State of Pioneer Bible Translators – June 2011

posted by Greg Pruett on April 27, 2015

“Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all people…Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns.’”

(Psalm 96:4, 10)

If we have learned anything over the last 4 and a half years, it’s that God moves in great power when we persevere together in prayer about the passion of his heart. We see him move when we pray that people far from knowing him would come to understand the power of his Word in their lives and follow Jesus. We are now four and a half years into our six year plan to more than double in size, meet all the needs we had documented when we started the plan, and start four new fields. As we gradually increase our commitment to prayer, we are seeing all of these objectives become a reality, but we still lack one key thing. We need a major influx of excellent teammates into our Papua New Guinea branch. Stop a moment as you read this and pray that God would bring just the right new people to overcome the challenges we face in PNG. The extreme linguistic diversity of Papua New Guinea is one of many remaining challenges we must overcome together so that we might truly see transformed lives through God’s Word in every language on earth. PBT now translates the Bible for 19 million people speaking 50 languages in 10 countries. Pray for PBT to continue to grow in every way to meet the needs God is showing us!

Twenty years ago, PBT could find large pockets of translation need pretty much anywhere in the world. When we went to West Africa in the 80’s, our partners could point us in the direction of an entire country without a translation agency present. Now we must be increasingly strategic to locate the remaining language groups that need translation. The need is still great: 353 million people still have no Scripture at all and probably a billion people still don’t have the whole New Testament in their language. But the low hanging fruit has been picked, and we now must be increasingly intentional in our use of resources. Right now on the Forum of Bible Agencies lists, there are around 70 languages left in the world with more than 100,000 speakers without a translation and with no known Bible agency starting a project among them. However, we are finding as we investigate this need, that projects are forming in many of these right now –maybe most of them. In West Africa we have looked into one of these only to find that a plan was in place and soon to begin. In South Asia we selected a group over 300,000 speakers for work only to find that another Bible agency had begun to work there at the exact same time. The vast majority of the remaining 2200 languages with need are now below 100,000 speakers. Soon we will be working on languages of 50,000 speakers and less. We and our partners will not stop until every soul on earth can have Scripture in the language he or she understands best.

Future Direction 2013-2019 and Beyond

I continue to refine my thinking about our future direction for the next six year plan. I am getting good feedback from teammates who read the last board report, so I thought I would write our current thinking on future directions in the state of PBT and see what ideas people would provide this time. By the beginning of 2013, I hope we have an excellent plan with group ownership as our team refines these ideas together.

In the future, Pioneer Bible Translators will follow the Spirit’s lead to fill the gaps in the Bible Translation movement so that we and our partners will see churches with Scripture transforming every language group on earth by 2050. There are three major gaps in the Bible Translation movement standing between us and this major milestone of the Great Commission: 1) Scriptureless language groups with little or no church which require a specialized strategy, 2) Areas of extreme linguistic diversity where the number of languages requires more translation resources than our partners have available, and 3) Languages worldwide with “finished” translation projects that were never used by the people. We estimate that if our small team were to grow rapidly and become capable of starting and finishing around 10 percent of the remaining translation projects in the world, our larger partners would have enough momentum to handle the other 90 percent of the needs. We would need to be bold enough to set the audacious goal of starting and finishing 250 projects by 2050. Our partners are striving with all their might to finish the task. Could we become the variable that increases in the equation, so that, together with our partners, we could see Churches with Scripture transforming every language group on earth by 2050?

