The Flame* people live in the central region of a country in West Africa. In the days of proud, independent kingdoms, camel trains came from the north and introduced Islam to the area. Over 99% of the 500,000 Flame* speakers are Muslims.
- Country: West Africa
- Speakers: More than 300,000
- Start date: 2018
- Projected end date of stage 1 (the Torah): 2021
The New Testament has already been drafted, and the focus of this strategic project is on translating the Old Testament, which will help to build stronger bridges with the Muslim community. It will be translated in chunks, according to the holy books revered by Muslims. In the Qur’an, Surah 3:2-3, it says, ‘God … has been sending down to you in stages the book [the Qur’an] … And he sent down the Torah and the Gospel.’ From an Islamic perspective, the biblical canon comprises the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament, also known as the Pentateuch), the Prophets, the Psalms and the Gospel. The team will therefore first translate the Torah, then the Psalms, then the Prophets and then all the remaining books, so that in 10 years’ time, the whole Old Testament will have been translated. Wycliffe has committed to funding the finishing of the New Testament and the translation of the first section of the Old Testament, the Torah, which is projected to take three years, with the possibility of extending this support when the time comes.
The language of education is French, and the majority of rural students do not continue beyond primary school. Those who do go on to higher education prefer to move into the larger towns. Literacy rates are low, and the project works in cooperation with local non-governmental organisations to teach Flame* literacy classes for adults. Another project goal is to record all of the translated Scriptures, so that these can be distributed for listening to on mobile phones.
Because it is used as the trade language by several surrounding Muslim language groups, Flame is the most widely spoken language in the region. This gives it an additional strategic importance in reaching all of the unreached peoples in the region. Therefore, this translation is more than simply to cover the needs of the small local church; the hope is that Flame Muslims and the surrounding groups will read God’s word and turn to Christ as their saviour.
- to check, typeset, print, publish and distribute the Flame* New Testament
- to translate the Old Testament into Flame*, starting with the Torah
- to see individual lives and Flame* society transformed through people hearing God’s word in their own language
Transformation through God’s word
One of the team had returned to their village to test the finished book of Matthew. They went to see the imam (Muslim religious leader) and asked him to read it with them, correcting any language that was unclear or unnatural.
During the reading, the imam was very focused and concentrating really hard as he made comments about what Jesus was declaring. On the third day, he seemed to be bothered by something, and was thinking deeply. The translator stopped reading and pointed out that he didn’t seem to be following the reading. The imam responded, ‘I am following, it’s just that the word is very powerful, and it troubles me and makes me think about my life.’
At the end of the reading, when asked for his overall impression about the text, he said, ‘When you have finished translating and when our children read this, then this town will understand the truth and will change.’ Please pray that this will be so!
Please pray for:
- the continued good health of, and unity between, members of the translation team
- God’s protection and energising of all the team as they work towards publication of the New Testament and then on the translation of the Old Testament
- the activities of the Scripture-use personnel as they increase their efforts to make the population aware of the translation project, so that people will look forward to the launch of the New Testament in 2020.
* name changed for security reasons
A precious arrival
Treasure more precious than thousands of pieces of silver and gold has finally arrived with the Flame people. It was with great thanksgiving that they recently heard the news that God had answered the prayers of the translation team and the wider Flame church – after many years of hard toil, through many ups and downs, the New Testament with Genesis in the Flame language had been successfully printed and shipped. We are overjoyed to be able to report that these books have now arrived in country!
Even as the Flame New Testament rounded the Cape of Good Hope, the Flame translation team, refusing to rest on their laurels, pressed on with translation of Exodus and Ezra and with a final consultant check of Esther and Ruth. They eagerly desire to have the full Bible – both Old and New Testaments – in the language the Flame people understand best.
