Sin red like fire!

white as snow

the little red cardinal has no hope of the snow camouflaging his presence!

If you are familiar with the Bible, you have probably heard the phrase “white as snow” – although you may not know where it appears in The Bible. Isaiah 1v18 is one place. Below you can read the verse from two translations in English.
“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
Isaiah 1.18 ESV
‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord.
‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
Isaiah 1.18 NIV UK
Recently Wycliffe friends and colleagues Colin and Dot Suggett, who work in Burkina Faso raised an issue that I have often met before – what if the culture of the language that this phrase is being translated into, has no concept of snow. I first came upon through an Irish colleague who has worked in the Amazon jungle of Brazil and they certainly don’t get snow there!
Colin and Dot sent this back translation from the Turka language of Burkina Faso…
The Eternal-God says, “Come, let us discuss:
though your sins are red like fire, they shall be white as milk;
though they are red like blood, they shall be white like cotton.”
Isaiah 1.18 (Turka back translation)

… and then continued.

Readers familiar with English translations of the above passage will note a change in the colour similes in our Turka translation. That’s because the Turka language does not have a lexical means of distinguishing “scarlet” from “crimson”. (We only have one generic word for the colour “red”.) Now, scarlet is a “brilliant red colour with a tinge of orange”, whereas crimson is a “strong, bright, deep red colour combined with some blue and/or violet, resulting in a tiny degree of purple”. Our solution to this particular translation problem was to insert the simile “red like fire” to correspond with scarlet, and “red like blood” to correspond with crimson.

In addition, the similes “they shall be as white as snow” and “they shall become like wool” in this verse are likewise problematic. It turns out there’s not much call for snow in Burkina Faso (though, on rare occasions, it has been known to hail), and people do not exploit sheep’s hair to make wool. Consequently, we made use of two white commodities which are commonplace among the Turka: milk and cotton.

The above verse is just one of a large selection of key Old Testament passages which will be integrated into a chronological teaching series we are preparing for a radio play. This series provides a sweeping overview of the Old Testament with a view to prepare Muslim-background Turka listeners for a fuller understanding and appreciation of the coming of Jesus Christ into this world. We praise the Lord that this Old Testament translation work is approaching completion and should be wrapped up before the end of this year.

Meanwhile, translation work on the New Testament continues to move forward with first drafts prepared for most of the remaining books.

If you’re someone who prays, please pray for Colin and Dot and their Turka colleagues.

We covet your prayers for health, strength, spiritual vitality, and for healthy and fruitful interactions with our Turka colleagues, Foromine and Jeremy, and the Turka population.



Header at bosnianbible.org

Two days ago, a colleague decided to do some work in a coffee shop… just for a change. At the next table were a couple who had raised finance and prayer support so that the entire Bible could be translated for the people of Bosnia. Had this “accidental” meeting not happened, I would not have known that the Bosnian Bible now has its own website!

On 24 September 2013 I wrote a post telling the story of my tiny involvement in the story of the translation of the full Bible into the Bosnian language.

About 10 or 11 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. Yesterday I held the fruit of that dream in my hands.

The Bible in the Bosnian language

The Bible in the Bosnian language

Back then, linguistic wisdom declared that Bosnians, Serbs and Croats could all understand the Bible in Serbo-Croat…

However the  Bosnian conflict of the 1990s, and the subsequent independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina, has resulted in a nationalisation of all three languages.

While linguistically, there was no pressing reason for a translation of the Bible into Bosnian, there were very strong socio-linguistic reasons for doing so. Bosnian Christians, with clear memories of Serbian war crimes, wanted a Bible of their own.

The text from my original blog appears on bosnianbible.org

The English translation of the Introduction to the Bible 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.

Take a look at this video which also appears on bosnianbible.org

Over the past 3 years I have had 51 responses to my original blog from people wanting to know how they could get a copy either for themselves or for Bosnian friends – now I can easily direct them to bosnianbible.org

Please pray that this will not simply be an interesting book in bookshops and on people’s shelves, but that it will introduce Bosnian speakers to Jesus Christ.

As I write this, Ulster Rugby are sitting at the top of the Pro 12 League table with four wins from four – and I’m looking forward to Saturday’s home game at Ravenhill along with the usual suspects.

So it was interesting to receive a prayer letter from friends and Wycliffe colleagues Michael and Miranda Jemphrey last week in which they compare a rugby squad to a Bible translation team!


