In late 2023, a training seminar was held at IBT’s Moscow office in connection with a completely new activity for the Institute, something called Oral Bible Translation (OBT). The OBT methodology has already been tested in various places around the world and several potential staff members for future OBT projects had taken part in an international OBT conference in the summer of 2023. The OBT approach makes it possible to start full-fledged work on Bible translation where there is no written language or where mother-tongue literacy has not been widely promulgated. IBT’s fall seminar brought together about 20 potential exegetical advisors from IBT and a partner organization who are considering joining an OBT project to serve various minority peoples of Russia.
In this newsletter we share the testimony of one such exegete about how he took his first step towards this new vocation and started preparing for the project. We do not give his real name, since his work will take place in a region with an established Islamic tradition. We simply call him “Alexander”. And here is his story:
“I’d like to share what happened to me when I agreed to make a change in my life. So far my career had been in electronics, but recently I also become a pastor. In sermons and personal conversations I’ve often told people, ‘Trust God and He’ll take care of you. God will do all the right things in your life if you do what He says, if you are really with Him.’ But when a time of major change came in my own life, I suddenly realized that I myself had not been trusting God in the way I’d been teaching others to do.
I don’t remember how exactly it came about that I agreed to engage in Bible translation. I only remember how IBT’s director Bron, whom we had known for a long time, handed me a list of languages for which IBT was planning to start a project and said, ‘Pick one.’ I jabbed my finger at the list at random and ended up with the T-project in Dagestan (actual language name withheld in this newsletter). At the time, I viewed this as follows: ‘I guess I’ll have one more interesting thing to do in my life.’ Then I started reading the literature on Bible translation and began to think more seriously about what it means to translate the Bible. At an international OBT workshop I met many Christians who trusted God at a different level than me. I heard many testimonies of people leaving prestigious jobs and moving to another country. One of them had moved from a prosperous country to a region where war had just broken out. This came as a shock to me. What else struck me is that all this hard work and sacrifice remains completely anonymous. Bible translators are fully aware that no one may ever know about them, that their names will not be published anywhere. I left the conference wondering, ‘Why do they do this?’, and only one answer came to me – ’because God has called them to this.’ I was stunned by their examples and decided to quit my job and devote myself fully to this new endeavor, with early summer as the deadline.
Summer approached and I realized that I didn’t really want to quit my job. Amazingly, our salaries were raised three times during this time period. And not by a little bit, not by two percent, but by a large amount! And I prayed: ‘Why, Lord? I’ve been working here for 13 years, and this has never happened before. Why am I getting giant raises now, right when I’ve decided to leave?!’ And one more thing. In April we visited the city where our future project would be based, and I was told: ‘You’re very lucky, you already have a mother-tongue translator ready to start working with you, so you can fully devote yourself to language learning and exegesis without worrying about team building.’ But later it turned out that the translator was unqualified and I needed to find a new one myself. I was not prepared for this! I expected that all the necessary conditions to start this work would be handed to me on a silver platter. But things didn’t go according to plan.
I finally quit my job and events continued to develop rapidly. The time came to fly to Dagestan, but I still had no real contacts, just an invitation to visit an archaeological institute in some distant village and the name of a language expert who was almost 90 years old. Just his name, mind you, no phone number. However, if translated into English, the name of that man was ‘Jesus, son of Jesus,’ and this somehow cheered me up. A time was set for our trip, and I thought, ‘Well, let’s go, at least we can talk to some people.’ So my wife and I went as ordinary tourists. Taking my wife with me on that trip turned out to be a strategically correct decision.
When we arrived at the airport, we were told, ‘Sorry, booking error. No seats for you on the plane.’ I started to get upset, but my wife’s faith proved stronger than mine. She told me: ‘Let’s go and pray.’ We were promised that if it turned out that there were any seats left, they would let us board the plane. There we stood at the gate, two minutes left before boarding, and people kept coming and coming. And I was internally pleading with them: ‘Stop coming! We need to be on this plane, but you keep on coming!’ I realized deep inside that if God arranges it, everything will work out, but if He doesn’t, we would not be going anywhere, no matter how much we want to and no matter what actions we take. That was when two seats opened up for us.
We arrived at the Dagestanian village at lunchtime. As we entered the museum, an elderly man addressed me: ‘Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you all day long!’ My wife asked me later: ‘Did you arrange to meet with him?’ I said: ‘No, I didn’t, this is the first time I’ve ever seen him. I don’t even have his phone number.’ The man spent half a day with us. He told us everything about the area and about his museum. He told us about his people, including their language experts, and gave me a contact. He was eager to come with us to introduce us according to the rules of local hospitality. But then some other tourists arrived, so he stayed at the museum, and we went to look for the language expert he mentioned. What a chain of events!
When we found the man, his eyes lit up. He said, ‘Good! Are you going to learn my language? I want my language to live on!’ He immediately started preaching Islam to me. Again, I felt totally at a loss. I thought, ‘How will it be possible for a Muslim to start translating the Bible?’ I remembered that all things are possible with the Lord, and my wife and I prayed again. She had already taught me the strength of prayer during this trip. The next day an agreement was reached with this language expert; he agreed to translate some Scripture passages for IBT. And I realized that the Lord was opening doors.”
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