Partnering in the Great Commission

By Max Sahl | Wycliffe Today Spring 2022|

When I think about the kingdom work of making disciples in all nations, it can often feel overwhelming. There is just so much that needs to happen for the gospel to be preached effectively. This includes training, cultural awareness, resourcing, administration and member care. Wycliffe just can’t do it all without the help of others.

However, just as we are called to bring our personal giftings to make up the body of Christ with all its different parts, so as a mission organisation I believe we are called to work together with other mission agencies to participate in the Great Commission. 

The apostle Paul knew the importance of working with others and particularly with churches. To the church at Philippi he wrote: ‘I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.’ Phil 1:3-5 (NIV). The church in all its forms will always be our primary partner.

But there are so many other wonderful opportunities to partner with other organisations that will make us all stronger together and reflect the body of Christ in a broader context. In this edition, you will read of some of the beautiful partnerships that are serving the work of making disciples: local partnerships, training partnerships, working with schools, working with other mission organisations, and ‘Partners in Hope’. 

I hope you will be as encouraged as I am about what can be achieved when we work together.

Language matters

By Max Sahl | Wycliffe Today October 2019

This year is the International Year of Indigenous Languages. To celebrate the occasion, the Royal Australian Mint has released a commemorative 50 cent coin.  The unique design incorporates translations for the word ‘coin’ from 14 of the many Indigenous languages in Australia. 

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (AIATSIS) makes these points about language: 

Language is more than just a means to communicate, it  . . . plays a central role in a sense of identity. Language also carries meaning beyond the words themselves, and is an important platform within which much cultural knowledge and heritage is passed on.

Speaking and learning traditional languages improves the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by providing a sense of belonging and empowerment.  Educational outcomes improve when children are taught in their first language, especially in the early years. Interpreting and translating, language teaching and learning, and producing resources in Indigenous Australian languages provide significant economic, social and intrinsic benefits to individuals and communities.*

This has been the experience of Wycliffe Bible Translators worldwide. Language goes deep to the core of who a person is, whether it be in the highlands of PNG, the jungles of South America or the deserts of Western Australia. Identity, meaning, culture, heritage, belonging, wellbeing and empowerment are all interconnected with indigenous languages. This is why languages matter and this is why we translate God’s Word into indigenous languages!


*  ‘Why is Language Important?’  Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies: https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/articles/indigenous-australian-languages
Accessed 31 July, 2019

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Leaning on God to light the way: Introducing Max and Helen Sahl

Wycliffe Today – June 2019 (PDF

Max and Helen have been on quite a journey since they first met. These former Queensland teachers are Wycliffe members who have lived in Papua New Guinea for 20 years. Their adventures have included a short stint in professional rugby, moving to a new country, raising a family, serving in a variety of roles, several near-death experiences and establishing a new training program for local translators. They are now living at the National Centre for Wycliffe Bible Translators Australia where Max is the CEO. Come and meet the Sahls.

What was it that first inspired you to become involved with Wycliffe?

Max: Before we went to PNG, we had no idea about Wycliffe or SIL. When we first heard about the need for teachers to educate mission kids, we simply followed God’s call. We thought we would only be there short-term. When we arrived, we didn’t know much about Bible translation . . . but it was almost impossible not to catch the vision. I went from being a PE teacher to Principal of the Primary School and High School to overseeing the training program for the Pacific Institute of Languages, Arts and Translation (PILAT) and now stepping into the role of CEO for Wycliffe Australia. I would never have imagined that for myself but God obviously knew what he was doing!

Helen:  During our time in Ukarumpa, we saw people’s lives changed, both at an individual and at a community level, through the power of the gospel. But the gospel is only effective when the people can understand it. Our eyes were opened to the physical, spiritual, educational and emotional needs surrounding us and we developed a heart for making God’s Word clear for all people.

How did your sports career help in that transition?

Max: I was a professional rugby league player in Queensland. My team won the grand final in the biggest sports event in Queensland at the time. This helped me to connect with my new community in PNG, as rugby league is the biggest sport in PNG and most of the people barrack for the Queensland State of Origin team.

Helen: Our experiences as PE teachers also enabled us to spend time with people in more informal ways. Max has hiked the Kokoda Trail and four times has hiked Mount Wilhelm, the highest mountain in PNG. A strong endurance for hiking helps to support translation teams by sharing the Jesus Film with remote villages. Teaching Missionary Kids was a big part of our lives as we worked in PNG and we loved the opportunities to input into their lives.

What was it like overseeing the training program for PILAT?

Max: This was a real highlight of my time in PNG. The Pacific Institute for Languages, Arts and Translation was set up to train Papua New Guineans for Bible translation, literacy and other language development work. It involved taking a huge risk but it was worth it. The program welcomes translators from all villages – the languages literally come to you! The people are hungry to learn but they are geographically isolated and educationally poor. They often make incredible sacrifices to get there, taking a boat, bus and plane. But we’ve found a real synergy in training local translators which is gaining momentum with the local churches. Last year, nearly 500 people attended courses at PILAT.

What are some of the biggest adjustments you’ve had to make going to PNG and now coming back to Australia?

Max: There is a massive cultural shock when you first move into a third world country. It can be very difficult to know where to invest with your giving and your personal social justice program. There are just so many needs.

Helen: It was hard being away from extended family and friends but transitioning back into your home country can be just as difficult. When you’ve been exposed to communities lacking food, water and basic needs, hearing about first world problems in Western media is very grating. Experiencing the hardships other people go through on a daily basis has put things into perspective for us.

Your journey has involved a great deal of change. What does this new transition mean to you?

Max: There are many transitions in life. It can feel a bit overwhelming – but you learn that God always turns up. You need him when you’re stepping out of your comfort zone. You need to pray for supernatural wisdom. One of the most challenging things as I move into this role will be to also transition the organisation. We need to be looking for new ways to do the same job in a new world. I think we also need to be more respectful of the minorities we are working with and to ensure that we are listening to the churches and enabling them to be more involved. Partnerships with other Global Alliance organisations will also be a big focus as we work with other agencies interested in Bible translation.

Helen: I also love the idea of enthusing people in the task of Bible translation. But I know that this won’t come without its own difficulties. This transition is exciting because we are relying on God to show us what he wants for the future of Wycliffe Australia. Proverbs 3:5-6 has been a verse we try to live by: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight (NIV). When you surrender your will to him, trust and make yourself available, he lights the path ahead.


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