There are more opportunities today in Canada than ever before to reach out as a local church and welcome people of different language communities around us! From sponsoring a refugee family, to hosting a neighbourhood celebration, to simply getting to know our friends and neighbours who speak different languages and letting them know they are welcome here – and welcome in our churches.
The common language between us may be English – or French, Swahili, Spanish, or Mandarin – and there are certainly many wonderful ways our relationships can flourish using our common languages – but there is also a place for all the languages that we – each of us – value.
With over 450 individual languages identified in the 2021 census there may be more languages spoken by people already in your church than you realize. At a very basic level, using different languages in our church signs or literature (even if they are not the languages of our services), for example, is a simple way we can increase the feeling of welcome and inclusion that newcomers (and existing members) experience.
Similarly in the area of discipleship, a recent research report found that in listening to individuals from Muslim backgrounds who had begun following Christ, the top three things they often mentioned as significant to this process were: “1. They had an experience with a Christian Church, 2. They had a Christian friend, and 3. They had a Bible in their heart language [italics our own].”1
One of the easiest ways to find, listen to, and study the Bible in other languages these days is through digital resources – they are also super-easy to share!
“Make good use of every opportunity you have...” -Ephesians 5:16, GNT
In fact, the other week, I (Ramón) met Esther2 who works at my local grocery store. We got to talking, and she happens to speak the same language as my stepmother, a somewhat large minority language of the Philippines, and I pulled up a digital copy on my phone, and pressed play for Mark 1:1-8.
“Wow, that’s my language!” she exclaimed.
I left her with a business card pointing her to check it out when she was off work or had more time.
On my latest grocery run, today actually, I saw her again in the same aisle, so I said “Hi,” and we got a chance to get to know each other a bit more, and I was able to pray for a need she currently has in her family.
And in our conversation, I asked her: “Did you get a chance to check out the Scripture in your language that I told you about?”
“Yes,” she responded, “however, on my phone it wasn’t working, but my son helped me figure it out later!”
Finding Digital Bibles and Bible resources
Did you know that Bible resources are available in over 3,500 languages? Not all of those are digitally available, however, but a growing number are! As of January 1, 2023, there are online Bibles, New Testaments, or portions of Scripture available via Bible apps in at least 2,322 languages.3
ScriptureEarth.org website and app (currently the website interface is localized in 7 languages; the app is on the iOS platform) has the most comprehensive list of available Bible resources with almost 3,000 languages listed, and variants included with these. It provides you with links to resources from YouVersion, Faith Comes By Hearing, Global.Bible, The JESUS Film Project, Global Recordings Network, and many others. Read our previous blog on ScriptureEarth for more on how to use this for outreach!
You can also go straight to specific resources themselves to find those languages with digital materials at:
YouVersion's Bible app (also as a website: Bible.com) has the largest collection of digital Bibles and New Testaments/Bible Portions – in over 1,900 languages, with 2,867 versions. Many are in also in audio form or accompanied by videos, including the JESUS film, and Lumo Gospel videos.
Faith Comes by Hearing produces the Bible.is app (click to download on your device), which includes audio Bibles in 1,740 languages, the JESUS film, in addition to Lumo Gospel videos in many of them, etc.
Find.Bible also has links to online digital Bibles, portions, or Bible stories in 4598 languages and dialects. *Note: Their number is higher both because they count multiple dialects separately and include shorter recorded tracts.
Other Bible-Based Digital Discipleship Tools in Different Languages
There are many other multilingual resources out there that are great tools for discipleship ministries. Here are a few of them:
- BibleProject’s website, YouTube channel and app (all with both interface and localized channels in the different languages) provide an extensive and growing repertoire of explanatory videos for “helping people experience the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus” in more than 55+ languages. They do this through tracing Biblical themes and vocabulary throughout the books of the Bible and explaining the literary nature of the Bible.
- Deditos is an organization that helps translate and produce children’s Bible stories in video format using finger puppets. It is a fun and creative resource for children (and all ages)! It continues to be translated into new languages as new partnerships are formed, and currently has videos in 47 different languages, particularly in minority languages of the Philippines, Central & South America, and Russia, and some majority languages of Asia as well as one of Africa. And, in Spanish each video comes with a corresponding lesson to use for Sunday School or at home as well as songs!
- TWR (Trans-World Radio) Canada has long been producing Bible-based productions for distribution over radio at home and around the world. They now host various digital “Discipleship Essentials” materials, translated into 90+ different languages. See also Bible Stories Alive for children (based on the books/audio series from ‘A Visit with Mrs. G Ministries’) and search for the ‘Bible Stories Alive’ app.
- Trauma Healing Institute (THI) provides a variety of materials to help people recover from the many types of traumas (including natural and man-made disasters) they may have experienced both in their homeland and in their migratory journeys. These materials are available not only in English, French, and Spanish, but increasingly more languages as facilitators start groups all over the world and among diverse diaspora groups. Trauma Healing Basics is a great place to start for everyone interested! To our knowledge, materials are available in 200+ languages.
- Word Lovers for children and adults are programs developed by Wycliffe Canada to particularly resource the Korean church in Canada to read the Bible and, at the same time, support Bible Translation. The devotional pages can be used in either the Korean or English versions to encourage a congregation – both adults and children – to read the Bible!
- Zúme Training offers online “plug and play” resources for small groups to help make disciples who multiply, available in at least 42 different languages! The highly tested material can be used by self-starters, with simple exercises to put into practice, or with an added “Get a Coach” option for people who have questions or want input from other more experienced practitioners.
Celebrating Increased Access to the Bible
As you can see, we can truly celebrate an increasing access to the Bible and Bible-based resources – both through digitization and the ongoing work of many in thousands of languages around the world! What an amazing pool of resources we can draw from as we embrace our increasing reality of a multilingual church community here in Canada – and together learn to take the apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy: “Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others” (2 Timothy 2:2b, NLT).
After ten years of involvement in ministry in Oaxaca, Mexico with Wycliffe & SIL, Deb & Ramón Padilla joined Outreach Canada in 2021 bringing their skills and experience to serve existing diaspora ministries in the Greater Toronto Area, and across Canada. Their vision is to collaborate with local ministries to support more effective use and access to Scriptures and other resources in the minority languages of homeland communities of immigrants. Through networking with front-line diaspora ministries and churches, Ramón seeks to understand the various contexts and help connect and foster collaboration of resources and ministries for Scripture Engagement to flourish among diaspora communities. Through research and connecting with other researchers, Deb seeks to communicate information about language groups in the diaspora to those whose work it will inspire as they minister to these communities.