What began as a God-given dream from December 1979 and culminated on a warm summer’s day in Pretoria (South Africa) back in January 1981 has become a time where we at The Word For The World express amazement and joy at what God has done over the past 40+ years. It is profound to think about what God is accomplishing in the lives of so many through His enduring Word – bringing it to them in their heart language. For those of us who were not part of the dawn of TWFTW, it can be difficult to catch a glimpse of the context in which the idea of the importance of heart language Bible translation began. Imagine dreaming this dream in a country where people were divided, the future volatile and uncertain – even frightening – in apartheid South Africa. Precious few people groups had access to the Living Word in a form that spoke to their hearts. And like so many of us, these people were desperate for hope, assurance and an anchoring Truth. Imagine the Spirit giving a dream about a new way of translating the Bible at a time when communication and travel in Africa was not easy or quick, and where there was no instant messaging, email, Google Maps or internet search engines. What was that dream that God placed on our founder’s (Dr. Véroni Krüger) heart? It was making the Bible accessible for every person in the language God gave them by empowering nationals to translate the entire Bible for their own people. In 1981 in South Africa, this thought was a daring dream! Bible translation of the widely spoken languages was, of course, nothing new – but to empower people to become translators of the Bible themselves in smaller, lesser known languages? This idea was out of the proverbial translation box. However, the Holy Spirit knew the importance of mother tongue Bible translation long before we did and had a plan where there seemed no way!
Véroni admits that even though he was certain of this exciting call on his life, he still had questions. He thought to himself, “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?” Véroni explains that as he rationalised the traditional method of Bible translation, he had had a long and exhausting day and felt a keen need to read Scripture. He had a variety of different Bibles next to his bed in various languages that he had learned over the years. Yet, in that moment of exhaustion, he found himself reaching for his Afrikaans Bible – his mother tongue, his heart language. He says, “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.” We take great encouragement in how God answered Véroni’s questions in such a practical, heart-felt way. God speaks to us through His Word and develops a relationship with us through our hearts and our minds. This reason is one of many as to why translation of His Word into mother tongues – heart languages – is of utmost importance in God’s Kingdom.
Another reason Bible translation into smaller, mother tongue languages is important is because we all live our lives coram Deo – before the very face of God. We, like believers all around the world, long to see the Gospel go to every tribe and every tongue. God has no favourites and loves all that He has made. He desires to speak to His children through His Word – and He wants us all to understand Scripture not just with our heads, but with our very inner core – our hearts. We believe this is part of the Great Commission to take the Good News to the world, and do it in a way that honours Him and honours the different people groups, cultures and languages that He has created. This vision lives vibrantly and pulses globally through our organisation because we truly believe that lives are transformed by the power of His Word. If it’s God’s priority to save, redeem and speak to His children through His Word, then making His Word accessible to all has become our priority! Bible poverty is very real, even in 2022. But, by God’s grace, we will work towards eradicating Bible poverty by empowering and equipping local nationals to translate Scripture one Bible-book at a time.