Sustainable consulting

On June 23, I wrote about changes that came out of the conflict and civil way in Côte d’Ivoire. Those changes have sparked some interesting conversations in my temporary role as country director. Ivorians and other Africans are doing most of the translation checking. Translation checking is a quality control process where a person with high level training and lots of experience looks over a translation verse by verse to check that it is faithful to the original and that it is clear and natural.

One of the Africans doing that is doing it part-time. He has a very good job doing something else, but that job  allows him time to check translations and train translators. Someone expressed the opinion that this indicates that he is more interested in money than in translation. Historically, translation checking has been done by full-time Western missionaries or consultants with the Bible Societies. It is new that Africans are doing it part-time while making their living at other jobs. It is not the first time that a colleague has expressed to me a similar opinion.

Seeing part-time translation experts as less than ideal encounters some problems:

  • First, we are short of consultants and we don’t have the money to hire more. So part-time consultants actually fit better. In fact, there are other Ivorian who could be part-time consultants with a little more experience or training, but that hasn’t happened out of concern that it we trained them we wouldn’t have money to hire them. There is enough money to bring them into part-time positions.
  • Second, and more importantly, that is how Africa works including the church in Africa. I meet a good number of Africans who have good jobs or small businesses who also serve as pastors to local churches who cannot afford to hire a full-time pastor. In fact, one is on a committee giving me advice in my temporary role. A Bible College in the Congo found that the churches made most of its graduates headmasters at church schools because the schools receive a government subsidy for headmasters and teachers. The graduate then pastors a church on a part-time basis. Whether we think that this way of doing things it good or bad, it is the way things work.

Historically, the most of the first Bible translations done in European languages during the reformation were done by part-time translators. John Wycliffe, who did the first translation into English, did his translation while teaching at Oxford, lecturing and pastoring. Martin Luther did his translation into German while employed as a priest and university lecturer. Even the King James translators were not employed full-time on the translation. People serving part-time in translation is a long-standing practice in the church worldwide, even if it has been eclipsed by full-time translators in the last 200 years.

Dr. Sherwood Lingenfelter, an anthropologist and friend of Bible translation, came to Africa and taught on partnership. He told us that we ought to be doing “organisational exegesis” with our African partners. That is, we need to understand how African churches and other partners work – how they make decisions, how they pay staff, etc.  It seems to me that a serious look at the church in Africa reveals that having part-time staff is a regular part of how it operates. Because of that, it seems inevitable that as the church here exerts more decision-making in Bible translation, more part-time staff will become part of the picture.

We westerners who are used to the full-time-ministry model need to stop thinking of those who work part time as less than fully committed.

4 thoughts on “Sustainable consulting

  1. Greetings Ed,

    What an apt posting. I am reading a book called Scatter: Go Therefore and Take Your Job With You. The gist of the book is reshaping our mission mindset to stop taking people out of their vocations and using them as tools for service in spreading the gospel. I personally cannot help but note how in my case there seems to be a reluctance to acknowledge that some skill sets honed over a lifetime of working are specialties that just are not going to be found in a missions career. This coupled with the feeling that service in missions in a paid capacity, albeit at very reduced rates, is unacceptable due to everyone being sponsored. Thanks for a platform and an opportunity to speak to your excellent article.

    I pray all is well in Cote d’ivoire. I just finished up a couple of long term historical abuse inquiries and using my dead time to rekindle and await God’s next assignment(s). Maybe God willing our paths will cross on your side of the world.

    Blessings,

    Bill

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  2. If Paul (the apostle) plied his trade of tent making, perhaps he was “only” a part-time missionary, also. I agree that we tend to think of those in full time ministry as being more committed to the Lord (and in some ways that may be true). Yet we also realize that those who are employed and share the money they earn, make it possible. We give verbal assent to the idea that all believers are – or should be – fully committed to the Lord and His work. Thanks for giving us something to think about.

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