Oku couple, NW Cameroon, reading their newly published New Testament

Oku couple, NW Cameroon, reading their newly published New Testament

Often when I speak in churches, I encourage people to listen to the familiar Easter story as if for the first time. There are three reasons why I think this is a good thing. First, as Christians it is good to re-visit the reality that is the basis of our faith. Secondly, others may come to faith. And thirdly, it helps people appreciate what it means to literally hear the story for the first time!

So when my friend, Marlene Ferguson, recently wrote an article for her Ballyhenry Presbyterian Church website, I asked her permission to re-blog on John 20:21.

A woman from Burkina Faso, baby tied to her back, clutching the New Testament which she had just received in her Bissa Lebir language


Imagine that this year you hear the Easter story and truly understand it for the first time…

Jesus willingly allowed men to kill him in an extremely brutal way.  Why? Because he loved us.  He did it because we deserve a brutal punishment for selfishly sinning against God, but He wanted to save us from such punishment.  He did it because no-one else could have stood in the gap like that for us.  He also knew that only He could conquer the power of death and when he rose from the dead, death was conquered – once for all.

Jesus’ death and resurrection was a ‘once for all’ event.  Once only did he die; once, through which all men might receive salvation. After he rose, he asked the apostles to make disciples of all nations. He still asks that of us. Indeed, it is prophesied in the book of Revelation that there will be people from every nation, tribe and language worshipping the Lord in Heaven.  That’s all nations, all tribes and all languages represented before the throne of God, adoring him with one unending song of worship.

Unfortunately, there is much confusion among people who still don’t have access to God’s Word in their language.  A pastor of an Asian language group without God’s Word once asked “Is the resurrection for white people only?”  Of course not! The resurrection is for all people.  Wycliffe Bible Translators are working to ensure that all language communities receive this message in a language that they can understand and Ballyhenry is playing its part to support this goal. Through God’s power at work in us, people from all language communities will have the opportunity to respond to Jesus’ invitation to worship the Lamb in eternity.

There are 2,195 Bible translation projects currently underway around the world and it is thought that 1,860 are still in need of work to begin in their language!  Wycliffe Bible Translators supports Bible translation in order that all people will be able to hear the Easter message of salvation in a language that they can understand.

I’d encourage you to check out a short video on YouTube by one of our partners, the Seed Company, entitled ‘The Gamo see Jesus’ to be refreshed by the reactions of a group of Gamo people of Ethiopia as they watch the Jesus film (based on Luke’s Gospel) dubbed in their language for the first time.

This Easter imagine that you are one of those people who will finally hear the Easter message and understand it for the first time.

Thank you, Marlene!


Sarah BuchananThis is the second of a series (currently a series of two, but you never know) of guest blogs from Sarah Buchanan, a PhD Translation student at Queen’s University, Belfast who loves languages and the Bible!

Sarah asked my colleague Marlene in the Wycliffe Bible Translators office in Belfast to help her access a Bible translation workshop in Africa. This is Sarah’s second Encounter story from that trip…


Marc KousiballeLet me introduce you to Marc, an ethnomusicologist and Bible translator from the San Maya people group in Northern Burkina Faso.

I first met Marc as he stood at the front of our morning worship at the translation workshop. He played his guitar and led some singing, then shared his thoughts about sowing and reaping spiritually from 2 Corinthians 9.

Marc comes from a family of 15. His family was greatly impacted by the life of one lady, whose name will probably not be recorded in any great volumes of Christian history. She was  an unassuming female missionary who came to his village and gave his aunt a wheelchair, which she so desperately needed. There was something so consistent and pure about this lady’s character that although uninterested in Christianity, many of his family started going to church, and now all but two are devout Christians. What a beginning.


Marc was one of the brightest children in his class so he continued his education as far as he could. He ended up teaching Mathematics at the University of Ouagadougou. Yet after some years in the capital city, there was a sense of unrest in his heart, and when he was approached to take up a temporary teaching post in his village, he accepted and returned.

While back in Tougan, Marc was approached by SIL about a Bible translation project that would use the translation for the Southern San language, and adapt it for the people in the North and West. The team was looking for the most educated people to complete the project. Marc fitted the job description and he had peace about accepting the role. Meanwhile, he got involved with working with the youth in his village as he worked on the project. Then Marc met his bride and had a son, who is now 2 years old.

Marc’s wife, a schoolteacher, shares his vision and helps him teach a Sunday school, welcoming the young people of the village into their home, although sometimes Marc has to say “can you please go home now” to the young people who would stay just as long as they used to before he had a family! Marc continues working on the Bible translation and developing other projects, borne out of his own vision and passion for the people of his community. Marc is taking courses on Scripture Use through SIL, which help him as he travels from village to village after harvest time with a small projector, creating dramatic productions of Bible stories with the local people, and sharing the good news. He writes songs in his own language with local instruments, as this speaks more powerfully and maintains the traditions and language of the San Maya people.

