Archive for the ‘languages’ Category


With Lynda Farncombe, Mary Steele and Justin Frempong

I don’t intend to write all about that very special day at Buckingham Palace. Let the photos tell the story…

Before the ceremony in the Palace courtyard

And afterwards: spot the MBE medal

Mary Steele MBE

Lots of traditional dress on the day

Heading off to find some lunch…

… Mary turned down The Ritz for a humble Italian restaurant

It was a very special and memorable day which I feel very privileged to have shared with Mary.

My two recent posts here and here about Mary Steele MBE and Wycliffe Bible Translator, have taken me back to 10 May 2006 when I was one of Mary’s three guests at Buckingham Palace. The others were Lynda Farncombe (Mary’s niece, a Wycliffe UK member) and Justin Frempong (Director of the Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation GILLBT) Mary’s boss in Ghana.

That’s the photo story you have just been reading above…

Mary Steele died at the age of 89 having made an incredible contribution to Bible translation in the languages of Ghana over a period of 55 years.



Read Full Post »

So said Mary Steele, Wycliffe Bible Translator, when interviewed on Ulster Television (UTV) some years ago.

My mind was very focussed on Mary and her long career with Wycliffe Bible Translators when I attended her funeral just before Christmas.

My mind went back to Mary’s interview with Paul Clarke which was shown on UTV twice in the same day. Did I have a copy of it? Where might I find it? It was a sheer accident that I found it on the new Wycliffe UK website – and I thought it deserved a plug.

The quotation below is  from When the Good News met the media which I blogged on 31 October 2010…

UTV Live news last night (Tuesday 10 June 2008) twice carried the story of Mary Steele MBE, 80 year old veteran Bible translator in Ghana. Mary is home near Ballymena in N. Ireland for a few months before returning to Ghana to complete the revision of the Konkomba Bible to be type-set in the autumn. She was very sensitively interviewed by Paul Clarke and Mary was her usual calm and clear speaking self. She talked about the growth of the Konkomba church since the sixties when she first went there and the amazing growth in literacy – hence the need for a new edition of the Konkomba Bible.
When asked why she does what she does, Mary replied, “I love the work, I love the people and I love the Lord!”

So I invite you to watch and enjoy Mary’s interview with Paul Clarke…

Read Full Post »

I have attended many funerals in my work with Wycliffe Bible Translators. I used to attend the funerals of parents of Wycliffe members. But more recently, it has been the funerals of colleagues. Perhaps the most poignant funeral was on 22 December 2017, the day after my 70th birthday.

Mary Steele died at the age of 89 having made an incredible contribution to Bible translation in the languages of Ghana over a period of 55 years.

On the day that we learned of her death, Wycliffe Personnel sent this tribute to all Wycliffe UK members:

Mary was one of the true “legends” of Wycliffe, widely loved and respected. She was born in 1928, trained as a nurse, worked in mission hospitals in southern Africa in the 1950s, joined Wycliffe in 1959 and later sailed for Ghana as one of the first Wycliffe members to go there. She worked extensively on the Konkomba and Bimoba translation projects in the north of the country, facing a variety of challenges, including health issues and serious inter-ethnic conflict. Both of these language groups now have completed Bibles, and have seen significant church growth. In addition, Mary was instrumental in a wide range of literacy, Scripture Engagement and Community Development activities, all of which were of significant benefit to these communities. Mary also served as a translation consultant to a number of other projects. She was a much-loved and highly valued member of the Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation.

In 2008 Mary was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for Services to Bible Translation, Literacy and Development. In 2015 she was appointed as a Member of the Order of the Volta by the President of Ghana. She retired (somewhat reluctantly!) in December 2014.

At the dedication of the Konkomba NT Mary was thanked and complimented by a Konkomba man: “She is deep and vast, and without her life for the Konkombas would be useless”.

Mary came from the Ballymena area of N. Ireland, sometimes referred to as the Ballymena Bible Belt. Mary’s achievements were often reported in the Ballymena Times newspaper by reporter Joe Boyd who now works for the online The Church Page. Joe asked me to contribute to his tribute to Mary.

