A few days ago, I heard from a Bible translator friend recently returned to a language group in West Africa after two years working remotely with the local translation team via the internet. They are checking portions of Acts, Ruth and Genesis in two related languages with a consultant.

To illustrate the importance of getting the translation accurate, clear and natural, he shared a story blogged by another Wycliffe colleague where the translation was anything but accurate, clear and natural.


God is my goat hunter,
I don’t want him!
For He flings me down on the mountainside,
and drags me down to the sea.

Long ago an explorer traveled to the icy shores of the Canadian north. He may have been a Christian because he left behind a translation of the Shepherd’s Psalm (23) in the local indigenous language. The indigenous people memorized the lines and passed them on to their children. Unfortunately, he had depended on an interpreter to translate for him.

A generation or two later a missionary linguist/translator arrived, settled among these people, and learned the language. When, after some years, he began to translate the Bible his indigenous language helper told him, “We already have some of God’s Book”, and to prove it recited some verses of the well known and much loved Psalm 23.

The missionary was aghast. Obviously the interpreter had tried to use some cultural equivalents but with disastrous results. Here are the first two verses, with some explanations: 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want

The interpreter substituted “sheep” with “wild mountain goats”. The closest translation for “herding” was “doing something with animals” which in the case of wild goats was to hunt them. The word “my” carried the meaning “one who works for me.”


He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters.

The part “he makes me” was interpreted as, “he forces me to do something against my will”. The only green grass is found on the sun-facing-sides of mountains. “To lead” is to pull an animal along by a rope around the neck. The only “still water” is the sea.

The first two verses, therefore, went:

God is my goat hunter,
I don’t want him!
For He flings me down on the mountainside,
and drags me down to the sea.

How do translators avoid this kind of disaster?

Obviously, they need to understand the meaning of the passage. They also need to know the language and culture. But beyond those two basics, translators need to know the translation principles to obey and the techniques to use. This requires intensive training and continuing study.

Without this training the translator risks turning God, our loving Shepherd, into an abusive goat hunter.

Today a wealth of how-to-translate-the-Bible material is available online and hundreds of Christian men and women are being trained to translate God’s Word into their own languages, using proven techniques and principles of Bible translation.

Please pray for my friend and his translation teams in West Africa working face to face with the consultant.

Pray that they will end up with portions of Acts, Ruth and Genesis translated accurately, clearly and naturally in these West African languages.

Pray that God will speak to people through the languages of their hearts.

Do you think you could be involved in this kind of work or related tasked? Check out the possibilities at wycliffe.org.uk/missionmatters

Every fourth week, I write a 200 word prayer post for Prayerline which is published weekly by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland‘s Council for Global Mission: this is what I sent this week.

On Sunday afternoon we had a picnic beside Strangford Lough. On Monday morning as I write this, summer rain beats steadily on the Wycliffe office roof. This week we want to offer you a Wycliffe Prayer Goody Bag which you can use this summer – rain, hail or heatwave!

Prayer Goody Bags

Prayer Goody Bags

Prayer Goody Bags provide video, audio and written resources to inform, enthuse and give plenty of inspiration for prayer. One of the prayer themes is Encountering God’s word.

“It’s not enough to translate the Bible. It’s not enough to distribute the Bible. Our desire is to see real Scripture engagement: people encountering God’s word in life changing ways”

This Prayer Goody Bag will enable you to pray for Scripture song writing workshops, AIDS education literature, trauma healing workshops, Jesus Film production, and multi-lingual education initiatives.

As we pray that language groups around the world will encounter God through his word for perhaps the first time, let’s also pray for PCI congregations around Ireland – that engaging with God’s word will inspire every one of us to be a community of global concern from our doorsteps to the ends of the earth.

You can find the Prayer Goody Bags at https://www.wycliffe.org.uk/goodybags

Here is the prayer menu of more Goody Bags to explore and lead you individually or as a group to pray:

Recently I was thinking about how I should react to people with whom I’m not getting on too well… This story from a primarily oral culture in Mali was a challenge and an encouragement, not to mention the reminder that God speaks to people through his word in their heart languages!

Jesus lived in a primarily oral culture. People gathered to hear him teach and tell stories – and what they heard transformed their lives.

Today many of the places where Wycliffe works remain primarily oral cultures – and that means that Bible translation can be as much about producing recordings of the Bible that people can listen to, as it is about printing copies of the Bible that people can read.

In many of these cultures, like the Supyire in Mali, Bible listening groups gather people together to listen to passages from the Bible – as in the picture below of people listening to the audio Bible sitting on the yellow can.

Supyire listening group

Supyire listening group

After listening to the passage they discuss how to apply it to their lives. And, as this story of one Supyire women called Ndeere shows, hearing the teaching of Jesus and the Bible continues to transform lives:

‘The word of God in Romans 12:20 says if you do good to your enemy it is as though you are placing burning coals on their head. I thought hard about this passage and then I applied it to the case of a woman who lives in the same courtyard as me who doesn’t like me at all. She used to say to her friends that she didn’t even want to see me.

