Archive for the ‘IT’ Category

j-nicholsonWhen we got an e-mail from Jack Nicholson in 2016 asking to do work experience in the Belfast office of Wycliffe Bible Translators, we thought: “We can’t be that famous! Jack Nicholson?”

Turns out it wasn’t the star of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. It was the Jack Nicholson,  A level languages student from Kilkeel.

Like all our work experience students, Jack was invited to write a guest blog about his experiences over three days in January 2016.

Marlene Ferguson had been at a careers day in Jack’s school and he had also heard about Wycliffe at his church. So here goes…

As an avid language student, I was looking forward to see what happened in the Wycliffe office. In my naivety, Bible translation took place in the most distant, isolated ends of the earth. I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed!

It struck me how many languages exist in the world, over 800 in Papua New Guinea alone, and how many, at least 1.5 billion people, do not have a Bible in the language which they understand best and are therefore unable to grasp the complete image of God and his plan. These thoughts were reinforced when I considered the widespread availability and variety of God’s word in our own country.

Contrary to my belief, Wycliffe members do not simply throw a dart at a map and book the next available tickets to that country. Nor do they charge into a village or town and carry out their plans without involving the local people.

I discovered that the process to begin a new translation project is meticulous, with an emphasis on prayer and financial support. I also got a taste of the joyful celebrations when a New Testament or a Bible is completed and dedicated.

A celebration of DVD Scripture for sign languages in Ghana, Burundi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria

A celebration of DVD Scripture for sign languages in Ghana, Burundi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria

Jack talked to Kenny Woodrow about his work in Uganda – Tanzania and discovered that artistic and many other skills are used in the Bible translation process.

This illustration shows art being used to convey the message of God creating the sun, moon and stars in the Kwoma visual language.

On day 2, Jack was introduced to back translations, sign language translation, how technology is used in the Bible translation process – and language cluster groups when talking to Ricky Ferguson about his trip to the Mongu Cluster in Zambia.

Words for Life - Wycliffe UK's magazine

Words for Life – Wycliffe UK’s magazine


After lunch, I joined Alf Thompson who works in communications for Wycliffe UK and Ireland. I heard about his job editing the Words for Life magazine. It was fascinating – and again, it reminded me of the importance of a diversity of skills and roles in Christian mission – as well as treating me to a sneak peek of the next Words for Life magazine!

Friday, my last day… and along came Olive Craig – a Guest Bible Scholar volunteer with  Wycliffe.  Olive showed me the importance of clarity when translating God’s Word to different people groups and also the importance of context in translation. Then, after a few challenging translation enigmas and idioms, Olive led me through the diligent, step-by-step method of the translation of the Bible followed by Wycliffe. The true intensity of Bible translation dawned on me when Olive opened up Paratext – a computer software programme designed specifically for Bible translation. She showed me her part in the overall translation process and how translators aim for Biblical translation to be clear, accurate and natural. I particularly enjoyed Olive’s visit, as I witnessed the practical approach of translation and the skills of so many being used to bring God’s word to others.

Paratext screenshot

Paratext screenshot

I thank God for giving me the chance to witness first-hand Wycliffe’s work in fulfilling his purposes to translate and communicate his word, the Bible, to all the languages of the world.

I retired from Wycliffe at the end of December 2016. One part of my work which I really enjoyed was helping students have a worthwhile work experience with us. So, thanks to Jack and to Ricky for giving me the opportunity to edit Jack’s blog and post it here.

Find out more about Wycliffe and Bible translation at First Steps events around the UK and Ireland.

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Apparently someone has developed what3words, a global grid of 57 trillion 3mx3m squares each with a unique three word address that can be communicated quickly, easily and unambiguously.

It was hearing about what3words that inspired my Retirement Reflections in the recently published January edition of Wycliffe News

Jon, a former student at Vavoua International School (VIS) in Côte d’Ivoire, where Ruth and I taught for eight years, recently posted an interesting story on the VIS Facebook group. People living in rural villages in Côte d’Ivoire – and many other places around the world – don’t have addresses and postcodes like we do. So among other things, it’s hard for Amazon to deliver their Christmas presents.


Click on photo to read BBC article about what3words

Apparently someone has developed what3words, a global grid of 57 trillion 3mx3m squares each with a unique three word address that can be communicated quickly, easily and unambiguously.

No, I don’t understand how it works, but it prompted me to reflect on how so many things have changed during our 28 years with Wycliffe.

Just before we went to Ivory Coast

Just before we went to Ivory Coast

Communication between VIS and home in the early 1990s depended on hand written airmail letters written on flimsy paper which might get a reply within three weeks. Telephone calls from the rented room in Vavoua town where one tried for up to an hour to get a line and all too often failed. Eventually we got a phone line at the school and a fax machine spewed out messages which promptly faded in the Ivorian sunshine if they weren’t instantly photocopied.

