Monthly Archives: July 2013

Information Technology in Missions: Font Engineering

Engineering of fonts or font engineering. Ok so why would this have intrigued me? Well maybe because I am a geek. However without this step the tools we discussed previously would not be usable.

Now you might be asking yourself the question, “What is so hard about font design?” It turns out it can be quite complicated. First let’s take a bit of a time out and explain some of the process. Fonts are more than just the letters, numbers, & symbols that type out across your screen or in a search or office document. Fonts are put on the screen by encoding them. “Encoding refers to the process of representing information in some form.”1

One of the most important and popular encodings right now is unicode. I think Jeffrey Fridel has one of the best definitions of Unicode, “At the most basic level, Unicode is a character set or a conceptual encoding — a logical mapping between a number and a character.”2
Unicode is designed with the intention of enabling “people around the world to use computers in any language.”3 So the idea is that a single encoding would be able to be used by most people world wide. (There is a lot of history to this, but it’s out of scope for this post.)

So what does all this geeky stuff have to do with Bible translation? Well, our language uses latin (also known as Roman) to communicate the written portion of our language. However, many people groups in the world use symbols which are completely different (sometimes called non-Roman).


Think of Chinese,  Arabic, or Tagalog (people group in the Philippines) to name just a few, now multiply that by several hundred! In order for the translation tools to work, the computer must first be able to map them from a number to the correct symbol. Then the computer must also know how these symbols work. Someone must map these fonts to their specific encoding (number). So for example in our language a “A” would be U+1D00 (for short). However the computer may also see it as a hex (utf-8) of 0xE1 0xB4 0x80 (e1b480). In binary (utf-8) the computer would see it as 11100001:10110100:10000000.4  I should take a moment to mention that this is the capital A, and does not include the lowercase a or other forms that a has in other latin based languages.

What do I mean by “the computer must know how these symbols work”? Take a simple comma for instance. A comma must come immediately behind a word with a space to the next word, but no space in front of it. If it comes to a new line the comma must be on the same line as the word. Now there are symbols in many languages that denote this same thing. As well as symbols that denote other uses. Their rules all vary from symbol to symbol and to language to language. It is font engineering that makes this possible.

Without these encodings not only can translators and consultants not do their work in that language, but anything that needs to be used in that language on the computer will not be possible. So while it sounds mundane and even a little mind boggling it is a skill that is greatly needed.

Note: This post is meant to be very brief. There is a lot more reading material if you wish to take a look.

How to pray for font engineering:

  1. Wisdom of how to map these fonts. Once they are mapped they are in the Unicode Consortium’s specification and meant to remain that way for good.
  2. Patience. Many of these languages the fonts have to be not only mapped, but designed (i.e. pictures for the what the fonts look like on the screen). Lots of work to be handed back and forth.
  3. Many times issues around fonts become political because this is the writing system that people’s language will be represented on the computer for a long time to come. So again wisdom and listening and prayerful consideration.

Related Articles:

2) Mastering Regular Expressions 2nd Edition, Jeffrey E.F. Friedl, Published by O’Reilly page 206
3) Introductory paragraph on
4) Provided information from

Information Technology in Missions: Translation tools

Translation of any material is a very difficult process. The process can be long, difficult, and tedious. For the process of translation of the Bible it’s called the Road to Transformation. As with any difficult task there are tools to help translators. For a long time translators had to resort to pencil, paper, note cards, and shoe boxes. This process made for a very long and tedious work. One of a translators’ tasks is to create a dictionary for a language, and then they must be able to look that word up quickly. Could you imagine having to use note cards and a shoe box? That doesn’t even begin to address the issues of synonyms (unless you have a very busy person). The need is translation tools that are easy for a translator to work with while retrieving their needed information.

William Cameron Townsend, founder of Wycliffe, wrote these cards by hand while working on a translation for the  Cakchiquel language.

William Cameron Townsend, founder of Wycliffe, wrote these cards by hand while working on a translation for the Cakchiquel language.

That’s where software written specifically for translation needs comes into play. Now honestly there is no way I could review all the different pieces of software out there. So I have have selected a few samples that I found interesting. Hopefully you will find this software interesting as well.