No doubt, things are not always easy for Marc and he worries about his wife who has to take a dangerous journey by motorbike to work at the school, yet he has a deep faith and prays fervently as he seeks to make innovative plans to share God’s love and impact his community. He plants ground nuts and sesame, employing teenagers in his village and thereby teaching them new skills. Marc dreams of building a storehouse to increase this enterprise, and of setting up a library with the funds to help educate the young people: he asks us to pray for the young people and for these two projects.

Marc’s story inspires me in a few ways. The testimony of the lady shows me the importance of living a consistent and authentic life. His own story reminds us of the power planting the seed of God’s word in different forms in peoples’ heart language, and it challenges us to pray for our brothers and sisters in West Africa, while asking, what does God want us to do in our own communities?

Sarah with the other workshop participants in Burkina Faso

Sarah with the other workshop participants in Burkina Faso

I would love to post more of Sarah’s Encounters En-route stories from her trip to Burkina Faso… what about it, Sarah? Meanwhile look up Sarah on her translation Facebook page

In this post, Sarah talks about ethnomusicology, Bible translation, teaching and Scripture Use – see roles with Wycliffe in these areas

WordleWhen A level languages students apply to do work experience with us, we are delighted if we can introduce them to some languages which will never make the A level curriculum. However we’re also hoping that God might use the time with us to plant the idea that they could have a role in Bible translation in future years. Like the Wordle illustration says: “Can you see yourself above?”

Rachel isn’t typical. She had had her work experience, but wanted a bit more and came to join us for a few days during the summer holidays…

 My name is Rachel Fallows and over the past seven months, I have had several opportunities to spend time with Wycliffe Bible Translators, partly as a work experience student but also out of genuine interest in the work that Wycliffe undertakes. My first day with Wycliffe was spent in the Belfast office with John Hamilton, Marlene Ferguson and Lynda Ranson, all of whom were incredibly warm and welcoming. This day served as an insight into a few of the many projects Wycliffe are involved in and the many steps involved in the translation process.

Their main aim was to show me the work that Wycliffe do and why they do it. I was amazed to learn about the number of languages that exist in the world – I had no idea of the huge variety of languages that God has created since the incident at the Tower of Babel! But sadly it remains the case that around 1,860 language groups still have no scripture. It was fascinating and encouraging however to learn of Wycliffe’s efforts to transform this statistic so that through Vision 2025, they hope to see a Bible translation program begun in all the remaining languages that need one. I was particularly struck by a question asked by a Cakchiquel man in 1919: “If your god is so great, why can he not speak my language.” This brings to the fore the serious need of all mankind, as Paul says in Romans 10:14 ” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?”

Kouya Jesus Film

Jesus Film in Kouya available for smart phones

John gave me an overview of his years of service in Côte d’Ivoire with his involvement in a missionary school, the work in the Kouya language and the fairly recent release of the Jesus Film in Kouya. It was encouraging to see the influence of the work undertaken by the Wycliffe team and its widespread and long lasting effects where God’s Spirit is working and rewarding the labours of His children. Likewise, it was eye opening when Marlene explained to me the many different steps in the translation process, and all the extra work that must be done to prepare the people to receive the scriptures in their language. It had never previously occurred to me that literacy training is just as important as receiving the Bible in one’s mother tongue, as after all, there is no use in receiving squiggles you cannot interpret. Therefore it was intriguing to hear of the work that Marlene had participated in while making picture dictionaries, to add value to the languages of those she worked amongst, so that they knew that God didn’t consider their language as crude and worthless.

Before leaving the office that day, I was shown a video of the Indonesian Kimyal tribe receiving their scriptures and the emotion involved in such a momentous occasion of answer to prayer – something they have been waiting thousands of years for. This was a wakeup call for me to realise how much we take for granted the hundreds of English translations we have while some are still waiting for their first access to God’s word.

Kimyal NT arrives West Papua

Kimyal NT arrives West Papua

The following week I had the chance to attend a day at a Guest Bible Scholars’ training week where I was introduced to the translation process in greater detail, learning about the different types of translation and how concepts are translated where the literal translation would be totally unknown. Heather Saunders and Michael Jemphrey spoke about the process of checking initial back translations which Guest Bible Scholars are involved in. The translations must be clear, accurate, natural and acceptable to the target audience. The need to flood the work of translation in prayer was once again emphasised as it can take well over twenty years to translate the full Bible into another language – a slow and often discouraging process with many setbacks along the way.