Preparing for God’s word
Preparations are already afoot to celebrate and launch the Flame New Testament with Genesis, which is planned for April 2020. Before the Scripture can be launched important steps must be taken to prepare the community and local churches. When lead translator Paul* received the first copy by special post in December, he called together a group of Flame believers to explain how to use and share the passages printed in Ajami script. Ajami script uses Arabic letters to write African languages, and this will allow these Muslim-background believers to more easily read the printed book with family and friends.
Paul’s class was just the beginning. These last few months of dry season, when farmers rest and have time for other things, and when dry roads make travel easier, have been exceptionally busy for the literacy trainers and supervisors. In preparation for the arrival of God’s word, they have been seeking to increase their efforts to train more literacy teachers and roll out Ajami script literacy classes.
’Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy one of God.’ John 6:68-9, (NIV)
Unrest and unity
These last few months have seen uncertain times for many Flame people and their neighbours. Unrest has troubled some parts of the country, and this has resulted in travel restrictions. All of this makes it increasingly difficult for the translators, literacy teachers, and other project staff to move around safely and carry out work. Despite this background of unrest, the translation team has seen people continuing to unite, and shared an encouraging report from a recent Scripture engagement seminar:
‘We give thanks to God for the ever-increasing interest of the Flame Christians in the use of the Flame language … The seminar in the capital brought together Flame Christians and reinforced the sense of brotherhood among them. They even unanimously expressed their desire to renew their monthly meetings.’
The Flame team has seen an ongoing interest in the work not only from Flame believers, but also among the wider Flame community and other neighbouring people groups, who speak the Flame language as a second, trade language. These people have been joining in literacy classes, and have even been encouraged to do so by their leaders. The potential reach of the Gospel among the Flame and other people groups in this country is therefore enormous. Let us give thanks that God has sent the eternal gospel to proclaim to every nation, tribe, language, and people.
Praise and prayer
Give thanks for:
- the Flame New Testament with Genesis arriving safely
- the team being able to complete the checking of Ruth and Esther
- many people joining Flame literacy classes in Ajami script
- doors opening to share Scripture with the wider Flame community and other people groups.
Please pray for:
- the preparations for the launch of the New Testament with Genesis
- God’s provision to enable literacy work to continue
- courage and protection for those involved in the Project
- wisdom for the team as they continue with translation of the Old Testament.
A marvellous milestone!
We are overjoyed to be able to share the news that after many years the Flame New Testament and Genesis are now officially complete and with the printers!
Lead translator Paul* expressed the team’s excitement at having reached this tremendous milestone on the journey to having the full Bible in the Flame language and shared his reaction:
‘Normally I am a singer in church, and don’t dance. But recently I danced in church and everyone was surprised. I glorify God for this and am thrilled that now I, too, will finally have God's word in my language, finished in spite of all the trials. All the Flame people thank their partners, who are numerous!’
The hope is that the New Testament and Genesis will be back from the printers and in the hands of the Flame people early next year. For now we praise God for the Flame team and this marvellous milestone!
For many Flame people, listening to Scriptures and services in a second, or even third, language can be disengaging and confusing. A very different story unravels when the Flame language is used instead.
The number of pastors preaching in Flame and using the portions of the Flame Bible which are now available in their own language is growing. Flame translator Timothy* noticed that many people only come along when services are carried out in Flame. With this comes a clearer understanding of the Bible and enthusiasm to learn more. Seeing this in his own church congregation has brought Timothy and his team much joy:
‘It is our privilege (a joy) for us to be translators and have the privilege of being able to help other people understand the word of God.’
Preparing for the New Testament
When a New Testament is launched in a community, a celebration takes place to mark the occasion. Local people, churches, leaders and organisations are invited from far and wide. The aim is to build excitement and praise God for the provision of his word.
To help raise awareness of the upcoming Flame launch, which they hope can happen in April next year, the team has been running workshops and meeting with local leaders.
A thirst for more
A key part of any Bible translation project is to ensure that the whole way through the process the community and local churches are engaging with Scripture. Before the full Bible is even complete and published in a language, portions of Scripture are shared along the way and studied together. This leads to communities being more invested in the translation process and, most importantly, grows a thirst for the word of God.
