A Focus on Literacy

In many language communities, Bibles end up not being used — not because people don’t want Scripture but because of low literacy rates. Without literacy training and classes, it can be difficult for communities to enjoy reading. Literacy opens the door to education and Scripture engagement.

That’s why the Keliko people of South Sudan, who recently received the New Testament in their language, are focusing on literacy in education and the church by hosting literacy workshops.

Beauty From the Ashes

“God, my life is yours. Wherever you take me, whatever you do with me — I want to do that.”

Beth Fuller realized that God couldn't work in her life until she gave up her dream to him. Sometimes that means the dream dies and becomes ashes. But God can take those ashes and make something beautiful out of them.

When you take a step through a door God has opened, you may not know where you’re going to land. But God is right there, ready to carry you. What step of faith is God asking you to take?

Serving a Big God

Serving a Big God
Phoebe

Phoebe Thomas took the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course in college and it changed her life’s trajectory.

Perspectives, a 15-week course about God’s heart for the nations, focuses on mobilizing the American church. Phoebe explained the impact of the course: “I realized I could no longer just follow the plans I had made for myself.”

After graduation, she began training as a Perspectives class coordinator. As she listened to the various instructors, she was intrigued by Wycliffe’s laser-like focus on translating Scripture. “The more I learned about missions, the more I realized God’s Word in someone’s own language is the best tool for evangelizing the world,” Phoebe said. “I was drawn to Wycliffe because it was a large organization that was innovative, forward-thinking and run efficiently.”

Because she had gone to a K-12 bilingual school and majored in both French and Spanish in college, Phoebe assumed she would be a linguist and translator. But after attending a week-long Wycliffe event exploring Bible translation, she realized that this type of language work was not her skill set.

Instead, after talking with Wycliffe missionaries who worked in non‑language roles, she realized that there were other ways she could serve in Bible translation.

FINDING HER FIT

In 2017 Phoebe headed to West Africa to serve in an administration role. But after several very challenging months, she found herself questioning her assumptions of what a “real missionary” looked like.

Phoebe said: “Africa was not a good fit for me, but it was hard for me to come to grips with that initially.” She elaborated: “You set your mind to do something and think you are capable of doing anything and then you realize, ‘Hang on, I can’t do this in a way that’s healthy.’ I could have stayed [in Africa] and white-knuckled my way through it, but I wouldn’t have been very useful or fun or pleasant to have around. [I had to realize] it was just as holy a calling to be here [in the U.S.] as it was to be there.”

Phoebe in Peru, standing next to a beautiful lake

Today Phoebe uses her God-given talents at Wycliffe USA’s Orlando headquarters, helping people encounter the transforming work of Bible translation. It’s something that’s impacted Phoebe’s own life. “Scripture is how I know who God is,” she said. “It’s an immense privilege to have it in a language and form I can understand.”

Currently, Phoebe coordinates vision trips for financial partners who want to visit the countries and people they’re supporting. She takes care of all the logistics, plans the travel and even accompanies the people on the trips to look after their needs. She loves it!

“Many of the people consider [Bible translation] to be just an idea when they are giving,” Phoebe noted. “But when they can see it firsthand, their passion and their commitment to Bible translation is deepened quite significantly. It’s not just an idea, but it’s a person and a place. It’s much more tangible.”

USED BY GOD … WHENEVER AND WHEREVER!

Recently Phoebe helped a Wycliffe translator and her financial partners to travel to Peru for a Bible dedication. The woman had served in the language project many years ago, and the financial partners had prayed for and invested in the woman’s ministry for decades. But none of them thought they could ever travel to Peru for the dedication. “It was really really special,” Phoebe shared. “And if I hadn’t been able to coordinate that trip for them, they never would have been able to go.”

Group with Peru mountains in the background

Phoebe is currently thriving in her role, but the position hadn’t even existed when she left West Africa and came to Orlando. Because she was available and serving in the department at the time, she was able to hone in on a need and help grow it into the critical position that it is now.

“The people who work here in Orlando and in the U.S. are just as passionate and committed to the work of Bible translation as those who work overseas,” Phoebe shared. “The Lord just uses them differently. [Both types of roles] are important, valuable and useful. [I had to realize] God can’t just use me in one place. If that was true, then I would serve a small God. But that’s not who he is. If that’s how I view him, then my view of him is quite small.