But what developments in technology we now enjoy: whether we work in a Wycliffe office in UK; or with a translation team overseas; or as translation consultants interacting remotely from home with teams overseas! Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Bible apps on smart phones the world over are familiar to most people. Bible translation specific software like Paratext has revolutionised life for translators and consultants.

An American colleague once commented that God invented computers for Bible translation, but he graciously lets the rest of the world use them.

So much change!

What never changes is our loving God who desires to reach every nation, tribe, people and language with the Good News of Jesus. What a privilege to have been a small cog within Wycliffe striving to make that a reality.

What never changes is that God still uses his people, blessed with the skills that he has given them, to bring his word to those still waiting to hear about the love of God in Christ.

His people? Friends and colleagues in the Belfast office; the wider team in Wycliffe UK and Ireland; and the even wider team that God has built within the Wycliffe Global Alliance. And since this is appearing in Wycliffe News – especially all those friends and colleagues in this magazine who have been an encouragement to us in our work and for whom we can all pray as they share their news, their joys and their challenges.

July 2016 North Berwick practising for retirement

As we retire, thank you everyone for your friendship past, present and future.

God bless, John and Ruth

PS By the way, Wycliffe’s what3words office address at The Mount is toward.image.enable and my home address is heavy.danger.plot – looking forward to hearing from you.

To receive Wycliffe News contact Ricky or Bill at northernireland@wycliffe.org.uk

To find out more about how Wycliffe is using technology to support Bible translation

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Monday 1 June 2015 was a significant day for Wycliffe Bible Translators in N. Ireland.

After almost 14 years in our office on Beersbridge Road, Belfast, we moved downtown. Well, a little bit closer to the centre of Belfast. We are in two adjoining rooms in The Mount Business and Conference Centre not too far from Belfast Central Station.


Our address is: The Mount Business Centre,  2 Woodstock Link, Belfast  BT6 8DD and our  phone number is 028 9073 5854.

Here is an extract from my latest newsletter…

NI Team
On the same day Ricky Ferguson started as Leader of the Church Engagement Team in N. Ireland. Ricky brings youth, enthusiasm and his passion for Bible translation. He also has the advantage of being married to Marlene!

Also on 1 June, Alfred Thompson started working with the Wycliffe UK Communications Team based with us in The Mount. Completing the NI team are Kenny Woodrow (Uganda / Tanzania Branch communications) and our invaluable long term volunteer Bill Bailie.

I really like working in this team. Not only is there coffee and yummy scones from Seasons Restaurant downstairs, but we have regular team meetings, daily prayer together and we get to bounce ideas and banter off each other.

What about me?
These changes mean I have fewer responsibilities and renewed enthusiasm as I work a three day week as part of Ricky’s team. I hope that I can help him in his new role. I continue to be involved with the Kairos World Mission Course at Belfast Bible College and to be our contact with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. As a team, we want to build partnerships with all denominations and with new churches. We pray that God will call more people from Ireland to join Wycliffe.

A new office, new colleagues… all good stuff. But the task remains the same. As the front page of our Wycliffe UK website currently says…

Wycliffe Bible Translators believe that the Bible is the best way for people to come to know and understand who God is. Our vision is that by working with churches, organisations and individuals from around the world all people will have access to God’s word in a language that they truly understand.

Worldwide, 180 million people speaking 1,860 languages need Bible translation to begin, because they do not have access to the story of God’s love for his people – the story of the Bible – in the language that they understand the best. Of the 6,901 languages in the world today, only 531 have a complete Bible.

And there’s also a wee video from one of our partner organisations to watch…

Inspired? See where you might fit in? Contact us at our new office at The Mount to find out more.

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This week two Sixth Form students were on work experience with us. One wants to study modern languages at university, the other wants to go to drama school. Both came to our office in Belfast to find out more about what Wycliffe Bible translators does. Among many other things, they heard about how computers are crucial to getting God’s Word to people groups who don’t have it. I’m looking forward to their feedback to see what grabbed their imagination these past few days.

The next day I read Jeff and Heather Pubols blog on computers and Bible translation. It’s reproduced below but I’ve edited the links for a UK audience – hope that’s OK, Jeff and Heather!

What do computers have to do with Bible translation, and why is Information Technology (IT) support important.  Well, I’m glad you asked!

Can you imagine this world without computers? Computer technology is a completely integrated part of our every day lives.  Everything from our commute to our grocery shopping experience to even how we connect with our friends and family has been impacted by computers.

Computers are also a crucial part of Bible translation and missions in general. They are so important that Information Technology (IT) professionals are considered the number two need of mission organizations after…teachers!