Ravenhill aka Kingspan Stadium: home of Ulster Rugby

Here are some extracts from that prayer letter…

The new rugby season is up and running, with Ulster winning their first three matches. As a rugby club requires all shapes and sizes of players, Bible translation, too, requires people with a vast range of abilities. I like to think of the translators as the forwards struggling constantly with ideas and words to get a translation into their language; the scrum-half position is the consultant who checks the translation to ensure there are no ideas missing (Michael’s role) before he moves the translation along the line of backs. It passes through various hands: the illustrators, the revisers, the typesetters, and finally out to the wing to the publishers who cross the line and produce the final printed gospel, New Testament or Bible. As 5 points are scored for a try there is great rejoicing among the players and on the terraces. The publication of a first gospel in a language or the New Testament or the complete Bible is the occasion for a grand celebration. But 5 is not the perfect number: the try needs to be converted to become the perfect 7; and the Scriptures need to be read, broadcast, proclaimed, taught, discussed, memorized, sung and obeyed to convert lives and communities.

Brilliant, isn’t it?

Michael, the consultant / scrum half in action with a translation team in Mali

Michael, the consultant / scrum half in action with a translation team in Mali

Paul Marshall Ulster scrum half

Paul Marshall, Ulster scrum half in action against Munster

Meanwhile a lot goes on behind the scenes in preparation for a match. The players come to Ulster from different countries, cultures and languages and need to learn how to understand each other to play as a team rather than as a group of individuals thrown together — and translation teams are no less diverse. This is where Miranda comes in: one of the roles she enjoys is helping run workshops called Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills. Listening carefully is particularly important as Wycliffe colleagues are drawn from hundreds of churches and cultures across the globe.

And the next bit is about me and my Ulster Rugby supporting mates – Philip, Derek, Norman – standing on the East Terrace singing “Stand Up for the Ulstermen” at the tops of our voices…

A rugby club is nothing without its supporters: Ulster fans come out in their thousands and are known as the 16th man as they roar on their team. Wycliffe’s translation work would go nowhere without you, who read these letters, pray for us, encourage and support us year after year.

…which is why members of Wycliffe Bible Translators UK & Ireland send out prayer letters to their supporters – and why we all appreciate so much our 16th men and women!



I have a sort of love / hate relationship with short term mission trips.

Before we joined Wycliffe Bible Translators UK & Ireland in 1988, I had never been on a short term mission trip overseas. But should I count taking a school SU group away for the weekend or several years as a section leader of Newtownbreda CSSM or hosting a home Bible study group? Do they qualify as “short term mission”?

For a number of years I was responsible for summer mission teams for Wycliffe and I think we got it right in that these were definitely not mission tourism but experiencing and contributing to the long term task of ongoing Bible translation projects. An encouraging number of participants later joined Wycliffe long term.

I have blogged on this topic before, but what sparked this one was first my church mission coordination group discussing the possibilities for a group from my church to visit a couple that we support in Kenya and, in the future, another couple en route to Japan. And we’re thinking hard about how we do it. It will not be mission tourism!

And secondly there was Eddie Arthur’s recent blog which has the same title as this post. read on…

Yes, you read that title right. There is no such thing as short-term mission.

We could spend ages arguing about what exactly we mean by mission, but that’s not the point of this piece. Let’s simply look at the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20.

‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

So mission is first and foremost to make disciples. It isn’t about making converts; getting people to raise their hands at the end of an emotional evangelistic talk. It’s about helping people to develop into maturing Christ followers who are living disciplined (the clue is in the word) lives. That is not a short term project, it can’t be done in just a few weeks or even a few months.

If this wasn’t enough, Jesus then tells us that we have to teach the new disciples everything he commanded us. That might take a little time, too.

So mission, by it’s nature, is a long term activity. There are no short cuts.

I particularly like this next paragraph.

However, just because mission itself is long term, this doesn’t mean that there is no place for short term mission workers. What it does mean is that short-term mission work must take place within a long-term framework. Short-term missionaries can bring valuable skills and manpower to bear at critical points in a long project. The key is designing short-term mission projects that support ongoing mission work.                  [Italics mine]

Eddie added a footnote. Well, he would; he works for Global Connections! But I thoroughly agree with his final sentence.

If you are interested in short-term mission, you should take a look at the Global Connections “Short-Term Mission; Code of Best Practice“. I would strongly discourage anyone from going on a short-term trip which does not adhere to these basic principles.

