Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Prayer is the most powerful weapon

Friday, September 12th, 2014

Sometimes the opposition translation projects face is very obvious and at others it is much more subtle. Those working on the Bassar (also called Ntcham) Bible in Togo have faced both sorts in the last year. ‘The devil has been contesting this translation of God’s Word, but in all things God is sovereign, and His purpose cannot be thwarted.’

In ‘The heat is on: finishing the Bassar Bible‘  we told you of how God preserved the life of translator Samuel Kpagheri, the nearly finished Bible proof sheets and his laptop in a serious car accident in December 2013. Taxi roads DSC03265Shortly afterwards the Bible was sent for printing. But in June there was yet another setback when the team learned that, due to unforeseen circumstances, printing had not yet begun.

As a result, the launch that was scheduled for November had to be postponed until January 2015. However, word came at the beginning of September that the printing has, indeed, begun. Praise God that His purpose cannot be thwarted!.

Please pray:

  • that the printing of those Bibles to go well
  • for the safe shipping of the Bibles from Korea to Togo
  • for their smooth transit through customs
  • that they may arrive in good time for the dedication in January.

Not only has the project progressed but Samuel has moved on too. He has just about finished his first year of study for an MA in Bible Translation at the Africa International University in Kenya, a course which is partly residential, and partly done by following courses online.  He is training to be a translation consultant*, which will enable him to support translation in many languages.

As a member of Wycliffe Togo he faces a challenge as he now has to raise support for his ministry. Praise God that this has begun to happen. Samuel wrote: “We need not only financial support but also prayers from our partners. Prayer is the most powerful weapon God has given to his children.

Please pray that he will soon be fully supported.

* Translation Consultants work together with a team thoroughly going over the translation to check for accuracy, clarity and naturalness looking for omissions, extraneous thoughts and possible misconceptions.

Find out more about about translation work in Togo and  Wycliffe Togo. 

International Literacy Day

Monday, September 8th, 2014

For over 40 years now, UNESCO has been celebrating International Literacy Day, reminding the international community that literacy is a human right and the foundation of all learning.  This video from UNESCO South Sudan gives a profoundly touching insight into the struggles of a nation facing staggering illiteracy rates.

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The South Sudanese have suffered the deep disruption of war, resulting in closed or destroyed schools and a generation of children left illiterate in its wake.  Add to that the challenges of educating nomadic communities, constantly on the move in pursuit of grazing land. Yet there is no doubt that leaders in South Sudan see literacy as key to bringing peace and hope to their nation.

For the illiterate now – many of whom are ex-combatants – job opportunities are extremely limited.  As one man remarked of violence still prevalent within South Sudan,

‘A hungry man is an angry man.’

Yet teacher Jacob Oruru and many others like him believe literacy is the answer.

‘Literacy helps to reduce violence… because once you are literate, you know what is good and what is bad.’

All the more so when Scripture becomes available in the mother tongue, as Wycliffe and partner organisations work with local translators worldwide to develop minority languages, creating alphabets, dictionaries, health and educational materials.  Ultimately the New Testament or entire Bible becomes available in a way that communities can understand, and in a way that transforms hearts and minds.

This Jesus can speak our language!

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

The story goes that, back in 1917, Wycliffe founder Cameron Townsend started out in his missionary career offering Spanish Bibles to locals in Guatemala.  A Cakchiquel man, finding material in Spanish incomprehensible, challenged him with, “If your God is so great, why can’t he speak my language?”

This heartbreaking question provoked a dramatic response. Townsend himself went on to translate the New Testament into that man’s language within 10 years.  And nearly 100 years later, following Townsend’s footsteps, God has raised up hundreds of individuals and partner organisations with one vision: to see God’s word translated into every remaining living language, so that this question would be forever answered.

In 2014 – 6,918 languages worldwide.  Only 513 languages with complete Bibles. 1,576 languages still remain with no known Scripture, representing around 98 million people.