It is our custom that if women are heading out to work in the fields, the younger women carry the baskets of the older ones. But this woman, such a nasty person as she is, nobody would carry her basket for her.

When I heard the part in Romans on the audio player I started to carry her basket each time we went to the fields and we came back from the fields. Some of my friends told me not to do that, because she doesn’t like me. But still I carried on. At last the nasty lady said to me she was afraid of me because I respect her so much. And in the end she stopped hating me.

What is more, I have to say that listening to the audio Bible player has made me more patient. There was a time when if someone would criticise me I wouldn’t feel at ease unless I attacked them back. Now everyone is surprised at the change in my behaviour.’

This story was sent to Wycliffe supporters who receive our bi-monthly e-newsletter, thanking them for their continuing support and prayers for the work of Wycliffe. If you wish to support and pray for  people like Ndeere to hear and be transformed by the Bible, you can sign up here.

And I’m learning to carry my enemies’ baskets… I hope.

 Bosnian Bible

I can’t read this!

If you’re reading this and understand it, please let me know.

About 12 or 13 years ago, I helped some people to make contacts with colleagues in Wycliffe Bible Translators. These people, in N. Ireland and Bosnia, set out on a dream. Read the story of the fulfilment of that dream in my blog here and find out why we have a copy in our Belfast office.

My blog prompted a series of requests from people around the world eager to obtain copies of the Bosnian Bible for themselves or for friends.  I forwarded the requests to my Bosnian friend Redzo Trako, a pastor who had studied at Belfast Bible College and who prayed and campaigned for the translation. Redzo helped people get the copies they wanted.

I often wondered what happened. Recently Redzo sent me some feedback of how God’s word in Bosnian was speaking to Bosnian hearts.

Sharon wrote this on my blog:

Sharon 6 Sep 2015

Please, John, i am not sure i am doing this correctly, but i too am trying to get some friends a Bible in Bosnian. Thank you.

Redzo sent me this feedback email from Sharon dated Sunday, May 08, 2016

From: Sharon
Subject: Re: Bosnian Bible

Dear Mr Trako,

I am needing another Bosnian Bible.  I did not write before about how the other two you sent me were received but here is the story.

One lady is middle aged.  When i gave her the Bible she nearly cried she held it close and looked it all over.  She does not say much about it but has said that she reads it sporadically – she will read and read and read until her eyes are too tired to read any more and then won’t read for a while and then read again like this.  She is a believer, she loves the LORD.

The other family i gave one to gave it to a cousin who moved to another city.  This family’s husband has been reading the Bible in English and he has told the Genesis story to his children.
His mother only speaks Bosnian and does not read.  This morning i tried to give her an app i use on my phone to listen to the Bible but it did not have the audio version in any of her languages.

I just came from her house and she asked me to get her the Bosnian Bible and her daughter in law will read it to her!!!!  I am so excited how God is getting the Bible to this family.

Can you please send me another copy?

In Him, Sharon

I have to confess, that although I can’t read it, I do know the meaning of the words at the top of this post – because the copy of the Bosnian Bible that we have in the Wycliffe Bible Translators office in Belfast, N. Ireland came with an English translation of the introduction.

The Bible in the Bosnian language

The Bible in the Bosnian language

Here’s what the last sentence says…

It is our prayer that God Almighty would speak through the pages of this translation and bless everyone who reads it, whatever religion they belong to.

I never thought as I work for Wycliffe Bible Translators UK & Ireland interacting with people enquiring about being involved with our work, that my blog would facilitate Bible distribution

Instant Church?


No, this is not another blog about another way of “doing church”!

It is inspired by the fact that I really enjoyed Eddie Arthur’s Pentecost post this morning!

Pentecost: Miracles Don’t happen

OK; miracles do happen – but stick with me on this one.

Sometimes the events of the day of Pentecost are presented something like this; the Spirit descended on the disciples, they reached out and preached in the streets in all sorts of languages, 3,000 people became Christians and the church was now a glorious multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual group.

That’s a great story; but unfortunately, the New Testament picture is somewhat different in a few crucial respects. Yes, the disciples rushed out and preached in all sorts of languages (or were understood in different languages) and many people became believers (the term Christian is not appropriate at this point in the story). However, as we saw yesterday, the people who joined the disciples were all Jewish, this was not really a multi-ethnic group.

Eddie goes on to emphasise the point that, as we read further in the New Testament, we see that the early church was just like all our churches – brilliant yet flawed.

Eddie concludes with the words below, but do take a look at the rest of his blog – more good bits in between.

Sadly, there are no miracles which will make the church more diverse; only the gritty work of sharing, learning, making mistakes and forgiving one another. It isn’t glamorous, but it is the way forward for the church in our increasingly diverse world…

Just one final thought; part of the problem of integrating people into the early Church lay in the fact that the Jewish people saw themselves as being better than others; a privileged race. We wouldn’t be guilty of that would we?

