‘When Boko Haram attacked our village, Whitambaya, one of my friends ran to me and said, “What can we do? Can we just accept Islam and then when these people leave we can continue our Christian life?”’

How do you answer a question like that? When Malgwi Yunana’s friend asked him in 2016, Malgwi knew exactly where to turn.

‘I opened Revelation 6:9–11, which says, “I looked under the altar, and I saw the souls of those that were slain. and they cried to God, ‘When will you judge the people that killed us?’”’

In the passage, the martyrs are told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their Christian brothers and sisters have also been killed.

‘I told my friend, “Maybe we are the ones that these people are waiting for.”’

‘I knew Christ from my childhood’

Malgwi’s journey to faith and his familiarity with the Bible began early. ‘I was born in a small village in the northeast of Nigeria called Whitambaya,’ he says. ‘It’s surrounded by mountains and rivers, and most people are farmers, hunters and fishermen. The area is predominantly Muslim, but we lived in harmony. In one family you find Muslims and Christians. My father and mother are both Christians. My paternal uncles are Muslims. So I have some knowledge about Islam.

‘When I was growing up, my friends would join us for church. During Christmas we’d have Muslims coming to celebrate with us. We were very, very happy.

‘My father and mother didn’t have the chance to attend formal education, but they taught us a lot of wisdom. I knew Christ from my childhood because I was taught by my parents.’

‘Farming is something you grow up doing’

Malgwi has dedicated his career to helping people in Nigeria to access, understand and apply the Bible in their lives. This means that, like him, they will know where to turn in times of trouble, and be able to stand firm.

Having worked as part of the team that translated the Bible into his own language, Bura, Malgwi has first-hand experience of the difference Bible translation makes, enabling deeper and more immediate understanding of God’s word. Before the launch of the Bura Bible in 2014, he studied linguistics, Bible translation and Scripture engagement at the Theological College of Northern Nigeria, learning ways of helping people to understand and engage with the Bible in their everyday lives.

And for the majority of people in Nigeria, everyday life is all about farming.

Children practise farming in Malgwi's community

‘Most of the languages we do Bible translation into in Nigeria are spoken by farmers’

‘In Whitambaya, farming is something that you grow up doing,’ Malgwi explains. From the first games children play – pretending to be shepherds and sheep – farming permeates all of life. Parents tell their children farming stories and proverbs. A young man proves himself to the parents of the woman he wants to marry by farming.

Children start farming very young, practising in the backyard from around five years old. ‘At 12,’ Malgwi says, ‘I started to sell my farm produce to buy clothes and not worry about my father taking that responsibility. That’s tough, from childhood, but we are proud to be farmers.’

‘People see themselves as part of the curse’

Malgwi still loves farming. ‘You know, I see farming beyond just food. When the wind is blowing, you see the corn tangling like this,’ he says, swaying his hands, ‘Wow! I just start singing. So even though people see it as a hard and difficult job, it gives me joy.’

Not everyone shares his high view of farming – often because they have misunderstood the Bible. ‘People think that farming is a lowly, undesirable and dirty type of work. Most people think that farming resulted from the Fall. They see themselves as part of the curse. You find that misconception even in the church – pastors preach this.’

‘My hope is to see people connect their farming with Scripture’

Farming is foundational to all of our lives. Whether we live in cities or villages, in the UK, Ireland, or Nigeria, all of our food, much of our clothing, even some of our fuel, comes from farming. But in a country where the majority of people farm, misunderstanding the Bible in this way has particularly serious consequences. It damages relationships between farmers and their churches. It leaves people less likely to engage with the Bible. And it leads to farming practices that don’t glorify God, produce lower yields and harm creation.

Malgwi and his colleague Katharine Norton (from the Republic of Ireland) long to see farmers engage with the  Bible and discover how God really sees them and their work. That’s why they developed a pioneering programme, ‘Faith and Farming’, combining their experience in Bible translation and Scripture engagement with their knowledge of farming.

The workshops offer participants the opportunity to think biblically about farming in their own languages. ‘My hope is to see people connect their farming with God and Scripture,’ says Malgwi, ‘and realise that farming is not a curse but a blessing. We try to create awareness that, actually, it was God that ordained farming. Even before the Fall, it was the first assignment given to man in Genesis 2: to cultivate the land and take care of it.’

