A Wycliffe missionary named Derryl Friesen visited Saint Peter’s in January (I think) of 2018. He spoke to our congregation about Wycliffe. As is often the case in Lutheran churches, Derryl and I got to talking over coffee after service. I learned more about Wycliffe and he learned a little about me. Enough that he connected me with Dawson Tennant, the man who oversees software development here in Calgary. He invited me to come for a visit. We talked, we shared, we prayed, it was wonderful. As a result of our time together, Dawson invited me to apply as a Wycliffe volunteer. I said, Yes, tomorrow I can start deploying Bible translations to the Dark Web.
Dawson paused, looked away and quickly looked back at me. He said, Dan, I’m sensing that you may be interested in becoming a missionary. I was very interested. Ever since I met Derryl, I realized that there is no better use of my time here on earth, but for Bible translation.
Dawson booked a time for what computer programmers call a technical interview. I took a video call from SIL International in Dallas and was presented with a programming problem. The interview lasted all of twenty minutes. My interviewer was impressed that I wrote my automated tests before I wrote my code. Dawson emailed shortly after to inform me that I had been deemed a potential asset to the organization.
From there I was paired with the woman who ultimately decided whether my membership would even be considered. Her name is Marilyn Schmitt. I was given my first round of application paperwork. This included reference checks, a medical exam, a psychological exam, an extensive and invasive background check, a lengthy doctrinal statement, and in-person interviews. I hadn’t been raked over the coals like that since seminary.
Finally, in May of last year, my application was presented to the board that would formally decide my membership. It is a great privilege to be a Wycliffe Bible Translator.
When Darrel Friesen visited Saint Peter’s, I’d heard of Wycliffe, but up until that day, I had no idea that the Canadian branch is headquartered here in Calgary. Nor had I any idea of the scope and impact of their mission…
Our mission statement:
Wycliffe Canada works to end Bible poverty by facilitating the translation of God’s Word among minority language communities worldwide.
Put simply, there are 7,000 living languages and 2,000 have no Scripture whatsoever. We call this Bible poverty. Consider now that many of these languages cannot be written down. Then consider the consequences of illiteracy, whether in a minority people group or in 21st Century Canada.
As an individual who cannot express himself with the written word, you are limited in your ability to obtain and understand essential information. Here in Canada you would certainly have difficulty finding employment. Any employment you could find would be low pay and low quality. Without the ability to read and write, you would be unable to attend a vocational college or university. In all likelihood, in your unstable economic position, your family would give little value to education and reading. Your children are unlikely to read and write. You suffer more accidents and injury simply for not being able to understand a warning sign or instructions on medication. As an individual, imagine the loss of self-worth, your isolation, and vulnerability.
That is the consequence of illiteracy on an individual. Now consider the consequences of illiteracy on a society. Take all those individual problems and multiply them by 5,000 or maybe 250,000. How do you communicate and understand the issues in your society? Illiteracy naturally lowers the levels of community involvement and civic participation. In the 21st Century, literacy is an essential tool without which individuals and governments can’t compete in the global, knowledge-based economy. It should come as no surprise that the more illiterate adults there are, the slower your economy grows. Low GDP. Health problems. High rates of incarceration. Societal problems persist.
Like all Christians, Wycliffe’s mission and responsibility is to deliver the Good News of Christ. We are simply following orders. In obeying Christ’s command to us - to share His Good News - we are ending Bible poverty. Here’s the neat thing: when we end Bible poverty we fight material poverty. Literacy is followed close behind by education, economy, and equality. In carrying out Christ’s Great Commission, we do all that. We also write new stories in eternity.
Once my financial support base is proven %100 sustainable, my first assignment is to a project called ScriptureForge. This is a sensible fit, as ScriptureForge is a Web application and I am a Web Developer. I write software for delivery over the World Wide Web. ScriptureForge allows native speakers of a language to offer immediate feedback on the efforts of translators. Problems of distance, speed, cost, and administrative coordination are mitigated. Translators will no longer have to shuffle unstructured emails and actual paperwork. Translators won’t need to travel as much. Translation work will proceed at a quicker pace, we’ll be able to do more of it, and we’ll spend much less money.
ScriptureForge is only my first assignment. Looking to the future, if God allows me to contribute any sort of legacy, it would be in finding a way to automatically and dynamically update aging, but complete Bible translations into modern language using a contemporary body of literature. The way we express God’s truth could potentially pace the natural evolution of a language. As a Computer Scientist, I believe this is a computable problem, but one that remains to be proven. God has decided my assignments with Wycliffe, but if He allows me to do this one day, He’s already given me an idea on how to do it.
What does it cost for me to do this work? $120,000 per year. Of that, 10% goes to Wycliffe. Our approach to fundraising - what we call Partnership Development - is Biblically based. A further 15-20% of that goes to ministry expenses. This is the money I spend doing my job and raising more money, much like business expenses. The remainder, minus taxes, is what allows me to pay my bills and plan for my family’s future… my retirement and my children’s education.
God has called me, and God is my provider, but much like the manna he sent Israel in the desert, it’s up to me to go collect my support. It’s up to me to ask individuals to support this work. There’s no commercial incentive and governments are often hostile to translations efforts. Nonetheless, it is obvious that this is valuable work. And it’s not work I can do myself.
I bring today an opportunity to write history. I bring an opportunity to invest what God has given you in building his Kingdom. I bring an opportunity to be blessed.
Bible poverty is a problem now. I have a job waiting for me now. I do not start work until my support is proven 100% sustainable.
I need people to sign up today. Ask God if you can join me in this work. I cannot do it by myself. Wycliffe’s Partnership Development model is the same funding model provided for missionaries and ministers in the Bible. Best of all, you give to God and you know exactly where it is going. God gives to me so I can support my family. He lets me do work that money itself cannot buy. Only God can take your donation and bring literacy to minority people. To bring education and equality to aboriginal people around the world. Money by itself doesn’t solve problems. Generosity solves problems. Generosity builds God’s Kingdom. Now is the time to be generous. I’m not asking you to partner with me. I’m asking you to ask God.