This fall, ten Bible translation agencies—from Wycliffe Bible Translators to Pioneer Bible Translators to the United Bible Societies—will invite givers to visit a single website to see how Bible translation is progressing around the world and to join in this effort by making their contributions. Rather than competing against one another for website visitors, the agencies will allow the collaborative site to connect visitors to the initiatives and organizations that best fit their interests.
That sort of others-centered cooperation is unprecedented in the Bible translation sector, said Dal Anderson, former chief operating officer of Seed Company and Every Tribe Every Nation. As of late 2016, this network of ten heavyweight Bible translation agencies and several resource partners was involved in 90 percent of the translation work done globally. “Those of us working in the Bible translation world know how big of a miracle this is.”
The dramatic shift toward collaboration has delighted givers, who are looking for proven leadership, extraordinary vision, and clear momentum, said David Wills, president emeritus of the National Christian Foundation, one of the largest privately funded nonprofits in the United States.
“If you add collaboration to the mix, the attraction and potential for growth becomes exponential,” he said.
In fact, this time the givers led the way.
“The investors have really challenged us on this,” said Bob Creson, president and CEO of Wycliffe Bible Translators. In some cases, large givers were being pitched by several translation agencies for nearly the same work.
“They patiently said, ‘I love what you’re doing. Please get your act together,’ ” he said.
The vision of an opportunity larger than any agency could accomplish alone was first articulated by Mart Green, who founded Mardel Christian Bookstores and chairs the Hobby Lobby board. He gathered several big givers and the heads of three Bible translation agencies, then laid out a vision for a central digital Bible library. That way, all translations of Scripture would be available to anyone, instead of siloed in separate systems.
While working on the library, the agencies learned to trust each other, and givers were intrigued, Green said. The library launched in 2010; since then, it has gathered more than 1,100 Scripture portions and versions.
“It [didn’t] take too long for them to figure out, ‘Okay, I’m sure glad we didn’t build 10 digital libraries,’ ” he said.
Meanwhile, Todd Peterson, a former professional football kicker who was Seed Company’s interim CEO and former board chair, was also communicating a bigger goal.
“I got a clear vision for inviting our most influential, affluent friends to join us for a weekend and really be challenged with the huge vision of providing for Bible-less people,” he said. (Of the more than 7,000 languages in the world, just over 3,000 now have some Scripture. Just 636 have complete translations, but those languages account for nearly 70 percent of the population.)
At the first weekend gathering, Seed Company financial partners raised a few million dollars, and the organization repeated the event over the following few years. In 2014, celebrating the beginning of the 1,000th language project, more than 100 couples gave a total of $21 million.
“That had never been seen before in the fundraising world for missions,” Peterson said.