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What We Do

MAST: From Initial Bible Translation Workshop to Making Disciples

Authors Joe Gervais & Tabitha Price, 2017

Executive Summary

A Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation (MAST) Training Workshop is the first step in a process of enabling a church community in a Bible-less language group to obtain Scripture for the first time. Exiting the workshop, the leaders of the local community will have developed a plan to complete their New Testament, typically in one to two years. The translators will also have been trained in quality checking using criteria and metrics they have defined through authentic assessment. Wycliffe Associates and our national partners around the world are then engaged to follow up with the team to remove inhibitors and provide additional training that might be required to complete the task. Finally, through Print on Demand systems, web distribution methodologies and Bible Translation Recording Kits, printed and audio Bibles are produced to begin the task of fulfilling the Great Commission and making disciples in this language group. 

The MAST Training Workshop

Wycliffe Associates and Partners around the world facilitate a one to two week Bible Translation Training workshop to equip members of a language group for the task of Bible translation. Following this workshop, participants return home with a translated portion of Scripture—this can range from a few chapters to the whole New Testament. The primary goal of the training workshop is to equip the participants with the skills, confidence and tools to continue the task of translating the entire Bible. 

What Happens after the Workshop?

During the workshop translators have been involved in two activities to prepare them for the task of completing a high quality translation of the Bible – developing a plan for completion and developing a quality checking plan. 

Plan for Completion

Near the end of the training workshop, leaders are asked to develop a plan for the completion of the project. Within and at the end of the training, leaders can see the pace at which translators can draft and check Scripture. Historically, we have measured this pace to average about 34 verses per day per translator; however, there is a spectrum of speed depending on a number of factors including education, Biblical knowledge, language skill and other subjective issues. The leaders then can assess how frequently the team can work back in the village considering their available time and other responsibilities. Based on the pace of progress and the available time, leaders develop a timeline for completion of the level one or translator-checked Bible. Most teams are able to develop plans to complete a New Testament in one to two years, though some teams may work much faster, with a few done in months, and even completing entire Old Testaments in less than a year.  

One dynamic that can impact the plan is the enthusiasm the team takes home. Frequently the success of the team at the initial workshop inspires others to join in the effort.  This increase in team size can both increase the speed and the quality of the translation, since more individuals assisting in the checking allows for a broader spectrum of perspectives on the translation, ensuring that the translation reaches the entire community. 

Quality Checking through Authentic Assessment

The second key activity to prepare for the completion of the translation is training on authentic assessment. Bruce Smith, President and CEO of Wycliffe Associates, says that “The local body of Christ is the best judge of Bible translation quality in their language.” For the local body of Christ to assess this quality, they are trained on authentic assessment.

The development of authentic assessment of the translation project, and steps that rely heavily on believers in the community, are a significant part of MAST. Authentic Assessment has become a well-respected way of measuring students’ learning in modern western education. Put simply it evaluates quality in the context of the real world, rather than through testing. Applied to translation, this idea means that the quality of a translation can be assessed in the context of the MAST workshop and the community in which it will be used. The development of a rubric-- a structured list of characteristics indicating quality--with subsequent measurements for each point on the rubric, provides the framework for this kind of check. No longer are translators reliant on consultants from other countries to check their work. Instead, within their language group, Bible scholars and other Christians can make use of available tools to assess the quality of the translations and make adjustments and corrections in real time. Once again, this puts the onus of the project on the people who are receiving it, rather than on an outside organization.

While the translation group could be provided with a standard rubric to use, ownership is increased significantly when that rubric is developed by the group themselves. Furthermore, in monitoring countless groups that have developed rubrics at MAST events, the rubrics consistently capture the key metrics that would be on a standard rubric, and tend to also capture additional factors that are culturally significant. 

The Quality Process

Is the Bible done after a MAST training workshop? Wycliffe Associates supports multiple levels of affirmation of the quality of the translation. A translation that has been through the full eight-step MAST process is a translator checked or level one translation. Further quality checks ensure that the church leadership and church community accepts the translation – a level two translation. Print on Demand can be used to print Bibles at appropriate level (according to defined participants), and these copies can be used both for reading and studying the Bible and for the level two checking. Finally, the church leadership of multiple denominations review and affirm the translation – a level three affirmed translation. 

While the MAST process and subsequent (Level two and Level three) checking ensures many people from the language group are involved in checking the translation, the checking process does not depend upon man alone. Jesus said to his disciples in John 14:26: “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” (NLT) The impact of the Holy Spirit is seen consistently in providing discernment and guidance during these translation projects.  

While it can take time to perform level two and level three checks, Churches are encouraged to start using Scripture as soon as each book reaches level one. Wycliffe Associates has witnessed lives transformed as soon as Scripture is available and used at that level. Pastors who have been preaching for years have new-found insight from having Scripture available in their heart language. Additionally, we have seen countless individuals come to Christ following exposure to God’s Word translated using the MAST methodology.

