The Bible for the Least of These: Engaging Children in Translation

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. – Luke 10:21

As John Piper points out in his article What Makes Jesus Rejoice, the verse above is only one of two places where Jesus is described as rejoicing. The reason for his joy was because when the seventy-two disciples returned from their preaching tour, they told him that the Gospel message was hidden from the wise and revealed to little children. 
John Piper says, “The point of this is not that there are only certain classes of people who are chosen by God. The point is that God is free to choose the least likely candidates for his grace.” Children, who have no academic accomplishments to boast in nor do they have the physical strength for serious hunting in the rain forest, are the ones to whom the Father reveals himself. “God contradicts what human merit might dictate. He hides from the self-sufficient wise and reveals to the most helpless and unaccomplished.” If then the Lord takes joy in hiding himself from the accomplished and revealing himself to the weak, could there be implications for Bible translation?

Through verses like the above and years of teaching the Word to children inside and outside of our home, Dave and I believe that it would be both pleasing to God and strategic to involve children from the very beginning of the Bakoum translation project. Ideally (and after talking to the Bakoum community), we would like to translate both a children’s Bible for ages 5-10 (similar to the NIrV) and a Bible designed for mature readers and mature believers (similar to the ESV).

The Why
There are several reasons why we are praying about launching a parallel translation project.

Strategy. Dave’s dad works for Compassion International, an organization whose goal is to “release children from poverty in Jesus’ name.” In talking to Dave’s dad, we’ve heard story after story of children who have not just been released from poverty, but who have then grown up to become doctors, lawyers, and political leaders in their nations. Children do not stay children, but instead grow up to become leaders of churches, families, and even nations. Our prayer is to reach the children and in doing so, reach the Bakoum.

Theology. In translating with and for little boys and girls, we would communicate to the culture children are valuable and that Jesus is for people of all ages and for each gender. Jesus is for rich and poor, male and female, young and old.

Literacy. Most English-speaking parents do not expect their children to jump from their ABCs straight into the King James version of the Bible. Instead, there are years of Dr. Seuss books and children’s Bibles with colorful illustrations before the children can read and understand the Bible of their parents. A children’s Bible is a helpful intermediate step between the ABCs and are more “literal” translation (for both young and old!)

Translation. Dave Brunn, in his book One Bible, Many Versions, says that ideally every translation project would have both a more “literal” translation and a more accessible translation for those who are new to the faith or to reading in general. Translators generally agree with this, but due to limited resources and the urgent need this idea is placed on the wouldn’t-it-be-nice pile. A parallel translation project (one translation for children, one for mature readers/believers) would take this idea from the worldn’t-it-be-nice pile and put it in the let’s-do-this-thing pile.

Discipleship. Translating a Bible for children would require day-in and day-out work with children. This would mean that I would teach a small group of children everything I know about the Bible: the big events of the Bible, Genesis to Revelation, the meaning of words like “propitiation,” the significance of the sacrificial system, and the parables of Jesus. These children would receive the benefit of education, knowledge of Scripture, and more-or-less a seminary education. My prayer is that I would be teaching and raising up my future pastor(s) among the Bakoum.

The How
At this point, we are imagining that Dave and I would work with a team of adult Bakoum translators. We will sit side-by-side and do exegesis together, using French commentaries and resources. This is the group that will decide on key theological terms (like “baptism” or “pastor”). This team would then go through all the steps in the translation process, producing a final draft of each passage. Taking this final draft and the completed exegetical work, I would then work orally with children until they understand and are able to internalize the meaning of the passage and can say it back in their own words. 

We were able to see what this might look like just this last year. One of our classmates here in TX used our kids as “mother tongue translators” for a translation class at GIAL. Her goal was to produce a translation of the Bible in “second grade English.” Through this process they were taught the meaning of “centurion” and then asked how they would explain this word to someone in their class at school. The passage they worked on has been burned into their minds and they can explain it in their own words. It proved to be an extremely effective and memorable way to teach them the Bible.

The “But what about…”
We have been told that doing a parallel project like the one described above has never been done. Therefore, as we prayerfully pursue this avenue, we know that we are wading through uncharted waters. There are many question marks and issues to consider. The work-load of one project is heavy, let alone two. We imagine that this endeavor could be like committing to adopt one set of twins and then going back to adopt another set – as if the first set wasn’t hard enough (so we hear…).

Aside from the work-load, it is possible that the two versions of the Bible would end up being so close to one another that a second version would prove unnecessary. Certainly a parallel project would make the entire project take longer. But the question of time is not a concern to us. We are church planters first and foremost among the Bakoum and we see the hours spent investing in national translators, young and old, as a means to the end of a strong, national-led church.

Since a this type of parallel translation project has never been attempted, if we do it and succeed, other translators could follow. It would be a great joy to see all projects set up to reach children from the very beginning. And if we fail, others can learn what NOT to do. We do pray that this idea would materialize, but whether it be through their own translation or not, we pray the Lord would use us to reach Bakoum children with the Gospel.


Author: Stacey Hare

Stacey is a servant of Jesus Christ as well as a wife, mom, linguist, and Bible translator among the Kwakum people of Cameroon.