Why I Spent Last Summer in North Dakota

It’s been five months since I was there–in Grand Forks, North Dakota, studying linguistics. Just how every college student wants to spend their summer, right? Part of me hated the idea of taking more classes through the summer and spending more money instead of making some. But I had a dream; I still do. And that’s why in another five months, I’m going back and doing it again.

SIL is a faith-based, non-governmental organization that works in language research, development, preservation, translation, and training worldwide. Their training is what I was interested in. The acronym stands for Summer Institute of Linguistics. It was this program that took me all the way to North Dakota last summer where, for two months, I practiced learner-directed methods of second language acquisition, pronouncing and transcribing the phonetic alphabet, analyzing the syntax and morphology of foreign languages from sets of data, and using  digital media to collect quality recordings. I also learned about writing systems and the sociological implications of their development and reform. In other words, I finally got to take classes that had real-world implications and applications. I took 10 credits’ worth of linguistics classes in 9 weeks and I’d do it again.

So what exactly brought me there? I’ve always been fascinated by language and how it works. Languages are so connected but so different, so structured yet always changing. So I went to college as a linguistics major, and the dream that started to form during high school started to become a goal, even a plan: simply, to translate the Bible into a language that doesn’t have one. I want to work as a linguistic consultant with a committee of translators in a community that wants the Word of God in their native language. As a Biblical Studies double-major, I know the significance of the Bible as a religious, literary, historical, and sociological document and the incredible impact it has had in those areas. As a Christian, I know the spiritual significance of this book and have seen the ways it challenges and even changes people’s relationships, behaviors, and world views–including my own.

I once heard a Bible translator tell a story about a tribe in Papua New Guinea. He was working with the leaders of the community on Bible translation when one of the men finally understood that this book was the written word of God, inspired by the Creator of everything, a God more powerful than all the ones they feared on their island. As the man soaked this in, he asked the translator slowly, “Did your father have this book?” and after the translator nodded, again, “did his father have this book?” and after asking about its heritage a few generations further back, he eventually got the idea that we had had the Word of God for a long time. In his culture, it is socially incorrect to make another person feel shame, but from the silence that followed, the translator felt the weight of the question left unspoken: Why has it taken you this long to tell us about it? 

We can’t fix all of the problems we see. We don’t even have enough energy to care about every major injustice, though many of us pretend to. In my opinion, we’d do better to spend our time and energy on causes that we can actually do something about. I chose this as my cause, or maybe God gave me a passion for it. Either way, I realized I’m willing to give several years of my life to this venture, much less a couple of summers.

I spent the summer with people who shared my love of linguistics as well as my values and passions. I shared meals and worked on homework with families home from the field, researchers and professors, and young aspiring college students like myself who plan on applying to work in Bible translation after graduating. I chose to do this training now, over the course of two summers rather than after graduation, for three reasons:

  1. So that at graduation, I can actually be done with classes for the foreseeable future.
  2. So that when I leave for the field, the support that I raise can go straight to travel and living expenses, rather than toward training.
  3. So that I can get on the field faster.

I’m blessed to have parents who are extremely supportive as I spend my summers bringing in no income of my own. They made sure that I got to SIL last summer, but this additional tuition wasn’t part of the four-year college deal. So I’m trying to raise three things:

  1. Awareness for the cause. Maybe this is something you care a lot about too? Over a hundred million people have no part of the Bible in their first language. Please do your research and spread the information and the passion for Bible translation.
  2. Funds! To work as a translator, I need to complete the second half of my training. It’s another 10 credits of classes this coming summer (2017). I’m applying and trusting God for provision, but you know he uses people, so if you can, please consider donating! You can find out more under the Donate tab.
  3. Support. Donating now doesn’t mean you have to continue to do so, but I would like to start to create a network of long-term support. That doesn’t just mean people who fill my pockets. I need people who care enough to keep up with my story and to share it, and most importantly to pray for me and the efforts of Bible translators worldwide and whatever God has in store.

Thanks for reading. Whatever your cause, wherever you are in life or geographically, serve God and serve the people around you.

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” 

-1 John 4:20-21