Over the weekend of the 1st of July, the Reli people of Uganda will celebrate the first completed book of the Bible translated orally into their mother tongue. This profound joy of receiving the book of Luke is not just for them as a people, but for Christians everywhere who are passionate about outworking the Great Commission. Oral Bible Translation (OBT) is producing good fruit across the globe – to God’s glory and in His strength – that the impact has already shifted the landscape and looks to be growing exponentially.
In today’s blog, we will get to know Stephanie Jose’s journey with OBT. She explains to us in this interview that the Gospel can only transform us and give us hope if we understand it. From her experience and vantage point as the Director of OBT at The Word for the World (TWFTW), she has seen that OBT makes a way for all people to understand and engage with the Word of God in effective and wonderful ways.
Over to Stephanie...
How did you become interested in heart-language Bible translation and OBT?
I spent almost 3 years living in South India, working in remote tribal villages. Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) was the best method to reach these communities. I was struck by the great need for work to be done around providing access to the Scriptures for people in a way that was best for them. This became the foundation of a growing passion inside my heart for Bibleless people. After my time in India I joined the Oral Bible Translation (OBT) department at Faith Comes By Hearing, and subsequent to that, I joined The Word for the World as the OBT Projects Coordinator. Now, as Director of OBT at TWFTW International, I work with National and Regional Directors to plan and implement OBT projects across SE Asia and Africa.
How has working in OBT impacted you personally?
My faith has been so encouraged as I have been involved in OBT - both on a personal and professional level. The impact of hearing the Word of God and working to internalise passages of Scripture really connects to my heart on a different level. The Holy Spirit has grown my faith as He continues to bring enlightenment to the Word. It has also been such a joy to see teams and community members listen to the Word of God in their heart language for the first time ever! This has not only helped me never to take the access and resources I have available for granted but also to be so encouraged to have that fresh faith and joy again upon hearing God’s Word. I continue to be amazed seeing how it truly does touch lives when we have access to the Scriptures in a format we can best connect with.
Why are you passionate about OBT in particular (as differentiated from written Bible translation work).
OBT touches the soul and transforms lives in a way that is so impactful. It allows people with varying levels of literacy and education to be able to participate in something so huge for God’s Kingdom. It gives them, their families and communities access to the Scriptures and the Gospel in a way that they can truly interact with. I am so passionate about people having the Word of God in a way they can truly engage with and relate to. The Gospel can only transform us and give us hope if we understand it. OBT makes a way for all people to understand and engage with the Word of God. It takes out all socio-economic factors and allows mother-tongue speakers who are the experts in their language to be involved in translation work. God gives people hope as they engage with oral translations and shows them that Jesus truly does love them and can relate and connect with them in their heart language. One of the most exciting aspects about OBT is that the team and community do not have to wait for the entire New Testament, or even a book to be completed to have access to it. Once the audio files have been approved and authenticated by the community leaders and a certified translation consultant, they can be exported from the software and made accessible to share immediately. Even just one verse or passage of Scripture can have a huge impact on someone when they hear it in their own language!
What challenges have you faced in this work, and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge was getting community and church leaders on board with a translation that did not produce a hard copy book (OBT can produce a written transcription from the oral audio files, but initially it would not be written). However, after seeing the impact that the oral Scriptures have in a community, this can be overcome. It also takes a lot of emails, Zoom calls and WhatsApp messages to successfully communicate everything that is needed (team structure, location, equipment, etc.) to launch a successful project. Some other challenges for the teams can include working in remote areas with little access to the internet or even electricity supply. We have many projects running on solar or backup generators to keep all the devices up and running. Safety and security can also be a challenge, especially in SE Asia and North Africa. It can be difficult to find translators who are willing to take the risk, and even if they are, leaving the community for the initial training workshop can be difficult. Teams deal with sickness, weather, muddy roads, and even sometimes persecution from the community or even family who do not support the translation work. We have to be gracious, humble and flexible to design projects that best fit the team dynamics and needs. No OBT project looks exactly the same!
Is there anything else on your heart that you would like the world to know about OBT, or ministry work in general? And is there any wisdom that you can share with the workers labouring in the harvest? Matthew 9:35-38
God truly does see our hearts, and is so proud of each and every one of us who are stepping up to the call and fighting the good fight. We can be assured that none of our labour is in vain and we are making an eternal impact in the Kingdom of God. Let us continue to use our gifts, talents and resources to rob hell of souls and bring people into the marvellous light of Jesus Christ. Let us be reminded from Galatians 6:9 “to not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we [WILL] reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Trials will come, temptations will come, but joy will also abound. And what greater joy than celebrating a new brother or sister into the Kingdom of God.