When The Word for the World was born on January 9, 1981, all we had was a dream…
God’s Word for every person in the language God gave them
Empowering nationals to translate the Bible for their own people
How it Began
It was December 1979. I had just completed six months’ research at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA. The research was part of the requirements for the doctorate in Greek and Linguistics that I was doing under the guidance of Johannes P Louw at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. Within a week I would be traveling back to South Africa, and safely back in the church I was pastoring in Pretoria. Or so I thought.
I had been invited to come to Los Angeles to visit an American Bible translation agency. They had indicated to me that they were considering hiring me to head up their translation work. Alone in the section of the large plane, I began to seriously consider the opportunity. Until I had an experience that would dramatically change the course of my life.
Through what I perceived to be God speaking directly to me, I realized that God had planned for me to be born in Africa, one of the continents in the world with the greatest need for first-time Bible translation; and that He had led me to study exactly what would be needed for Bible translation, under the guidance of one of the foremost leaders in the field of Linguistics and Biblical Greek in the world.
By the time I stepped from the plane in Los Angeles, it was settled: I would go back to South Africa and found a Bible translation agency.
I had received the basic principles: The agency would be indigenous to South Africa and therefore to Africa; it would focus on empowering nationals to translate Bible for their own people.
Certain as I was about the new call on my life, my mind did not accept it all without some questions. Like: Why go through the demanding exercise of translating the Bible into all the languages on the face of the earth? Why not just teach everyone to understand one of the larger languages, and concentrate on making the Bible available in those languages?
Coming back to my room one night after a long and exhausting day, I felt the keen need to read Scripture. My host had very considerately placed several Bibles in different languages on my bedside table. Yet I found myself on my knees, pulling my suitcase from under the bed, and looking for my Afrikaans Bible. Once again, a very real experience: “Why look for the Bible in your own language? Don’t you understand English?”
Instantly I learned a lesson: God never speaks as clearly to anyone as when He speaks in their heart language, the language God gave them.
Years later, Nelson Mandela would say, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
And so TWFTW was born on January 9, 1981. I sat down at our dining room table in Lynnwood Glen, Pretoria, and signed the organization into being. My co-signer was a young attorney, P.J. Vivier, who is still active in the organization, serving as the chairperson of the International Board.
All we had was a dream.