For a moment, imagine not having any written books of children’s stories, fables, heroic myths or history in your own language? Imagine the amazing experience of seeing people in your community beginning to learn how to put your own stories, history, narratives into books. Now, imagine seeing the Word of God in your heart language – experiencing God Himself speaking to you through Scripture written in your mother tongue!
As long as TWFTW has been doing translation work in partnership with language communities, we have seen that Bible translation and literacy work have gone hand in hand. How can someone learn how to translate the Scriptures into their heart language if their heart language is one of the thousands globally that has no written system?
We work with language communities to plan and launch mother-tongue literacy programs alongside Bible translation projects. Based on their oral sound system, a writing system is developed, usually using the alphabet of the country’s official language as its foundation. We also provide training and workshops for locals in how to set up, implement and run literacy programs in their communities – which includes helping them to develop child- and adult-friendly materials needed to teach reading and writing in their mother tongues. These communities begin to see that God wants them to flourish and to see their rich cultural heritage preserved in written form through community ownership of their language and identity. Literacy programs are therefore part and parcel of what we do.
One literacy program in Malawi transformed a man unexpectedly. In 2018, this man attended TWFTW’s Sena literacy classes as a student. After graduating from the literacy program, he felt the Spirit calling him to be a pastor. Today, he is the only pastor in his region of Malawi who knows how to read the Sena language! He preaches in Malawi and travels to preach in the Sena community of Mozambique. And in December 2021, 5,000 copies of the Sena Bible were reprinted. This pastor took back several copies to distribute to his congregation.
We believe that our approach to engagement with indigenous communities results in ownership of the literacy projects at a grassroots level which ensures longevity, sustainability and maximum impact of the program. Through our literacy programs, communities begin to value their language and culture and have hope that future generations will not have to assimilate into more dominant groups to survive. By using literacy programs to fuel Bible translation projects as a vehicle for community unity, we see time and time again that literacy and Bible translation go hand in hand as lives are transformed by the Gospel in action.
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