James and Christina never thought they'd use computers to serve in missions.
But now, over 15 years after their journey into missions began, the couple couldn’t imagine themselves anywhere else. “God definitely knew what he was doing!” Christina laughed.
James was a computer science major in college. One day, a Wycliffe recruiter spoke in James’ class and challenged him to consider joining the work of Bible translation. “But I didn’t want to do Bible translation,” James explained, “I just wanted to work with computers!” It wasn’t until a few years later when James attended a Wycliffe dessert night and heard about the process and power of translation that he became inspired by the prospect of joining Wycliffe. “Bible translation was all about problem solving, just like computer programming!” James said.
A few months later, James traveled to Papua New Guinea with Wycliffe on a short-term trip. He fell in love with the people and culture. He returned to the U.S. to start graduate school, determined to get his master’s degree in linguistics and Bible translation. In graduate school, James met his wife, Christina, who was pursuing her call to missions — a call that began when she was 5 years old!
While James and Christina were determined to enter the field as translators, God began developing his plan. Christina explained: “... When we were studying linguistics, James became the go-to guy for anyone who had computer problems. People started telling us, ‘You shouldn’t go to the village as translators. You can help more people with your computer skills.’ But that wasn’t on our radar. It wasn’t our picture of missions — we were going as translators.”
CHALLENGES ON THE GROUND
In 2011 James, Christina and their two young girls landed in Papua New Guinea to begin a 14-week language and culture orientation course. But those first few weeks were rife with challenges. James and Christina's bodies struggled to adjust to the new normal, and their family repeatedly grappled with health issues. The doctors in Papua New Guinea told them they would have to leave the orientation course in order to fully recover.
So James and Christina flew to Ukarumpa, the hub of translation operations in the country, to rest, determined that in a few months they would return to finish the orientation course so they could enter a translation program. In the meantime, James decided to keep busy by temporarily filling in supporting language software.
But before James and Christina could follow through on their plans, they had to return to the United States so Christina could give birth to their third child.
Frustrated and feeling guilty for the delay in plans, James and Christina battled discouragement. But James was confident that the work God was doing in Papua New Guinea was real! So he asked colleagues there to share how his role had made a difference.
His colleagues responded — and when gathered together, the positive comments filled 35 pages!
James was shocked as he read through how his temporary role in supporting language software had made a difference in the work of Bible translation. He had not fully realized the value of it before. As James pondered this, his mentor approached him and said something powerful: “James, you need to stop apologizing for not going to the village and start embracing the role God has for you!”
LANGUAGE SOFTWARE: BEYOND A DESK
Now James works full time as a language technology consultant.
“Basically, translators come to me when their translation computer program has stopped working and I send them away happy,” he grinned.
James continued: “I love helping people with their computer problems because it advances the work of Bible translation. It’s not just sitting behind a desk; it’s interacting with people on a regular basis — sorting through computer problems, helping them reach their goals, training them, working in literacy, dictionary work and translation.”
James is heavily involved in teaching users about Paratext, a translation software that enables teams to do translation efficiently and effectively anywhere in the world. The software has numerous features to assist with the translation process, from spell-check in local language to consistency in the use of biblical terms. Linked to the cloud, work can be safely backed up before monsoon rains wreck equipment, and translators can send their drafts to consultants on the other side of the country (or world!) and receive the edits instantly.
James’ educational course materials have not only trained hundreds of Papua New Guinean translators and colleagues from various partner organizations, but have also been used by other translation groups around the world.
“I’ve lost track of how many languages I’ve worked with!” James said. “Instead of working in one language, I’ve been able to assist with all of these different languages, which is something I never even dreamed of!”
“NOW WE CAN DO IT OURSELVES!”
Paratext is enabling translation to move forward around the world.
In Papua New Guinea, after the primary translator for the Bau language left the project, the rest of the translators didn’t know what to do. None of them knew how to use a computer! But they were passionate about their people receiving the Word of God. So day after day, the translators painstakingly wrote out their translation in a notebook and when it was filled, they put it in a box. Then they’d take another notebook and keep writing, eventually putting that in a box too.
They prayed that maybe someday God would send a person to take all the notebooks and put them into a computer.
Then Bau translators were invited to participate in the Paratext training course where they learned how to use a computer and its software for translation work. They were delighted!
“Now we don’t have to wait for anyone else,” they said at the end of the course. “Now we can do [translation] ourselves.”
“People think missionaries have it all together, but we don’t. God is in control,” Christina said. “Our story shows how God can use your specific skills to plug you in where he knows you will be able to utilize all of your gifts.”
“Along with my dream of going into missions, I wanted to be a wife and mom,” Christina said. “I often say now that I’m living my dream! I love leading Bible studies, making meals, having new people over and helping them settle in, taking care of little people. Those kinds of roles — hospitality and support — fit really well with my personality.”
And Christina is certainly kept busy, now caring for six kids ages 10 and under. “People are always shocked about how we’re taking our kids to Papua New Guinea,” Christina said. “But God has given me peace in so many ways — that we are okay; they are okay.”
But Christina knows that saying “yes” to God is more than just being okay: it means thriving. “We can thrive only in the place where [God] wants us. I know [Papua New Guinea is] where he wants us. …God is in the details.”
Today James and Christina have come full circle in their story, returning to the world of computers!
“God has made his Word come alive to me,” James shared. “And when his Word comes alive in the depths of a person, it produces lasting transformation. Through my role with computers, I am able to take part in bringing God’s life-giving Word to others in their own languages.”