Where translation work is underway, the exclamations abound.  People are hearing God speak their language for the first time.  Take this recent showing of The JESUS Film in the Mara area of Tanzania:


Jesus Film premier, Mara Region

Our SIL Kabwa and Zanaki translators translated the script for these films and were instrumental in finding the voice actors needed.  We are praising God for the tremendous response to the film premiers which took place in April.  To illustrate a little what the response was like, let me tell you what our office’s Partnership Officer, himself a Zanaki man, Pastor Willy Futakamba- reported after the Zanaki Jesus Film Premier. 70+ adults (children were at least another 70) came forward in response to the Gospel message given along with the film. The next day 3 men who had been at the film tracked Pastor Futakamba down at his home. “We now can see that this Jesus can speak our language.  We want to become Christians.  Please tell us where we should go and what we should do.” They were ready to completely leave their previous lives behind and were seeking out a Christian community for which they could join.  God has truly blessed these premiers.  Pray that He will continue to bless these films as they will be used in evangelism around the Kabwa and Zanaki communities. (source:


” The greatest missionary is the Bible in the mother tongue. It never needs a furlough, and is never considered a foreigner.” Townsend, Cameron — Founder, Wycliffe Bible Translators 

You can help to give the story by praying, giving, going, or telling others.

Proclaiming the word of God

Friday, September 5th, 2014

Sometimes translating the Bible is a long process. Take the Bakossi language of Cameroon, for example, the project first started in 1974. The running of the project was taken over by CABTAL*  during the  1990s and the Bible was finally launched in 2011, 37 years later. As the project progressed the Bakossi church was increasingly involved and after the launch, the Bakossi churches were handed the task of continuing literacy efforts and helping people learn how to use Scripture in their mother tongue.

Man listening to a proclaimer

Man listening to a proclaimer

However, one issue was that the Bakossi, like two-thirds of the world’s population, are oral learners. This means that even when they can read and write they often prefer to learn through oral means, and some will never learn to read and write. Our partners Faith Comes By Hearing stepped into the breach and produced an audio version of the Bible, which was recorded soon after the launch in 2011.

The next step was to put the recorded Scripture onto microchips which are installed in specially designed audio players called Proclaimers. Proclaimers are easy to use and have good enough sound quality to be heard by groups as large as 300 people. It’s little wonder they are popular, so popular in fact that there weren’t any immediately available for the Bakossi.

Paitence and perseverance were again rewarded when supervisors’ training took place in April this year and immediately 23 listening groups were set up with 1,000 people attending. This in turn has resulted in an increased demand for Bibles, as people want to read along to what they are listening to, all the while improving their literacy skill.  Praise God!

Please pray :

  • many more listening groups will be started and many will hear God’s truth for the first time.
  • that Christians attending these groups will understand God’s word better.
  • that the word of God will change hearts and lives and empower churches.

Find out more about oral communities and pray effectively by using our prayer module ‘Bibles for oral communities

* CABTAL Cameroon Association of Bible Translation and Literacy

Learning more about God with music from the heart

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Music provides an opportunity for groups to memorise Bible stories. Just like the songs we sang in Sunday School helped us to remember truths from the Bible, Wycliffe use music to help communities get to grips with the Bible.

Rob Baker is a school music teacher and ethnomusicologist. An ethnomusicologist is someone that helps a language group develop Bible songs in their own language and culture. For his summer holidays he’s spending some time in the Ivory Coast helping a couple of communities with their worship.

He starts with some teaching…

Next day, and teaching began. I started off as I do with most courses of this kind I have taught, by asking two questions:

(i) What is culture?
(ii) Is music a universal language?

Ethnomusicology in Ivory Coast

Ethnomusicology in Ivory Coast

The answer to (ii) is almost always given as ‘yes’, until I explain more clearly, giving examples from across the globe. After this, participants realize that, whilst music is a universal phenomenon, it is not a universal language, as every culture of the world defines, composes and makes music in a different way.

