"Watch out for warthog holes!" I wasn't sure what my friend meant as we drove across the savannah in Sudan, but I quickly found out. Warthog burrows are often hidden in the tall grass and as one of the wheels on my vehicle found it, I was suddenly at a dead stop with one wheel up to its axle in the ground and my journey had changed. Sometimes we could power ourselves out of the hole. Other times the hole was so big and deep, it took help from others to be extracted.
Watching War and Persecution
As missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators, Lynda and I have run into our share of warthog holes...some real and others metaphorical. Working in Sudan for 21 years, seventeen of which were during the civil war, we ran into all sorts of sudden life-changing events. Having to evacuate multiple times due to war, losing dear friends to lawlessness, and watching believers persecuted for their faith were a few of these journey-changing events. They were definitely unpleasant at the time.
We left Africa to work in Wycliffe's office in Orlando, but the warthog holes followed us! At Wycliffe we are currently experiencing a significant one right now. There are individuals in the American Church whom are questioning Wycliffe's commitment to Trinitarian doctrine due to a controversy over how terms like "Son of God" and "Father" are translated in a few language communities. With nearly 80 years of faithfulness, I would never have thought Wycliffe's evangelical orthodoxy would come into question. We're committed to the doctrine of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and to translating the Word accurately and clearly so that others can know Jesus for who He is. This is a warthog hole we never saw coming and is too big to climb out alone.
Trinitarian Doctrine Controversy
Wycliffe is asking an independent panel of experts (theologians, Biblical Scholars, missiologists, translators, and linguists) from around the world to evaluate our translation practices in regard to translating these terms. We've committed to allow their decisions to guide our future translation work. We have put on hold any printing or distribution of Scripture for any of the languages touched by this controversy until this is resolved.
It's a really big warthog hole…and it took us by surprise. But it did not surprise the Lord. We believe that He has good things in store for Wycliffe as a result of this, even though at the moment it is very unpleasant. We translate for His Glory and to make His name famous among the language communities of the world. We want to make sure our translation work is accurate and clear, so we welcome the opportunity to have this evaluated by the Church. After all, the great commission, of which Bible translation is a part, was given to the Church, not to Wycliffe. So warthog holes can be really good things—unplesantly good.
About the Author:
Russ (B.A. '78) and Lynda ('72) Hersman and their children (Pam, Erik and Amy) are all Multnomah University alumni. They joined Wycliffe Bible Translators in 1976. After 21 years in Africa, they live in Orlando, Florida now where Russ is the Senior Vice President at Wycliffe.