Staff Highlight: “God’s Behind the Movement”

Staff Highlight: “God’s Behind the Movement”

July 12, 2023

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Name: Gilles Gravelle

Preferred Name/Nickname: Gill

Role at Seed Company: Director of Research & Innovation

Favorite Food: Anything that involves avocados

Favorite Hobby: Home remodeling

Enjoy this peek behind the curtain to meet Gill Gravelle, director of Research and Innovation at Seed Company.

The roots of Seed Company stretch back more than 30 years, and they continue to grow steadily toward the consistent acceleration of Bible translation. By God’s amazing grace, we recently celebrated a new milestone: more than 2,000 language communities engaged in translation projects that will give their people access to Scripture. But we don’t want to celebrate such an achievement without also acknowledging the gifted and dedicated people who made it possible.

Today, we want to honor Gilles (pronounced Gill) Gravelle, our Director of Research and Innovation.

Bible Translators Everywhere

At the beginning of his professional life, Gilles worked in the Orange County Advanced Planning Office in California. While on a short-term mission trip to Central America, Gill recounts, “I kept running into Wycliffe Bible Translators everywhere I went. It was kind of crazy.” One translator he met worked with Honduran locals to translate Scripture into a Mayan language. According to Gilles, that was the moment he decided to dive headlong into translation.

“I went home and got an introduction to linguistics and translation. And the next thing I knew, I was in Dallas doing an MA In linguistics, met my wife, and ended up in Asia. God just pivoted me so fast.” 

As with so many life transitions, the pieces make perfect sense after God puts them all together. Gilles already had a travel bug and a fascination with academics, languages, and culture. International translation work just made sense. 

But after two New Testament translations (and two children), the Gravelle family moved back to the US from Indonesia so their daughter could enroll in college here.

At the time, Gilles felt that he and his family would return to Indonesia once they got his daughter settled, but God had other plans.

Heart Language Translation

Back then, Bible translation operated mostly as what Gilles called “the monolithic Western organization.” Few people believed in the viability of training native speakers to do the translation work. But God had already steered Gilles’ heart that way and then connected him with Seed Company advocates Bill and Sharon Wells. Gilles says they “were working behind the scenes” to recruit him. Ultimately, Gilles became instrumental in the development of Seed Company’s Field Program.

For the next seven years, Gilles and his team disrupted the world of Bible translation by pushing the paradigm shift toward locally-driven, heart language translation teams. That approach, now called the Common Framework, is standard to the Bible translation movement as we know it today.

God’s Timing, God’s Momentum, God’s Movement

As Gilles will attest, the shift was uncomfortable for some expat translators. When your life is devoted to preserving the truth of God, it can be difficult to trust someone else’s understanding of the truth. But Seed Company was pivoting at just the right time.

Seed Company’s new project development process engaged the hearts of local translators. Gilles encouraged them to design their own projects while also creating and implementing business tools to help them efficiently monitor and manage those projects. “Mother tongue translators loved it,” Gilles said. “They loved the whole thing and wanted to carry it forward.”

But we know from Psalm 127:1 that the Seed Company’s Field Program’s success has never been the result of Gilles’ efforts alone. “God’s behind the movement. You can’t say, ‘Here’s the formula for the movement,’” he explained. As Seed Company pursued paths that diverted from the status quo, God provided partners with a similar vision who could enter the journey and build momentum toward greater efficiency in Bible translation.

Nonetheless, a shared vision does not necessarily mean a shared methodology. Even throughout Scripture, we see that God rarely does the same thing in the same way twice. One battle is won when a parted sea crashes back together. Another when a wall collapses after a week-long parade. And we are still waiting for a third victory: when there is no more need for the sun because we are standing in the presence of the Light of the World.

Until then, we keep innovating, following God’s lead, and taking our cues from humble leaders like Gilles. When asked what the last 20 years have been like, he acknowledges how much of the past informs his present: “We would find an opportunity and start pursuing something we thought was a new movement. We’d jump on that for a while, and then it would fizzle out. I’d think, ‘I can’t get anything done in my job role.’ But as soon as I did that, a new door opened up in Seed Company to keep trying new things.”

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