Note Continuous Quality Improvement
In the past, there was a high standard that had to be met before Scripture was made available to a people group. This was due to the high cost of typesetting and printing a Bible, and requirements for a minimum print order of perhaps five or ten thousand books. This barrier frequently meant that this might be the only edition of the Bible ever produced. Today there are multiple alternatives to traditional printing of a Bible. Low cost printing systems can be used to print physical Bibles. With these print on demand systems, print runs can be done of one copy or hundreds of copies of a Bible. Many people have access to cell phones or other devices that can be used to access Bibles digitally in either written or audio formats. Through these lower cost distribution methods, in the event of a change to the Bible, whether due to a correction, or evolution of the language, a new edition can be cost-effectively produced and distributed.

Tools and Resources

Wycliffe Associates is building a number of tools and resources to assist in the translation of the Bible. We believe these resources should be openly and freely available, licensed under a creative commons license to ensure both the resource and the subsequent translation are freely available to the global church.  

As part of our gateway language strategy, an Unlocked Literal Bible and an Unlocked Dynamic Bible were created from the original Greek and Hebrew text and from public domain resources. Wycliffe Associates is working with global partners to translate these Bibles into many of the major trade languages or gateway languages of the world. Thus, translators to a language would only need to know their heart language and the gateway language; they don’t necessarily need English, Greek or Hebrew knowledge.  Along with the Bible are a number of translation notes, questions, and a list of important terms and definitions to aid in translation. Again there is work underway in many of the gateway languages to translate these resources. Finally, there is an effort to create openly licensed Greek and Hebrew Bibles, grammars and lexicons. 

Note Print on Demand
Wycliffe Associates has developed a scaled-down, mini Print-On-Demand system for printing Bibles and Christian literature.
Small enough to fit into a suitcase, this new system helps Christians who are living in extremely harsh conditions, facing severe persecution, to print in very small quantities without attracting any attention.
If one location becomes too risky for printing operations to continue, the mini Print On Demand system can be moved quickly and easily to a more secure location.
Print-On-Demand is a compact, high-speed, digital printing system that Wycliffe Associates trains local Christians to operate and maintain. Using a flash drive containing Scriptures in their own language, local believers can quickly print what they need to be distributed to their churches.

Field Follow-up

Wycliffe Associates has an extensive global field team. One of the responsibilities of the team is follow-up on projects to ensure the teams are making progress. The field team is available to encourage and pray with the translation team. The field team can also make introductions to allow the translation team to network with other partners. 

If there are challenges with the translation, Wycliffe Associates can look at other tools and resources that might help remove obstacles. This may include further training, such as a community checking workshop or MAST Theory Training.

In some cases, the translation team may be under intense persecution. We have seen team members martyred and equipment destroyed. Other teams have had efforts disrupted due to natural disasters. Wycliffe Associates has programs in place to provide assistance to the team to help meet their physical needs as well as project-related needs in these times of challenges, to get the translation back on track as soon as possible.

Note Audio Bible
Many cultures with a written language still have large portions of the population that cannot read and write. For these people, access to audio Bibles is the only way to have immediate access to God’s Word. Wycliffe Associates has developed the Bible Translation Recording Kit (BTRK) that provides national translators from oral cultures with a computer tablet, special software, and recording equipment that is used during the MAST workshop to bring God’s Word into the spoken languages of the world just as quickly as what is already happening for the written languages. This same equipment can be used to make an oral narration of a completed written Bible. 

After the completion

When a team completes a translation at the desired level of quality checking, the next step is to make the Scripture available to the community. Print-on-Demand systems are being made available so that Bibles can be printed locally by the community. These systems can print a single copy or can be used to economically print dozens, hundreds, or thousands of copies. 

The other step is to ensure that the Bible is available to those that cannot read. The use of the Translation Recorder application on a Bible Translation Recorder Kit can enable a team to make an audio narration of the Bible. This recording is in MP3 format so that it can be used on many common devices such as smart phones and MP3 players. 

In the hands of the language community, God’s Word transforms lives. Wycliffe Associates has seen many come to Christ through exposure to the Word of God, and many others mature in their relationship with Christ. 

Conclusion

Following a MAST Training Workshop, a church community in a Bible-less language group returns home with Scripture in their heart language for the first time. Their leaders will have developed a plan to complete their New Testament, typically in the next one to two years. The translators will have a quality checking process using criteria and metrics they defined through authentic assessment. This community will be supported by Wycliffe Associates and/or national partners to follow up with the team, providing prayer and encouragement, removing inhibitors and providing additional training that might be required to complete the task. Finally, through Print-on-Demand systems and Bible Translation Recording Kits, printed and audio Bibles are produced to begin the task of fulfilling the Great Commission and making disciples in this language group. 

Authors: Joe Gervais & Tabitha Price, 2017