We’ve been involved in Bible translation in Asia for almost 20 years now, and one thing is for certain – the rate of change continues to increase. Whether we like it or not, change is here to stay. Is change always helpful? Change is sometimes very welcome and, at other times, massively disruptive. Is change worth it if it eventually helps us land at a better spot? Perhaps it really depends on who is driving the change.
In the last 10 years we’ve seen some major technological breakthroughs which have forced us to change how we think of publishing Scripture. We’ve also had to reconsider ways of working to meet the ‘user-driven’ pull for Scripture products like Secure Digital (SD) cards packed full of good stuff – videos, music, Scripture and even custom-built apps – all very cutting-edge stuff. We invested in building production and distribution networks. Now, just three years later, we’re finding that the cutting-edge way of distributing new Scripture content is already redundant. The spread of smartphones and 4G internet (even in remote locations) means that we no longer have to ‘push’ because people have access and can ‘pull’ the materials they want directly from the Google Play Store!
We also discovered that ‘our tribe’ wasn’t restricted to our district, or even our country. Some of them (who presumably are working as migrant workers in the Gulf States) have discovered our apps online and are downloading and using them to access Scripture in their own heart language.
Minority language dictionaries (which would be expensive to print and difficult to distribute in book form) are now being downloaded by the thousands, and all for free!
It is now possible for a translation team to create their own Android (and iOS) apps without any help from programmers or technical experts. These apps can integrate the text along with the audio recording to give the end-users a wonderful experience of interacting with God’s Word in their heart language.
Imagine you’re a young man in your twenties who had to drop out of school at the age of ten because your family needed your help to cultivate the fields and look after the cattle. You had sufficient schooling that you can just about read your language, but not very fluently because, basically, you’ve had very little practice since you were forced to leave school.
One day you get a WhatsApp message on your phone from a friend inviting you to download an app. To your surprise this app isn’t in the regional language, or even the national language: it’s in your heart language. And it’s not just words on the screen, it reads to you. The stories you listen to are new, full of hope, and make you want to find out more. As the app highlights each sentence that it reads to you, you realise that those five years in school, more than a decade ago, were not wasted at all. You can still read, and your interest in reading blossoms.
After a while you realise that what you’re listening to each day is beginning to transform your thoughts and your entire life. Then at the market one day, you accidentally meet up with your friend who shared the app several months ago, and hear her story about how this same Jesus talked about in the stories in the app has changed her life. There’s something very different about her now. You go home determined to find out more.