First, to accomplish the task we need to fill the gap among the Churchless, Scriptureless language communities. Bible Translation agencies naturally prioritize language groups with churches so that their Scriptures will be used. Church planting agencies tend to prioritize the majority language contexts in the urban centers of the world. This leaves around 900 minority languages, –200 million Scriptureless, Churchless peoples– in a strategic gap. We believe Jesus is moved with great compassion for these suffering the most extreme spiritual poverty in the world –who also typically are among the most physically impoverished peoples of the world. What greater need could attract the compassion of God than marginalized people far from knowing him without a church to show his love and without Scripture to reveal the path to hope? We still are under the example of Paul’s ambition to preach the gospel where Christ is not known (Romans 15:20). It compels us also in this direction. There are many church planting agencies that do some Bible Translation work on the side, but PBT is the only Bible Translation agency I know in the Forum of Bible Agencies that also has church planting as one of its original purposes. This makes PBT uniquely suited to translate the Bible for language groups that have neither church nor Scripture. In the future we will build multi-disciplinary teams with the elements of translation, literacy, church planting, Scripture Impact, and community development, empowered by an international support network designed to advance the Kingdom and its values into these language communities far from knowing Christ. Each team will provide the elements missing in the context to ensure that each language community ends up with networks of churches using Scripture to grow and multiply. Could we possibly begin and finish 200 projects among these least reached Scripture-less peoples? As God empowers us to work deliberately to fill this gap, the Church of Jesus Christ may cross every language barrier remaining on earth with Church and Scripture by 2050.

Second, to accomplish the task we also need to fill the gap among the areas of the world with the greatest linguistic diversity. In most places around the world our partners are set to start all the projects needed over the next 20 years. They will be in position to translate most all of the New Testaments needed by 2050. However, pockets of extreme linguistic diversity are scattered over the earth that defy the current resources of the Bible Translation movement. We need to rise to the challenge and focus 50 of our proposed 250 new projects on supplementing the efforts of our partners in places like PNG and Vanuatu and others where the church is already present, but the Scriptures are needed to disciple the people as Jesus commanded. This amounts to us mobilizing the equivalent of our current number of projects to focus just on these areas. As God empowers us to work deliberately to fill this gap, the next generation of Bible Translators may leave behind them a world where every person can have access to at least the New Testament in their own language by 2050.

Third, to accomplish the task we also need to fill the global gap of a lack of Scripture impact in scattered language communities that have received a translation in their language, but for some reason the churches have never begun to use the Scripture. No one in the Bible Translation movement knows how many translations in the world have not begun to be used. We know from our experience that the problem is considerable. On a recent trip to South Asia I found church planting efforts everywhere using second or third language Scriptures to advance the gospel when first language translations were available. How much would the growth of the Church accelerate if more of these movements used Scripture in the local language? Often we find people who have simply never heard the suggestion or don’t know that the Scriptures already exist or where to find them. Sometimes they need an audio format or some kind of oral storying to stimulate interest in Scripture. Could we recruit and train 50 or 100 Scripture Impact personnel that will research the scope of this problem and trouble-shoot regionally by innovating ways to promote the use of the vernacular Scriptures among the churches and church planting agencies active in each region of the world? This gap also must be filled for us to achieve the goal of churches with Scripture transforming every language community by 2050.

Our team will need to grow and change over the coming years to learn to fill these gaps. I estimate that over the coming four decades we would need at least 1100 and probably as many as 1600 teammates working to be able to accomplish the goal of starting and finishing 250 projects by 2050 –along with working toward global Scripture Impact. Our team will need to learn and innovate much to be able to fill the gaps of the Bible Translation movement.

We will need to learn to recruit enough of the right people to begin doubling in size every five years. This will provoke the need to maintain unity between new and veteran teammates from radically different generational cultures. Because the North American sending base cannot alone accomplish the task, we need to learn how to send missionaries from other countries and empower national colleagues better to achieve the mission. We will continue to develop strategic partnerships with like-minded agencies and movements. All these dynamics will provoke the need to learn to cooperate to an ever increasing degree with people from other cultural backgrounds. We will need to learn to create multicultural teams in a way that overcomes the challenge of interpersonal clashes inherent to different cultural points of view.

We need new access strategies. We will need to be able to quickly incorporate new local non-profit ventures, new local businesses, and new international non-profit ventures that can more readily gain access to the parts of the world where the last remaining Scriptureless groups live.

