Bible translation, linguistics and literacy work have many challenges. Bruce Hollenbach defines the struggle to balance our desire for success with a commitment to our mandate:
"It would be a shame if we ultimately came to feel that certain communities were simply too low in priority for any of us to want to give our lives to make God’s Word accessible to them; particularly if we came to believe that we had to be reasonably certain that sufficient numbers would respond to our efforts in order for those efforts to be worthwhile.”
In our current success-minded society we must humbly look to God’s Word for a proper evaluation of our priorities, methods and subsequent results. With all the variable factors in a language situation, many of which we can’t understand or control, we must distrust our own ability to predict results.
When the message has been communicated the messenger is not held responsible for a lack of response by the hearers. But if the message is not communicated then the messenger is culpable. The measure of our success then is dependent on the extent of our faithfulness.
The challenge is completing a translation project while wrestling with the prioritization and allocation of available resources.
Our vision is to spread the gospel by increasing the availability of Scripture; we are not talking about accomplishing a strictly academic task. Is availability alone enough? Must a translation program result in a high response and ongoing use in order to be considered a success?
- Our view of success should follow the Biblical perspective:
- Man can’t predict the movement of God’s Spirit.
- God sometimes chooses to send his messengers to unlikely people and unknown places.
- God mandates that His Word go to the ends of the earth and He promises some response.
- Man has limited ability to presume that one people group will produce a higher response than another.
Fervently seeking God’s will in every translation project must be our first priority. Only when we are fully reliant on God and the guidance of His Spirit will we maintain a balance between ardently sticking to tradition and flippantly chasing the success syndrome as we strive to fulfill God’s mandate.
T.S. Elliot has well expressed the struggle of wanting to focus on results:
“It is hard to be really useful, resigning the things that men count for happiness, seeking
the good deeds that lead to obscurity, accepting with equal face those that bring ignominy - the applause of all or the love of none.
All men are ready to invest their money but most expect dividends…
I say: take no thought of the harvest, but only of proper sowing.”
May we be as well informed and fully trained as possible yet dependent on God’s providential grace. May He have the glory for our service. And one day when our mission is fulfilled, the proper worship of God will come to fruition forever and ever!
- Joel Wagner