Posts Tagged ‘movements’

[Reposted from thebackrowleader.com because of its relevance to my week in Costa Rica and recent posts.]

Let’s continue mining the leadership development principles found in Acts 6. When the apostles made the decision to remove their fingers from day-to-day program management, who did they turn to? First, they opened the problem to “all the believers,” inviting their input. Second, they went local. The problem was a Greek-speaking versus Hebrew-speaking issue. The apostles were Hebrew-speaking, and when accused of some latent racism, they selected Greek believers to address the problem. They found a local solution. Third, they turned to the next generation. There’s no indication of age, so I don’t want to imply that they handed over responsibility to young leaders, but they clearly handed responsibility to the recipients of the gospel message.

That’s the mark of a movement: those who bring a new idea or message and hand it off to the recipients of that message to take it where they didn’t imagine it could go. We’re experiencing that within Wycliffe. There’s a movement exploding in many parts of the world, carrying forth Bible translation in ways and to places our founders never dreamed of. For instance, I just spent a few days with leaders of 25 non-Wycliffe organizations birthed in Central and South America who are just as passionate about advancing Bible translation in their countries and from their areas of the world as we are. We’re joining together in an alliance to figure this new world out together. It’s a world where language groups are setting up their own Facebook pages, beginning work before we ever get there and becoming evangelists to neighbouring people groups.

Here’s the ugly side, though: the one who can most easily suppress a movement is the original messenger. We westerners do this all the time. To give us the benefit of the doubt, most oppression by a majority is unintentional. We simply don’t realize where we shut down innovation, fail to hand over ownership or fail to see potential. A friend of mine calls it “institutional racism.” In older organizations, it can be a historical colonial viewpoint that has long been eradicated in the obvious places but has become institutionalized in policies, procedures and practices that have never been challenged. It’s time for some audits of the deep, dark corners of the organization.

Since this blog is about leaders, let’s not let ourselves off the hook. Let’s make it personal. Have you audited the deep, dark corners of your own core beliefs for inconsistencies in what you say and practice in terms of holding onto authority or ownership? I remember reading a passage in Sherwood Lingenfelter’s Cross Cultural Leadership about a missionary who had to return to the United States. He successfully found and prepared a national worker to assume responsibilities for preaching in the local church while he was gone. By the time he returned, this local pastor was thriving in his role over a growing church. What a tremendous success! That’s our dream, right? Imagine what happened next. This missionary thanked his brother and took over preaching responsibilities again. I wanted to throw the book down! I wanted to throw some stones!

Until I realized I probably do the same thing all the time. I take back a role I empowered my kids to do, because it’s part of my identity. I delegate an assignment to a subordinate and begin meddling again without thinking. How often have I done that? I couldn’t tell you, but I’ll bet my subordinates and the minorities who have worked with me could tell me… if I created a setting where they could speak openly. I won’t be throwing any stones.

In response, here’s a better way: Let’s lay hands on “the next generation, pray for them and posture ourselves behind them. Let’s lay aside our feeble visions for the capacity of the next generation and allow God’s vision for them to prevail. He may well have a movement in mind.


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We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

You’ve probably heard that quote before. It came to mind today as I listened to many of my colleagues from all over Central and South America. The fact is that everything we deal with today has historical roots. That’s both a good thing and a challenge. For instance, colonialism has impacted my Latin brothers and sisters in immeasurable ways. Many of the attendees at this meeting are dealing with pain, anger, fear and frustration resulting from colonial attitudes, and many of the examples they shared are more recent than I would like to think. But it also occurred to me that these meetings wouldn’t have been possible if not for languages of wider communication, like Spanish and English. I’m not saying that “trade languages” justify the many sins of our fathers, but God has a history of bringing about great good from a broken world and broken people.

Here are some thoughts I heard in the last few days:

  • Indigenous people in one country were told in the past that they didn’t have the education or skills to do Bible translation. They have taken up that challenge and accomplished a lot of good in a short amount of time.
  • A Latina told us her country had a similar experience. Her response: “Latin Americans were told we’re only there to receive. We don’t want to receive; we want to give.” However, she acknowledged that many in her country still have feelings that they’re not capable of certain tasks.
  • A leader of an indigenous Bible translation organization gave encouragement to his Western colleagues with these words, “One of the great privileges for anyone is to lose your job because you’ve equipped someone to replace you.”

Wycliffe certainly can’t point any fingers; we don’t have clean hands ourselves. I’m not pointing fingers either, as I find paternalistic attitudes so easy to slip into. But it was refreshing this week to hear such incredible candor. The fact that these lideres could speak openly and honestly without fear of repercussions is a great starting point. There were a lot of bright spots as well. We are giving significant support to the rising Bible translation movement, represented by 108 partner organizations in the Americas who are working to transform people through Bible translation and language-related ministries.

We laughed, we cried, we prayed and we planned together. I’m leaving these meetings with a few ideas for fresh partnerships.

Our half day of prayer closed with prayer in 10 different languages

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It all started in Guatemala. That was where Cameron Townsend began the modern Bible translation movement. So it’s fitting that a Guatemalan American would join Wycliffe USA’s board. I’ve known about José de Dios for a long time. One of my mentors in Canada also mentored him and set him on a course to become the first Latin director of Wycliffe International’s Americas Area. In recent years, I’ve come to appreciate José as a passionate believer in Vision 2025 who is on the front lines of a Bible translation movement that’s spreading like wildfire in South America. As he’s similar age to me, we’ve had numerous discussions on the differences in leadership styles between our generation and the previous ones. I’m so excited to have him on the Wycliffe USA board.

When I was asked last summer to chair the board nominating committee, I agreed to work proactively to improve the process and try to bring diversity to the board. But there’s no way to know before the triennial delegate conference whether the voters are going to select a diverse group of board members even if the nomination list shows diversity. So I was thrilled at the results: 2 of the 6 are 45 or under, and one is Hispanic. In addition, the two alternates are female, one a young emerging Latina leader who is rapidly earning respect.

Why do I care about diversity on our board? There are lots of good reasons, but here’s one. As José puts it, “God has not only called us to every tongue, every tribe and every nation, but has called us from every tongue, every tribe and every nation to work together.” José begins to represent that population and movement on our board.

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It’s been ten years since Wycliffe adopted Vision 2025, committing ourselves to see Bible translation started in this generation for every language still needing it. So how are we doing? Wrong question. It’s a lot more messy than “we,” as Bible translation movements have popped up all over the world. What we do know is this:

  • New Bible translation project starts last year, by far the largest ever recorded: 109! That’s one translation started every three days!
  • The largest number of language communities in history with at least one book of the Bible: 2,479.

Praise God! This is the greatest acceleration of Bible translation in history. Our president Bob Creson likes to say that we are the first generation who could see the last Bible translation started.

So, what’s the remaining task? About 2,250 language communities – a population about the size of the United States – still have no access to Scripture in their heart language. With 16 years to go, we’re still not at the pace we need to be, but God is moving!

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