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Ending Bible Poverty

Photography by Esther Havens

7 minutes read

Seed Company is on a mission. According to the most recent data from SIL International*, more than 2100 languages to-date do not have Bible translations. Seed Company hopes to end this statistic. It has found a way to expedite Bible translation that includes breaking up the overwhelming task into smaller projects and connecting translators directly with investors and partners. ARC talked to Kraig Thompson, Manager of Mobilization for Seed Company.

What is the mission of Seed Company?

Our mission is to accelerate Bible translation, resulting in life change and widespread impact. We do this through partnerships. We break down Bible translation into projects through a network of partners around the world, which accelerates the process.

Through our evolvement over the past 25 years we realized a major paradigm shift: Empowering the local language speaker to be the translator is the fastest way to an accurate translation. Surrounding these locals with a global network of translators, consultants, workshops, training, education, and technology accomplishes this goal. Combined, these factors play a major role in mobilizing someone who has never done anything academic in her life to suddenly become an authorized translator of Scripture.

Why do you use the term “bible poverty” when describing your mission?

There are more than 2100 languages without a single verse of Scripture, impacting hundreds of millions of people. The term “Bible poverty” describes this reality for a Western audience, serving as a wake-up call.

Poverty is such a negative term, and it shows that there is a drastic need for Bible translation in this day and age. Our goal by 2025 is to at least begin the process of translation in those remaining languages that don’t have a verse today. That’s our God-sized goal. It’s not even a Seed Company goal, but we are trying to keep up with what God is doing.

This goal is connected to the Great Commission, taking His Word to the uttermost ends of the earth—to every nation, tongue, and tribe. Everyone at Seed Company feels that call and passion for what we are doing. It is amazing to watch the Bride emerge globally through this effort; unfortunately the American church doesn’t see it as easily.

“There are more than 2,100 languages without a single verse of Scripture.”

How did Seed Company begin?

Seed Company was born from Wycliffe Bible translation; our founder Bernie May served with Wycliffe. In the late 1980s, May was concerned that the current process for translation wasn’t fast enough and would take hundreds more years to reach all languages. Convicted by this reality, May prayed for a year about how to accelerate Bible translation. After this time, he had a seed of an idea that he thought might work.

His idea was to connect investment partners directly with translation projects to provide funding faster and more directly. With this original goal, May started with 10 projects and 10 investors in 1993 and began matching them. From there, Seed Company’s story is one of innovation and discovery.

As Seed Company grew and became part of the Bible translation movement, the organization recognized the need to modernize its projects and translation processes. We planted the notion that we could empower locals by surrounding them with a network of knowledgeable support, and from there this idea blossomed. Today we are constantly changing, growing, and trying to make the process faster, more affordable, and more accurate.

The Zambia Project

Paul Van Coller is Lead Pastor of Hope Church in George, South Africa, member of the ARC Southern Africa Lead Team, and leader of The Zambia Project. One of the initiatives of The Zambia Project is providing Bible translation for an unreached people group in Western Zambia. With the help of other ARC pastors and leaders, Paul’s project team is translating the Bible into five languages that have yet to be written.

It’s exciting going into communities that have never heard the Gospel. Sometimes we  ask the villagers if they know Jesus, and they say, ”We don’t know anybody by that name; nobody by that name has visited our village.”

One of our goals for Western Zambia is to establish a life-giving church within walking distance of every person. That would equate to 6000 churches, a massive undertaking.

Translating the Bible is a 20-year project. We currently have 36 translators working on five translations. The translators are village people who stay with us for a month, two or three times a year. Language consultants work with each group. The cost of transportation, housing, training, and supervision is significant, but it is incredibly humbling to be a part of this mission.

Through ARC, we develop beautiful relationships as we work together. We see the kingdom of God spreading in unreached areas as we build relationships with local translators and villagers.

As ARC Southern Africa continues to grow, so does the number of churches wanting to be part of The Zambia Project. Our mission would be much more difficult without ARC and the resources it brings to our endeavor. It’s exciting when everyone comes together to see his kingdom advance!

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What does it cost to translate the Bible?

On average, it costs about $35 per verse for translation and about $1.2 million for a full Bible translation, from Genesis to Revelation. This is how we are expediting the process: We attack the point of need.

The people—the local voice, the pastors on the ground who have planted churches with no Scripture—know exactly what they need. They realize there are Scriptures in another language. For example, if we are in a Muslim part of the world, locals will want to start with the Abrahamic stories and see the connection to Abraham to make the necessary impact. In other parts of the world, we may need to convey Jesus first, so we start with the gospels. We begin these projects by allowing each region to be the authority.

How can local churches get involved in this project?

We help churches identity areas of the world close to their heart; then they invest in those projects. This is a hand-in-hand Kingdom connection. We will go into churches and small groups to adopt a verse such as the Sermon on the Mount. As people study the Word, they are receiving God’s light while shining it into the world.

Most Americans don’t know how many languages are in the world, let alone how many people are in desperate need of God’s Word. We are on the horizon of a church history movement where we will successfully translate the Word into every known language; yet can we call it history if the Western church doesn’t know about it?

“We help churches identify areas of the world close to their heart; then they invest in those projects.”

Whether through praying, giving financially, being an advocate, becoming a translator, or going to one of our projects—however you might dream of getting involved—Seed Company provides a platform for you.

We sought an organization of church planters with a large presence nationally, while also relational and driven by a global mission, and we found ARC. I believe that one day an ARC church is going to write the last check to complete the Great Commission movement of getting God’s Word into every nation, tribe, and tongue.

*SIL International is a faith-based nonprofit organization. Founded in 1934, SIL has grown from a small summer linguistics training program with two students to a staff of over 5,000 people from 89 countries of origin. SIL is currently involved in over 1,660 active language projects, representing 1.07 billion people in 162 countries. SIL advocates, builds capacity, and works with local communities to apply language expertise that advances meaningful development, education, and engagement with Scripture.

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