Serving the Global Bible Translation Movement

by Danny Foster, PhD


In 2021, the Canada Institute of Linguistics (CanIL) stepped into a new training space that allowed us to enroll some very unique students and provide them with a mission-critical skill set for the global Bible translation movement. Little did we know we were embarking on what would become a whole new strategy that would bring us deeper into our mission, and closer to our Bible translation partners who work with minoritized language communities all over the world. To appreciate how this all developed, a bit of history might be helpful.


CanIL began offering training in Applied Linguistics on the campus of Trinity Western University (TWU) back in 1985. We operated as a department of Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada and had one main purpose: train up the next generation of Bible translation workers. The program limped along at first but eventually found its legs and started running. By 1999, CanIL needed a new home to accommodate its growing enrolment and so was 'calved' off from Wycliffe to reemerge as its own charity in order to raise funds and build a new facility. Since 2005, we've been operating just a stone's throw from the Associated Canadian Theological Schools at TWU where Northwest Seminary operates. Not long after, we had front row seats to a very bold and creative initiative by Northwest Seminary called Immerse—a whole new approach to how Northwest offered their Master's of Divinity degree.

Ethiopia Students and Mentors

We observed how well the program integrated scholarship and praxis through its competency-based pedagogy and started wondering if the approach was something from which CanIL could benefit. Initially it didn't seem like a good fit given that we had always been a pre-field training program and it typically took several years for our students to complete their training, join a Bible translation organization, raise their funding, and get an assignment. How could we embrace in-situ training when our students couldn't even get an assignment without being trained first? It turns out we were looking at the wrong students!


Bible translation consultants play a mission-critical role as part of the quality control process before new Bible translations go into print and distribution. They are highly experienced and expertly trained to catch the kinds of issues that get missed by the translators themselves in team cross checks, in community checks, and even by translation advisors. Translation consultants also provide important training to the teams they work with by developing translator's abilities to spot and correct translation problems independently. Sadly, however, they are retiring at an alarming rate which has created not only a shortage of translation consultants but a global backlog of unchecked Bible translations.


As we started thinking about how we could contribute to solving this problem, we considered all of the translation teams around the world where mother tongue translators have been working and getting high-quality, but informal, training (e.g. through workshops and mentoring). Some of them have translated thousands of verses! We asked ourselves, "What if we could find MA candidates among these teams whom we could train to become Bible translation consultants? And what if we could 'rescue' some from projects where translation work is winding down—places where highly experienced translators might otherwise be lost to other work?" Eventually in 2021, CanIL's Master of Arts in Translation of Scripture (MATS) was born in partnership between CanIL and Northwest Seminary.


This was a whole new training space for CanIL as for the first time, we could take on students from anywhere in the world, recognize some of their informal training, and help build high-level local capacity for the Bible translation movement. And it represents a paradigm shift from only doing pre-field training to in-situ training. Today we have a small but growing MATS enrolment with students in Ethiopia, Zambia, Nigeria, and India. And later this year, we hope to see our first graduates: people who will be fully qualified to serve as Bible translation consultants—yet another first for CanIL! One of our students in a sensitive location recently told us that, “Because of this program, I now have a deeper understanding of Christianity, more so than I ever had before.”


As we look ahead, we’re scaling the program into new languages. Both the curriculum and the interface for the learning platform have already been translated into French and we now have a MATS admission coordinator for Francophone Africa. CanIL is deeply grateful for all of the support from Northwest Seminary in not only setting up the program but in its ongoing delivery and development. Our partnership with Northwest has brought a new kind of relevance to CanIL as we work toward our vision where people from every culture in the world will see with their eyes, hear with their ears and understand with their hearts—the power of the gospel in their own language.


Danny Foster, PhD, lives in Langley, BC with his wife Ranette and their two sons. Danny and Ranette have served with Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada for 22 years. From 2003 - 2012, they worked in Tanzania where they helped launch Bible translation projects among 19 indigenous language communities. When Danny isn't furthering global Bible translation efforts, you'll find him in the kitchen or at the grill pursuing his passion for food!

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