This is an article from the March-April 1994 issue: Wycliffe Bible Translators

“Scouting Out The Land”

Wycliffe calls for "Surveyors"to come and help them.

“Scouting Out The Land”

Wycliffe Bible Translators has opened up a new category of workers for "Surveyors" to "scout out the land"-to find out where the most critical need for translation work is. Dr. Ted Bergman is Wycliffe's Language Survey Coordinator. He was formerly a physicist, working on lasers, optics and missiles as a civilian for the U.S. Navy. Ten years ago he quit physics to become a missionary together with his wife, Gwen. He says, "It is amazing how much of my previous experience, God has put to use in language survey coordination." We hope that many will respond to this great opportunity. -Rick Wood

The first step in obeying the Great Commission is to find out who the peoples are that the Great Commission is referring to. Then where they are located and why they are as yet unreached.

Wycliffe Bible Translators has about 40 people at any one time whose assignment is to determine the "who" and "where" and "why" of the unreached peoples. But 40 people simply cannot keep up with the number of people groups needing this kind of assessment. There are over 6,500 languages spoken in the world today, and about half of those have not been surveyed well enough to be able to assign a translation team to minister to that language group. In fact, there are more translators available than language projects identified as places for them to be assigned.

Come and help. If you are able to travel and have the aptitude for this kind of field research, maybe you could help in this critical, first step in fulfilling the Great Commission!

Why Survey?

Before translation or other language projects are begun, certain questions must be answered. First, which of all the varieties of related dialects can be joined to use a single written form and which cannot? For example, American and Australian speech is similar enough that both can use the same written Bible. Second, language proficiency in another language that already has a Bible needs to be assessed. If a group is adequately bilingual, a translation in their language is low priority compared to one that doesn't yet have access to God's word for themselves. Third, the boundaries of each language need to be mapped and compared geographically and linguistically to neighboring languages. Fourth, information is needed on a variety of social, missiological, political and linguistic factors in order to prioritize needs. There are not yet enough translators available to start every language in the world. This forces us to make choices about which ones to start first. Finally, data gathered by surveyors helps to determine appropriate strategies for starting a project, the projected scope of the project, and information for matching the right translator to the right project.

What Is Involved?

Though it varies widely, a surveyor typically spends one week out of four or five "on the road". The rest of the time is spent in analyzing the data, writing reports, and planning the next survey. Two or more people travel together. Often it might include a national colleague with similar training and education and another person who will be the interpreter. Work on the road consists of interviews, filling out questionnaires and administering comprehension tests of various kinds - comprehension of related dialects and of other languages.

Teamwork Is Key

The ideal number of people doing surveys in a country is four or more in addition to the team leader. Not infrequently, we have to operate with fewer because of lack of personnel. Whenever possible, nationals are part of the team. Some are fully qualified colleagues, some are helpers. Singles and married couples without children can more easily do the job than couples with children. That is because special arrangements have to be made for the children while parents are doing field research.

Getting About

Four-wheel drive vehicles are the most common form of travel for teams. Public transport - trains, buses, taxis, and less formal means are also common. Helicopters, canoes and motorcycles are used as well. Surveyors usually spend the night in mission guesthouses, motels and homes.

But I'm Not Trained! Three Kinds Of Researchers Needed

1. Survey Team Members

Most survey team members are university graduates, though not all. (Ed. note: see Editorial on page 3) Additional training starts with an orientation to missionary life with Wycliffe, and two semesters or summer terms with the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). The SIL courses include some basic linguistics, cross cultural training and sociolinguistics - including how to understand multilingual societies and how to do language surveys. After going abroad, there will be about ten weeks of practical training in cross-cultural living and in maintaining a healthy social and spiritual life. At this point, you can start survey work and at least a two year commitment is requested. On the job you can expect experienced mentors to work alongside you to complete your training. You are not left alone!

2. Graduate Intern Program (GRIP)

This is a shortened program designed for people under 30 who are university graduates. It consists of a summer of preparation at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. You then leave your home country and follow the same plan as for members above. After two years you may want to get additional training and join Wycliffe or another mission, or return home to a career. In any case you will have had a very broadening and worthwhile experience as well as having helped in the task of assessing the needs of unreached peoples.

3. Short term helpers

If you really have only 4 to 10 weeks to give, and you would like to combine exposure to missionary life with a meaningful contribution to identifying and documenting unreached peoples, you might consider this. Come to a country and write People Profiles on the languages that we are already working on and those targeted for work to begin. You do this primarily in the country's capital by interviewing translators about their project as they come to the city. But we also arrange at least one trip out to a village where translation is being carried out so that you can see translation and literacy work first hand.

Challenging Aspects

Living on the road can be hard due both to the travel and to sometimes unpredictable or rough accommodations. Desk work is exacting- writing and rewriting reports, struggling with computers. Team work requires Christian grace and cross- cultural adjustment, not only with the nationals, but also with multicultural teammates who come from various backgrounds and countries. Plans often change. Decisions and action must take place despite uncertainties and incomplete information.

Skills Needed And Service Opportunities

Our best surveyors are good at one or more of the following: they can write clearly, they understand principles of research, they are team players, they use initiative and know how to adapt, they meet new people easily, they understand computers, they are good organizers of themselves and of others. Sound impossible? Almost no one is good at them all. But as part of a team wanting to live like Christ and accomplish his Great Commission, it can be done.

Countries where survey teams are operating and needing more researchers to come help, include (not all of these can host short term programs):

Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea (Through Pioneer Bible Translators), Mediterranean Countries, Namibia and Botswana (Through Lutheran Bible Translators), Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, South Asia, Thailand, Togo, Benin and Ghana, Zaire

It is not an endless task. We feel pretty confident that we know almost all the languages that need translation in all of North and South America except for Brazil and a few that we hope to finish in Mexico next year. Would to God that we will be able to say that for the rest of the world by the end of the century or soon after.

Want A New Challenge For Retirement?

Be A Surveyor!

New Zealanders Ben and Winnie Webster worked for the United Nations, but decided they could be more useful as missionaries. Although in their sixties, they worked up their courage and took an entirely new assignment to survey the peoples of Chad along the Chari River for Africa Inland Mission. With them on their team were a nurse and a Chadian Christian pastor.

In the north of Chad the people are Muslim; to the south they are Christian. In between, along the river, they are neither. They follow their traditional, local religion.

On a typical day, the team would drive to a village, find the village leaders and introduce themselves. Winnie's white hair and Ben's arthritic hands drew immediate respect among the people of the town. Winnie and the nurse would begin treating the sick with pills, needles and advice while Ben and the Chadian pastor would find a comfortable spot to sit under a tree and just talk with the village leaders.

The talk, however, was questions like, "Are there any Christians here?" "How well do you understand the language of people in village X?" "What language do the children use?" Ben would either talk in his halting French or use the pastor who would interpret from Chad Arabic. As their conversation drew to a close, Ben would ask if they would like for the pastor to talk, and sometimes they did. But, then the team would have to move on.

"Have you ever thought about your people becoming Christian?," Ben asked a village chief one day.

"Yes, I have often thought about it," the chief replied, "but we really know very little about Christ or Mohammed. There is no one here to teach us."


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