Five thousand seven hundred and seventeen. That’s the number of words contained in the USMB Confession of Faith (COF). Translating a document of that size is no small feat.
With a joint effort spanning countries—from Romania to the Ukraine to the United States—the translation of the COF into Russian took five months to complete, actualizing a vision that had been in place for years.
“There are 31 Slavic churches in our USMB family, many of which still speak in their language in worship services,” says USMB national director Don Morris. “It seems very appropriate to provide our Confession of Faith in the Russian language for the benefit of these many brothers and sisters. We worked at this to make sure that our Confession of Faith was translated correctly. We didn’t want just a ‘Google translation’ but one that truly reflects the content of our confession of faith.”
BFL leads translation project
The U.S. Board of Faith and Life (BFL) first raised questions about translating the COF into Russian in March 2015.
Finding someone to do the translation work was challenging, and it took years to initiate the process. Although USMB has numerous Russian pastors, an extensive project such as this required more time than the pastors had to give.
So, after years of asking various people to consider the project, at a March 2017 meeting, the U.S. BFL decided to take a more active role. The BFL approved a budget to hire someone to do the work, and a search for a translator commenced.
In January 2018, USMB hired a woman in Romania, who had previously translated material for World Vision, to do the work.
When the translation was completed—a process which took more than two months—the BFL sought to have the translation tested. BFL board member Tim Geddert’s son had connections to translators in the Ukraine, who reviewed and revised the first translation over the span of five weeks.
The revised translation was then sent to two pastors for review: Alex Kaprian of Pilgrim Church in Spokane, Wash., and Aleks Borisov, a former USMB staff member who worked to connect USMB and Slavic USMB churches. Both pastors shared similar revisions to help the document better reflect Mennonite Brethren heritage and nuances.
Russian COF based on 1999 revision
USMB’s 31 Slavic churches are spread between two districts: 27 in the Pacific District and four in the Central District. The completed Russian translation may be viewed online at https://usmb.org/confession-of-faith-russian/.
The Mennonite Brethren Church, born as a renewal movement in Russia on Jan. 6, 1860, emphasized the centrality of biblical authority and articulated confessions of faith to connect scriptural teaching with contemporary discipleship. The USMB COF has undergone multiple revisions since the first document was drafted in 1902.
The current COF dates to 1999. The 1999 confession was written and adopted by the North American Mennonite Brethren Church for use in the U.S. and Canada at the General Conference meeting in Wichita, Kan., in July 1999, the result of a decade-long process, including writing, consulting MB congregations and sister national conferences, revising and final approval. Also in July 1999, the COF was accepted by the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB) at its meeting in Buhler, Kansas. The framers of the confession acknowledged indebtedness to the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, the confession of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada.
The 1999 COF is a complete revision of earlier MB confessions of faith, including the 1975 confession, which is itself a revision of the 1902 document that was adopted in Russia and North America.
Following the dissolution of the General Conference in 2000, the confession became jointly owned by the U.S. Conference of MB Churches and the Canadian Conference of MB Churches. In 2014, delegates at the USMB convention in Santa Clara, California, approved a revision of Article 13, pertaining to love and nonresistance. This version of the confession was used for the Russian translation.
In addition to Russian, the COF is available in English and Spanish. Those three languages encompass the majority of USMB’s constituency. However, eight additional languages are spoken on any given Sunday in MB churches across the U.S. Morris says the next translation likely will be Amharic, the language used in many Ethiopian MB churches.
“We’ll keep working at this as it is important to value the various languages used in our churches,” Morris says. “It does take a considerable amount of time to have the COF correctly translated into a language. We want to make sure we do it right.”