Our Story

A History of Wycliffe South Africa



The Beginnings of Wycliffe Bible Translation

Cameron Townsend, a young American, was selling Spanish Bibles in a market place in Guatemala, when a native Guatemalan, for whom Spanish was only used for trade, came up to him and challenged him:

“If your God is so mighty, why doesn’t He speak my language?”

Cameron and his wife subsequently settled among the Caqchiquel Indians, learned their language and translated the New Testament.

After that he trained a small group of students, and out of these small beginnings grew the twin organisations, the Summer institute of Linguistics (SIL) and Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT).


New divisions of Wycliffe USA sprang up in Canada, Australia, UK, and other Western countries. Tony and Mary Williams from Wycliffe Australia heard that there was no Wycliffe presence in South Africa…

South Africa Australia Locator


"In the beginning"

Tony Mary WilliamsTony and Mary Williams come over from Wycliffe Australia to spread the word about Bible translation. Surely South Africans will become involved if only they know!



Wycliffe Office 1974The Williams' contact church leaders, and share the need for Bible translation and prayer support. They build positive relationships with churches, and slowly Wycliffe’s work becomes known in churches in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town. By 1975 there is a recognised Wycliffe presence in South Africa.

John Bendor SamuelJohn Bendor-Samuel of Wycliffe UK initiates a course in South Africa. Interested candidates can taste the technical side of Bible translation through a two week course in basic phonetics and language learning principles. This becomes an annual two week course, held at Rosebank Bible College.


The Wycliffe SA Team Grows

Language learningDerek Fivaz, Professor in Bantu Linguistics, takes over from John Bendor-Samuel in directing the annual Rosebank course. Len and Gill Allwright serve on staff, and Charlotte Corden and Karen Floor are among the first students who confirm their sense of calling to Bible translation through attending the course.
Read about our current team here: wycliffe.org.za/who-we-are/our-team
Locations where South Africans have worked at some time between 1975 and 2000:

NIGERIA: Yvonne Stofberg, Migili translation (till 1985).

PANAMA: Keith & Wilma Forster, Kuna translation.

KENYA: Tim & Audrey Anstice, Admin.
Nick & Lynne Swanepoel, Steve & Johanna Pillinger,
Andy & Debbie Abbott, Rendille translation.

SUDAN: Tom & Sharon Jacob, Admin. / Consulting.

FRANCE: Stan & Cherry Graumann, Teaching.

PHILIPPINES: Roy & Rose Tibbit, Admin.

GERMANY: Arnd & Dindi Strube, IT support.

CANADA: Roy & Rose Tibbit, Wycliffe Representatives.

UK: Hazel Large, Graphic artist.

AUSTRALIA: Charlotte & Michael Corden, Yumplatok translation.
Len & Gill Allwright, Admin.

MOZAMBIQUE: Karen & Sebastian Floor, June Dickie, Kimwani translation.

PERU: Hendrik & Ronelle Groenewald, Lambayeque Quechua translation.

FAR EAST: Andy & Debby Abbott, Isirawa, Moskona translation.

MALAYSIA / ASIAN ISLANDS: Hans & Patricia Combrink,
Consultant, Teaching.

NORTH EURASIA: Roelie & Sandra van der Spuy, Translation /
Consultant (Sandra to glory 2012).



By the time Tony and Mary Williams return to Australia, 14 individuals have signed up with Wycliffe to work in Bible translation assignments.

How Great is Our God!



“Here am I, send me”...

AbernathyThe gap left by the departure of the Williams’s is filled by David and Margaret Abernethy from Northern Ireland, who serve for three years. They continue to make Wycliffe’s work known in churches, establishing prayer groups and providing guidance to South Africans who respond to the call.

... “To the ends of the earth”

plane 2From the 80’s to the present day, South Africans begin to fill many strategic positions in the work of Bible Translation overseas: as project leaders in Bible translation projects, teachers, directors, literacy workers, Scripture engagement and community development specialists, and many other roles.


Brasems earlyWhen the leadership of WSA is handed over to Harry and Elsbeth Brasem, they continue the work of their predecessors.

Wycliffe SA’s contribution to the worldwide need for Bible translation grows.


Global Changes

All Wycliffe divisions become independent. Wycliffe SA becomes a registered non-profit organisation in South Africa, and is no longer a division of Wycliffe USA.

Read more about Wycliffe SA here: wycliffe.org.za/who-we-are


Derek FivazThe first Board is established with Derek Fivaz as Chairman—a role he will continue to fill until the end of 2015. Denis Douglas is another founding member of the Board. An office facility is set up next to the home of the Brasems in Kempton Park.


International Travel Made Possible

Nelson Mandela MapIn 1994, the borders open and South Africans are free to go abroad with SA passports.