‘When my wife Ruth and I joined Wycliffe Bible Translators in 1989, Mary Steele was already a legend for newbies like us. Later in my Wycliffe UK role, I met her many times and was always impressed by her commitment to helping Ghanaian colleagues translate the Bible into their languages; her devotion to God; and her humility. It was a surprise and a great privilege when Mary asked me to be one of her guests – along with her niece Linda Farncombe and Justin Frempong, director of the Ghanaian Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation (GILLBT) – when she went to Buckingham Palace to receive her MBE from Queen Elizabeth. It was a great day! I believe that protocol demands that one politely answers any questions the Queen might ask, but not initiate anything oneself. However Mary told us afterwards that having confirmed the Queen’s questions about her work in Ghana, she then made sure that the Queen knew how many people groups in the world were still waiting for Bible translation into their languages. I guess that summed up our “Queen Mary” and her passion for her work.’           [Joe Boyd’s full article can be read here.]

As a member of Killymurris Presbyterian Church, Mary was also very highly regarded in Irish Presbyterian circles.

The PCI website also published a tribute to Mary.

Read Full Post »

… and I’m just talking about translations of the Bible in English.

English translations of the Bible

The question keeps on popping up.

How many translations of the Bible are there in English?

Answers range from 100 to 450 to 900! I’ve just been Googling, so I have.

Do we need them all? Certainly not!

Why do we have so many? Now, that’s a good question.

Ask the translators who keep on producing so many for us Anglophones. Is someone making some money out of it… but let’s not go there.

Especially when we research the other approx 7,000 languages spoken in the world today and see how many of them have a complete Bible – or a New Testament – or even a single verse of Scripture!

Why not do that research for yourself. I’ll even help you. And I’ll probably blog on this again: the new annual stats should be out soon.

However – 1.5 billion people are still waiting for the Bible in their languages… and us Anglophones, we’re spoilt rotten.

So why this blog at this time? Well, it’s all the fault of The Babylon Bee.

They decided to explain the main differences between popular Bible translations. That was their first mistake – they mentioned only translations of the Bible in English.

Then they said: Have you noticed how many Bible translations are available these days? There are so many to choose from that it can get downright overwhelming. That was their second mistake – they mentioned only translations of the Bible in English.

From then on, it was a very entertaining and satirical review of eight Bible translations – they were all, of course, without exception, translations of the Bible in English.

I thoroughly enjoyed their post, but there was one more mistake. They think that the NIV stands for the Nearly Inspired Version. Well now, everyone where I live knows that it’s really the Northern Ireland Version!

PS Wycliffe Bible Translators UK and Ireland have a new look, a new logo and a new website. Fancy a wee look


Read Full Post »

Finding work experience for a 16 year old language student seemed a big challenge at first – until my Granny mentioned Wycliffe Bible Translators. I knew that’s where I wanted to go. Having met Marlene Ferguson some years ago at Girl’s Brigade, I had a vague idea about the work of Wycliffe, but I knew my work experience was going to be insightful and inspiring…

This is how Rebekah from Carrickfergus started her guest blog about her three days with Wycliffe Bible Translators UK & Ireland in the Belfast office a few weeks ago. There is a regular stream of A level languages students looking for related work experience each year. Invariably they find out more than they expected…

Click to find out more

Click to find out more

Nevertheless on the first morning, I was nervous about meeting the staff for the first time. I had no need to worry as I was warmly welcomed from the moment I walked in. After a quick introduction to the office and an information pack, Ricky wasted no time presenting an overview of the work of Wycliffe and why Bible translation is extremely necessary in 2017 and the future. I had a go at some introductory translation exercises, learnt statistics about Bible translation and was shocked to hear that of the 7,000 languages in the world, only 636 have a full Bible.

Before break, I heard about Ricky’s recent trip to Zambia where he attended a translation workshop. It was very interesting to hear what happens at a translation workshop.

