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Getting God’s Word to Oral People

Getting God’s Word to Oral People

Stephanie, Oral Bible Translation Project Coordinator at Faith Comes By Hearing, shares the next chapter in the exciting vision of oral Bible translation—communities with no written language will be counted among those standing before the throne of God in the Last Day!

A few weeks ago, we began our journey into the world of orality by talking about the need for Oral Bible Translation across the globe. I hope and pray that you have a better understanding of why audio Scripture is necessary for reaching oral communicators.

Now, let’s explore an actual Oral Bible Translation project together. This particular project takes place in the beautiful country of Zambia, in a remote village near the Luangwa River.

The journey is only beginning as I step off the third and final plane onto a hot, muggy tar strip. Heat distorts the air around me, and I immediately raise my hand to keep the sun from scorching my eyes. Backpack full of equipment and personal effects strapped on, I climb aboard a crowded bus, jeep and even a boat—my means of transportation for the next several hours as I travel down winding roads and across flowing rivers through unchecked wilderness to reach these remote people groups.

I settle into the small village nestled among the thickets as the day is ending, and the loveliest moon I have ever seen has risen in the east. The sweltering heat is replaced by swarms of insects that buzz their irritating symphony into my ears. My phone battery is dead, and who knows when I’ll have a chance to charge it again. I swallow one more handful of the mushy, bland food graciously given to me by my host, then splash some water onto my hot, dusty face. How is God going to work here? is the last thought on my mind as I drift off to sleep under the protection of a bug net.

One of the most beautiful sounds on Earth is that of people from various languages and tribes worshiping God together. It comes so freely, so passionately, and so naturally! As we open the day with praise, I experience this personally, and I am so overwhelmed with the power and presence of God that I witnessed during this time of authentic worship. It is my desire that all people are able to interact with the Scriptures just as naturally.

For many communities around the world, the only possible way this could happen is through an Oral Bible Translation approach.

After the morning devotional and praises, translation teams work on listening to, understanding, and internalizing different passages of Scripture in another language that they can speak. I sit and listen to hours of team discussion and exegetical training led by an advisor—this is so that the team can clearly understand what the Scripture passage is saying. What does it mean to be a disciple? How do we describe who it was that came to announce the birth of Christ? How do you translate words that these people may have never seen or known about? There are so many unique challenges, circumstances, and misunderstandings to overcome on every oral Bible translation project.

The translation teams are trained in various internalization techniques, such as storyboarding and acting, to draw key concepts out of passages so that they can become part of the story found in God’s Word. Only then will the team be able to accurately and naturally translate these concepts into their mother tongue. Only then will it have meaning, purpose, and power.

Day in and day out, these teams are dedicated to this challenging-yet-beautiful work of unfolding God’s Word through an oral Bible translation software called Render. The teams must put their translation through multiple revisions, several reviews, consultant checks, and community feedback before they achieve a draft that is ready to be approved as Scripture. I pray constantly against strife, discouragement, sickness, and spiritual warfare, as I am completely aware of Satan’s plans to interrupt this great Kingdom work. The battle rages on, but thanks be to God for His indescribable mercies towards all of us!

Finally, we can rejoice: Once approved, the Scripture portion is distributed among the community almost immediately. Church members, children, and strangers come together to listen to the powerful words of God. The community members are ecstatic—they are surprised and grateful to hear God speak in their own language for the first time in history. One man said, “I am very proud that my language now has the Bible. Even those who do not know how to read and write will hear God’s Word, whether they are walking to the farm, going to the stream to fetch water, or at home relaxing.” He said this oral Bible will “transform the community, as they will be able to share God’s Word with anyone, whether old or young.” Another young man commented, “The Word of God in our own language is the only message that can improve the morality of our youth.”

It is a precious time of celebration. One person shares the first approved Scriptures from the Gospel of Luke in his Sunday School class. Another person is able to share the story about Jesus healing a demon-possessed man with a woman struggling with alcoholism and depression. Even just one powerful Scripture passage in audio is enough to change hearts and lives! That’s why it is so important for all people to have access to the Bible in a way that is most impactful to them.

For the thousands of oral communities worldwide, Oral Bible Translation will be the way they truly access the Word of God. It is a journey and a process, but it is all so worth it! I am so blessed to be able to fulfill the Lord’s calling on me in this important piece of Great Commission work.

Fellow laborers, God is moving among the oral communities of the world! Please pray that the hearts and minds of these people would be open to His truth, and that God would guide and encourage Stephanie and the rest of the Oral Bible Translation team in this good work. Please also join us in lifting up Vision 2033—that Faith Comes By Hearing would be able to record and provide Scripture in every translated language by 2033 so that people worldwide have a chance to hear the Truth and come to Christ.