We will need better technology. As we gradually work on languages with fewer and fewer speakers in the coming decades, many of the language projects needed will be closely related to languages that already have Scripture. We will need to develop the capacity to implement effective adaptations from one related language to another. We will need better information technology tools to help us collaborate with our partners in the Bible Translation movement to ensure that we don’t duplicate efforts. As cell phone and internet access spread out into minority language communities, we will need to innovate ways to provide digital access to Scripture for the minority languages where we work.

We will have to discover ways to empower our translators to finish projects more efficiently. We must set the example as a team not just how to begin projects, but how to finish them –not to be busy with activities but to efficiently achieve the results that are consistent with our mission and vision. We must grow as a team in our ability not only to translate but to see networks of churches using Scripture to grow, to mature, and to multiply. We must cultivate our ability to be an effective pioneering force using the resources of the church with the utmost integrity and efficiency to be the hands and feet of our donors fulfilling the Christ-ordained mission of the church.

We will need to not only plant churches where there are none, but churches that transform every aspect of their language context –churches that bring not only the message of salvation, but overcome injustice and poverty. In those areas that have received Scripture but are not yet using it, we will need to innovate ways to model Scripture use, help them engage Scripture at a deeper level to develop relevant, penetrating local theologies, and work alongside them to fully impact their communities with the powerful ideas of the Bible in their language.

We ourselves will need to be transformed by the power of Scripture and God’s Holy Spirit to an ever-increasing degree. We must grow in our knowledge and passion for God, learning to increase our impact under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We will need to fully realize the power of our primary strategy of prayer, depending on God to show us the full measure of his glory. As we bring the Church into language communities that have never had Christ in their context, we will need to become the kind of people who can model the values of the Kingdom in our own lives. To arrive at the desired future, we must learn to become a powerfully unified team moving to pioneer the solutions to these problems together.

In light of the current situation in the world, we cannot remain as we are now and achieve our mission to the extent that we see God calling us to do. If we do not discover and innovate the way to fill these gaps, generations of Bibleless peoples around the world will have no way to learn to obey all that Jesus has commanded them to do. They will not be able to come to know and understand God’s Word and the hope it brings for salvation and transformation. Many in this generation will never come to hear that God loves them and that he made a way through Jesus for them to boldly stand in his presence as his forgiven children. Whole communities will go unchanged, lacking access to the life-giving Word of God and the justice that the Kingdom of God brings. People cannot truly live except by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. God is calling us to learn to meet that need on a much greater level.

In order to begin working toward these major goals, what do we need to accomplish in the next six year plan? I estimate that we will need to double in size again over the first five years of our next six year plan, finishing the six years with over 800 teammates. To do that, we will need to build a second 5000 square foot building in Dallas, discovering ways to better control the cost this time. We will need to continue to develop an excellent fundraising division capable of fueling the dreams of our innovative teammates finding a way to budget for the hiring of at least one major donor developer. We will need to augment the number of recruiters we have working fulltime to a minimum of 7. We will need to begin sending at least 15 people from other countries. We will need to effectively train our people to negotiate the challenges of serving on the mission frontier in teams from more than one cultural background. We will need to learn to build skilled multidisciplinary teams that can cooperate to cross language barriers with both church and Scripture simultaneously. We will need to start another 35 or more projects over the six years. We need to finish 7 or more of our current projects to the New Testament phase. We will need to develop the capacity to map out the need for Scripture Impact only projects, locating the translations of the world that have not yet begun to be used. All of these goals are under consideration for the next six year plan and are subject to change as we think through our plans together.

At the fall board meeting the board and available directors will meet a day early to discuss whether this future direction I describe is indeed the way we should go. We will discuss how we need to further adjust these ideas to more closely reflect God’s will for Pioneer Bible Translators. I am also looking forward to further input from my teammates who are reading this.

Pray that we could stay in step with the Holy Spirit as we dream together about what Jesus wants us to do. Imagine a world in which churches with Scripture are transforming every language community! What do we need to become for God to use us and our partners to arrive at that milestone by 2050?

