Posted by: Titus Presler | February 22, 2010

Young Indian missionaries pursue Bhilodi Bible translation in Gujarat

A chance meeting after the Tamil service at the Cathedral of the Redemption in Delhi on Feb. 21 highlighted the strength of mission initiative among many Indian Christians in reaching out with gospel proclamation to people without previous exposure to the Christian gospel.

Since 2000, Deva and Sudha Subir have been working to commit the language of the Bhilodi people in Gujarat, a western India state, to written script for the first time and to translate the Bible into their language.  In their early 30s with two young children, the Subirs themselves are from Tamilnadu, the region around Madras in south India, though Sudha grew up in Delhi where her parents live and work.  I had opportunity to visit with this lovely young couple when another couple from the Tamil service introduced me to them.

The Subirs spent the first five years of their ministry simply living with the Bhilodi, learning the language and exploring how to commit it to writing.  Currently they are working on Bible translation and have made substantial progress.  Throughout their work they have had technical assistance from Wycliffe Bible Translators, the world’s premier scripture translation agency, founded in the early 20th century by William Cameron Townsend.

There are 4.5 million Bhilodi speakers, according to the Subirs, 1 million of whom are Christians.  Many converts slide away from the faith, however, because they are not able to have direct access to the Bible’s nurture through having it in their own language and then being able to read it.  Hence the urgency of Bible translation and literacy training.

The Subirs readily identify themselves as missionaries, quite properly so since they are bearing witness to the gospel in numerous dimensions of difference – linguistic, ethnic, religious, cultural and geographical.  India has 16 major languages, many of which are as different from each other as French and Italian are from German or Russian.  Christians offering mission across any of these differences, especially between south and north, encounter not only different languages but very different cultural patterns of music, poetry, dance, architecture, caste boundaries and cuisine.

Along the way, the Subirs have founded their own mission agency, Life Giving Word (LGW), which recently received the 80G income tax exemption from the Indian government that enables people to make tax-free contributions.  The Subirs are members of Redemption Cathedral, Diocese of Delhi in the Church of North India (CNI), and parishioners there contribute a substantial portion of their support.

Current progress reported by the Subirs includes:

Mark – We have sent the Gospel of Mark 9 to 16 chapters to the consultant after translating from Bhilodi to English.  After he checks, he would give some suggestions.  Based on the suggestions, necessary changes would be done and would be sent to the consultant for approval.

Titus – Brothers Vinesh and Gaju checked the Epistle to Titus in four different villages.  We have to revise the portions, which the Bhilodi people find it tough to understand.  Afterwards, we have to translate it from Bhilodi to English and send it to the consultant.

Literacy – For the literacy programme, we have to conduct the Teachers training from 8th February to 11th February,  Pray God to give a special grace, health, wisdom and protection to the trainers and trainees.

LGW’s vision is stated as: “The Bible in the mother tongue of the people who speak scriptless spoken languages.”  The mission is articulated as: “Transformation in Life & Literacy for Non Literate.”

Those familiar with Wycliffe and the Summer Institute of Linguistics will recognize classic Wycliffe emphases on developing scripts for spoken languages, on Bible translation and on nurture of new believers through literacy training – and the importance of such work for linguistic and cultural preservation.  What is striking about the Subirs and their ministry is their initiative to undertake this work as Indians in the Indian context.

LGW is currently appealing for others to join their work: “Job Description: Bible Translation.  Age Limit: Below 30 yrs.  Qualification: Any Degree.  Preference: Couple.”

LGW’s February newsletter quotes Wycliffe founder Cameron Townsend on its cover: “The greatest missionary is the Bible in the mother tongue.”

Contact information: info@lifegivingword.in.  also: lifegivingword@gmail.com.

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