‘Your package is eight stops away…’
Gone are the days – at least in theory – of waiting at home all day for a package that might possibly arrive sometime in the next eight hours. Now companies can let us know exactly where our books or socks or paperclips have got to. But at the end of 2019, we received news of a much more exciting delivery. The Flame* Bible translation team in West Africa had sent an update: ‘The New Testaments with Genesis have rounded the Cape of Good Hope on a ship and are heading north to us.’
Imagine the anticipation of waiting for God’s word in your own language. Worldwide, the Bible is available in nearly 700 languages, but that still leaves 1 in 5 people without it in the language that speaks to them best. For some, the Bible in their language is still many years away. But others, like the Flame people, are making great strides in translation. On 18 April 2020, the team will launch the New Testament and Genesis in the Flame language with a celebration, and begin distributing the printed books. But even before that, the Flame Scriptures have been having a great impact.
The word is very powerful
The Flame are a group of about 500,000 people, and about 99 per cent of them are Muslims. A few years ago, members of the team returned to their village to test the translation of one of the Gospels. They went to see the imam (Muslim religious leader) and asked him to listen to the text and correct any language that was unclear or unnatural.
During the reading, the imam was concentrating hard as he made comments about what Jesus was saying. On the third day, something seemed to be bothering him. The translator stopped reading and pointed out that he didn’t seem to be following. The imam responded, ‘I am following, it’s just that the word is very powerful, and it troubles me and makes me think about my life.’
At the end of the reading, when asked for his overall impression of the text, he said, ‘When you have finished translating and when our children read this, then this town will understand the truth and will change.’
May those words come true!
This is indeed a holy book
The team’s update continued: ‘We received two copies by express mail in December; they are beautiful!’ The beauty of the books serves an even greater purpose than aesthetics, though. In this Muslim-majority culture, design choices send a powerful message. Ornate borders and texts written in Ajami (Arabic-looking script, as shown above) affirm that this is a holy book. ‘Muslim-background believers are waiting eagerly to have the printed book to read with family and friends,’ reported the team.
‘Since this is a majority Muslim people group,’ explains Flame project coordinator and linguist Dawuda*, ‘we want to present God's word in a way that encourages them to engage with it and apply it to their life. For someone who's used to interacting with Islamic holy books, the cover and the look and feel of the designs we chose will communicate that this is indeed a holy book.’
The time, effort and money it is taking to produce the Flame Bible in such a beautiful printed form is well worth it. Not only will it capture people's interest, but it will also convey visually the truth that this book, this good news of Jesus, is indeed holy and worthy of the interest of all peoples, including the Flame. Contrary to Western tradition, Flame people say you can judge a book by its cover.
We're applying it to our lives and work
That message is amplified by the other ways the team is sharing Scripture. ‘Our people group numbers five hundred thousand and probably 95% of them are unable to read,’ explains Pastor Paul*, Flame project director. For this reason, both audio resources and literacy classes are particularly important. Portions of Scripture are broadcast regularly in Flame on the radio, and these programmes are making a big difference to whole communities as well as to individuals. ‘Among the village chiefs,’ shares one man, ‘most of us listen to the radio programmes. Sometimes in our chief meetings, we talk about what we’ve learned. People will say, “Did you hear the message yesterday?” And if one of them didn’t hear that portion of God’s word, then the others will explain it and so we all learn. We're applying it to our lives and work.’
After the outbreak of the coronavirus, the Flame team decided to hold a small virtual launch rather than the big celebration that had previously been planned, but they are continuing their work, gradually releasing audio recording apps. Praise God with them for his word in their language!
‘We will broadcast radio programmes and announcements,’ they say, ‘and then start selling and sharing the New Testaments [both the beautiful book pictured above and online via a mobile app]. As people are confined, they listen [to the radio] more. Right now, people here are really thinking about dying and are looking for God, so there's a wide opening to talk about God. Thank you for praying for us.’
*Names changed for security reasons