Recently I was speaking at a conference in Buffalo, NY. I was speaking about some of the passages from the Gospel of Matthew, passages that might have seemed straightforward to the attendees. These lines of scripture may have seemed simple, but Edmund and I had struggled with them as we translated Matthew into the Nabak language.
After I was finished, there was a question-and-answer session. I always enjoy these chances to answer questions, and this was no exception. I was especially intrigued when a young woman stood up and asked me a question I had never considered.
“What can we, as teenagers, do now to better prepare for life as missionary translators?”
In that moment I gave her what I felt was a satisfactory answer, but on my long drive back to Pennsylvania I kept pondering her question. As I have covered in a recent blog, my late step-brother, Bryan Burtch, gave me the guidance I needed as a young woman to become a missionary translator, but not everybody has someone like Bryan in their young life to guide them. I realized that, in my own small way, I was being given a chance to do for others what Bryan had done for me. This is my chance to Pay It Forward to the next generation of missionaries.
So here they are! My 11 Best Tips for Becoming a Missionary Translator.
- Study Hard! – This might seem like common sense but, even with all the technology missionary translators take with them onto the mission field, your own brain is still the best tool you will take. Make sure it’s as sharp as possible. Read everything you can, and don’t ever assume you know the right answer, or that you’ve learned enough. Always be willing to re-examine the world when you learn something new.
- Leave Your Safe Zone – To be a missionary translator, you’re going to have to push yourself into areas you aren’t comfortable going. Specifically, get to know someone who speaks a different language than you, especially if they have a different culture than you as well. As a translator, you’ll be having entire days filled with conversations where you and the people you’re talking to don’t share a language. You’ll need to learn there are always other ways to reach a goal or complete a task, ways that seem strange to you. You might find someone who peels their bananas in a different way than you. Learn how, and then learn why. Learn some words and numbers in different languages. Learn to eat with chopsticks – or just your fingers.
- Put a World Map up on Your Wall – You can put one on your phone or laptop if you like, but actually hanging one on the wall of your room is a different experience. Then start collecting prayer cards from missionaries you know, those which your church supports, or any other missionaries you come to know about. Find where those missionaries are working and mark those spots on the world map with a push pin, then link that pin to the prayer card with a color of yarn. Use different colors for different missionaries. Go online and look up the Joshua Project. There you will find a different unreached people group featured every day. Take a moment to pray for them and write down those specifics you prayed for on an index card. Include the name of the group at the top of the card, then use a pin and yarn the same as you did with the prayer cards. Since there is a different group every day, you might use a smaller card, or perhaps you only feature those groups who move you the most.
- Learn a Language – If your school offers a language such as French, Spanish, German or Latin, pick one language and study it as far as your school can teach you. If you’re able, take another language. Every language you come to know expands your linguistics.
- Go on a missions trip – Go on several. Do this through your school or your church, or some other group you trust. Also, go with a specific job in mind. If you can paint, offer to paint. If you can garden, offer to garden. If you’re handy and can fix things, offer that as well. Remember, a mission’s trip is not a vacation!
- Raise any funds you need for missions trips on your own – When you do this, you need to keep detailed records of who gave you what. Try to include something personal about that person or group. When you’re done, submit a report of some form, such as a professional newsletter and/or a Power Point with plenty of pictures, details, and your personal experiences, to your donors. Help them to feel a part of your life, and a part of your work.
- Learn to do without – This might be the hardest tip for most Americans to bear, but on the missions field you will be doing without one thing or another frequently. Ways you can do this include;
- Buy all of your clothing at a thrift shop. This teaches you that life will go on without the latest fashions, and you will also save a great deal of money, money you can spend on another missions trip!
- Sleep on the floor. Seriously.
- Don’t ask for a ride to work or to church. Walk there.
- Set a time in the evening and turn off every electric device you can. No phones, laptop, microwave, lights. Make the time the same every evening, and finish out your day in the dark and quiet. Use flashlights if you need to, or candles (be careful!). For added fun, have someone else turn off the power for you…at random times! As a young person raised in America (or most countries in North America and Europe), electricity is taken for granted. Believe me when I say, even in 2017, this isn’t true for most of the world.
- Start correspondence with a missionary – This can be with a missionary you’ve actually met, one you look up online, or one which is suggested to you by a friend or mentor. Emailing is a great way to do this, but please consider sending actual paper letters, at least occasionally (several times a year or more). When you are a missionary yourself, you will find each paper letter to be a huge lifeline, proof positive that someone back home is praying for you and rooting for you!
- Feed Your Soul – You must focus on your own spiritual journey as well. I simply cannot stress this enough. If you neglect this journey, if you fail to pour yourself into the Word, and the Word into yourself, you will be like a doctor who rushes to treat patients without actually becoming a good If you do this in your teen years, the benefits are like compound interest: They multiply upon themselves over the vast years of your life. Remember the following verses when you need a reminder;
- Proverbs 4:23 “Guard your heart diligently,
for from it flow the springs of life.” (TLV)
- 1 Corinthians 13:1 “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels
but have not love,I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (TLV)
- Proverbs 4:23 “Guard your heart diligently,
- Read Every Missions Book You Can Find – After all, you’re not the first person by far going out to the world. You don’t need to re-invent the wheel. Here are several excellent examples, with many more just a Google search away.
- In the Presence of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham
- End of the Spear by Steve Saint
- Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxis
- The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
- Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot
- The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson
- Bonus Tip – Seniors in high school who are serious about translation work can take part in a program called TOTAL It Up, which will give you a taste of what translation is like. Each TOTAL It Up event includes many different experiences, including;
- Grammar classes
- Translation classes
- Language learning class
- Ethno-arts and Ethno-musicology
- Sign-language class
- Many chances to ask questions and hear field reports
- The chance to meet directly with some of the missionaries and translators, social connections which may inspire you to go forward or to lift you up when you are in the desert
- Overview and next steps to joining Wycliffe Bible Translators
Well, there they are! If you are interested in translating the Bible, or becoming a missionary of any sort, please consider my suggestions and try to include a few into your life. I can tell you, after decades on the mission field, after raising my four children and losing my husband, it was all worth it. My choice to become a missionary translator has given me a fulfilled life, a life I can be constantly thankful for and proud of. Of course, at the end of our days, it isn’t really about my life or your life. It’s about the endless life that Jesus purchased for us, and of being certain that others have now heard that Good News. I am blessed that God chose me for such great work.