Over 3000 people converged in Obongi District along the West of the Nile in Uganda just over a month ago on the 1st of July, 2023, to witness the launch of the Gospel of Luke in Reli, Gimara, Aliba, and Kuku languages. The ground was filled with shouts of joy as God’s Word was carried in a vibrant procession along the streets towards Itula Primary School. All along the procession, different people groups freely expressed their culture with song, a brass band, bright colours, and dance. The excitement was palpable through the sounds of instruments, exultant singing and the swells of dust being swept into the air. In the midst of the throng were leaders from each denomination and culture group who carried the words of Scripture in written and oral formats. Cultural and political leaders from district and national levels all came together from different language groups to celebrate! For the Reli, Gimara, Aliba, Kuku, Aringa, and Madi people, this was a historic, once-in-a-lifetime event - the first of its kind for four of the language groups, and the biggest event in their district in living memory.
As the people gathered at Itula Primary School and took their places on the field, the leaders began the ceremony. They noted that this moment was auspicious because that day also marked the first anniversary of Oral Bible Translation (OBT) in Uganda, with the Reli people being the first to receive the oral book of Luke in their heart language. (About 80% of the Reli people cannot read; hence the need to have the Bible translated into the Reli language in audio format.)
The moment arrived. The written book of Luke was read aloud for the very first time in Reli, Gimara, Aliba and Kuku, drawing applause and jubilation from the audience. The joy grew even louder when the book of Luke was broadcast through the Proclaimers. This was the first time that the people had ever heard the Word of God being proclaimed so eloquently in their heart languages as the leaders held the holy Scriptures. The crowd became excited and danced and jumped for joy. Who knows how many people will come to Christ because they heard His truth in the most powerful way that day?
It was moving to see how emotional this moment was - the deep sense of joy in hearing one’s language used; a language not recognised by the national government, but recognised - seen - by the King of Kings. The one on whose shoulders all governments sit. In His sovereignty, our Father provided this very first book of His living Word. The bigness of the moment was not lost on the Reli man in the middle of the photo below. In his eyes, we see the seriousness of this event for him, the weightiness as he listens. Praise God for His love and truth that impacts the hearts of His people.
In addition to receiving the Scriptures in their heart languages, another blessing was how the members from different religious affiliations interacted with one another. This type of gathering has not happened in Obongi before. The cultural and political leaders discussed and emphasised taking their own languages seriously - especially when it comes to spiritual growth in God’s Word. This launch created unity by reawakening a sense of identity in all the people and encouraging them to embrace their God-given identity by using their mother-tongue languages in all spheres of life.
People’s desire to use the translated Scriptures became increasingly visible. Many came forward asking for Proclaimers, and those who could read asked for books that they could take home. One notable thing to emerge from this event is that many expressed excitement about joining future listening groups, which will be hosted by community leaders. The focus of these groups will be to study the oral book of Luke together and dig deeply into the Gospel’s meaning. Religious leaders of all denominations pledged to use the audio and written versions so that the Gospel message can reach the people in the best method for them to understand. Heartfelt thanks to Faith Comes By Hearing for their continued vision and partnership to record and provide the Word of God in every language that needs it.
During the celebration, one of the members of Parliament for Obong said, “Today, we are witnessing the Word of God being ushered to the communities by the religious leaders. This Word has the power to change lives. I, therefore, ask our communities to listen and read the Word for the transformation of life.”
Another member of Parliament added, “I am happy that there are so many young people here on this occasion. Listen and read the Word of God in your language so as to understand it clearly and live what the Word tells you to do.”
In one of the traditional songs, the Reli community sang, “We thank God that we can now listen to Him speak to us in our own language.”
One of the school girls at the event wrote this insightful poem. Feel her passionate expression of what it is like to have your language and culture sidelined:
by Laga Shamim
Where are you
Where have you gone
We are looking for you
Come back culture
You are very vital in our lives
You used to give us our traditional dance
You used to give us our traditional marriage
You used to give us our delicious food
All gone now
We need our traditional dance
We need our beautiful costumes
We need our beautiful props
Grandfathers, mothers and cultural leaders
Bring us back our culture
For God and my country
When God revives a language through the translation of His Word, education and literacy, the sense of uniqueness in Him is restored to the people. One day before the great throne, the Bible tells us there will be every tribe, nation and tongue. As the truth goes out to the nations in their own languages, they naturally yearn for the whole Bible. Let the body of Christ be refreshed in her passion and persistence to see His Word reach every corner of the globe. This launch of the book of Luke is a poignant example of the collateral blessing of heart-language Bible translation - written and oral. Please pray that the translators will be strengthened to work on the remaining books so that the community can have the entire Bible to hear or read. Join us as we pray that the Word will continue to transform lives to the glory of God.