Oral Bible Translation Project Aims to Bring Deeper Resources to Oral Communities

Oral Bible Translation Project Aims to Bring Deeper Resources to Oral Communities

Does someone need to know how to read to be a Christian? To lead others? To live a life following Christ?


We wholeheartedly believe the answer is no.


For a number of years, we have focused on bringing the gospel to unreached oral communities through Bible storying and pastor development. This year, we began an oral Bible translation project, with a long-term goal of audio recordings of complete books of the Bible. We started by focusing on translating 14 Bible stories, from creation to Christ’s life, death and resurrection, into four languages in Botswana, including Shua, CireCire, Ju|hoansi, and Thimbukushu.


While oral Bible storying, our main focus as an organization, communicates core truths through the creative retelling of Bible stories, we felt strongly about beginning this project of translating the inspired word of God into audio recordings for the four pilot program groups.


Oral Bible Translation is done in partnership with other organizations and begins with local leaders identifying which passages from Scripture would resonate within their culture. Then a translation team comprised of local people who speak the language record the passages. The passages are replayed for others in the community to make sure it’s understandable to those who will be listening to it. Finally, the passages go through a series of other checks and reviews. A bilingual person will listen to the recording and translate it back into a major language like French or English. This allows a trained translation consultant to review the passage for accuracy.


In September, John Stark, Spoken’s Vice President of New Initiatives, traveled to Botswana for a translation workshop where he met a man named Moronga. Moronga had learned the story of the prodigal son through the oral Bible translation workshop and decided to travel to the town of Nata to visit his sister.


He drove to Nata and was greeted with joy – it had been a long time since he’d visited his sister. After a while, he began to tell the story of Luke 15:11 in the local language. “There was a father who had two sons…” The story, so familiar to us in Western culture, unfolds for the first time for this family. After Moronga finished telling the story, his sister asked that he tell it again. Moronga began again, “There was a man with two sons…”


The silence in the room after Moronga finished telling the story was special, more contemplative, deeper, than one would expect. Moronga’s sister quietly says “This story is our story.”


Despite having been raised well, her oldest son sold his family’s farm plot and took the money to the city where he now lives in foolishness. His family knows that how he lives is not wise. They lost their money and their son. Moronga’s sister could see the correlation between her own son and the prodigal son.


“Someday, our son and brother will come home,” she said. “How will we greet him? Will we be like the angry son? Or will we be like the father?”


After hearing the passage from Scripture, she challenged her family to show her son an embracing love when he decides to come home.


“We have to be like the father,” she said.


Providing the written Word of God in a format that is best understood for people of oral cultures is a significant step toward bringing truth to the unreached. And we believe that translating it well is equally as important because we don’t want people to say “God speaks my language, but not well.”


Because God speaks every language. And He does that very well.


Help bring Truth to oral communities by donating now.

Bob Goff Delivers Keynote Address at Annual Dinner

Bob Goff Delivers Keynote Address at Annual Dinner

In September, guests gathered for our annual dinner, an evening including a reception and silent auction, followed by dinner with keynote speaker Bob Goff.


During the reception, guests were able to take photos with Bob Goff, as well as get his autograph. Many brought their copies of Bob’s book, “Love Does,” to have signed. Guests also visited booths where they could listen to the audio recordings produced by Spoken and our indigenous partners that are used in cultures across the world. Auction items included jewelry, a Green Egg, various art pieces, and tickets to various attractions around Dallas.


Guests speak with Brian Whiteaker, VP of Program Management, and listen to people-specific audio recordings produced by Spoken and indigenous partners.


At the start of the dinner, President and CEO Ed Weaver welcomed guests, recalling the announcement at last year’s dinner that we would be making a name change from T4 Global to Spoken Worldwide. He spoke of the great need across the world to reach people who do not read and that some 4 billion people across the world do not read.


Ed referenced John 3:16, that God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son so that we may have eternal life. “So if we want to be like God, we must so love the world – go to the hard places, where the name of Jesus is not known or accepted and share the love of God with them, so they have a chance to know Him through Jesus Christ – even though they can’t read.”


Guests hear from President and CEO Ed Weaver.

Ray Neu, Director of Orality Coaching, challenged guests to the idiom game. The idioms on the card for guests were from cultures around the world. They were phrases translated into English, and guests were challenged to figure out what they mean. The game showed how just because something is translated into your language doesn’t mean it makes sense, which is why it’s so important to translate Bible stories into a context that’s understandable for individual cultures.


