Feature

Born on a Dining Room Table

Today’s vibrant Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada had its roots in small beginnings.

GOD OFTEN DOES BIG THINGS THAT START IN SMALL, SEEMINGLY INSIGNIFICANT WAYS. TAKE THE INCARNATION, FOR INSTANCE. God sent His Son to be Lord and Saviour for all people throughout the world. And it started when a tiny baby was born in a lowly stable to a seemingly insignificant couple.

Today, God is still doing big things with small beginnings. A good example is the growth of Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada.

George Cowan and a local co-translator check Scriptures on the way to completing the New Testament in 1961 for Huautla de Jimenez Mazatec speakers of Mexico. George and his wife Florence were the first Canadians with Wycliffe to participate in a completed translation project.
(Photo: Wycliffe Canada photo archives)

Canadians have long been involved in the Bible translation movement. That started well before Wycliffe Canada became a charitable organization in this country 50 years ago—the milestone we are celebrating in 2018 and the reason for this magazine's theme.

In 1942, George Cowan was the first Canadian to take linguistic training in the U.S. offered by Wycliffe’s predecessor organization, the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Cowan, along with Herb and Hilda Whealy, were the first Canadians to join the U.S.-based Wycliffe Bible Translators. Linguistic training programs started in Canada as early as 1944 with 43 students (under the direction of George Cowan) in Briercrest, Sask. These SIL programs continued there until 1957.

Cowan directed summer linguistic training programs for Canadians as early as 1944 at Briercrest, Sask., shown in this photo.
(Photo: Wycliffe Canada photo archives)

Humble Beginnings

In 1951, George and another Wycliffe leader came to Moose Jaw, Sask., to ask Al and Genevieve Blager to consider opening a national Wycliffe office. The Blagers agreed and thus began Wycliffe operations in Canada—on a corner on their dining room table, with a used three-drawer filing cabinet and an old Remington typewriter.

In 1962, Wycliffe workers Jim and Gladys Dean needed financial support, so a prayer group was started in a family home in Willowdale, Ont. It was the first official Wycliffe prayer group in the nation.Today, many thousands of Canadians are committed to praying for Wycliffe personnel working around the world. Five hundred Canadians are also involved in Wycliffe’s Bibleless Peoples Prayer Project. They each have promised to pray for a particular language group until it receives a translation of God’s Word.

Building Up

During the summer of 1962, Canadian Wycliffe members Howard and Beatrice Klassen came home from serving in Mexico. Due to the pressure of other business, the Blagers asked Howard to take over Wycliffe in Canada. Later in 1962, Howard felt led to move the Wycliffe office to Calgary. Howard’s basement served as the first office until 1968.

The men behind the vision to incorporate Wycliffe Canada were Howard Klassen, George Cowan, Herb Whealy, Don Frantz and Warren Harbeck. In 1968, Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada was incorporated by the federal government of Canada as a non-profit charity—the source of this year’s 50th celebration. Wycliffe Canada’s first meeting of incorporation was held on May 11 of that year. It started bright and early at 9 a.m., in the then offices of the organization at Suite 1, 1026-16th Ave. N.W., in Calgary.

“ The corporation was formed under a deep sense of the world’s pressing need . . . to bring the Word of God, the Holy Bible, to all peoples in their own language.”

“The corporation,” explained Wycliffe Canada’s first bylaws, “was formed under a deep sense of the world’s pressing need, and with an earnest desire, constrained by the love of Christ and the hope of His coming, to obey His command to preach the gospel to every creature. Its aim is, by the help of God, to bring the Word of God, the Holy Bible, to all peoples in their own language.”

By 1975, Wycliffe Canada was looking for a larger facility, after having moved twice since 1968. A warehouse was purchased that year in northeast Calgary, with a gorgeous view of the Rocky Mountains. Initially, two of the three bays were rented to a meat cutter and a steel fabrication plant. In the third bay, Wycliffe Associates (Wycliffe’s former volunteer ministry partner) played a big role in developing and constructing the new office space for Wycliffe Canada.

The work has gradually expanded. Currently, this national headquarters building is totally occupied by Wycliffe Canada. A total part-time and full-time staff of more than 65 (equal to a full-time equivalent workforce of 46) serves there.

Other facilities—in Ontario and on the campus of Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C.—provide Wycliffe physical office presences in Eastern Canada and on the West Coast.

A participant in Wycliffe Canada’s Race to 2025 rappels down a steep cliff, with the Rocky Mountains in the background, near Nordegg, Alta. The adventure race is one of the ways Wycliffe Canada involves young adults in the Bible translation cause. Since 2007, the event has helped 660+ participants raise more than $760,000 for Bible translation and related ministries in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Mobilizing Canadians

Wycliffe Canada’s home-based team, including a mobilization and engagement team across the country, promotes and publicizes the field work in language research, literacy, community development and, of course, Bible translation. This dedicated team aims to mobilize Canadians, often challenging them at churches, schools and conferences, to pray, give financially and directly join Wycliffe personnel to serve somewhere in the world. Other departments help recruits with necessary orientation and training.

Wycliffe’s workforce of Canadians has been multiplied many times over. By 1963, 83 Canadians were serving in 11 countries. Today, more than 350 staff members work with Wycliffe Canada at home and abroad. During most of Wycliffe Canada’s history, virtually all personnel were supported financially by churches and individual Christians. In recent years, however, dozens of staff who are unpaid volunteers have become increasingly important, serving somewhere on the globe.

