How a Bible translation project in Chad is bringing Christians and Muslims together

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

Twenty years. It's hard to believe it, but for the past half a century, that's how long remote communities have had to wait to have the Bible translated into their language. As the global coordinator for all unfoldingWord field projects, it's been my dream to see people be able to receive God's word in their heart languages more quickly – and thanks to an innovative new approach to translation, it's finally happening.

Did you know of the 7,000+ languages spoken around the world today, approximately 3,589 have little or no Scripture? As the global Church experiences exponential growth, this process of translation, taking at least 20 years, is currently outweighed by the increasing demand. I travel to where our partners are to meet with unreached people groups and am faced regularly with the resounding need for the translation of God's Word into many heart languages.

During a recent trip to Chad where I worked to implement an emerging model of Bible translation called 'Church-Centric Bible Translation', I worked alongside other members of the unfoldingWord training team to train and resource Chad nationals to translate 50 Bible stories into eight minority languages.

I am witness to the transformation currently taking place, as Muslims and Christians come together to embark on this translation journey. A journey which takes a fraction of the time in comparison to established approaches. Ultimately this will have the potential to impact around 2 million people in Chad who speak something other than Chadian Arabic.

I knew it would be a challenging road ahead as a group of eight language teams, with five members each (two all Muslim, two all Christian and four mixed groups) came together. I have spent decades of my working life developing leaders and teams and didn't underestimate the barriers they needed to overcome as they began the first in a series of six translation workshops.

Chadians working together on Bible translation.(Photo: unfoldingWord)

Each team faced the challenge of working together in a way that respected and fully utilized the strengths of its members. We spent time each day addressing character traits and mindsets that help a team work well and those that get in the way.

This work began in January, and the team is now finishing its third two-week workshop, the last two under the guidance of our partner. This is an exciting development in the capabilities of our partner PCET and also represents the potential of investing deeply in equipping others, a hallmark of CCBT.

Each team is comprised of persons with varying degrees of language expertise. Most are fully literate, some can read and speak but not write well, and some are only able to speak. The translation teams are unable to work outside of this programme due to the time involved yet they remain committed to the process.

While this work is laborious, we are already seeing its fruits. Several Muslim team members have expressed their enthusiasm and joy at having access to these stories, a work of ground-breaking measure as most Muslims have no exposure to the Bible.

This translation project succeeds the first translation group of its kind in Chad which began in 2018 and was completed 18 months later. From this first group of eight language teams, at least two new churches have been planted and the new believers are assigned to the associated missionary for the people group. This process is part of the vital mission of one of our partners, the Chadian church network initiative established to reach the lost in Chad.

I now wait in anticipation of the impact that the second round of translation will have in Chad. I think of the two million Chadians who currently have no access to the Bible in their heart language and am confident in the potential for communities to be transformed as they are to discover the life-giving stories found in the scriptures. Ultimately, I hope to again witness the spiritual fruit of the translation group as Muslims and Christians cooperate to complete the next stage of this project.

Eric Steggerda is Global Coordinator for unfoldingWord's field projects. For more information on CCBT or to support its work go to