Idiom game cards challenged guests to match translated phrases with their correct meaning.


Bob Goff’s keynote address focused on the importance of love as an action, not just a feeling. “Doing” love is Bob’s passion in life and the theme of his New York Times bestseller Love Does, which is also the name of his human rights organization. He encouraged guests to really dive into things they’re involved in.


“You will see more the more you dive in,” Bob said.


Bob Goff delivers his keynote address about loving others through action and getting involved in Spoken’s mission.

Bob specifically urged guests to dive into being more involved with Spoken, sharing that he wanted people to hear the voice of God in a way they will understand.


Ed closed the dinner by sharing stories of communication barriers that Spoken is trying to break. For example, he spoke of non-believers in Nepal who listened to Spoken’s audio recordings and say “We thought you Christians just wanted to convert us. We did had no idea that you loved us! Only a truly good God would encourage his people to do that. Please tell us about Him!” 


He spoke of an African man who hadn’t become a Christian because he couldn’t read. He emphasized that Spoken’s “laser focus” is on bringing the gospel to illiterate communities, loving “the least of these,” and showing them that God loves them regardless of their ability to read. And it’s only through trust in God that this staff will fulfill this mission.


Guests enjoyed a catered dinner and the keynote address from Bob Goff.


A special thanks to our 2017 event sponsors and donors, 89.7 WAY-FM and Chick-fil-a.


If you were unable to attend the dinner, but would like to make a donation, click here.


To view photos from the event, click here.


Running God’s Race

Running God’s Race

In 2007, Mark Hapka registered for his first endurance race – the Chicago Marathon – just to see if he could finish it.


Five years later, he’d finished six marathons.


Mark’s seventh race was scheduled for September 2012 in Berlin, Germany. In June, while Mark and his wife Amber were visiting family in Marion, Louisiana, he and his step brother went out to drive ATVs. Mark crashed his four wheeler, leaving him severely injured and unresponsive. His brother trekked the mile back to the house to get Amber. When she got to him at the crash site, she saw that his left leg was completely mangled, and he told her, “I don’t think I’m going to be ready for the marathon in three months.”


The paramedics had to care flight Mark to the hospital at LSU Shreveport, and Amber had to drive the two and a half hours to meet him there. She recalled praying for him to live, remembering Scripture verses and praying through them. Then she realized she needed to pray for his salvation. While Mark would’ve told you he was a Christian, he hadn’t understood grace or the gospel and believed that if you were a good person, you would make it to heaven.


When Amber arrived at the hospital, the nurses told her they didn’t have anyone by the name Mark Hapka. She hadn’t cried until this point. Now she had visions of him in the morgue, and she cried, knowing he was surely dead. But the nurses looked again and realized he’d been listed under the name Mark Alexander, his first and middle name. He was there.


Soon after, the nurses brought Amber into a sterile room with a single chair and a box of tissues. She thought surely they were coming to tell her Mark didn’t make it. But the doctor came in with a smile on his face. He said Mark had broken his orbital bone in his face, some ribs, and had a tib/fib fracture. He’d also dislocated his right shoulder and had a complete left knee dislocation where all four ligaments had been torn. Despite the trauma he’d been through, he had no brain damage, and he began healing quickly, being brought in short order to a regular room from the ICU after the ER.


“I remember telling the doctor ‘God’s in the business of miracles,” Amber said. “God was at work starting the healing process, not just physically but spiritually.”


After 48 hours in the hospital, they headed home to Dallas, where Mark underwent a five-hour knee surgery. The doctor said it was one of the worst knee injuries he’d seen in his 25 years of practice, and Mark would be lucky to walk normally again in a year.


During his recovery, Amber did everything for her husband. He couldn’t work, so he spent his days at home, waiting for her to pick him up and bring him to physical therapy in the evenings. At the time, Amber bought a devotional for Mark to read every day. He would look at the day’s reading every morning and then go about his day watching sports and lounging on the couch, never thinking much of it.


Between July and December, Mark made significant progress in his recovery. He was able to work half days, and when he ran out of physical therapy coverage, the therapists said he could keep receiving therapy.


“I didn’t know it at the time, but God was working it out,” Mark said.


Mark had made such significant progress that the doctor cleared him to run a 5K race in December. On December 21st, he ran the Jingle Bell run in Dallas with a lot of apprehension. Despite his extensive injuries, he still managed to complete the race, averaging an 8-minute mile.


