How to share Scripture with immigrants in their language
By Greg Pruett
Weary from a long trip, I was tempted to ignore the Uber driver on my way home from the airport, but then I remembered missionaries are supposed to share the gospel. (Actually, we’re all supposed to do that!) A little reluctantly, I asked the man, “Where are you from?”
“I’m from Dallas,” he responded.
I could tell the story was more nuanced than that, so I probed a bit more: “Where are your parents from?”
His answer intrigued me: “Ethiopia.”
“What languages do you speak?”
“I speak Amharic,” he replied.
Now we’re getting somewhere, I thought to myself as I pulled out my phone and opened up the Find-A-Bible website (https://find.bible) on my iPhone browser. Stalling for time, I asked, “What other languages do you speak?” while my fingers madly fumbled through the website menus searching for Ethiopia.
My driver looked pleasantly surprised at the invitation to tell his story, “Oh, well, we also speak the language of our hometown, Tigirinya.”
A moment later, a list of Scripture resources for Ethiopia popped up and I saw Tigirinya on the list of 88 living languages in Ethiopia. I clicked the link to open the Bible.is app on my phone and suddenly the sound of the New Testament in Tigirinya, a language spoken by 5 million people in Ethiopia, filled this man’s car, much to his obvious delight.
“Oh, I used to listen to this!” he said.
After a little more conversation, we arrived at my house. As I got out, I clicked the share button on the upper-right corner of the screen, copied the link, and then pasted it into the Uber app in which a passenger can thank the driver. Just like that, I gave this man the New Testament—in both text and audio—in his own language for free! That’s a superpower in my pocket, and it’s available to you, too.
God’s End-Times Game Changer
Powerful Scripture sharing like this wasn’t always possible. It all started to change back in the 1940s with the novel idea that everyone should have the Word in their own language. Back then, many people had no Bible. So, thousands of sacrificial souls from all over the world invested their lives in translating God’s Word in steaming jungles and city centers, and places in-between. These brave men and women dared to pursue a dream and push forward until they finally crested a hill to change what once seemed impossible now seem inevitable.
Today about 1,700 spoken languages and 400 sign languages are still awaiting translation to begin, but more than 130 Bible translation projects are begun per year. So over the next 16 years, every remaining Bible translation project is expected to begin. After another couple of decades, every language that needs Scripture should at least have the New Testament!
Plus, just in time to leverage this new Scripture reality, numerous digital Scripture apps have been created over the last 10 years. For example, people worldwide have downloaded the YouVersion app more than 300 million times. We can see prophecy about to be fulfilled: “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).
Many people portray this as a dark moment in history, but this may be God’s finest hour. He is even now fulfilling Jesus’ end-times prophecy: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). In these end times, God has used the Bible translation movement to make sharable Scripture available to you on any digital device, in the language of virtually anyone you meet worldwide.
You Can Do It
But there’s something missing from the movement . . . you. Most people have no idea God is doing this great thing in our day. Most don’t realize they can translate the Bible into the few remaining languages on earth that don’t have it. For about $38 on the PioneerBible.org website, you can translate a verse of Scripture. Try it.
In addition to translating the Bible, you can distribute it too! Most people walk around oblivious to the explosive evangelistic potential in their pocket. Most haven’t learned and thus don’t even think about how easy it is to seize opportunities to share Scripture in someone else’s language. Even the people I meet who minister to immigrants often focus on teaching them English and helping them adjust to our culture. They don’t realize they could also be texting them John 3:16 in their own language.
How to Master 1,600 Languages
Would you like to be able to share the gospel in 1,600 languages without the mess and fuss of studying? There’s an app for that—actually several. By downloading the YouVersion app, anyone can share the Word with people who speak any of more than 1,200 languages. The Bible.is app has dramatized audio Scriptures in more than 1,400 languages. And, astonishingly, anyone can now text a link from the JesusFilm Media app in any of 1,600 languages—all downloadable for free.
If you meet a person who is deaf, the Deaf Bible app includes video Scriptures in 17 of the world’s 400 sign languages. It’s unlikely you will encounter a person not covered by the Scriptures we now have available.
