By Laura McKillip Wood
Jim Bettison grew up in a family he describes as “churchgoers but not Christians.” The year he graduated from high school, First Christian Church of Florissant built their new church building in his neighborhood, and his parents started attending. After high school, Jim joined the Navy. As he puts it, “I didn’t really intend to sign up, but as soon as that guy there said the word ‘submarines,’ I knew that had me written all over it, and I enlisted that very day.” He ended up loving the Navy and planned to make a career out of it. Those plans ended when a motorcycle accident caused him to lose his left leg. Suddenly Jim found himself medically retired from the Navy and searching for a new plan for his life.
Change in Plans
Until that time, Jim hadn’t thought much about church or God. His parents became Christians at the church they joined, and his dad talked to him quite a bit about Jesus over the years. Jim still did not take his relationship with God seriously. “If you recall the parable of the sower, I was every ‘other’ soil type—you know, the bad ones. Every one of them,” he says. After the motorcycle accident, though, he began searching for a purpose in life. He decided to try a semester in Bible college, hoping it would help him decide what to do with himself.
In class Jim discovered a love for God’s Word. The more he studied it, the more he understood and loved it. He chose to major in preaching and began to love going to class and listening to chapel speakers, many of whom were missionaries. He felt drawn toward missions, and he began searching for a place where he could serve.
Since Jim majored in preaching, he ended up at a local church doing an internship before he graduated. There he noticed a missions bulletin board with the picture of a girl named Karen, who worked for Pioneer Bible Translators. When she returned home that summer for furlough, she introduced him to Bible translation. Jim said, “Just like when I was considering the Navy, as she began explaining Bible translation, I just knew it had me written all over it.” He and Karen ended up getting married, and before they knew it were on their way to West Africa, their two young children in tow.
Jim and Karen worked on a Bible translation project among a Muslim people group in West Africa for years, but about seven years ago left for medical reasons. Jim continued working on the project long distance, using email to correspond with his cotranslator there. It worked out well at the beginning, but over the years Jim has seen the need for a full-time, on-location translation team. A team with experience in the language and culture of the area is preparing to move to West Africa to take over the project soon, but until they do Jim continues to work from the States. “We are not the ones who began this translation project; we won’t be the ones who will finish it,” Jim admitted.
Jim hopes to finish the translation of Psalms by the end of the year. That will be his last project with the West Africa team. “I will always be a part of Pioneer Bible Translators. I have a passion for meeting the goal of transformed lives through enduring access to God’s Word.” Jim hopes to continue teaching at the training events PBT hosts for as long as they invite him to serve with them.
A few years ago Jim accepted a preaching ministry at his home church and plans to keep preaching and sharing his love for God’s Word as long as he can. “I continue to have a great affection for God’s Word, and my favorite part about my work is that I get to dive into the Word deeply. I have noticed, and so has my cotranslator, that diving into it daily has really changed us.”
What does the future hold for Jim? “If I’m still kickin’ in 10 years, I hope I am still preaching, and I hope I am still involved with PBT.” If you’d like to know more about Jim and Karen Bettison or the ministry of Pioneer Bible Translators, email them (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Laura McKillip Wood formerly taught missionary children in Ukraine and now works in the academic office of Nebraska Christian College. She and her husband, Andrew, have three children (lauramckillipwood.com).