Why bother: with language and scripture engagement?

We asked Bruce Rossington, AIM’s Scripture Engagement Consultant why literacy and language is worth investing in and what benefit it has in reaching the unreached with the good news of Jesus Christ…

My love of languages and cultures

With the benefit of hindsight, I can trace my interest in languages and cultures back to my time in secondary school. Some of my best friends were from ethnic minority backgrounds – I used to love going to Vikas’ house after school and sample his mum’s Indian cooking. Summer camping holidays in France led eventually to a degree in French, and my year abroad as a teaching assistant in a French lycée was my first extended cross-cultural experience.

“…the challenge will be to translate Scripture into their language for the first time…”

Although I qualified as a lawyer and practiced that profession for ten years, my love of languages and cultures did not diminish, and at the heart of my call to mission was a desire to make God’s Word accessible to those whose language and culture are a barrier to faith in Christ. In 2006 this led Jan, my wife, and I to Rwanda. After learning language and culture on a two year TIMO team, I spent three years at a local Bible college, training pastors how to let God’s Word speak into post-genocide Rwanda.

Sowing the seeds through scripture

During our time on TIMO, Jan and I spent our ‘month out’ with a couple who had invested their lives in translating the New Testament with a North Kenyan people group called the Rendille. As Jan and I witnessed at first hand the way in which the availability of Scripture in their mother tongue had sown the seeds of a Christ-centred Rendille church, we both had the sense that this was something we should get involved in at some point in our lives.

The opportunity came sooner than we anticipated – when our time in Rwanda came to an end in 2011, the Lord opened up an opportunity for us to be seconded to SIL-Cameroon, a Wycliffe organisation that is helping Cameroonians to translate Scripture into the country’s 270 plus languages. During our two and a half years in Cameroon, I trained as a Bible Translation Consultant, studying linguistics and anthropology alongside Biblical exegesis. By the end of that time, I had helped three language groups to translate Mark’s Gospel – their first mother tongue Scripture.

Helping the unreached engage with God’s Word

After the completion of our secondment in Cameroon, the Lord provided a way for me to continue my translation work with AIM and to draw on my long-standing interest in language and culture. We are now based at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya, where Jan teaches French and heads up the school’s IGCSE programme. I am the Scripture Engagement Consultant for AIM’s Eastern Region and will be supporting AIM mission partners in Kenya and Tanzania as they seek to help unreached people groups to engage with God’s Word in a life-transforming way. I firmly believe that as people engage with God’s Word in their mother tongue – the language that speaks to both their mind and their heart – God’s Spirit breaks down cultural barriers and builds a bridge to faith in Christ.

For some people groups, the best way forward will be helping them to engage more meaningfully with the Scripture that has already been translated and written down in their language. For many unreached people groups, however, the challenge will be to translate Scripture into their language for the first time and make it accessible to them in the form of oral stories – the medium that they have traditionally used (and often still use) to communicate the most deeply treasured values of their cultures.

Engaging with other people’s language and culture means that I am always working outside my comfort zone, but in order that they can have the same access to God’s Word that we do, it is well worth bothering with!

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