Stone or mountain? It’s in the tone

July 27th, 2015 by Nick

It will probably come as no surprise that bringing a language from just a spoken form into written form is not an easy task. Also, not all languages are ‘created equal'; some are harder to write than others, and writing tonal languages well, that’s a whole different ball game. Johannes and Sharon, members of Wycliffe Switzerland, share some fascinating insight into the difficulties and complexities of translating the tonal language Mbelime.

‘One of the biggest problems of the Mbelime project remains the question of how to write the language (the spelling and punctuation rules that make up a written language are known as its “orthography”). Mbelime is a tonal language that has three distinct tone levels. This means that the tone level of a word changes its meaning. For example, if the vowel a of the word ditade is pronounced with a high tone, it means “stone”. When a is pronounced with a lower tone, however, it means “mountain”.

When the language was  first written in the 1970s, tone levels were not marked. Accordingly, readers found it difficult to read since they had to first figure out which tonal variation would apply to some of the words so that the text would make sense. Following further linguistic analysis, people started to mark tones. The stone was now written as dītáde, while mountain became dītāde. This rendered the two words distinctive in the orthography, which made the language easier to read. On the other hand, the text was now crowded with accents, which means that people still read very slowly.

Over the years many people, including literacy teachers, have told us how difficult they find it to write Mbelime. At the moment there are only a handful of people who master writing Mbelime correctly, among them Bienvenu and Claire. The three translators also find the current orthography a big challenge. Unfortunately, they feel that the current work pressure is hindering them from coming to grips with this. Bienvenu and Claire are currently reading through the first full draft of the gospel of Luke to correct the orthography. This is a lot of work and they’ll have to thoroughly proofread it twice. The orthography problem is so complex that we need a specialist who is well versed both in the tonology of African languages as well as in questions of orthography design. These people are a truly rare breed. One of them, David Roberts,  recently returned to Togo  and proposed including Mbelime in a comparative study with several other languages, as Mbelime is far from being the only language with this challenge.

Johannes, Bienvenu and Claire prepared the texts needed for the proposed reading experiment, for which we invited the best Mbelime readers. David came to Cobly in mid-June for three days during which he led the experiment (see photo). We recorded 32 people who read two short texts with the tones marked and two texts without the tone accents. They also had twenty minutes to write tones on two texts. In early July Bienvenu and Johannes went to Kara for a week to start analysing the recordings and texts together with the other four language groups that participated in the experiment.

It will be a while before we will be ready to have another orthography reform, but we’re thrilled that another important step towards it is finally happening.’

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You can help the work of Bible translation, either through prayer, giving or going. Find out how you can be involved.

New Words for Life out now!

July 24th, 2015 by Camilla

Why is multilingual education important? Which overlooked minority group needs Bibles they can watch rather than read? What does ‘masina’ mean in the Mussau language of Papua New Guinea?

The latest edition of Words for Life, Wycliffe’s news and prayer magazine is available now and has the answers to all these questions and plenty more news to feast on. There’s enough prayer information to keep you praying for four months and loads to celebrate as we report on the latest new Scripture launches and other stories from around the world.

Words for Life is available to download now. Not enough? Visit our Words for Life Extra page for videos, posters and more information on things mentioned in the magazine.  Want it delivered directly to you? Subscribe here.

Compassion in Action: pray for Nepal

July 24th, 2015 by Jo Johnson

With news available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it’s easy to quickly forget situations that last week or last month were all over our computer and television screens, grabbing our attention and igniting our immediate compassion.

Nepal experienced severe earthquakes on 25th April and 12th May this year. Thousands of people lost their lives. Many more lost all their possessions and their homes. Their lives will never be the same again. These people who are grieving and traumatised need our prayers as much today as in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.

This video, recorded in early July, shows the devastation and desperation in just one village near Kathmandu.

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Despite the suffering, God is at work. A colleague in Kathmandu writes:

‘Before the earthquake, listening groups would gather regularly at the homes of their listening group leaders [to listen systematically to the New Testament in audio form in their language]. The earthquake destroyed some 40 of those homes, so now those listening groups meet in their group leaders’ tents and temporary shelters. In some cases, tent-dwelling neighbors who had not previously attended have also started attending.’