“... I serve a big God.”

How to Find God in Your Questions

How to Find God in Your Questions
Man standing in grassy field, looking toward the horizon

In a remote village in Papua New Guinea, God taught me to ask him the right question.

Our friend Kwefi — a young, local Christian mother — had just died in childbirth, and I was angry at God. Kwefi had modeled what it meant to really follow Jesus as a woman and wife in her culture. She had been making an impact on others too. She had so much promise.

"Why, God? Why did you let her die?” I yelled. I was desperate and insistent for answers.

I anticipated God’s answer. Maybe he would admit in a soft whisper that her death was an unfortunate mistake but that “these things happen.” Perhaps then he would apologize for allowing it to happen, since it had hurt me.

Or, if he wanted, maybe God would audibly speak to me like he did for people in Scripture, and explain his cosmic plan.

But instead there was only silence.

The day after Kwefi died, I read 2 Kings 2, where Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha is left behind, facing the sudden loss of his friend and mentor. I easily imagined how Elisha might have cried out in grief like me, wondering why God had taken Elijah away. But unlike me he asked: “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” (2:14a, NLT; emphasis mine).

God gently showed me that asking “why?” wasn’t what I should have focused on; I should have asked, “where?” This is the question God delights in answering. Modeling Elisha’s example, I changed my question. In my confusion, pain and loss, I simply asked: “God, where are you?”

God’s response came to me with the clarity and assurance only his Word can bring. I recalled Proverbs 18:24: “… There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (NIV). Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:20 provided me comfort: “And be sure of this: I am with you always” (NLT).

I began to remember verses like Isaiah 49:15-16, too: “Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands” (NLT).

God spoke to me in those promises, assuring me of his constant presence and closeness. But when I failed to ask God the right questions, I was met with dissatisfying answers that lead to misguided conclusions about who he was.

As you look at your present and toward your future, what questions are you asking God?

While we want to serve and obey Jesus, how often do we find ourselves asking questions that focus on us, rather than God? We ask him: “What will people think of me?” or “What if I fail?” or “Can God really use me?”

As believers, we understand God’s heart for the nations and his mandate to make his name known. We can ask questions like: “Lord, will you use my skills to make your name known and great among the nations?” If we dare to ask these kinds of questions, we will find that God answers.

The Bible says that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Dare to ask, “What am I doing right now that requires faith and trust in God to accomplish his purposes?”

Keep asking and seeking God in your questions and his answers.

“Little Fingers” Bring God’s Word to Life

“Little Fingers” Bring God’s Word to Life
Terese Harwood with Deditos,

As a writer for the Wycliffe Gift Catalog, I love learning about all the projects we feature, but this year there’s one that’s especially close to my heart: children’s Bible story videos for the Steep Mountain Zapotec in Mexico.

The name of the Bible story video series is “Deditos,” which means “little fingers” in Spanish. The videos use finger actors to share Old Testament Bible stories with kids who might never have heard them in their language before — and the production process for these videos is so neat!

About 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Viña Studios in Guatemala, where the videos are made. Recently, Teresa Harwood — a friend who interned with our team in 2016 at the Wycliffe office in Orlando — started working with Viña.

Because of my special connection to the project, I wanted to share some behind-the-scenes details with you! Check out my conversation with Teresea below as we discuss the amazing "Deditos" project!

Video production of Deditos

How are the “Deditos” videos produced?

Teresa: The videos begin with biblical research. Our biblical consultant talks with the scriptwriter about the vision for the story to ensure the videos are aligned with biblical truth. Then the screenwriter writes the script. A committee composed of the scriptwriter, the biblical consultant, and the dramatic director meet together to revise the script. Together, they work through the script, looking at it from all angles — cultural, visual and storyline.

Then voice actors record the finalized script, and filming begins. Originally this involved a finger actor in front of elaborate sets created by the Viña staff. With the advancement of technology, the finger actors now perform in front of a green screen, and visual effects layer them onto a digitized version of a handcrafted background. Handmade sets are modeled to be as close as possible — geographically and architecturally — to the Old Testament location.

How are the “Deditos” videos used?

Years ago, Sololá (the area where Viña Studios is located) had a New Testament in Kaqchikel, but the Old Testament had not yet been translated. The Viña staff saw that there wasn’t any material specifically for children, which made the “Deditos” videos vital for sharing Bible stories with children in the area.