Wouldn’t it be great if Bible translators , in fact all sorts of cross cultural missionaries, could have their own mini Pentecost and not have to struggle to learn minority languages? But God doesn’t seem to work that way…

100 days

Around Easter time I shared some excerpts from 100 Days 100 Years. Just a few days ago (Day 91) I was particularly touched by the way Barry Forde applied Queen Esther’s situation to all of us – way back then ever since and today.

100 years. Of bloodshed, politics and redrawing maps. Of leadership that promises liberation, that is arrogant, that results in death. Of ungodly alliances between religion and state, religion and culture, religion and whatever cause that needs religion, or is needed by religion, to serve its purpose. Of false masters. Of the displacement of peoples. Of inequality, intolerance, bigotry and prejudice. Of being in control, or being controlled. Of differing perspectives. Of political manipulation and murderous plans. Of twisted and twisting minds. Of the excesses of greed, drunkenness, pride, vanity. Of the exploitation and trafficking of people. Of the objectification of women. Of wondering, “Where is God?”

Esther denouncing Haman

100 years. This was Persia. This was the time of Esther. This was then. This is now. “For such a time as this”. (Esther 4:14)
As another famous saying aptly reminds us, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
The truth is, we do not get to choose the era in which we encounter the same recycled pattern of sin. The same frail and failed human condition. We do not get to choose the context in which it is our time to honor God, or not honor Him. We do not get to choose the moment when, for whatever reason, we find ourselves in a position to do the right thing, or do the easy thing. Moreover, as with Esther in her own moment of truth, we do not get the promise that if we do the former, all will go well for us in the here and now.
What we do have is the truth of the real Easter rising. For such a time as now, and for all time, this is the only answer to the human problem. Our challenge, and our prophetic witness for the sake of the lives of those we live among, is to bear witness to this truth in our era. Our time. Our 100 years.


Lord God, in the time You have placed us, make us faithful ambassadors for Christ. Give us the wisdom of heaven to know Your will, and the courage to walk in it. Amen.

Barry Forde

I wasn’t going to blog the whole Day 91 post, but it’s so good, why not:)





How valuable is your Bible in your language? More valuable than the latest iPhone? The latest living room wall sized TV? Your dream car? An exotic holiday?

What about a shiny new spoon? Or a new enamel plate?

Wycliffe Canada colleague Jack Popjes remembers a prayer meeting in a fairly remote part of Brazil many years ago…

I will never forget that girl’s prayer during night class!

We were in the last stages of the Canela translation program. Two dozen young Canela men and women surrounded me, sitting on logs, heads bowed in prayer. We had sung hymns set to Canela indigenous music patterns, and in a few minutes would read and talk about a new draft of the translated Scriptures.

Now, it was time to pray. I heard prayers asking God to heal sick children, for a good crop, and for help to find a lost bush knife.

Then a young mother prayed:

“Great Father in the Sky,” she began. “I want to thank You for sending our brother Prejaka, and our sister Tehtikwyj, to us so long ago when I was just a little girl. They taught us to read our own language. Then they worked with us to translate Your Words into it. Now we can read Your Letter to us. Now we are discovering that You love us very much. Now we can learn how we can live to please you. Please help them to finish the Book soon.”

Canela village where the Popjes worked

Canela village where the Popjes worked

Then came the part that brought tears to my eyes and engraved itself into my memory.

“I also want to thank You for all Prejaka and Tehti’s friends in Canada. Every month their friends send money to them. They know that our brother and sister don’t have a food garden here like we do. They need money to buy food, and their friends in Canada send it to them.

“They don’t send it just because they are their friends. They send it because they are our brothers and sisters. Just as You are our Great Father, You are their Great Father too.

“They could keep the money, and buy nice things for themselves. Maybe they see a new enamel plate, or a shiny spoon, and ask themselves, ’Should I buy this for my family?’ But then, they decide not to buy anything, but to send the money to our brother and sister so they can stay here and help us have Your Word.

“And they sure chose right, because Your Word is so much more valuable than a new spoon, and better than an enamel plate. As a reward, give these friends, our brothers and sisters, lots of healthy children; make their gardens grow well, and keep them from getting sick. Amen.”

Bible translation is going on in 2,267 languages in more than 230 countries as you are reading this:

  • Somewhere, people are reading or hearing the Word of God in their own language for the first time.
  • Somewhere, the Holy Spirit is revealing the Father to someone who has only recently heard about Him.
  • Somewhere, the Holy Spirit is inspiring new believers not just to thank God for His Word, and for those who bring it, but also to ask Him to bless those who send the money which makes it all possible.
  • Somewhere, God is blessing donors to Bible translation and cross-cultural missions who are responding to prayers by new believers such as that young Canela mother.

This story is an encouragement to support Bible translation: if you do, keep doing it. Somewhere, someone may be thanking God for you.

Someone who you will not meet until eternity may be praying God’s blessing on you because, as that young Canela mother said,

“You sure chose right.”


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