Thank God that some who have not previously heard the good news are now hearing it as a result of their changed living conditions. Please pray:

  • that many would experience God’s love and that it would banish fear.
  • that many would be comforted by the Holy Spirit and find an eternal hope.
  • for organisations on the ground providing practical help. Ask God to give wisdom, strength and stamina. Pray that those in the greatest need are helped first.

Find out more ways to pray for Nepal, watch ‘Prayer video: Nepal’ recorded before the earthquakes.

Community-owned translation

July 20th, 2015 by Nick

Micronesia ticks all the boxes. A rich Christian heritage, over 150 years of church growth with a diverse mix of people groups and languages, and 96% of the population identify themselves as Christians. However, many are still not able to read and hear Scripture in a language they fully understand.

For the Kapingamarangi community, they previously only had access to the Pohnpeian language Bible (a major language on an island which is home to many different people groups). This meant that, whilst the community could be taught Scripture, they could not fully understand its depths.

‘Reading the Bible in another, more widely-spoken language can be a frustrating experience. Even though we understand Pohnpeian, there is always a limitation. People assume that it is okay to use the Pohnpeian language. But they always come to a point [where they can’t understand]. Between us and God there is no language barrier, there shouldn’t be.’ – Dais Lorrin, a Mwoakiloan* believer

The Kapingamarangi church took it upon themselves to write to SIL** asking for help in Bible translation. However, when Nico Daams and his wife, Pam, came to visit the Kapingamarangi, it was clear from the start that this was the community’s project. It’s common for the Kapingamarangi to approach projects as a whole; the community has to be convinced before a task is undertaken.

Nico cites high motivation among leadership and willingness to work together across church, denominational and dialect boundaries as two necessary preconditions for a successful translation project in this region.

December 2014 saw the Kapingamarangi celebrate the completion of the entire Bible in their own language.

In Micronesia God is inspiring a translation movement reflecting the community-driven ethos of the people, enabling a true community-owned Bible translation:

The Kapingamarangi people showed the church of Micronesia and Polynesia a new level of community commitment to Bible translation. Isles of the Sea*** is carrying that vision forward to other language groups, and now PIU is helping equip the next generation of islanders to lead the way in breaking down language barriers standing in the way of understanding God’s word.

‘It is great to have the words of God in our own language,’ says Kapingamarangi translator Caleb Gamule. ‘The Bible is our own Bible—and it is our responsibility to make it happen.’

Read more about what God is doing amongst these wonderful people, including the Isles of the Sea project and the Pacific Islands University, here.

No matter your skill, there is a place for you to help in the work of Bible translation. Find out how you can be involved.

*The Mwoakiloan community live on a neighboring island in the same area as the Kapingamarangi

**SIL is a partner organisation of Wycliffe

***The Isles of the Sea project is a network of Bible translation projects sponsored by the Seed Company, a partner organisation of Wycliffe.

Prayer for the House of Islam

July 17th, 2015 by Camilla

Today marks the end of the 30 days of prayer for the Muslim world. Is prayer for Muslims having an impact? What is God doing in the Muslim world?

In his book A wind is blowing in the House of Islam, David Garrison looks at the nine ‘rooms’, or geo-cultural clusters of the House of Islam (the Muslim world), and explores what God is using to bring Muslims to faith in Christ. He also looks at why, after so many years of almost no Muslims coming to Christ, momentum is now building.

In the first 12 years of the 21st century, there were 69 cases of at least 1000 Muslims accepting Christ and being baptised. Clearly, God is on the move. Garrison does however stress that statistically, these events are almost insignificant; less than one half of one percent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims have committed to follow Jesus. More prayer and action is required.

Garrison identifies Scripture as one of the keys to what God has begun to do among Muslims, saying Scripture in the local language is ‘instrumental’. While the Qur’an can only be truly represented in Arabic, God’s word can be translated into any language, allowing it to penetrate people’s hearts. Muslims have often rejected the truth when someone has tried to tell them about it, but have been eager to enter into a heart relationship with Jesus after discovering the truth for themselves through the Bible.

‘As I read it [the New Testament], I felt my heart open like an old door, and I understood every verse with my whole being. I set the Qur’an aside. Inside I felt warm and very thirsty. It was like drinking cool water, and I wanted to drink it all.’ Nadia, an Iranian believer

But the Bible is not yet available in many of the languages most Muslims speak. Around 1000 of the world’s nearly 7000 languages are spoken by groups identified as primarily Muslim. Only around 100 of these have a full Bible, and a further 150 have a New Testament.

