I want to take some time to share with you five ways COVID-19 has impacted Bible translation and all that we have seen God do while the world has been turned upside down. I know this will help you lift up your eyes to see the goodness of our great God and how He has miraculously guided indigenous Bible translators during these uncertain times!
1. Harsher Persecution for Christians
As the number of COVID-19 cases started to increase, governments and health officials all over the world began to track people who were infected with the virus and those they came in contact with, possibly passing along the disease. In some countries of intense persecution, tracking opened the door to increased scrutiny on the movement and actions of Christians.
This heightened surveillance put national Bible translators at risk as they traveled to attend translation workshops—if the true nature of their travel had been discovered, they would have suffered greatly.
National Bible translators have been able to stay under the radar of this surveillance using tools and training provided by supporters like you! Even when they couldn’t travel to be together for Bible translation, they were able to continue working in small groups locally because they had already received the translation training they needed.
2. Greater Use of Bible Translation Technology
Travel bans and lockdowns caused translators in isolated regions to become even more cut off from the outside world. For a time, it looked like COVID-19 restrictions would bring Bible translation projects to a screeching halt, but technology helped them keep going!
National Bible translators in hard-to-reach places needed a way to communicate with each other to keep their projects moving forward. Satellite internet connections and virtual translation programs were key to keeping local believers connected to translation tools and able to collaborate and discuss passages of Scripture.
Bible translation technology kept COVID-19 from stopping translation projects—and it opened the door to launch more projects in remote locations!
3. Food Shortages
“Translators are starving.” I remember how my heart sank when I first heard these reports from our translation partners at the start of the pandemic. Some of these national Bible translators had faced persecution—and even death—but COVID-19 left them facing another potential killer . . . hunger!
COVID-19 left millions of people around the world without food as travel restrictions shut down food supply lines, and national Bible translators alerted us that they were worried about finding enough food. As prices for simple staples like rice skyrocketed, our partners were suddenly unable to provide food for their families. Almost immediately, requests for emergency food and relief from translators began coming in from all over the world, as entire regions suffered life-threatening food shortages.
This presented a threat to the immediate survival of Bible translators AND their work on Bible translation projects. They needed to continue the work of Bible translations, but they certainly couldn’t continue for long without food.
But thanks to the generosity of supporters like you, we were able to help provide emergency food for national translators with nowhere else to turn!
4. Increased Interest in God’s Word
The pandemic brought hopelessness, fear, and despair. Entire communities were cut off from the outside world for months at a time, and we began hearing reports that unbelievers were seeking hope and truth in God’s Word. In one country where many churches must meet secretly, attendance at online church services and Bible studies began to spike!
When fear and uncertainty set in, that is often when people open their hearts to hear God’s Word. As Bible translators saw with fresh eyes the need for God’s Word around them, many doubled down of their commitment to Bible translation and worked to complete their translations with renewed strength so that they could share it with those around them.
And I have heard reports of how God’s Word is bringing joy to people who were once in despair. One translator recently said, “Only now are we able to understand the deeper meanings in the Word of God. Since the Bible is in our language, we are able to understand it better and grow in our spiritual life as well. I don’t have words to express my joy.”
5. More Bible Translations and More Local Church Leadership
God has sustained the ministry of Bible translation this year—my heart warms with joy as I type those words. The same global pandemic that brought the world to a standstill actually accelerated Bible translation in many ways. There were many cases in which translation projects could have stopped due to restrictions on travel and gatherings, but even in very remote locations, local church leaders stepped forward and found the solutions to keep their translation projects going!
In the early days and weeks of the pandemic, I wondered what the Bible translation landscape was going to look like, but by God’s grace . . . we are seeing many Bible translation projects start. And they are being led by national leaders!
Travel restrictions meant our U.S. teams couldn’t travel, but they were able to offer support through technology. So, local pastors and lay leaders stepped up and thrived as they led their Bible translation teams to continue the work. God had equipped local churches for the good work of Bible translation!
–Donn Halman | Wycliffe Associates