One thing that struck me was that at break time every day the staff take time out to pray for the Wycliffe members from Ireland. It reminded me that no matter what we are doing within our day, we should always take time out to thank God for what he has done and ask him to help us with whatever we are doing.

Words for Life - Wycliffe UK's magazine

Wycliffe UK’s magazine

Later I talked to Alf Thompson about Wycliffe’s regional magazine Words for Life. I learnt about the process of putting the magazine together and the importance of being in communication with the rest of the world. Alfred’s job also showed me that lots of different people with lots of different skills play a part in Wycliffe Bible Translators. [You can order Words for Life magazine here. Editor]

Day one introduced me to the process of how a Bible is translated and I learnt about the Jesus Film Project. I knew that Bible translation isn’t an easy task, but I was becoming more aware of all the elements that have to be in place before a translation project can begin.

Day two was research day  [the reader can do some too! Links below. Editor]

  • I completed a back translation of Matthew 20 v 1-16 from Ulster Scots to Modern English.
  • I learned about the Arop people of Papua New Guinea and how Wycliffe members John and Bonnie Nystrom faced challenges and tragedy alongside the Arop people to get to where they are now with the Bible translation project.
  • I learnt some idioms from different African languages and read an article that showed me that one small word can change many people’s lives. [Intrigued? Read about that one little word, in fact, the difference one little vowel made. Editor]
  • One of the biggest things that stood out for me that day is the huge need for sign language translations of the Bible.
  • I completed my research day by watching a video of the New Testament dedication in Kimyal, West Papua, which made me realise how much we can take the Bible for granted at times. [Click Kimyal to see the video for yourself. Editor]

On my final day, I met two Guest Bible Scholars who told me about the volunteer work that they do from home and how that helps projects overseas. It helped make sense of all I had been told previously as I saw things fitting into place. Finally I talked to Kenny about the work of the Uganda and Tanzania Branch and why projects are started in specific areas.

Paratext: screenshot of software used by Guest Bible Scholars volunteers

Paratext: screenshot of software used by Guest Bible Scholars volunteers

My time at Wycliffe was very informative and it has made me think about what I can do with languages in the future. I was challenged by the need to have the Bible in ALL languages and I will be telling people about the work of Wycliffe for many years to come.   Rebekah

A big thank you to Rebekah for writing her guest blog and allowing me to post it here.

If you are reading this and you live in Ireland, you can find out much more about Bible translation this coming Saturday 25 February at the Wycliffe First Steps event in Ballyhenry Presbyterian Church, Glengormley. Click on the link to register or phone Ricky on the Belfast office number 028 9073 5854


Read Full Post »

George Cowan 1916 - 2017

George Cowan 1916 – 2017

I got news today that George Cowan died in the early hours of 11 February aged 101.

I never met George but have known him as one of the greats of Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Wycliffe Bible Translators USA published an article celebrating his 100th birthday last February. Here are some extracts…

In 1942, George moved to Mexico where he met and married his wife, Florence. During their time in Mexico, they studied the Mazatec language — one that can be spoken or whistled — and helped translate the New Testament, which was completed in 1961.

But perhaps one of George’s best-known contributions has been as a prayer warrior. His dedication and passion to pray for the Bibleless peoples of the world has been an inspiration to many people over the years.

George once said, “I’ve got more versions of the Bible than I know what to do with. But what about that poor guy out there in a Bibleless group? … He’s got nothing. What should I pray for him? … I can only ask that God give him the same as he’s given me.”

I know him best by the quotation above because many times when I have spoken about Wycliffe and Bible translation, I have shown a very short but very powerful video in which we hear George voicing those words – and with such passion – urging us to pray for the Bibleless peoples of the world..

Family members have suggested that on arrival with his Lord, his wife would had greeted him with the words “Well George, you finally got here!”

And so George Cowan is with the Lord in company with family members and colleagues who have gone before and with Mazatecos with whom he and his wife worked to translate the Mazatec New Testament.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: