On a Circuitous Journey

Author Bio

I grew up in Palo Alto, California, at a time when ordinary people could afford to live there. Where the Googleplex and the Apple “Spaceship” now reside, we used to buy fresh apricots from local orchards. What is now Silicon Valley was originally called Blossom Valley due to the region’s abundant agriculture.

I came to faith out of atheism at 17 and was introduced to the Word of God for the first time. When a Wycliffe missionary spoke at a church service a few months later, I sensed God speaking: since the Bible had become so meaningful for me, what a privilege to be able to help others have it in their own language.

However, working with a missionary in Greece for six-months in 1972 sobered my idealism about cross-cultural ministry. I came home feeling like a failure, and only later realized the value of that experience for trusting God in a deeper way.

In the early 1980s, my wife Karla and I (on the left) began serving with Wycliffe Bible translators in a translation project among the Builsa people in Sandema in northern Ghana. We were on an accelerated path to become consultants for other Bible translation projects. But God had other ideas. In 1986 I was asked to fill a “temporary” leadership role that ultimately led us out of translation work. It was one of the most painful decisions of my life.

Our first son John (on the right) was born during a home leave from Ghana.

From 1988-1994, I served with SIL International and Wycliffe International in regional leadership roles in Nairobi, Kenya, where our second son Scott was born. Cosmopolitan Nairobi was a dramatic contrast to rural Ghana.

Following that, we served in the then International Administration of Wycliffe and SIL in Dallas, Texas, from 1994-2003. Toward the end of that time, I led a team exploring how to move from an output-oriented approach (“We translate the Bible”) to an impact-oriented approach (“What does it take for the Scriptures to make a transformational difference in the lives of individuals and communities?”).

That exploration led to connections with groups such as the World Evangelical Alliance Mission Commission, the Lausanne Movement, and International Partnering Associates. Those relationships provided an opportunity to interact with, and be enriched by, leaders from around the world in a variety of forums, from one-on-one spiritual friendships to small consultations and global gatherings.

In 2004, we moved to the island of Penang in Malaysia. For a season I worked part-time with the Forum of Bible Agencies International (Bible agencies “working together to maximize Scripture Access and Scripture Impact”) and with Mission to Unreached Peoples (now “Beyond”).

In 2010, I joined the leadership team of the Wycliffe Global Alliance.

Around that time, God began to put younger leaders on my heart. This has led to a continuing number of significant friendships with younger men and women from around the world.

In 2015, we made what we hope is our last move to the big island in Hawaii.

The following year, I completed a doctoral program in transformational leadership at Bakke Graduate University, with a focus on developing intergenerational and intercultural communities of leaders built around such friendships.

We could not have made it through these four decades, which included as many failures as successes, without God’s gift of friends, colleagues, intercessors, and mentors to walk with us, pray with us, and encourage us along the way.

Todd Poulter
July 2022