By Susan E. Richardson
At a small Haitian church in the Dominican Republic, the sound of drums and electric guitar faded into the darkness outside. Inside, worshippers sat on plain wooden pews with a dirt floor underfoot. A mural behind the platform added a touch of color to the setting. Mickey, the mission leader, began preaching about Jesus calming the storm. Beside him, Olivia Lunceford translated the message into Spanish.
As the message went on, she couldn’t help but notice that while many in the congregation listened, others whispered among themselves. In the middle of the sermon, the church’s pastor came up and asked if he could translate the Spanish into French Creole, the congregation’s native language.
When he began speaking, the whispering stopped. People became engaged in the message, and soon “Amens” rang out through the congregation. They could understand Spanish, but hearing the message in their own language took them to a different level.
The event became part of Olivia’s call to missions, as did the love for Mexico she developed during other trips through her college years. After finishing her Spanish degree at Ole Miss, she taught English as a Second Language, but somehow that wasn’t enough.
Missionary biographies led her to Wycliffe Bible Translators and she learned how many people groups in the world wait for Bibles in their language. Of the almost seven thousand known languages in use, only 500 have completed Bibles. Many other languages have the New Testament or portions of Scripture. However, around 1,800 languages still wait for translators to begin the process.
Intrigued, Olivia went to Wycliffe’s TOTAL It Up!—Taste of Translation and Linguistics— workshop. In this five-day program, translators introduced participants to the process of fulfilling Wycliffe’s primary mission—making Scripture available in all languages. As Olivia saw in the Dominican Republic, a person’s “heart language” or native tongue allows the Holy Spirit better access to mind and spirit.
The TOTAL workshop confirmed Olivia’s path with Wycliffe’s ministries. She says, “I love our mission of getting God’s Word into everyone’s heart language. With around 180 million people that don’t have any Scripture in their heart language, that’s a lot of people who have no idea of God’s love for them, no idea of His plan for them.”
Olivia’s background in teaching became a valuable resource when she partnered with Wycliffe. She will work as a literacy technician, though the specifics may vary. She may lead literacy workshops for teachers, strengthening their skills. Or Wycliffe may pair her with another woman who will work with national people to translate the Bible into their language while Olivia helps teach people to read.
Whatever your gifts and talents are, Wycliffe offers a myriad of opportunities. Not everyone shares Olivia’s gift for languages and is able to work directly with translation or literacy. Wycliffe offers plenty of other opportunities for you to get involved. Their first desire, which Olivia shares, is for prayer partners—people who will come alongside active missionaries in prayer for their work and the people they hope to reach.
Churches can get involved with events like book tours or dessert nights featuring missionaries from the field who can share stories showing the difference translation makes. Wycliffe’s traveling exhibits are another possibility. With so many schools close by, leaders there may want to consider various campus events Wycliffe makes available. All of these can make the idea of Bible translation more personal.
Like any mission opportunity, fundraising plays an integral part. To reach untouched groups, and to keep Wycliffe’s missionaries in the field, Wycliffe’s Race to 2025, a team sports challenge, raises funds to support translating the Bible in all untouched languages by 2025. They help with the materials and set up for the event.
If you feel led to become involved on a personal level, you may choose to partner with Olivia’s Wycliffe ministry, choose another missionary or support a particular project. For more information on all opportunities, go to www.wycliffe.org.
Cole, the young son of one of Olivia’s friends, remembers when she taught him in the choir at First Baptist Senatobia, and gets excited about her new calling. He told his mother, “Momma can you believe that Ms. Olivia is going to be a real live missionary in Mexico! That is SO COOL that we know a real live one!”
If you’d like to partner with “a real live missionary,” you may do so through Olivia’s personal page at www.wycliffe.org/partner/olivialunceford. Prayer partners are most welcome. If you feel led to partner financially, you may do so through the website or make checks payable to Wycliffe Bible Translators with a separate note indicating “Preference for the ministry of Olivia Lunceford, account number 239480. Send checks to: Wycliffe Bible Translators, P.O. Box 628200, Orlando, FL, 32862-8200.