FAQsHere are some common questions
What is Lutheran Bible Translators, and what does LBT do?
Lutherans started LBT in 1964 to make God’s Word accessible to everyone—literate or not, educated or not—in the language of their hearts. In addition to written translations, we communicate Scripture audio-visually. We’re involved in Scripture Engagement and literacy programs.
There is no “Lutheran Bible.” There is a German Bible (the Luther Bible) translated by Martin Luther and printed in 1534. And there are Bibles with study notes written from a Lutheran perspective.
Simply, we are Lutherans who translate the Bible into languages that do not have God’s Word available to them.
How many people still need Bibles in their heart language?
Fewer than 700 of the more than 7,000 languages in the world have translations of the complete Bible. Fewer than 1,600 have a translated New Testament. That means about 180 million people today do not have any Scripture available in their language.
Why not just teach them English?
Your heart language is the language you grow up speaking surrounded by people speaking the same language. You experience love, fear, hate, courage – all while speaking about them with the people who are most meaningful in your life. Often central to that group of meaningful people is your mother, hence the common term mother tongue.
Messages are communicated best in a person’s mother tongue, or heart language. The hearer or reader can process the information on an emotional heart-felt level, rather than just an intellectual one.
Once you are an adult, it is almost impossible to gain native fluency in another language.
Who supports this work?
Lutheran Bible Translators is supported solely by churches, church organizations and by individuals with a heart for missions. LBT does not receive direct funding from Lutheran synodical bodies.
Some of us give money. Some of us give time in our homes (and churches) praying. Some of us give time working overseas (or stateside). We are all Lutheran Bible Translators.
We invite you to visit Giving Options to learn how you can help make God’s Word accessible to people in the language of their hearts. Visit our Projects Center for specific opportunities. Visit our prayer center to keep up to date on prayer requests. Visit our recruitment pages to see if Lutheran Bible Translators might be a good match for your service in God’s Kingdom advance.
Are you part of LCMS?
Lutheran Bible Translators is an independent Lutheran organization and does not receive direct funding from any synod or denomination. However, LBT has fostered a close partnership with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and is a Recognized Service Organization (RSO).
How long does translation take?
When the Nsenga of Zambia invited Lutheran Bible Translators to help with a translation project, they were ready to go. Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Church missionaries had done a lot of preparation work. Every Tribe Every Nation was ready to fund significant parts of the project. Lutheran Bible Translators missionaries were trained and ready to begin. The New Testament was completed in five years.
The Kisi of Sierra Leone began translation work in the early 80’s. Civil wars interrupted the work (and the entire country) more than once. The whole Bible was published just before the 2015 Ebola epidemic hit. They didn’t want to wait any longer to receive God’s Word. They had a celebration and distribution before the epidemic was over, taking careful precautions to prevent anyone from getting ill.
We begin with an invitation from the national churches and Bible societies to work with a group that has an oral language. When LBT missionaries arrive, they learn the language and culture, build relationships with local people, and work with local language experts to develop a written language.
Excellence takes time. Once translation begins, it involves a lengthy process of creating a draft, making many translation decisions, and reviewing the text many times. They check the text with local people for comprehension. They check the manuscript with experts in biblical languages to be sure the message stays true to biblical intent. To learn even more about the process, visit The Translation Process.
A printed Bible may seem like the conclusion of the process, but it’s only the beginning. When the Bible is printed, audio resources are also created. Scripture engagement and literacy efforts are launched so individuals who speak that language learn to read God’s Word and teach others how to read and understand its truths.
How many missionaries do you have?
As of 2018, there are 29 full time missionaries, 8 adjunct missionaries, and two international associates directly under the care and supervision of Lutheran Bible Translators field administration. In addition we have 15 associate missionaries who receive their primary field care and supervision through other related organizations.
Together they are working over 20 Bible translation projects, 60 Scripture Engagement programs, and four Language Development programs. This work is being done in over 50 different languages in 16 countries.
What training do the missionaries go through?
Our missionaries are trained at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics near Dallas, Texas. The program includes various graduate-level courses in a chosen field, as well as in language and culture acquisition. Depending on a missionary’s background and area of interest, they can also receive training at other institutes.
To learn more about training requirements, visit our page Become a Missionary.
What is missionary life like?
Missionary life offers many difficulties, like sickness, culture stress, difficult living conditions, war, and separation from family, friends, support groups, and the familiarities of home.
On the other hand, missionaries experience many joys, like knowing they are serving faithfully in God’s mission and spreading His Word, making new friends, and experiencing new environments, new foods, a new home, new languages, and new adventures!
Do missionaries learn the local language?
As national coworkers have increasingly higher educational levels and English skills, the need for speaking the local language can vary. However, we encourage all missionaries to learn the local language as much as possible. It encourages local relationships and enables long-term success. It informs better translations.
Most missionaries spend their first year on the field learning language. Hiring a language tutor is the norm, and some missionaries live with local families while they learn the language.
Learning the languages especially helps missionaries who start by creating an alphabet for oral unwritten languages. However, missionaries don’t actually do the translation work; the missionary serves as a translation advisor, working with the national people who understand the language best.
Do I have to be a pastor to be a missionary with you?
No. While a seminary education is beneficial on the field, it is not necessary to be an ordained minister or to have attended seminary to be a missionary with Lutheran Bible Translators.
If you are a LCMS-rostered pastor, educator, or DCE, you can remain on the active roster while serving overseas with us.
It may surprise you to know that many LBT missionaries began as educators and teachers. Skills acquired through the training and certification process are extremely helpful in literacy and Scripture engagement work as well as translation. Teaching experience greatly helps missionaries who train a team of nationals in translation or literacy/Scripture engagement principles.
No matter your background, however, you will need training in translation or literacy/Scripture engagement principles, anthropology or linguistics. You may also require some training in biblical exegesis and analysis, depending on your field of service. If you are pursuing the translation advisor track, a basic proficiency in exegetical skills and in Greek or Hebrew will be necessary. These skills can be achieved through undergraduate studies.
We are also seeking missionary kid tutors and teachers interested in serving in short-term or long-term assignments. See Becoming a Missionary. Our priority opportunities are listed on that page as well.
Can I serve with you even if my gifts do not match your Priority Needs?
There are many ways to be involved in missions that support those doing the work of translation and Scripture engagement, even if they’re not listed.
We need missionary pilots, business managers, computer technicians, and teachers for missionary kids.
Whether with Lutheran Bible Translators or with one of our partner organizations, we will work with you to look for a suitable place for you to serve the Lord!
Do your missionaries have to raise their own support?
Missionary work is the work of the church, not an individual. Each missionary is required to find people who will stand with them in their ministry. Pray for them. Financially support the work they do. Encourage them with words and deeds.
Mission work, just like the creation of a reliable phone or the development of a decent electric car, is expensive. God has provided about half our total expenses through the efforts of missionaries. Office staff, standing on the shoulders of current and past missionaries, raise the other half.
Unlike some mission organizations, Lutheran Bible Translator missionaries are salaried and receive full medical, dental, and life insurance as well as retirement benefits and vacation time. You won’t become rich and famous, just famous (in some circles). And you will be loved and cared for well.