Translators’ goal: a Bible, then a church

May 21, 2018 by and

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All-Nations Bible Translation is 8 years old, but in a sense it’s just getting started. That’s because a Bible translation and church-planting project can take 15 to 20 years to complete.

ABT founder Joel Martin of State College, Pa., became interested in Bible translation while he was a student at Faith Build­ers Training Institute, a school offering postsecondary education for conservative Anabaptists in Guys Mills, Pa.

Joel Martin, founder of All-Nations Bible Translation, speaks to attendees of the Explore ABT informational event in May 2016 in State College, Pa. — All-Nations Bible Translation

Joel Martin, founder of All-Nations Bible Translation, speaks to attendees of the Explore ABT informational event in May 2016 in State College, Pa. — All-Nations Bible Translation

He wrote a paper on the history of the English Bible.

“I started to wonder if maybe my heart for unreached people groups and love for God’s Word might converge into one long-term vocation for Bible translation and church planting,” he said.

While at Lancaster (Pa.) Bible College, Martin met friends who began praying with him over the project. The group founded ABT in 2010 and began offering training in 2013.

Because workers must spend four to five years learning biblical languages, and the language in which they want to produce the Bible, the actual translation work is in its very beginning stage in ABT’s furthest-along team.

ABT doesn’t publicize the specific languages or nations its team members are working with due to sensitivity, but their focus is on languages that don’t have any of the Bible available. Their teams are working in four nations across the globe and are hoping to enter two more later this year.

“Our focus would be, as Paul said, ‘where Christ has not been named,’ ” Martin said, paraphrasing Rom. 15:20.

While the focus is on translation, the end goal is to see an indigenous-led church.

“[We don’t want] just to dedicate the New Testament and move on, but to disciple believers,” Martin said. “We don’t envision missionaries becoming the sage or patriarch of the church in a way that creates dependencies.”

Story of salvation

While it’s expected to take about 10 years to translate the New Testament and at least five years after that to have an independent congregation, Martin said there are several indigenous people being discipled long before the New Testament is finished. Many of these are “language helpers,” whom the translators hire to teach them the language.

The ideal team ABT wants to put together consists of three parties: one person or married couple working on the Old Testament, one on the New Testament and a third focusing on community development, which can involve a variety of logistical and humanitarian work. Some of these positions have yet to be filled by ABT’s members in training.

The goal for the Old Testament translators is to translate enough to teach the story of salvation from creation to Christ. Once enough text is ready, that teaching can take about three to six months.

“[By that point], you’re hopefully working with a team of converted mother-tongue translators,” Martin said.

ABT wants to uphold the relationship between its members and their home churches. Martin said the members of each team should be from the same church affiliation, if not the same congregation.

There are almost 15 conservative Mennonite or Brethren churches supporting ABT members or members in training.

“We work with churches and their members,” said ABT communications director Bryant Martin of State College. “We don’t take members away from churches. When someone wants to become a Bible translator, that conversation starts with the home church. We are a servant to the church, a parachurch organization.”

Every year, ABT offers an event at its base in State College called Explore ABT for people interested in learning more. While registration for this year’s event is closed, people may preregister for the event in May 2019. More information is available at allnationsbibletranslation.org/explore-abt.

“We definitely face our share of challenges,” Joel Martin said. “I think the most challenging times are probably still ahead. Someone said anyone can send missionaries, but the challenge is being able to keep them on the field in a healthy, thriving team dynamic. It feels like God has really been merciful to us and blessed us.”


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