A Bible in your own language

A Russian Orthodox Church at St Andrew's Monastery, Moscow

A Russian Orthodox Church at St Andrew’s Monastery, Moscow

In the western world many of us take if for granted that we not only have the Bible in our own languages, but that we have many different version.  But imagine you live in a country which has been under the domination of an influential neighbour for centuries. Their language is the one you have to learn if you want to progress in education or business; yours is only spoken at home. Although they have brought you education, literacy and Christianity, you still feel a bit of an outsider. Although they send you their missionaries to tell you about God, and give you his book to read, it’s only available in their language. It’s not surprising to find that there can be resistance to the Gospel in cultures such as these.

Until a quarter of a century ago, that was the world of some 85 million people of the former Soviet Union who are not Russian, and who speak between them some 130 different languages. They include large people groups such as the Tajik, who now have their own country, and many tiny tribes in places like Siberia, Kamchatka or the Caucasus who struggle even to this day for the recognition of their indigenous culture, whether by the Russians or by another dominant people group. Indigenous languages and cultures struggle survive in a homogenising world where in order to get on, become educated, and trade prosperously people need to fit into larger groups. People often abandon their own roots because of their perceived need to adapt and progress.

But now imagine what it means to a person living in one of those places when a Bible in their own language is put into their hands. Often they are amazed that somebody cares about their culture enough to publish a book in it. One person even commented on opening it “God speaks my language!” over and over again. It radically transforms their impression of God into the one who has come into their world and values them and their identity.

This is at the heart of the work of the Institute for Bible Translation (IBT). Based in Moscow in a former monastery which was founded five centuries ago with the express purpose of organising the study of Greek and Slavonic texts to a high academic level and translating them into Russian, IBT now serves the many non-Slavic people of the former USSR who have no scripture in their own language. Having gone through the lengthy process of doing a proper technical translation, they also then publish the Word in the form of books, audio-Bibles and digital Bibles. The aim is to get the Bible into the hands of people who would otherwise have no access to it. Many of these people are Moslem, although some have traditional shamanistic beliefs.

Recognising that there may initially be resistance to their work, the early works that IBT focuses on include a Children’s Bible, and a book of local folk stories, which are illustrated wherever possible by local artists, in order to reinforce their cultural relevance. Proverbs often follows, because many Biblical proverbs mirror local wisdom and are readily accepted.  Since parents are often keen for their children to learn their own language so that it will survive, books that are targeted at children are very popular. To date, the Children’s Bible has been produced in more than 40 languages, with over 9 million copies in print.

When a specific book is complete, there is a presentation ceremony wherever this is possible. In minority communities, even those who are Moslem, this is often seen as an opportunity to celebrate and affirm their traditional culture. So the local president, or mayor, or even the imam may be a central figure in the presentation. At an event like this, one imam commented that he always uses the Bible to teach from in his mosque, because it is in his own language! He can’t understand the Quran, as he doesn’t speak Arabic. So there is immediate evangelistic potential from the publication of a Bible in their own language.

While there continue to be many challenges, the work of IBT is advancing the Gospel in the former Soviet Union. The church is being encouraged and built up, and the Gospel is coming for the first time to many people in their own language. One beneficiary of the work commented:

I beg you, whatever problems you might face, never stop your work. It’s very much needed; every book means a redeemed soul!

With a response like that to the work of IBT, there is clearly a major need for this work to keep on expanding. You can read more about this wonderful ministry, and contribute through prayer or giving at www.ibt.org.ru.

Chelsea – what can they teach us about teamwork?

Soccer fans the world over will know that Chelsea recently won the prestigious European Champions League, albeit after a penalty shootout against Bayern Munich.  At last an English team finally beat some Germans on penalties! But then again, for a long time we’ve all known that Chelsea aren’t really an English team. They just play in England.

They have a Russian owner, an Italian manager, and a multi-national team. The starting line up for the match against Bayern featured players from seven different countries in three continents. Like most top-flight English clubs, they care more about the quality of their players than their nationality. So how can Chelsea create an effective multi-cultural team when many mission agencies can’t?

If we can overlook the fact that unlike us Chelsea have billions of pounds available to attract and motivate some of the w

 

orld’s best players, what can we learn from them so that we can up our game and be effective in global mission?

First, an effective team needs a team vision. Vision supersedes individual cultural preferences, personality types, and preferred working styles. We might think that a salary of £50,000 a week is enough to motivate anybody, but the fact is that it is not. Research shows that for nearly everybody the money they receive is not a motivating factor in their work. Professional footballers are driven by the need to win, to get medals, trophies and cups.  Yet even the most egocentric prima donnas can’t win on their own.  They all have to put the needs of their team above their own glory. You might think that the top goal scorers get there by being selfish – hogging the ball so that they can score the most goals. Yet some of the world’s most notable scorers – Didier Drogba, Steven Gerrard and Cristiano Ronaldo (yes, that Ronaldo) are also among those who make the greatest number of assists: passing the ball to another striker who then scores.

Which begs two questions: how much do we want our team to win, and how much effort do we put into helping our colleagues succeed? Every ministry has its visions, mission statements and values, and some of us are able even to quote them, but do we really buy into the team’s success?  Are we really team players, or are we more concerned about our own ministry?  Yes, we are all under pressure to perform personally, and are accountable to our churches and supporters for what we are doing, but how many of us are prepared to answer the call of our agency and put our own ministries on the back burner if we are asked to? Sadly I am more likely to hear statements such as ‘that’s not  what I came here to do’ or ‘it’s not my calling’ than ‘if that’s what the team needs, we’ll do it’.

And how good are we at being team players? Are we aware of where other players are being marked, and do we run in to relieve them? Do we stay in position or are we the ones who are off side? Do we notice when a colleague is flagging, and change our play to help take up the workload? One of the things that impressed me most about David Beckham on the field was not so much his skill at set pieces but his workrate. He popped up on the wing, in the centre, forward and back, helping others out, covering gaps. He covered weaknesses in defence and created opportunities for attack. It takes fitness to do that.

And are we really match-fit? What does that mean in our hectic world of stress, conflicting demands and running from crisis to crisis? Professional footballers spend more time training than they do competing. They understand that their on-field performance depends on their off-field performance. They exercise, practise set pieces together and even have dieticians and physios to make sure they’re in peak physical condition. What are the equivalents for us? Bible study, meditation and Ignatian prayer?  Team away days for teambuilding, scenario planning and role play? It will vary for each of us and our respective teams, but if we are going to be champions, we need to have the mental attitude of champions towards both our professional skills development and our continuing spiritual development.

When God is handing out the trophies after the ultimate final, are you going to be on the winning team? And what has it taken to get your team there?