The team currently runs a number of Bible study groups in local churches and Flame homes and broadcasts Scripture over the radio to help people engage with the word of God. Already many Flame people have been keeping their translated Scripture portions close to them and have been eagerly asking the team to help them to read and understand them.
The Flame translation team has been greatly encouraged by the first fruits they are seeing:
‘Having the word of God in our language is a great advantage and a great richness that we will leave for future generations.’
Whilst the team awaits the arrival of the New Testament and Genesis, the work continues. Over the next few months the team will be focusing on the following:
- preparing the local community and churches for the launch of the New Testament and Genesis
- putting the completed audio recordings and written translation of the New Testament and Genesis into a phone app
- first drafts of Numbers and Deuteronomy
- continuing to run and monitor literacy classes
- the next stage of translating Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther following completion of first drafts.
Praise and prayer
Give thanks for:
- the team completing translation of the New Testament and Genesis
- the good health and peace which the team and their families have been enjoying
- the many Flame people engaging with the portions of Scriptures available, and for their thirst to learn more.
Please pray for:
- the printing, shipping and launch of the New Testament with Genesis to go smoothly
- progress to be made on the first drafts of Numbers and Deuteronomy
- protection for the Flame team and their families
- churches to continue to use and preach from Scripture in the Flame language, and that this would encourage attendees.
Literacy opening doors
Adult literacy classes have been continuing among the Flame communities. A recent focus for classes has been on income-generating activities, which meant the women of Panlagam*, a Flame village, were able to earn enough to fund their children’s education. They are praising God for the change this has brought to the lives of their families.
After many years of hard work, the Flame New Testament is now very close to being ready for printing and distribution. To maximise the reach of the gospel, alongside translating the New Testament, the Flame team are:
- running literacy classes
- providing Bible study materials
- broadcasting Scripture portions on the radio
- translating portions of the Old Testament.
A photographic finish
To communicate effectively in the Flame social and religious context, the team have to think carefully about how to present the final copy of the New Testament.
Many readers will approach the New Testament thinking that the text has been changed over time and therefore contains errors. In order to communicate that the final text is faithful to the source documents, the team have hunted down photos of the original Greek manuscripts, to be included in the printed New Testament. These photographs will help new readers to understand, and will assure them of the text’s authority.
A challenging context
In one of the countries where the Flame people live, presidential elections are scheduled for 2020; unrest has already begun, including regular protest marches. When these demonstrations take place, many people stay away from the centre of town. This hinders people’s work and activities in general, but it also directly impacts the work of the Flame translation team.
In addition, these tensions have the potential to polarise religious groups even further, which would be detrimental to the work of reaching out to the Flame people with the gospel.
Training and teaching
After a recent seminar on the use of a picture booklet called Jesus Messiah, participants were in agreement that the team had ‘done an outstanding job’.
Whilst awaiting the publication of the New Testament, the team are looking to focus on running workshops to train people in the use of the Flame android keyboard. This will give people the skills to access the Scriptures on their mobile phones.
In September we also reported that one of the literacy supervisors had died. To date they have not been able to appoint anyone to take over the role on a permanent basis, although they do have someone to cover the work in the interim.
Because of the strong Muslim presence in the area, the decision was made to publish the New Testament with some portions printed in Ajami (Arabic) script. The team also thought carefully about the bordering of these portions.
This added considerably to the workload, but will help to communicate a message of unity between Flame Muslims and Christians. Both groups respect the New Testament and the Torah as God’s word and are acquainted with holy texts that use colourful borders. By including them in the Flame New Testament, the hope is this will demonstrate the importance and authenticity of the text.
Two friendly leaders of local mosques were invited to come and read the 15 Ajami portions. Seeing the verses for the first time, one said:
Wow, that’s beautiful! With the vowels written in red, it’s just like the way my grandfather used to write when he copied the Qur’an by hand.
