through organizations like the Bible Society and Wycliffe. Pray for the missionaries and nationals who do the work as well as for those missionaries who support them from behind the scenes like our good friends from the Chilliwack FRC, Jaco and Andrea Devisser who are being prepared to work full time with Wycliffe and provide vital IT support for missionaries and nationals. While they might be in the background and not on the front lines, their expertise and contributions are crucial and a huge help to translators. (If you want to know more about Jaco and Andrea Devisser you can check out their blog ‎
PS. I have mentioned Wycliffe several times in this post. Did you know that there is a "Guatemalan Connection" to Wycliffe? If interested read the next post!