For those living in a Muslim island nation and various parts of West Africa, being a Christian means one is marked for death – and those who translate the Bible will likely never return to their homes again … alive.
Wycliffe Associates, one of the world's leading Bible translation organizations, says workshops and strategies for Bible translation often spring forth from clandestine meetings between its team members and mother-tongue Bible translators.
Such workshops, reports Wycliffe Associates, "are springing out of the seeds sown in these secret meetings" – meetings that may take place on an isolated mountain top, or among church leaders disguised as tourists, or during a walk through a crowded market where translators' prayers and conversations are drowned out by the noise and bartering.
Persecution for following Christ and translating Scripture into native languages in these volatile regions include being hunted, receiving death threats and working in secret to avoid imminent death.
Wycliffe Associates president and CEO Bruce Smith commends native Bible translators for secretly meeting with his ministry team, as the risk of being caught with foreigners could mean death.
"Despite the persecution and risks they face, Christians are reaching out to us, asking for the tools, technology, and training they need to launch Bible translation projects," Smith states. "I am humbled and overwhelmed to see the tenacity of Christians in the most extreme anti-Christian environments on earth.
"In spite of the hostility of religious and governmental authorities, in spite of the risk of violence, of arrest, of torture, even death, Christians ardently press on," he adds.
MAST (Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation) – a collaborative translation method employed by the international nonprofit organization – equips native Christians to share the written Word where it is strictly forbidden. MAST projects currently under way across the globe number more than 1,200. The ministry also equips mother-tongue translators with technology that complements MAST, including computer tablets, Print-On-Demand equipment, and Bible translation recording kits.
In fact, in a number of areas that crack down on Christianity, believers must abandon their home country if they want to translate the Bible and stay alive.
"In some countries, we've helped move national Bible translators out of their own countries because their lives are literally at risk if they attempt to translate the Scriptures in their homeland," Smith shares. "Some translators are at such risk that they will never be able to go home again. The translated Scriptures will have to be smuggled back across the border."
Tragic stories of Christians giving up their lives and safety are not uncommon in this part of the world.
According to Wycliffe Associates, a translator in West Africa recently was murdered and his wife was mutilated; and one pastor – a hunted man – was forced to flee his country and now lives under a "virtual death sentence." Regardless, says the ministry, that pastor remains firmly committed to the work of Bible translation for his language group.
Africa a danger zone for Christians
Pierre Oult – an 80-year-old pastor who served his church and community for 40 years – paid the ultimate price for spreading the gospel in northern Burkina Faso in western Africa.
"[S]hortly after [his] service … a dozen men on motorcycles stormed the church yard," Open Doors USA reported in May. "They demanded the pastor and the five other congregants with him convert to Islam. When all of them refused, they were executed for their faith."
The attackers confiscated all of their cell phones and Bibles after gathering them under a tree and then shot them. This was not a rare occurrence, according to Open Doors.
"In the weeks following, Burkina Faso has seen two more attacks targeting Christians," Open Doors reported at the time. "Christians are in hiding, and schools and churches are closed with thousands of believers fleeing to the south."
Africa continues to be one of the deadliest places to be a Christian.
"In the West African country and all of sub-Saharan Africa, Christians are being held, feet to the flames, and told to deny Christ," the Christian outreach noted. "Throughout the world's second-largest continent – including 1.2 billion people, thousands of ethnic groups and 54 internationally recognized countries – our field report[s] persecution. Out of the 50 countries ranked on the 2019 World Watch List, 14 lie in sub-Saharan Africa."
And militant Muslims continually look to wipe Christians out of this region, the ministry laments.
"In West Africa, East Africa, North Africa and Central Africa, each day fresh reports surface, bringing news of attacks by Islamic extremist groups and how governments are becoming increasingly hostile toward believers," Open Doors explained.
"Dictators and authoritarian regimes treat Jesus like competition, trying to stamp out any with an allegiance to anyone besides the government. Christians are being threatened by their families, cast out by their communities and killed by their leaders."