Chris Lyndon has worked for over 20 years with the Koti people of Mozambique to translate the recently completed Koti New Testament. He now works with translation teams across Portuguese-speaking parts of Africa, helping them to complete accurate, clear and natural translations for their people.
The Koti people have been transformed so much by the coming of the gospel. When some international evangelists came to visit us, they said: ‘These people are so loving!’ And I said: ‘If only you had come in the early days!’
It has been very exciting to see God at work
The early days were not easy. In the mid-1990s my late wife, Ada, and I arrived in Mozambique, where the Koti people live on coastal islands off the northern coast. Even amongst local communities the Koti people have a reputation as being hard-nosed businessmen. It has been suggested that their historical role as middlemen in the slave trade left the community with a tendency to view people in terms of material benefit.
However, the work of the Bible translation team, which went hand-in-hand with the work of a team of church planters, has led to real and deep transformation, as well as a growing church. It has been very exciting to see God at work in this way. I was consoled that this transformation came about before my wife’s untimely death so that she got see it as well.
‘It disturbed my comfy way of life’
I was challenged about mission when I was younger through a friend I was sharing a flat with. The church we were in had links with some black South African churches and wanted to arrange for someone to go over to visit. My friend offered to go and he said, ‘Chris, you are coming with me!’ So, in 1986 he dragged me along and we spent a few days under apartheid staying overnight in a black township. It was a very profound time and it disturbed my comfy way of life.
We really need Bibles in a language we understand
That led to me buying a one-year ticket back to South Africa, and I became involved with a group doing mission trips. During that year, I ended up taking a relief package, a four-wheel drive filled with stuff to a refugee centre in Mozambique during the civil war. I remember seeing people wearing only tree bark, and yet one of the things the pastor running the place said was: ‘We really need Bibles, we need Bible teaching, and in a language we understand.’
That gave me a sense of what I wanted to do – and what I felt called to do.
‘I had a heart for Mozambique’
I came back to the UK and went to Bible college to prepare for working in Bible translation. There I met my wife Ada, who was Dutch. She was a midwife and had worked as a midwife in Zambia for three years and had come to get more Bible training prior to going back into medical work. We thought we’d join a mission organisation that did both medical and translation work – but so much of the translation work we looked at pointed to Wycliffe.
I was a year ahead of Ada, but she agreed to study general linguistics to see what it was all about, while I assisted on the course at Horsleys Green (where Wycliffe’s training centre was – now the School of Language and Scripture at Moorlands College).
She absolutely loved it! She loved the purity of the subject much more than I did, and she got better grades than I did. She was a really gifted linguist. One of the Professors of Linguistics we worked with in Southern Africa said that ‘she had insight above the usual’ and Ada was asked to become a consultant linguist so she could help other teams working to understand and write down their languages. She had planned to do that when she had finished home schooling our two children.
We wanted to follow God’s leading
After our training we started wondering about which country we should go to. I had a heart for Mozambique, but I was very cautious about imposing my original dream on my wife. We wanted to follow God’s leading for us. At the time neither of us spoke Portuguese, so we thought it may be in God’s economy for us to go to somewhere that spoke French, as we had some French, or English. But we talked to the legendary Wycliffe linguist Ivan Lowe, a man on fire for Bible translation and who was teaching on the course at the time. His memorable response was: ‘Anyone can learn French!’ How shocking we thought – though we had already experienced his tendency to combine humour and hyperbole! A couple of days later someone told us Ivan had previously worked in Brazil…! So we considered his point that there were fewer people doing work in Portuguese-speaking countries, then spent 15 months in Lisbon learning Portuguese, before going to Mozambique.
‘You can’t evangelise the Koti’
We completed a course on orientation to living in Africa in Kenya, before moving to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. There we waited for the arrival of a Land Rover, which was a wonderful gift, as the five-day drive to Angoche was over some pretty challenging roads. There we started language learning as best we could and found a house with an adjacent building that became the first translation office.
The coastal people that we were working with are the Koti, and the neighbouring inland group are the Makhuwa. There had been a small number of Koti people who converted, but they had to join the Makhuwa church. Prior to us arriving, a language survey team had visited and met with the pastor of the Makhuwa church. This pastor had a heart for the Koti community, who are mostly Muslim.
How are we going to take this forward?
