"An illiterate man can talk to God through prayer, but how can he hear God through His Word? Strong churches are built on a reading membership." These passionate words were expressed by the founder of Baptist Mid-Missions (BMM), William Haas (Burning Wicks, p. 41). Haas knew that the people of Africa needed the Word of God. He was adamant that they must know how to read and understand the Scriptures. He was committed to the work of Bible translation. And yet, he was a church planter. Polly Strong, the author of Burning Wicks, wrote "The students carried the Scriptures back into many tribes and villages. But the French language was not sufficient. William and Genevieve worked intensely at mastering Sango, the language of the river people; for Haas saw in this language the possibility for a common language by which to reach many different tribes and to unify congregations" (p. 43). Baptist Mid-Missions, a mission agency committed to church planting, included the necessity of Bible translation as a part of the church-planting process. Therefore, BMM gave birth to Bibles International as its Bible Society in 1981.
William Wilberforce was a British politician, philanthropist, and abolitionist who recognized the combined need for both mission agencies and Bible Societies. Wilberforce was a formidable influence at the inception of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in 1799. Their first missionaries were sent out in 1804 to West Africa. During that same year, Wilberforce and others perceived the demand for the Scriptures to be translated into languages that could be easily accessible to everyone. Thus, one of the first "official" Bible Societies was founded called the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS). Although there were many ecclesiastical and theological problems with the BFBS, it was clear that a church-planting mission agency was much more effective when Bible translation was highly prioritized. Throughout church history, many church planters were Bible translators.
The centrality of the local church is one of the core values of Bibles International. Working in cooperation with national churches is paramount. Bible translation is a critical part of the ministry of church planting. Since its inception, BMM has focused on evangelism, church planting, church development, and church leadership training. Church-planting missionaries, like William Haas, tenaciously labored in Bible translation because they saw the need for the Bible to be translated into the mother tongue of those they were reaching with the gospel. BMM was motivated to establish Bibles International in order to provide specialized technical translation, publishing, distribution, literacy, and fundraising services for church planters.
In order to plant churches effectively, the Scriptures must be translated into the language of each target group. How can one plant a church adequately without the Word of God in the target language? The marriage of a Bible Society with a church planting mission agency is a powerful strategy.
It is the intent of Bibles International to work closely with established national churches as well as church-planting and/or church-developing missionaries. As a local church pursues missions, should it not be engaged in all three aspects of the Great Commission: church planting, theological education, and Bible translation? Is not the goal of the Great Commission to establish healthy, growing, and reproducing churches that glorify God? If so, Bible translation must be considered a key component in that process. Nevertheless, the translated Scriptures cannot be the end goal. God’s Word must penetrate hearts and transform lives as it is used by the local church. As you consider supporting a Bible translation ministry, choose one that is connected to a mission agency that is committed to church planting, church strengthening, and heart transformation. -T.F.