I didn’t realise that teacher needs are still so high on the list…

It has been estimated that computer technology has helped to reduce the time it takes to do a translation of the New Testament by about 10 years.  On average, it used to take about 20-25 years to translation a New Testament.  Now, in large part because of advances from computer technology, it takes on average 10-15 years.

Computer technology isn’t only needed by Bible translation staff.  The whole Bible translation team use it.  Administrators use computers to plan strategies and stay in touch with our Bible translation teams and other staff.  Finance personnel use computers to track budgets, reconcile accounts, pay bills and process gifts.   Prayer ministries personnel use it to gather prayer information, draft prayer requests and distribute prayer requests.  Communications and media staff use it to craft articles, edit photographs, and create media tools like videos, brochures and publications.  There are few if any staff that aren’t using computers in some way.

IT Technicians repair computers and computer related equipment, helping to keep those critical computers functioning.  This helps all of our staff, from administrators to Bible translators, to be able to do their work efficiently.  Fully functional computers are critical to keeping the pace of Bible translation work moving forward.

More people are needed to focus on computer hardware repair, but there are also openings for many other IT positions.  Those positions include: computer programmers, networking specialists, network security specialists, email system administrators, and more.

What about you?  Are you interested in using your skills in IT to serve those who don’t yet have God’s word in their language?  You can be an IT missionary! Perhaps God has been preparing you to serve His Kingdom this way.

Learn more about available IT opportunities in Wycliffe.

[My thanks to Norm (in his blog about IT from a Pioneer Bible Translators perspective) for the image at the top of the page]

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The role of IT in mission: guest blog by Neil McKnight

CheckITOut NI

One Sunday after church, I had a wee chat with John Hamilton. I asked, “What’s all this about computers and Wycliffe Bible Translators?” John suggested that I go to Wycliffe’s CheckITOut evening…

Over recent years missionaries around the world have been forced to embrace new technologies and use more and more new tools for many different tasks when carrying out their work both in the field and in many different support roles.

I went to the CheckITOut event as suggested and they took some time to explain the role of IT, but more importantly, the need for experienced IT personnel throughout the world.

The vision of Wycliffe Bible Translators is to start a Bible translation project in 1,967 different languages by the year 2025, and it is estimated that these projects will have the potential to reach over 200 million people.

To meet this goal they are currently utilising around 5,500 staff in 97 countries, which in itself is a staggering amount of people. Yet they have approximately 2,500 positions vacant in roles around the globe.

Over the years they have had different manual systems and ways of gathering information, keeping track of people, recording translations, working with the local people, but as new technologies have evolved, so have the people and the systems.

One of the big areas is people management. If there are people posted around the world carrying out their roles, or possibly even on holiday or at a conference, it is important that the organisation knows exactly where they are during their travelling and time away. If there happens to be some sort of a natural disaster or a civil war breaks out, basically anything that could put individual in danger, Wycliffe may need to know all sorts of important information that could be relevant in those different situations. Heights and weights could be important in the event of an evacuation; blood types in the event of an emergency; copies of passports and important documents; any sort of information that may normally be taken for granted could be important in difficult situations. This needs to be stored centrally and in a way that can be easily managed. A Wycliffe member from N. Ireland currently manages this project from his home near Ballyclare.

For people working in areas where there may be no power, there is little point in giving them a case full of equipment that all depends on electricity to operate, or possibly an internet connection to be useful. Nowadays, along with that case of essential equipment, Wycliffe may also issue two other cases: one with a solar panel and one with a small satellite dish which has the ability to connect remote workers to the internet.

"God's Word is powerful" Catalan Sign Language

“God’s Word is powerful” Catalan Sign Language

Another fantastic use of technology is in using video capture to record sign language, and using software to over lay the person with a female face, or an ethnic face, or an adult or child, enabling the sign language translation to be distributed in many different ways, but actually all created from the one initial motion capture. This technique is used commonly now in the film industry to bring to life animated or CGI characters, but to think to use it in this way is just astounding.

Sick PCOne of the inherent problems with all this use of technology is that it brings with it its own problems. Computers generally break down or fail to function correctly, printers need fixed, cables break, all sorts of things that a lot of the time we take for granted. However when you don’t have a tech savvy family friend or a local computer shop to walk into, it can be a bit of a problem. So backup and support staff with specific IT skills play a big role in keeping equipment going, training people in new systems and fixing everything from the network to the microwave in the office – just because it’s perceived they can.

There are many different ways that experienced IT workers and enthusiastic computer hobbyists can help out both at home and abroad, and for a more comprehensive list please visit either the Wycliffe Bible Translators UK or Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church websites for more information.

Neil McKnight

Neil is a friend and fellow member of Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church in Belfast, N. Ireland. Having attended Wycliffe’s CheckITOut event, he wrote this piece for the church quarterly newsletter.

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