Press Release: June 19, 2024

Local Leaders

Local Leaders: Why partnering with local leaders is important

Sixty years ago, in the early days of Lutheran Bible Translators, translation mission work looked very different than it does now. “At that time, travel and communication were difficult and costly. Educational opportunities were extremely limited in many of the nations where missionaries were sent. When it came to Bible translation work, there was the assumption that a foreign missionary would organize and drive the project and that they were the trained expert who knew best what the project needed,” recalls Regional Director Sarah Esala. 

The emphasis was creating the final product: a translated Bible. Urgency in completion testified to the deep desire of missionaries to reach every tribe and tongue. However, Sarah Esala explains, “the result of decades-long Bible translation efforts was often warehouses storing boxes of undistributed, unused Bibles. By excluding robust community input, [product focus] was raising barriers that would be difficult to overcome and in part lead to those Bibles being stuck in storage.” 

Kerewe community workshop on Acts. (Tanzania)

Careful research and listening to the needs in the communities where the translation work was happening helped to unpack local ownership as one of the most key elements of Bible translation and missionaries began conversations about change. Then, a civil war in Liberia forced missionaries out of the country. Regional Director David Federwitz explains it this way, “We always were working with indigenous people, but we were doing it kind of our own way. Missionary driven questions, work assignments, those kinds of things. But then as time goes on, Liberians who are working in their community, they’re starting to say, oh, what if we did this? That Civil War was a catalyst for moving Lutheran Bible Translators in the direction of more local ownership. I would say that put us probably 5 or 10 years ahead of most of the rest of the Bible translation world. Because we see that local ownership is key.”

Proverbs 4:21 “Fill your thoughts with my words until they penetrate deep into your spirit”

 Today, Lutheran Bible Translators joyfully partners with Bible societies, local churches, literacy organizations, and more. The emphasis is on the expertise and experience of the local leaders who drive their translation programs forward and encourage their communities to engage in the translation process and with God’s Word. This is the body of Christ in action. Today, translated Scripture is more likely to be in the hands of the community rather than sitting dusty on a shelf. 

Listen to more about the importance and joy of partnerships on the Essentially Translatable Podcast. 

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