A Ticking Time Bomb

By Rachel Greco

What do a church in the Czech Republic, JAARS, and Mbeya, Tanzania, all have in common?

They all want to keep translation teams drafting Scripture and literacy teams creating materials at the SIL* offices in Mbeya. These offices, the largest in Tanzania, serve 13 language groups in the area. Each project is in a different phase of the Bible translation process.

Steve Pence, the IT manager in Mbeya, loves helping his translator friends in practical ways. “Bible translators sit in front of their computers all day,” Steve says. “So when a translator carries his laptop into my office with a computer problem, for that translator, for that language, Bible translation has stopped. It is my job to get it started again.”

Steve Pence with Chapa, a translator

A few months prior to COVID, Steve encountered a problem that was too big for him to fix. A number of Ethernet cables from switches to wall jacks had mysteriously gone dead, which meant the offices’ printers had stopped working. The translators couldn’t print drafts of translations for checking in communities, and the literacy department couldn’t print booklets for literacy classes.

The Ethernet cables also enable the wireless network to work. It was imperative to replace all the cables before the entire network went down. “My concern,” Steve wrote Bill Mayes, the Africa IT Services Coordinator, “is that I have a ticking time bomb here. We still have cables that run between switches and cables that serve our access points. If any of these fail, our network will go down.”

If the network went down, it would take the entire Mbeya office offline. Translators would no longer be able to back up their translations or hold online conferences with remote consultants.

One of the translation teams who utilizes the network

Technical resources to replace the cables are almost non-existent locally, so Steve had to look elsewhere for help. Through Bill, he got in touch with Richard Young, an IT consultant on Bill’s team who works remotely in the Czech Republic.

Richard contacted his friend, Marcel, who lives near him in the Czech Republic. Marcel is a Christian IT technician working with a local Internet Service Provider. Richard asked him if he would be interested in going to Tanzania to rewire the Mbeya office.

Marcel and Samuel at the office in Mbeya

Marcel recruited his brother, Samuel, an electrical specialist, to go with him to rewire the office. Marcel and Samuel approached their pastors to explain the project and ask if the church could fund half the cost of their trip—the other half was funded by people like you giving to JAARS. Thank you!

When Marcel spoke to his bosses about his plans, they said the company could help sponsor the project by sending equipment and paying Marcel his salary so he wouldn’t have to use his vacation time.

So the two brothers came and replaced 500 yards of cable throughout almost all of the seventeen offices at Mbeya!

“Ethernet cabling is a specialty trade,” Steve explains. “The team brought many special tools and lots of experience. And now we have a network infrastructure that should last for many years and see us through [finishing the] translations of the remaining Mbeya languages that are still waiting for God’s word.”

Marcel and Samuel hard at work rewiring the translation office in Tanzania

The Mbeya teams hope their offices will continue to serve these communities for many years to come. “This is only possible,” Mark Woodward, the director of SIL Tanzania, says, “with the quiet but efficient running of the IT systems in the background.”

How might God want to use your skills to help these translation teams in Africa and elsewhere? Visit here to find out!

*SIL is a partner organization of JAARS.