Whatever the type of worker, someone has to guide them. God has graciously provided servant-hearted leadership for Wycliffe Canada over the decades. Executive directors have included Howard Klassen, Ray Nicholson, Len Newell, Jim Dean, Jack Newton, Jack Popjes, Roger Gilstrap, Dave Ohlson and Don Hekman. Currently, the position (now called president) is held by Roy Eyre, who writes the “Last Word” column for Word Alive.

The late Marilyn Gorsline (left) and Dianne Van der Wal process donations in the Wycliffe Canada receipts department in 1993. They were part of a long string of staff over the past half-century who have ensured that millions and millions of dollars from donors got to the right destinations around the world, while meeting acceptable financial accounting standards. Support staff serve in important roles behind the front lines of Bible translation—communicating to and mobilizing Canadians, running computer systems, teaching missionary kids, doing administration, processing personnel applicants, etc. The list of support tasks is long and varied.
(Photo: Wycliffe Canada photo archives)

New Blood

While the average age of Wycliffe Canada’s personnel is increasing, efforts are being made to recruit and involve new blood. The popular Race to 2025 adventure competitions in the Rockies have already given hundreds of young adults the chance to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for language projects overseas—and share the Bible translation cause with many others in the process. Some racers are also moving towards service with Wycliffe.

New blood—whether staff, pray-ers or financial donors—is crucial if Wycliffe Canada is to contribute its share toward fulfilling Vision 2025. Adopted by Wycliffe International in 1999, it is a goal to see a Bible translation started for every language needing it by the year 2025.

Canuck Contribution

Canadians have played major roles in actual Bible translation project completions overseas for more than six decades. The first New Testament involving Canadians was for speakers of the Mazatec Highland language of Mexico. George and Florence Cowan worked on that project, completed in 1960.

As the number of ethnic churches has grown across Canada, Chinese and Korean congregations, such as the Evangelical Chinese Bible Church in Burnaby, B.C., are increasingly commissioning and sending out workers to serve with Wycliffe Canada overseas.
(Photo: Dave Crough)

Since that time, Canadians have helped translate a healthy portion of the 950 New Testaments and whole Bibles in which Wycliffe personnel from around the world have participated. Canucks have been directly involved in completing 77 Scripture translations. (Several Canadian individuals or couples have even worked on multiple translations.) These projects have included 16 in Papua New Guinea, 16 in Mexico, 10 in the Philippines, five in Brazil and four in Guatemala.

These languages are spoken by a combined, estimated population of 59 million-plus people, living in more than 27 countries. These language groups vary widely in size. Most range from just a few hundred people to a half million. Whatever size, they represent individuals who now have access to God’s life-changing Word in a language that speaks to their hearts—their own!

Training linguists to do Bible translation is a crucial part of getting the job done. After an absence of 20 years, SIL training in Canada for prospective Bible translation personnel was resurrected by Wycliffe Canada leadership. Canada SIL at Trinity Western University opened its doors in 1985. Now called the Canada Institute of Linguistics (CanIL), it continues as the main training program for Wycliffe Canada (pictured below). CanIL has equipped an estimated 400 language personnel to serve with Wycliffe over the years in university-accredited programs at Langley and Toronto.

Front-line Bible translation is not the whole story, though. Hundreds of Canadian personnel have worked behind the scenes in various support roles, as well.

Financial Growth

Wycliffe Canada has processed tens of millions of dollars in donations from tens of thousands of committed individuals and churches across our nation. These gifts are Wycliffe Canada’s only financial means of support for all home and overseas personnel (except volunteers), and for specific field projects.

God has substantially grown Wycliffe Canada’s annual budgets over these past five decades. In 1968, for example, the entire budget was only $7,500. It rose to $87,000 by 1974 and $6.7 million by 1993. Today, the budget stands at about $16.5 million.

Wycliffe Canada’s Kevin and Laurel Penner discuss a reading primer with several speakers of the Mixtec language in Mexico. The Penners have trained locals to work on the Bible translation project there. This modern approach is a major change from the early days when Canadians serving with Wycliffe would usually do the actual Bible translation work, assisted by language helpers in communities.
(Photo: Alan Hood)

Wycliffe Canada was on the forefront of sponsoring Bible translation, literacy, bilingual education and community development projects. Many were supported with the help of millions of dollars in federal and provincial government grants. Wycliffe Canada initiated its Partners with Nationals program in 1991, to provide financial support directly to dozens of local Bible translators serving their own people overseas. Today, our organization works with individual Canadian Christians and churches to fund about a dozen projects in focus regions in South America, Asia, Africa and Canada.

Not Finished Yet

Wycliffe Canada has grown indeed . . . from the corner of a dining room table to a large office building; from a handful of Canadians to well over 300 workers; from a tiny budget of $7,500 to one which is several thousand times larger.

God started something in Canada from tiny beginnings, and He has since done much bigger things. For that, we can be thankful.

But we can also be excited, because our Lord isn’t yet finished with Wycliffe Canada. The Bible translation movement is pushing on to bring His Word to the 1,600-plus language groups (totalling 114 million people) that still need projects started. And Canadians can continue to play a significant role in one way or another.

They will build on an impressive and growing legacy that started very small and is having an impact for eternity.

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