Cross cultural exercise at First Steps day in Belfast

Cross cultural exercise at First Steps day in Belfast

Then just a few weeks ago, I went along to a Wycliffe First Steps day. This day gave an insight into the many different roles that people play in translation, literacy and member care. The opening “Logoti style” worship where we had to worship in a language we did not know and the interactive workshop where we entered into a different culture that conflicted with those around us enabled us to envisage the struggles encountered in cross-cultural mission. A Q&A session at the end proved beneficial for discovering the personal stories of those who have served on the mission field and have experienced the struggles and blessings that such work entails.

Overall, my few days with Wycliffe and reading I have done between times, has highlighted the urgency of the work of Bible translation, the pressing need for workers and for prayerful support. This work is something that we ourselves have benefitted from, when it was completed hundreds of years ago, and we must realise that the gospel is not just for wealthy, white Europeans – Jesus commanded us to go to all tribes and nations. A massive thank you must go to those in the office and may God continue to bless your efforts and labours into the future.

 My thanks to Rachel for this guest blog about her work experience with us.

There are still at least 1,800 languages that don’t have a Bible.

Find out more about Bible translation and mission and the ways that you could become involved on our website.

St Patrick's BreastplateA few days ago I went off on a retreat to a peaceful rural house in County Down to get my head showered (as we say in N. Ireland) and to read and write and think and pray about work and life and things in general. This booklet was on the coffee table…

Patrick more than a legend… it was written by the late Derick Bingham and was much more enlightening and uplifting – and accurate – than the stuff I blogged about earlier.

In my student days at Trinity College Dublin studying History and Politics, I had a course in medieval Irish History which included Patrick. Ever since I have been impressed and fascinated not just by Patrick’s life and mission, but by the incredible influence of the Irish Celtic Church that he founded and which became a mission movement that can still be learned from today. Celtic missionaries worked within the culture and translated the Scriptures into the local languages as they spread the Gospel throughout Ireland, Scotland, the North of England and deep into Europe ravaged in the years after the fall of Rome. And after all, wasn’t it the Irish who saved civilisation…  see Thomas Cahill “How the Irish Saved Civilisation

At the end of the booklet, Derick Bingham included St Patrick’s Breastplate.

Patrick's BreastpalteThe notes say this…

The original, though traditionally ascribed to Patrick, is thought rather to be an 8th century compilation of his Christian faith and beliefs written in the form of a Druidic incantation for preservation on a journey. It shows the power the Gospel had to spiritually transform the thinking of the Irish.


It is still today a wonderful meditation on the spiritual journey of the Christian life.

Unlike the very popular penultimate verse in the illustration at the top of this post – and much Facebooked and Tweeted in the past few days – I have included the fuller version below for readers to enjoy.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet ‘well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Source: http://www.prayerfoundation.org/st_patricks_breastplate_prayer.htm

Two days ago was St Patrick’s Day.

Green Colosseum

The Colosseum, where Christians were once killed by wild animals, a symbol of the Roman Empire which collapsed leaving Irish Celtic Christianity founded by Patrick to save civilisation.

Many famous places around the world were lit up green. The Colosseum in Rome was but one unlikely venue.

Many people posted simplistic and trivial nonsense about what St Patrick’s Day is definitely not about: like the statement that in Ireland:

“Traditionally, people attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Then they eat Irish bacon and cabbage. Yum!”

That one came from an organisation that will remain nameless but should certainly know better in terms of cultural accuracy.

Then there was the American video  entitled Who was St Patrick – Christian History Made Easy with garish graphics including St Patrick standing dressed in red, clutching a church under his arm and shouldering a twentieth century tricolour Irish flag. As a former History teacher, I was horrified!

On a more sensible and much more tasteful note, Gilbert Lennox Photography posted this image

Green aurora at Ballintoy

“The aurora returned just in time to turn the night sky green for St Patrick’s Day. This is the parish church at Ballintoy.”


Carrowdore PCThis morning I fulfilled an invitation to speak about Wycliffe Bible Translators at Carrowdore Presbyterian Church annual PW (Presbyterian Women) service. Before the service started, the minister’s wife who is President of the PW, asked what I was going to talk about. If she had seen what I tweeted a few days ago, she would have had a glimpse into one of the greatest challenges facing me as part of the UK Church Engagement team.

John Hamilton (@john_nornirn)
10/03/2015 16:22
Preparing to speak at PW service this coming Sunday ‪#‎befuddled‬ just too many wonderful things to say about ‪#‎bibletranslation‬ @wycliffeuk

There are just too many great stories out there about my colleagues and our partners engaged in linguistics, translation, literacy, IT, teaching, flying planes, etc etc etc [I hate using etc, but what options do I have? The list goes on and on.]

Faced with this “biggest challenge” question, I’m sure my colleagues in Wycliffe would come up with many answers.

A while back, I read a blog by Canadian Wycliffe colleague Jack Popjes in which he comments on a question he was asked in a radio interview…

“What are the biggest challenges facing Bible translators today?”

