A Different Dream | Wycliffe Bible Translators

A Different Dream

Advancing the gospel through technology

  • March 5, 2020
Technology

By all accounts, Phillip was living a software engineer’s dream.

Living in Silicon Valley and working in software development for a huge tech company, Phillip was at the top of his career. But he was dissatisfied. The stressful work environment, long commute and toxic atmosphere had sucked all the fun and excitement out of his job. Phillip was fed up. 

But every time Phillip thought about leaving, he felt like God said: "No, stay." Even when recruiters from other companies contacted him, God seemed to close those doors.

In April 2011, Phillip joined his church’s short-term mission trip to JAARS* in Waxhaw, North Carolina. “Basically, I signed up because I wanted a week off of work,” Phillip laughed. “Even though I grew up in the church, I never knew missionaries were anyone other than doctors or teachers who went into jungles, and so I was never interested.”

But when Phillip was at the JAARS center, he started hearing about the support roles needed in Bible translation. Phillip happened to run into the lead information technology recruiter while there, and he invited Phillip to listen to an IT presentation.

Family
Phillip and his family.

“I sat in the back, and realized [that] these are things I do! I could really help out here,” Phillip said. He caught up with the speaker and the two of them went to lunch with another IT director. As Phillip shared his interests, the table grew quiet and the two men looked at each other with funny grins on their faces. 

“What is it?” Phillip asked. 

One man said, “Well, about six months ago, we realized we needed someone with a certain cross section of skills to lead a team, but we didn’t know where this person would come from. So we prayed. Now here we are talking to you, and you are exactly what we’ve been praying for!”

Within a few weeks, Phillip and his wife, Melanie, reached out to Wycliffe where they discovered that the organization had a position that would allow Melanie to continue her practice as a marriage and family therapist.

“It was something God had been orchestrating for quite a long time,” Phillip said. “If I had gotten those other jobs, I never would have had the vacation [time] to go on that trip, or perhaps the impetus to go at all.” 

You Can’t, But I Can

James
James Cunningham.

James had already been part of founding a successful start-up with several colleagues when he was first introduced to Wycliffe. “I had no idea my skills in technology were applicable to missions,” he said. “I thought perhaps just a language software programmer would be needed. But as I learned more, I was amazed [missions] needs just about every different discipline in technology!”

James decided to visit Wycliffe’s headquarters to learn more about the organization, but he wasn’t convinced he’d join. “I thought, ‘No way can I move to Florida and leave my company that is finally succeeding,’” he said. 

While visiting Orlando, James and his wife went to a local church. During the service, James told God, “You know I’ve been searching and looking into this, but I just don’t think I can do this job or make this move. I really can’t do this.” 

As James waited in silence, he suddenly felt a very distinct answer from God: “You’re right. You can’t.”

“I realized I was completely disappointed,” James said. “I thought it would be wonderful to serve in missions to do something meaningful that would impact people for eternity.”

But as James sat there, he heard God’s voice again: “But I can do it through you.”

At that point, James knew God was guiding him to Orlando.

Hackathon

On the Cutting Edge

Technology is critical to the work of Bible translation because it helps connect people to giving, prayer and other translation or administration resources. “Our job is to create infrastructure and support that simplifies and assists the lives of the people serving on the field,” Phillip said. “So we develop solutions when there aren’t any.”

Phillip works as the director of IT software engineering, leading a team responsible for custom software development. “When I came to Wycliffe, I expected antiquated systems and behind-the-times technology, but that’s not the case!”

James agreed. Now serving as the vice president for IT, James oversees teams specializing in things ranging from business intelligence to networks to technical support and enterprise applications. 

“We encompass every aspect of technological advancement,” James explained. “We are helping to forge paths forward ... staffing work in data sciences, artificial intelligence and newer technologies to accelerate Bible translation as well as to make it more accurate. For example, one of our staff has recently developed an inexpensive, portable network in a box that can power a small office for translation work or field training sessions in the most rugged of situations.”

“Our environment is extremely supportive of innovation and [research and development],” Phillip shared. “Because we aren’t driven by marketing deadlines and product releases, we have space and opportunity to try new things and invest in new technology or processes. … We have been able to adopt and move on newer technology trends much faster than the normal market.

“[As a result] … much of our work has been written about as case studies … and we regularly contribute back to the open source community.” Phillip continued: “For example, one script we’ve developed is now followed or used by big [places] such as Amazon, the Library of Congress, Facebook and universities.”

“Through technology, we are able to make opportunities happen,” Jame said. “We work closely with a number of partner organizations, pushing the boundaries of technology.”

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Phillip and his team.

Community of Grace

Both James and Phillip took steps that were inconceivable to onlookers as they left their “dream” roles to  serve in missions. But they don’t see it as a sacrifice.

“[Working with Wycliffe] is an opportunity for me to ... join God in the work that he’s doing,” James said. “My responsibility is to say yes when he invites [me]!”

Phillip agreed. “I originally thought that I’d work out my prime in my industry and then go serve when I was older. But, God deserves the best talent and work as well. Why not give God my prime? Besides, I have done ... more interesting and advanced work here than I did for my previous company.”

“Although there might be a reduction in salary [compared to corporate positions], the opportunity is huge,” Phillip said. “There is so much grace in this community. ... It’s worth so much to have that peace of mind.”

James agreed. “You are working with positive, uplifting, prayerful people day in and day out. Even when there is disagreement, everyone is working toward the same mission and has a stake in making progress that is not centered around their own advancement, but advancement of the gospel.”

Although it might not initially look like the goals they set in the corporate world, both James and Phillip would say they are living their dream. By using their God-given skills in technology, they are helping to advance the gospel through Bible translation.

And that’s a dream worth living.

Learn more about serving in technology by watching this video >>.

*A primary strategic partner.