WeSay - EnglishLet’s start with WeSay. WeSay is a dictionary building software, but here is the catch. It’s not actually designed for linguists (translators). It’s designed so that everyday people can enter dictionary entries in for their own language. This alone could help immensely to speed up the process. Simply by having a dictionary at hand that can be built not by just one or two people, but a whole group of people! After all what would you want more then anything else during the translation process? A dictionary with a great deal of variety. More information.

Next we will move to FLEx. FLEx is short for Fieldworks Language Explorer. FLEx is the major toolkit used by linguists to keep track of lexicon information, to create dictionaries, interlinearize texts, analyze discourse features, and study morphology. This tool is one of the chief tools for linguists. It helps them to keep track of all of the different areas of studying a particular language. Without FLEx most of this research would not be as easily accessible. In fact in the past this information was kept in different written forms such as index cards in a shoe box, or in huge manuscripts that were difficult to copy. If for whatever reason this information had been lost then the work for that language group would have to start over. Not to mention It could only be worked on by one or two people. Now with this information on a computer (or multiple computers) then it can be at the fingertips of the linguist(s). It can be backed up and preserved. Even preserved around the world easily, so that if natural disasters were to occur then the data is safe. The work is safe!  If FLEx has begun to whet your appetite, then let me suggest watching some of the videos dealing with FLEx.

Moving on to Bloom. Bloom is written with the thought that to learn to read one needs bookand more then just one book. This software allows a people group to quickly translate a handful of shell books. Shell books are basically books like primers, basic hygiene, children’s story, etc. Basically a linguist or a national translator can translate the shell books quickly and have multiple books for people to read quickly. BUT it doesn’t stop there. The people can then continue to write books in their own language with templates within Bloom to facilitate quickly writing books! Custom artwork, a library to keep these new books, pdf templates laid out in easily printable form, and the list goes on.

Learning to read takes books. Learning to read well, and developing a love of reading, takes lots of books.1

These three tools are only the tip of the ice berg of the different tools that linguists use in aiding their work for Bible translation. Two of these tools, WeSay and Bloom, have team members in Papua New Guinea! Without tools such as these Bible translation for a language group would often take two, three, or even four times the amount of time that it does now.

How to pray for developers, linguists, and trainers:

  1. Pray that developers will have the insight to create translation tools that help linguists and translators alike with their huge task.
  2. Pray for linguists to be able to learn new software and how to better use the tools at their disposal.
  3. Pray for the trainers who have to teach linguists, national translators, and whoever else may use the translation tools, how to best utilize it. Then pray that these same trainers will be able to give pertinent data back to developers so improvements can be made to the software in use.

Related Articles:

1) Bloom’s website:

Jasper Road Trip

About 6 years ago, David and I moved to Tupelo, MS from Jasper, AL. We left behind an awesome church family that we had grown to love dearly. We realized recently that it had been a few years since we had been able to go for a visit. Some of our friends had not only had babies, but those babies had grown into toddlers… or preschoolers! It was way past time for a visit. Time for a road trip!

Saturday morning we hit the road.


We were blessed with gorgeous weather!


The younger two slept most of the way. The older 3? We might need to work on this whole road trip thing, since we heard lots of noise from the backseat and it was a less than 2 hour drive!

When people ask where I’m “from”, Alabama is about as close as it gets, so this sight always makes me happy! Care to join me in a chorus of “Sweet Home, Alabama”?


And then finally….


We spent Saturday as a family day, giving the kids a chance to practice their swimming in the hotel pool. Sunday morning we had a wonderful time attending both Sunday School and morning service at Northside Baptist Church. It was so much fun seeing the same sweet ladies who rocked Sophia as a baby rocking Talia, and for Nehemiah to have class with the same man who was teaching it when Makaylah was in the two year old class! We also got to hug many necks, and catch up with many old friends. And it was pretty priceless watching each person we ran into do a double take!

Talia is 8 weeks old! She seems pretty excited about attending her fourth church in six weeks of church attendance ;)

Talia is 8 weeks old! She seems pretty excited about attending her fourth church in six weeks of church attendance, doesn’t she?

Northside was our first church home, so it will always have a special place in our hearts! One of the best parts of this missionary journey so far has been the opportunity to fellowship with so many different faith families and be reminded of the beauty of the body of Christ.

