PRESS RELEASE (29 March 2019):

Following the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai in southern Africa earlier this month, Wycliffe Bible Translators and main partner organisation SIL are able to report that the teams they work with are safe, though they suffered damage to or loss of homes and possessions.

‘We have no SIL people based in the area most affected, but we do work with a local translation team in Beira, a port city in Mozambique that bore the brunt of the cyclone,’ reports Ian Lund, Operations and HR Director for SIL Southern Africa and serving with Wycliffe. ‘It was many days before we could confirm that they are all physically safe. However, some of their houses have been destroyed, while others are severely damaged. We are now in contact with two of the eight members of the team.’

‘One of the translators and his family have lost everything – house, possessions and a school he had recently opened,’ says Cheryl Lund, who works as a translation consultant with Wycliffe in Mozambique. ‘The other seven members of the team have suffered significant damage to their properties. Five of the team are also pastors and we now know that many of their church buildings have been badly affected. One of the co-pastors, who was not in the translation team, has died.’

Cyclone Idai made landfall on 15 March and swept through Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Across the three countries, at least 750 people are known to have died, and around 110,000 people have been displaced. Many are now in makeshift shelters.

‘Infrastructure has been badly affected, with electricity, phones, roads, and water supplies all severely disrupted,’ says Ian. ‘With the extensive flooding, one of the biggest issues now is water-borne disease, and especially cholera and typhoid.

One significant way that Wycliffe and SIL are contributing to the relief efforts is in helping to identify key languages across the region, and recommend on whether written or oral communication is the best form for each one. ‘This is where the background research we have done for our Bible translation work has wider uses,’ comments Ian. ‘We know which languages are spoken where and by whom, and also whether they are oral or written. That means we are able to advise on how best to communicate most effectively with that language group. This is crucial in the relief efforts, and in helping people to understand the health and safety precautions they should take in the coming months.’

In addition, attention is already starting to turn towards the much longer-term effects of the disaster. ‘An event like this leaves people with deep anguish and trauma, long after the event has disappeared from the news,’ says Ian. ‘So we are also beginning to think through how we may offer Bible-based trauma healing training for pastors when the time is right.’

Please pray for all those affected, and specifically:

  • for protection for the local translation team and their families
  • that aid would come quickly for all those affected
  • that cholera outbreaks will be restricted
  • that the SIL and Wycliffe team will know how to respond appropriately and helpfully.

Notes to editors:

1. For further information, call Jeremy Weightman on the Wycliffe Communications Team on 0300 303 1111.

2. Wycliffe Bible Translators seeks to enable all peoples to engage with the Bible in a language that speaks to them best. It does this through a range of activities, including Bible translation, literacy and Scripture use initiatives. Currently, Wycliffe has 363 people from the UK and Ireland serving 486 million people who speak 368 languages in 71 countries. Of the 7,000 languages spoken worldwide today, only about 700 have the Bible. Around 1.5 billion people (one in every five people) do not have the Bible in their language. As a result, translation of the Bible into people’s languages is one of the critical needs in world mission, to enable the growth of evangelism and discipleship ministries.

3. Images. You can download the following images to accompany the press release, by clicking on the ‘Image’ link:

Image 1 – Salvaging possessions from the remains of one of the pastor’s houses in Mozambique