‘So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow... For we are co-workers in God’s service.’ – 1 Corinthians 3:7,9
‘Sometimes I think, even if I didn’t get anything from translation, I should donate my entire time in translation work just to save my people,’ says Pastor Sunday Wenji. Sunday is one of around 70,000 Nyankpa speakers in Nigeria. He got involved in Bible translation as a result of seeing its impact on speakers of another language nearby:
‘Seeing how Bible translation work is transforming their people’s lives, I thought it’s very good for my own people. To have the Bible in our own language would also transform their lives. That is why I got involved in Bible translation, to save my people with the word in their own language.’
‘People need to be paid so they can commit to Bible translation full-time. Otherwise the project will never get off the ground.’
Long-term Wycliffe supporters Doug and Rachel Dickson were able to visit the Nyankpa Bible translation team. ‘Sunday was so totally dedicated to the work of Bible translation,’ says Rachel.
But, she points out, that dedication is difficult to sustain without long-term support. ‘People need to feed themselves. If they’re going to commit to Bible translation full-time, they need to be paid, rather than just doing it in their spare time, or the project will never get off the ground. That makes a huge difference to speeding up the work.’ People who give regularly, like the Dicksons, play an important role in providing both the means and the stability for Bible translation to progress.
Sunday’s colleague and fellow Bible translator Alaska Galadima lives in a village enclosed by mountains and rivers. The road to their office crosses a river that is only passable in the dry season, because there is no bridge. For parts of the year Alaska is completely cut off from the rest of the team – the area doesn’t even have reception for his mobile phone. So when he can’t make the journey to the office, he works from home. In Doug’s words, ‘That’s quite a commitment, so he’s quite a guy!’
Like Alaska and Sunday, Doug and Rachel have shown impressive dedication to Bible translation in their own way: ‘We’ve prayed for Wycliffe and given to Wycliffe for 50 years. From our point of view, commitment means investment in the project, and then you are part of it as well.’
‘The mango tree there,’ Sunday gestures, ‘my father planted it long ago. But now we are reaping the fruit. We are eating from that tree.’ Bible translation is a bit like this tree, he explains: ‘If you plant a tree, it starts small. It grows and grows and becomes a big tree. So also translation work takes a long time like that. But now the work has become a very big tree. ‘The legacy and inheritance I’m leaving for my children is the Bible. So I’m planting Bible translation.’
‘Whenever I read the Scripture in Nyankpa, it touches my life.’
The tree now towers over the houses around it. It has grown large enough for the community to hold Bible studies in its shade, enjoying the fruit of both legacies at the same time.
The fruit of Bible translation
‘Having the Bible in Nyankpa is helping a lot,’ says church pastor Rev Maichibi. ‘There are people that don’t understand Hausa, don’t understand English.’
Sunday agrees; Hausa is one of three national languages in Nigeria, but for many people who grew up speaking another language, it doesn’t move them the way their own language does:
‘Whenever I read the Scripture in Nyankpa, it touches my life. As a pastor, if your sermon didn’t touch you, it cannot touch the people you are preaching to.’
He came up with an ingenious way of demonstrating the difference Bible translation had made in his community during their visit, Rachel explains: ‘He did a very simple but effective drama with people from the village. It was very clever, knowing we wouldn’t understand the language. He pretended to be in church, preaching in English or Hausa, and the people were acting very bored and falling asleep – it was quite comical!
Doug continues: ‘He was asking them, “Why aren’t you listening? Why aren’t you responding?” Then he preached in Nyankpa and suddenly they all woke up and were really engaged and enthusiastic.’
‘Bible translation brought great joy to our people,’ says Sunday. ‘They have upgraded from understanding little to understanding more. In fact it has also helped some people to give their lives to Jesus Christ.’
Jume, who is from the same village as Sunday, has experienced that joy for herself. ‘Reading in Nyankpa is more touching and transforming,’ she says. Jume’s favourite verse is John 3:16. She speaks of her sadness that previous generations did not have the chance to hear the good news of Jesus in Nyankpa, and shares her hope for generations to come: ‘I pray that God will help our children to know the importance of reading the Bible in Nyankpa, so it will transform their lives, just as it has transformed mine.’
‘The legacy and inheritance I’m leaving for my children is the Bible.’
That is the prayer of everyone involved in Bible translation – from supporters like you to translators like Sunday and Alaska – for all those around the world who do not yet have access to the Bible in their own language. As Rev Maichibi says, ‘Jesus Christ belongs to every dialect. God is the God of every language.’
This article first appeared in Words for Life magazine.