Lily, a translator in the Lenthomi* Bible translation project, was flying back to her home country in Asia in March 2016 after attending a conference abroad. At the airport in the capital city Lily’s mobile phone was inspected and officials discovered that it contained an audio New Testament.
Suspecting that Lily might be a religious extremist, they confiscated the phone and detained her at the airport for questioning.
The interrogation lasted two hours, as the officers tried to make her incriminate herself. But Lily felt no fear as she calmly answered all the questions.
At one point a group of officers were gathered around her, and one of them asked to listen to her Scripture app. It ‘happened’ to be in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. When the head officer pushed the button, everyone present heard the beginning of Matthew 7 in their own language, which says:
Do not judge others, and neither will you be judged. In the manner that you judge, likewise will judgement be passed on you. (Matthew 7:1–2)
Lily noticed one of the officers turn pale as he exclaimed ‘What did he say?!’ and he went on to retell in his own words what he had just heard. In response Lily told him that it was true, we all reap what we sow.
On arriving home, Lily prepared the place for a possible search by removing the Christian material that was there. At the same time a prominent local Christian was advocating on Lily’s behalf, explaining to government officials that she wasn’t some dangerous radical, and was not even a Muslim.
An email alert went out to hundreds of people around the world to pray for Lily. One request was that she would be allowed to leave the country even while under investigation. She was planning to attend an important training event in another part of Asia later that month. Thankfully, she was able to depart and return home without any complication.
Her home never was searched. About a month after her phone had been confiscated Lily was called back to the airport. She was informed that nothing illegal had been found on her phone and it was returned to her, with the audio New Testament still there!
Within six months of this incident, the first ever copies of the full Bible in the Lenthomi language came off the printing presses. The finalized text of both the Old and New Testaments, together, with all supplemental study material, totalled 1,968 pages. Over the 22-year span of the project, formally launched in 1994, about 15 individuals were involved in either the translation process or supporting roles. A further 20–30 helped to review and test drafts of the text, with hundreds more praying for the work and contributing to it financially.
There are roughly 25 million Lenthomi speakers, who by cultural background are Muslim. They have long been one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without a full Bible in their language. Interest in the complete Lenthomi Scriptures was so great that in 2013 the publisher took the extraordinary step of releasing on its website a provisional version of all 66 books. In late 2014 it was reported that in the preceding year over 45,000 portions of the Lenthomi Scriptures had been downloaded from the Internet, including an average of 24 full Bibles every day!
Please pray that the electronic version of the Lenthomi Bible in its various formats, especially the smartphone apps, would work well and be distributed widely.
In 2017 copies of the Lenthomi Bible were imported into the country where most Lenthomi speakers live and they were sold out within weeks. In late 2018 the government allowed copies from a reprinting to be imported. In early 2019 recording work began on an audio version of the Lenthomi Bible.
Pray that government authorities will give permission for distribution of the audio Bible once it is completed.
The ultimate aim of Wycliffe Bible Translators is to see lives transformed through engaging with God’s word.
God has already been using the Scriptures in the Lenthomi language to communicate the message of his love. Though a very small percentage of the Lenthomi population, the number of believers in Jesus is now likely in the tens of thousands, and is growing in the midst of considerable opposition and pressure.
Pray that the Lenthomi church will be resilient, bold and creative in making known the good news of Jesus, just as Lily was during her airport interrogation.
*Name changed for security reasons