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Approximately 2,500 language communities already have some or all of the Bible. That leaves over 4,000 languages with no access to God’s Word unless someone steps in and changes history.
VISION & MISSION
The Vision: The glory of God through transformed lives by the power of His Word in everyone's heart language. The Mission: To empower indigenous persons and organizations for Bible translation.
What will your legacy be? Please consider a contribution to The Word For The World! Become part of the vision to bring God's Word to all people in their heart language by 2050.
It is a warm, Friday afternoon—the day before the Soli New Testament Launch—and six of us are tightly packed into a car, traveling through the Soli-lands, east of Lusaka, Zambia. I have never travelled through this part of country after the rains, and my heart is happy to see fields of corn and flowers stretching as far as I could see; all underneath the striking blue and white of the cloudy and endless African sky.
The rest of the day is busy with preparations; meetings with the High Chieftainess, headmen, and Soli Committee; and ensuring that nearly four thousand Soli New Testaments are delivered and secured. As I return home late that evening, I find myself still basking in the excitement—for tomorrow we celebrate something truly special: a people receiving something that is both a result of their own dedication, as well as the generosity of others—something which took faith and hard work—a longed for destination which is also the start of a new journey of discovery and understanding. The Soli New Testament is truly a gift from God, and the Soli are literally and metaphorically about to turn the page, and begin a new chapter in their walk with God.
The program reads as a tightly-packed, two-and-a-half-hour event—but you should know, there is no Zambian celebration that fits into a morning session! Dancing, music, and speeches abound—and we hear stories of victory and loss—of blessing and sacrifice. Throughout the many, varied, and colorful presentations, the heart and hand of God becomes clear—for the Soli people have come, just as they are, and they are loved by Him.
I’ve always heard my dad say to people, “If you want to see what The Word for the World looks like, get on a plane with me and I’ll show you.” For the most part, we don’t have office buildings. We don’t have neat, corporate headquarters where you can come and visit us in air conditioned rooms and discuss far-off fieldwork while we all sip on bottled water (although, you should probably bring some with you, where we’re going).
On July 10th we had the dedication of the first ever complete Maale translation of the whole Bible, a TWFTW project that was started by Jacques and Jeanette van As* in 1999. Maale is in southwest Ethiopia, and getting there involved flying in a tiny plane from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, to a dirt-and-bushes runway, followed by trekking over extremely rough and rocky roads for 2-3 hours. For some TWFTW staff, it took 2 days of rugged, bumpy driving to reach the area. Many of the approximately 10,000 Maale people who attended walked for hours or even days to get to the dedication location so that they could receive, for the first time, the Bible in their mother tongue.
This was a fairly good percentage of the 140,000 people that make up the Maale people group, especially considering the difficulty of getting to the location. By the time the dedication ceremony started, the people were sitting tightly packed together in the grass, and some on the outskirts of the crowd even had to climb trees (much like Zacchaeus in Luke 19!) just to be able to see what was going on at the front. The crowd was so dense that photographers and videographers who were there to capture the important day sometimes stepped on people’s hands and feet as they moved among them.
It took 14 years of translation and consultation and another 2 years of preparing the manuscript for publication for the Maale people to receive this Bible. They have waited, prayed, and hoped, and a great deal of hard work and sacrifice has gone into the project. The translators (Oesha Tushkulo, Mesert Metaferiya, Tamene Lale, and Asefa Gebeyehu) were often away from their families for long periods of time in order to get the work done. And, of course, moving from a city in South Africa to a rural village in Ethiopia without any amenities with two young sons was no small sacrifice for Jacques and Jeanette van As. But all of this is a testament to how passionate everyone involved in this project has been about getting the work done, and getting the Maale Bible to the people.