Viewing Deditos in front of the green screen on a video camera screen viewer
Deditos in action

In addition to creating the videos, Viña has created five lesson plans for each video that help the audience better understand the biblical story portrayed, how they are a part of that story and how that story is applicable to their lives.

A local church in the Steep Mountain Zapotec area has been reaching out to children in the area. The result is a growing number of children who are attending church, even if their parents do not. The “Deditos” videos will provide the church with materials to help the Zapotec children grow in their faith.

What was your journey to working at Viña Studios in Guatemala?

I had the privilege to work with Wycliffe at their headquarters in Orlando, Florida during the summer of 2016. Part of my role as a writer for the advancement department was helping with the 2016 Wycliffe Gift Catalog. I combed through field reports, which gave me a glimpse into the work that the Lord was doing throughout all parts of the world via Wycliffe. I had already felt the call to be a missionary, but seeing reports about lives transformed by the gospel convinced me that the Lord was calling me to not only give my money to him, but also to give him my life for the sake of the gospel.

When I finished college, I was unsure what I would do next. During a season of prayer, friends at Wycliffe sent me a job description for a graphic design intern with Viña Studios. I thought and prayed about it, and began the application process. The Lord confirmed me going and, in January 2018, I moved to Guatemala as a Wycliffe intern for Viña Studios. I fell in love with Guatemala, what the Lord was doing and how I could be a part of his work there.

After a brief time back in the United States, I returned to Guatemala in March 2019, and now serve at Viña Studios as a missionary with an organization called Missionary Ventures.

Why are you excited to see a “Deditos” video featured in this year’s Wycliffe Gift Catalog?

One of the actors with finger puppets on each hand.

Children love “Deditos,” and Christ has drawn people to himself through the videos. The videos are used here in Guatemala and by organizations around the world — including Peru, the Philippines, Colombia, Thailand, Egypt and many others — to bring the Word of God to children in their language. The videos are so effective because many people globally cannot read or write their own language. Through the videos, people are able to experience Bible stories in a way that wasn’t possible for them before.

The videos are doing big things, using such small fingers!

Let’s Make a Gratitude Tree!

Let’s Make a Gratitude Tree!
Mack wearing a Santa hat

The holidays are a great time to stop and thank God for all the things he’s done for us. Maybe your family goes around the table and shares things you’re thankful for on Thanksgiving.

But how often do we stop to write down the things we’re grateful for? Probably not as often as we should! In the Bible, we hear about “remembrance stones.” Read Joshua 4 and see how the Israelites used stones to help them — and all the people who would live after them — to remember what God had done for them when he let them cross the Jordan River on dry ground.

Instead of making stones to help us remember the amazing things God has done for us, we’re going to make a gratitude tree. Let’s stop and thank God for his goodness in our lives!

The Greatest Gift

The Greatest Gift
Shopping That Shares God's Word

Are you ready for Christmas? It might feel super early to even say this, but once the calendar turns to October the transition from pumpkins to Christmas trees seems to happen in a matter of days!

For Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, this month officially marks the kick-off of the Christmas season because our annual gift catalog is now ready for you! The 2019 edition includes more opportunities than ever for you to help people discover Jesus the Savior — the greatest gift! — for the first time, get their first New Testament, or even receive the first full Bible in their language!

A Gift of Hope
Wycliffe's 2019 Gift Catalog

Something for Everyone

We invite you to prayerfully select gifts that resonate with your heart for people in need of God’s Word. You can also make this special Christmas shopping experience a family affair — decide together where to give a special year-end gift, or have everyone draw a name and each give toward a project to honor that family member. (We even provide downloadable cards for you to wrap.)

Gifts that Change Lives

Whether the gift you choose provides translated Scripture in song, video, print or audio, every project featured helps share the story of Jesus in a language and form that will speak to the recipient’s heart. That’s what brings real change!

The power of the gospel deeply impacted Uiko, the Japanese Sign Language Bible team’s on-screen signer, translator and project manager. “I had no intention of changing my mind [about Christianity]. It was just a job,” she recalls. “But then … I saw God’s Word come to life on screen, and it began to change me. I gave my life to Christ.”

This Christmas season, help more people like Uiko discover the life‑transforming power of the Good News!

