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Reading the Bible in Thai on a tablet

Keyboard volunteers recover lost Bible translations

Having the Bible available on our phones or laptops is normal for most of us, and it's incredibly useful – it's always available, we can cut and paste text, compare translations and find verses easily. 

But there are many languages where that's not possible, even when a translation exists. There might be a printed Bible or New Testament, but it's never been digitised or the digital copy might have been lost. 

A volunteer works to create a digital version of the Bible

That's why Bible Society has teamed up with Wycliffe and MissionAssist on an exciting project designed to make hundreds of Bibles available to people online for the first time. 

Spearheaded by MissionAssist, the Bible Digitisation Project aims to recruit volunteers who will copy the scanned text of printed Scriptures manually onto a computer at home. They don't need to be linguists or expert computer users, but they do need to be accurate and able to concentrate hard. 

Volunteers work independently in pairs on the same text, and their results are collated and checked against the original printed text and corrected as needed by another volunteer to ensure the highest possible level of accuracy. There are no set hours – some do a few hours a week, while others do much more. 

Digitising Bibles means they can be made freely available on major platforms like YouVersion. It also means earlier translations can be revised and unfinished projects completed, so it's a gift for Bible translators; and Braille versions can be produced for blind people.  

Many of these translations are in languages whose existence is threatened because so few people speak them. Digital translations – because they widen the range of literature available in these languages – help ensure their survival. 

One of the Bibles held in Bible Society’s Cambridge archive

Mrs Christine Reynolds (76), from Balham, is digitising the Psalms in Micmac, an endangered indigenous language used by fewer than 7,000 people in Nova Scotia. She said the work is demanding because of the concentration needed, as well as the skills she's had to acquire in order to key in Micmac characters. 'I have to use keys I've never been near before,' she said. 'Some letters require four keystrokes.' 

She said: 'It's very satisfying because you're enabling someone to get access to the Bible. You're also helping to save an endangered language – the world goes wild about endangered species, but we forget that our own languages and cultures are disappearing. 

'You're not only meeting someone's spiritual needs, but keeping alive someone's heart language.' 

Bible Society's Chief Executive Officer Paul Williams said: 'Digitising translations of the Bible is hugely important. Bible Society has the largest collection of printed Scriptures in the world, and within our archives are texts in languages which have no Scriptures online.

We want to make them available as widely as possible so more and more people can read the Bible in their heart language. We're delighted to be working with other Bible Societies and translation agencies to make this happen. Keyboarding volunteers have a vital role to play in making God's word accessible today.' 

To find out more about the Bible Digitisation project or about how you can help, contact Volunteer Enquiries:

Case study: Kare New Testament, Central African Republic 

The Kare language is spoken by about 97,000 people in the Central African Republic. According to the country director of Bible translation agency SIL, Elizabeth Marti, a translation had been completed in the 1940s. She says: 'Since about 2013 I knew there had been a translation of Kare done in the 40s but had never seen a copy of it myself. It also sounded like surviving copies in the villages – considering weather, time, and wars – were highly unlikely. It was a part of history that was lost to the years.'

It was then found that there was a copy in UK archives that could be digitised. 'What an unexpected blessing!' says Elizabeth. 'It can now be used as a reference for a revised, modern translation into the Kare language.'

And Paul Murrell, working on a new translation into Kare, says: 'Having the New Testament easily available in this format means that we can now check how well people understand it and assess how well the existing translation meets their needs for Scripture access. The fact that this is digital will make it so much easier to use as a base for future work, whatever form that may take. This digitisation has the potential to save years of work down the line; I pray that it is put to good use in the coming months and years.' 

Author: Bible Society, 9 September 2020 (Last updated: 11 September 2020)

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