The 30 days of prayer event has finished for this year, but let’s continue praying passionately that:

  • What God has started in the House of Islam would gain more momentum and many more Muslims would come to Christ.
  • God would protect Muslim-background believers, as they often face persecution for their faith, and that God would make their witness effective.
  • God would raise up more people to be involved in Bible translation projects in the Muslim world.

Want to find out more? David Garrison’s book A wind in the House of Islam is widely available and will give you a bigger picture as well as telling you how you can get involved.

Beauty for ashes

July 13th, 2015 by Nick

We all have our own stories to tell of the journey that God has taken us on, each different to the next. Here’s a brilliant story about Goma Mabele. Goma is currently the director of ACOTBA-SUBO*, a Wycliffe organisation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Through Goma and his team, their community has seen change brought about by the translation of Scripture and publication of literature into their heart language – Mbandja. The road to this point for Goma however, was far from straightforward:

‘I’ve seen God’s hand in all of this. He told me, “This is building your character so that you can help others.” The Christian life isn’t just a straight path. There are a lot of curves. This is how he has moulded me.’

Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) shortly after the country gained its independence in 1960, Goma Mabele was raised by a single mother in a tumultuous political landscape, where poverty and death never seemed far away.

One morning when Goma was a teenager, he stopped by a friend’s home on the way to school. They planned to walk to school together, but his friend had not finished breakfast. Goma decided to continue alone. A heavy rain had drenched that area the night before. Just moments after Goma left, thousands of pounds of mud abruptly slid down into the valley where his friend lived, burying people and destroying homes.

‘Seventeen students died that day,’ Goma recalls. ‘I never saw that neighbour again. I knew that if I had been with him, I would have been dead too. That’s when I understood that God had a plan for me. That’s when I accepted him.’

Read Goma’s story.

Find out how you can support the work of Bible translation; no matter what your skills or interests, you can be involved.


*Association Congolaise Traduction de la Bible et Alphabétisation – Sukisa Boyinga (Congolese Bible Translation and Literacy Association – Conquer Ignorance)




It’s finally here!

July 10th, 2015 by Camilla

This Sunday marks the kick-off of the long-awaited Two Week Stint. Participants will gather in a village called Charmes-sur-Rhône just south of Valence, France and have the opportunity to explore what Wycliffe Bible Translators does and where they as individuals might fit in in the sphere of international mission. There will of course be opportunities for drawing closer to God and enjoying local scenery or sightseeing.


During the two weeks, participants will have the opportunity to take part in either the Language-lovers or Hands-on Educators track and learn more about one of these building blocks of Bible translation. Each morning, there will be time set aside for worship and Bible study to see how God’s mission impacts the participants today. Afternoons and weekends will allow plenty of time for guests to visit local attractions and take advantage of what the region has to offer.

Please pray:

  • For awareness to be raised amongst participants. For each one to gain a clear understanding of what Wycliffe does and our biblical mandate, and about more of the nature of cross-cultural work.
  • For the staff to embody unity and model Wycliffe’s values.
  • For participants to go further on the journey of realising God’s plan for their lives, and exploring whether Wycliffe is right for them and where they might fit in.
  • For God to use participants to advance his Kingdom and for his glory, both during the Two Week Stint and afterwards.
  • For participants to become part of a mission-minded community.

Have you missed going on the Two Week Stint but would love to find out more about Wycliffe? Why not attend one of our First Steps events around the UK during the winter.

Three unexpected guests

July 6th, 2015 by Nick

How long would you wait for God to move in your community? Here is a great story from Tanzania of three church leaders who, after hearing that work had been started on translating Scripture into their own language of Ndali (something they had been waiting years for!), journeyed from their community to visit the translation team in Mbeya. Mark, a member of the translation team, recounts their visit:

‘After introducing themselves they presented a letter, asking that they be kept informed of the progress of the project, attend advisory meetings, and have access to the books that are being distributed. Their desire for Ndali books was obvious, as they explained how they use Scriptures from the neighbouring Ngonde language in church, despite it being difficult for them to understand.