During the 90’s huge shifts are taking place across the globe that will soon impact Wycliffe South Africa… 



Stephen Coertze is appointed as the new Director of Wycliffe SA.
Locations where South Africans have worked at some time between 2000 and 2015:

NIGER: Hazel Large

PANAMA: Keith & Wilma Forster

NORTH EURASIA: Roelie & Sandra van der Spuy (Sandra  to glory 2012)

AUSTRALIA: Len & Gill Allwright

TANZANIA: Tom & Sharon Jacob

AUSTRALIA / MALASIA: Hans & Patricia Combrink

FAR EAST: Andy & Debbie Abbott


MOZAMBIQUE: Sebastian & Karen Floor


BOTSWANA: Eben & Phia Le Roux

MADAGASCAR: Leonie Bouwer and Beverly Erasmus

MOZAMBIQUE: Ken and Corine Brown

NIGERIA: Riaan and Emese Ferreira



"Changing Tides"

It is a time for re-thinking basic assumptions and core values in our mission as Bible translators. Led by the new Director Stephen Coertze and the Board, a time of deep reflection prepares the ground for new strategies for Wycliffe SA to contribute to the fulfilment of Vision 2025.




Intense discussions on the future of Wycliffe SA are held.

On the flight home from Singapore, Derek Fivaz, Stephen Coertze and Sebastian Floor continue the discussion. Based on the realisation that Wycliffe SA’s regional involvement is aligned to the Mission of God, the rudiments of a strategy for Wycliffe SA’s direct involvement in the southern African region are conceived.

Fivaz 1


“One of the tasks of the Board is to sense the times and take appropriate action.”

(Derek Fivaz, Board Chair, based on Ecc. 1:3)


Coertzes 2006After graduating in missiological studies, Stephen Coertze becomes Missiological Consultant with Wycliffe International, later to serve on the Global Leadership Team.

By now 80% of worldwide Bible translation projects are initiated and managed by local and/or national organisations! 

The focus of Western missionaries, earlier the initiative-takers in Bible translation, shifts to 

capacity building to strengthen local ownership and quality control in the Bible translation process.


A Focus on Oral Bible Translation

oral BT

There is an increase in awareness that up to 80% of the world prefer or are limited to oral communication.

SIL and Wycliffe Africa Area support and endorse the concept of the Southern Africa Initiative as a Wycliffe responsibility, with a focus on addressing the issue of orality in Bible translation.

Read more here: wycliffe.org.za/what-we-do/oral-bible-translation



New Leadership

Sebastian and Karen
Karen Floor is appointed as the new Director of Wycliffe SA.
Sebastian Floor is also appointed to direct the discovery process of serving regional partners in their felt need for Bible translation.
Both report directly to the Wycliffe SA Board.

"Come Over and Help Us"

Wycliffe SA continues sending and supporting South Africans to work in translation-related roles overseas.

WSA old logo 2In the spirit of serving the Bible Translation movement, and in response to the call from Bible-less peoples in the region, Wycliffe SA starts to provide administrative support to new local and regional Bible translation partners.

Regional Translation Services is formed, under the umbrella of the Board of Wycliffe SA, with a mandate to pursue regional Bible translation partnerships.


DSC04283Wycliffe SA hears about the Kwandu translation in Angola. At the same time, a Wycliffe worker noticed another language in Angola, called Mukubal, mentioned by YWAM, saying that they hope one day Wycliffe will come and help them to write their language and translate the Bible.

Along with Seed Company, Wycliffe SA responds to the call and soon partners with local organisations to begin the Kamukuio cluster translation. 


Wycliffe SA holds the first of what has become an annual retreat, called Connect. The purpose is to connect the wider ‘Wycliffe family’ in South Africa, working together towards the common goal of fulfilling Vision 2025.

Connect 2012



Scaling the Mountain!

From the Wycliffe SA office in Edenvale, initiatives are explored to raise support for Bible translation. With so few people and a lack of funds, the task seems insurmountable, like a huge mountain... 

1000113 613406848712213 70172400 n

With the support and encouragement of Wycliffe Australia, Wycliffe SA launches Africa Alive, a strategic vision to bring all sectors of God's people in South Africa into partnership, thus uniting African hearts, alive to the purpose of God to bless all nations to the ends of the earth.

Kilimanjaro 28For Karen Floor, a private sense of God’s leading to climb Mount Kilimanjaro as a personal statement of faith becomes an official Prayer Climb involving over a thousand prayer partners interceding for the people of southern Africa and beyond who have never had God’s Word in their own language.

‘The mountains melt like wax before the LORD.’

