Part of the gathering’s success was its focus on those without access to the Bible and on Jesus’ kingdom instead of the Seed Company’s needs or the fame of its staff, speakers, or musicians, he said. And that sparked an idea in Peterson.
“That was a paradigm shift. I said, ‘This isn’t about Seed Company.’ ”
Peterson suggested that Seed Company share its weekend gathering format and community of substantial givers with the larger translation network, banding with them to cast a unifying vision of working together to translate the gospel into every existing language. He called Green to start a dialogue.
“There’s no way Seed Company will go for it,” Green told him. “But you’re the former chair and acting CEO, so I guess if anybody could get away with it, you could.”
In 2015, Seed Company opened up the event—which is now its best fundraiser—to fellow translation organizations. At the gathering, donors would be exposed to the global need for translation and matched with the most appropriate translation agency based on their passions for particular regions or people groups, even if that agency was not Seed Company.
Building the level of trust to pull off such an event took countless monthly meetings on the part of a steering committee, consisting of agency CEOs and other influencers, directing the coalition. A commitment to transparency was key in an environment where adding an agency to the alliance or even a change in executive leadership could throw off trust. “Transparency goes out the window, and people are reluctant to talk,” Anderson said.
Trust was also built through a commitment to working together through snags and disagreements that has now trickled down to efforts to cooperate at the implementation level.
Today, the coalition’s magnetism has introduced an unanticipated problem, Anderson said. Forming a partnership with the coalition can be more attractive to field partners—the individual missionaries, local churches, and other organizations on the front lines of Bible translation work—than working with one of the organizations alone. So the group has had to choose its engagements carefully, he said. For example, consideration of one prospective partnership continued over a year, with members of the team holding different positions.
“At the end of the day, it’s an environment that looks for unity more than plurality,” Anderson said. The coalition chooses its commitments and endorsements unanimously, or not at all.
The unity on display at the 2015 joint fundraiser clearly inspired givers. Of those who attended, roughly 60 couples gave just under $20 million—about half the attendance but nearly the same amount of money as the 1,000th language celebration the year before.
That means the average gift of $200,000 to one agency in 2014 rose to an average of $300,000 toward Bible translation in 2015, Peterson said. “We saw a $75,000 commitment from the 2014 weekend turn into $600,000 in 2015. We saw $300,000 turn into $1.5 million, and $1 million turn into $3 million.”
The rising tide lifted all of the translation agencies involved, Peterson said. “That was a miracle. God had given us a fresh new vision. He brought unity we had never seen before. And all of a sudden, the donor community was responding with stunning generosity.”
The collaboration popularized a name—illumiNations, a reference to the foretelling of nations coming to the light in Isaiah 60:3—and is still picking up steam. The cooperative agencies are joining their efforts to create a software system to track in real time which languages are being translated and how much of the work is left to do, which will be added to the coalition’s website. They’ll also have a presence at the Museum of the Bible that will open in Washington, DC, in the fall of 2017.