Dr. Sue Russell equips, empowers and encourages students to be leaders in their global contexts. Through her work as a Wycliffe Bible translator and now as Associate Professor of Mission and Contextual Studies at Asbury Seminary, Sue uses anthropology to teach others to love without boundaries and to lead with intentional, incarnational vision.
“A lot of people in ministry lead intuitively,” Sue said. “I love teaching anthropology because it helps make explicit the practices students are doing automatically, so they can understand what they’re doing well and be more intentional about that.”
Sue shares that one of her favorite classes to teach is “Missional Formation: The Church in a Global Era.” This class explores the encounter of the historical gospel with contemporary cultures. Students learn what marginalized, minority and multinational communities can offer the global Church.
While she is a lifelong learner, holding several degrees, her education isn’t solely confined to the classroom. She saw these practices exemplified through her work with the Galot* people during her 17-year stint with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Although a missionary and by default, expected to lead the project, the village leaders mentored her as a new Christian and taught her to contextualize leadership and mission through their example.
The Galot people were one of the last major Christian language groups in that particular area of Southeast Asia to receive the Bible in their own language. Early in the process, Sue tried to form a translation committee to help with the project but couldn’t raise any interest with the villagers. During a time of prayer, God reminded her of a young man in the area who had helped her resolve language barriers in the past. He organized the community leaders, who then re-organized themselves and took over the project.
“I had to learn how to be a facilitator and not be in charge and be okay with that,” she said.
The translation process involves several steps. First, translators provide the initial translation and do an exegetical check. Trained readers review the translation and return suggestions to the translator who makes necessary edits. Finally, uninitiated readers review the manuscript to see if it’s understandable to the common person.
Sue had a specific plan for how the process should work; but the Galot had their own ideas about how to complete the different stages of the translation project. When the Galot leaders took over the project and did things the Galot way, God used them to bring revival to the Galot churches, resulting in hundreds of souls saved.
For example, when the time came for the uninitiated reader check, the committee chairman sent out two young men to evangelize those in villages who had never heard the Gospel. At the end of the two year checking process, 300 people were baptized and seven new churches planted.
“I just went along for the ride and watched God’s sprit move,” Sue said. “Although the process wasn’t the way I envisioned, the results exceeded my expectations. It is amazing what happens when we throw ourselves in abandon on God’s love. If people ask me why I went to Southeast Asia, it’s because of that love.”
Before coming to Asbury Seminary in 2014, Dr. Russell was the Associate Professor of Anthropology and the Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Biola University. Prior to that, she spent 17 years in cross-cultural ministry and field research with Wycliffe Bible Translators in S. E. Asia, where she worked with a committee of national pastors to complete the translation of the whole Bible into the Galot language. When she’s not teaching, you’ll find her gardening, remodeling her house, training for an Ironman Triathlon, painting, scuba diving or biking.
*Name changed to protect mission work being done with this people group.
**Article written in 2019. To hear Dr. Russell’s latest update listen to the Thrive with Asbury Seminary Podcast.
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