Whom do I serve?

My name is Daniel Bidulock. According to the specifics of my job description, I am a Language Software Developer for an NGO call SIL International. In broader terms, most people know me as a Wycliffe Bible Translator.

Allow me to share about those I serve and for the people for whom I advocate…

I serve God

I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. We didn’t go to church. My parents didn’t really go to church either. Their families were Christmas and Easter church-goers, at best. Despite this, in my mid-twenties God planted in me a desire to know the truth. With a sincere heart and mind for this knowledge, I reached out and God gave me His Word on comic book Bible tracts I found at the bus stop. Though foreign and hilariously offensive to my pagan sensibilities, I soon saw that God’s Word is written all around us. I heard His voice in everything, including movies, music, and television. I gave my life to Jesus on July 28, 2003 because of Scripture verses I read in comic books.

Seventeen years later, I read four Bible chapters every day. Starting in January, I finish the entire Bible by October 24th. This gives me enough time to do a second pass of the New Testament. I finish this on December 27th. This year, I am on my thirteenth front-to-back reading of the Bible and have completely lost track of the English translations I’ve covered. My first and favourite is the New Living Translation. Of the Bibles on my bookshelf, I’ve read the New International Version, the New American Standard Bible, the New Catholic Edition, the New Revised Standard Version, the Hebrew-English Holy Scriptures, and the Old and New King James versions. I’m currently reading the Amplified version on biblegateway.com, which of course, is delivered over the World Wide Web. Though I read it every day, I have not read the Bible on paper for at least seven years.

I serve Wycliffe

Wycliffe is a worldwide alliance of organizations with the common objective of ending Bible poverty. Founded 1942 and now headquartered in Singapore, we are working toward translating the Bible for every language group that needs it. This is in obedience to the Great Commission handed down by Jesus Christ himself.

I serve SIL

Lots of people know Wycliffe. Fewer know SIL, though millions feel our impact. Founded 1934, our purpose is to study, develop, and document languages. Of over 7000 living languages spoken on earth today, as many as 3000 cannot even be written down. When a civilization comes to the point where they want to be able to record their own stories, SIL International is there to serve that need.

Some of what we create includes:

  • New writing systems (alphabets) for the languages that cannot be written down
  • Physical and on-screen computer keyboards to write with these new alphabets
  • Literacy apps to teach people how to read and write

It takes decades of missionary work to get to the point where we are invited to help record a language on paper. Christian missionaries do all the prep work. Christ commissioned us to do this. Christians are unique in that we recognize every language can express the same truth. Christ’s Great Commission demonstrates this. It takes a call from God to raise up Christians in places where there are none. It takes time and dedication to build a community who has heard God’s Word, and sees the importance of being able to write it down. It takes time and dedication to raise up people within this community who want to raise their children in a better culture, translate the Bible, and write their stories in eternity.

It takes a long time to get to this point. But when we do, this is where Bible translators step in. We serve translators from all agencies, all over the world. Some you may know, like the Lutheran Bible Translators, the Jesus Film Project, and of course the Wycliffe Global Alliance. There are many others, and they all use SIL software to carry out their missions. They use our software to build up communities with God’s Word and with literacy.

I serve through SIL International. I am a computer programmer who writes software for the World Wide Web. I hold a Master of Divinity from Ambrose Seminary and a Master of Science in Computer Science from the University of Calgary. God prepared me and called me to serve. Until I’m called elsewhere, there is no better use of my time apart from Bible translation. Unless I’m called elsewhere, I’ll be doing Bible translation until I die. As a living testimony to the power of God’s Word, I am privileged to be allowed to serve this way.

I serve our neighbours

In witnessing to Christ, I serve my neighbours who can reach out, take hold of God’s Word, and meet Jesus any time they want. For those of us who learned to speak English first, we are blessed with a rich legacy of Bible translations. God’s Word is written all around us. If we want to know the truth, we can reach out any time and take hold of it. When I first read Scripture, it didn’t take long before I saw through all the lies of this world. Though I am uniquely qualified to serve as a Bible translator, I serve primarily as a living testimony to the power of God’s Word.

