Why a second edition? (PART 1)
Over the past two years, we have worked hard to complete a second edition of our small evangelical catechism Simple Truths. This new version has now been translated into multiple languages (20+) and is in print in a number of countries. As I have travelled and talked about the “little book” over the past months, I have been asked on multiple occasions – “Why was a version 2.0 necessary?” What follows is a piece I wrote to answer that question about 18 months ago. You might note that it is slightly dated, but it captures the answer to the question. What follows is part 1 of 2 posts.
Why a Second Edition of Simple Truths?
Almost 10 years ago, I did a survey among men and woman in Vietnam who had been students of mine in Bible training courses. The goal was to assess how well they (and their students) had grasped the information we had been teaching (and how well we had accomplished our role as teachers). Our method was simple. We visited 40 of our students and asked them to share the story of how they came to faith, and then we asked simple questions on topics of Bible knowledge and theology. Their stories and answers were recorded, and then transcribed, translated, and discussed so that our attempts at church development training could be improved.
The results were mixed. Much of the essential content was securely in their grasp. A few things needed some additional attention.
So we determined that a tool to help church leaders train new believers could be helpful. The goal was to develop a practical and useful resource that would address some of the “gaps” our survey discovered. Because a catechism had been one of the tools used to bring Christianity to Vietnam 350 years ago, we thought that using a catechetical form could serve our purposes well.
Over the next several months, Susan Moore and I compiled, adapted, edited, and simplified portions of several existing catechisms to create Simple Truths for the New Believer. Some of the questions and answers were included to address specific issues in Vietnamese animism and folk-Buddhism. Most of the content was basic Christianity. The piece was first published in English, translated into Vietnamese, and became the core of some train-the-trainer sessions in SE Asia. We expanded the usefulness of the piece in Vietnam by doing translations in several tribal languages (H’re, Bahnar, Stieng).
What happened next was quite surprising. While the piece was written to target a specific audience in a specific culture, other people began to take an interest in the “little book”. A pastor from Myanmar received a copy of the English version from friends in Vietnam and asked if he could translate and use the book in Myanmar. Soon, a Burmese and a Mizo Chin version were in print. A mission in Ecuador became interested in using it with their school children, so a Spanish translation was completed. Once a Spanish translation was available, other missions took interest. That led to printing and distribution projects in Cuba, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, and the southern United States. We responded to a request from Chad for a French translation specifically targeted at an African audience. That word-of-mouth development continued with requests from other places in Africa, Central Asia, and Europe. Today, there are completed translations of Simple Truths in 30 languages [English, Vietnamese, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Croatian, Amharic, Oromo, Hindi, Burmese, Mizo Chin, Lugandan, Stieng, Bahnar, H’re, Pocomchi, Russian – with current projects in Tagalog, Farsi, Haitian Creole, and Maithili.
Distribution projects in India have led to over 50,000 books in the hands of believers there. An evangelical mission with global capacities distributed 10,000 books to people who attended the 2010 FIFA World Cup matches in South Africa. The Chinese version has been distributed through a website inside China and we have no way of finding an accurate record of how many downloads are in use there. We have published 1,000 bi-lingual versions (Vietnamese/Hmong) for distribution in the north in Vietnam. For all of these things, we are truly thankful.
That said, we have learned many things since we first published Simple Truths in 2006 — thanks to the feedback of translators, missionaries, and national workers. In some languages, the way we worded certain questions led to translation ambiguities. For others, the question and answer format was a challenge as it mirrored the tools of some who were perceived as preaching “another gospel”. For some users, because each country and culture and language group faces a unique “counter-catechesis”, there were things that seemed to be “missing”. For others, the idiosyncratic teachings of a prominent leader or historical church figure had become shibboleths – and our “little book” either did not mention these things or wasn’t clear enough to pass the test.