Claims by Wycliffe Associates in Fundraising Initiatives Raise Questions

By Warren Cole Smith

Wycliffe Associates claims it has developed two new strategies for delivering the Bible to people in countries hostile to the gospel that are achieving “miraculous” results. One is a Print on Demand (POD) system, which enables workers to print and quickly distribute Bibles. The other is called Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation (MAST), which Wycliffe Associates claims can deliver a new translation in just weeks to months, rather than years.

Wycliffe Associates, which used to be associated with Wycliffe Bible Translators but now is a separate nonprofit, has been very successful in raising funds for these programs. The problem is: the evidence to support Wycliffe Associate’s claims is thin. And when asked to substantiate the advertised cost for POD and MAST, Wycliffe Associates has so far failed to produce documentation.

Print On Demand

The press release sent out by Wycliffe Associates on April 1 sounded compelling.  It read, in part:

Wycliffe Associates, an international organization that empowers mother-tongue Bible translators and partners with local churches in the advancement of Bible translation, is using technology to protect and empower Bible translators working in regions of intense persecution for Christians.

It’s an impressive series of claims.  It appeals to evangelicals, who care about taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth, and who also care about persecuted Christians in other parts of the world. 

So how does Wycliffe Associates accomplish these impressive claims?  It says it uses “high-capacity, Print On Demand equipment” that allows Bible translators to “quickly print the Scriptures from a flash drive, whether a few or many books, and then distribute them. Wycliffe Associates also trains workers to operate and maintain the equipment once it’s installed.”

Wycliffe Associates President Bruce Smith

Wycliffe Associates President Bruce Smith said in the same press release, “This is the missing link for national Bible translation teams who have been working tirelessly, risking their very lives, translating God’s Word in some of the most difficult and dangerous places on earth, places where Christianity is against the law, and national Bible translators have had to work in secret.”

But are these claims true? 

Like many of the statements of Wycliffe Associates, they are hard to verify.  It is not clear how many Print On Demand printers have actually been delivered.  Repeated requests by MinistryWatch to determine this number went unanswered.  Wycliffe Associates spokesman Donn Hallman said in email to MinistryWatch that it takes “$25,000 to install printers in closed countries.”  The Wycliffe Associates press release said it was trying to raise money for “three new requests for units.”  Presumably that means Wycliffe Associates is raising $75,000 to respond to these requests.

These numbers are far different from what Wycliffe Associates told Mission News Network just three years ago, when it said a print on demand system could be installed in a closed country for $15,000 and that a “mini-POD” system was just $3,000. 

MinistryWatch asked for a list of countries that have received POD systems, but Wycliffe Associates has so far not provided the list.

Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation – MAST

The Print On Demand systems complement Wycliffe Associates MAST translation method.  MAST is an acronym for Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation.  Wycliffe Associates said when it “first piloted a MAST program in 2014, a team of 13 translators working 12-hour days drafted 48 percent of the New Testament in two weeks.” 

This pilot program took place in Nepal, and since then it has become an important part of the Wycliffe Associates story.  Bruce Smith wrote “An Unlikely Miracle” for Mission Frontiers Magazine in 2015.  Among the people at the first program were representatives of the Bahing (called the “Ng” in the Mission Frontiers article).  The Bahing are part of a Nepali ethnic group.  According to the Mission Frontiers article, those who came to the workshop had “neither training nor translation experience.” 

This assertion has since been disputed by independent observers.  A 2015 peer-review assessment team, which included members of the Seed Company, Word for the World, WBT Ethiopia, and WBT Africa – all organizations active for decades in Bible translation all around the world — said, “The rate of progress and the quality achieved clearly do not substantiate the widely publicized claims made for the accelerated rate of translation that can be achieved through the MAST methodology.”

Nonetheless, Smith continues to maintain that MAST produces a translation “at an unprecedented pace and quality.”  He concluded, “The only word that seemed to fit was ‘miraculous.’”

“The rate of progress and the quality achieved clearly do not substantiate the widely publicized claims made for the accelerated rate of translation that can be achieved through the MAST methodology.”

Wycliffe Associates has since raised tens of millions of dollars from donors, prominently featuring MAST in its fundraising materials.  In fiscal year 2016, soon after the MAST program began, Wycliffe Associates had $30.9-million in revenue, but it spent $6.9-million on fundraising, about 22 percent of its total revenue.  By fiscal year 2019 Wycliffe Associates revenue had grown to $49-million.  Fundraising had grown to $7.1-million, but that was still more than 14 percent of total revenue.  The average fundraising percentage of ministries in the MinistryWatch database is about 7 percent.

MAST continues to play a key role in its public relations and fundraising efforts.  Its April 1 press release said “318 New Testaments have been completed using MAST.”  Wycliffe Associates also said “over 1350 translations currently in progress using MAST.”

However, MinistryWatch asked repeatedly for a list of these translations.  So far, Wycliffe Associates has not produced the lists. 

Wycliffe Associates Resigns From ECFA Amid Review

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) became skeptical of the claims about MAST.  It launched a review of Wycliffe Associates’ assertions.  The ECFA requires its members to comply with ethical standards to maintain their membership.  One of those standards is that “narratives about events must be current, complete, and accurate.”  Another standard says, “Appeals for charitable gifts must not create unrealistic expectations of what a gift will actually accomplish.”  Wycliffe Associates chose to resign from the ECFA on Feb. 21 “while under review of compliance” with these standards.  The resignation ended the ECFA’s investigation.

Wycliffe Associates had been a charter member of the ECFA.

Wycliffe Associates, founded in 1967, began in association with Wycliffe Bible Translators.  But it received its own separate tax-exempt status in 1995 and is now a completely separate organization.  In the early 2000s, the organization petitioned the Internal Revenue Service to classify itself as a church, and it hasn’t released its Form 990s to the public since 2007

Wycliffe Associates’ withdrawal from the ECFA comes about four years after it withdrew from the Wycliffe Global Alliance (WGA).  The WGA is a partnership of more than 100 Bible translation agencies around the globe.

This article is provided by a special partnership with MinistryWatch.com.


Warren Cole Smith is president of MinistryWatch.com, a donor watchdog group. Prior to taking on this role, Smith was Vice President-Mission Advancement for the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.  Warren also hosts the weekly podcast “Listening In,” a long-form interview program heard by tens of thousands of subscribers each week. 

 

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5 thoughts on “Claims by Wycliffe Associates in Fundraising Initiatives Raise Questions”

  1. Hi Julie, As a Wycliffe Bible Translator, I am deeply grieved that it is not made clear right at the beginning of this article that Wycliffe Associates is NOT Wycliffe Bible Translators. Some will not read to the last paragraphs to discover that. WBT has suffered from being confused with Wycliffe Associates. We are aware of the concerns with WA and we regret that anyone would doubt the years of integrity and the hard work of WBT. I hope you will work to clarify mistaken assumptions resulting from this article.

  2. Grainne Mcdonald

    I would never rely on ECFA to get to the real truth of any organization. There a are obviously huge questions about Wycliffe Associates but there are also questions about ECFA.

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