People say that when life gets so busy, it’s easy to forget the simple things. For example, how often do we ask, “How did this start?” or “How did it all begin?”. In this case, I’m not talking about creation but instead I’m asking, how does the life of a Bible translation begin?

This year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the publication of the New Testament in Guaraní, one of the two official languages in Paraguay. The origins of this translation lie in Scotland where Dr John William Lindsay was educated, graduating with an Arts and Medicine degree from Aberdeen. After a period of working as a surgeon, he left the country to join the South American Missionary Society and began pioneering medical work in Paraguay and Gran Chaco. As the number of people living in the area where he was working didn’t justify him continuing as a paid member of the Mission, he set up a private practice in Belen, Eastern Paraguay, where he quickly acquired a great professional reputation.

Dr. Lindsay was also a linguist with knowledge of a dozen languages. Much of his work was conducted in Spanish but many of his patients knew only the Guaraní language. After becoming an expert in Guaraní, living amongst and helping the indigenous Chaco Indians, he began work on translating the Bible from Greek to Guaraní.

From what I have seen of the results of the Mission’s work, I cannot help marvelling at the wonderful things God hath wrought among this people.
Dr. John William Lindsay

Line drawing of Dr Lindsay from circa 1900

Line drawing of Dr Lindsay – Image courtesy of Paraguayan Bible Society

In 1913 he completed and published the New Testament in Guaraní – the first ever translation into an indigenous South American language. Because of the work of Dr. Lindsay, many people in the country have been given hope and comfort through God’s Word.

It’s an encouragement to know that everything starts from somewhere. Whether or not we have the gifts, skills and vision of Dr. Lindsay, who dedicated himself to translation work despite it not being his vocation, we can all do something simple – like praying for someone, offering a cup of coffee, giving up our seat on the bus or some other act of kindness.

Life gets so busy but sometimes even doing a simple thing can be the start of something God can use to have a big impact on the world.


Lawrence Sum
Director of Communications