At the end of the dedication ceremony the Bibles were finally unboxed and crowds of people thronged around the distribution areas to get their hands on a copy. Some walked off carrying several Bibles, and as we left the area to return to the plane, we saw people many miles along, carrying whole boxes full of Bibles to take back to their own families, churches, and villages. It may seem foreign to those of us who are privileged enough to have always had a Bible in our own languages, but the amount of sacrifice and time these people had to put in to obtain their own Bibles was astonishing.
What an incredible thing to think that in 2016 the Maale people, for the first time in history, can now read the Word of God in their mother tongue, and know that God speaks their language.
It all started with God’s plan for the Taabua people, a nation living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It ultimately involved a place called Mporokoso in the north-eastern corner of Zambia, south-west of Lake Tanganyika and due south from Lake Mweru, Zambia; a South African lady named Nel Claassen; consultants from different countries; and an international organization called The Word for the World.
Three elderly men in the DRC, then called Zaïre, felt compelled to translate the Bible into their mother tongue. They did a first draft of the Taabua New Testament, writing on whatever bits of paper they could find, including scraps of cardboard. Not knowing the next step in the translation process, they held onto their precious scraps. It was only in 1998 that, on hearing about the project, they searched until they found Bishop Kibombwe, who was by then one of the three Taabua mother tongue translators. They selflessly and graciously handed over their invaluable work to aid the project.
Mutumania Kasakota was the first recruited translator. He approached Bishop Kibombwe, an erstwhile Roman Catholic priest and academic in his seventies. He became so convinced that the Lord had called him to this work that he gladly traveled the 200 km from Moba to Musosa on the back of pastor Kasokota’s bicycle to meet Nel Claassen. At the end of the journey the Bishop told Nel, “Isn’t God gracious – we only fell off twice!” Kalinde Nzika was the third translator in the team, and they moved to Zambia. The project was based in Zambia as there was huge political instability in Zaïre, which resulted in a civil war in 1997.
The project proved to have been the litmus test of The Word for the World’s shift of emphasis on training mother tongue Bible translators in the field where the need is greatest: that is, working from the premise that more and more nationals are accepting responsibility for doing work themselves for and in their own countries.
The Gospel of John, ‘Yoane’, was printed and dedicated to the Taabua nation in 2002 in a moving ceremony where hungry hands reached out for it. They came in their thousands to drink, at last, from the fountain of living water, God’s Word in their heart language.
The entire New Testament was completed, scrutinized by the team, tested among the Taabua, consultant-checked by Greek scholars and printed at the end of 2005.
Once, while the team was back in their villages to do testing of the new translation, they had to flee with their families from the DRC when the area was overrun by the rebels. They were placed in a refugee camp at Mwange near Mporokoso in Zambia, together with 43,000 other Taabuas. They were stuck there for three years, with Nel Claassen battling refugee bureaucracy trying to get them released, but to no avail.
Soon after their arrival in the refugee camp, the men set up shop in a thatched office they had built. Here Bishop Kibombwe, Pastor Kasokota and Kalinde Nzika continued translating, trained reviewers, and did the field-testing of the translated material. They worked “office hours, just as if Nel were there” as one of them wrote. This is where they finished the first draft of the New Testament. The Bishop planted a church in the camp where he used portions of the translated material. Their working without any supervision was a powerful testimony all over the camp.
Communication between Nel and the team took place through Kapasa in Mbala. The nick-name ‘Kapasa’ means ‘messenger of the king’ in Bemba. He once wrote, “I was Nel’s messenger to and from the DRC, and Nel was appointed by the King of Kings for this work." Kapasa was the runner between Nel and the team in the camp, fetching and carrying work.
Kalinde Nzika once summed up the eternal impact of the project when he wrote, “The Taabua Bible translation project is a splendid and powerful hammer to break the darkness in which the Taabua lived for so long. They were unseen, non-existent and ignored. But, God will raise them up, as the Scriptures say in Hosea 2.23: …I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one’. I will say to those called ‘Not my people’, ’You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God’. The voice of God in Taabua will be with them and in them. He is in control.”