Hearing the Word—An Introduction to Oral Bible Translation: Did you know that 70%-80% of the world’s population are oral communities? That is about 5.7 billion people! Our vision at TWFTW is to complete first-time translations of the whole Bible in 1000 languages by 2050 and to help other translation agencies in as many other Bible translation projects as we can. Oral Bible Translation (OBT) is an essential part of moving towards this vision. We believe this compelling development will create a shift in emphasis from written to oral Bible translation that will assist in providing quicker and better access to the Bible in languages where there are low literacy rates, as well as in languages that are spoken in the uncharted waters of the Middle and Far East.
But first, what do we mean by ‘oral communities’? Oral communities are culture groups that use speech, rather than writing, as a means of communication. Their cultures pass on their history, identity, religion, and practices through various oral art forms. Use of singing/song writing, storytelling, proverbs, rites of passage, poetry, riddles and drama make up oral cultures. Sadly, as the more widely spoken and written languages grow, oral-minority languages suffer a terrible loss of their identities.
The World Economic Forum reports: “Around 1,500 known languages may no longer be spoken by the end of this century. Current levels of language loss could triple in the next 40 years. Greater education and mobility marginalize some minor languages. One language per month could disappear without intervention”. As Christians, we believe God is seeking and saving the lost, and He is calling us to take His Scriptures to His children all over the world so that they may know Him more deeply and grow in their love for Him by reading the Word in their most natural language – their heart language. But what if they can’t read, and their language doesn’t have an alphabet – having no way to transform into a fully literate community? Creating a writing system from scratch is extensive, and it takes a long time. Even if a writing system is achieved, the oral community must be taught to read. At best, only a minority will reach a level where they can read and understand the Bible deeply. There is no guarantee that most people in these communities will be able to read and understand anything written in their language. These are some pressing contextual reasons why OBT is essential for oral communities.
For those unfamiliar with OBT, it is the process where a native speaker listens to a Bible in another language that they understand and then translates it orally into their native tongue. In our next blog, we will explore how this process works. Let’s attempt to get into the shoes of a brother or sister with no mother-tongue oral Bible. Picture a situation where you have a loved one who has travelled far away into a part of the world where they cannot be in touch with you, and they will be away for many years. After some years apart, with you longing for them and missing them, you suddenly get a long letter from them …… and imagine now that you cannot read that letter, and you don’t know anyone who could read it to you. How desperate you would be to find out what that letter says! Do you feel the yearning that brothers and sisters in Christ living in an oral community might have about the eagerness to hear from God in His Word? Now, imagine how they would feel if they were empowered to translate the Bible verbally, themselves, into their heart language on a recording to keep forever!
We know God’s Word is for all His children, but what are we doing to make that a reality for all His people? OBT! We invite you to join us as we zealously run the race marked out for us by the Lord.
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