Posts Tagged ‘Ulster Rugby’

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!


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As I recently posted

My most viewed post over the past year has been “Ok, so you’re a Christian. Can you also play rugby?” written in December 2011. For a blog primarily about my involvement in Bible translation, this could be seen as interesting… or disappointing. But then I’m an Ulster Rugby supporter and love to be at Ravenhill on a Friday night standing up for the Ulstermen.

Ulster v Sarcens April 2013

Ulster v Saracens April 2013

So why not another post about Ruan!

Many people thought that he would leave Ulster for Toulon when they approached him last year, but Ruan settled for staying in Belfast and has enjoyed the weather (?) and played brilliantly ever since.

“I decided quite early in my career that I would like to play overseas but had no great thoughts to where exactly,” says Pienaar who has 74 Springbok caps already. “Then I was having a chat with Johann Muller, a good friend from the Natal Sharks,  a couple of months after he signed for Ulster and I almost jokingly asked was there room for another over there? Soon after David Humphreys rang and spoke very well about the team’s big ambitions on and off the field and the rest is history. Something just clicked in my mind, a gut feeling. There were other options but immediately Ulster sounded a good fit.

“I am a strong and committed Christian, that’s what I stand for and I am not afraid to admit that, and now I realise that perhaps I find myself in Belfast and Ulster for reasons that are not entirely to do with rugby although that is obviously big part of it. I have been given the chance to be part of a really special community here and to give back by visiting schools and clubs and talking to anybody who want to listen about Christianity as well a rugby.

This is just a taster of the interview with Brendan Gallagher in The Rugby Paper; the whole article is worth a read.

PS: Regular readers will note that I’ve resisted the temptation to add something about Wycliffe Bible Translators – any suggestions how I might have been more creative..?

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Ulster scrumhalf, Ruan Pienaar, has been nominated on the longlist for ERC European Player of the Year for the third season in a row.

Ruan Pienaar

Concentration and accuracy

My most viewed post over the past year has been “Ok, so you’re a Christian. Can you also play rugby?” written in December 2011. For a blog primarily about my involvement in Bible translation, this could be seen as interesting… or disappointing. But then I’m an Ulster Rugby supporter and love to be at Ravenhill on a Friday night standing up for the Ulstermen.

It’s not just his passing, his kicking, his charge down tries, his seemingly effortless ability to get around the pitch… for Ruan Pienaar, teamwork, team effort and team spirit are paramount.

Ruan was Man of the Match in two recent Ulster wins – first against Munster when he kicked five penalties and two conversions and then in the crucial final Heineken Cup pool game where he scored all 22 points against Leicester Tigers to clinch a home quarter final for Ulster. In post match interviews on TV, Ruan first gives glory to God and then plays down his own contribution to emphasize the team heroics of the forwards in front of him and backs around him.

For me Ruan is a leader of a team. He’s not the captain but he is a leader.

For 25 plus years, I have enjoyed being part of the team that is Wycliffe Bible Translators in the UK and Ireland and around the world. The Bible translation task will not progress unless I recognise the great variety of God-given skills that my colleagues possess.

Can you see your skills above?

Can you see your skills above?

Like Ulster Rugby winning their way to a Heineken Cup quarter final, Wycliffe is  a team with a vision, a vision of partnership.

By the year 2015, together with partners worldwide, we aim to see a Bible translation started for every language that needs one.

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It’s been a while since I posted a blog, but I’ve had a mini sabbatical during May.

Here are some photos to remind me of the past month 🙂

With a friend, putting the Enough Food for Everyome banner on the church wall

With Robert, putting the Enough Food for Everyone IF banner on the church wall

St Anne's Cathedral Belfast one sunny day between the showers

St Anne’s Cathedral Belfast one sunny day between the showers

2 day retreat at the Mourne Quiet Garden

2 day retreat at the Mourne Quiet Garden

Spent most of a week here at Murlough House at a mission course

One for Ulster rugby fans: “Have you heard the news, Rory? You’re going to Australia!” SUFTUM!

Wee bit of work in the garden

Wee bit of work in the garden

Forth Railway Bridge near Edinburgh… visiting the family pre return to work

And here I am – back in the office and off to the PCI General Assembly in Derry tomorrow to promote Bible translation! You can catch up on PCI GA goings on with Alan in Belfast. Perhaps I’ll have something to report later this week.

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Tonight I am attending a concert in Greenwell Street Presbyterian Church, Newtownards…

Oku Kings Chorale

… I am very happy to be there and I’m doing a brief presentation about the Oku Bible translation and literacy project in the NW of Cameroon to encourage a generous offering which will go to this Wycliffe Bible Translators supported project.

This is my first slide – the map hangs in our Belfast office and daily reminds us to pray that the Lord of the harvest will provide the workers for his harvest field.

Lord of the Harvest map

But what, I will ask, is the harvest filed of Bible translation..?

The answer!


Yes, I’ll be glad to be there… but I’m going to miss this! Ulster’s semi final against Llanelli Scarlets 😦


Then again, I am delighted that the Oku people, whom I have twice visited, will be dedicating their New Testament in October this year – and the proceeds from the concert offering will finance the completion of the project!

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It was said light-heartedly, in a passing comment… but how come so many of the Ulster rugby squad are Christians? These three South Africans – Ruan Pienaar, Johann Muller and Pedrie Wannenburg – aren’t the only ones.

In a recent article in The Irish Times (Saturday 3 December 2011) we read not just why the three South Africans choose Ulster, but that they are joined in the squad by a number of home grown Christians.

Just over a year ago, Ulster welcomed three Springboks to Ravenhill. The welcome was enormous and justified, Ruan Pienaar, Pedrie Wannenburg and Johann Muller shared 100 caps between them and brought some rare international glamour to the slate grey skies that tend to hang over Belfast.

Pienaar, Muller and Wannenburg amble into their training base at Newforge Country Club like three overgrown schoolboys who’ve been let out of lessons early. Ulster captain Muller is very much the head boy of the group and eloquently recounts his reasons for coming to Ulster.

“Me and my wife made a decision that when I hit 30, we wanted to move overseas. I met David Humphreys and he flew to South Africa to try and sell Ulster to me. We were 70 per cent sure, but we then went to church a week later.

“There was an evangelist over from Manchester and out of nowhere he said, ‘sir, can you stand up’ pointing at me. I did as I was told, and I was kind of shocked, but then he said ‘God has opened a door for you and he wants you to take it’. The guy told me he saw me over here and was using me for his works. It was a wonderful confirmation and we didn’t need to think twice.”

The three Springboks weren’t the first Christians in the Ulster squad…

Irish international Andrew Trimble was the first player to publicly talk about his faith when he first broke into the team, and others are following, slowly, but surely. The Christian players in the Ulster squad form a sizeable group who practise their religion regularly.

You can read a lot more about the faith of both Springboks and local players in the The Irish Times article Faith of their fathers living still. Find out more about the Ulster squad at the Ulster Rugby Website.

And if you live anywhere near Ravenhill, why not go along to the Ulster Rugby Carol Service next Monday evening at 7.30 pm.

And what about supporting the Ulstermen… or is the Ulsterboks?

And a final word from The Irish Times article

In a country where religion has been the cause rather than the solution for many problems, this special group of Ulster rugby players are determined to keep using their own brand of muscular Christianity at Ravenhill as long as their careers endure.

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