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Bible Translation, Biblical Interpretation, and Theological Education

May. 8, 2015By: Philemon YongAuthor Bio

The work of Bible translators around the world is to be applauded. The Bible has been translated into many different languages and as a result, people in their tribes have the Bible in their mother tongue. It is a beautiful thing, for a grandmother, who cannot read, to have a book in her house and have someone read it to her in her own dialect. There is no doubt that this brings them closer to the word of God and creates an even greater interest in seeking to hear more of it. So, the work of Bible translation is to be applauded and encouraged at all costs.

0e6111ef9c0There is a lingering question in my mind, though, when I look at the work of Bible translation and consider its impact on the target people group. Here are my questions: What is the goal of Bible translation? Is it (a) to have a Bible in a particular people group’s mother tongue so that they can read it and hear God’s word in their dialect or (b) is it to have the people in that people group actually understand what is said in the Bible (interpretation) and thereby not only hear God’s word read but understand what God, through the authors of the Bible, intended to communicate, or (c) is it both. The answer to this question will impact the direction taken in the process of Bible translation and will determine where resources are poured.

Before I state what I believe a helpful approach or answer to this question, I want to briefly explain the situation in my own tribe, the people of Kom, Cameroon, West Africa. The Kom people have had the Bible translated into their own language and that is a wonderful thing. It is good to have the Word of God read in church in your own dialect. The work of literacy is ongoing, seeking to teach Kom people how to read the Kom Bible. That is a worthy cause as well. So, we have a Bible in the Kom dialect and people who can read it. What is missing? As helpful as this process of Bible translation and literacy is, it is only a small part of the work. Anyone in the Kom tribe will be quick to point to the need for proper Bible interpretation for people to actually understand the word of God and for the need for well-prepared pastors who can proclaim the Word of God to them. It would seem that Bible translation, literacy programs, and the training of church leaders in properly handling the word of truth need to go hand in hand. I know one would object that Bible translators are doing their part and others should do their own part in the preparation of pastors to interpret the Word. Fair objection. Is it happening? Is there a way to use the resources at our disposal to do both? Could we not only translate the Bible but also train national leaders whose job it will be to help their people not just hear but also understand the content of the Bible?

The goal of Bible translation, then, should be twofold: 1) To make the Bible available in a peoples’ mother tongue (translation) and 2) to make God’s word understandable to the particular people group (interpretation). The first goal will require men and women gifted in linguistics to take on the task of Bible translation. The second goal will require a conscious effort to prepare people who can interpret the translated word of God. When these two are combined, the result is powerful: the Bible in a people’s language and a people who do not only hear what the Bible says but understand what God is saying to them through the written word. This second goal involves an interest in theological education.  It means that as the Bible translation progresses, there is at the same time progress in the training of national Bible interpreters. Oh, for the day when the dedication of a Bible translation is done at the same time as the dedication of those who have been prepared to proclaim faithfully the truth of the word of God.

Why is this important? Several reasons:

  1. Having the Bible in one’s own language is not enough. It is at the most the beginning. Those for whom English is their first language still need to have the Word interpreted by those trained to do so. If we need trained Bible interpreters to help us understand our English Bible so that we hear what God intended to communicate, how much more those who have a Bible in their language, do not know how to read it, and do not have our level of education to understand written speech?
  2. Teaching all that Jesus commanded and declaring the whole counsel of God is key for building a healthy church. What Jesus commanded includes all of Scripture since he both fulfills it and it points to him (see Matt. 5:17-20; 1 Cor. 15:3-5 and Luke 24:25-27). The church will be stronger when the whole counsel of God is proclaimed (Acts 20:26-35). This task is enhanced greatly when properly trained teachers and preachers do so in the language of the people.
  3. In most oral settings, the only chance people have to hear the Word of God is from their pastor on Sunday, or what he may teach during the week. Knowing that the pastors are the main sources of transmission of the Word of God to the people, it makes sense to provide them with the tools that they need to properly interpret the Word and preach it, so that the people can understand and trust God and obey him.

