Saturday, 25 June 2011
By Justin at Faith and Geekery
I’ve discovered over the years that missionaries are some of the most geeky people out there.
I’m guessing part of this inclination is born out the need to innovate with limited resources, including money and energy. The first time I remember using a Linux desktop computer was from a missions group in Chicago over a decade ago. During my times in remote Alaska, I met people who wrote their own software for their radio stations and built their own computers (that’s also where I discovered that the older computers would run faster and burn CDs with fewer errors when I installed BeOS on them).
And then there’s the missionary in Ecuador who created a flying car. That’s on top of the portable dental office he created.
For years, missionaries have used solar power to operate small cassette players and radios that would enable Bible readings in places where such a practice was either difficult or outright illegal. Trans World Radio still finds this way of distribution beneficial, although they now have added wind-up MP3 players along with traditional radios.
Unsurprisingly, internet access is a valued resource for missionaries, when it’s available.Yet in places where electric power isn’t around, people are using satellite internet and solar power to get online to speed up Bible translations. CNN had a great story recently about the innovations of Wycliffe Translators, and their desire to see the Bible translated into a many languages as possible:
With approximately 6,900 languages in the world, the satellite terminal is expected to cut in half the amount of time left to translate the remaining 2,000-plus languages Wycliffe is working on or hopes to be working on soon.
“It has increased the speed we thought it was going to take, 150 years. … It’s now going to be 2038 when it’s completed,” said Wycliffe’s president and chief executive officer, Bob Creson.
Translators in the field can now communicate with linguists through e-mail on the satellite terminal, eliminating the huge amount of time needed to travel back and forth from district or regional offices.
In places where power isn’t otherwise available, missionaries are putting up solar panels to get the satellite modems to work. Not a bad idea, considering part of the goal is to put the Bible into indigenous languages. While tribal groups and minorities might speak the majority language in many countries, it’s neither the language they speak in their homes or to their friends — nor the language their parents and grandparents taught them. And with language comes tradition and identity, something that might feel a bit distant when reading a Bible that’s written in someone’s second or third language.
I love this quote from a translator in Jamaica:
Burchrum Gail grew up speaking Jamaican Creole, or Patwa. As a Wycliffe translation coordinator in Jamaica, Gail agrees hearing the Bible in his native language generates a strong reaction.
“It validates me as a person. It also makes the scripture resonate more with me,” he said.
“Whenever I hear God’s word in my language, which has (had) such negative associations, it lifts me up and puts me on a level playing field with people who have the Bible in English, French or these prestigious European languages,” Gail continued. The translation in his native tongue makes him want to “spread the word of God.”
And on that note, I recently came across a few blogs that talk about the mixing of missions work and geekiness — many of which are showing how to do work with minimalist technology. One of which is Missionary Geek, written by a man who works among the deaf in Argentina. A recent post talks about making existing technology work instead of using an expensive digital recorder, while another suggests good tourist sites which help new missionaries get acclimated.
Any other missions-oriented geek blogs out there that I should know about? Any missionaries who have used their geeky tendencies in the field? Let us know!
(photos via Wycliffe Bible Translators Blog)