Wycliffe Bible Translators UK & Ireland is looking into new initiatives in this area but in the meantime see what might get you involved.



Sometimes we get a sentence back to front and we have difficulty understanding it, never mind the person listening to us or reading our e-mail. Sometimes however, a sentence needs to be translated back to front to enable the readers / hearers of the receptor language to understand.

Translation puzzle

And that’s exactly what my colleague Ed Lauber is saying in his post Put the most important last a week or so ago.

Consider these two sentences:

Why she married him I really don’t know.
I really don’t know why she married him.

The first carries a lot more emotional content than the second. If the person speaking wanted to make clear their complete disagreement with the woman’s choice, the first sentence works better. It puts “why she married him”at the front whereas it would normally come at the end – something grammarians call fronting.

But not all languages use fronting for emphasis. Languages here do the opposite. My boss in Ghana and the Director of the national organization we work for, GILLBT, says that the organization has a three-fold heritage – language development, literacy and Bible translation. On more than one occasion I have heard him mention to other Ghanaians that it is important to put Bible translation last because it is the most important. That’s because in Ghana, the most important words come last. It was the same way in Congo – the most important words came at the end.

Recently, I sat in for part of a workshop on the translation of the book of Romans. A translation consultant was giving instructions to translators from five languages. One piece of advice he gave concerned the following verse:

Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves (Romans 14:22)

He asked the translators to think about how to translate this verse, specifically where they would put the word “blessed”. They indicated that they would put it at the end, something like:

The one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves; he is blessed

Why? Because the important bit needs to come at the end in the languages here. The consultant warned them not to weaken the verse or make the translation awkward by keeping the word “blessed” at the front. He mentioned that the same thing applies when translating the beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
(and so on) (Matthew 5:2-12)

Blessed with emphasis are the first words in English. In the languages of Ivory Coast, the last words are the ones so blessed.

Seems like having the last word last is important!

Could you find linguistic puzzles like this interesting? Have a look here.

Or what about a wee taster First Steps at venues throughout the UK. The N. Ireland one will be 25 February 2017 at Ballyhenry Presbyterian Church – and someone has signed up already!!!


On Sunday 28 August 2016 at 10.30 am, I had the privilege of speaking at Newtownbreda Presbyterian Church in Belfast as they sent Wycliffe UK member Clare Orr back to Senegal. Here is an edited version of what I said…


Back in the days when the Wycliffe office was on the Beersbridge Road, we had a world map on the wall. And on the map we had a piece of paper with some verses from Matthew chapter 9.

Clare’s Dad has already read Matthew 9: 35-38 for us. In NIV, it is entitled The Workers Are Few.

We had the last verse on the office map, the words Jesus spoke to his disciples: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Just before this, Matthew tells us that Jesus had compassion on the crowds: “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

In a way this passage sums up what we’re doing here this morning. You’re sending – or perhaps more accurately, re-sending – Newtownbreda’s worker Clare back to the harvest field where she has worked before – and where Jesus still has compassion on people who are harassed and helpless; people who need a shepherd; people who need to hear the good news of the gospel; people who need to find Jesus as their shepherd..

And by the way, there are people around us here at home, or maybe even sitting here in church this morning, who are harassed and helpless who need to find Jesus as their shepherd.

The verse on the world map was both an encouragement and a challenge to us working in the Wycliffe office.

  • We were so encouraged every time we produced Wycliffe News and read the updates from around 50 people from Ireland working around the world in Bible translation and literacy and many other roles
  • We were challenged by Jesus’ words because we knew that there were still many millions of people yet to hear the good news in their heart languages

It was such a joy when Clare walked into the office one morning back in late 2012… We thought she was there for a bit of a chat. But no, Clare came straight out and said, “I want to join Wycliffe. What do I have to do?” So we told her; she applied in early 2013 and was accepted in spring 2013; started training in August 2013; and in February 2014, she went to Senegal.

This morning, together, we are sending Clare back to Senegal…

Clare with an Ebola poster

Because what she is doing there is important!

Do you remember the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014? Do you remember the Ebola prevention posters that Clare and her Senegalese colleagues produced in – I can’t remember how many languages… Those posters – produced because Clare was there working in literacy development – helped to save lives by giving people information about how to avoid Ebola in a language they could understand.

There are lots of ways in which literacy helps people – and it is a very important part of what Wycliffe does. But our main aim is that people can have access to the Bible in the language of their hearts.

