And the answer is …
Fried ants. … Malaria. … A snow-capped mountain. … The bluest water in the world. … A look of understanding and joy as an adult woman reads the Bible in her native language, her heart language, for the first time. … Culture stress. … Extreme living conditions. … War. … Separation from family, friends and the familiarity of home. … The joy of faithfully serving God. … Experiencing different foods and languages!
So what was the question?
Jim Laesch experienced life as a missionary with Lutheran Bible Translators in Geeken, Liberia, from 1973-1986, serving with the Northern Grebo translation project. Since then, he has held various roles with LBT. During his many travels in Africa, Asia and Papua New Guinea, he has seen, experienced, and built memories of a lot of things — like fried ants, malaria, and a snow-capped mountain. But at the forefront of over 40 years of memories is his enduring conviction of the importance of God’s Word being available to people in their own languages.
Why not just teach people English?
“The first Bible translations existed in Latin — which would be much closer to the original source texts of Greek and Hebrew — followed later by Luther’s German translation. We could teach people those languages,” Jim says, “but Latin, especially, is not common in our world today. English, on the other hand, is a global, highly desired language. We could teach everyone English and use English Bibles, but what does that say about the nature of Christianity? It suggests that Christianity belongs to English speakers and it’s just one more thing that is imported into the lives of non-English speakers, like an English curriculum, western civilization, commerce, rap music, or cars.
“But the nature of the Gospel message is that God made a way of salvation and forgiveness to reconcile all people to Himself through Jesus Christ. The same way Christ left His kingdom to come to earth, we can also take that message to others. The spirit of God is already working in peoples’ hearts. It only makes sense for the Word of God to also be present in these languages.”
Is it really worth the time and effort to translate the Bible?
“Yes!” Jim exclaims. “I’m sure glad that someone else took the time and effort and gave their life to translate the Bible from Greek and Hebrew to Latin and German and Spanish and English and so on. It’s a great blessing to us that we could have it in our heart language. Why would we not want to help pass along this great treasure to others in their language?”
How long does it take to translate the Bible?
LBT is invited by national churches and Bible societies to work with people who are without Scripture in their language — people who may or often may not have a written form of their language. Briefly, missionaries must learn the language and culture; build relationships with local people; coordinate with local language experts to develop a written language if necessary; find and train local translators; create a draft; facilitate translation decisions; review the text with local people for comprehension; then check with experts in Biblical languages to be sure the message stays true to Biblical intent.
“Excellence takes time,” Jim emphasizes.
He adds that much depends on the motivation of the people who will receive the translation and the amount of preparation already done.
“The Nsenga people of Zambia already had an awareness about their language and the usefulness of Bible translations in related Zambian languages. Earlier church workers had made initial preparations. Missionaries were already trained and ready to go when LBT was asked to help with the project,” Jim explains. “As a result, the Nsenga New Testament was completed in five years.”
This is not always the case. The time to complete a translation is affected by circumstances and unexpected, unforeseen events. The Kisi New Testament translation in Liberia began in the 1970s, when translation resources were less digital and more basic. Communications and transportation were certainly more difficult. The Kisi translation work was interrupted by civil war, and translators and their families had to relocate. LBT missionaries were evacuated.
“The translation was completed after multiple disruptions causing workers to move and get reestablished. The missionaries involved worked on a ‘visit and consult’ basis. Just as the Kisi Bible was being published, another crisis hit — the Ebola outbreak,” says Jim. Praise God, the full Kisi Bible was dedicated in 2014 despite the epidemic.
What is your most vivid memory as a missionary in a faraway place?
“A Grebo man who chose to move, against advice but in faith, from a protected village to a remote farm in ‘the wild bush’ because he believed in God’s protection!” answers Jim.
But do people really, seriously want Scripture?
There is a story about an elder where a new Scripture translation had just come out asking the missionary partners, “Why did it take so long for you to come and help us?”
Yes, people are waiting for God’s Word, in Africa, Asia, all over the world.
“It’s part of Christian mission to generously, vigorously, and strategically share this Word of God so that people are able to read and hear the good news about Jesus Christ,” Jim states.