MAST: An Introduction, 2017
Authors Tabitha Price & Joe Gervais, 2017
In 2014, at the request of field partners, Wycliffe Associates developed a new method of Bible translation that directly engages the local church as the translation team. Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation (MAST) is an outwardly simple process of four drafting and four checking steps with underpinnings of language learning and neuroscience.
The MAST process builds a natural language foundation for the translation through the drafting methodology, then layers on quality checks to ensure the accuracy of the translation. The process depends on teams from the local church to staff the project, and fosters teamwork throughout the project.
Ownership begins with church members being empowered to translate Scripture and ensure the quality of the translation, followed by Wycliffe Associates developing leaders to facilitate and lead workshops and ultimately lead the national or regional Bible translation program.
Wycliffe Associates developed the MAST program in 2014, in response to a request from one of its international partners. The initial request was based on the highly successful English language learner’s program that had been launched just three years earlier. This program relied heavily on networking with local partners as well as accelerated expectations based on solid brain theory. The question was, could these same foundational principals be applied to translation projects with equally accelerated results.
A team of Wycliffe Associates staff along with Bible scholars, pastors, teachers and missionaries put their heads together to develop the MAST methodology. In June 2014, it was tested in Nepal with four language groups who had already been working on translation for several years, and one language who had no Scripture as of yet.
The results were phenomenal. In two weeks the veteran translators had followed the methodology and completed the translation and checking of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. The translators from these teams had been initially skeptical, hesitant to try the new methodology and doubtful that it could produce a quality translation. But at the end of the workshop even the most skeptical translator was readily admitting, “This is better than what I previously translated.”
Perhaps the most stunning result came from the two-brother team who had arrived late and had nothing at all of Scripture in their language. Both translators were young and inexperienced. One was a pastor, the other a student. They were bi-lingual, but not literate in their own language since it had never been written down. They were also not computer literate. A few adjustments at the beginning of the week and they were eager to begin following the MAST steps and translating Scripture. Their efforts were so successful that at the end of the workshop they had translated and checked—using the Nepali script which accurately fit their language’s sounds—1 Thessalonians. But the greatest success, by far, was the enthusiasm that burned within the hearts of these two translators, who promised to return to their village and bring a whole team to town for the next workshop. And so it was, that the tiny Christian community within this once-forgotten language came together and translated the whole New Testament following the MAST process. They dedicated this New Testament in September of 2016.
Since then hundreds of translations all over the world have been started using the MAST methodology. Of these, some have already completed New Testaments and even the entire Bible in timeframes previously unheard of in the translation world. Other language teams are still working their way through the drafting and checking process. But progress is being made at an unprecedented rate everywhere that MAST has been introduced.
The MAST process is simple in nature, but the foundations upon which the process is built are complex, rooted in educational and neurological theories of the 21st century.
It consists of eight steps that are designed with the express purpose of producing a natural and accurate translation of the message of Scripture. This method aims for a meaning based rather than form based translation. Therefore, it starts with steps that will ensure a natural rendering of the message, and then follows with steps that assure accuracy.
The eight steps break down into four drafting steps and four checking or editing steps. Here is a brief description of each step.
- Consume the translators read or listen to the text being read in the gateway (source) language. This is usually a chapter, not more than 50 verses.
- Verbalize The translators tell what they have just read/heard in their own mother tongue. They transfer the message verbally from the gateway language into their own heart language. This is typically done in pairs.
- Chunk The passage is broken down into workable chunks—individual meaning packets within the whole. This is usually two to four verses.
- Blind Draft: The translators each take a chunk and draft their translation of that chunk without looking at the source text or any other resources.
- Self-Edit The translator opens his source text and any other resources he has available to him and checks his blind draft for completeness and accuracy, making any necessary changes to the draft.
- Peer Edit: The translators trade portions and check each other’s work, suggesting edits or changes to the translator of that portion. Changes are only made when both agree that a change is needed.
- Keyword Check: The passage is checked to confirm that the meaning of each keyword is clearly represented in the translation of that portion. (A list of key words, including abstract spiritual terms and Biblical and geographical names is provided within the software on Translation Studio.)
- Verse-by-Verse Check: The translators work together as a team or in pairs, and use whatever resources are available to them to go through each verse, systematically checking to make sure that every aspect of the original source text is represented in the translation.
