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Plugging the Planet Into the Word

Children in Rong Domriex, Cambodia, learn to read by following along in their books as they listen to a New Testament passage read on tape.
Children in Rong Domriex, Cambodia, learn to read by following along in their books as they listen to a New Testament passage read on tape. (By Mary Jordan -- The Washington Post)

But this night, children and adults were transfixed by scenes of the birth of Jesus in a stable and of him telling people to be like the Good Samaritan and help those in need. Some cried softly at the vivid crucifixion scene and began asking questions about his empty tomb and talk of him rising from the dead.

When the film ended, several people gathered to ask Lok questions.

"I would like to hear more about Jesus," said Heat Chean, 30, a farmer who held his infant daughter in his arms. "I'm a Buddhist, but Christians are good, too."

Spreading the Word

More than 9,000 miles away in Virginia, Christopher Deckert tracks where the Bible has gone -- and where it still needs to travel. As children ride scooters and bicycles outside his single-family home in a leafy suburb of Richmond, Deckert works at his computer in his den. Paintings of people from around the globe surround him.

The computer cartographer, relying on information from sources such as Wycliffe Bible Translators and Google Earth, creates colored maps that show the progress of efforts to bring Scripture and the Jesus film to every last patch of the globe.

Deckert's maps, available on the Internet at, hang on walls in Third World mission offices and in wealthy donor churches from Seoul to Atlanta.

"There is not a country in the world where missionaries haven't gone or looked at the language needs" in order to bring the Bible there, said Deckert, who works for Campus Crusade for Christ, which distributes the Jesus film. Like many of the major Christian groups working abroad, it shares information, maps and translations.

"It's an awesome opportunity" to help bring the Gospel to all nations, he said. "Tens of thousands of people are out there working."

The Bible, with its parables and centuries-old figurative language, can take as long as 30 years to translate, at a cost of as much as $1 million.

Sometimes a missionary's biggest challenge is sickness, such as malaria or dengue fever, said Fredrick Boswell Jr., head of the translation group at the Forum of Bible Agencies International. Other times it is wrestling with how, for example, to translate stories about the 12 apostles into a language with words only for "one," "two" and "everything more than two" -- such as the Tok Mari language in Papua New Guinea.

Then there is the hostility that missionaries encounter in some parts of the world. Officials from several Christian groups said they do not disclose the location of some of their workers in predominantly Muslim areas in North Africa and the Middle East, out of concern for their safety.

In nations such as Burma, Saudi Arabia and China, where the government restricts or forbids the import of Bibles, multimedia versions are increasingly important. Evangelists said it is far easier to import a single CD, which can be copied repeatedly, than to import large containers of printed Bibles.

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