June 17th, 2011
05:00 AM ET

Missionaries tapping portable satellite technology in remote outposts

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."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Florida • Missionaries • Technology • United States

soundoff (97 Responses)
  1. digitals cameras

    It is the best time to make a few plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I have learn this put up and if I could I wish to counsel you some attention-grabbing things or suggestions. Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article. I wish to learn even more issues about it!

    April 2, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  2. Doug

    Missionaries prey on uneducated people with promises of a better life in order to shove Christianity down their throats. They steal their culture, their traditions and in many cases throughout history have decimated their populations with disease. It is very sad. Help people? Yes of course! Force your beliefs on them? NO.

    June 27, 2011 at 1:38 pm |

      Hello Doug, I think what you have stated is not correct cause where Christians went there Civilization started. For instance, Andhra Pradesh in INDIA was ruled by the kings and high society and the Scheduled Caste people were down trodden for 300 years when British started ruling India the British Christian Missionaries came to India started good work for the poor all over INDIA, They brought Education, Hospitality through Hospitals and Personality. In India, today, the people worship more than 33 crores of gods- millions. When S.Cs were educated and trained in personality, people began to call the S.Cs Christians and Jesus was their God otherwise they would n't have Faith, Jesus,Education or Personality. S.Cs never called themselves Christians but they were named after Christ. Today, they are doing good service to the needy in the country. Don't you think so?

      October 6, 2011 at 5:21 am |
  3. read more

    Great. Read Matthew 24:14 the sooner the better.

    June 21, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  4. Zelda

    American Christian missionaries taught us everything good and vital. The Bible, human freedom, equality, literacy, school system, charity system, orphanages, hospitals, justice. Later, Americans brought the sane con-sti-tu-tion. The world owe American Christians a lot.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:24 am |
    • Zelda

      I forgot to mention; the European Christian missionaries brought art, music, literature, different food, modern clothings, sports – everything beautiful, meaningful, useful and enriching, along with the most precious Word of God and the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

      June 21, 2011 at 1:12 am |
  5. Jesus is the way


    June 20, 2011 at 12:14 am |
  6. Gerald

    These missionaries would help a lot more if they taught agriculture and disease prevention instead of bible beating stupidity and brainwashing.

    June 19, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  7. James Black


    June 18, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  8. David Johnson


    You said: "–I find it hard to believe that that many languages don't have a word meaning "bullsh!t"..."

    They do. The different communities keep saying a phrase over and over. The missionaries thought they were saying "Praise God".


    June 18, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  9. You Think Yourselves Intelligent

    I find it amazing that which such a monumental task as this, an admirable and beneficial one at that- you still have to find these vile frivolous comments below.

    What have you done with your life to benefit mankind, besides complaining about what DOESN'T benefit it?
    I venture to say that the vast majority of apathetics, atheists and agnostics who despise the bible account (even though they are only familiar with the Catholic churches explanation, which is the worst organization in the world as far as it's hypocrisy and misuse of the scriptures- ADMITTEDLY SO at that and yet it is their beliefs they seem to love to hold to thinking is being brought to people via missionary work) for reasons that are easily refuted by the bible itself. Yet their disdain for the people who say they represent it (but don't) and even more so for God as described in the bible, causes them to stick to that hateful disposition, making them just as bad as the hypocrites who used the bible to achieve selfish, immoral and violent ends.
    To say that the Bible has caused people problems or suffering is foolish especially when you have never even read it through. o say that people Of the bible have, is another argument and holds much more weight- but the facts are that bible education elevates the living conditions of these hard to reach communities and benefits, as was said in the article, their collective self-esteem.
    Continue with the negativity... As it says and so many of them agree:
    "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die."
    Atheism and all the other new belief systems and philosophies, offer Absolutely no recourse to this concept, and therefor it is embraced and lived out in purposeless selfish existence... to their ultimate chagrin.

