Brittney Balfour was a bit lost as she tried to find her connecting gate at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport in August 2015. It was her first time in such a large terminal and one of the biggest moments of her life. She was moving away from Trinidad and Tobago, the only country she’d ever called home. You couldn’t blame her for being a bit flustered.
The previous week was emotional for Balfour, as she said goodbye to her friends and family. Now her move to Langley, B.C., to attend the Canada Institute of Linguistics (CanIL), was becoming a reality.
“In church I cried like a baby. I cried, having to leave my church family,” says the 25-year-old in her Trinidadian accent while sitting in a CanIL office. “It was a big move for a small Caribbean girl.”
Although there was some sadness for Balfour, there was also a deep sense of excitement and belief that she was about to do something great. She was eager to soon gain the education needed to provide God’s Word to minority language groups who need it.
“The Word of God is everything to me,” Balfour explains during a break from studying. “So getting the Scriptures out and having people read it in their own language—it just becomes so much richer and sweeter when somebody can understand the Word of God in their own language. I think it’s really important.”
Balfour’s passion for God’s Word was shaped in her childhood. Raised in a single-parent home in the eastern Trinidad town of Sangre Grande, Balfour was surrounded by people of strength and faith in her local church. However, one of the most influential role models in her life was her mother.
“My mom worked very hard to provide food on the table, and put me through school.”
Balfour’s mother, though, wasn’t isolated in her community as a single mom. Balfour says neighbours shared each other’s burdens and understood that struggle and hard work were part of everyday life.
“If you need help or some ingredient to make a dish, you can just ask your neighbour next door,” she explains. “It's a village where everyone knows everyone.”
The biggest way Balfour’s mother shaped her daughter’s faith was by consistently taking her to their home church next door. It was there Balfour heard the gospel at a young age and was taught the fear of the Lord by her pastor. She says it wasn’t a difficult decision to follow Christ and despite “walking on the fence” at times, she continued to attend her home church and develop her faith.
“I knew God had a plan for my life,” she explains. “I never wanted to live a ‘normal’ Christian life.”
Choosing a Different Path
After graduating in her early 20s with her undergraduate degree, Balfour entered the workforce, taking a government job as a clerk. However, she wasn’t satisfied with the role. She wanted something more meaningful and fulfilling.
While attending a missions camp, she found what she was looking for. As different presenters shared about the many Bibleless people groups around the globe, she felt a burden on her heart that all languages should have God’s Word. Having already taken linguistics as her undergrad, it suddenly clicked that God could use her skill set.
“Just imagine if we didn’t have the Bible in English,” she says about the burden she feels. “How terrible it would be. Sometimes I read The Message (a modern English Bible paraphrase published in 2002) and it comes so alive.”
Since enrolling in CanIL’s Master of Applied Linguistics and Exegesis (MLE) program in 2015, Balfour has had a truly immersive experience. From attending classes taught by professors who have experience working with minority language groups around the world, she says she has learned practical lessons that will prepare her for the future. Stories from professors, both in class and during chapel times, have opened her eyes to how challenging life can be as a missionary.
“Certainly that has been helpful in giving me a holistic view of what it will be like in the field,” she says. “It won’t be completely easy. You might have challenges, especially in terms of family life.”
In her course work, Balfour is doing assignments that model the tasks she will need to do in the field, like learning a local language and entering language information into a software database. And on top of classes, Balfour was also a teacher’s assistant for Linguistics 101, an introductory class for first-year students.
“I think it helps you in terms of your confidence and being able to teach,” Balfour says about the role. “Because when you go on the field you have to teach the people there how to do Bible translation. Basically you’re being a core teacher, helping them through the process.”
Along with learning from assignments and classes, Balfour points to the cross-cultural experience she’s had at CanIL as an important educational tool. Looking toward her future field role, she describes CanIL as “a cross-cultural experience before her actual cross-cultural experience.”
However, her CanIL cultural exposure hasn’t been limited to its Langley, B.C. campus. During the summer of 2016, with the help of a CanIL scholarship, Balfour travelled to Israel to take a one-month intensive Hebrew course at the Biblical Language Centre in Jerusalem. The only CanIL student who applied for the scholarship, she was fully immersed in biblical Hebrew, while gaining six transferable credits for her master’s degree. Perhaps most amazing of all, she walked the same roads that Jesus did more than 2,000 years ago.
“That was spectacular in every way.”
The classes were taught entirely in Hebrew, which forced Balfour and the other students to learn by listening and practice.
“Pretty much I felt like a child being thrown into a new area and just having to figure it out. A good seed was planted. I learned quite a bit.”
Excited For What’s Next
While Balfour is looking to complete her studies in December 2017, her future plans have yet to be finalized. Like it was for her when she first left Trinidad for CanIL in 2015, graduation may bring with it mixed emotions. She’ll most likely feel both excitement about being much closer to helping provide God’s Word to those who need it, but also sadness that she’s leaving her classmates.
And like it was when she was lost in the Toronto airport, despite some fear, she doesn’t plan to turn back. She will follow God’s calling for her life. And besides, she isn’t that scared anyway.
“That’s pretty exciting to me,” Balfour says in her Trinidadian accent about the possibility of moving to a remote village. “It’s not that freaky. I get freaked out thinking about snakes. . . .
“The fearful thoughts will come when I think about my family back home in Trinidad and what might happen to them and stuff like that. But it’s really for me just a learning curve to let go and let God.”