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Key Executives Depart Wycliffe Associates

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A number of key leaders have recently left Wycliffe Associates.  The departures have come in the wake of Wycliffe Associates’ resignation from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, as well as increased scrutiny of one of its key translation initiatives, Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation, or MAST.

Perhaps the most high profile departure from Wycliffe Associates was that of Brent Ropp.  Ropp was the vice president of operations at Wycliffe Associates.  He had served in that role for 16 years.  He left Wycliffe Associates in late May.

Other recent departures include Joe Gervais, who served in a variety of roles for Wycliffe Associates for the past four-and-a-half years, most recently as the Pacific Regional Director.  

In February at least three senior members of the Wycliffe Associates fundraising team also departed.

Dan Kramer, another recent departure, spent 11 years at Wycliffe Associates as Director of Education Services and then Executive Director of Strategic Programs.  He left to become the Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Our Daily Bread.

Kramer’s departure was significant because he helped create the controversial MAST program at Wycliffe Associates.  MAST has been a key part of the fundraising efforts of Wycliffe Associates in recent years.  Wycliffe Associates said when it “first piloted a MAST program in 2014, a team of 13 translators working 12-hour days drafted 48 percent of the New Testament in two weeks.”

This pilot program, an intensive translation workshop, took place in Nepal, and since then it has become an important part of the Wycliffe Associates story.  Bruce Smith wrote “An Unlikely Miracle” for Mission Frontiers Magazine in 2015.  Among the people at the first program were representatives of the Bahing (called the “Ng” in the Mission Frontiers article).  The Bahing are part of a Nepali ethnic group.  According to the Mission Frontiers article, those who came to the workshop had “neither training nor translation experience.”

This assertion has since been disputed by independent observers.  A 2015 peer-review assessment team, which included members of the Seed Company, Word for the World, WBT Ethiopia, and WBT Africa – all organizations active for decades in Bible translation all around the world — said, “The rate of progress and the quality achieved clearly do not substantiate the widely publicized claims made for the accelerated rate of translation that can be achieved through the MAST methodology.”

Wycliffe Associates has used the claims about MAST to raise tens of millions of dollars from donors.  In fiscal year 2016, soon after the MAST program began, Wycliffe Associates had $30.9–million in revenue.  But to raise that sum, it spent heavily on fundraising, $6.9-million on fundraising, about 22 percent of its total revenue.  By fiscal year 2019 Wycliffe Associates revenue had grown to $49-million.  Fundraising costs for Wycliffe Associates continued to be significantly higher than others in its peer group:  $7.1-million, more than 14 percent of total revenue.  The average fundraising percentage of ministries in the MinistryWatch database is about 7 percent.

MAST continues to play a key role in its public relations and fundraising efforts.  An April 1 press release said “318 New Testaments have been completed using MAST.”  Wycliffe Associates also said, “over 1350 translations currently in progress using MAST.”

However, MinistryWatch asked repeatedly for a list of these translations.  So far, Wycliffe Associates has not produced the lists.

Years of Turmoil

MinistryWatch has not been alone in questioning the Wycliffe Associates about the effectiveness of MAST.  In 2017, shortly after President Bruce Smith decided to make the promotion of MAST a priority for Wycliffe Associates, a number of senior staff left, as well as board members Eric Watt and Dr. Alex Abraham.  Among the staff who departed in 2017 were Chief Language Officer Dr. Perry Oaks and Tim Jore, the director of translation services.

By 2019, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) had become skeptical of the claims about MAST.  It launched a review of Wycliffe Associates’ assertions about the program.  The ECFA requires its members to comply with ethical standards to maintain their membership.  One of those standards is that “narratives about events must be current, complete, and accurate.”  Another standard says, “Appeals for charitable gifts must not create unrealistic expectations of what a gift will actually accomplish.”  Wycliffe Associates chose to resign from the ECFA on Feb. 21 “while under review of compliance” with these standards.  The resignation ended the ECFA’s investigation.

Wycliffe Associates had been a charter member of the ECFA.

Wycliffe Associates, founded in 1967, began in association with Wycliffe Bible Translators.  But it received its own separate tax-exempt status in 1995 and is now a completely separate organization.  In the early 2000s, the organization petitioned the Internal Revenue Service to classify itself as a church, and it hasn’t released its Form 990s to the public since 2007.

Wycliffe Associates’ withdrawal from the ECFA comes about four years after it withdrew from the Wycliffe Global Alliance (WGA).  The WGA is a partnership of more than 100 Bible translation agencies around the globe.

MinistryWatch made repeated requests to Wycliffe Associates for an interview for this story.  Those requests went unanswered.

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Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.