    June 18, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • EvolvedDNA

      YTYIntelligent.. You admit yourself that you dislike catholics, who are your fellow Christians none the less..yet you lambaste Atheists for not understanding that the bible teaches all things including: tolerance.". and this should be inflicted on other peoples in other parts of the world. "Missionaries" is code for taking away the belief of another and getting converts. For the record most atheists have read the bible and have better understanding of it than believers. We do not think our selves more intelligent than you by the way..that is just a perception you must have for some reason.

      June 21, 2011 at 1:07 am |
  10. Zelda

    The Bible liberated the communist countries. Muslims and N. Koreans still risk life to get the Bible today. Only the fattened secular Americans don't know its value and lose the land, counting their pathetic money until the end of life.

    June 18, 2011 at 1:34 am |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Adelina... is that you ?

      June 21, 2011 at 1:08 am |
    • Zelda

      Yes, EvolvedDNA! How are you? I missed you. Are you telling your New Age atheists to behave nicer like yourself? They are so horrible I had to change my user name a few more times. I will cease to be Zelda soon. It's "warrior" in German. Please find me by the content of my letters. I pray for you. You are one of those I will miss even in Heaven. Please trust in Jesus, not in filthy self, EvolvedDNA. Jesus loves you and so do HeavenSent and I.

      June 21, 2011 at 1:16 am |
  11. Reality

    The real news about Jesus Christ:--------------

    An essential reiteration-

    Jesus was an illiterate. Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

    The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.

    For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

    Current RCC problems:

    Pedophiliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

    Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

    Current problems:

    Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

    June 17, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  12. The Tooth Fairy

    We really should be translating educational text books instead of teaching these poor people fairy tales. Maybe even send food, water and medical aid.

    June 17, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • Zelda

      @T-T-F, Missionaries all do that. The natives know it's a fairy tale if someone teaches that creation creates itself or that the West became great without Christianity.

      June 18, 2011 at 1:38 am |
    • David Johnson

      @The Tooth Fairy

      You said: "We really should be translating educational text books instead of teaching these poor people fairy tales. Maybe even send food, water and medical aid."

      Missionaries have found their audience is more attentive when they are hungry and thirsty and comatose... It keeps them from using their critical thinking. LOL


      June 18, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Zelda

      Christian missionaries are the only ones who care the most needy and they search them out in all the earth and help them, while secularists continue to fatten themselves on a planet with 1/4 of the human population suffering from starvation. Worse, secularists slander these most sacrificial missionaries while doing nothing to help anyone.

      June 19, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Derek


      I know far more atheist, agnostic, and secularist development workers than Christian ones. Furthermore, secular NGOs, such as the red cross, Oxfam, and the World Wildlife Fund do far more benefit than the self-serving missionaries who arrive with ulterior motives. I have worked for many organizations and I truly hope that people are not so closed minded when donating to development efforts.

      Missionaries are there to spread the word of whichever god they believe in. If you believe that souls are being saved, then yes, something positive is being achieved (provided the missionaries share your religion), but if the objective is to help people in this lifetime, please donate to one of the better secular organizations that help all of humankind without ulterior motives.

      June 20, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Zelda

      @Derek: Secular private charity organizations are way too few in number comparing to Christian charities and often secular ones do unnecessary things. The government organizations have many Christians working within. Christian missionaries or churches are the ones who search the remotest people, fulfill true needs of everyone and stay permanently selflessly. All secular charities, though few, are mimicking what the massive Christian missions have started and keep doing.

      June 21, 2011 at 1:04 am |
  13. PraiseTheLard

    I wonder what other works of fiction they plan on translating...

    June 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Zelda

      @P: No native wants your favorite books, that's for sure.

      June 21, 2011 at 1:05 am |
  14. frank

    @Bob Creson, President Wycliffe Bible Translators USA
    "the nearly 2000 language communities worldwide that do not have one word of Scripture in their own language."
    –I find it hard to believe that that many languages don't have a word meaning "bullshit"...

    June 17, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Zelda

      Those 2000 communities make up only like 1% of human population. By the way, the thoughts of atheists are filthy and meaningless to the core. They need to be pitied.

      June 21, 2011 at 1:19 am |
    • Zelda

      Correction – about 3% (200 milion people)

      June 21, 2011 at 1:30 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.