June 17th, 2011
05:00 AM ET
By John Couwels, CNN
Orlando, Florida (CNN) - Christian missionaries have been traveling to remote regions around the world for centuries to spread, as they would describe it, the good news of Jesus Christ.
But now a tiny plastic and metal device packed with cutting-edge technology attached to a computer could accelerate the pace of spreading that news - like an answer to prayer.
The answer has come in the form of a satellite terminal that is smaller than a laptop computer. The device, a BGAN satellite terminal, brings the Internet to some of the most remote parts of the world.
Corporations, governments and television networks have used BGAN devices for years to communicate by e-mail, phones or to broadcast live video signals from remote locations.
Wycliffe Bible Translators has only just begun distributing these devices to translators and linguists working to translate the Bible into every spoken language.
Wycliffe's goal is the same today as that of their founder, Cameron Townsend, 80 years ago: translate the Bible into the language of indigenous people everywhere.
With approximately 6,900 languages in the world, the satellite terminal is expected to cut in half the amount of time left to translate the remaining 2,000-plus languages Wycliffe is working on or hopes to be working on soon.
"It has increased the speed we thought it was going to take, 150 years. ... It's now going to be 2038 when it's completed," said Wycliffe's president and chief executive officer, Bob Creson.
Translators in the field can now communicate with linguists through e-mail on the satellite terminal, eliminating the huge amount of time needed to travel back and forth from district or regional offices.
Townsend found in 1917 while selling Spanish-language Bibles in Guatemala that a large majority of villagers throughout the countryside did not speak or read Spanish, the majority language of South America.
Townsend worked for more than a decade in a Mayan village in Guatemala learning the native language, Cakchiquel, creating an alphabet for it for the first time, and translating a Bible into the language.
Thus Wycliffe Bible Translators began, named after John Wycliffe, who in the 14th century translated the Bible into English, the language of the British working class.
Wycliffe translation coordinator Pedro Samuc - who grew up speaking Tzutujil, an indigenous Guatemalan Mayan language - says hearing the Bible in his native language has had a profound impact.
"When an indigenous person hears the message in their language, they understand that God loves them. ... It raises our self-esteem," especially after years of discrimination for just being indigenous, Samuc said through a translator.
"He loves us all the same," he said.
Burchrum Gail grew up speaking Jamaican Creole, or Patwa. As a Wycliffe translation coordinator in Jamaica, Gail agrees hearing the Bible in his native language generates a strong reaction.
"It validates me as a person. It also makes the scripture resonate more with me," he said.
"Whenever I hear God's word in my language, which has (had) such negative associations, it lifts me up and puts me on a level playing field with people who have the Bible in English, French or these prestigious European languages," Gail continued. The translation in his native tongue makes him want to "spread the word of God."
Samuc said he joined a translation project in Guatemala that began decades ago to translate the Bible into 22 Mayan languages, which have multiple dialects. So far the New Testament has been translated into 50 Mayan dialects. Only three remain, and Samuc said they will be completed in the next three years.
Wycliffe recently celebrated the "beginning of the end" for translation in the Americas, Creson said.
The average New Testament translation time has gone from 25 years down to seven thanks to the technological advancements, he said. "Those of us who understand Bible translation are saying that is really a big deal."
Wycliffe Bible Translators has only begun to distribute the satellite terminals to translators working in remote locations.
"This is a satellite system," said Bruce Smith with Wycliffe Associates. "You point up at the satellite and it works better than your Internet connection at home"
In some locations without electricity, solar panels are laid out in the sun to charge the batteries for the satellite terminal and computer.
Twenty-five more terminals will be deployed to Nigeria in June, said Smith, who helps deliver the units and train people how to use them.
"We are committed to alleviating Bible poverty in this generation," Creson said.
"And there is going to be a generation of people who are going to hear this good news message. That we're committed to, that they are not going to pass into eternity without ever hearing it."
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