Excerpt from Until There Are None, Bible Translation, Life Transformation, and Seed Company’s First 25 Years, ©2018
Back in the early 1980s, when Bernie May, Seed Company Founder, had just been appointed President of Wycliffe Bible Translators, he attended a strategic planning seminar for young executives. The instructor began with a rather obvious question: “What is the goal of your organization?”
That was easy for Bernie. Wycliffe’s mission was (and still is today) to translate the Bible into every language of the world. Although simple to summarize, the mission itself was giant. At the rate of Bible translation in 1981, it was projected that finishing the job would take about 200 years.
Then, the instructor posed a second question, a harder one: “What is the single, most important thing you can do as Chief Executive Officer to advance your organization toward that goal?”
Bernie admits his embarrassment at how long it took him to come up with the right answer. He first thought of resources—people and funds. If we had greater numbers of people and more funding, then we could make a lot of headway. Somehow, that response didn’t seem right.
Then, the Holy Spirit helped Bernie see the true answer: prayer.
As he thought more about prayer, he realized they were focusing our spiritual petitions on where missionaries were present, instead of on the places and people without them. What if we began praying for the people groups and languages of the world that had no missionaries and no Bibles?
The Prayers of Many
In Ethnologue, a publication listing the world’s known languages and the availability of Scripture in each, Bernie noticed there were about 3,000 unreached language groups.
That night, he and his wife prayerfully searched Ethnologue and chose the Dubu, a small people group in Indonesia, to pray for. They were so isolated that no one knew much about them, except that an anthropologist had traveled in this region and had discovered a village of 220 people speaking this unknown language.
So in 1981, they began praying daily for the Dubu. Soon after, Bernie extended the invitation for others to join them in prayer. He wrote an article for Wycliffe’s flagship magazine that was sent to constituents and partners. In it, he challenged readers to make a similar commitment to pray daily, by name, for one of the world’s Bibleless people groups. He offered to send a name to each person who expressed interest.
The response was so incredible that Wycliffe organized a program and launched the Bibleless Peoples Prayer Project. They focused this great resource—the prayers of many—on the strategic need to see God’s Word made available in all of these unreached languages. Bernie was overjoyed to witness God’s people’s commitment to pray for the lost.
But, after eight years of praying daily for the Dubu, he hit a wall. He began to feel discouraged. He had been praying that someone would take the Gospel to them, but it wasn’t happening.
Then, God prompted Bernie with a new thought: pray specifically that one or more of the Dubu would travel outside their isolated village to an Indonesian city where they could hear the Gospel. It seemed to make sense, and thankfully it was something new to pray for. In faith, Bernie prayed on.
Prayers at Work
A year later, he heard from a missionary in the area that what he had prayed for had happened.
One of the Dubu men had traveled to Sentani, a large coastal town, to seek work. He sought housing with a Christian family who told him about Jesus. There, he accepted Christ. A year later, he returned to the village and called a meeting of the whole tribe, who also accepted Jesus as Savior.
In recent years, Bernie has learned the Dubu church is doing well. They report sending out four evangelists to other Dubu villages to share the Gospel. The latest news is that two young men with a desire to translate the Bible into their own language are in a Bible school in the city.
God is doing exceedingly more than Bernie could ask or think for the Dubu people. Thirty years after our first prayer for them, Bernie’s faith is unwavering. God wants them to have his Word in the language they understand best.
Bernie says, “I continue to pray for the Dubu. It is perhaps the single most important thing I can do to help advance this goal.”
The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
— Deuteronomy 7:7-8 (NIV)