Teamwork and Ownership
Two primary tenets of MAST are teamwork and ownership. Teamwork is evidenced in that it takes a diverse group of individuals within the Christian community working together to successfully move through all eight MAST steps. Furthermore, the teamwork extends beyond the language communities’ investments in their own projects. It is expressed and modeled that individuals willingly choose to use what they’ve learned to involve themselves in aiding other MAST projects of their region. As a part of the team, Wycliffe Associates, together with national partners and church networks, offers the training, resources, and follow-up support to see projects through to completion. Teamwork is essential because it is how God designed his body to work. Paul reminded the Ephesians that, “We are members, one of another” (Ephesians 4:25).
Ownership properly applied is both enhanced through teamwork and keeps the contributions of team members in balance. Ownership means the responsibility for the project lies in the hands of the Christian community of that language. The process is church-centric, in that it must begin with a desire from the church and be completed through the efforts and participation of local Christians. Ownership is fostered when individuals who are already best-positioned to reach their own community are given the tools and training to do exactly that. The development of the team of translators and the process by which the translation will be completed, must come from the Christian community leaders, and not from an outside source.
Since the language community is the owner of the project, not an outside para-church or mission organization, responsibility for the quality and completion of the project is firmly in the hands of the believing community who will be using that Scripture. Those who participate in the process of translation are doing so, without being compensated/paid for their labor. They are members of the team based on their own desire to participate in God’s kingdom work within their own community. They are living out their calling as a believer to “Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all the peoples” (Psalm 96:3).
A typical workshop is two weeks long in a location determined to be best by a partner organization on the ground or the language community itself (if only one language community is involved.) In the interest of efficiency, teamwork, and cost-effectiveness, typically several languages come together from a local region into one location.
A member of the Education Services Department who is trained in the MAST methodology and mission sets up the workshops and develops a team of leaders and facilitators to go to the agreed-upon location and train the locals in the methodology. Wycliffe Associates initially sends a team of leaders and facilitators with the expectation that national leaders will be empowered to take on that role. Thus as MAST is developed within a region local Christian leaders are trained and move into managing the project. Future projects in the region or church network can be solely at the discretion of the partner, without dependency on Wycliffe Associates for approval or support of the project. The local team is fully empowered to work with remaining languages in the region.
To equip the local church with the necessary resources, Wycliffe Associates has developed a cache of open-license materials that are made available online for free. These include Scripture translations into many of the 40 major gateway languages, as well resources and tools for aiding translators. These open-license resources are being added to constantly by a team of dedicated Bible Scholars and Wycliffe Associates staff. Availability of these resources ensures the teams can work in a language they commonly use, and are not dependent on English resources and knowledge of English.
At the beginning of the workshop, translators are assessed in their level of aptitude in several areas, including literacy, computer skills, knowledge of gateway language and Biblical background. Based on this assessment they are placed into teams.
The facilitators are not translators. Rather they are tasked with supporting the translators as they learn the 8-step process. Facilitators talk through barriers that might prevent translators from complying with the steps, pray over the project, offer tools or technical help when necessary, and maintain the organization of the project. Facilitators also observe qualities and gifts within the translation team and help to position translators within the project where their God given talents are the best fit.
During the two weeks of MAST the translators are trained in the eight steps and then given ample opportunity to practice those steps and produce translated material. It is expected that at the end of the workshop the translators will have a portion of completed Scripture to take back and share in their language community. The goal is often a book of the New Testament—one of the gospels or Acts. Sometimes this can easily be completed. Sometimes because of unavoidable mitigating factors, only a portion is completed. This portion is printed using a Print-on-Demand kit and then each translator has something to take back and share with his community. This is significant because by the end of the workshop the leaders of each language project are asked to develop a plan including a timeline for completing the translation project. Having a portion of Scripture as evidence of a healthy and accelerated start to the process, provides the impetus for inviting others to become involved and for keeping the translators already working on the project enthusiastic about completing it.
After the Workshop
The projects are in the hands of the community at this point, with support from Wycliffe Associates available as needed. As already mentioned, the translators go home with a portion of Scripture, and the leaders have developed a plan for completing the New Testament.
Finally, as the project progresses, follow-up support is offered, such as MAST theory training and quality checking workshops. Support is tailored to the specific needs of each community as requested by the leaders of the projects.
MAST was developed out of a deep desire to see God’s Word translated quickly and clearly into the 1000s of minority languages still waiting. Its success has been unprecedented.
MAST is not merely an 8-step translation process, but a methodology firmly grounded in the belief that God is the creator of language, His Word and people. Therefore, an approach to translation that follows the guiding principles of neuroscience will prove effective. Additionally, fostering ownership within a language community is essential to their future use of the translated Scripture. Finally, teamwork through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, greatly accelerates the work and positions millions to experience the revival that comes through His Word.
Authors: Tabitha Price & Joe Gervais, 2017