Paying It Forward: IllumiNations Born out of Stunning Generosity and Creative Partnership

Paying It Forward: IllumiNations Born out of Stunning Generosity and Creative Partnership

July 25, 2023

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Generosity, humility, interagency collaboration, and a passionate community of givers have accelerated the Bible translation movement like never before.

Mart Green found himself arguing against his own cause.

It was late spring 2014, and Green—one of the visionaries behind a forming alliance of Bible translation agencies and resource partners—had been in a mental “dark room,” trying to develop a fundraising event connecting more resources and donors to Bible translation.

And now Todd Peterson, Seed Company’s interim president and CEO at the time, was on the phone with him, suggesting that Seed Company give its largest fundraiser, illumiNations, to the Bible translation movement. 

An Idea So Crazy, God Just Might Be in It

Mart, founder of Mardel Christian & Education and ministry investment officer for Hobby Lobby, had been invited by Todd to attend illumiNations 2014 that April. Mart had watched in wonder as Seed Company’s partners invested $21 million that weekend. Was this the answer to his question about how to create a unified fundraising effort in the greater Bible translation movement? It felt like it was, but now, he could only tell Todd of the flaws in his idea.

“He [was] giving me a way out of my dark room,” Mart recalled, “and I [was] arguing him out of it.”

Todd was an interim president, Mart contended, leading the organization through transition as it searched for a new president. Mart wondered if the board would approve letting go of the organization’s primary funding source, but after attending illumiNations, he concluded that he did not want to create a separate fundraiser that would compete with what God was clearly doing. Seed Company had discovered how to raise money through a world-class gathering of its most passionate financial partners and would be wise to keep doing so. He could understand Seed Company showing other agencies how to do the same, but to give illumiNations to the broader Bible translation movement? No way.

Yet shortly after Todd’s call with Mart, the Seed Company board approved just that.

“I believed it was an obedience issue,” Todd stated matter-of-factly. “I believed God said to do it.”

Born out of Prayer and Collaboration

In 2010, Bible translation agency leaders and several financial partners were meeting regularly for prayer and discussions about how to accelerate translation.

“As those meetings were occurring into 2011, 2012, 2013,” Todd said, “it was a foundation that I look back on and see was laid by God to put us into a position to actually see [him] birth illumiNations.”

As Seed Company was nearing its 1,000th language engagement, they planned to celebrate the milestone at Dove Mountain Resort near Tucson, Arizona, in April of 2014. The celebration would carry the name illumiNations, inspired by Isaiah 60:3: “All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance” (NLT).

Although connected to the event, the term “illumiNations” symbolizes the Bible translation movement as a whole. The words of Isaiah are “less of a prophecy, more of a truth,” said Dal Anderson, the CEO at that time. “It’s not what’s going to happen, but what is already happening. Let’s celebrate that the nations are coming to the light.”

It’s Not About One Organization

Based on what he gleaned from other major donor weekends he had attended, Mart thought he knew what to expect at Dove Mountain. But what he witnessed in Arizona surprised him.

Three things, in particular, stood out: 

  • Funding for Bible translation was generated through a world-class event.
  • Attendees felt “blessed when you left there.” 
  • The $21 million raised at Dove Mountain was an unheard of amount for such a gathering. (The total reached $40 million with an additional $19 million committed by a group of investors before that weekend.)

IllumiNations was the event Mart had dreamed of—except for one thing: it wasn’t collaborative funding among the various agencies. 

Immediately following the 2014 illumiNations gathering, Todd and Susan traveled to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. 

“On that anniversary trip,” Todd remembers, “I felt like the Spirit of God said, ‘This is not about Seed Company. It’s about Bible translation. It’s about the Bibleless people of the world.’”

Back at home, Todd continued to pray about God’s plan for illumiNations. Meanwhile, Dal said, the company’s leaders were noting changes in missiologic and philanthropic realities. The global church had strengthened and was moving into rightful local ownership of Bible translation. Philanthropists were expressing their desire to invest in what was locally sustainable (not merely transactions or products).

What those local expressions of the global church needed was to build their capacity to ultimately own Bible translation work for themselves. To address this, Seed Company started a “second line of ministry” to help organizations and churches see this happen. Local sustainability of the work became the ultimate strategy for bringing heart language Scripture to unreached people groups.

At the same time, Bible translation agencies were experiencing a deepening collaboration—exemplified in the Digital Bible Library—and making an effort to eliminate the duplication of efforts.

How It Started vs. How It’s Going

Following the board’s decision to give illumiNations to the overall movement, partnering organizations quickly transformed the illumiNations scheduled for spring 2015 into a six-agency gathering. A total of $36 million was committed for Bible translation. 

Then, as this newly formed collaboration of agencies and passionate givers worked to host the 2016 gathering in South Carolina, Hurricane Matthew showed everyone that, in Todd’s words, “God’s ways aren’t our ways.” IllumiNations 2016 had to be canceled, but investors still gave $14 million. 

Every Language Could Receive God’s Word in Our Lifetime

As Todd has pointed out, Scripture reminds us time and again that “generosity begets generosity.” IllumiNations is not only a gathering, but a movement of passionate Bible translation partners and generous resource partners, all working together so that every people group has access to God’s Word in their own language by 2033. We can’t wait to see what the Lord will do in the years to come!

“God is proving himself faithful and true and bringing every nation to the light,” Todd said. “What a privilege it is [to see] his people give to the work of eradicating Bible poverty.”

Today, illumiNations includes 11 member organizations: 

  • American Bible Society
  • Biblica
  • Deaf Bible Society
  • Lutheran Bible Translators
  • Pioneer Bible Translators
  • SIL
  • unfoldingWord
  • United Bible Societies
  • The Word For The World
  • Wycliffe Bible Translators
  • Seed Company

These 11 Bible translation organizations are working collaboratively, alongside passionate resource partners, to accomplish illumiNations’ All Access Goals in this generation. Together, this alliance is believing, praying, and working until the day when:

  • 95% of people have access to a full Bible,
  • 99.96% have access to a New Testament,
  • 100% have access to at least some portion of Scripture, and
  • 2 viable translations will be available in 100 of the world’s most strategic written languages.

Lord, may it be so!

*Adapted from Until There Are None.

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