We then make the logical step on to the importance of one’s own culture and how, when artforms from the local culture are used, it speaks to members of that culture in a powerful way, and communication is improved too.

After this, we list all the song genres present in each culture. A song genre is just a style of song linked – in Africa – to a specific event. Songs for weddings, funerals, harvest, initiation, hunting, war, and dancing in the moonlight. Once listed, we see how many of these have already been adapted for church use and which ones could be used. Sometimes they are almost all already used in church, sometimes almost none have been used. But the idea is the same as that of Charles Wesley: to use the music closest to the heart of those we are trying to reach. We call this contextualization. Or, as William Booth said: “Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?”

You can read more about the workshop Rob was involved in, and listen to examples of the songs they recorded, on his blog.

Wycliffe aren’t just interested in translating a Bible and leaving communities to get on with it. We want them to be able to understand and learn from it as well. You can find out more about Ethnomusicology and how other art forms help people to get to grips with God’s word on the Wycliffe Global Alliance website.

If you’d like to get involved in ethnomusicology, have a look for opportunities on the vacancies page of our website.


Monday, September 1st, 2014

This is the final part of a series of posts about the translation, launch and impact of the Scriptures in the Mankanya language of Senegal. The story is told by Maggie Gaved, a translation advisor for the project.

‘It’s a great joy,’ Gustave Campal, the longest serving Mankanya translator, said on the launch day of the Mankanya Scriptures. ‘In the beginning, I was just helping the abbot. The more we went on, the more it became a passion. It was something I needed to do! And every year, despite all the difficulties, what I kept thinking was that one day I will finish translating the word of God for my people. It’s a great joy for me today to see that the work has been done.’

A few days after the dedication, we heard with excitement that a Mankanya pastor who presents a local radio programme used the newly-printed Scriptures in his programme. He interviewed another Mankanya Christian and asked him about using these Mankanya Scriptures.

Bible study in Boutoute 12 may

Around the same time, some American missionaries with a long-term interest in serving the Mankanya people were able to use the newly-printed Scriptures in a Bible study in a local village.

The Mankanya Scriptures aren’t only books. As well as the printed materials, there’s also video and audio which we hope will touch many other people’s lives. The JESUS Film – based on the Gospel of Luke – was produced in Mankanya in 2005, and quite a lot of the Scriptures have already been recorded, including Genesis, John and portions of Leviticus and Hebrews, along with Mankanya worship songs, based on the Scriptures. There have also been 105 new songs composed to go with the New Testament, which was recorded in May and June by Hosanna (which produces the Faith Comes By Hearing series). It’s a multi-voice dramatised reading which will have the songs interspersed. It should come out next year.

It was a landmark to see this book translated and published, but I found it hard to be excited by just seeing a book. A lot of people were excited about the fact that it shows that their language is important. But are they actually going to read it?

I get more excited when I hear of people whose lives are being impacted when they’ve heard bits of the Scripture that we’ve translated. I heard, for example, that the American missionaries took the audio recording of John’s Gospel and were discussing it together with a group of Mankanya people in the chief’s house. When they came to leave, the chief said, ‘You must come back again. We want to hear more. Today God has visited my home.’ That’s when I think it’s worth all the difficult times and the frustrations.

Read the previous posts in this series:

Savouring Acts with a can of root beer

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

How do you celebrate milestones? In Tanzania, the Gerth family savoured a rare (for them) delicacy when they passed a significant milestone on completing the translation of Acts in the Jita language.

The precious root beer

The precious root beer

Root beer is not available here in Musoma. In fact, we hadn’t tasted root beer in over two years. But last time we went to Mwanza (the nearest “big” city which is 3 hours away) we found a store selling three cans of A&W root beer (manufactured in United Arab Emirates). So we bought all three and split them among three missionary families. We were saving our can for the opportune moment…

This has truly been a team effort. Translation work was started on Acts in December 2010. I am the 5th Translation Advisor to help the Jita team with this book. One of the Jita translators left SIL to return to his church as pastor. We tested portions of this book in the community at least three times. There are 1007 verses in Acts…

But it was worth every ounce of hard work.

