Bible Translator Nears Completion of Decades-long Wolof Translation Project

Marilyn Escher

For 52 years, Marilyn Escher’s life has been centered around one goal: To translate the Scriptures into the Wolof language of Senegal.

The 81-year Bible translator and Western Seminary special student (‘67–68) joined the Wolof translation team in 1972. The project has persisted through several setbacks over the years, including the deaths of two key national translators, years of famine, Marilyn’s battle with Lyme disease, and the temporary loss of a translation consultant in 2000. Nevertheless, as Marilyn will gladly testify, “God has watched over his Word.”

The entire Wolof Bible is available today online at Typesetting for the printed edition is underway, with the first complete Bibles scheduled to arrive in Senegal by 2025.

Marilyn Escher

Marilyn continues to be involved in the project, currently reading and re-reading the print Bible edition looking for formatting issues. Supporters have raised enough money to have over 10,000 Bibles printed and on location at dedications in three different areas of the country during the first three months of 2026.

“In the long run, this wasn’t my idea, it was God’s,” Marilyn says with a smile. “It is his project and his grace that enables.”

There is still no viable church among Wolofs, an ethnic group of 5 million people who are predominantly Muslim. Wolof is the commercial language in Senegal and commercial Wolof is spoken by roughly 80 percent of the country. A high rate of illiteracy means there is a need to spread God’s Word in other ways besides print, which is why much of the Bible has been made available in recordings. Agsila, daughter of the deceased Wolof translator, has even put her father’s translation of verses from the Psalms and the New Testament to music. These two albums – TEGTAL and Bët set na – are on social media as well as Spotify and YouTube (search for "TEGTAL Agsila").

"In the long run, this wasn’t my idea, it was God’s. It is his project and his grace that enables."

From a young age, Marilyn wanted to become a missionary. She studied Linguistics at the University of Hawaii (UH) graduate school with the plan to teach English in Asia. A friendship with a missionary couple serving in Senegal eventually altered that plan. When she found out that 3 million Wolofs in Senegal needed a Bible translated for them, Marilyn decided to join the translation team in Senegal and was appointed with WorldVenture (then known as the Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society) in 1969.

After graduating from UH, Marilyn moved to Portland to attend Western Seminary, where she remembers fondly studying from professors like Duane Dunham, John Cook and Earl Radmacher.

“I’m very thankful for the education that I had at Western, learning the importance of context, of doing your exegesis, and interpreting Scripture with Scripture,” she says. “I am thankful for that solid foundation that I had to do the translation work.”

Wolof Bible Translation

Over the years, Marilyn has stayed in touch with several classmates and professors at Western, even consulting with a fellow student on Greek issues and getting help from Professor Jan Verbruggen, PhD, with exegetical challenges in the Old Testament. She also continues to receive support from Hinson Baptist Church, where she was an auxiliary member during her time as a Western student.

Marilyn looks back on half a century of Bible translation with gratitude.

“I wake up every morning just loving my work. Studying the Word of God so intensely is a real joy, as it touches and transforms the heart.”