Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Tale of...Five Organizations

Some confusion exists over the different organizations involved in Bible translation. Most of the confusion lies under what might be called the Wycliffe Umbrella of organizations that includes Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT), Wycliffe Associates (WA), Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS), and The Seed Company (TSC). In this post I want to briefly describe each organization and the interrelated roles they play in the overall task.

Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT), also known simply as Wycliffe, is an organization whose goal is to translate all or parts of the Christian Bible into all the languages of the world that need it (that is, that have a significant number of speakers who don't know any other language fluently). A further component of this vision is to see all needed Bible translation projects started by the year 2025. The specific contributions Wycliffe makes to the Bible translation task include recruiting personnel, training them to raise funds, supporting the fundraising efforts, orienting new personnel, offering pastoral and counseling care to personnel, handling personnel financial issues, etc. In other words, Wycliffe raises up, guides, and supports people to be involved in Bible translation. They also raise funds for Bible translation at the project or institutional level.

Wycliffe Associates (WA), despite sounding a lot like Wycliffe, is a completely different organization. It's motto is "accelerating Bible translation", and it does this through hands-on support efforts like: technology advancement, construction, education, administration, community development, prayer, hospitality, and banquet tours. Much of their work is done by short or long-term volunteers, and many of these are retired folks who lend their skills and expertise in a variety of areas.

The Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), also known simply as SIL, is a faith-based, non-governmental organization that carries out the language-related activities of Bible translation. "SIL serves language communities worldwide, building their capacity for sustainable language development, by means of research, translation, training, and materials development." SIL does what might be called 'language ministry' of which Bible translation is a major part but not the only part. So much of the stuff you might hear of 'Wycliffe' folks doing overseas is done under SIL as an organization. This includes linguistics, literacy, Bible translation, anthropology, ethnomusicology, community development, chronological Bible storying, teaching in universities, etc.

People are often confused about the relationship between Wycliffe and SIL. Let's set the record straight: Wycliffe recruits people, prepares them, and then loans them to SIL for the actual work of Bible translation. Anyone who is a member of SIL is also an employee of Wycliffe (except for nationals hired by SIL overseas), but not every employee of Wycliffe is a member of SIL (for example, Wycliffe employees working in the States). Amber and I are employees of Wycliffe that are loaned to SIL (which makes us members).

JAARS (formerly known as Jungle Aviation and Radio Service), like Wycliffe Associates, is another organization that supports Bible translation in practical ways. Their motto is "Make Bible translation possible: invest in practical, day-to-day support." They accomplish this through services like: aviation, land transportation, water transportation, information technology, and media.

The Seed Company (TSC) is an organization also dedicated to "accelerating Bible translation", and their goal is "God's Word for every language---in this generation." A main focus of The Seed Company is forming "Great Commission partnerships" with other organizations (like, but not limited to Wycliffe and SIL). The Seed Company's special focus is rallying prayer and financial resources for individual translation projects, as well as larger 'cluster' projects at the institutional-level.

In summary, these five organization are intimately related, but they are separate. One can practically refer to all of them (i.e the Wycliffe Umbrella) as 'Wycliffe', only if their difference and separateness is understood. Otherwise, conflating all of them into one leads to confusion.

As you can see, Bible translation is a huge, multi-faceted work that needs a huge range of skills and services. These five organization under the Wycliffe Umbrella work together to complete the job, but there are other organizations taking part, like Pioneer Bible Translators (PBT), United Bible Societies (UBS), The Word for the World, and numerous others. One reason 'language ministry' (of which Bible translation is a major part) take so many different shapes and approaches is that 'language' is central to human existence in all its intricate complexities. In other words, language touches so many---nearly all---aspects of human life from its physical needs to its spiritual longings.

1 comment:

Douglas McCarthy said...

Thanks for this helpful post. I don't think that I fully appreciated these distinctions. The five organizations need to do a better job explaining their inter-relationships.