The opportune moment came, at last:

Jita men enjoying a moment in the shade

Jita men enjoying a moment in the shade

Now the Jita people can hear Peter’s testimony about Jesus after God healed a lame man (Acts 4:10-12).
Emwe bhoone aamwi na Abhaisirayeeri abhandi bhoone, enikena mumenye kwa echimari ati, unu emereguuyu imbere yemwe ni muwanga, kwa obhuturo obhwa risiina erya Yeesu Kirisito Omunajareeti. Niwe unu emwe mwabhambire ku‑musarabha, nawe Nyamuwanga :aamusuuruye okusooka mu‑bhafuuye. Na niwe unu Ebhikaame Ebhyeru ebhyayika inguru yaaye ati, ‘Ribhuyi rinu emwe abhombasi :mwaremere, niryo ryabha ribhuyi rinene erya orufuka.’ Gutari-wo omweruro ku‑wundi wonewone! Okubha ritari-wo risiina rindi mu‑chaaro choone erya obhuturo obhwa okuchichungura eswe abhaana bhaanu!
All of you together with all the people of Israel, I want you to know truly that this man who stands before you is well by the power of the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He is the one you killed on the cross, but God raised him from the dead. And the Holy Scriptures speak about him, ‘The stone which you builders rejected, has become the cornerstone.’ There is no salvation by any other! For there is no other name in the whole world having power to save us!
(Read the full story here.)

Bible translation is a long process, involving many different people with a variety of skills.  It takes perseverance, and sometimes completion seems a long way off. Even when a book is published, there’s work to be done to ensure the community can read it or engage with it, letting God’s word transform their hearts and actions.  For more on all the different steps of a translation project, explore the life of a translation project on the Wycliffe website.

(Bible) Dedication’s what you need

Monday, August 25th, 2014

This is the fourth part of a series of posts about the translation, launch and impact of the Scriptures in the Mankanya language of Senegal. The story is told by Maggie Gaved, a translation advisor for the project.

Father Ange-Marie Niuky – then a monk, now an abbot – began translating the Bible into Mankanya in 1995. In 2000, my husband and I joined the translation team. The written form of the language was recognised by the Senegalese government and it became a national language in 2001. In May 2014, Genesis and the New Testament in one book was published and dedicated [Genesis-NT]. There were 5,000 Genesis-NT books printed.

Right place, right time

On the last day of typesetting for the new book in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, the team wanted to have a thanksgiving. Only then did they discover that the abbot who began the work was actually in Yaoundé. They invited him to come and he was handed the first copy – printed straight off the computer! He had that printed copy with him at the launch ceremony, wrapped in a traditional Mankanya cloth.

On the day that the copies of the books were delivered to the SIL centre in Dakar, Senegal, again, Father Ange-Marie ‘just happened’ to be at the SIL centre for a meeting with the director. Once again he was handed the first copy.

The Mankanya Scriptures arrive at the SIL centre

The Mankanya Scriptures arrive at the SIL centre

The day of the launch

The Mankanya people who live in Senegal live mainly around the town of Zigunchor, in the south of the country, and this was where the launch was held, in a big open area that belongs to the Catholic Church. The service was led by the Bishop of Ziguinchor. A delegation of people came over from Guinea-Bissau and a lot of SIL staff members came down from Dakar to be part of the celebration.

Symbols and culture

Picture3The ceremony began with the beating of the bumblung, a drum traditionally used to pass on important news: news about the king or important happenings that they want the whole community to know about.

The translation team carried a copy of the Mankanya Genesis-NT to the front: Gustave Campal, who had been working on the translation longest, carried the book; I followed along with the other translator Jacques Toupane, and two people who worked as back-translators (helping when we were checking the translation by translating it into French).