“Looking back, I can see the healing God was doing not just physically but spiritually,” Mark said. “Now I can see the seeds Amber was planting.”


In January 2013, Amber suggested they go to a service at Watermark Church. Mark thought, “Sure, I could stand to add a few more good deeds to the list.”


At that particular service, the pastor preached about how continually pursuing the passions of your life would never really bring fulfillment because only God can truly fulfill (John 10:10). Mark saw these patterns in his own life. He’d chased dreams of working for the Dallas Mavericks and completing marathon after marathon, always looking to the next big thing, never really feeling satisfied.


In March that year, just nine months after the accident, Mark passed the strength test for his quadriceps – the last big test he had to complete to signify healing. After the test, Amber reminded Mark of what she told him before leaving the Shreveport hospital, that he could’ve been dead or paralyzed, in a coma or without a limb, but he wasn’t – he was completely healed.  “God has a plan for your life,” she told him.


A few weeks later, someone shared the gospel with Mark using the Bridge method, and for the first time in all those years, he finally understood. He gave his life to Christ.


The Berlin Marathon Mark had been registered to run in September the previous year had rolled over his registration to 2013 when he didn’t show up for the race, something that never happens for race no shows. Mark prayed that God would allow him to run the race in 2013 so that he could bring glory to Him and the healing he provided.


Mark trained for and ran the marathon, missing his personal record by just 13 seconds. Just fifteen months prior, he had been in an accident that should’ve left him unable to walk, but here he was, running a marathon.


Mark and his wife Amber after the Berlin Marathon in 2013.


“It became my platform to talk about God and what He’d done in my life,” Mark said.


In 2014, Mark met Ed Weaver, the President/CEO of Spoken Worldwide, at a Christmas party. Ed told Mark about what he was doing at Spoken and how he was using endurance sports to raise money and awareness for their mission.


Ed’s passion was contagious, and Mark was hooked. Mark ran the Boston Marathon with the Spoken Endurance team in 2015 to bring awareness and raise money, as well as to share his own story.


“I could see Ed’s trust in Christ in difficult and dangerous situations in the missions field,” Mark said. “I could see how Ed was stewarding Spoken’s funds in a way that was honoring to God, putting Him first.”


Mark has now fundraised for Spoken through one marathon each year since then, but he wears his Spoken Endurance gear for every race.


“I wear the gear as a way to fly the flag – I use it as a conversation starter, so I can tell people about God and about Spoken,” Mark said.


Mark hasn’t missed the parallels between running a physical race and running the race of life alongside God that Paul writes about in Scripture.


“Running a race, training for a race, takes time, endurance, and discipline, just like a heartfelt pursuit of the Lord,” Mark said. “I enjoy running because it’s an opportunity to talk about what God has done in my own life and about how Spoken is reaching the lost, unreached people groups across the world with the gospel.”


He always calls to mind Acts 20:24 as his life’s purpose – running races, sharing the gospel, and glorifying God.


“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”


If you’re interested in joining the Spoken Endurance team, visit spoken.org/endurance.

Scripture as Story – Sharing the Gospel in Oral Cultures

Scripture as Story – Sharing the Gospel in Oral Cultures

When we hear stories, we tend to let our guard down and relax. It allows us to bring ourselves into the story.


Jesus always spoke to his followers using parables, ending each time with a question. Stories stick. And questions stick too when you don’t provide an answer. It gives listeners an opportunity to come up with their own answer, allowing the Holy Spirit and their individual lives to guide their discovery and application.


That’s why stories are the primary means of gospel sharing in cultures where people are illiterate and mostly oral.

A local leader shares the gospel using story.

Oral learners, or “survival listeners,” rely solely on memory to survive. They have to listen well and remember, oftentimes being very intelligent with sharp memories.


But telling Bible stories goes beyond entertainment. Instead, people are being led to discover what’s in those stories.


When local leaders tell Bible stories, they often follow up with open-ended questions that everyone can answer, similar to how Jesus taught his followers. All answers are accepted, though some may be redirected back to the story. This method allows for high levels of engagement to happen among the people because sharing in this capacity allows them, as the listener, to do the discovering. They feel empowered to retell these stories, and they do.


Ray Neu had been in ministry for almost 20 years when his path turned toward missions. He had always been involved in missions, sending kids from the youth ministries he managed, but he never actively participated in it himself.


After his first trip, he told his wife, “I finally know what I want to be when I grow up.”

