This quarter we want to take a moment to stop, look and remember the mighty works God has done in Ethiopia as we celebrate the historic occasion of the Gamo full Bible dedication in August. As the Psalmist said: “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old”. What a landmark (milestone?) in the lives of the Gamo people - for the first time in history, they hold the entire Word of God in their own personal language in their hands! The Lord encourages us to remember His mighty deeds so that our faith is continually bolstered. We rightly remember that He truly has the power to bring about the fulfillment of His promises no matter the barriers. The powerful hand of God is unmistakable over the people of Ethiopia. If one traces their history, it is awe-inspiring that their story with God goes all the way back to Acts chapter 8! The Ethiopians are blessed with very early ties to Christianity and was one of the first countries to adopt Christianity as its primary religion; but the cost has been high. Like other parts of Africa, they have suffered from famine and drought, and they have suffered from persecution, low economic and education levels and a lack of God’s Word in the lesser known languages in their country. In our time, we are grateful to God for including the global body of Christ in His plans to reach the Bibleless people groups in different parts of Ethiopia to empower them to become mother-tongue Bible translators and support them as they proclaim His kingdom. Together we are in awe of God and His ability to sustain His people and bring us all together in a unified task to take the Good News of the Kingdom to every tribe and every tongue. We especially celebrate the heroes of the faith in the Gamo community who have endured and overcome much for the name of Christ.
This chapter of this particular story about the Gamo tribe began over two decades ago when a TWFTW pioneering project began in Ethiopia. The Gamo area is expansive, and where the translation was done in Chencha, next to the church in the village, is high up in the mountains. This area is a beautiful part of Africa. Instead of sandy and dry deserts, picture a lush mountainous terrain with a steep elevation rising out of the ground to over 3000m in the highlands. The villages appear to be in the clouds as they perch peacefully on these mountain tops, and their villages rise up looking down onto the Rift Valley below, which is unspoiled and richly naturally-resourced with forests, rivers, waterfalls and fertile earth. Because this area is deeply rural and far from the main urban areas, travel to and from the villages proves challenging. The Gamo language is not spoken beyond their own villages, which have difficult terrain to navigate. Because of their isolation, no one understood the Gamo language in the surrounding areas.
Just over 20 years ago, TWFTW began training translators from the Gamo people. The people were hungry for God and needed the Bible in their mother tongue. While translating the Bible, they started a translation project for the Jesus Film into the Gamo language which took three difficult years to complete. In 2005, the film was finished and shown to the community. Over 200 people gave their hearts to the Lord! The children were significantly impacted, and the whole community was moved because they saw Jesus speaking in their own language. It was a miraculous event! For a people who felt forgotten and had been marginalized and neglected - they now heard from the God of creation in their own tongue! They felt seen and known by Jesus Christ and could understand His Gospel message in their natural tongue.
After showing the Jesus Film, the Gamo people had an increased hunger and thirst for God, and local leaders, translators and pastors came together with a desire to see the Bible translated into Gamo. TWFTW, in partnership with Seed Company, individual partners, and local churches, became partners of the project. Hand in hand with the local Gamo people -whom God had called to this Kingdom work - the translation training began.
After years of hard work through many trials, the Gamo New Testament was completed in January 2012. More than 10,000 villagers from the area came together to celebrate the dedication. After a time of celebration and worship, the New Testament books were distributed, and people started reading it in their own language for the first time. People were standing up, dancing, cheering, waving their arms and giving glory to God because they had the Scriptures in their own language.
Now, here we are in 2022, and again, after much difficulty for the Ethiopian people, we are celebrating the release of the full Bible! Praise God! Some of the people who were there at the August ceremony noticed two things that impacted them profoundly. First was the visual impact of seeing all the different people that God has used to bring this project to fruition. With the local translators, checkers, church partners, pastors, elders, the people from TWFTW, the financial partners, and partners from overseas, it was profoundly moving to see a snapshot of the body of Christ in action - each having done his or her part. What was different and quite exceptional about this celebration was that it was about the translators, the churches, and all of the partners that came together to accomplish this over 21 years. The second thing that was awe-inspiring to hear was that where they had the Bible ceremony and celebration was the very field where the communist oppressors had burned all the Bibles all those decades before! Is anything too hard for God?!
Three men have been an integral part of this project's sustained longevity and the wider witness for Christ – Paulos, his brother and his nephew. Paulos is an older man who was part of the very beginning stages of the project. He, along with others, had lived through persecution, imprisonment, beatings and poisonings at the hand of the communist rulers who wanted them to renounce Christ. Paulos’s brother was one of the Bible translators through the years. These three men have endured by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paulos’s nephew (the son of his brother) is a pastor and spoke at the dedication ceremony. He explained that part of the reason why having the Bible in their own language is so life-changing for the Gamo people is because of the hardship they have lived through.
He described a custom in the Gamo culture that involves taking a certain grass, cutting it, then taking it and laying it at the feet of someone or a group of people to express the heartfelt intention and desire to have peace. In Western culture, we might call that offering an olive branch. A long time ago when there was a terrible war in Ethiopia that was ravaging the people, the pastor recalls how the elders (including his dad and uncle) took some grass and laid it at the feet of the warring rebels and pled with them to stop the war - stop killing their sons and daughters. An amazing thing happened: the rebels responded by leaving the area and ceasing with their killing and warring. He believes that was the hand of God. Now, all these decades later, the pastor said that the elders have passed on this legacy of peace by being faithful in the long work of Gamo Bible translation, and they have held on to God and overcome great difficulties to reach the completion of the whole Bible in service to the church. They have passed this great book - God’s Word - on to them as the next generation to now take this truth of the Gospel to the surrounding peoples and proclaim: ‘This is how to be reconciled, or at peace, with God - this is the Good News!’ With great passion and deep conviction, the pastor implored the people to carry on in the strength and determination of the previous generation to take this great treasure and push forward for the Kingdom of God.