In 2011 Erich Salzmann was a Swiss missionary serving in Ukraine and he stumbled across Greg Boyd and Woodland Hills sermons. “That was a time I was really struggling. I felt dry and all of a sudden I was listening at least every evening to one of the sermons.”
As he listened, Erich started to share pieces of the sermons with his Russian-language church. “Then we went through a very difficult time and ended up leaving that church. At the same time a group of Ukrainians also left, and without us planning anything they ended up at our house and we had a house church. They said, ‘You’ve always been sharing snippets of those sermons. We don’t speak English, would you translate something for us?’”
So, Erich got out his laptop and headphones and gave it a try. “I’d listen to the English through my headphones, so that I could hear Greg louder than myself, and then my brain just translated and straight out comes Russian! We started with the Scandalous Love series because it’s so central. I would still advise anyone today to start with the double series Scandalous Love/Can’t Stop the Love. In my opinion, this contains the most essential basic stuff.”
After starting out with simultaneous translation, Erich wanted to make better quality recordings, and so he started using a studio to dub over sermon videos using translations he wrote out ahead of time. Erich then began to translate some of Greg’s books into Russian starting with God of the Possible followed by Is God to Blame. “We believed that the topic of suffering is interesting to anybody because everybody is confronted with that sooner than later.”
Erich’s translation ministry grew, and now, over a decade later, he has translated four books and ten sermon series into Russian, and two books and six sermon series into German. In addition, he started a Russian sign language ministry to translate the Bible, a children’s Bible and several books.
He and his family have since returned to Switzerland, where he works at a sawmill, and continues the translation ministry one day a week through the support of a Swiss missions agency. At a recent youth evangelism event, Erich brought along his updated German translation of Letters from a Skeptic. “It was fresh off the press and I was offering it there. No advertisement from the pulpit whatsoever, and still I sold 50 copies.”
The ministry’s online reach is significant, too. “Our websites (Russian and German) show clicks from all over the world, starting mainly with Russia and Ukraine, then the whole former Soviet Union, and countries with immigrants from there: Canada, USA, Germany, Australia, etc.”
Erich said, “We’ve really seen the sermons and the books make a real difference in people’s lives. I believe that in the post-Soviet world there are a lot of legalistic churches and they often have quite a bit of the picture of an angry god. There’s a lot of ‘I must do, I should do, I have to.’ It’s quite interesting how when people start to get it, they see, no it’s not about the ‘should’ and ‘have to,’ this is about being compelled by the love of Christ. You might do exactly the same things but because the motivation is changing, it’s like you’re living for the first time.”
Thanks, Erich, for sharing your story—it’s an encouragement to hear what you and God are up to in this translation ministry!
*Note: parts of this blog were adapted from a previous interview Erich gave on the ReKnew website.