Bible translators need expertise in Biblical studies and linguistic skills in order to analyze a language. At times, languages needing the Bible have never been written in any form. Often they must create a record of its sounds and create an alphabet - leading to writing lesson books and dictionaries - all long before any of the Bible is tentatively translated. This requires not only dedication and an understanding of the people but also great patience and interviewing skills, not to mention technical knowledge in a host of areas. Portions of Scripture may first be tried out long before a more formal translation of a whole Gospel is attempted. As books of the Bible are translated, the text goes through many consultative checks before it is considered accurate enough to be published. An important test is to check how the people of the language understand it, and eliminate potential misunderstandings. Pray for God to call many more to this important work and to provide strength and perseverance to those undertaking decades-long projects of this nature.
The modern Bible Society movement dates to the foundation of the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1804, when a group of Christians sought to address the lack of affordable Bibles in Welsh for Welsh-speaking Christians. The American Bible Society (ABS) was founded in 1816. Today there are many agencies committed to various aspects of making the Scriptures available to all. Most of these are members of the Forum of Bible Agencies, formed in 1992 to increase cooperation and communication between the many Bible translation and distribution agencies in the world.
Shift from distribution to translation. The Protestant mission movement up to 1910 emphasized Bible distribution more than Bible translation. However, in the decade following 1910, Scripture translation in some part was done in 102 additional languages with a cumulative total of 722 languages having some Bible translation by 1920. In the 1950s, 142 translations were added; in the 1960s, 258 languages; in the 1970s, 290 languages; and in the 1980s, 175 additional languages. It was estimated that by 2010 there were over 2,500 translations of at least portions of the Bible. Still, the need is great. Of the world's languages (possibly around 7,000), over 2,000 languages wait with a need of Scripture translation work, representing over 200 million people throughout the world. Pray for workers dedicated to providing Scripture to those currently without access.
The whole Word of God. Due to limited personnel and financial resources, priority was given to New Testament translations twenty to thirty years ago. According to WBT, today just under 10% of the world's languages have completed Bibles. Over 600 of the world's 7000 or so spoken languages have full translations of the Bible, while those which have access to at least the New Testament in their heart language number over 1,400. There are around 4,000 languages without any Scripture translations. Of these, there are 1,600 languages with Bible translations needs that are still not even begun. Alongside the need for Old Testament translations, there is the need for more specialized consultants to work alongside the translators. Every aspect of this ministry needs prayer.
Bible translation is a task for the global Church, and does not lie in the hands of the Western world alone. Reallocation of resources, realignment of organizations and redistribution of manpower are necessary. The emergence of Bible translation ministries and teams in the Majority World greatly assist in the completion of the task. Pray for the following groups, often at the forefront of current translation projects: the United Bible Societies (UBS), WBT, SIL, the Institute for Bible Translation, the Trinitarian Bible Society, the Pioneer Bible Society, as well as a handful of other mission agencies partnering or contributing to translation work in some way.
Audio and Braille Bibles. Ideally, every language should have special Bibles for those unable to read or with impaired vision. Around the world, more than 300 million people are either blind or unable to see well enough to read. Some organizations specialize in providing Braille and audio Bibles in English for the blind. Braille Bibles are produced on heavy paper so they can be printed on both sides; when complete, the whole Bible fills an average of 50 enormous volumes and is very expensive. A complete Braille Bible has only been published in about 40 languages, but work is in progress in other languages and several Bible Societies have produced Bible stories in Braille. Audio Bibles now exist in 880 languages - a number increasing by dozens each year!
The printing of the Scriptures often presents problems: in some areas it is high costs, including short print runs for languages with fewer speakers; in others it is the lack of facilities or materials needed to print. The price of Bibles to the public is often reduced through subsidies in order to ease access for those who want to read. Pray for the provision of everything needed for this ongoing ministry: workers, finance, materials and machinery. The UBS annual budget is in the tens of millions of US dollars. A major fundraising initiative - "Opportunity 21" - has sought to assist in raising the finances to see more extensive Bible distribution as well as training for staff members of the younger Bible Societies around the world.
Bible distribution in the early days depended on missionaries, or colporteurs selling or giving Scriptures, often at the risk of their lives. In many countries the Bible was banned and copies had to be smuggled in. This went on until recently and continues even today in some countries, especially in Asia and the Middle East. This requires prayer, as Christians can be imprisoned - or worse - for giving out the Scriptures. Establishing Bible distribution operations in a country often requires much effort on the logistical, legal and financial fronts. War, political crises and unsympathetic or hostile governments make for long and difficult negotiations.Sometimes the UBS depot or bookstore is the only source of Christian literature and Bibles in a country. In others, a vast network of churches, shops and local distributors can move millions of portions of the Scriptures each year. Today there are many organizations that sell or distribute Bibles or portions. The Bible is also widely available on the Internet for download, even for free, a great blessing especially in places where it is dangerous to show an interest in Christianity.In 2015, total distribution of Scriptures by Bible Societies was 34 million Bibles, 13 million New Testaments, and 420 million portions of the Scripture! Pray for the Word of God to go forth through the written or audio Scriptures, into the hands of all who have ears to hear.
Major Bible publishers and distributors. Pray specifically for these ministries:
- Gideons International, since 1899, has distributed copies of the Bible in over 80 languages, especially in hotel and motel rooms and to school children, the armed forces, in hospitals and elsewhere. The Gideons have given away over 2 billion Scriptures since 1908 - 80 million annually, in over 100 languages and over 200 countries.
- Trinitarian Bible Society gave away over 1.9 million portions of Scripture (including whole Bibles) last year. Another 7.7 million were sold at greatly reduced costs.
- SGM Lifewords is a Christian charity producing free Bible resources for people all around the world. SGM works in partnership with Christians and Christian agencies who share these booklets and leaflets with others on a one-to-one basis. SGM has given away more than 22 million pieces of literature in over 1000 languages and dialects worldwide.
- The Bible League provides Scriptures and trains people to use them for discipling seekers into church membership. Around 20 million Scriptures or portions thereof are distributed every year. The Bible League is also one of the leading providers of Scriptures to the Persecuted Church.
- The Pocket Testament League has a ministry of distributing Gospels and New Testaments in 100 or more countries in many languages. These are compiled in a manner to facilitate soul-winning and discipleship.
- Bibles Unbound, has given away over 3.3 million Bibles thus far. Voice of the Martyrs started this ministry in 2006 to get Bibles to Christians who cannot simply go to a bookstore and pick up a Bible. Bibles Unbound workers gather the names and addresses of people who would like to receive a Bible; many thousands await a Bible through this ministry.
Partnership for Bible translation. Through the combined ministries of the Bible Societies and Bible translation agencies, 95% of the world's population has access to Scripture in a language they can understand, though not always in a heart language. The remaining 5% represents over 300 million people. WBT's Vision 2025 aims to see a Bible translation programme started in every language that needs one by the year 2025 - since 1999, new translation programs for 617 languages have started for communities with no known Scriptures. This equals 82% of the 750 programs known to Wycliffe that started during this same time. The Epic Partnership unites WBT (Bible translation), YWAM (training young people for evangelism), Cru (audio/visual resources and national partnerships) and IMB (church planting strategies) to reach the estimated four billion people who learn primarily through the spoken rather than written word.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.