The history of missions has been such that Bible translators have done their thing and theological educators have done their thing. It has somehow been assumed that the two will work out in the end. It has not worked. There are theologically educated pastors who cannot even read the Bible in their mother tongue, not to mention preaching from it. There are those without theological education who can read their mother tongue well but cannot interpret the word for their people. These two need to be brought together, so that Bible translation goes hand in hand with the theological education of those who will use that particular translation for their people. This will involve not sending people off to a remote school somewhere removed from their own people groups, but providing them with a solid theological education on site. They can be learning both how to read their mother tongue and receiving training in how to interpret Scripture in their mother tongue.

 

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When Statistics are Misleading - Part 2

May. 4, 2015By: Philemon YongAuthor Bio

burundi_14_d1-3378

Here is something else to consider: who is a Christian in these statistics? The statistics fail to explain their definition. Is one counted as a Christian because he or she says he is, or because there is evidence in the life of the individual that shows the presence of the Holy Spirit? Usually the numbers are based on self-proclaimed Christians rather than those who are truly converted. This is my rationale:

  • The countries with the highest percentage of Christians have a low percentage of evangelicals. Take, for example, Angola, in which 94.1% of the population are Christians but only 22.5% are evangelicals. Cameroon claims that 53% of the population is Christian but only 9% is evangelical. Rwanda boasts that 89.1% are Christians, but only 26.9% is evangelical. While the percentage of Christians is high, when looked at from an evangelical perspective, it is low (17.7% of the total population of Africa compared to the 48.8% who say they are Christians). The question is, are evangelicals serious enough about their values to be disturbed about this low percentage of evangelical Christians in Africa? Or, are we so misled by the statistics of growth that we assume all is well? It is time that when we hear the word “Christian” we should also ask, “Who is a Chrsitian?” 

The countries with the highest percentage of Christians have a low percentage of evangelicals. - Tweet this 

  • Statistics measure the external (numbers of Christians) but not the internal (the heart of the person). The high percentage of Christians in Africa does not quite fit with the evils that we have seen over the years. How can we explain the genocide in Rwanda which is almost 90% Christian? What about the wars of Angola (94% Christian), and the corruption in most of the African nations which have a high percentage of Christians? It seems that there is a discrepancy between being identified as a Christian and actually being a Christian. Statistics that only measure the external are good for human consumption but unhelpful for the kingdom work. We are misled by statistics that say all is well (external appearance of Christian growth) when all is really bad (internal nature of the heart).
  • Although Mandryk gives these high statistics on the growth of Christianity in Africa, in country after country he highlights the need for leadership development and the problem of corruption. The church continues to be permeated with false belief and ignorance of the Bible. Witchcraft and animistic practices continue to be a problem in the life of the church and individuals. Nominal Christianity is a problem for many African churches. Again, these problems beg the question of definition. “Who is a Christian according to these statistics?”
  • The need for theological education and leadership development raises a question about the statistics. If 48.77% of Africans are Christians, with Africa being the fastest growing context for evangelical Christianity, why is there such a shortage of evangelical leaders and teachers? What has the Church been growing on? Operation World emphasizes the need for theological education as key for the well-being of the church in Africa. So, although there is supposed numerical growth, there remains a need for solid theological foundations to be laid for the Church. We see that the percentage of Christians does not reflect the theological context of the African Church. Yes, 48.77% of Africans is Christian, but how healthy is their theological context?

Statistics on the growth of Christianity in Africa are amazing at first but are actually misleading. They tell the story superficially. Statistics look at the outward growth of institutions, but what is needed is the inward growth of the individual Christians. The question is not what percentage of Africans say that they are Christians, but rather what percentage of Africans is truly born again? When we focus on the nurturing of the heart, and on the need for firm theological foundations for the Church, we begin to see that statistics do not matter so much as having healthy churches in Africa, filled with God-fearing people, taught by God-fearing leaders, eager to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who do not have it.

 

 

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When Statistics are Misleading - Part 1

May. 1, 2015By: Philemon YongAuthor Bio

Statistics do not tell the whole story, and can even tell the wrong story. 

It is estimated that 48.77% of Africans  (503,742,508) are Christians.[1] Of this 48.77%,

  • 17.7% are evangelicals (182,442,247 people),
  • 13.7% are charismatic (141,357,535 people)
  • 5.8% are Pentecostal (59,803,540 people).

Between 1900 to 2010, the number of Christians in Africa grew from 9.1% (7.5 million) to 48.77% (503,742,508) of the population.

shutterstock_124904123The figures are even more spectacular for evangelical growth, from 1.6 million (1.5%) in 1900 to 182 million (17.7%) in 2010. This gives Africa the largest evangelical population of any continent.  It is said that “African evangelicals are increasing at a faster rate than any other continent” (Mandryk, 33).

