Wycliffe has committed itself to seeing the Church in Canada succeed in its mission. Full stop. We believe God’s mission was given to the Church, and we are committed to her success as she engages in the mission of God.
At the same time, we remember that Wycliffe was started to focus on the marginalized, the overlooked: the minority language communities. We serve minority language groups worldwide by fostering an understanding of God’s Word through Bible translation, while nurturing literacy, education and stronger communities.
These parallel commitments are not in opposition.
I don’t believe in the church/parachurch division. Rather, as part of the Canadian Church itself, we are committed to serving pastors and congregations through our areas of strength. Wycliffe has an important role to play. We are particularly concerned with building the Church’s engagement with the Bible and passion for God’s mission. We also have specific experience and technical skills that can serve the larger body in accomplishing God’s mission to all nations.
I hear pastors say often that they have always thought of Wycliffe as doing mission “over there,” but they’ve never thought about what we could do locally, for them. In our research with church leaders, some needs are emerging, and Wycliffe is already beginning to respond. A few ideas are coming to mind.
1. We can be a voice for the voiceless. We need to call the Church in Canada to remember that God’s mission is for all ethne—all nations, all peoples, all languages. As we serve the church, we’re still going to be an advocate for the minority.
The latest statistics show us there are 1,860 minority languages with a likely need for translation to begin. These 180 million speakers are foremost on our minds, and we can’t help but speak up for them. God speaks every language. All peoples have dignity.
2. We can also play a prophetic role in calling the Church back to Scripture. The recent Canadian Bible Engagement Study showed that
- Since 1996, Bible reading has dropped by half among Canadians and among Canadian Christians.
- One in seven Canadian Christians read their Bibles weekly.
- Only half of evangelicals read their Bibles at least weekly.
While our focus is on Bible translation and related ministries among minority languages worldwide, we are deeply concerned about the health of the Canadian Church. The survey shows a strong correlation between Bible reading rates and church attendance. They rise and fall together. We want to see a strong church in Canada, and we’ve staked our lives on the fact it happens through the Bible.
The Word of God transforms! It’s true for Canadians, and it’s true for the Bambalang in northwest Cameroon. I blogged a while ago on the 2-day war they endured that left 3600 people homeless. The gospel of Luke was published within five days of the war, and it became an incredible tool for local pastors—for healing of trauma and encouraging the people not to respond in kind.
Of course, because our primary role is not within Canada, we work with partners to accomplish our goals in this area. One great way we’ve done that is with the Canadian Bible Forum, which sponsored the Canadian Bible Engagement Study. We want to come alongside our brothers and sisters in organizations like the Canadian Bible Society, Scripture Union and the Gideons as they seek to strengthen Bible engagement within Canada.
3. We believe the cross-cultural knowledge and experience that Wycliffe has built up “over there” is useful here. As congregations engage in God’s mission themselves, I believe we have a lot of experience we can offer to help them do it better.
- Could we help congregations do mission trips better, by assisting them in language and culture learning, preparation and orientation, and debriefs?
- Could we help congregations with mission strategy and the lessons we’ve learned about how helping can hurt?
I’ll bet our cross-cultural expertise will also help the Church do mission in Toronto and Vancouver and Montreal and Calgary. I’ll bet cross-cultural and language skills can help a congregation reach their neighbours. Over and over I hear pastors say their congregation used to be a community church, with most of their weekly attenders coming from up the street. Now most of their congregation looks quite different from the streets around them, and they drive in on Sunday morning. Meanwhile, they don’t know how to reach their Bangladeshi neighbours surrounding their building. The world is coming to Canada.
But I also believe cross-cultural skills can be useful beyond ethnicity. I believe they’re helpful for bridging the generation gap. When the EFC rolled out its massive Canadian research report, Hemmorrhaging Faith, one point by researcher Rick Hiemstra caught my attention:
“Young adults experience culture shock, and anyone who experiences culture shock just wants to go home.” (Faith Today, September/October 2012, p21)
If the Church in Canada built some real competency and strength in working cross-culturally, the benefits might go way beyond ethnicity, giving them tools to deal with generational issues, gender issues and even cross-denominational partnerships.
My question to my Wycliffe colleagues is: how can we help the Church build these strengths?
4. We can also provide opportunities to engage in personal, two-way, long-term missions relationships between congregations in Canada and our field partners who provide the link to minority language groups. The result will be transformation among communities and churches on both ends of the relationship. This is a fairly new strategy, but already we’re seeing congregations in B.C. and Alberta engage creatively with partners in Peru, and congregations in Ontario engage imaginatively with partners in East Asia. Each partnership looks a little different.
These more direct links with local people on the field meet a need the Church has expressed to us: the desire for holistic, relationship-based approaches that go beyond simply writing a cheque. They bring greater participation by the wider congregation in the mission of the Church, and they bring greater assurance that the investment made by the congregation is accomplishing the results intended. Wycliffe’s expertise and relationships can help the Church accomplish its mission. (See Word Alive Summer 2014)
Over 1,000 congregations across Canada are regularly engaged in the work of Bible translation, and as senders, as pray-ers, as financial partners, they are co-labourers with us in bringing God’s Word to the minority languages. Lord, forgive us if we’ve ever looked at them as resource partners to provide the tools we need to accomplish our mission. Rather, we are a resource partner to help the Canadian Church accomplish its part in God’s mission.
Together, we can see every language having the same privilege we have: the incredible realization that God speaks our language, and has made His Word accessible to us.