‘YWAM has people’ … and a big vision

Several years ago, David Hamilton was conducting video interviews with ministry leaders. The purpose: to show how his organisation, YWAM, fits in partnership with the Bible translation movement.

One leader quickly named the skills and experience that each organisation brings to the table: Wycliffe, SIL, CRU with the JESUS film, Faith Comes By Hearing and others.

“And YWAM …” he paused. “YWAM … YWAM has people.”

David Hamilton

On its surface, that did not exactly sound like a ringing endorsement. But as you look at the goal of mother-tongue Scripture reaching every nation, tribe, people and language, you realize something. YWAM (Youth With a Mission), with many thousands of workers worldwide, has permanent ministries in more than 190 nations.

It gets better. Forty-six countries have five or more languages still needing Bible translation to begin, totaling 1,142 languages. YWAM has people in every one of those countries — including mother tongue speakers for about 200 of the languages.

“We realised that our people are our greatest asset,” says David, who is Vice President for Strategic Innovation at YWAM’s University of the Nations. “It’s an accelerator. “It allows us to have that footprint on the ground, to mobilise local resources toward this end. So, we are trying to be good stewards.”

In December 2020, YWAM rolled out a huge goal — by the end of 2025, at least 1,000 of these languages will have, at minimum, 30 “Taste & See” Scripture passages and a single-voice narration of a gospel film —either the JESUS film’s narration of Luke or the LUMO narration of Mark. YWAM has already partnered with the Jesus Film Project on 64 new translations over the past five years in the Melanesia region (mostly in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu).

The Scripture passages include 10 selections from the Old ("Original") Testament, 10 from the Gospels and 10 from the rest of the New Testament. In both audio and text formats, they are intended to provide a comprehensive overview of the Biblical narrative in about 90 minutes.

YWAM developed the Taste & See list internally, David says, but in close consultation with Alliance organisations to make sure the package meets Every Tribe Every Nation’s goal of Scripture being accessible to all people by 2033. Youngshin Kim, a leader on YWAM’s Servant Team for the initiative, is working with experts like Bryan Harmelink of the Wycliffe Global Alliance and Brian Kelly at Seed Company to set up translation consultancy for those 30 passages.

From a YWAM OBT training event in Togo.

Mega-OBT School

 YWAM’s OBT (oral Bible translation) 1000 strategy is to mobilise 72 bases for training, including 33 hubs in strategic locations with a high concentration of Bibleless languages. They already have more than 50 commitments for bases, Youngshin says.

Each base will be encouraged to send two or three people to a 12-week “mega-OBT” school, where they will be trained to equip others at their own sites. The event starts in late September, live in eight locations around the world and also virtual for those who cannot travel.

“So we are building capacity this year and doing that in very close collaboration with Wycliffe Global Alliance partners,” David says. “We are developing training mechanisms that will empower people who are mother tongue speakers to take the lead role in translating the Word of God into their own language.”


Pandemic as Accelerator

Launching such a huge initiative in the middle of a global pandemic might raise questions, but Bible translation is not a new idea for YWAM.

Youngshin Kim

“The vision has existed for a long time in YWAM,” Youngshin says. “We all had it, but we were all busy in our own lanes. We hadn’t come together. But with the pandemic, we couldn’t travel. We had to stop and reflect on this together. I was praying and was prompted, This is the time that maybe we should work on this. And that’s how OBT 1000 started. The pandemic became a blessing to us in some ways.”

YWAM has collaborated with SIL and the Wycliffe Global Alliance for many years. YWAM founder Loren Cunningham’s vision to see every home have a Bible brought the organization into the Bible Translation movement. Inspired by a phrase from John Watters’ 2010 message at Lausanne Cape Town, YWAM started the End Bible Poverty Now movement. Other collaboration includes their Bible Engagement and Leadership Training (BELT), and the Word By Heart course, developed in response to their partnership in One Story.

End Bible Poverty Now has emphasised six priorities: prayer, translation, publication, distribution, education, and motivation which leads to engagement.

“Our first decades we were primarily on the distribution-education-motivation part of the continuum, and of course prayer,” David says, “but in the last two decades we have really been growing in our capacity and desire to be engaged in translation and publication as well.

“We are very much aware that we are the younger brothers or sisters in this family of ministries, and leaning into our elders in many ways.”

From a YWAM OBT training event in Togo.

A Time for ‘Fresh Eyes’

 When David began working with these partnerships more than 20 years ago, he heard a common question: How can the Bible translation movement capture the imagination of the emerging generation of Christians?

“Right now, globally, the average age of a translator is about 55, and a consultant, 65,” he says. “Our average age of YWAMers is about 19 or 20. We are bringing in multiplied thousands every year through our discipleship training schools.”

