‘When I heard the news I was very shocked and I cried a lot,’ says Komi Sena of the day his mentor, his teacher, his friend, his sister in Christ, was killed by a bomb in Jerusalem.

‘The death of Mary Gardner really shook me and the whole Ifè team – we didn’t know what to do. We loved her so much,’ Komi says. ‘Just the evening before, Mary and I had exchanged emails back and forth about the continuation of my training.’

After the completion of the Ifè New Testament, Mary – who was from Scotland, but had lived in Togo for 20 years – travelled to Jerusalem to learn Hebrew in preparation for translating the Old Testament into Ifè.

‘People are hungry to have the Old Testament’

‘She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She went out to meet one of her old friends,’ Komi recalls. ‘As she crossed the street after getting off the bus, a bomb went off and her body took the brunt of the explosion. They took her to the hospital, but she only survived a few hours before she passed away.’

As Komi and his fellow Ifè translators sat in the translation office in March 2011 – tear-streaked, hurting, wondering how God could allow their ‘mama’ to be taken from them – all the plans for the Ifè people to have the whole Bible in their language seemed to be coming apart.

Ifè women learn to write at a literacy class run by the Ifè translation project

But now, 11 years later, the Ifè Old Testament is over two-thirds complete, the New Testament has had to be reprinted as so many people want to read it, and there are now Ifè churches in most villages.

And Komi’s journey – from growing up in a family following traditional beliefs, to following Jesus, to becoming a Bible translator, to now coordinating the work of Bible translation across Togo and Benin – has played a key role in enabling more people to come to know Jesus through the Bible.

Reading a beloved copy of the Ifè New Testament

‘I felt very sad in my soul’

‘I grew up living with my grandmother in Atakpamé,’ Komi explains. ‘My grandmother married a man I now think of as being the Ifè Pharaoh – like the Egyptian Pharaoh in the Bible – he was the chief of all of the idols in the Ifè community. He was very powerful and I grew up with him for 22 years. So I know many, many things from the animist system and practices here.’

Many Ifè people, like a lot of people across Africa, hold traditional animistic beliefs, which means they believe there is a spiritual dimension to all of life. But with these beliefs comes the need to try to appease the idols and spiritual powers that can cause death, misfortune, and difficulty.

‘I didn’t know much about Christians,’ Komi says. ‘But in my heart I was feeling something. When I saw Christians going to church on Sunday mornings, I felt very sad in my soul because they seemed to have something I didn’t.’

Just before he finished secondary school, a friend invited Komi to go to church. ‘People were not only surprised but amazed to see me at church,’ Komi says. ‘But they said:
“You are welcome.”’

After that Komi went to university in Lomé, the capital city, in the south of Togo. His roommate was a Christian and Komi began to go to church with him. ‘One day,’ Komi recalls, ‘the pastor said, “Do you want to give your life to Christ?” And I said: “Yes, yes.”’


Komi sits alongside an Ifè woman as she reads the New Testament

‘You may be the best person for the job’

Komi studied philosophy at university and when he came home for the holidays his family were ‘astonished’ that he had started to go to church. ‘They didn’t oppose me,’ Komi says. ‘But they saw me as being strange.’

‘Translating the New Testament really deepened my faith’

After completing university, Komi and his roommate were searching for jobs. His roommate heard that the Ifè translation project was looking for Bible translators. ‘My friend told me,’ Komi recalls, ‘“Today I went to visit the project to translate the New Testament. I am not really interested in it. But I think that you may be the best person for the job.”

‘So I went to meet them, and when I came to the terrace outside the office, the first person who welcomed me was Mary.’

‘I still discover the Bible every day’

The first book Komi worked on when he joined the team was the Gospel of Matthew. ‘Mary trained me. She was a woman who loved the details of the work, so I set out to learn at her feet, to do the same,’ Komi says. ‘The deeper you dig into the details of the text of the Bible, the better you understand it, and that work produces a translation of quality.’

An Atakpamé street

The time he spent with the Bible had a profound effect on Komi’s life. ‘Translating the New Testament really deepened my faith,’ Komi says. ‘And it is the same today. I still discover the Bible every day.’

‘The number of Christians and churches has grown hugely’

The work of the Ifè team has enabled many more people to also discover the Bible. ‘The biggest impact the New Testament has had,’ Komi says, ‘is that the number of Christians and churches has grown hugely because people can understand the word of God in their language.’

Before the Ifè translation started there weren’t many churches. ‘But now,’ Komi notes, ‘almost every Ifè village has a church.’ But having the New Testament isn’t enough. The Ifè people also want to be able to read the Old Testament, which is 70% of the Bible, in their language. ‘People are hungry to have the Old Testament,’ Komi says. ‘They long for the whole Bible.’

‘I give thanks to the Lord’

After Mary’s death, God opened the door for Komi to continue the training he and Mary had been planning. ‘I give thanks to the Lord because I was able to finish my training,’ Komi explains. ‘And then I was able to go to Israel for six months to do the same training course that Mary was doing when she was killed. When I came back we recruited three new translators and I trained them, and then we started the Old Testament translation into Ifè.’

Komi’s work has now expanded beyond the Ifè translation. ‘I also help other translation teams to check the accuracy of their translations,’ Komi explains. He also now coordinates the work of Bible translation across Togo and neighbouring Benin.

Recently Komi has been back in Atakpamé, checking the draft translation of Leviticus with his brothers and sisters on the Ifè team.

Given the animist background of so many Ifè people, Komi says that this book will be ‘really, really helpful for the Ifè community’ because of its teaching around sacrifices and idols.

‘It is wonderful,’ Komi smiles, ‘to see how Mary’s plans for the Old Testament translation are now in the process of being completed.’

‘Translating the Bible is so important’

The Ifè team aims to complete their full Bible translation by 2026. But Komi’s work coordinating translation across Togo and Benin enables him to see even more deeply the difference Bible translation makes – and the need for more translation projects to start.

‘Translating the Bible is so important,’ Komi concludes, ‘because many people don’t understand French, so they are not able to read and understand the Scriptures. And it does not change their lives when they do not understand it. Translation of the Bible also enables nonbelievers to hear the good news in their language.

‘Everywhere that I go people say: “Thank you for the work that you do because it allows us to have God’s word in our language.” But those who don’t yet have a translation ask me, “What about us? When will we have our translation?”’

The goal of everyone on the global Bible translation team – people like you who give and pray so that Bible translation can happen, and people like Komi and the Ifè team who do the day-by-day work of translation – is that soon there will come a time when everyone will know the joy that comes from having the whole Bible in their language.


Komi at work

Pray now for Komi:

Komi asks that you pray for him in these ways:

  • ‘I have a big job and heavy responsibility, so I need to be supported in prayer. Pray that God will give me good health. Fatigue is also a challenge, so pray for energy.
  • ‘I need God’s wisdom and insight to lead all these teams, especially when there is conflict and difficulty to be managed.
  • ‘Pray for my family, my wife and two children, especially as I travel a lot so am away from home.’

Story by: Alfred Thompson

Date: 21/10/2022

Wycliffe Bible Translators logo Close
Close modal