Name: Randall Lemley
Role at Seed Company: VP of Collaborative Explorations
Favorite Food: TX BBQ from one of the next-gen pitmasters
Favorite Hobby: Exploring new places in our refurbished Coleman pop-up camper
Get to know Randall Lemley and how he helps Seed Company succeed.
Without teamwork and collaboration, Seed Company wouldn’t be much use to the Bible translation movement. That sentiment might sound like a cheesy motivational poster, but it is true. And it begins with talented people like Randall Lemley, a man dedicated to reaching the nations with heart language Scripture.
Investing in the Mission
Randall—a self-described “early overachiever” who found personal achievements leaving him hollow—came to faith near the end of the Jesus Movement. Filled with zeal and a conviction that the Lord’s return was imminent (from a human perspective), Randall had plans to skip college and invest his time in street evangelism and intercession. He planned to work as little as possible—just to make ends meet—but a substitute teacher changed all that. Randall recounted her influence:
“She said, ‘Randall, you remind me of a story that Jesus told about some guys that were given some money and what they did with the money. Do you remember the one that got just a little bit and what he did with it?’ And I said, ‘You mean the one that dug a hole?’ And she said, ‘That reminds me of what I think you’re getting ready to do with your brain.’”
Thoroughly convicted, Randall changed his plan. He went to college to study geology and pursue a career in natural resources—specifically, petroleum. He explained, “The price of oil was high, and geologists were in high demand; it was a way to get into countries that didn’t accept missionaries.”
But the oil industry collapsed in the 80s, so Randall ended up as a science teacher at a Christian high school—until it was shut down for financial reasons.
Randall landed next in the aerospace industry, until peace broke out everywhere with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Next stop—Apple Computer, until their business model re-calibrated. Eventually he went into technology consulting with a firm serving Fortune500 companies. But through all the shifts, Randall’s passion for kingdom work never dimmed. His involvement as a coordinator for the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course fueled his passion for a more overt ministry connection during that time, albeit a bittersweet one. “Hearing so much about missions and what God was doing in other parts of the world, but not seeing a path to what I felt like had been stirring in me for years” caused turmoil in his soul, he remembers.
When the dot-com bubble burst, Randall pivoted again, this time toward Bible translation. He, his wife, and his four kids sold everything and moved to Ethiopia with SIL International. But on the heels of a family emergency, the Lemleys returned to the US in 2004, and Randall joined Seed Company. He now serves as the vice president of Collaborative Exploration, helping both staff and partners pursue new ways to accomplish the work of Bible translation.
Over 20 Years of Innovation
When Randall began working in Bible translation, the Internet was in its infancy, but not for long! The Internet became more powerful and ubiquitous, and Randall saw its amazing potential for accelerating the work.
In 2008, he helped drive Seed Company’s efforts to connect Bible translation teams to the Internet. At the time, only about 25% of the teams had access to the Internet, so Randall and his colleagues had their work cut out for them. They started setting up satellite and cellular Internet solutions, but it wasn’t perfect. Randall says it was “like sipping the Internet through a straw. But it worked.”
Indeed, the connectivity led to impressive results. For example, Internet access helped a team in a remote village in Papua New Guinea—on the verge of shutdown—work ahead of schedule. And the ability to work remotely promoted a workflow where people on opposite sides of the globe could coordinate their efforts. When one part of the team was shutting down for the night, other members would be waking and preparing for their workday.
Fast forward to COVID-19 shutdowns. Remote interaction and workflow technology leveraging the Internet only become more accessible and mainstream.
Now, with the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP), Randall is looking to stay ahead of the curve: “We have been paying attention to what’s happening, wondering how the Lord might use that with Bible translation.” Randall predicts that AI won’t just change how we approach Bible translation; it could revolutionize many aspects of how we work.
If you’ve ever imagined a world where no person lives without access to heart language Scripture, that vision is closer to reality than ever before.
A Worthwhile Cause
But there is still work to be done, work that will continue to require innovative ways to accomplish it.
Randall remembers one Seed Company project involving a church that had worked to reach their community for 40 years. They tried various strategies, “everything from itinerant preachers to veterinarian clinics to midwives,” he said.
None of it bore much fruit … until that community started working with Seed Company to train and deploy oral Bible storytellers. According to Randall, “The primary product is not the stories but the storytellers who can remember and tell the biblical stories, engaging people in dialogue around those stories.”
Suddenly, new churches sprang up around the storytellers. In the Seed Company offices, there’s actually a picture of a weeks-old church that grew from this shift in strategy.
Randall knows, perhaps better than most, the value of shifting a strategy to persevere. From geology major to tech consultant to vice president of Collaborative Exploration, his personal journey has been a circuitous one, but in the end, well worth it.