James Diffin, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees

“I wonder what language we’ll speak in eternity?” 

This was the question I asked myself as I stood in a service with delegates from at least 130 nations in Westerkerk, the largest church in Amsterdam, as part of United Bible Societies’ (UBS) World Assembly.  The songs were sung in English, French and Spanish.  Scripture was read in Quechua, Runyoro and Khmer.

As I looked around my brothers and sisters, gathered for worship as representatives from Bible Societies all over the world, I couldn’t help but feel a real sense of a foretaste of glory.  That left me wondering how we might communicate with one another in the New Heaven and New Earth.

God’s Word tells us that at the beginning of things “…the whole world had one language and a common speech” (Genesis 11:1).  It was judgement against our pride that led God to “confuse their language so they will not understand each other” (Genesis 11:7).  As humanity continued to turn from our God-designed purpose, God removed something that united us – our shared language.

Perhaps as all things are made new (Revelation 21:5), and as we are made finally and perfectly righteous (Philippians 1:6), God will restore a common language among us.  It would certainly make conversation easier at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).

For now, however, we live in a world that is still subjected to the confusion that was sown in Babel and that’s one of the primary reasons why UBS exists.  In 1946, immediately following World War II, a dozen Bible Societies from around the world came together to found the global fellowship of United Bible Societies.

Today, by God’s grace, UBS has grown to become one of the most globally expansive networks on the planet with Bible Societies operating in over 240 countries and territories.  Our mission – to make sure that everyone who wants to can access and engage with the Bible.

Celebrating what has been achieved since the last World Assembly in 2016

Bible translation is a huge part of that work and it’s a work that you, dear reader, support so faithfully.  The last World Assembly of UBS was held in 2016 in Philadelphia, USA and in the years since, Bible missionaries have been working tirelessly to ensure that more and more people have access to God’s Word in their own language.

At this year’s World Assembly, we learned that from 2016-2022, Bible Societies were involved in completing translations in 373 languages used by over 3 billion people.  This included 233 languages that have never had a Bible up to this point.  205 million people can now read the Bible in their own heart language for the first time.

In the six years since Philadelphia, Bible Societies around the world have distributed 1.95 billion full Bibles and Testaments.  That’s a quarter of the world’s population – a number that is both a cause for great celebration, but also one that paints a picture of an important task still underway.

“Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:37)

Making connections

At our gathering in the coastal village of Egmond aan Zee, on the bus as we travelled, and around the streets of Amsterdam, I had the great joy of speaking to and exchanging stories with friends, brothers and sisters who are involved in the work of translating, distributing and teaching God’s life-giving word.

I sat with a colleague involved in translation in Vietnam and another brother in neighbouring Cambodia who shared with me about the important work of revising the Khmer Bible, first published in 1954.  I shared stories with a Bible Society colleague from Malaysia who helped me to understand some of the cultural complexities in Bible mission in their context.  I ate with a new friend from North Africa as they, with deep sorrow, explained the persecution that they face day by day.

In the course of our five-day Assembly, I spoke with Bible missionaries from Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America and Australia, and was humbled by the work being undertaken around the world.  In 2023, Bible Society Northern Ireland was able to send over £425,000 through UBS to support Bible mission projects like those shared with me at World Assembly.  These projects could not happen without the faithful support of people like you.  Thank you.