A Passion for God’s Word
Richard came from the world of financial software development, but after a year in Kenya with Wycliffe Bible Translators, he changed the direction of his life.
His time in Africa showed him the privilege of working alongside local people to get God’s word into their language. Having grown up with the Bible all his life in a language he understood, Richard was excited to work with people receiving the Bible for the first time and to see the changes God’s word made in their lives.
“That’s something I knew I wanted to be involved in more,” Richard said. While in Kenya, he was involved with linguistics but also helped with some basic computer training. He assumed he would serve in a similar role later.
When his one-year term ended, he returned home and got a job as a computer programmer. Still, he knew he wanted to work in Africa again.
“I always knew I wouldn’t be in [software development] forever,” Richards said, “and that I would go back to Africa someday.”
Back home, he became more involved with his church. He led Bible studies, teaching the Bible and giving children’s talks, and he knew he wanted to do the same kind of thing in a cross-cultural context. He wanted to help people understand and study God’s word for the first time.
Knowing he needed to attend Bible college, he left his IT job and spent two years studying biblical and cross-cultural studies. After that, he returned to his old job until God made it clear where he should serve. Richard spent about a year learning French. Then he moved to West Africa to work in Scripture Engagement.
Questions for Engagement
For the first few years, Richard worked with one particular people group. This people group was just about to receive their New Testament. Richard helped the translation team with the next step: equipping the community to use the New Testament well.
Richard worked with the team to prepare for the arrival of the New Testament and then stayed for two or three years afterward. He helped the team distribute audio recordings, establish listening groups, start radio programs and guide a Bible study and a literacy program.
“That was exciting,” Richard recalled. He enjoyed working full-time on one particular project. Now the translation team is proceeding with the Old Testament, and Richard’s role is to be involved in helping to equip other teams.
He transitioned to leadership roles over a wider area as the Coordinator of Scripture Engagement.
On a normal day, he works in the SIL office in the capital city. Different translation teams come in for planning meetings. As a Scripture engagement consultant, Richard meets with the teams to talk through issues and ask questions. The main question is how people will use the translation.
Richard started through the list of questions he asks the teams. “What books of the Bible are you working on? How are you producing them? What format? How are you going to get them out of the office and into use by the community? What’s your strategy for radio? What’s your strategy for young people? What are you thinking about in terms of getting the Bible onto smartphones?”
One of the most effective strategies in his area is the establishment of listening groups.
A listening group might include a family, a group of neighbors, a youth group or even a church. The people in the group get together and listen to one chapter from the Bible. Then they pause the recording and talk about it. They discuss what they heard, what struck them about the passage, what they didn’t understand, what they need to ask more questions about and what God is teaching them through the passage.
Tens and hundreds of people might read a printed book, Richard said, but thousands and tens of thousands will listen to audio recordings of those books. He encourages all the translation teams to produce an audio form of every translation.
“Scripture engagement is really to ensure that from the very beginning of a translation program, throughout a translation program and after a translation program, we see transformation—getting [the Bible] out of the office and into people’s lives,” Richard said.
Sometimes Richard leaves the office to give training on various aspects of Scripture engagement. He might train translation teams or local church leaders. One group he recalled had just received the book of Genesis. Richard, along with the local colleagues, helped run a workshop for about 30 church leaders from that language community.
This workshop meant Richard asked more questions: How are you going to use the book of Genesis in your churches? How are you going to understand it well? How are you going to study it in small groups? How are you going to listen to it in listening groups? How are you going to preach from it?
Avoiding tragedy is the reason Richard asks so many questions of translation teams, workshop attendees and listening groups.
“One of the tragedies we don’t want to see is Bible translations that have spent years in the making just lying in boxes or gathering dust,” he said. For Bible translators, one of the happiest days of their lives is the dedication of a translation. “Everybody’s cheering,” he said. “The book is raised up in the air.”
But the saddest day for Bible translators? That’s when they return years later to the language community and have to ask, “Where is that book you were so excited about receiving?” They find it’s not being used in churches and homes. It’s not being broadcast or listened to.
Skills for the Job
Richard has helped local communities publish and distribute Scripture as smartphone apps, but the job is really about strategic planning, teamwork and Bible teaching.
“The most useful skill would be a knowledge of God’s word and a passion about God’s word,” Richard said. “You need to be able to handle the Bible.”
He suggested getting involved in leading a Bible study or children’s Sunday school class.
“Whether it’s with an older generation or a younger generation, those are very good skills to have. A lot of Scripture engagement is teaching and helping people to engage with the Bible.”
Skills in digital media and social media marketing would also be useful, he said. The Scripture engagement team would love to see more digital natives join SIL and get involved in digital strategy with audio and video.
Scripture Engagement offers opportunities for people to be involved in music, radio ministry, children’s Sunday school training and more.
“The key skills are a real desire to see God’s word put into action in people’s lives and a commitment to serve alongside local communities,” Richard said. “It’s an exciting area to work in. When you’re in Scripture Engagement, you can see what happens after that whole [translation] process. You can see people gathered around listening to an audio recording of the Scriptures and talking about it together, and that’s fantastic.”