(Psalm 97:5)


Read more here: wycliffe.org.za/stories-and-news/event-stories/83-mount-kilimanjaro-prayer-climb-2013

Cycle Challenge

Africa Alive Team 023

Bernie Easton feels a call to bring together the first ever Wycliffe Cycle Team to enter the 947 Cycle Challenge in support of Bible translation. 

This becomes a celebrated annual event to raise awareness and funds for pipeline Bible translations. 


Read more here: wycliffe.org.za/stories-and-news/event-stories/84-947-cycle-challenge-2013


Bible Man

Grant Easton creates Bible Man, who will cycle with the Wycliffe Cycle Team and become an ambassador for Bible translation in years to come.  

Bible Man



The name ‘Wycliffe Regional Translation Services’ is retired, with its function as Field Operations now fully integrated with Wycliffe SA’s overall operations.

seed company 400Wycliffe SA also enters into a three year partnership with the Seed Company to promote local capacity for starting the remainder of the work in southern Africa within the next decade.


40 Year Celebration

DSC 1102 MediumWycliffe SA celebrates 40 years of service. Over four decades God has faithfully provided for South Africans to participate in the ministry of Bible Translation. 

Derek Fivaz, having served as Board Chairman for 25 years, gave his farewell message, sharing many stories about the amazing ways God has blessed the organisation over the years.



Himba 1The first project that Wycliffe SA solely manages gets started. Picture a workshop in the desert terrain of Namibia. Word spreads in ways known only to the nomadic Himba people that translation training is about to begin. 

The first training workshop is held in November in Opuwo, northern Namibia, where translation is still happening today.

Read more here: wycliffe.org.za/stories-and-news/impact-stories/91-himba-field-immersion-16-april-2015


Sharing the Gospel by Telling Stories

20160220 103236The first Bible Storytelling workshop is held in South Africa and facilitated by Wycliffe Australia.

For people who do not usually get involved in ministry, Bible Storytelling becomes a popular and effective tool for confidently sharing the Gospel in a non-confrontational way and for reading or hearing God's Word in a new and interesting way.

Read more here: wycliffe.org.za/what-we-do/bible-storytelling


The New Logo is Born!


WordAlive 02 09 2017 fr 090This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, when Martin Luther translated the whole Bible into standardised German. From this, a movement of translating and printing Bibles was fuelled, made possible by the invention of the printing press.


Wycliffe SA celebrates this momentous occasion by holding a Word Alive Benefit Concert, featuring the Soweto Gospel Choir.


Languages without God's Word in South Africa...

Previously, it was believed that all languages in South Africa had a Bible. However, a language survey, led by Linda Jordan, reveals that there are still languages waiting for God's Word.

Language MapFind out about our current translations across southern Africa: wycliffe.org.za/what-we-do/ongoing-translations


pg.5 Coertze message

Stephen Coertze is named the new Executive Director of the Wycliffe Global Alliance. 

Read more here: wycliffe.net/about-us/leaders/



LuminAfrica (Formerly the Bible Translation Collaborative)

LuminAfrica is formed, consisting of seven South African Bible translation organisations, committed to working together in the ministry of Bible Translation. 






Read more here: wycliffe.org.za/who-we-are/our-team


Webster Welcome 05 01 2021 033Alan Webster is appointed the new Executive Director of Wycliffe South Africa.  

Read more here: www.wycliffe.org.za/stories-and-news/impact-stories/168-alans-story



Webster Welcome 05 01 2021 033Wycliffe Links is born, with the vision to see God transforming lives through the creative development of different elements of Bible translation, to build local capacity and partnerships, and to mobilise for mission. 

Read more here: www.wycliffe.org.za/wycliffe-links


Run for the Bibleless South Africa Launches

WSA resizedInspired by BTL Kenya, who started R4TB in 2008, WSA made the commitment to hold our own Run for the Bibleless in South Africa every year for 10 years. Each year, we aim to help bring more African countries on board!

Find out more: www.wycliffe.org.za/r4tb



WSA resizedWSA continues to send and support missionaries overseas, work with many language groups across southern Africa and have relationships with churches across South Africa. By partnering with many different churches and organisations, God's Word is being translated into the heart language of many communities, bringing new life and transformation!

Our God is Faithful!

Key Players

-- Members overseas
-- Supporters and partners
-- Prayer groups
-- The WSA team in Joburg
-- The WSA Board 
-- Sebastian and Karen Floor

-- Local and Field Operations staff


A New Approach
One project, many partners
Each project has a variety of partners:
  • A funding partner
  • An impact partner
  • A publication partner
  • A venture partner
  • A technical partner

Our vision is the Word of God transforming lives in every language community.

This explains our choice of Habakkuk 2:14 as the biblical basis for our overall vision and brand motif.

See how you can Get Involved in Bible Translation

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