Image of Bhogoto translation team in the Central African Republic pointing to the language name on a list of language projects The Bhogoto translation team point to their language name on a list of language projects
Everyone was waiting expectantly.

Pastor Laurent Mbarta had been asked to speak to the assembled Bhogoto leaders, and they were keen to hear what he had to say. As a community leader himself, and involved in work on the Bhogoto New Testament, he already had a pre-publication, locally printed copy of the New Testament to work from. He flicked through the pages of his treasured copy, until he landed on the passage he wanted to read.

Pastor Laurent started reading at Matthew 28:18. The leaders listened intently as he spoke Jesus’ familiar and challenging mission message to his followers, in the language that they loved and cherished:

Zezii dhɔŋɔ di katɛ wo o naa tɔ̧ hoo o ende: «Sɔ̧ ha̧a ŋgai fɛt ham, ŋgai nɛ doo rizan mɛ inɛ ŋgai nɛ doo zunu. Hɔ̧gɔ, ɛnɛ nɛ o di katɛ rigara o mɔɔzunu fɛt, ɛnɛ dɛ hoo kifi wibapatam, ɛnɛ bin wo o nɛ nyin Daa, Bem inɛ Budan, ɛnɛ usi hoo o mɔ pam mɔ o fɛt nam ha̧a nu hɛnɛ o mɔ dɛ. Ɛnɛ iŋ o ende: mi a inɛ nɛ o teee hɔ nɛɛ tɛ ndutukore ŋgimɔ.»

‘Jesus came and he said to them: “God has given all authority to me, yes, all the authority over heaven and earth. Go and baptise people in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to do all that I have commanded you to do. You know that I will be with you, yes, even until the end of time.”’

Suddenly a sadness descended on Pastor Laurent’s face.

Image of Bhogoto children in the Central African Republic standing at a well Bhogoto children stand at a well

He wanted to make a reference to the mission call to Abraham in the Old Testament (Genesis 12), but he couldn’t do it in Bhogoto – it hadn’t been translated yet.

So, reluctantly, Pastor Laurent opened a second book lying beside him – the Bible in Sango, the trade language of the Central African Republic. He was obliged to read the call of Abraham in Sango, and then had to interpret it into Bhogoto.

It was a painful reminder that as yet the Bhogoto people did not have the whole Bible in their own language: they only had the New Testament.

At the end of the meeting, Pastor Laurent approached the Bhogoto Bible translation team and said, ‘I know that through Bible translation into Bhogoto, you have done a good thing by making the New Testament and the Psalms accessible to us. But you must also think about making the whole Bible accessible to us, so that we can use references wherever we want.’

Image of the Bhogoto translation team at work in the Central African Republic The Bhogoto Bible translation team at work

It was the spark the translation team needed. Adam, a member of the team, takes up the story:

‘Hard on the heels of finishing 15 years of work translating the New Testament and Psalms, we quietly began the Old Testament translation, even though we had no funding in place.’

That is how important translating the Old Testament had become to the Bhogoto people.

A few years on, and the translation of the Old Testament continues. Over 70% of the books have been drafted. Genesis is being printed and recorded right now. Ruth, Jonah and Esther are ready for publication. Community checking is currently happening on 1 and 2 Samuel, with Exodus, Haggai, Joel and others to follow soon.

Image of Bhogoto people in the Central African Republic celebrating The Bhogoto celebrate one of their many translation achievements: may they celebrate having the Bhogoto Bible soon!

And best of all, the Bhogoto translation team in the Central African Republic has recently been informed that the next three years of its work is now funded. That will see translation completed on about a third (7,654 verses) of the Old Testament. One day, perhaps in seven or eight years from now and if they continue to receive funding, the Bhogoto people will have their Old Testament, and Pastor Laurent and others will be able to read out Old Testament passages in their own language – without sadness and with full understanding and joy.

Help another team who are translating the Old Testament

‘I’m facing a big challenge in my ministry. Since I can’t speak or read French, I can’t use the Old Testament.’ – Kodya, an Ifè pastor in Togo

The Ifè people are also waiting for the whole Bible in their language, and their translation team are hard at work on translating the Old Testament into the Ifè language.

The same is true for many peoples around the world: they have the New Testament in their language, and now they are working on the Old Testament. You can help them get closer to completing the task today!

Your gift today will help to support Bible translation teams in their vital work.

Story by: Jeremy Weightman

Date: 28/03/2024

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