For decades, organizations doing Bible translation did little evaluation of the impact of their work. The fact that translating the Bible into a language for the first time has impact, is not in question. The anecdotal stories are too numerous to doubt that. But the lack of evaluation did mean that we did not know what enhanced impact and what hindered it.
Fortunately, more and more evaluation is being done. Some patterns are emerging. One pattern came out clearly in an evaluation carried out by OneBook, a Canadian organization that sponsors translation. It found that when a translation program is controlled by the local church and community, it is more likely to produce great impact. By “controlled”, we mean that local churches appoint their own committees, select the translators, and decide on the how, when and where of each step involved in translation. This is not the first time an evaluation has resulted in similar findings.
Let’s be clear. This means that others cannot be making those decisions – not the missionary involved, not the translation agency (Wycliffe or another), and not churches back in the US supporting the project with finances. This may seem easy, but it is actually quite hard. Not that long ago I talked to a missionary who proclaimed his disagreement with a local choice and vowed to overturn it. He did. We all think that we know what is best.
The findings of the evaluation carried out by OneBook confirm an ongoing initiative in which we are involved. That initiative aims to strengthen local decision making. We are doing that by:
Bringing onto the local committees people who are more representative of local churches and the local community
- Making sure that local translation committees are recognized by churches
- Putting more decisions in the hands of local translation committees
- Giving translation committees representation at national meetings
- Helping translation committees develop a clear mandate and responsibilities
Dr. Michel Kenmogne with the Wycliffe Global Alliance wrote:
“The recommendations arrived at make sense to me. The emphasis on church participation and local ownership, as well as the crucial role of functional literacy, are not negotiable if we want to achieve holistic transformation.”
I agree. We do not carry out translation for the sake of translation. We do it to see lasting impact, and that means putting more decisions in the hands of local churches.