Farmers study the Bible in their own language. Over 500 languages are spoken in Nigeria. Over 300 are still waiting for the Bible.

‘There is a need to have the Bible translated’

Engaging farmers with the Bible goes hand in hand with Bible translation, Malgwi explains. After all, if Bibles sit unopened on shelves, the work of translation is in vain. But when people hear and understand God’s word, it  bears fruit in their lives. Take the Parable of the Sower: ‘Farmers know exactly what happens to a seed when it falls in good or bad soil. If you read it in the language they understand, they don’t need commentary. They imagine themselves in that story.

‘Most if not all of the languages we do Bible translation into in Nigeria are spoken by farmers. We have a vast audience. So there is a need for us to have the Bible translated into each language. If not, we will not become familiar with it – we will become foreigners to it.’

‘We are beginning to see churches encouraging farmers’

The Bible has much to say to farmers. But churches in Nigeria have not paid much attention to farming, Malgwi says – despite the fact that most members are farmers. ‘The only season you see them emphasising about farming is during harvest, when they will emphasise tithing. But after that you will hear nothing about farming. Nobody prays for them during droughts.’

Understandably, this leaves people feeling hurt and excluded. But the truth of the Bible helps repair relationships. ‘This programme has been eye-opening to churches. Now farmers say, “Churches are beginning to recognise us, noticing that we belong, and encouraging us.”’

Knowing how God sees farmers also means people depend on him during times of difficulty: ‘In my church, there was a time that people were faced with drought. There was a grave of our ancestor – a great farmer – and people went there to ask for rain.’

Once again, Malgwi’s familiarity with the Bible served him and his community well. The church gathered together, and Malgwi shared the story from 1 Kings 18, where Elijah prays for rain. He explained that they can trust God during droughts.

‘People are beginning to have courage,’ Malgwi says – instead of turning to their ancestors, his community now prays to the Lord in times of trouble.

Malgwi's church prays together for rain

‘She wanted to experience that God’

When Boko Haram attacked Malgwi’s village, Whitambaya, three of his friends were killed. But in the most difficult moments, God’s word gave them hope and courage. ‘Before their deaths, I had conversations with all of them about resisting or being strong during the time of challenge.’

The passage Malgwi shared from Revelation gave one friend the courage he needed to hold on to his faith in Jesus, right up until his death three months later. ‘I knew that he died as a Christian because even before his death he kept telling the Boko Haram that they should repent. And several others also preached before they were killed. So even though I miss these people, I have the joy that they are with Christ.’

This is why Bible translation matters so much: it gives people direct access to what God says. That means they can walk with the Lord in all areas of their life – including farming – so that when trials come, their faith is strong enough to stand the test. And when Christians are equipped to live out their faith, more people meet Jesus.

‘What kind of love!’

‘After the insurgency, many Muslims turned to Christ,’ Malgwi says. One lady told him that something had been troubling her. ‘She said, “The life of Christians in our community – your property was burned, your houses were burned, some of your families were killed. But I have never seen a day that you think of revenge. You even pray.”

‘She was passing by the church and she heard people praying that God would have mercy on these Boko Haram and touch their lives.

‘She said, “What kind of love!”

‘She wanted to experience that joy and she wanted to experience that God. So our reaction actually brings so many people to Christ.’

After the church was destroyed, one woman overheard people praying that God would have mercy on Boko Haram and touch their lives. 'What kind of love!' she said.

Pray with Malgwi

  • Join Malgwi’s community in asking God to have mercy on Boko Haram and touch their lives. Pray for healing and restoration for those who are suffering because of these attacks.
  • Praise God that people have come to know Jesus through the witness of Christians in Nigeria.
  • Malgwi and Katharine are now in high demand all over the world. Pray for more people to join them so that, through the Bible, more farmers can discover God’s love for them and their work.
  • Praise God for a gift left by a Wycliffe supporter in their Will, which will enable more ‘Faith and Farming’ workshops to take place.

Story by: Bryony Lines

Date: 20/02/2023

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