But it won’t work unless you download the apps on your phone ahead of time and learn to use them. If you wait until you run into someone who speaks another language, it probably will be too late. Pause in your reading—right now—and start downloading these four apps onto your phone.
Here’s how it works.
What if, one day, you are in an airport and you meet a Muslim man who speaks Arabic? He tells you that Jesus foretold the coming of Muhammad in the Bible. You realize he’s talking about Jesus’ promise to send an “advocate” recorded in the book of John. So you pull out your phone, click on the YouVersion app, and search for the word advocate, which takes you to John 15:26. You want to show him the passage, but he reads only Arabic. So, with a click, you switch the language from English to Arabic.
You then select the verse and touch Share at the bottom of the screen. The man has no phone, but he has an email address, so instead of selecting Text, you choose Email, and fill in the man’s address. When that man receives the email, he will see not only that verse in his own language, but by clicking on the link he will also have access to all the YouVersion content on his computer browser. He can also share verses on Facebook. And while the Muslim world often will persecute people seen carrying a Bible, Muslims can study the Bible in relative privacy on their computer or phone since it doesn’t look like a Bible.
One-Stop Digital Scripture Shopping
If you can’t remember any other website or app, at least remember find.Bible—it’s one-stop digital shopping for all Scriptures available in the world. This mobile-friendly Find-A-Bible website will help you find Scripture tools for virtually anyone you meet.
Suppose, for example, you meet someone in your neighborhood from Ghana, and you discover he has never had a Bible of his own. Help your neighbor by accessing the find.Bible website and searching for his country. After clicking on Ghana, a list of languages will pop up (with the number of resources available in each one in brackets). Follow the links to find the Scriptures. Share them via your phone. And just like that, you are a Scripture superhero.
Flooding the Earth with Knowledge of God
Imagine how cell phones and digital Scriptures can fuel disciple-making movements, Bible studies, and the creation of new churches worldwide. In 2015, I went to Eastern Europe to train some of our partners to translate the Bible. When we arrived, we learned our partners had brought four pastors from a Romani language group to the training class. These are people we often call “gypsies.” They explained they were preaching, teaching, singing, and praying among their people in their version of the Romani language, but they were forced to use the Russian Bible since they didn’t have one in their Romani dialect. They came to the class hoping we could start a Bible translation project in their language.
I immediately searched various websites to make sure a translation didn’t already exist. I had almost concluded that a new translation project was needed, when I found the dramatized audio recording of the entire New Testament on the Bible.is app in their Romani dialect, but it was done in another country. I was afraid it might be a radically different dialect. When I played the dramatized audio for our friends on my phone, their eyes lit up. It was indeed their language, with only minor differences. We downloaded the audio recording for them on Secure Digital (SD) chips and flash drives. They stayed up late into the night listening to the New Testament in their own language for the first time ever.
One man said, “When you have the Bible story in your own language you understand it better. When I was reading Russian, I spent so much time trying to understand each word. With this, I don’t have to spend all that time processing words I don’t understand. It’s easy!”
Armed with this translation, these dynamic pastors immediately began planning how to start new Bible studies in Romani encampments and dreaming of developing new churches.
“Our people love music, dance, and drama,” one of the pastors told us later. “We will need videos in our language too!”
I said, “Oh, I forgot to mention it. You also have the Jesus Film dubbed in your language.” I clicked on the Jesus Film Media app, and smiles lit up their faces as Jesus Christ started speaking Romani on my cell phone!
This isn’t an isolated case. As I travel, I often meet people who are unaware Scripture has been translated into their language. There is unbelievable and untapped potential here. Every Christian everywhere can now share the Word of God in most every language!
How hard is it for you to learn how to use this superpower? Why not take a little time to explore these apps and websites? Surely God will bring opportunities your way to distribute the Word of God to the people you meet.
With great power comes great responsibility. You may not feel like the hero that people deserve, but maybe with these Scripture apps, you can be the hero they need.
Greg Pruett serves as president of Pioneer Bible Translators.