So why is literacy crucial?

There’s an old Wycliffe saying that Bible translation without literacy is like a tin of beans without a tin opener. If you can’t get the tin open, you can’t eat the beans.

Yesterday morning I searched the kitchen cupboards in vain to find a tin of beans. So I’ve had to make do with a tin of Cream of Tomato Soup with a hint of basil. You need a tin opener to get access to and enjoy the soup.


It’s a little parable… If the Bible is translated into your language, but you can’t read – how do you access and enjoy and be challenged by God’s word?

Actually with modern tins, you don’t actually need a tin opener. You have this little pull thingy. Perhaps you could say that the little pull thingy is literacy. Clare, and literacy specialists like her, provide little pull thingies🙂 If only it were so simple…

Be assured that our prayers and best wishes go with you, Clare, in the weeks ahead.

Jesus still has compassion on those who do not know him. Jesus still says to his disciples, to us…

“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Caitlin Hamilton was one of four students from N. Ireland who attended Wycliffe’s Two Week Stint programme in the south of France this past summer. We invited Caitlin to write a blog for us and here it is. She starts by tracing her journey with Wycliffe…     


I will never forget the moment I walked into a boulangerie in the south of France to ask for 18 baguettes! The boulangerie was in Charmes-sur-Rhône, a little village in the Ardèche area of France. The reason I was there was because I was taking part in the Two Week Stint.

It started on Sunday the 17 July 2016, when I arrived at the gîte to find this group of then strangers, now friends, all standing around outside and talking. Well, you could say it started that morning when I left the house at 6.30 to get the bus for Dublin. After a lift, a bus, a plane, a tram, a train, another bus and a lift from the bus stop, I was finally there, ready for the two weeks to begin.

Or then again, maybe it started even before that. I first heard of Wycliffe through church. I love languages, so when it came time to do work experience in lower sixth, my first thought was Wycliffe. I spent a fascinating week in the Belfast office, where I learnt translation wasn’t as simple as you would think. I was so taken with the work of Wycliffe, that I brought a friend along to the First Steps a few weeks later. Ever since I had been considering coming on the Two Week Stint, but the timing had never been right – until this year. I’m very thankful that I was able to get a travel scholarship at Queens: God is good.


Each morning began with worship, prayer and Bible teaching

Over the two weeks, we spent time together each morning in worship and Bible teaching. Our focus was on Acts, that God is on a mission. I really enjoyed the chance to worship together with this group of people from so many places, singing in both English and French as we praised our Lord. Then, each morning, we spent time learning more about the work of Wycliffe, and what is involved in Bible translation. We spent three days on each of linguistics, literacy and Scripture Engagement.

Linguistics covers a wide range of areas including: sounds, how language is written down, grammar, and meaning, and all of this is vital in producing a translation that can be read, can be understood, and makes sense. I found it fascinating, especially since we were using a real African language, Mankanya, as an example. Literacy focused on the importance teaching people to read their own mother tongue, and various methods which can be used to do this. The last topic we studied was Scripture engagement. This encourages and equips people to use the Scripture and to understand it, for example, by encouraging churches to read the Bible in the local language.



I really enjoyed the fact that all of the camp was bilingual, in French and English. It was a great chance to practice my French and I’m feeling a lot more confident about speaking French now. Throughout the two weeks there were a number of French classes, which I found really useful as they focussed on practical things like giving your testimony and praying in French. This will certainly be useful next year as I spend my year abroad in France.



It wasn’t all classes though! Every afternoon, and at the weekend, we had free time to spend as we wished. A couple of afternoons were spent having fun by the river. We also went into the local city to explore, went to a Reformation museum, visited an impressive castle overlooking the area, went on a guided tour around some caves, and went around a maize maze. We had a lot of fun in the evenings too, chatting, playing games, and one night we even had a ceilidh!

Reformation museum visit

Reformation museum visit

The Two Week Stint was an amazing opportunity, and I enjoyed it so much. It was great getting to spend time in such an idyllic place with some lovely people while learning about the work of Wycliffe.

This article also appears in the September edition of Wycliffe News which can be ordered by e-mail or post here

My thanks to Caitlin for this guest blog about her Two Week Stint experience .
Photos © Knut Burmeister, ALLTAG  http://foto.alltagmedia.de/
For information on Two Week Stint 2017, keep an eye here
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