I’m not usually stumped since I’m often interviewed when on speaking trips. This question, however, was not an easy one to answer. The differences among translation programs are enormous. There simply is no “typical” translation program.

Jack went on to attempt an answer to the question. Perhaps some of the situations are less common today, but he certainly gives a flavour of the wide variety of contexts in which Bible translation can and is happening.

Some translators work in languages which have never been written, others work in communities that have a long tradition of literacy in their own language.

Some translators work in isolated valleys, or distant islands, or in inhospitable regions of the world where there are no physical amenities like clean water, electric power, easy communications or transportation. Others work in or near cities where all these services are taken for granted.

Some translators work in areas of the world where the Bible is appreciated and respected, while others work in countries dominated by non-Christian world religions with adherents that are strongly antagonistic to any religion other than their own.

Some translators work right in their co-translators’ community, others work with co-translators who are living outside their country.

Some translators work face to face with their co-translators, others work via email and Skype communications.

Jack concludes that with so many different translation contexts, there is no “biggest challenge” just lots of different ones.

Perhaps I’ll get some other interpretations from Wycliffe colleagues around the world, but perhaps the biggest remaining challenge is the need of 1,860 languages for Bible translation.


Sarah BuchananThis is the first of a series (currently a series of two, but you never know) of guest blogs from Sarah Buchanan, a PhD Translation student at Queen’s University, Belfast who loves languages and the Bible!

Sarah asked my colleague Marlene in the Wycliffe Bible Translators office in Belfast to help her access a Bible translation workshop in Africa. Read on…


In June 2014, I had the privilege of attending a Bible translation workshop in Burkina Faso for 10 days, with the help and encouragement of Marlene Ferguson and others in the Wycliffe office. Let me introduce you to a couple of people I met there, over the next few blog posts.

Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso

Struggling with French and straining to understand the West African dialect I think I managed a Bonjour as I sat down on the plane from Paris. Sitting next to me, this middle-aged man from Mali with a friendly demeanour was my first impression of Africa. We started talking about family and respective countries. Why was I going to Burkina? Who was I staying with? Did I realise Burkina Faso was known as the furnace because of its heat, even among Africans? He helped me with my TV and headset as I get incredibly confused with anything technological.

A little while before landing, the flight attendant handed out cards to fill in all the whys and wheres of one’s trip. I diligently filled mine in, worried that I might write a dash or a full stop in the wrong place. I noticed Mr Traore didn’t have a pen, so I offered him one. He declined politely. I waited and wondered and then I realized, much slower than I should have, that he hadn’t read the in-flight magazine or any books; that he hadn’t read anything during the whole flight. I had heard about illiteracy but had never met anyone who couldn’t read or write, nor had I really considered the implications. Eventually he handed me his passport and asked me to fill out his form.

Ouagadougou International Airport

Ouagadougou International Airport

We arrived in the early evening, and entered a room in an airport with a few desks, a number of insects, and a mass of people. Suddenly my heart sunk and my imagination fuelled a state of panic with the realization that I had forgotten one very important item: my vaccination card. What am I going to do? There isn’t even a British Embassy in Burkina. I froze for a moment, managed “J’ai oublié mais j’ai eu les vaccinations”, and waited some more as a sea of travellers poured into the airport in front of me. Eventually, I got a nod to walk on through, praise God.

By this time, I felt a bit disorientated…until I heard the call, “Fille!” It was Mr Traore, who moved me right to the front of the queue beside him, signalling to others that I was his friend. He guided me through the next hour that ensued, switching from one queue to another, until we were able to walk through into the arrivals area where a taxi driver waited to take me to the SIL centre.

Sometimes it’s the simple meetings that are most memorable. You might see nothing special in this encounter, but I do, just like many of the encounters that happen in Belfast or Ballymena or Ballygawley contain something special we choose not to see because we’re busy thinking about the next job on our list. In this case, I met someone that I wouldn’t usually encounter and struggled to communicate, yet I see acts of hospitality in the invitations I received: the invitation to converse, the invitation to listen to Mr Traore’s family and story, the invitation to share (my family, my faith, my interests). I was invited to help in a very small way, and in return, to accept help on this part of the journey.

Meanwhile statistics on illiteracy left the pages of NGO leaflets to take on shape and form in real life, albeit in a passing moment.

I see God’s provision and protection in this encounter, and am reminded that even when there is much misunderstanding (linguistically, culturally, politically…) there’s usually the possibility to learn and gain something from another person who is quite different to us, as we have to strain our ears and listen more closely.

Look out for Encounters En-route number two soon and look up Sarah on her translation Facebook page

Sarah focussed on literacy in this post:find out more about literacy and other roles with Wycliffe or investigate Two Week Stint in the south of France this summer which has both literacy and linguistic tracks.


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