AN INTERVIEW WITH WYCLIFFE ASSOCIATES’ BRUCE SMITH
Named for the great 14th Century scholar John Wycliffe, who was responsible for the first translation of the complete Bible into English, Wycliffe Associates is a household name among Christians in many parts of the world, and their mission is at the very forefront of Bible translation and dissemination. Dr. Bruce Smith, Wycliffe Associates’ President and CEO, kindly agreed to answer LivingWithFaith.org’s questions about the vital work this globally active organization is accomplishing.
LWF: Thank you for taking our questions. We understand that Wycliffe Associates (WA) is one of many independent Wycliffe organizations that together form Wycliffe Global Alliance, headquartered in Singapore. Can you very briefly tell us about the background to your own organization's work?
Smith: Wycliffe Associates was founded in 1967 by Christian businessmen who wanted to use their skills and experience to advance Bible translation. Wycliffe Associates is not the largest partner within the Wycliffe Global Alliance. Wycliffe US is much larger in terms of budget and personnel. But WA’s support for partners of Bible translation has increased significantly over the last 15 years as we have expanded our services to Bible translators with technology, logistical and operational support, accelerated translation strategies, and greater financial resources developed here in the U.S.
LWF: We have seen a statistic that portions of the Bible, the New Testament, or the whole Bible exist in over 2,800 of the nearly 7,000 languages of the world. The 2,800 languages include all the major languages and many of the “larger” minor ones. Does WA have any estimate of how many people are still without the Bible in their own language?
Smith: At least 1.3 billion people do not have the full Bible available in their first language. From our perspective every person on earth needs to have access to the full Bible in their first language.
LWF: Your website has the neat header: “Wycliffe Associates: every verse, every tongue, every heart” and states that WA’s focus is on making it possible for every language group, no matter how small, to have access to the Bible. What does that goal mean practically – how many ongoing translation projects is WA running?
Smith: Wycliffe Associates does not “run” Bible translation projects. We serve Bible translation teams under the authority of the local church in each language. We offer technical, administrative, educational, and financial support to enable local Bible translation teams to succeed in their ministry. So far this year our Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation teams have helped more than 235 language teams increase the quality and quantity of their work. Through all of these programs and support services, we are actively supporting Bible translation in around 900 languages.
LFW: When we speak of translating the Bible into other languages, what exactly is being translated – a standard English version such as NIV under license, or are Wycliffe’s translations done some other way?
Smith: Situations vary widely. Normally translations are made from a collection of versions, either in English or in other major languages. The original languages are also consulted. Most modern Bible translations are copyrighted with “all rights reserved,” which limits their use for direct translation into another language. That’s why we are creating the Unlocked Bible, which is open-licensed under Creative Commons, for anyone to copy, print, or translate.
LWF: WA is doing an incredible job of getting the word of God into the hands of people around the world who might not otherwise receive it in their lifetimes. But many of these people are in situations where they have few, or not enough, people to explain the Bible to them. Is WA able to address this situation in some manner or does it rely on indigenous ministries for that?
Smith: Wycliffe Associates always works in close partnership with the local body of Christ in each language. By God’s grace the Church worldwide has grown to reach even the most remote and antagonistic corners of our world in recent years. He is raising up leaders as well as followers, and the best thing we can do is to partner with those He has already called. As God’s Word continues to reach new languages, it equips church leaders more effectively for the work of evangelism and discipleship.
LWF: WA also works with and through several other missionary entities such as SIL International, JAARS, and The Seed Company. Could you briefly comment on their relationship to WA and how you all interact?
Smith: These organizations are all partners in the work of Bible translation. We communicate regularly to coordinate our collaboration in support of field translation teams. Each has a unique ability and mission necessary to fulfill Vision 2025. As we probe deeper into language groups that are harder and more difficult to reach because of political and sectarian obstacles, each of these organizations will find different and innovative means to reach these language groups.
LWF: You have been at the helm of WA for fifteen very productive years. What are some of the milestones of WA’s work during that period for which you are particularly thankful?
Smith: When I first came to WA, it was an organization in decline due to an unclear vision of our place in Bible translation. We had struggled to engage people in the U.S. with the changing needs of Bible translation teams in the field. Significantly, we overhauled our assessment of the needs of Bible translators and aggressively campaigned on their behalf. This included such practical things as supplying engineering on development projects that brought clean water to villages, providing satellite and Internet connections from remote areas, Tsunami relief in Indonesia, and Earthquake relief in Pakistan.
But what I think is much more significant is that we increased our international support by positioning leaders in key regions of the world that could help innovate and solve problems for the various language projects. This led to a whole new approach to translating Scripture that is revolutionizing Bible translation – MAST. Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation is reducing the time it takes to translate Scripture from 8 to 10 years down to just weeks. Through the collaborative process of translation workshops, and engagement of the local church, we are seeing high-quality translation work being done in a fraction of the time.