Several years ago, David Hamilton was conducting video interviews with ministry leaders. The purpose: to show how his organization, YWAM, fits in partnership with the Bible translation movement.
One leader quickly named the skills and experience that each organization brings to the table: Wycliffe, SIL, CRU with the “JESUS” film, Faith Comes By Hearing and others.
“And YWAM …” he paused. “YWAM . . . has people.”
On its surface, that did not exactly sound like a ringing endorsement. But as you look at the goal of mother-tongue Scripture reaching every nation, tribe, people and language, you realize something. YWAM (Youth With a Mission), with many thousands of workers worldwide, has permanent ministries in more than 190 nations.
It gets better. Forty-six countries have five or more languages still needing Bible translation to begin, totalling 1,142 languages. YWAM has people in every one of those countries — including mother-tongue speakers for about 200 of the languages.
“We realized that our people are our greatest asset,” says Hamilton, who is Vice President for Strategic Innovation at YWAM’s University of the Nations. “It’s an accelerator. It allows us to have that footprint on the ground, to mobilize local resources toward this end. So, we are trying to be good stewards.”
In December 2020, YWAM rolled out a huge goal — by the end of 2025, at least 1,000 of these languages will have, at minimum, 30 “Taste & See” Scripture passages and a single-voice narration of a gospel film —either the “JESUS” film’s narration of Luke or the LUMO narration of Mark. YWAM has already partnered with the Jesus Film Project on 64 new translations over the past five years in the Melanesia region (mostly in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu).
The Scripture passages include 10 Old Testament selections, 10 from the Gospels and 10 from the rest of the New Testament. In both audio and text formats, they are intended to provide a comprehensive overview of the biblical narrative in about 90 minutes.
YWAM developed the Taste & See list internally, Hamilton says, but in close consultation with Alliance organizations to make sure the package meets Every Tribe Every Nation’s goal of Scripture being accessible to all people by 2033. Youngshin Kim, a leader on YWAM’s Servant Team for the initiative, is working with experts like Bryan Harmelink of the Wycliffe Global Alliance and Brian Kelly at Seed Company to set up translation consultancy for those 30 passages.
YWAM’s OBT (oral Bible translation) 1000 strategy is to mobilize 72 bases for training, including 33 hubs in strategic locations with a high concentration of Bibleless languages. They already have more than 50 commitments for bases, says Youngshin Kim.
Each base will be encouraged to send two or three people to a 12-week “mega-OBT” school, where they will be trained to equip others at their own sites. The event starts in late September, live in eight locations around the world and also virtual for those who cannot travel.
“So we are building capacity this year and doing that in very close collaboration with Wycliffe Global Alliance partners,” Hamilton says. “We are developing training mechanisms that will empower people who are mother-tongue speakers to take the lead role in translating the Word of God into their own language.”
A Time for “Fresh Eyes”
When Hamilton began working in ministry partnerships more than 20 years ago, he heard a common question: How can the Bible translation movement capture the imagination of the emerging generation of Christians?
“Right now, globally, the average age of a translator is about 55, and a consultant, 65,” he says. “Our average age of YWAMers is about 19 or 20. We are bringing in multiplied thousands every year through our discipleship training schools.”
“Even if one or two per cent got engaged in this, we could help. It’s not that we just want to do it within YWAM, but we have people who have been through YWAM training, caught a vision, and now work in basically every Bible translation organization. These are people who have YWAM as part of their storyline. So we delight in working with those entities.”
David Brooks, Senior Advisor for Strategic Partnerships with the Alliance, Global Partnerships and SIL, believes YWAM’s further entry into OBT will dramatically impact global Bible translation.
“This movement has been going for years but it needed a wake-up call and YWAM has provided that,” he says. “By coming in with fresh new eyes and asking questions that had not been asked or maybe not taken seriously, they have helped those who have been involved for years to look at their ministry, Bible translation, with new eyes. I feel our partnership with YWAM does two things. It helps us rethink old ways of doing our work and brings in a large group of young, passionate believers from all over the world who are ready to see all get his Word now.”
Only the First Steps
A thousand languages in five years might feel like a giant goal, but David Hamilton also sees it as modest.
“We really are just looking at two initial tools on the journey for a Bibleless language to eventually have all the resources of the word of God that they want to have,” he says. “It’s not just a change in methodology but a change in modality, where the center of the process relies on the linguistic expertise of the mother tongue speaker.
“We can’t train enough competent linguists to do the job, but we can train enough competent, highly skilled servants who have a cross-cultural understanding, to surround the mother-tongue speakers and give them the kind of assistance and facilitation to enable them to do a great translation work.”
More: Read the full article by Jim Killam at wycliffe.net