Building for the Bibleless

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I feel like I should have some kind of trumpet fanfare as I announce that we have finished the construction of our first permanent facility in the US. We are still working on a certificate of occupancy from the City of Dallas and working on final details like light poles and landscaping. We should be moving in as soon as we recover from hosting Pioneer Missions Institute. We expect the final cost of the 22 acres of land, the development of the land, and the final cost of the building to end up being around 1.8 million dollars. We have already paid for 1.5 million. We will end up having borrowed internally about $315,000 by the end of the project. We have taken care to borrow the money internally following a board approved plan in such a way that we should have no cash flow difficulties. I intend to find a way to pay back the internally borrowed amount over the coming months. At the longest, it may take as much as two or three years in my current thinking. Please dedicate this facility with us in prayer asking God to use it to accomplish the mission in a powerful way.

Growing the Team for the Bibleless

We are now half way through the fourth year of a six year plan to increase the size of our team by 200 teammates from 185 to 385. In order to realize this growth goal by 2012 we need to end 2011 with 333 teammates. If we continue to pray through the year, I would say the goal is within sight. Last year our personnel numbers grew at an annual rate of 14.7% even though our Pioneer Missions Institute did not increase in number much like I had hoped. This year we have seen the number of students attending this recruitment and training event go from around 65 last year to 95 this year. The opportunity for growth over the next two years because of this fact alone is enormous.

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We currently have right at 100 overseas fulltime career missionaries and another 100 missionaries in preparation –just as many people becoming missionaries as we have on the field! We have another 100 teammates who are interns, short term missionaries, volunteers, and stateside missionaries and staff.

Based on last year’s experience, I attribute a lot of this current recruitment success to the fact that we spent a week maintaining a 24 hour prayer vigil recently. Please continue to pray for the right new teammates to come join our body.

Within Our Reach Campaign

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We have just launched a 3.5 million dollar fundraising campaign by announcing it in our Latest Word publication. The Within Our Reach campaign should help us to 1) achieve higher productivity in our existing fields, 2) get started in new fields with greater momentum, and 3) build the infrastructure in Dallas that will move our team into position to achieve our future vision. The campaign should raise about $2.25 million for overseas needs and $1.25 million for the next phase of our building campaign. We already have about 38% either pledged or in hand.

Earlier this year the Papua New Guinea branch prayerfully decided that God had called them to build housing to host their national colleagues in Madang so that they can better empower the local people to get and use Scripture in their own communities. The project will allow them to hold training events and accomplish other translation related tasks together in Madang. When they decided to proceed with the building, we had no idea if there would be a way to pay for it. We only knew that we had identified that project as the first priority for the Within Our Reach campaign. To start the project they needed $77,000. Thanks to the power of God working through this campaign, we had $64,000 already in hand from donors who have gotten on board with the campaign. Not really knowing where the rest of the money would come from, we said, “Everyone pray over the weekend and let’s see what comes in on Monday.” On Monday a check for $18,000 came. I was stunned. I took that as a sign that God is working through this campaign. By the end of the year, we will need more than $100,000 for that project alone, but many other needs are pressing. Pray with us that God would continue to use this campaign to meet the needs of our team at just the right time.

Resources for the Bibleless

Our general fund is in better shape now than it ever has been at this time of year. Partly this comes from having more income now, but we have also been tightly controlling expenses. Our plan is to remain sacrificially cautious with expenditures until we can finish paying for the building and fully understand what kind of overhead costs will be associated with working in the new facility. In spite of the economic challenges of our time, our overall income has been healthy, enjoying an increase of 9.6 percent in 2010. Please continue to pray for us to have the resources to accomplish our mission.

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We have been praying that God would show us how to diversify our sending base to include people from other countries. To attain the exponential growth we need to achieve the mission, we have seen that our traditional North American sending base will not be sufficient. We have begun to seek ways to mobilize mature churches and gifted teammates from other countries who want to participate in our mission and vision. We are beginning right now a new venture with three potential candidates that we will train and send from Eastern Europe to some of the more challenging areas in the former Soviet Union nations where another world religion dominates. We also continue to investigate how we can partner with Brazilian missionaries in Portuguese speaking nations of Africa. We have also begun to consider what it would take to send missionaries from the Philippines to Southeast Asia. Pray with us for God to swell our ranks and keep our unity as we grow in this direction.