There was a lot of symbolism used to show what the Bible means to us. It is our food – we don’t just live by bread but also by the word of God. So traditional Mankanya food was carried to the front accompanied by readings from the Scriptures. A lady brought a clay bowl of water to the front, to symbolise that the word of God also gives us the water of life. Candles and a hurricane lamp were carried to symbolise that the word of God is our lamp. There were more readings in Mankanya.

The speeches

I was asked to do a speech, which I did half in French and half in Mankanya. When I was speaking Mankanya I was able to encourage people not only to think, ‘It’s great to have this book in our language,’ but to listen to it, to listen to what God is saying and to obey him.

The abbot also encouraged the Mankanya people to use this Scripture and to listen to what God was saying through it. He also pointed out the huge role Gustave has played in this. Gustave isn’t the sort of person who would stand up front and draw attention to himself.

Initial distribution and response

Scripture shopping

Scripture shopping

After the ceremony, copies of Genesis-NT were sold along with other booklets that we’ve published over the years: Jonah, Creation, Stories of Jesus, Teachings of Jesus, as well as an audio recording of the whole of Genesis with songs that had been composed in the traditional style using traditional instruments.

Everyone was very pleased that this day had come and that Genesis-NT was available. But for many the overriding feeling is that, ‘Now our language really is a real language, since we have something as well-known as the Bible in our language. That gives value to our language.’ Our concern is that it becomes more than that and that it doesn’t just sit on a shelf, but that people read it and take seriously what it says.

In the final part of the series next week, Maggie talks about the fact that this dedication day isn’t the end of the story for the Mankanya people. Already, the work is having an impact.

Read previous posts in this series:

Cheers in church!

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

When was the last time a Bible reading in your church moved the whole congregation to shout, clap and cheer?  Only a few weeks ago in Luhanga, in the Sangu community of Tanzania, that’s exactly what happened!

Andy, writing on, tells us the whole story:

The whole passage of the prodigal son was read by a Sangu translator to the receptive church congregation. (Mbeya Cluster – Tanzania)

I was invited to preach in a church in Luhanga in the Sangu area. My plan was to preach about the prodigal son, a story found in Luke 15. The little church was packed with people. 200 adults and 60 children were counted (as announced by the one who led the service).

When my time to preach came I started with some explanations and then read a few verses in Sangu (Luke 15:1-2). The people liked me reading their language and clapped and cheered.  A bit later Abedy, one of our Sangu translators read the whole passage of the “prodigal son”… (full story)

Freshly printed Gospels of Luke in the Sangu language had been delivered to the translation office in Mbeya, just at the beginning of July.  But the translators at the Luhanga church were caught totally unprepared for the many in the congregation who wanted to buy their own copy.  The copies they had with them were snapped up, and Abedy had to return the following week with extras.

God’s word is heard most clearly in the language we understand best… and in the Luhanga church, they heard him loud and clear that week! Find out how you can help to give the story.

Three questions everyone asks about translating the Bible

Monday, August 18th, 2014

This is the third part of a series of posts about the translation, launch and impact of the Scriptures in the Mankanya language of Senegal. The story is told by Maggie Gaved, a translation advisor for the project.

Where did you start translating? Which books are the hardest?

Abbé Samson, a Mankanya man on the organising committee for the launch, and Maggie Gaved, the exegete on the project

Abbé Samson, a Mankanya man on the organising committee for the launch, and Maggie Gaved, the exegete on the project

When I first started working with the Mankanya translation association, the monk who had begun the work and the group he had worked with had just published an experimental version of the four Gospels. That had taken the first five years of translation work. When I joined the team, we knew the Gospels would need to be revised, but we felt it would be better to start to work on something different; revising them immediately could be discouraging after five years’ work!

We worked first on Acts because it’s written as a simple narrative or story. It’s easier to translate narrative than books like Paul’s letters. Because Acts and Luke were written by the same person, having done Acts it seemed sensible to revise Luke next, so that we could publish both of them in one book. We then worked on the other Gospels as well as the book of James – James is one of the simplest letters to translate.

