Russ Hersman (Wycliffe Bible Translators)

Russ Hersman

Russ Hersman remembers his first class at Multnomah like it was yesterday. How could you forget your professor shouting the entire Greek alphabet at you as he entered the room?

Everyone in Greek class felt intimidated that day. But despite the jarring welcome to higher education, Hersman was happy to find that professors didn’t just dictate facts and walk away — they encouraged students to research and think for themselves.

“They would tell us to check things out on our own,” said Hersman, MU’s Alumnus of the Year Award Winner for 2014. “They’d say, ‘Don’t believe something just because you read it or heard it. Look at the Word to see what it says.’”

‘I didn’t want to go anywhere else’

Raised around the Church, Hersman was no stranger to Christianity. But what he learned in college changed him for good. “My faith got solidified at Multnomah,” he said. “As a result, I really wanted to help other people get to know God.”

In high school, Hersman had made a commitment to become a missionary. He knew he must prepare for the work, and he knew where he’d go. Like missions, Multnomah seemed destined for him. His church had several connections to the college, and his pastor was an alumnus. “It was a natural choice,” Hersman said. “I didn’t want to go anywhere else.”

‘What’s a Wycliffe?’

Hersman was in his second semester Greek class when he heard something that would change his life forever.

In a class full of men, the only woman in the room struck his curiosity. “I asked her why she was taking Greek,” Hersman said. “She told me she wanted to be a Wycliffe Bible translator. I asked her, ‘What’s a Wycliffe?’”

Once Hersman learned that Wycliffe was one of the largest Bible-translating organizations in the world, he knew where he wanted to work.

During his second year at Multnomah, Hersman met his wife, Lynda, who shared his desire to translate the Scriptures. The couple married in 1972. After he graduated in 1978, Hersman and his wife were working for Wycliffe and ready to move anywhere in the world.

‘We’ve had an impact’

The Hersmans were sent to the Toposa community, a small town in Sudan, where they began the Toposa translation project. “We thought we were going to spend the rest of our lives there,” Hersman said. “But a year into it, I felt like I was a square peg trying to beat myself into a round hole. We knew we were in the wrong place.”

The couple spoke with their boss, who challenged them to stay in Africa for another six months and shift their focus to administration. “I just wanted to go home and lick my wounds,” Hersman said. But he decided stay, and administration turned out to be a perfect fit.

While living in Africa, Hersman was as a linguist, translator, office manager, support services manager and branch director. He also served several terms on executive committees in Sudan and Kenya. “I got to work with several languages, not just one,” he said.

The Hersmans still have a heart for the unreached people in Africa. They were honored to receive a certificate of appreciation from the Tira community for their support of the Tira translation. “It’s very satisfying to know that we were a part of the big picture,” he said. “By being faithful, we’ve had an impact on a global level.”

‘From the rainforest to the tundra to the highlands’

After 21 years in Africa, the Hersmans moved back to the States to take care of Hersman’s mother. At the same time, Wycliffe’s headquarters moved from Huntington Beach, Calif., to Orlando, Fla. The Hersmans decided to follow suit, and they’ve been living in Orlando ever since.

Hersman worked in the personnel office at Wycliffe’s headquarters for five years, first as an administrator and later as the director. He then served as senior vice president until 2012, when he became chief operations officer. Hersman is responsible for leading Wycliffe’s executive team as they mobilize prayer, people and funds for the greatest acceleration of Bible translation ever known.

“Right now, more Bible translations are being started each year than any other time in the Church’s history,” he said. “Within the past 14 years, 1,100 translation projects have been started. There are still 1,900 languages that need translations.” Wycliffe’s goal is to have a Bible translation project started for each of these languages by 2025.

“It’s an amazing thing to be a part of,” Hersman said. “I get up and go to work, and what I’m doing is having an impact from the rainforest to the tundra to the highlands.”

‘The glory goes to God’

Michelle Underwood, Multnomah’s director of alumni relations, says Hersman’s commitment to honoring God and putting others first is one of the reasons he was selected as MU’s Alumnus of the Year.

“Integrity, transparency, honor and respect describe Russ Hersman and the life he lives,” Underwood said. “His years at Wycliffe demonstrate to MU students a longevity and passion for biblical exegesis, literacy, training and translation. We are delighted to honor him this year.”

Hersman said he’s humbled by the recognition and grateful to be selected. “I’m rarely at a loss for words, but I was speechless when I found out,” he said. “The glory goes to God.”

For students wanting to get involved in Bible translation, Hersman has some words of wisdom: “Get in touch with us,” he said. “Complete your studies and go! Multnomah was hugely important in preparing me for ministry. Looking back, I have no regrets.”