Without the living, powerful Word of God, missionary strategy profits nothing, since no missionary work can fruitfully function without the authority, direction, energy, and tools provided by the Word. Without the Bible, Christians would be walking in darkness. Unfortunately, many Bible colleges, seminaries, churches, and mission agencies neglect the importance of translating the Scriptures. Why is Bible translation so urgent for missionary work today?
The Word of God is essential for the evangelism of sinners.
In order to see the Kingdom of God, one must be born again (John 3:3,7). James and Peter clearly declared that new birth occurs through the Word of God. "Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth." (James 1:18). "...[H]aving been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever" (1 Peter 1:23). Therefore, missionaries must speak from the written Word of God in the language of the people they are evangelizing. Most believers come to salvation through the preaching or reading of the Bible in their own heart language, not the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew and Greek).
As a Myanmar national, I bear a heavy burden for the people who live in Myanmar. Among Myanmar’s population of 55 million, less than 6% profess Christianity. Out of 135 different ethnic groups, only 47 different languages benefit from the whole Bible, New Testament, or a portion of the Bible. Currently, BIMS (Bibles International Myanmar Society)/BI has four OT translation projects and four NT translation projects, but more than 80 people groups still do not possess the Bible in their language, and most do not even have an orthography (writing system). Recently, I received a plea from an ethnic group in the Naga Hills asking, "Please, can you help us have a writing system? We don’t have a written language, but we want to have God’s Word in our own language." My heart breaks for these people who remain hungry for the written Word of God in their own tongue. Since they have no Bible, what will they read?
The Word of God is essential for the edification of believers.
In May 1979, revival swept through my village from the preaching of evangelist Paul Sum. As a result, almost all of the villagers, including myself, were born again. Overjoyed by the salvation that we freely received, we could only pray and sing. Since no Bible existed in the Falam Chin language (my language), no one read the Bible. Although we had preachers, we had no Bible. As a result, we experienced no spiritual growth, and some strayed towards spiritism. I wept and prayed for two years that God would help me to read a Burmese or English Bible so that I might grow spiritually. After three years of experiencing a frail spiritual life, I learned to read Burmese. What a joy it was!
When the gospel is preached through the power of the Holy Spirit and unsaved persons become children of God, they must be nurtured with the spiritual food of the Word (2 Peter 2:1-2). God gave His Word for the edification of new believers (Acts 20:32; John 17:17) and established the church as a place of teaching where evangelists and pastors faithfully equip the saints for ministry (Ephesians 4:12). How shall they preach and teach, if they do not have the Bible in the language of the people they are instructing?
The Word of God is essential for the effectiveness of churches.
When Adoniram Judson arrived in Myanmar, he immediately began learning the Burmese language. Then, he wrote gospel tracts while translating the Bible into Burmese. As he completed portions of the Scriptures, he printed and distributed them so that the people could read the Word while he taught. Because of this effective strategy, the church became stronger and stronger. After twenty years, he had translated the whole Bible into Burmese, a translation that is still in use today.
Later, more American missionaries brought the gospel to the Chin State. Amazingly, the headhunting Chin people, who had ruthlessly killed entire villages before hearing the gospel, converted to Christianity. However, they possessed no written Word of God. By 1975, the work of the Spirit swept through the Northern Chin State, and many were born again. Believers formed conservative, Baptist churches. But it remained difficult for the Chin people to find effective churches because the preachers used the Burmese, English, or Mizo Bible. Most laypeople could not understand these languages and needed the Bible in one of the Chin languages. Praise God that BIMS/BI saw both the eagerness and desperate need of the Chin people for a good, reliable text, and published the Chin Standard Bible in 2018.
In my ministry, I have seen that an unreliable text can confuse believers in their doctrine. For example, I was once asked to preach for a dear believer's funeral service. To prepare my message, I had begun working from another Falam Bible version. Psalm 116:15 read, "How painful it is to the Lord when one of His people dies." Both the Burmese and KJV read, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” There is a marked difference in the message, showing the importance of a reliable text and accurate translation.
God desires that believers hold fast to His Word by reading, studying, meditating, obeying, preaching, teaching, and living it out. How can the church accomplish God's purpose without the Scriptures in the spoken language of the people? How can evangelists, church planters, preachers, and pastors fulfill the Lord's command to preach His Word if they do not proclaim it in the hearer's known language? This is the first essential step. Its importance is primary, not secondary. This immense challenge is my urgent plea!