Outside, the yellow dust circles and a donkey brays in the distance. Inside, a voluminous rainbow of cloth surrounds and a chorus of voices rises up.
It is Sunday morning in a Chadian church in the heart of the Guera.
There is a pause in the service and the word ‘Kenga’ is announced. Brightly clothed women and men dance down the aisles to the front and a new sound rises up – voices praising God in the Kenga language.
United in worship
Last year I had the privilege, along with two colleagues, of visiting the Guera region of Chad, which is home to over 25 different languages.
On that Sunday morning, the all-singing, all-dancing church service was translated into the two national languages: Arabic and French. As per their weekly tradition, speakers of two more languages shared a worship song. As I swayed to the music, finding it impossible not to join in with the infectious beat, I smiled. Their worship was a perfect example of how God loves us to express our praise to him, in all sorts of ways. And to so many, being able to use your own language is vital.
The Bible too is awash with a medley of different languages, from Hebrew to Lycaonian. The disciples experience this during Pentecost, erupting into a chorus of different languages, prompting those present to exclaim: ‘We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ – Acts 2:11
Just like the disciples at Pentecost and in that church service in Chad, people can express themselves in all kinds of ways, but remain united in worship.
United in translation
The diversity of the Bible translation teams working in the Guera was another reminder of how unity can exist alongside diversity.
‘The way of Jesus is a way without division – no race, language, men or women.’ – Dimanche, a translator from the Guera
One morning, I sat down with the Bidiya translation team who, with the exception of the team’s theological advisor (who helps them to understand the meaning of the texts they are about to translate) are local non-Christian translators. Although they may not follow the same faith, they shared that they begin each working day praying for one other and expressed their love of working with the word of God.
This overflows into their largely non-Christian community too. To check how easy translated Scriptures are to understand, the team reads passages aloud to local people. This brings joy, they said, as people hear their language, and through the lively discussions that ensue.
Relationships may not always be harmonious, but here, instead of division, God’s word is bringing harmony.
United in Christ
As societies become more and more diverse, we may fear opposition between groups. As I read the 24-hour news feed, it is easy to see why. I am so often bombarded with stories of hatred fuelled by difference.
God delights in our differences though and shows us, through language, the need for them.
Translating the Bible allows us to see how each language brings a unique note to our understanding of Scripture. Take the word ‘love’. In English we have just one word to describe this, but in other languages one word can’t possibly convey the depth and breadth of what love can mean.
If we look at one of neighbouring Cameroon’s languages, Hdi, we see three different words for love. To ‘dva’ your husband or wife means to love them conditionally, so long as they care for you and remain faithful. To ‘dvi’ them means that the love has faded. And through Bible translation, the Hdi people discovered a word in their own language that they thought was impossible: ‘dvu’ – a type of love which means that no matter what, you keep loving. Only God can offer such rich, unconditional love. Through Bible translation, he revealed this wonder of his character to the Hdi people, and through the Hdi language, he blesses the rest of the world with another perspective on this infinite truth.
God doesn’t call us to all play the same tune. Instead, he brings our differences together to create a perfect symphony.
You too can bring people singing and dancing together around God’s word. Give today to support translators like those in Chad, working together with joy to bring God’s word to all people.