Other readings on the growth of Christianity in Africa confirm Mandryk’s analysis. One can conclude from these statistics that Christianity is taking deep root in Africa, and that therefore the African church is strong. Yet, the reality on the ground (the spiritual nature of the African churches) and other statistics paint a different picture, and raise serious questions about those statistics on the growth of Christianity in Africa.

Africa has 13 of the world’s 20 least-evangelized countries by percentage - Tweet this

A comment often made about the church in Africa is that it (the African Church) is a mile wide and an inch deep. There is truth to this statement. For example it is surprising that the statistics above are true, and yet, “Africa has 13 of the world’s 20 least-evangelized countries by percentage” (Mandryk, 38). So, although the growth of Christianity is apparently vast, there is a disconnect between that growth and the mission of the church to disciple nations (Matt. 28:18-20). The success of the growth of the church in Africa needs to be measured not only numerically but evangelistically as well. As the church grows, is there growth in the mission of the church to reach the unreached of Africa?



[1] The statistics in this post are taken from Jason Mandryk, Operation World: The Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation, 7th ed. (Colorado Springs: CO, 2010).

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Dependency and Missions - An Indian Perspective - Part 2

Feb. 4, 2015By: Vijay MeesalaAuthor Bio

This is a continuation of yesterday's post in response to this email question:

Hello Vijay, 

……..As for more churches and organizatons for support… I will think and pray and let you know if any come to mind. However, I would also like to ask you if you have done your best to invite local churches in your area to contribute to your ministry. Please don’t be offended by this question…. But I want you and the churches of your area to experience the blessing and testimony of 2 Corinthians 8:1-5.

At the most fundamental level there is little comparability between the typical India village church and the Western church. Below are some areas of comparison (The following is from a Westerner missionary with more than 30 years of experience).

 

Issue

Western Church

Indian Village Church

1

Cultural Hostility                     

Little or none                   

serious differences

2

Level of believers employed     

high 97%    

Perhaps 40% full time

3

Level of education                   

near 100 % high school   graduates       

very low %

 

4

Care of widows and Orphans           

Less/no care given        

Cares for widows and orphans

5

Economic situation                   

wealthy

Hand to mouth existence

6

Spiritual development            

reflects society 

more than Kingdom        

prays, fasts and actively involved in evangelism

 

7

Church outreach                    

self contained                 

involved in starting new fellowships

 

I'm sure there are many other areas of comparison. 

I hope you understand my heart, I am not saying these things to judge which church is superior and which is not. But there is a general misunderstanding from the Churches in the West that we (Indian and Asian Churches ) only and always seek help from the West. I don't believe this is true for all the Churches. Frankly, it is a great exaggeration.

I am not denying the fact that, there are many who seek help including our own mission work, and also receive unbelievably large and generous support from the West. Praise the Lord! I also want to acknowledge that there is a dangerous side of being dependent on the West or on some other. But to think that the Church in India or elsewhere is existing only with the support of the West and there is no local support - is something that I firmly disagree because it is not true. In our contexts - that is in Andhra Pradesh rural area - (I may not be very accurate on this but I am guessing in general) I suppose that less than 25-30% church only receive help from outside of India .

The support that we seek from the west is to enhance or further the work of God more efficiently and faster. It is also because more than 75% of the wealth is in the hands of Western Christians (according to some mission statistics about 5-7 years ago). Someone said that if the Church in the West thinks that they are doing a favor to the Churches in developing countries by giving money and other things, then that is not a biblical attitude but an attitude of worldly superiority. Church belongs to God and God will raise His Church. But by supporting each other I believe we are doing our part in God’s family.

From this, I am in strong faith that the Church in India enjoys the joy of 2 Cor 1:5 much more like other Churches with similar contexts. Believers in Indian villages give to the Lord out of their extreme poverty and they give it willingly as said in the scriptures.

1509301_4680181a878de078I hope to continue to dialogue on this and am willing to learn more on this. I just wrote what is in my heart with much prayer and reflection. These are my general feelings about the Church in the West but not particularly against any individual or Church. Please let me know what you think of this. I will be happy to hear from you.