As a Bible translator I also serve neighbours around the world who don’t have the same opportunities we have. There are hundreds of millions of people for whom no Bible exists. After centuries of work, we have roughly 450 Bibles in English alone. By contrast, there are over 2000 languages for which not even a single verse has been translated. There’s no finding comic book Bible tracts at the bus stop for these people. I serve these people, our neighbours, as a living testimony to the power of God’s Word.

We see the consequences of illiteracy with neighbours closer to home - inequality, poverty, ignorance, dependency, frustration, crime, violence - all these give way to equality, economy, and education. Life is better where there are Christians. People are set free to build up their homes and communities. But none of this matters when measured against what is offered by the Bible itself. To education, equality, and economy we add eternity. Let all those with ears to hear listen: look to the cross. Jesus loves you.

I serve my colleagues

I serve SIL software developers, my colleagues. SIL International are leaders in language development. We are leaders in the work we do and in the tools we provide.

I went to Dallas for our 2-year world-wide conference last year. I had not been surrounded by so many actual Computer Scientists since my last round of grad school. Computer Science is discovering which problems can be solved algorithmically, in a finite series of steps. We write these steps in a program and execute their instructions with machines. The observation, hypothesis, and proof of the science is emboddied in the very existence of the program, that finite series of steps. The SIL scientists I met each have a long legacy of world-changing missionary service. They have been discovering which problems in Bible translation can be solved with machines. It is an honour to count myself as one of them.

Before computers - even before basic word processing - a translation project could easily take 40 years. Now, a Bible translation project takes as little as ten. SIL serve the missionary translators by providing the tools that allow them to do more work, more efficiently. Wycliffe’s goal is to have a Bible in the process of translation for every language by 2025.

While we are leaders, we have fallen behind in how we provide our tools to Bible translators in the field. SIL software typically runs on desktop computers. This software has been the backbone of Bible translation for decades. But remember, we only provide the tools and a little expertise. The people we serve are the ones who do the real translation work. Most of these people don’t have desktop computers. They have mobile phones. SIL International has fallen behind in this respect. Most of our software can’t currently be used on a phone, which limits the number people of who can contribute to translation work. We want as many people as possible to share in the effort.

I serve my SIL colleagues by example and through my professional experience. Web Developers write software that you can use on your phone. I have been a professional Web Developer since my first salaried position at a local company called iStockPhoto.com. Whether it’s on your Google Chrome browser or something you download from the App Store, that is a program written by a Web Developer. Those are the programs we are now just starting to build. The wonderful, hopeful thing about Web Development is how fast it moves. In the last eight years alone, there have been two obvious revolutions in the industry. SIL is at the dawn of a revolution. We are now writing our software for the Web. The people we serve - those who need a Bible that speaks in the language of their hearts - will be able to use their phones to do the work of translation. All over the world, people have computers in their pockets. We are building software so that all these people can come together in a way that has never been done in Bible translation. SIL are leaders. We will be the first.

I serve my colleagues by showing how this is done. I have set the lead in how SIL develops for the Web. They will follow, and our talented programmers will find even better ways, better practices, and provide better translation tools that allow more people to participate. This is Web Development. It is fast-paced and collaborative. Our goal is to have every Bible in translation by 2025. Five years gives time for at least one more revolution. Hundreds of millions of lives will be impacted in the next five years alone.

Day to day, this is how I serve God directly, by serving my colleagues at SIL. Together we write history, build civilizations, and invite God’s people to write their stories in eternity.

I serve my partners

I serve one more special group of people. My partners. These are people who recognize the value of the work we do, and recognize the opportunity to invest some of what God has given them. They see the opportunity to be blessed by investing in God’s Kingdom. I serve my partners in prayer and by sharing in the joy of doing God’s work. Much of my ministry as a missionary involves leading others in knowing the joy of giving.

Since being called to service, Christmas has taken on a whole new dimension. It’s like I’m Ebenezer Scrooge and I discovered the true meaning of Christmas for the first time. For me, being supported by so many people first revealed the joy of expressing gratitude. I had never written a Christmas card before joining Wycliffe, now I’m buying postage stamps from Costco. Though it is a joy to receive such support, this last Christmas provided an interesting opportunity to really know the joy of giving. I have been a faithful tither since my second year of seminary. This has been my longest continuous act of worship in my Christian walk. I’ve never given begrudgingly, but I confess to often giving with little thought or prayer. Mechanical, with little joy.