Transformational Prayer: Talking With God as His Masterpiece

Transformational Prayer: Talking With God as His Masterpiece
creation

“Mom.”

“What, sweetie?”

“Hi… Mom. Mom. Mom, Mom, Mom! Mom?”

“Do you need something?”

“Nope... Mom. Mom. Mom.”

“Are you wanting to talk with me, or are you just talking at me?”

I know I’m not the only one who’s had conversations like this. My kids know how to push my buttons like nobody else, and this kind of exchange is especially frustrating — which is why they find it especially funny. 

Few of us like being talked at; we prefer conversations where we’re active participants. But how often do we talk at God, saying our piece, stringing words together out of mindless habit and never pausing to listen?

If we approach God simply wanting to be heard, we’ll miss out on a powerful gift: transformation by the Master Artist.

The Artist and the Masterpiece

When God made man, he didn’t speak him into being the way he had with the rest of creation: “Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person” (Genesis 2:7, NLT).

worshipping
God sculpted Adam out of the soil with intention and care. He even shared a portion of himself, his own breath, to give man life. But God’s masterpiece soon ignored his Maker and did what he thought would fulfill him. As a result, death and decay entered a perfect world.

God could have discarded humankind like a potter tossing aside a lump of unyielding clay, but he didn’t. Instead, he sent Jesus to bring life to our dead, rigid places and make it possible for our Maker to sculpt us into the masterpiece we were meant to be.

Not Done Yet

We have to recognize that we’re becoming God’s masterpiece. That means we’re not done yet. My youngest child will sometimes ask me how to do something and then immediately say, “Never mind. I already know.” Often, though, her confidence isn’t based in reality and she ends up in frustrated tears because she’s unwilling to admit that she’s still learning.

I’ve had the same attitude talking with God. I tell him about a problem I want him to fix — and then I tell him how to fix it. I don’t want to admit that I’m still learning, so I proudly approach him like I’m already a finished product. But my posturing doesn’t fool God. 

Being Still

Pride tries to tell us that we have all the answers; it fools us into thinking that we can tell God what he should do. Proverbs 16:9 warns us that “we can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps” (NLT). 

praise hands

We’re humbled as we’re reminded that we can come to God in prayer asking for what we want, but that ultimately God is the one directing our steps not us. God is the one who accomplishes everything in us and the world around us; as we pray, we simply get to pay attention to and be part of what he’s already doing. Because he’s in control, we can release our pride and follow Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world” (NLT). God’s glory will be known as we are still, not in spite of our stillness. 

We’re invited to pray as God’s friends, ambassadors and children, confidently asking him to accomplish his will and unreservedly pouring out everything in our hearts. But I believe the most powerful form of prayer can happen in stillness, when we say the fewest words. When we sit silently in God’s presence, humbly waiting and listening, we create space for the Holy Spirit to speak as he brings truth to our minds, reveals what’s hiding in our hearts and helps us see past the veil of our own understanding. 

The Holy Spirit reshapes us to look more like Jesus as we learn his heart: “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord — who is the Spirit — makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NLT).

Being Transformed

Being changed into Jesus’ glorious image isn’t simply a shift in our behavior and attitudes — it’s a complete reworking of our identity as we take hold of the truth that we’re new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

God’s transforming power is no small thing: “
I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 1:19-20, NLT). The power that broke death is the same power that’s transforming us from the inside out as we hold still and let the Master Artist work.

Transformational prayercoming before God with the goal of listening and being changed is foundational to the Christian life. This is how we learn to live in relationship with him, to talk with him rather than at him. This is how we recognize and become attentive to his voice as he speaks to us through his Word. 

As we quietly yield to the Master Artist, he pushes aside the clutter we carry and cups us in his gentle, scarred hands, sculpting us into breathtaking masterpieces who reflect his own radiance.

Your Turn to Talk With God

As you think about talking with the Master Artist, consider these questions and listen for his answers:

  • What most often keeps me from taking the time to be still and listen for what God is saying?

  • How have I seen God change me to reflect his radiance?

  • In what areas do I need to allow the Holy Spirit’s death-to-life power to transform me?

Teaching Missionary Kids Overseas

Not everyone is called to translate the Bible but, as Christians, all of us are called to use our gifts to serve God’s kingdom.

