Rebekah and Roman Mészároš

‘I needed to remind myself that in Tanzania it’s not about efficiency or getting the job done, it’s how you care about others that matters, and God really impressed that upon my heart.’

At a workshop with some Kiroba speakers to collect words and discuss how to spell them. The blackboard is for practising how to write the words, and the phones are for asking friends for their opinion!

God can reveal things to you in a whole variety of ways. That’s what Rebekah learned while she and her husband, Roman, were serving in Tanzania. They’d met in the autumn of 2017 after Roman had joined the Musoma team, having previously come from his home in Slovakia to work elsewhere in Tanzania.

More than a common language

Having discovered a love of languages, Roman wanted to go somewhere to experience Bible translation on the field and to help in IT at the same time. Rebekah had felt called to work with Wycliffe even before she’d gone to university, and had spent a brief few months in Tanzania. Later, when a vacancy arose for a linguist in Tanzania, she knew that she wanted to go back. When they met, they discovered that they shared more than a common language and soon became close, spending most of their time getting to know one another in Tanzania, but also meeting each other’s families when both of their sisters coincidentally got married within a week of each other in the UK.

Roman and Rebekah’s home in Musoma

Their main role for Wycliffe was to facilitate the translation of the Bible, but they soon learned that this was about more than just working with a language. Although many Tanzanians understand the national language of Swahili, when the Bible is in Swahili and the preaching is in Swahili, there is a danger of misinterpretation or misunderstanding, since most Tanzanians have a mother tongue other than Swahili. However, if they get the opportunity to hear preaching in their own language, then this goes so much deeper into their hearts.

It’s about lives being changed

The impact of Roman and Rebekah’s work isn’t about how many languages the Bible is translated into, it’s about lives being changed – people realising, actually truly realising, what God’s word means for them when they can read it in the language that they understand best.

‘Our real hope is that this translation will help people to engage with God with their hearts.’

Morning tea break together at the office – a chance to drink, chat, sing and pray together

And it’s not just about the people in the wider community’s relationship with God; it’s about the relationship of the translators too. Roman and Rebekah have seen over the years a number of the translators deepening in their own personal faith as a result of properly understanding the Scriptures. ‘My goal is to help local people to bring the word to their community, in a language they understand and in a way that they would understand it,’ says Roman. He goes on to share that it’s not only about translating the language, but it’s about enabling people to understand the word.

The book of Romans is a great example. It’s one of the hardest books to translate because it’s got some really heavy theological concepts, so the translators need to stop and think, ‘What does this really mean and how do we put it into our language?’ Now, not only does this make it a real challenge for the translators but it also makes it immensely valuable. Many of them are pastors, so, after wrestling with what they believe God is saying through this book, they can then bring this to their congregation with conviction and belief, going on to impact so many more lives.

Roman working with the Jita translators, Magesa and Neema

Delightful moments

Typing can produce huge benefits too. Rebekah works with the Simbiti language, which is closely linked to another language called Kiroba. The two seem to be even more similar than American and British English. Rebekah had been working with a man who had been really supportive in helping her to analyse and capture the sounds of the Kiroba language. Because Simbiti has seven vowels instead of the five in the Swahili language, when it’s written they use an e with dots and an o with dots, which they decided to do with the Kiroba language as well. When he saw some typing that Rebekah had done on the computer, he said ‘Oh. I can’t do that on my computer. Can I do that or is that only on your computer?’ Roman was able to set up that keyboard on the man’s computer and he went away thrilled knowing he’d be able to type in his own language. It’s moments like that that are a real delight in their work.

Roman was able to set up that keyboard on the man’s computer and he went away thrilled knowing he’d be able to type in his own language.

But as in all relationships, there can also be misunderstandings. While studying Swahili in another part of the country, Rebekah mentioned that she was going to visit Musoma, a town with a cluster of more than seven different language groups. The people she was talking to, who were from another region, were quite shocked; they said, ‘Watu wakali!’ which in Swahili means ‘They are very fierce people.’ Thankfully this wasn’t in the sense that British people might see as fierce, but more that the Musoma people can be seen as ‘rather direct for Tanzanian people’.

Shem, a Zanaki translator, reading the book of Luke to a Zanaki lady

The value of relationships

Roman and Rebekah have both found that the Tanzanian people are different culturally from their countries of origin.

‘I came from a culture that was very task oriented to a culture that focussed far more on the importance of relationships,’ says Rebekah. It was quite an adjustment for her to find that you may have to stop and chat to colleagues you meet on the way, when all you want to do is go and get something checked so you can focus on the next task that needs to get done. That may be a quick greeting or it may be a lot longer, but over time Rebekah realised that the value of the relationships was more important than simply getting the job done.

‘Tanzanians are much more open to people and new relationships,’ says Roman.

‘I needed to remind myself that in Tanzania it’s not about efficiency or getting the job done, it’s how you care about others that matters, and God really impressed that upon my heart.’

Roman loves board game afternoons with colleagues

And it’s not just relationships with Tanzanian people that are important; it’s relationships with the whole team. It’s not always easy doing this work, and during hard times it can really help knowing that you are part of a team that is almost like family. Yes, you may be the only British or Slovak person on your team, but you have colleagues from America, Australia, the Netherlands and New Zealand, who also know what it’s like to miss their wider family and to be in an unfamiliar culture so different to their own. In Tanzania, Roman, who’s an extrovert, misses his friends, but he finds it helpful being a part of the expatriate community and amongst people who understand how he may be feeling. Roman also misses the outdoor life of cycling through forests and mountains in Slovakia, but he’s discovered that he can still cycle – even if it is only on an indoor bike.

Many twists and turns

At the church Roman and Rebekah attend in Musoma, selling calendars made by the Musoma team in local languages

Like any journey, the journey of a Wycliffe worker can have many twists and turns along the road, but the joy of reaching a milestone or destination is something to be celebrated. Rebekah and Roman have been in Tanzania since only 2015, but the team in Musoma has been working with these languages for fifteen years. There are now three language groups whose New Testaments are in the final stages of checking and preparing for printing. This is amazing, but Rebekah and Roman can also celebrate how throughout their time in Tanzania, God has been revealing to them about the importance of people’s hearts over tasks.

‘My goal is to help local people to bring the word to their community.’

‘Our real hope is that this translation will help people to engage with God with their hearts, to have their faith influence every aspect of their lives. We want them to properly think about it rather than just having a shiny printed New Testament sitting on the shelf,’ says Rebekah. And that creates an opening to the biggest relationship, between God and the people of Musoma: people finally being able to speak and listen to God in the language that they understand best.

Martin Horton