Ray and his wife

After that, Ray began to take groups to a couple dozen countries to “work and witness.” He would focus on being creative in order to expose people to Scripture and would then let the Holy Spirit take them from there.


“I worked to move classes I had been teaching in a literate style into more oral methodology, which was very well received,” Ray said. “I started teaching systematic theology using only a 12-page list of Bible stories.”


In 2015, Ray became the Director of Orality Coaching for Spoken (then T4 Global), where he began working to capacity build in the missions field, or in other words, teach organizations how to share the gospel orally through storytelling. He focuses on training organizations and churches that focus on evangelism in countries with the least amount of literate people.


Recently, Ray led a training in Northern Ghana for a group of about 60 women. On the first day, the crowd was small, but on the second day, many more women attended. The women who attended the first day had sent word back to the villages about the trainings. Many people didn’t believe that the trainings would benefit them because they’re usually taught for literate people. But when the crowd discovered that it was for oral learners, many more people came.


These 60 women left the training with ten stories in their hearts that they had learned and made songs to. They didn’t have to be told to share the stories, they just did it because they wanted to. So when they returned home, they retold the Bible stories, and droves of women began following them to church the next day. By the end of the service, ten of the women had given their lives to Christ.


“If it’s not reproducible, it’s not successful,” Ray said. “I’ve been in ministry for more than 30 years, and Bible storytelling is the easiest and most effective thing I’ve ever done.”

My Path to Spoken

My Path to Spoken

by Brian Whiteaker, VP, Program Management


Like most people, my journey through life has never been a straight line. God has chosen to weave in twists, turns, and epic failures along the way to shape my character and form my faith. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing; yet in the moment, I couldn’t imagine how God could redeem these events for His glory.


Although I grew up in church, I didn’t come to faith until my sophomore year of high school. That’s when my head’s knowledge of God made its way down to my heart and out through my life. Immediately, I wanted to share my faith with others and sought to get involved any way I could. I served as the chaplain of my Christian high school, took a job as a student pastor in college, and ultimately served as a university pastor upon graduation. From all accounts, I had settled into a good “ministry routine” and started planning my future as the next Louie Giglio.


Then, the bottom fell out of all my well-intentioned plans. After finishing an internship with a “Young Singles” department, I began applying for my next ministry position with several area churches. Without fail, every one of these positions ended with the same result – me asking God what in the world was going on. For the next five years, rather than investing in students full-time and helping them grow in faith, the Lord had me managing a jewelry store and attending seminary.


After completing half of my seminary degree in Austin, my family and I moved to Dallas where I quickly settled into a role coordinating short-term trips with East-West Ministries while finishing my last two years of seminary. It was during that time that I took my first international mission trip. Needless to say, my world got rocked! It was my first time overseas and my first time working cross-culturally. Returning home from that trip, I vowed my life would never be the same, and to a great extent it hasn’t been.


In 2013, an opportunity to work with Spoken Worldwide became available. I was drawn to how the staff of Spoken focused on being great listeners. Rather than looking at ministry opportunities from a fixed perspective, the staff really listened to local leaders — learning about their unique perspective and seeking to understand the culture they’re coming from. Recognizing this as one of the essential blocks to ministry success, I was thrilled to join the team.


I started with Spoken as a Program Manager, focused mainly on serving our Pastor Development programs in Kenya fostering long-term relationships with local partners who do ministry in the field. Then, a year later, my role expanded from Kenya- specific ministry to encompass North and East Africa, working with programs in North and South Sudan. Over time, I began to be involved in other countries as well, working with leaders from 44 language groups and seven countries around the world.


Today, I serve as the VP of Program Management at Spoken Worldwide. Every day I have the privilege of shepherding and interacting with our program staff, who, in turn, interact with local pastors in the field. A key part of my role includes developing and maintaining healthy ministry patterns that preserve our unique orality-based style of ministry so it can be replicated consistently across all fields of our ministry.


Working alongside disciple makers, the kind Jesus talked about in Matthew 28, has turned my world upside down. From Africa to East Asia, and everywhere in-between, our Program Team has the pleasure of serving such leaders as they equip the next generation. Seven years ago I couldn’t have imagined my role in delivering Truth where written words can’t go, now I can’t imagine doing anything else! Turns out God knew what He was doing all along!


→ Stay tuned for another blog post sharing how the Direct Programs that Brian manages are transforming lives around the world!