The last remaining Bibleless peoples live in difficult to access places where governments would lose face by allowing missionaries with a group called Pioneer Bible Translators to enter their nation. Consequently, we will be incorporating other non-profits and businesses. The new entities we will develop are intended to allow governments to give us visas so we can offer godly assistance to their citizens while achieving our mission and vision in those places with integrity and showing respect for the local government.


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As the personnel and finances coming into PBT have been increasing, we are struggling to see a corresponding increase in the output of our team in the form of greater translation progress and Scripture Impact progress. This increase will come, but it takes time for us to get new teammates into productive ministries.

The graph above shows how many verses we have currently refined at each stage of the translation process. The area in bold shows how much we have accomplished since last November. We have now drafted over 515,000 verses of the Bible, the equivalent of 65 New Testaments. Please continue to pray for the Tay and Waran projects of Papua New Guinea to complete the New Testament. They are pretty much in the home stretch, but that can still take years. Also pray for the East Africa branch that has many projects rapidly approaching a complete New Testament. Keep praying for our translators to be inspired by God as they generate quality translations that have a powerful impact on their language communities.

Don’t stop praying for our PBT team. Our future plans are bold beyond reason. The things we plan to achieve seem beyond the realm of human possibility. But we have learned over the last years that the things we pray matter more than the resources we have. When we set the goal to double in size from 2007 to 2012, we couldn’t propose any list of practical steps we would take except tapping into God’s power through prayer. Now here four and a half years later we are on target. Looking back we still don’t know how God did it. What could God really do with us? Is there a limit to his power? Is his arm too short for any task? I have come to believe that there is no end to his glory and his ability to answer prayer. He has boundless passion for the Scriptureless and churchless peoples of the world. As we fall to our knees in reliance on him, praying to do what he is most passionate about in this world, there really is no limit to how God can use us. Below we have listed our current strategic prayer requests. Prayer is our strategy, so I invite you as you read this to lift these matters up to God.

Strategic PBT Prayer Requests

  • That God would inspire great progress in the 49 translations we have started
  • That God would show us how to maximize the impact of these scriptures to grow the Church
  • For perfect unity of purpose and heart in our team
  • That God would expand PBT International to send teammates from other countries
  • For Tay and Waran projects to finish the New Testament –praise that Susu is published
  • For God to provide an accountant for the East Africa Branch and for Vanuatu and an accountant, various support and translation personnel, and a Branch Director for PNG
  • That PBT personnel would be allowed by the government to live among minority ethnic groups in Mainland Southeast Asia who do not yet have access to Scripture in their own language
  • That God will help get 24/7 prayer going for PBT, world evangelism, and Bible translation. Right now 40% of the hours in each week are covered.
  • For God to bring the right new people to our team for a total of 333 teammates in 2011 and 385 teammates by end of 2012
  • That God would bring 1 more recruiter, 2 IT specialists, and 1 media specialist to work in the ISC in 2011
  • Praise that God has led us to four new fields well before the end of 2012 just as we prayed
  • For God to provide $2.25 Million for field needs and $1.25 Million for Phase III in Dallas between 2011 – 2013
  • That God would help us start projects to meet the identified needs in our fields so that PBT could become a team that translates Scripture for 33 million people in 69 languages by 2014.
  • For the construction of the building in Dallas in May 2011 and for God to provide all the funds needed to complete the building
  • That God would empower us to develop the Forum of Bible Agencies IT to help provide enduring access to all languages
  • That God would bless PBT’s finances, strengthening the general fund to meet needs around the world, and that he would help new teammates raise support

That all may hear,

Greg Pruett
President, Pioneer Bible Translators

Greg Pruett

Greg has served as President of Pioneer Bible Translators since 2007. He, his wife Rebecca, and their three children served in West Africa for more than twelve years, completing the Bible in the Yalunka language. He has a degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M, and a Masters and a Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He also has linguistic training from the University of North Dakota and the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics.

twitter: @GregJPruett

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