Sharma’s Story: A mother tongue translator explains the significance of Church Centric Bible Translation (CCBT)

This is going to sound foolish,” he said, “but it was quite serious for me, because I was very depressed. I had been angry, quarreling with my family because we had no money, and no food, and there was no work for us. So, I climbed a tree, fastened a rope around a branch, slipped the noose over my head, and jumped.”

Sharma (pseudonyms used for security purposes) was depressed because his father, a priest of a major religion and sole breadwinner for the family, had died.

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“I had prayed to the idol many times, and sacrificed to the idol to heal my father, but he died anyway. I was frustrated and felt like these were foolish things we were doing, worshiping these idols who could not help us. I wondered if God even existed,” he said. In his grief and anxiety, suicide looked reasonable.

Sharma’s dilemma is common. I heard several such stories in March, during a South Asian ministry’s New Testament dedication celebration in the capital city. Twelve completed New Testaments in formerly Bibleless language groups, quality checked by a blue-chip panel of linguists and representatives of major Bible Translation entities, were dedicated in a joyous celebration of God’s grace. Every Tribe Every Nation (ETEN), one of the sponsors of the project, also sponsored a major report on the Church Centric Bible Translation (CCBT) process that sums up the effectiveness of the paradigm.

The unfoldingWord® team provided a Bible translation consultant, as well as, training, reference material, and unfoldingWord’s software tools plus an administrator for full time service to the South Asian ministry’s strategic leadership team. We also provided funding and guidance for the creation of a revised formal translation of the Bible in a major language of wider communication to use as a source text.

And Sharma? He became one of the mother tongue translators. But first he had to get out of that tree. “I didn’t die when I jumped out of the tree because, not knowing what I was doing, I had slipped the rope around my middle. My mother came along about that time and burst into tears.”

“Why are you doing these things?” she cried, and she cut me down.

It was very funny, looking back on it. But it wasn’t funny to me then. People in the village were beginning to say bad things about us, accusing and abusing us because we were poor. And the botched hanging was my second attempt. My brother had prevented me from drinking poison. But one day a man visited and told us about Jesus. I responded by telling him about my god. I was an evangelist too!”

The visitor said, “I also believe in one God. But I believe in the God who loves you.”

“Who is that?” I asked.

“Jesus Christ,” he said.

“I was speechless when I heard that there was a God who loved me. I didn’t know what to do with that and I wanted to learn more. The man gave me a New Testament in the major language, and I read it with great interest.” That led to Bible School, evangelistic work, and finally, Bible translation work with that South Asian ministry’s team.

“We worked very hard, some 16-hour days, and got the New Testament done and printed. But the book had a cross on the front. When we tried to give a copy to my uncle, he threw it back at me saying, ‘Keep that away! This is not holy to us! That's British religion!’”

“Later, I took a print-out of the New Testament to him, just pages stapled together with no binding and no cross on the front. He took one look at it and said, ‘I like this! This is good! This is in our language!’”

“See, sometimes we are not carrying the cross and the gospel to people,” said Sharma. “We are carrying our versions of the Bible, our worship culture, our marriage culture, our language culture, all these things we try to carry into someone else’s culture and expect them to like it and adopt it. It will not work that way. That is why Church Centric Bible Translation is so important.”

Soon, the Serla Church was creating its own Christian culture. “We wrote new songs that felt more like our cultural songs and that were in Serla. We sat like my people sit and ate like my people ate,” he said. “The Bible is a holy book for us, but not for them. It’s someone else’s religion. So, even now, I always carry a paper copy with me. No cover, no cross, just a stapled paper copy. People love it, saying, ‘Oh, this is very nice! Very good!’”

Three others from Sharma’s people group worked on the translation project with him. “When we go back to our village,” he smiled, “we will no longer carry the major language version of the Bible. We will carry ours! The Serla Bible. They will recognize it and it will be fruitful.”

That is the power of CCBT. Now, churches all over the world can have confidence to translate faster, better and cheaper.

For more information or to find links to other articles about CCBT, please visit https://www.unfoldingword.org/news