Emergence of Wycliffe International

Synopsis:

Wycliffe Bible Translators Inc. had been serving as both the representative organization for the US public, and the umbrella organization for the worldwide family of ‘divisions’. A transformation occurred in 1980, when Wycliffe Bible Translators International (WBTI) incorporated as a separate organization from Wycliffe Bible Translators Inc., which became known as Wycliffe US.

Concerned about their affiliation with Wycliffe US, Wycliffe organizations outside of the US requested that the structure be changed. Local and national laws required these organizations to demonstrate their own jurisdiction over finances and personnel.

In 1991 WBTI restructured once again, entitling each organization that met membership criteria to vote on WBTI matters, irrespective of their size or experience. Also, National Bible Translation Organizations became formally a part of WBTI.

New missionary movements in Latin America responded to Vision 2025 by adopting it as their own, soon becoming a missionary sending region for Bible translation. All this occurred without any formal relationship with WBTI or SIL International.

Organizations in Latin America, Africa, and Europe were also granted affiliated status, including church denominations involved in Bible translation within their own nations.

At the 2005 Wycliffe International Convention, the process was set in motion to identify and appoint WBTI’s own Executive Director, along with its own Board of Directors, with no overlap with SIL International’s Board.

SIL began to transform itself into a research, training and development organization. It would facilitate the work of other organizations rather than trying to carry out Bible translation and language development on its own.

Wycliffe’s original mandate of existing solely to resource SIL changed in order to encourage the ownership and involvement of the Church of the global South and East towards the Bible translation movement.

These structural changes proved to be stepping-stones for the next phase of Wycliffe’s journey, starting after 2009.

Full Article: Article 3 – Emergence of Wycliffe International

Introduction

Building on the changes outlined in Article 2, this article focuses on the history of Wycliffe Bible Translators International (WBTI) emerging out of a surge in the formation of new Wycliffe organizations in Asia starting in the 1970s. Wycliffe’s journey from 1980 to 2008 is summarized and the lessons learned from this period are outlined.

Preparing for Wycliffe International – 1980s-1990

In the late 1970s, the vision for Bible translation began touching Christians in Asia, starting with Japan, then in the 1980s Singapore and South Korea. Eventually over the next 25 years it also flowed to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan the Philippines and India.

Gradually Wycliffe was becoming international. Until 1980, the Wycliffe organizations were subsidiaries of Wycliffe Bible Translators, Inc. Darryl Kernick, a long-time leader in Wycliffe explains it this way: “Wycliffe Bible Translators, Inc. served not only as the representative organization for the U.S. public but also as the umbrella organization for the worldwide family of ‘divisions’. Wycliffe Bible Translators, Inc. was the early face of Wycliffe [Bible Translators] International” (2008:2).

It was appropriate and inevitable for a body called Wycliffe Bible Translators International (WBTI) to be formed. It was incorporated in California in March 1980 as a separate organization to Wycliffe Bible Translators, Inc. All the Wycliffe organizations formed to date, including the U.S. were placed under this new corporation. Consequently, Wycliffe Bible Translators, Inc. which in time became known as Wycliffe U.S. focussed on relating to the U.S. Christian public to recruit personnel, find prayer supporters and raise financial resources for Bible translation.

Within ten years after the incorporation of the international body, Wycliffe organizations outside of the U.S. became unsettled about their subsidiary relationship with Wycliffe in the U.S. and with the international body. This was particularly the case amongst the organizations in Europe. Local and national laws required these organizations to show their own control over finances and personnel from their countries. There were uncertain trends and rising threats of legal liability if all such organizations were interconnected with a U.S. organization. Therefore they requested that the structure be changed.

Wycliffe International is Restructured – 1991-1992

In 1991, WBTI was restructured to be an ‘organization of organizations’. The only constituents of WBTI were the member organizations themselves, not individuals and from this point on they were no longer divisions or subsidiaries of the Wycliffe U.S. organization. Rather, each was autonomous within an international body.

The Wycliffe organizations decided that WBTI would be governed by its member organizations, meaning that each voting member organization was entitled to vote on matters pertaining to WBTI, irrespective of size or experience, provided each met specific membership criteria set out by the Board of WBTI.

WBTI’s role to its member organizations was one of facilitation, providing standards and guidelines for organizational conduct, making recommendations to their strategy or operations, giving general direction and providing or coordinating practical support. WBTI’s mission statement was “to glorify God in obedience to the Great Commission by forwarding scripture translation through the unique strategy that integrates translation, scholarship and service so that all people will have access to God’s word in their own language” (Larsen 1990:5).

The individual Wycliffe organizations were now responsible to lead and shape their organizations through developing policies according to their cultural and national concerns. Their mandate was to develop resources for Bible translation by recruiting people from their nations to serve in Bible translation, enlisting people to pray for the work, and raising funds to support the work. The field work of Bible translation, linguistics, anthropology, and training of local citizens in these disciplines, remained the responsibility of SIL.