Seeing some of the Bible books that our office has produced in Ndali, their eyes lit up with excitement! They pleaded that they should at least be able to take home a sample of the books, as they think through how to build a sustainable distribution network. “The people back home will not believe that these books really exist!” they exclaimed, “except there are three of us, so they’ll have to believe us!”

As they were preparing to start their journey back home, one of the men turned to me and said, “I am old, like Simeon in the Bible. Simeon had been waiting for many years to see God save his people, and was overjoyed when he finally saw Jesus when he was a very old man. I tried to start the work of translation many years ago, and now I feel like Simeon, that I have finally seen what I have been waiting for all these years!” ‘

Read the full story on Mark’s blog:

You can help bring God’s word to people in their heart language in many ways! Find out how you can be involved.

Equipping the right people for the task

July 3rd, 2015 by Camilla

Where Bible translation is concerned, a passion for the task at hand is vital, but not all that is required. In order to produce a high-quality, natural-sounding, accurate translation, people willing to do the task need to be given the right training.

Cameroon Baptist Theological Seminary (CBTS) in the North West region of Cameroon has chosen to take an active role in Bible translation. By sponsoring a Bible translation degree programme, they are training Cameroonian Bible translators and expanding the available resources for Bible translation in their country.

Emmanuel Keyeh

Emmanuel Keyeh, CABTAL staff member and an adjunct professor at CBTS, teaches a mother tongue literacy course that is part of the Bachelor of Arts in Bible Translation programme.

CABTAL* staff member Emmanuel Keyeh teaches mother tongue literacy at the seminary. He says the Bible translation programme is an intentional way to help get the right people involved and trained in the Bible translation ministry, so that they have the appropriate skills to serve their own people.

Rev. Nseimboh Johnson Nyiangoh is the current president of CBTS. He believes that the use of mother tongue Scriptures is vital. He works in the area of counselling, and he’s found that many people’s difficulties are tied to their struggle to keep their identity.

‘Our mother tongue is our identity,’ he says. ‘When the Bible speaks to people in their mother tongue, it touches them at their heart. They begin to see God like their God.’

A Translator for Every Language Community

Since the Bible translation degree program at CBTS started, 21 people have graduated, and 18 of these are serving in Bible translation projects.

Efi Tembon, director of CABTAL, says when Cameroonians are trained in Bible translation, their experience and skills stay in the community and lead to a more sustainable Bible translation movement.

And, with around 100 languages still needing a Bible translation, Rev. Mbongko says that much work has yet to be done to train an adequate number of personnel.

‘We want to give each language group a trained theologian and Bible translator,’ he says.

Please join us in prayer:

  • Thank God that Cameroonian Bible translators are being trained and using their skills
  • Pray that God would provide all the resources CBTS needs
  • Pray that God would make a way for CBTS to train people from more than 50 language communities in Cameroon
  • Pray that God would raise up men and women who have a burden for Bible translation


The information for this post was taken from Developing Deep Roots in Scripture by Elaine Bombay. Read the full article here.

* CABTAL (Cameroon Association for Bible Translation and Literacy) is a participating organization in the Wycliffe Global Alliance.

Photo by Rodney Ballard

GOfest 2015 – What an event!

June 30th, 2015 by Nick

We are only just coming down off a high from Gofest 15, which happened last weekend (19th-21st June) in Bulstrode. It. was. fantastic! Two and a bit days were spent focusing on how God is moving both locally and globally and how the church can celebrate and get involved. The main meetings were led by three great main speakers: Rosalee Velloso Ewell, James Hudson Taylor IV and Dr Joseph D’Souza, each of whom covered one of the different areas of GOfest 15’s focus – Whole Life, Whole Church and Whole World.

From worship to teaching, throughout the weekend we were joined by some amazing people with a wealth of experience. Pete James headed up worship in the main tent and seminars were held by over 17 speakers who shared their experiences and insights into the different fields of mission throughout the world around us.

If you weren’t there, definitely check out the GOfest YouTube channel for videos from the event, some of the main meeting talks have already been uploaded!

From toilet cleaners to speakers, a huge thank you to everyone who helped make this event possible.

What’s next for GOfest? GOfest will be returning next year, but changes in the details and venue are yet to be worked out. Visit the Gofest Facebook page and follow @go_festival on Twitter for any and all future updates.