In December 2022 a new phase began in the life of the Institute for Bible Translation: Dr. Vitaly Voinov, IBT director since 2013, handed over his directorship to his successor, Bron Cleaver. We interviewed them individually and would like to offer you an insight into this change in the life of IBT.
Vitaly, was it a valuable life experience for you to be the director of IBT? What was most important?
Infinitely valuable! This gave me the opportunity to participate not just in one or two translation projects, but in almost fifty different projects at the same time. I got to know a lot of very talented people dedicated to their language and was able to contribute to maintaining and promoting their work. I also realized that not all problems can simply be “rammed through” by personal willpower: you need to be able to get other people to work together to solve problems that are too big for one person, even the director.
What did you succeed at doing and what did you fail to accomplish?
I had hoped to create a parallel corpus of our translated texts, say, the book of Ruth in the Turkic languages, which would serve linguists working with these languages. But this demanded too large an investment of time, which I lacked. So this corpus is probably a matter for the future. Where did I succeed? I was able to bring several lapsed translation projects back to active status. For example, I’m very glad that I managed to get the Abaza project back and that it is now actively developing. I also invested a lot of effort in the Bashkir project to bring the full Bible to completion. These two projects have a special place in my heart.
During the years of your leadership of the Institute, what event or accomplishment can you single out as the most significant for you?
This may seem trivial to some, but for me the most important thing is people, our employees. IBT project staff are talented and flexible, ready to grow beyond their own language and culture to serve other peoples in our part of the world. I saw more and more people from our existing projects beginning to work in other projects as well. For example, the Tatar exegete willingly switched to working in the Bashkir project and was able to complete her second full Bible. And the developer of Scripture videos in his native Gagauz language now also develops similar videos in other languages that IBT works with. Of course, we continue to look for talented new people for our projects, but the important thing is that after the completion of a project, we don’t have to say goodbye to these experienced specialists, we can continue to fruitfully cooperate with them in a new field. With this kind of human resources, IBT definitely has a bright future for many, many more years to come.
Bron, please tell us a few words about yourself. How did you end up in Russia?
When my husband and I got married, we had a common desire to serve God in a country other than England. We prayed and chose Russia. On our first visit, we only knew two Russian words: “hello” and “goodbye”, but thankfully we had the opportunity to learn Russian once we arrived in Russia! And so we stayed and have been living in Novosibirsk for 22 years. Living in Siberia, I became interested in the people groups around me: the Altaians, Shors, and Tuvans. I began to travel, learn about their life, and even began to study the Altai language on my own. I found out more about the need for Bible translation into these languages and realized that if I were to help, I would have to also learn Hebrew in addition to Greek, which I already knew, so I set about doing this. In order to take part in Bible translation in Altai, I joined the SIL organization, which works in partnership with IBT. It was while I was working as the exegetical advisor of the Altai project that Vitaly Voinov invited me to Moscow to get acquainted with the Institute. Now we are finishing the Old Testament and are revising the old translation of the New Testament so that we can combine them and publish the complete Bible. A year and a half ago, my husband and I received Russian citizenship.
How did you decide to take on such a difficult and responsible role as director of the IBT?
Exactly a year ago, on one December evening in 2021, to my surprise, Vitaly Voinov called me and started asking about the weather in Novosibirsk and then very suddenly, and unexpectedly, offered me to become the director of the Institute for Bible Translation. Of course, I was so amazed that at first I could not answer anything, and then I prayed, ask the advice of others and in the end decided that I could help in this ministry.
Bron, what new things do you hope to bring to IBT?
IBT has almost 50 Bible translation projects, some of them concerning full Bibles translations, some working on OT and NT fragments, and, of course, we want to complete this work which is already underway. Historically, IBT has been engaged only in written translations, and we are slowly finishing the translations of the Bible into the written languages of the Russian Federation. However, there are up to twenty unwritten languages remaining. I would like us to start Bible translation projects in these oral languages. Oral translation is very similar to written translation. The same processes are used, the only difference being that the end result is recorded as audio. In addition to this, I believe that we need to do more Scripture engagement. The Institute is already moving in this direction, but it has to develop further. After all, we have more and more complete Bibles, and so it is important that we should help people to read and understand them.
Vitaly, now that you are leaving the post of director, will your connection with the Institute continue and in what capacity?
Oh sure! IBT has taken root in the depths of my soul, and I think that it will always be somehow present in my life. In the near future I’ll continue to work as a translation consultant in several projects.
What would you like to wish your successor?
A new person is always eager to implement their ideas, to introduce useful new elements into the work of the organization. My advice to Bron: yes, this, of course, needs to be done, but don’t rush into it. First you need to understand and learn how to manage all the processes that are already working well, and there are many of them and they are quite complicated. That is, be careful to not lose the existing good in pursuit of possible new benefits. In IBT, as in other organizations, there needs to be a balance between tradition and innovation. The first is a strong foundation, and the second is what will allow IBT to develop, grow and build on that foundation: what is needed for new circumstances in a world that is constantly changing. As Heraclitus said: “You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters and yet others go flowing ever on.”
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