My conclusion is this, please do not generalize and make hasty decisions based on some past experiences or because someone said it so, but rather, let the Western Church/Pastors/Mission leaders examine themselves if they too are dependent. Perhaps they are not seeing while pointing fingers at the Indigenous missionaries.

One last thing, I am saying this with much caution and love: I am not sure if a Western Pastor/Mission Executive/Leader/staff of a mission of organization would continue to serve and minister in the same ministry/organization if/when he knows that the next months check/money/support is not going to come or he will try to find another placement of job because he has a wife and children (I am not generalizing there may be exemptions)….But I know and am sure that almost all the Indigenous missionaries I personally know of in Asia or Africa will continue to serve the Lord no matter what may come…may it be persecution/famine/or anything.

Please do not misunderstand me for being harsh…I will be happy to hear and learn from you.

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Dependency and Missions - An Indian Perspective - Part 1

Feb. 3, 2015By: Vijay MeesalaAuthor Bio

I once received an email that read:

Hello Vijay,

……..As for more churches and organizations for support… I will think and pray and let you know if any come to mind. However, I would also like to ask you if you have done your best to invite local churches in your area to contribute to your ministry. Please don’t be offended by this question…. But I want you and the churches of your area to experience the blessing and testimony of 2 Corinthians 8:1-5.

Here is how I responded:

These following reflections are my general thoughts on the Issue of dependency and theATO-ID-2014-6-financial-dependency Western Church. This gives me an opportunity to share my heart. Correct me if I am wrong, we can continue to discuss this matter. In fact, this email made me reflect prayerfully on this issue of dependency. There may be some sweeping statements and generalizations, please forgive me for that. I am willing to continue to dialogue and learn from you. Thanks.

Surely, many of you have seen many examples where the Church in India and other parts of the world are seeking help from the West and Europe and so on. I have also seen the same. It is true in many cases that help is sought from the Churches in the West, but this does not mean that there is practically no support given or raised from the local Churches. I guess this is dangerously misunderstood.

2 Corinthians 8:1–5 (ESV)
1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

I believe that the Church in India is not so different from Churches elsewhere. They do give for God's work. I am 100% sure that not all the Churches in India are receiving the support from the West and surviving only because of the help from the US or elsewhere. Indian churches do raise support locally for various things in small and big measures. I suggest it won’t be an exaggeration to say that the Church in India experiences the joy of 2 Corinthians 1-5 just like or maybe more than most of the Churches in the West.

I can tell from my own experience, that with some of our Churches in villages, they show their support of the Church and pastor by bringing a glass of rice, a chicken or egg or a little money from all they have. Another example, I came to the US only in 2005 for the first time in order to receive some support from the US, from 2006 October onwards. I can testify on behalf of churches around me, who have zero support from outside but yet they still exist, survive and give birth to new congregations with the support of the local church. They do God's work in their own capacity. Just like it is said in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5. This happens with most of the Churches in India and it is very encouraging.

Speaking from our own ministry experience with Reach All Nations – my father, with support of God and local churches could establish about 30 churches without any support from West. His support has been less than $5 month. And I can share many more example of this nature.

Here is an example of an average village farming believer’s financial situation and contributions to Church and mission work:

Average members in the family: 6-8

Average annual income (approximately) : Rs 36000 – 50000 ($860 - $1190 - $1 counted for Rs 42)

The contribution to Church and Mission work per year:

1

Tithe (Most of  the believers bring tithe to the Church at least in our mission context).

Rs3600 – 5000

$86 - $119

2

Other offerings per year to support pastor’s family (in the form of Rice, Chicken, lentils, paddy, and so on) and Sunday offering.

Rs1000– Rs 1500

$24 - $36

3

Church Electricity bill payment for the Church per year:

Rs100

$2.38

4

Support for other local Churches and other Church mission related activities

Rs600 – Rs 1000

$14.28 - $28

 

Total

Rs5300– Rs7500

$126.19 - $178.57

 

This table explains that the village Church believes in giving to the Church, pastor, and mission work more than they could and they give it even while they are under great poverty. That is such a joyful thing. If the Churches are bigger the missionary or the pastor has enough to support the family in a very average way, but not really sufficient. If the Churches are smaller, then the missionary and pastor will have a very difficult time to take care of the needs of the family. In spite of insufficient income difficulties, they continue to serve the Lord. Praise the Lord for this.

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