When we arrived, we were surprised that the church didn’t seem to have this vision at all. What we didn’t know until we had been there about six months, was that the pastor had died and the new pastor was not really interested in reaching Koti people. When we met the official church evangelist, he told us: ‘You can’t evangelise the Koti.’ So, we wondered, how are we going to take this forward?
We prayed and explored the possibility of connecting with other missions organisations. Then two church planters from Japan and New Zealand visited Angoche and decided this was where they needed to be.
The work of translation went hand-in-hand with the work of church planting
Their arrival was a relief to us, because it meant there were people working on church planting among the Koti, while we continued to work on the translation. In this way the work of translation went hand-in-hand with the work of church planting.
By the late 1990s / early 2000s we had analysed the language, and Ada had written the training manual for writing the language down and the Koti literacy materials. Then around 2004 we had a translation team together, some of whom have worked on the translation ever since.
The first book which we properly translated was Jonah. The Koti were a seafaring community, so it just seemed to make sense. From then it was really exciting to be working closely with the local church as it began and grew.
We became a needs-driven translation project to enable the translated Scripture to speak to the issues the church was facing. For example, we knew people needed to understand Jesus, so we translated the Gospel of Luke. Then we observed people were confused about what Jesus had saved them from – separation from God – therefore we translated Genesis. When leadership problems arose in the church, we translated 1 Timothy.
The Bible has 66 books and we want to have them all in our language
Genesis, Jonah, Luke, and 1 Timothy were published in 2008 as a set of four books in what was called ‘a growing Bible’. At the launch a Koti church pastor gave thanks for the four books, but also said: ‘Our book has four books, but the Bible has 66 books, and we want to have them all in our language.’
The way of the truth
It has been a fruitful partnership working so closely with the growing local church. After hearing a reading about the baptism of Jesus, local believers said, ‘we need to be baptised!’ Thus the first baptism of about 100 people took place in the sea. And since then, the softening of the people has been incredible.
The believers are seen as being different by the wider community
The local believers came up with the name for the church, which is: ‘Tarikhi ya Haakhi,’ which means ‘Way of Truth.’ And now it has even been officially recognised by the government and has grown to about 30 congregations with about 8,000 members.
The coming of the gospel has led to real transformation. The believers are seen as being different by the wider community. They acknowledge that the followers of Jesus have fewer marital problems and have less violence in their families. The believers’ place in Koti society is respected.
We had come to the point in 2008 of needing a time of furlough. The team was trained so we felt it was a good time to do some further training in Europe before going back to Mozambique. But after I had enrolled to do a Masters in Theology and our children had started in new schools, Ada was diagnosed with kidney cancer. She died just over a year later in 2009.
Life changed for me and our children. One thing that has not changed is that Ada’s linguistic work in writing Koti and in developing the Koti alphabet still forms the foundation of how Koti is written, taught, and used in the translation today.
Ada’s linguistic work still forms the foundation of how Koti is written, taught, and used in the translation today
Broadband had also just come to Angoche, which meant that I was able to continue to work on the translation from a distance. This enabled me to develop a way of working with the translation team that over the years has been productive. I have also learnt a lot about remote working and have been able to contribute to some guidelines for practice for people who work remotely with translation teams.
It hasn’t been easy: the internet could be quite poor in Angoche, and also there could be power cuts, which would cause the internet to go off. It sometimes felt like we were constantly swimming against the tide. But there were also days when we could be on Skype for eight hours, and I would also try to visit twice a year so we could work in person.
Faithful, clear and accurate translations
The years have passed and now the Koti New Testament has been completed, with some Old Testament portions. We pray that it will lead to even more transformation amongst more of the Koti community.
I now work as a translation consultant across Portuguese-speaking countries. The role of a translation consultant is to help translation teams to meet the standard of having an accurate and clear translation of the word of God, so that the completed translations are rich and faithful, clear and accurate, and communicate well.
Bible translation is not easy work, it takes long-term dedication and perseverance. But having the word of God in people’s languages makes such a difference, as the coming of the gospel to the Koti people shows.
Pray for Chris:
- Pray that the Koti New Testament will draw many people to come to faith in Jesus and that the Koti church will continue to grow
- Pray that God will guide Chris as he works with translation teams to produce accurate, clear and faithful translations
- Pray that Chris and his children will know God’s blessing and guidance in their lives.