Bible Flow

Quick sketch of an overview of my Bible translation work flow

A Papua New Guinean youth watched me intently over the half-wall of the church where I was working in rural Madang Province. The pastor there had given me permission to come there to charge my computer’s batteries and work from time to time. At that time, there was no Internet access or cell phone service, there, but Dylup Station had a large diesel generator that supplied electricity to this small outpost. My family and I were living about 1 km. inland from there in a bush house at Bulal Village, where there was no electricity except for a few batteries.

In PNG culture, it is normal to learn by watching. You can learn all kinds of important things that way, like how to fish, how to hunt, how to build a bush house, how to plant and tend a garden, etc. That doesn’t work so well for the kind of work I was doing, right then. The things running through my mind: data structures, algorithms, linguistics, translation principles, computer programming, the Bible text I was working with, etc., were all invisible and inaudible to the observer. All he could see was a foreign-looking man sitting with a laptop computer on his lap, pressing keys and looking intently at text on its built-in monitor which at that moment was written in a computer programming language he had probably never heard of. Since I was still beginning to learn Melanesian Pidgin, then, I really couldn’t even begin to explain what I was doing. Still, he watched, and I typed.

So what do I actually do?

The short answer is that I help make Bible translations available to as many people as possible in the languages they understand best and in the formats that are most useful to them. I focus primarily on getting God’s holy Word to the people least able to pay for it: speakers of tribal languages in remote areas and people in areas where the Holy Bible might be censored or where it might trigger persecution. At the same time, I seek to make the Holy Bible freely available to people who haven’t yet accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, since these people aren’t as likely to pay for access to the Book they don’t yet know is so extremely valuable.

The longer answer is that I keep Bible translations flowing kind of like shown in the sketch, above. Long ago, I started translating and distributing the World English Bible and also distributing some other Public Domain (not copyrighted) Bible translations. I have gotten lots of volunteer help working on the World English Bible. A few other translations have come out of that project, including the World Messianic Bible and the LXX2012, along with British/International English spelling versions of each of those. But I was only commissioned by God to do English Bible translation, and there are about 7,110 other living languages spoken on this planet. I have been working on collecting Bible translations, together with permission to distribute them, in these other languages. Other people do the translation work, and I seek permission to distribute them. So far, I have posted Bible translations in more than a tenth of the world’s languages. This is due to the generosity of several Bible translation organizations and Bible translators, as well as the availability of some Bible translations that are old enough to not be copyrighted any more. So, yes, I do Bible translation, and yes, I distribute well over 800 Bible translations, but I did not translate all of those, and the ones I did, I did with a great deal of help.

When I get a Bible translation for distribution, it may be one or more of an almost infinite variety of formats. The easiest case is when the Bible translation text is in one of the formats currently recommended and used by most Bible translation agencies (USFM or USX with Unicode character encoding). Fortunately, this is true for the majority of the translations I process. For those which are not in that format, I need to convert it to USFM. Just how I do that depends on the format it is in.

Once a Bible translation is in the proper input format and I have permission to distribute it, I run it through Haiola to produce several useful output formats. Haiola is custom free and open source software. I frequently enhance, update, and improve this software to do its job better or create more formats. Outputs currently include HTML (for web sites or viewing locally with a web browser), epub, Amazon Kindle .mobi, PDF, Crosswire Sword Project modules, Browser Bible (like at, as well as some formats that are mostly useful for web and app developers.

I have written custom scripts that take all of the outputs from Haiola, copy them to the correct web sites, index them, and add them to a database on each of the servers as well as on my workstation. I also update the repository for the Crosswire Sword family of Bible study apps. (I also help maintain one of those apps.)

Once the Bible translations are online, they are available for end users who speak those languages to download directly. They may also be downloaded by others for distribution on media, on other web sites, in other Bible study apps, and on portable WiFi hotspots designed for this purpose. Those portable WiFi hotspots (Bible boxes) are very useful in areas where Internet access is unavailable, excessively expensive, or blocked.

Of course, this isn’t a once-through process, but one that keeps going as we add more Bible translations, more output formats, more Bible web sites, and more Bible apps.

So… that is an overview of what I do for work. Any questions? Ask.