Can you imagine never having heard a single word from God in your heart language? For most of us, that is inconceivable.
But for many language groups around the world, a total lack of Scripture is reality. Historically, Baptist Mid-Missions (BMM) missionaries have considered that void unacceptable. From the day our founder began reducing the Sango language to written form, there has never been a day without Scripture translation going on somewhere in the world under the BMM banner. That's a solid century of one of the most intensive of missions endeavors. Time and again the task of producing what had not previously existed was undertaken, because the Word in a people group's mother tongue accelerates the advance of the gospel like no other effort. Without it, the development of mature national churches capable of perpetuating Great Commission ministry is forever hobbled. It's difficult to imagine an endeavor with greater eternal consequence.
Craving such eternal consequence is what drove those who began Bibles International (BI). I knew those men. They were dreamers. Not wild-eyed idealists, but seasoned servants of God in whose hearts God fashioned aspirations which they could not evade and which only God could bring to fruition.
In 1981, the year of BI's birth, I was 32 and pastoring a church accustomed to partnering with BMM. Missionary Jim Garlow, in whom our church had great trust, introduced us to Paul Versluis. Jim and Joyce Garlow and Paul and Genella Versluis had served together in Asia where they coped with the challenges of reaching and teaching those who did not have God's Word in their own language. For 60 years BMM missionaries had individually grappled with providing the Word where it did not exist. A central resource that would facilitate, standardize, and ensure the quality of those efforts was long overdue. It took just one meeting with Paul for our church to catch the vision. Our families delighted in collecting change in "Bible banks" for BI’s first fundraising initiative. Paul became a perennial speaker for our church. On his visits he lived in our home and rocked our babies. Then in 1987, merely six years into BI's existence, God moved me into the administration of BMM, thus granting Barbara and me the privilege of tracking with BI for its entire life span.
By 1987, Fred and Maxine Carlson and Henry and Anne Osborn had allied with Paul and Genella. Fred became Director of BI and gave himself completely to the formidable task of nurturing a purely entrepreneurial organization (BI) within a purely conventional organization (BMM). It was complex! Henry Osborn's proficiency in biblical languages and expertise in missions and academia suited him perfectly for the inaugural role of chief translation consultant. The BI workforce was still mostly volunteers. And even though computers were vital to the operation from the very beginning, what was cutting edge technology then would in no way compare to the systems and processes in place today. But whatever might have been lacking in sophistication was more than made up for in passion and persistence by the burgeoning BI team.
In the 1990s, my first visit to Haiti included a meeting with Hantz Bernard and his bride, Iguelle. Branded in my memory is his explanation that he was called to be a pastor; therefore, people were his focus. But as translator for the Creole translation, he carved out a part of each day to retreat to his solitary workspace where he was surrounded not by his flock, but by the study aids necessary to toil word-by-word, line-by-line, verse-by-verse to complete a reliable translation in the heart language of his countrymen. He artfully articulated the passion and persistence intrinsic to BI. When Fred Carlson retired, Dr. Bernard accepted my invitation to lead Bibles International. His tenure corresponded with the last 15 years of my presidency… years of momentous advance and refinement for BI.
I was able to participate in only a few of the numerous translation dedications conducted over these last four decades. But I was eyewitness to throngs of people pressing to be among the first to simply hold a copy of God's Word in their own language. I watched as freshly minted copies of the Scripture were clutched to the breasts of those who had feared they would not live to see God's Word in their own tongue. I moved among missionaries and nationals alike who defied risks, battled opposition, and accepted any deprivation necessary in order to fill the void where no Scripture existed. I was richly blessed!
BI has been richly blessed. History confirms God is the designer and enabler of BI. He spurred the founders. He transformed a tiny team dependent on volunteers into a global team of highly trained specialists whose cumulative qualifications for their work are exceeded only by their corporate devotion to their task. An effort drafted to aid church-planting missionaries within a single mission agency is now in demand throughout conservative Christian circles and is affirmed within the international ranks of Bible societies. An original focus on producing new translations has expanded to include the formal training and deployment of new translation consultants. But most of all, millions of people who waited to have God's Word in their own language are no longer waiting. For the millions still waiting, may God continue to bless Bibles International! Dr. Gary Anderson