Hannah Kelly stepped out in faith when she felt God calling her to serve missionary kids as a special education teacher in Southeast Asia. With each next step she took, God showed Hannah how he had specifically called her to serve in this role. “I’m just so thankful that God can use the things that he’s made me good at to serve his kingdom,” she said.

See how Hannah realized her role as a teacher plays an important part in the work of Bible translation.

Glimpses of Grace: Life in Vanuatu

Glimpses of Grace: Life in Vanuatu
The Smith Family

Every workday Michael Smith walks across his lawn to go sit in a small house with his co-translator, Derek. Together, they’re painstakingly translating Mwotlap Scripture to make sure it’s clear, accurate and natural.

“Translation is a discipleship process,” Michael explained. “[It’s] working verse by verse with someone for the whole New Testament … until they can explain it backward and forward in their own language.”

Michael was originally an engineer, but became fascinated with translation when he went to Papua New Guinea in 1999 to visit his aunt and uncle who worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators. “I knew it was something I wanted to get involved in, but I thought it would be in the long-distance future,” he laughed.

But only three years later he was back in Papua New Guinea to help Bible translators with IT issues and to substitute teach at the high school. Michael quickly realized that he wanted to be directly involved in Bible translation. When he returned to the U.S., he studied linguistics at a graduate school in Texas. While there he fell in love with both the missions community and his future wife, Danielle. Danielle had also served overseas in French-speaking West Africa, and was in the process of finishing her master’s degree in linguistics.

Between Michael’s previous experience in the Pacific and Danielle’s understanding of French, Vanuatu ⁠— an island nation in the Pacific ⁠— seemed like the perfect fit. So in 2009 with a 1-year-old in tow, they embarked on a new adventure together to serve the Mwotlap people. Now 10 years and two more children later, they live on the small island of Rah near the larger island of Mota Lava.

Grace in Living

Today, out of the 110 indigenious languages on Vanuatu, nearly 60 languages are still waiting for a Bible translation.

“Even though there are many churches in Vanuatu, the Gospel is not well known here,” Michael explained. “Christian activity is reduced to ticking boxes. So as long as you show [up] for church work days and services, you are good to go. The actual teaching in church is all about obedience and very little about who God is or what he has done for us. Once we even heard a pastor say, ‘you have to be perfect to follow Jesus.’ We just don’t hear about grace in the churches here.”

But slowly, people are starting to see glimpses of God’s grace through translation. One new translator from a local church joined Michael and Derek as they worked through the book of Galatians. Michael shared, “Galatians is all about the good news of God’s grace. So, when working through it with him, he got it! He’s now excited to teach this in his church, where people just don't know about this.”

Together, they are now tackling the book of Romans to build on the foundation of the Gospel.

Michael with the team, translating Philemon
Translating Philemon with the newcomers. They are jumping into the deep end, working on Paul's famously complex sentences and averaging one or two verses per hour.

Grace in Challenge

Life in Vanuatu proceeds slowly, and over the last 10 years, Danielle and Michael’s lives have been interrupted by illness, daily living challenges, lack of workers, injuries, travel difficulties and more. They shared about how it was challenging to let go of the typical American values of control and efficiency.

“There’s been a process of accepting that this is not our work that we're in charge of, but saying 'OK God, we know you called us here. We are letting this be in your hands and not imposing our views on the work.’ … My identity as a productive person was taken away, and the only thing that [could] replace it was to be obedient to God. So it's a very different kind of identity, when your focus is on ‘How do I be obedient in this situation?’ rather than ‘How do I be productive in this task?’” Michael said.

But Michael and Danielle keep persevering. “My joy is when I see the lights go on for someone ⁠— when they see grace for the first time, like my co-translator Derek,” Michael said.

Danielle shared a story of Derek living out the grace he discovered in the Word: “Recently, Derek’s tablet was broken by a thief. He was very angry, upset and hurt but also willing to forgive. When Derek reported the theft to the local chiefs, they were very upset. They lined up all the teenagers and began yelling at them, and things began to get very heated. But Derek intervened. He calmed everyone down and reminded them about the justice process, and that they didn’t need to be angry and vengeful, but instead deal with things in the right way.”

“To see someone start to apply the most difficult thing God requires of us, to forgive our enemies,” said Michael. “That’s the sort of thing that really motivates me — to see individuals start to be changed and molded by God's Word.”