This all changed last year. With all the Christmas cards I write, my family gets ramped up for the season in November. It was around this time that I was downtown for an appointment. I passed an elderly woman sitting on her walker outside an apartment block. She wasn’t homeless, but I could tell she was in need. In the moment, I thought it strange she didn’t have a sign or ask for money. But as I passed by God told me to give her $100, clear as day. I am a sinner, but I am generally obedient, so I hurried off to find a bank machine, praying all the while that she would be still be there when I got back.

Thankfully, the woman was still there. I introduced myself to Helen and asked if she needed help. She didn’t ask for anything, though she did tell me about her sister dying of cancer in Ontario and how there was no way for her to go visit. The sadness on her face told the whole story. I asked if I could pray, but I could tell she didn’t see much point. I showed her the folded bills and asked if she could use some money. She gratefully accepted the gift, though I know she thought I’d only handed her twenty dollars. I asked if she had a purse to keep it safe and she then realized she held a lot more money that what she had first thought. The joy and surprise on her face suddenly told a different story. I did end up praying for her sister, and went off to my appointment.

Two weeks before Christmas I spotted Helen again. And once again, God told me to give her $100. I don’t know why, but I laughed internally, thinking it was all in my head. No way God wants that. Immediately He said, Give her $200. That’s a lot of money for me. I didn’t want to test God’s patience and see if He’d make it $400.

I dutifully went and retrieved the money from the bank machine and walked up the street toward Helen. I was surpised to find her talking to a taxi driver, but he wasn’t helping her into a cab, he was buying a hand-knit scarf. Helen had a large Tupperware of hand-knit goods. She recognized me when I asked about her sister. Her face told a happier story than when we first met. Helen’s sister still had cancer, but her condition had improved. And Helen’s small business was doing quite well. At $25/touque and $40/scarf, her inventory was moving. I even bought a few items for gifts, which she gave to me in a hand-coloured Christmas-themed paper bag. When I handed her four folded fifty dollar bills, I could tell by her face that she was going to visit her sister. Before I left, I prayed that God would continue to provide and to shine His light in Helen’s life.

The joy I experienced in giving to Helen has led me to be much more prayerful in how we tithe. I now testify to a joy I hadn’t really known before. In total I gave a woman I do not know $300. This is a lot of money for my family. Not only was it Christmas, we were frantically saving for a new vehicle. Our old van was undrivable. We could not afford to give away money like this, especially on top of regular tithes. As a scientist, I claim no causation, but there was perhaps correllation when some new empty-nesters gifted us their old 2008 Honda Odyssey mini van. Suddenly the crushing expense of a quality family vehicle was lifted off our shoulders. $300, which meant so much to Helen, is a drop in the bucket compared to how God provided for us. This is only one example of how God has sustained my family. He is so good. His generosity was life-changing for my family. Not only did it release us from the financial burden of saving for a new vehicle, it allows us to be even more generous. I have more testimony like this unfolding. I hope I get to share it with you another time. Living in God’s abundance doesn’t necessarily always mean having a lot of cash.

As a missionary, I bring an opportunity to invest. I bring an opportunity to know God in way you might not have known before. I will likely never know more of Helen’s story, but my family is blessed to be a part of it. Serving with SIL, I may never learn about the aboriginal kid in South East Asia who finds a comic book at the bus stop, but I know he’s out there, and we are blessed to be a part of his story. You can be a part of this too. If you don’t already, you can know the joy that I now know. The neat thing about it is, you can be part of my family’s story and see directly how you impact our lives by enabling us to serve with Wycliffe and SIL International. I am blessed to serve my partners in prayer and by sharing our joy.

Join me in prayer… God, you created us with your words and walked among us. You know our suffering first hand. You gave us Your Word and so suffered at our hands. Let us carry your words of forgiveness before your death and the Good News of your resurrection three days later to those who still don’t know. Let us all know the joy of building Your Kingdom.

Peace be with you,

Dan