Having managed a college campus bookstore before joining Bibles International, I witnessed first-hand the beginning of the e-book revolution. The debate over "digital vs. paper" still rages, but the question is whether digital Scriptures have hindered or enhanced Scripture distribution and engagement.
In early 2014, Dr. Troy M. and I visited the headquarters of Faith Comes By Hearing (FCBH) in Albuquerque, NM, known for their 40-plus years of audio Scriptures ministry. (Glenn K. had broached the subject of "non-print media" to BI two years prior and was instrumental in making this initial connection.) Bibles International by that time had already waded into these waters having submitted the Tagalog (Philippines) New Testament to Bible Gateway (an online Bible site), and sent the Akha (Thailand), Sango (CAR), and Songhay (Mali) texts of the Gospel of Luke to the Jesus Film Project®. An audio version of the Warao NT had been recorded by another organization, and various translations were heard on radio stations around the world.
Our purposes in visiting FCBH were to formally introduce Bibles International to their organization and to see what additional distribution avenues might be available. That is when they introduced us to the idea of "customized" Scripture apps for phones and tablets. We found a kindred spirit there in providing God's Word to those who cannot read their own language. FCBH was eager to publish our translations on their Bible.is website and to begin audio recording of select BI translations. We later provided the mp3 files to them for the Warao NT, and they made plans to record the Tumak NT on location. FCBH also created a customized Scripture app for BI at no charge. We have received amazing feedback from the audio Scriptures already.
A Warao woman received a FCBH Proclaimer® playback unit and set it on top of her refrigerator. In the morning, as the sun's rays hit the solar charging panels, the Proclaimer® self-activated and began to play. Her husband, who had come home drunk the night before, woke up to hear the Proclaimer® and thought it was the voice of God. He began listening and gave his life to Christ.
We heard from the Tumak that not only believers were enjoying listening to Scripture on their phones (via SIM card), but that Muslims were also listening regularly. In July, I spoke with the Tumak Bible translator, who said that their New Testament was also being played on loudspeakers in the market… and that they needed more SIM cards.
To date, FCBH has published seven BI audio New Testaments (NT): Kaulong (Papua New Guinea), Rahema (IAsia), Tenek (Mexico), Tumak (Chad), Waali (Ghana), and Warao (Venezuela), and more recordings have been scheduled. The Songhay NT was available in print, digital and audio in time for their dedication celebration.
While audio has proven both popular and needful, more work needed to be done digitally. We realized that a downloadable, standalone Scripture app of our own would be beneficial, especially for the Android world. Birch C. created the first BI Scripture app, for the Isotes (Asia), and my meeting with them in August confirmed its popularity. That app-building work has been carried forward by the volunteer programming team from four Michigan churches. Over 33 BI Scripture apps are now available for free download at the Google Play Store, thanks to this dedicated team.
Elsewhere, over 25 BI New Testaments and Bibles are available for online viewing (and listening, where applicable) on the FCBH Bible.is website and phone app. The Akha NT with Psalms and Proverbs is now on YouVersion, another popular Bible reading app. The Luxembourgish NT is available on Kindle.
Looking ahead, our goal is to submit all completed Scripture texts to the Digital Bible Platform, the largest repository of digital Scriptures, for extended access worldwide. It will also provide a platform for third-party vendors to produce Scripture media that Bibles International is not able to do. This year, FCBH partnered with the LUMO Project to portray all four Gospels on screen. So far, the Gospel of Mark video (all 16 chapters) has been completed for the Tumak, Waali, and Rhema, word-for-word from the BI translations and subsequent audio versions.
The big question is whether we're finding that language groups receiving God's Word prefer it in print or digital. The answer is a resounding "Yes!" Both are needed. Being able to access Scripture on one's mobile phone has not affected the number we print. People still value a Bible they can hold in their hands that doesn't need recharging. The younger generation likes the phone accessibility, and those who cannot see or read well can listen to the spoken Word as if they could. Digital Bibles also offer God's Truth to those who would not readily pick up a print Bible for fear of religious reprisal.
Yes, there is significant cost to adding an audio component to any translation project, but there is an instant return-on-investment as people hear God speaking in their own language (whether they can read it or not) from the moment they insert the SIM card into their mobile phone or turn on a Proclaimer® or Megavoice playback unit. Only the Lord knows what the prevailing format for publishing and distributing His Word will be in the future, but for now, offering Scripture in print, audio, digital, and video is necessary to capture the hearts of the young, the old, the literate, the illiterate, and the hearing and vision impaired.