Bible translators start young to reach Central Asia

It Only Takes a Lifetime

(Personal details of the people in this story have been changed.)

Beatriz was only 13 when she began her training, Marcos was 16. If all went well, when they were grown they would serve as Bible translators overseas. Some might have said they were too young to know how they wanted to spend the rest of their lives, but their vision was clear.

“I saw the need – more than 5 billion people do not have any version of the Bible in their own language,” Marcos said. “I love having the Bible in Spanish. Even though I speak English and Portuguese, I read the Bible and I need to go back to the Spanish version.”

The two wound up at the same program, which had been set up by an organization whose mission is to prepare the next generation of Latin American cross-cultural workers by training teenagers specifically. The program’s adolescent students live at the organization’s training center and go through years of preparation: courses on missiology, theology, and linguistics, in addition to going through the normal education curriculum. On top of that, students had responsibilities such as chores and leading Bible studies. Not exactly the most conventional teenage experience, but they both loved it.

“When God called me to do this, He was very very clear that He wanted me to do this for my life. So for me, most of the time it was very fun,” Beatriz said. “It was nice because…I was not doing it alone. It was a bunch of teenagers doing the same thing together, for the same goal.”

“I remember when I went home for the holidays, I missed the place,” Marcos agreed. “I think it’s a great time to start doing your training even though many people say that teenagers do not know what they want to do for the future.”

Beatriz was three years into her training before Marcos began his; he arrived when she was out of the country doing training in Ecuador. The two finally met when Beatriz returned home for a brief visit; the next year Marcos headed to Ecuador as Beatriz was leaving. A year later though, they wound up traveling together to South Africa to study English as part of their training. They started dating there and were married within a year.

The two have been living in Central Asia for the past two years, focusing on learning the language before they delve into translation work for the Cheuasai minority group. Even during this “in-between” time though, they have found encouragement in what they have to look forward to, as well as where they come from.

On a recent visit to another minority group in a remote mountainous region, they saw the people worshipping God in their own language and in their own style, wearing traditional clothes. Now they dream of seeing the Cheuasai people experiencing God in their own language too. During this same trip, the two also visited a seminary – where the students are teenagers.

“I just remembered myself and I said, ‘Wow I would have never imagined that here…there would be also teenagers taking their time and being prepared to serve,’” Beatriz said. “I almost cried to see them studying the Bible and doing the same thing that I did before. I was so happy, so excited.”

Beatriz and Marcos will soon transition into their translation work, beginning with a survey of the dialects of the Cheuasai people, the understanding between the different dialects, and which would be the most relevant to the Cheuasai people.

“The Bible needs to be in a language that people respect,” Marcos said. “The translation process is changing a little bit, we are letting the people decide what they want. And we are just giving them what they want.”

The whole process is focussed around relationships with individuals and communities who will help translate and test the Bible as the text slowly comes together in a new language. It fosters trust in the people they are serving, Beatriz and Marcos said. They have seen instances where people have translated the Bible without a relationship with the people group they are serving.

“They [the people group] don’t accept the book. It’s not something they’re interested in because they don’t really know the people who translated it,” Beatriz said.

She added that Marcos would be great at building those relationships with the Cheuasai, as he is the more outgoing of the two and makes friends easily. Marcos in turn described Beatriz as “analytical” and “detail-oriented,” traits essential during the translation process.

“I think we have a good balance,” Beatriz said.

Despite the time it takes to translate the Bible – up to 20 years depending on various factors – Beatriz and Marcos are ready. It will be the culmination of years of training and the reason they started so early — they wanted time to invest in this work.

“There are things I can only express in my own language. So I feel that people should have the same privilege that I have. Someone did it for us, so why not do it for someone else?” Marcos said. “I don’t picture myself doing anything else. I love it. It’s hard. But it’s good – it’s beautiful.”

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