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What do translators do? This seems an easy question–they translate. It follows that Bible translators translate the Bible–but what is translating? Is it like re-telling a story or literal, word-for-word matching between two languages? Is there any room for interpretation? Many people think not, but then, live translation is called interpreting. What about translating poetry, metaphors, parables, and theological texts that might rely on idioms that do not have the same meaning in two different cultures and times? It might surprise you how easy it is to say the wrong thing clearly or to say the right thing in a very hard-to-understand way. It is not so easy to nail down precisely what it means to translate–nor is there a one-size-fits-all solution for translating accurately, clearly, and naturally. Not to worry, though, we work out these details with our outstanding indigenous translators, and this is not actually an article about the technicalities of translation. Rather, let us describe what our translators really do by giving voice to the people and communities transformed by their work.

Peteros Gami, an Ethiopian man from a Donga village, visited the Donga Bible Translation Project office to get information from the translators. As the translators described what they do, they discussed some of the translated Scripture passages. Peteros heard some forgotten Donga words and said,

“This project is coming to our community not only to communicate the Gospel to us, but also to save our language! Even though I am a native speaker of the language, I have forgotten some of the words that I have heard today. I will tell our community about this project and its significance wherever I go. I also pray for you day and night till we get the Bible in our language!”

Our translators work with their communities to engage them throughout the translation process. Communities benefit from access to and discussion about the Scriptures; the teams benefit by uniting their people in a shared task. This synergy creates deep and rich engagement with the Bible as it is translated.

A local preacher visited the Timbaro Bible Translation Project in his part of Ethiopia. After the translators told him details of the project, he said,

“I realize God sent us this project for two purposes. First, God wants the next generation to hear the Good News without any barriers of language as the older generation had. God has a blessed plan for the coming generation! Second, God is giving us a chance to use this project to play a significant role in our language development. This language development also gives us a chance to work with government officials closely. As the result, we can have an access to reach those government officials with Good News!”

God calls our translators to be a part of transforming every part of their societies. Our teams serve as focal points for international and local spiritual and community development.

Finally, consider this man working with the Maro people even though he does not speak their language. This evangelist has been using Amharic (one of the national languages) to preach and teach. He observed a community workshop where the Maro Bible Translation Project team communicated with their people in their heart language. During the sessions, he witnessed eight people give their lives to Christ. In awe, he said,

“I have been here for two solid years; but have not been able to bring five people to Christ in that time. So today I understood how significant it is to have the knowledge of the people’s language to tell the Gospel, and the need of Bible translation!'”

Our translators are agents of transformation, empowering their communities through translation. While our translators do translate books–and spend a lot of time doing it–the impact of their work is far greater than producing a publication.