“Even if 1 or 2 percent got engaged in this, we could help. It’s not that we just want to do it within YWAM, but we have people who have been through YWAM training, caught a vision, and now work in basically every Bible translation organisation. These are people who have YWAM as part of their storyline. So we delight in working with those entities.”

David Brooks, Senior Advisor for Strategic Partnerships with the Alliance, Global Partnerships and SIL, believes YWAM’s further entry into OBT will dramatically impact global Bible translation.

“This movement has been going for years but it needed a wake-up call and YWAM has provided that,” he says. “By coming in with fresh new eyes and asking questions that had not been asked or maybe not taken seriously, they have helped those who have been involved for years to look at their ministry, Bible translation, with new eyes. I feel our partnership with YWAM does two things. It helps us rethink old ways of doing our work and brings in a large group of young, passionate believers from all over the world who are ready to see all get his Word now.”

Only the First Steps

A thousand languages in five years might feel like a giant goal, but David Hamilton also sees it as modest.

“We really are just looking at two initial tools on the journey for a Bibleless language to eventually have all the resources of the word of God that they want to have,” he says. “It’s not just a change in methodology but a change in modality, where the center of the process relies on the linguistic expertise of the mother tongue speaker. We can’t train enough competent linguists to do the job, but we can train enough competent, highly skilled servants who have a cross-cultural understanding, to surround the mother tongue speakers and give them the kind of assistance and facilitation to enable them to do a great translation work.”

“Also,” Youngshin adds, “we honor the mother tongue speakers and we recognise that God has given them the language that they speak and that they know their language best. We serve them so that they can really take ownership and give us the strength of their knowledge in their language, and giving a good translation.”


Story: Jim Killam, Wycliffe Global Alliance

Alliance organisations may download the images from this story.


Taste & See Passages

These are the 30 Taste & See passages YWAM is targeting for oral and text translation into 1,000 languages by 2025. All are less than 600 words.

From the Old ("Original") Testament

  1. God Created Everything (Genesis 1:1-2; 5:1b-2; 2:4-9,15-24)
  2. God’s Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 6:1-7; Leviticus 19:18-19)
  3. Delight in God’s Words (Psalms 1:1-6; 19:1-14; 119:9-16)
  4. God Is My Shepherd and Refuge (Psalms 23:1-6; 91:1-16; 121:1-8)
  5. God Is Good to Everyone (Psalms 103:1-13; 145:1-21)
  6. Jesus a Light to the Nations (Isaiah 42:1-17)
  7. Jesus’ Incomparable Sacrifice (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)
  8. Jeremiah Calls People to Repentance (Jeremiah 18:1-11; 31:29-34)
  9. Ezekiel Calls People to Repentance (Ezekiel 33:1-16)
  10. God’s Unparalleled Mercy (Jonah 3:1-4:2; Joel 2:12-13; Micah 7:18-20)

From the gospels

  1. Jesus Is Born (Matthew 1:18-23; Luke 2:1-20)
  2. Jesus & John the Baptist (John 1:1-18,29-34)
  3. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-10; 6:7-13,24-33)
  4. Jesus Heals Those in Great Need (Luke 6:17-19; 8:40-56)
  5. The Story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11b-32)
  6. Jesus Came to Give His Life (Mark 10:32b-52)
  7. Jesus & Nicodemus (John 3:1-22a)
  8. Jesus & the Samaritan Woman (John 4:5-26,28-29,39-42)
  9. Jesus & Lazarus (John 11:1,3-6,17-44)
  10. Jesus & Some Disciples (Luke 24:13-17,19b-39,44-45)

From letters to new followers of Jesus

  1. The Gospel in a Nutshell (Titus 1:1-3; 2:11-3:8)
  2. Radically Transformed Lives (Romans 12:1-21)
  3. Ambassadors of Reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:6-21)
  4. Called to Imitate Jesus (Philippians 1:3-6,9-11; 2:1-13)
  5. Called to Know Jesus (Philippians 3:3b-4,6-14,17; 4:6-9)
  6. There Is No One like Jesus! (Colossians 1:9-22; 2:6-7,9-10,12-14)
  7. Focus on Jesus! (Hebrews 3:1-2a; 4:14-16; 7:23-28; 10:19-23; 12:1-3)
  8. You Are Coming to Christ (1 Peter 1:21-25; 2:2-6,9b-10,21-25)
  9. Practical Wisdom (James 1:22-27; 2:8,12-13; 3:2-6,13-18)
  10. A New Heaven and a New Earth (Revelation 21:1-8; 22:1-5,14-17)


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