Travis Williamson graduated in 2008 with his MA in Theology with an emphasis in Bible Translation, earned through a cooperative program between DIU and Dallas Theological Seminary. Since then, Travis has applied his DIU education to partnering in the translation of the North Gumuz New Testament.

Serving Diverse Communities

The Gumuz, a people group of Ethiopia and Sudan, live in a diverse religious climate. Various Christian traditions are present in the area, including Orthodox, Catholic, and several Protestant denominations. In his favorite class at DIU, Scripture Engagement Strategy and Methods, Travis learned the importance of considering Scripture engagement from the early stages of a translation project. He knew from the start that the New Testament would not be used effectively without the cooperation and participation of all the local Christian traditions.

The leaders of each denomination agreed: because God’s word is central to the Christian faith, they would all support the translation. The translation team, therefore, consisted of three Gumuz translators—one from each tradition—and a review board of fifteen community translators, also evenly divided.

Big Ideas Bring Challenges

Interdenominational cooperation did create challenges for the translation team. The translators’ theological differences often sparked tension when translating passages that their traditions interpret differently. Travis also found that external conflicts affected the project even when the team faced no internal conflict.

He remembers walking into the office one Monday morning to find no work happening. That weekend, an Orthodox evangelist had threatened local people with various traditional curses if they attended any church other than Orthodox, and the translation work stalled as the translators initiated reconciliation between the denominations.

Uniting to Overcome Challenges

Despite the difficulties, Travis found that working with a multidenominational team was a blessing. When the translators disagreed on interpreting the text, their only option was to adhere as closely as possible to the author’s original intent rather than to a theological tradition. In this way, they kept each other accountable and enriched the translation. Travis says he even saw individual changes in his colleagues as they continually wrestled with God’s word.

The North Gumuz translation project has also prompted change on a national level. The secular government noticed the Gumuz translators’ role in reconciling their respective denominations and has since called them in to facilitate reconciliation in recent ethnic conflicts. In another instance, the Orthodox Church in one region opposed vernacular church services, nearly sparking protests. The government news network, hoping to defuse tension, highlighted Orthodox participation in the Gumuz translation to show that Orthodox leadership is, indeed, in favor of vernacular use. The Gumuz team’s unity has sent out ripples of positive change into the public sphere.

The North Gumuz translation has even set an example for Bible translation projects across Ethiopia. When a new project begins now, whichever denomination or organization is leading the project makes a point to involve the other traditions. If the North Gumuz team could do it, they say, we can too! Praise God—not only has he given people his word in their heart language, but he has also laid the foundation for lasting unity among his church in Ethiopia!

Train for Bible Translation at DIU

Travis had the opportunity to join this Northern Gumuz in achieving their expressed needs because of the preparation for Bible translation that he received at DIU. Did you know we have 5 unique programs to prepare you for Bible translation based on your own unique calling and context? Learn more about our Bible translation programs here!

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