We’d be honored to visit with your faith family too, so be sure to call or e-mail us if you’d like us to hit the road again!


Information Technology in Missions: Tech Support

Another problem was lack of technical support. When I arrived in Arop for a translation workshop seven months after each translator had his own computer, half the computers would not work—mostly the old ones. I ended up spending 80 percent of my time during that workshop trying to keep seven different models of computers running. This left precious little time to do what I had come to Papua New Guinea to do, my work lamat 1: helping Papua New Guinean translators improve their translations. 2

What do you do when your computer stops working? I guess it depends on several variables. Are you good with computers and therefore fix the problem yourself? Do you call support because the computer is still under warranty? Do you find a geeky kid that lives next door? Maybe you call the computer shop?

Imagine with me for a moment that only one or none of these options are viable. Long phone calls are expensive overseas. There usually isn’t a geeky kid next door, and there isn’t a computer shop for miles on end. What does that leave you? Fix it yourself. That is whether or not you are a geek.

Now the good news is that John Nystrom, who wrote the excerpt above, was able to find a solution. However, it struck me hard as I read this chapter that John a translator could not accomplish more than 20 percent of his work because of computer issues. Leaving him to work on computers rather then on God’s Word in the Aitape West Translation Project. This project included several language groups in need of God’s Word.

Ukarumpa Helpdesk or technical support. Courtesy of Steve Curry. 2012.

Ukarumpa Helpdesk.
Courtesy of Steve Curry. 2012.

Wycliffe technical support guys and gals around the world work hard to be sure that computers continue to function. Not only those of translators and national translators, but many other support staff around their unique areas. Ukarumpa is Wycliffe Bible Translators headquarters for Bible translation in Papua New Guinea. That’s where these three guys above are working, and where we hope to be late next year.

How can we pray for tech support missionary geeks?

  1. Pray that God would give them patience to handle problems.
  2. Pray that God would give them patience when working with frustrated people. (Hey we all know computer problems are irritating.)
  3. That God would give them insight into technical issues. Sometimes we geeks get stumped.

Related Articles

1) A word belonging to the Arop people of PNG meaning real essence of something or the most important part.
2) Nystrom, John; Nystrom, Bonnie (2012-08-15). Sleeping Coconuts (Kindle Locations 3036-3040). Wycliffe Bible Translators USA. Kindle Edition.


Information Technology in Missions: Introduction

Computers are being used to speed Bible translation.

Computers are being used to speed Bible translation.

How does Information Technology (I.T.) serve in the area of missions? How can nerds / geeks make a difference in Bible translation? Sometimes it is difficult to see how God can use geeks to reach Bibleless people in this area of technology. After all what can someone who sits on a computer all day actually do to help translate God’s Word into a language that previously did not have God’s Word? How is it that God can use geeks with computers to reach people for Christ and his Word? Well these questions and this difficulty of seeing are why I am going to write a brief series of posts to give you a broad stroked overview of I.T. in Bible translation. Since it will be broad it will miss various details, and even whole fields within I.T. My ultimate goal with this series is to whet your appetite for how God can use geeks in Bible translation. I am going to cover five support roles within Information Technology. They in no way complete the whole picture of I.T. in Wycliffe (or any other missions organization). Mixed in will be my own thoughts and research into these areas highlighted by my own quirky since of humor. In other words have your salt shaker ready and take it with a grain of salt. These are the areas that I hope to cover:

  1. Technical support for missionaries, national translators, and expat translators. 
  2. Translation tools that are used to help speed up Bible translation projects. These tools of course will focus on those used on the computer.
  3. Engineering of fonts just so that translators can use computer software to do their work. Not to mention having the ability to print the Scriptures after their completion.
  4. Distribution of Bibles in digital format, and why this is a growing and important area of Bible translation.
  5. Why there is a need for business applications (an application is a program or suite of programs on a computer) in the process of Bible translation.

Now if you are an I.T. guy or gal you’ll notice this does not even begin to cover all the areas of Information Technology or where it could go. This is just a bit of a tease :D. My hope is that once you walk away from these posts you will have a better idea of the things that Melissa and I will be involved (as well as have the opportunity to be involved) in when we arrive in Papua New Guinea!