As God puts into effect His sovereign providence in our lives, He weaves a complex tapestry, and we look in awe at its beauty and design. As Paul said in his letter to the Roman church: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33). When we look at the different parts He has woven in all the lives of the people involved in Bible translation, we stand in awe like Paul - amazed at God’s depth of wisdom and knowledge. We look at the impact on the different nations that have received His Word in their heart languages, and we worship the God who values all language groups. Then, we realize He has called all of us to play a part by praying, giving generously or going into the field to work in sometimes less-than-ideal situations - knowing God’s grace sustains all who are called by Him to do the work of translating the Scriptures into the approximately 4000 languages that do not have the Bible in their mother tongue yet. Because of the hope the Spirit puts in our hearts, we continue to work united as we each play our part in bringing the Gospel of Christ to everyone.
Looking back to The Word For The World’s (TWFTW) infancy, we can see God’s call on praying Christians, practical and financial partners, and field workers all working together to create sustained fruit in Zambia. About 26 years ago, God stirred up the faith in the hearts of a few men in the countries of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). One man, living in an area near the border between these two countries and a leader in his church, prayed from the depths of his heart: “Father, we need a Bible in our own Taabua language.” Simultaneously, God was calling Nel Claassen from South Africa to go to Zambia as the project leader with TWFTW to look for a people group who didn’t have the Bible in their mother tongue.
In a letter from February 1996, Nel wrote, “He has done it again! God has upset my neat little applecart, by exploding my vision. It is still Africa, but bigger - the whole of Africa! That is what I am trusting Him for!” Nel had not yet left South Africa. She didn’t know there were people God had been stirring to pray for His Word to be translated into their mother tongue. However, she knew God had called her.
Nel said: “When I started this Taabua Bible Translation project in 1997, I had two prayers. One was a cry: ‘Lord, I do not know HOW!’ The other: ‘Lord, please do not make the team dependent on me, let them become project leaders in their own right.’
Oh, how the Lord answered Nel’s prayers! He led the way, He brought the right people together, He supplied their physical and relational needs through the kindness and passion of supporters.
Make no mistake, Bible translation into mother tongue languages - some without their own written form of their language - is not easy. Even now, some wonder whether mother tongue Bible translation is even needed - so much more so in those early days. The foundations of TWFTW’s work in Zambia is risky, Spirit-led, uncertain, sacrificial and full of zeal. We thank God for His providence then and now.
Nel has reported that many of the people she got to know over the years in the field were willing to work in very challenging situations. One man, a 73-year-old Bishop, was willing to travel 200km (124miles) on the back of a bicycle to be trained in translation! And they fell off the bike twice on the journey! Oftentimes, there was not adequate water, accommodations or tools to do the work. Nel remembers translators even giving her translations written on the back of used forms and pieces of cardboard!
Twenty-six years later we can observe that foundational history in this intricate and beautiful weaving of God’s sovereign hand. We praise Him that there are currently six ongoing projects in Zambia in the languages of Soli, Nkangala, Luyana, Bwile, Aushi and Sala. One new project will start in October in the Totela language. This area borders Angola and Namibia. They want to begin three new oral translations - Ngoni (located in Eastern part of Zambia), Kwamulonga and Simah (both located in the Western Province of Zambia). Isaac Sinkolongo is the National Director for TWFTW in Zambia, and he works alongside Kapasa Kachinda and Chali Kasonde who are exegetes with TWFTW. An interesting note, Kapasa is the man who rode those 124miles on the bike with the 73-year-old man behind him all those years ago!
Chali currently is checking the translation work of Aushi, Bwile, Nkangala, Luyana and Soli languages. She shared a testimony from the Aushi people that they finally have access to work in one of the local church buildings. They have struggled many years to find working accommodations. Praise God! He has provided a way for them to finally have electricity! It makes their work so much easier because they no longer have to walk long distances to charge their laptops in order to do the translation work.
She said that the team is excited to learn about the new ERA software, and they have been busy with their assignments in the Diploma in Bible Training course. This software allows translators, exegetes and consultants to check and update information on various language projects. She says it helps her schedule for when she travels to the different areas to do her exegetical work and send her reports to directors and consultants. What an amazing tool that Nel and Kapasa and all the original people in 1996 never imagined! This resource answers Nel’s prayer that the indigenous people would not be dependent on others, but become leaders in their own right as God called them.