Gradually we worked our way through the other letters, finishing with the two letters to the Corinthians. Those are the hardest. Paul’s way of expressing himself is very complicated in all his letters, but particularly so in Corinthians. He has very complicated sentences where he tries to explain what depends on what. He also sometimes gets carried away on tangents.

Lots of people think that Revelation would be the hardest, but actually, as one consultant said to us, ‘Because no one really understands the interpretation of Revelation, when you are translating, you are translating the pictures and the images that John saw. You’re not giving an explanation of them. As long as you can find words for dragons and such things, it’s not that hard to translate.’ Finding ways of translating the colours and the jewels was the biggest challenge.

Why translate the Old Testament?

We did also translate some parts of the Old Testament. If you don’t have the Old Testament, the need for the New Testament isn’t obvious. Why would you need a saviour if you don’t have the Fall? In Africa particularly, Genesis is something that people can relate to very well. It’s much closer to their way of life than it is to our way of life in the West, so we felt it was important to translate Genesis.

We were also encouraged to do some other parts of the Old Testament that would help with the understanding of the New Testament: parts of Leviticus to explain the sacrificial system and why sin is so serious; and Exodus to explain the Passover.

People working with Wycliffe translate Scriptures so that other churches and missions can use them, and in Senegal, we knew that the Catholic Church would want to use the Scriptures. The Church has readings every week that are set down. It was important to have as many of those readings translated as possible, because that’s the main way Mankanya people will hear the Scriptures. Some American missionaries also visit the people regularly; they have a chronological approach to telling stories about the Bible, starting with creation and the fall, so it’s important to have those Scriptures translated for them to base the teaching on.

We looked at all those different needs and tried to come up with a plan of the most important parts to translate. We did the whole of Genesis, half of Exodus and parts of Leviticus. We did Jonah and Ruth too as they were easy stories. We also did some Psalms, partly because one is read every Sunday in Catholic churches. The Charismatic Catholics told us how important the Psalms were to them to use when they are worshipping. Most Western Christians have Psalms that are important to them too. We had a workshop with a translation consultant, an expert in Hebrew culture, and with a colleague who’s studied musical instruments. We translated about 30 Psalms and tried to do them in the style of Mankanya poetry – to give the same impact that Hebrew poetry would give but in a Mankanya way. A couple of those Psalms were set to music so they could be used in the way they were originally intended.

Are there any words that are difficult to translate into Mankanya?

Reading the Genesis-NT at the launch

Reading the Genesis-NT at the launch

It took several years to work out how to translate prophet into Mankanya. At first, it was suggested that we use a word that means ‘someone who says what’s in the future’; we explained – particularly in the Old Testament – that’s not what a prophet is, so the term wouldn’t work for both the New and the Old Testaments. Our colleagues suggested an expression that literally is ‘the sent one’; when the king needs to get a message to people, he would send ‘the sent one’ to people to give the message. That seemed to fit the idea of someone who has a message from God. But we then found that for some people, it was easily confused with ‘apostle’, even with ‘angel’. After more discussion, the next suggestion was a word that literally means ‘spokesperson’ or ‘the one who speaks for…’, so we came up with the expression ‘the one who speaks for God’. That seems to have the right meaning.

Another interesting challenge was how we were going to translate the Holy Scriptures. The obvious way seemed to be literally, so to have ‘sacred writings’. When we were testing the term with a group of people, a woman turned around and said, ‘That means I can’t touch it.’ Often sacred things are taboo; in fact, the Mankanya word for ‘sacred’ is also the word for ‘taboo’. For her that it was sacred meant it couldn’t be touched. We decided that wasn’t a good way to translate ‘Scriptures’! What we suggested was ‘God’s book’, and that’s what’s printed on the front of the New Testament and Genesis, and what we use in the New Testament, when Jesus says, ‘It says in the Scriptures…’ or Paul says ‘It says in the Scriptures…’

Next week, Maggie talks about dedication day – the launch ceremony of the Mankanya Genesis and New Testament book.

Read the previous posts in this series: