Overcoming Extreme Spiritual Poverty

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Training New Missionaries To Reach “The Lost”

For many years, Christians have talked about “Reaching the Lost”.  For some people, that expression has made sense, but I think that many people today would not really know what this means.  What exactly does the word “Lost” refer to?  In religious terms, it means to be “spiritually lost”, to not know Jesus as the One who rescues us from sin and the punishment of eternal death in Hell.  In simple black and white terms, we could talk about those who have accepted Jesus and are “Saved”, and those who have not accepted Jesus and are “Lost”.

The reality of “spiritual lostness” in this world is more complex than this though.  There is in fact a direct relationship between those who have accepted Christ as Saviour and Lord of their lives and the accessibility to the knowledge of Jesus as presented to us in the Bible.  It makes sense that where the Bible has been made available to people in a language that they understand, and where there is a network of churches which use and promote the message of the Bible that there will be people who have had their lives transformed by that message and have a strong faith in Christ.

This leads us to the next obvious conclusion.  Where there are few or no churches within a distinct language and cultural group, and where there are no portions of the Bible in that language, there will also be very few or no Christians at all in that group.  It is this reality that has led our leaders of our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators, to coin the term “Extreme Spiritual Poverty”.  In a sense, there is a degree of “lostness” among the people groups of the world, and it has become the mandate of our mission to try to bring relief and the message of the Gospel to these “least reached” people of the world.

    

To get a better understanding of what is involved in impacting the most spiritually needy areas of the world, it is helpful to break it down into three categories of people groups as identified by their languages.  According to most of the official counts, there are almost 7,000 language groups in the world.  This does not include dialects.  These are all considered distinct languages.  Of this number, we know that there are just over 2,250 languages that definitely have the need to begin a Bible translation project in that language.  This represents over 350 million people who do not have even one verse of the Bible published for them in their language.

That is a lot of people who can’t read about Jesus in their own language.  Thankfully there are some of these language groups that do have churches established within them, but they are relying on Scripture that is not in the mother tongue of the people.  But of these 2,250 language groups, there are at least 900 groups that do not have a church of any portion of the Bible in their language.  This represents over 200 million people.  It is these church-less and Bible-less language groups of people that PBT is very concerned about reaching with the Gospel message of Christ and whom we consider to be the most extreme spiritually poor people in the world.

Now that we know what the need is, what is PBT doing about it?  For a number of years now we have been recruiting and sending new missionaries over to these parts of the world which so desperately need churches that use translated Scriptures to transform the people of their language group.  God has truly been blessing our mission as we have grown from 185 members to 353 members in just 5 1/2 years.  By the end of this year, we expect that we will have doubled in size for the number of career missionaries.  Our prayerful goal is to double the number of our personnel again in the next six years.  There is so much work left to be done in the world in the area of Bible translation that recruiting new people to be missionaries is crucial to getting the work done.

    

And that was exactly what we were doing this last week.  We just held our annual recruitment and training week here in Dallas, which is known as “Pioneer Mission Institute“.   For 36 years now we have been training and introducing the work of PBT to people who have an interest in mission work and specifically Bible translation work.  This year, we had over 70 students, with just about half that number in each of the two levels, the first level being the “Discovery Track” and the second level doing specialized seminars on practices and procedures for cross-cultural missionaries.

I had the privilege to once again teach the introductory linguistics class to the Discovery Track students.  I introduced them to such topics as Phonetics, Phonology, Morphology, Semantics, Sociolinguistics, Language Learning and a few other topics.  It is always exciting to me when I see other people catch the vision for getting God’s Word translated and available to the minority languages of the world.  But more importantly, they caught the vision that there are still a great number of people who are living without the transforming message of the Bible.  For it is not just translation work and linguistics that matter, but the lives of people who live on this edge of extreme spiritual poverty that we need to reach.

I ask you to be in prayer alond with us that we would find the right people to be added to our mission group that could work together to help bring the Gospel to these last pockets of people in the world who don’t know Jesus, and without a church presence and the translated Word of God, will probably never have the chance to know Jesus.  By faith though, we are believing that by 2050 or so, we will have provided a translated New Testament to all these groups and overcome extreme spiritual poverty in the world.

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Bible Translation Team Work In Africa

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[Editor’s Note: the couple in this newsletter had only been in their country for a few months, and yet you will read how quickly they get very involved in the work.  This tells us two things: a) the people in East Africa are very spiritually hungry to see the Bible translated into their own mother-tongue, and 2) this article shows that there is so much work to be done, but not enough workers to get all this work done.  And that is a good reason to be in prayer. ]

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Our Lives At A Glance This Month.

We have completed three weeks of consultant checking for Romans and Galatians in 10 languages.  Two expert consultants guided us through these books as we assisted translators in making necessary changes to their drafts to be consistent with the original Greek and maintain understandability.

We have also just been a part of our first branch meeting and we were so encouraged by the unity of our team and where God is directing this work.  During the meeting, we took on responsibilities for doing exegetical checking in two of the languages in the cluster. This along with our other current responsibilities will keep us quite busy! 

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PBT partners with another Bible translation organization here in East Africa which is responsible for training national translators. We will be teaching in this annual training which takes place this August after which we will be involved in another consultation. We have much to do to prepare for these events!

We have recently lost some financial commitments. We now have commitments for 81% of our budget goals. This does not jeopardize our ability to stay on the field but remaining at this level will limit our ministry opportunities in the future.  Please pray with us that God will continue to meet all our needs here on the field.

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No Condemnation

One of the amazing aspects of our job includes digging into God’s word on almost every level imaginable, from the grammatical to the theological. For two weeks we delved into the book of Romans doing our best to understand the meaning of the text and guide translators in making tough decisions about how to render certain terms and ideas in their language. 

The book of Roman exposes the Law for what it is – inadequate to save us because of our sin. And as chapter 8 says, “what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.”  And because of this, there is “therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”! This is the life-saving, freedom-giving message that people are waiting to hear and read in a language that speaks to their hearts. Praise God that very soon the people represented by these ten languages will have access to these words of truth!

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A Team Effort

We are so privileged to be a part of an ever-growing team! This team includes fellow PBT missionaries serving in various areas of literacy, Bible translation and Scripture use, support personnel who see to our logistical needs, nationals who work to take care of our homes and facilities so that we are freed up to do translation work.

It also includes a partnering organization which facilitates many of the steps in the translation process, national translators, exegetes, as well as members of each language community who read and review the translations. This task could not be carried out without all of these individuals and what an awesome pleasure to see our team act as the body of Christ with each member exercising his or her own gifts.

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We have begun to settle into our roles serving as exegetes for two of the languages in the cluster and possibly a third in the future. My wife is also working in the area of linguistic analysis and I offer my talents as a ‘techie’ and musician to meet branch needs.

Still we retain the role of ‘learner’ as we continue in our language and culture learning. Please pray for our team, for unity, for exponential impact as we work together, for the binding of Satan as he would love to render us ineffective through division and for us as we continue to negotiate our roles in the team.

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What a great story!  There is no doubt that this couple are excited about what they are doing in their ministry work for the Lord there in East Africa.  And by reading this story, you can see that there is a lot involved in getting the Bible translated into another language.  It also takes a lot of team work as you can see from what they wrote.

In a week from now, I will share a portion of another story that this couple wrote which speaks more about this annual training program that PBT is a part of which helps to equip nationals to also become Bible translators.  God is doing great things through people like these missionaries.  And He is also doing fantastic things through the national men and women who are partners together with us in this global task of getting God’s Word into the hands of all people in their heart language.