That was until 1991 when the status of the National Bible Translation Organizations changed again. They became formally a part of WBTI and were given the title of ‘Wycliffe Affiliate Organizations’ since they did not fit the organizational model of the Wycliffe organizations. A decade later they were called ‘Wycliffe Member Organizations with Language Programs’, distinguishing them from the other ‘Wycliffe Member Organizations’ that did not carry out language programs.

In 1990, WBTI’s affiliation to SIL began to shift with both organizations becoming more separate in identity but at the same time they were still interdependent. This interdependence was demonstrated by how WBTI moved its incorporation from California to Texas (where SIL International was also incorporated).

Overall, however, the 1990-91 changes adopted would have an enormous impact on WBTI. Many leaders of the day (whether serving in SIL International, WBTI or Wycliffe organizations) did not fully understand the implications of these decisions. While the relationship between SIL International and WBTI remained integrated, the two organizations were beginning to go through a time of unprecedented change.

Meanwhile in the 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet empire and, as the Church in former communist lands began to look outward, Wycliffe organizations emerged in Central and Eastern Europe including PolandHungaryRussiaCzech RepublicSlovakia, Ukraine and later Romania.

Wycliffe International’s Role in the World – 1992-2005

Starting in 1992, WBTI began a journey to form its own identity, a process that had been in stages of development for more than a decade. Whereas the two organizations once gathered for a single international conference, there were now two events: SIL had its International Conference with delegates representing all of its entities in various countries. Wycliffe had its International Convention with its delegates being the Executive Directors/CEOs and Board Chairpersons of each of its Member Organizations. Motions passed in one meeting or international board were not automatically the legislation or policy for both corporations. The two organizations began to develop policies according to their respective nature, identities and roles.

As a result of Vision 2025 many new missionary movements in Latin America responded by adopting it as their own. The vision was being shared at the same time that Latin America was becoming a missionary sending continent. It was a natural marriage of Vision 2025 to the missiological shifts occurring throughout the Latin American mission movement.

This created a new challenge because this missionary movement did not have any formal relationship with WBTI (or SIL International for that matter). Rather than attempt to set up local Wycliffe offices or organizations across Latin America, the WBTI Board created a new category of affiliation called ‘Associated Partner Organizations’. This decision not to set up Wycliffe offices was based on discussions between WBTI leadership and that of COMIBAM (Cooperación Misionera Iberoamericana), which represented the Latin American missionary movement. Setting up Wycliffe offices/organizations across the region would not be sustainable nor was it necessary due to the widespread movement in Latin America that was ready to engage with organizations like WBTI.

Almost immediately, two Latin American partners were accorded the new status in WBTI – FEDEMEC (Federación Evangélica Misionera Costarricense) of Costa Rica and LETRA (Latinoamericanos en Traducción y Alfabetización) of Argentina. Other organizations in Latin America, Africa and Europe sought and were granted this affiliated status. In time many of the organizations attaining this status included church denominations that were involved in Bible translation within their own nations.

WBTI and SIL: Clarifying the Delineation – 2005-2008

In 2004, during a meeting of the WBTI Board, an ad hoc committee was set up to study the feasibility of WBTI having its own Executive Director separate from SIL International. Even though the two corporations were legally separate they were still being led by the same Executive Director and international leadership team. The committee concluded that it was definitely time for WBTI to have its own Executive Director along with a completely separate Board of Directors that had no overlap with SIL International’s Board. This would enable WBTI to have leadership that would focus solely on taking the organization forward.

The WBTI Board accepted the committee’s recommendation and brought it to the 2005 Wycliffe International Convention. The Convention enthusiastically adopted the changes and set in motion a process for identifying and appointing its own Executive Director/CEO. This started in 2006 with its new leader in place on 1 January 2008.

The changes adopted by the Convention were difficult for some in SIL leadership and its Board to receive. Many leaders at various levels of SIL feared that their organization would be abandoned by WBTI. Their Board’s greatest concern was how the two organizations would maintain their unity (or as some called it, their cohesion). Few however, could deny that SIL International and WBTI had indeed become different organizations with distinct challenges and opportunities.

Following this realization, SIL began to transform itself into a research, training and development organization. It would facilitate the work of other organizations rather than trying to carry out the task on its own.

Meanwhile the vision of the Wycliffe organizations expanded and their work became well-rounded by providing resources as well as carrying out projects including Bible translation related ministries. From SIL’s perspective there was concern that WBTI and its organizations might not share the same vision for academic engagement for which SIL had become known. However, Wycliffe leaders did come to appreciate the need for a solid academic foundation for Bible translation if it was to be of good quality.

Conclusion

Wycliffe’s journey for over 25 years, commencing in the period starting in 1980, reveals how its development has been impacted by the demographic growth of the Church of the global South and East. As the Church has continued to grow in these regions, interest in Bible translation has also grown. Wycliffe’s original mandate of existing solely to resource SIL, has also had to change in order to encourage the ownership and involvement of the Church of the global South and East towards the Bible translation movements. The structural changes that needed to follow for Wycliffe were important. However, they turn out to only be stepping stones for the next phase of Wycliffe’s journey, starting after 2009.

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