This provoked interesting conversations about the content of the passages. The team is praying that these will continue as the Scriptures reach more Flame people.
Praise and prayer
Give thanks for:
- God’s protection over the team
- progress towards the publication of the New Testament and Genesis
- positive impact of literacy classes within the community
- safety of the team over the last year and ongoing peace in the region.
Please pray for:
- the audio recording of the New Testament and Genesis
- wisdom in the use of the Ajami (Arabic) form of the Scriptures
- the missionary family helping to build the team’s capacity
- God to protect the team: physically (as they travel), emotionally (as they deal with potential interpersonal conflicts), and spiritually (as they visit seekers and encourage new disciples)
- heads of families to be ready to embrace the Scriptures in their homes, so that they will see transformation of individuals and whole families.
Culmination of years of work
Although the translation work on the New Testament has been done, many components have needed completing in the dialogue with the typesetters in Switzerland before the printing can be done. The team has incorporated the changes recommended by the translation consultant and has read through the whole of the New Testament to check for inconsistencies. They also wrote an introduction to the New Testament, completed a glossary and chose the maps for inclusion to enable readers to have a greater understanding of the context.
The team is starting to see barriers being broken down to the spread of the gospel. As a result of the radio broadcasts, people formerly opposed the word of God have become more open. A number of people who are known to the team have come to realise that they are hearing the word of truth during the radio programmes, and some people have complained if the daily schedule is interrupted for any reason. As well as ordinary broadcasts going out across the area, a few interactive programmes take place, allowing people to call in with any questions they might have.
Loss of key team members
The literacy supervisor for the Flame project died in April, and two others on the team were injured in motorcycle accidents. The loss of these key team members slowed the work down initially, but others have now taken over their roles. The literacy supervisor wasn’t from a Christian family, yet her students, work colleagues and fellow church members spoke powerfully at her memorial service of the transformation Christ had wrought in her life.
Even though the Flame project is in the process of typesetting the New Testament, another opportunity came up that the team did not want to miss. In early July, team members worked for a week with staff from a partner organisation to record the Flame-language soundtrack for the Walking with Jesus – Africa film. This is part of a video-based discipleship series that will be used as a follow-up to the JESUS Film. Shot in Africa with African actors, this series aims specifically to help African Christians grow in their faith.
Three team members attended a week-long project-funding workshop, which has equipped them to work on the budget for the next three years. Refresher courses were held for literacy teachers across the area, while newer team members attended an introductory course in Biblical Hebrew. Bible-study material on Acts and Galatians was completed, and the translation work on Ruth, Nehemiah and Esther is ongoing as part of training the new translators before continuing with the Pentateuch. Songs and sketches were also presented in local villages.
Give thanks for:
- the imminent publication of the Flame New Testament after many years of hard work
- the powerful testimonies given at the literacy supervisor’s memorial service
- the continuing work of several literacy classes
- the impact of radio broadcasts across the area.
- Flame believers to grow in their faith as a result of watching the Walking with Jesus – Africa film
- good liaison with the typesetters in Switzerland
- preparations for the New Testament launch
- new members of the translation team, and for the new finance officer during her training
- the project’s SIL family as they adjust to life in a neighbouring country – it has a large Flame population and one of the few Flame churches.
Bright-white radio broadcasts!
We recently heard this lovely testimony from a village chief (pictured below) about the Flame* Christian broadcasts:
‘Among us village chiefs, most of us listen to the radio programmes. Sometimes in our chief meetings, we talk about what we’ve learned. People say, “Did you hear the message yesterday?” If one of them didn’t hear God’s word, then the others explain yesterday’s message, and they all learn, and apply it to their life and their work. So what we hear on the “God Loves You” radio programme is bright white [good and clean], and it’s in our Flame* language!’
In Christ alone
In December last year, the director of the language project travelled to a neighbouring country where Flame is also spoken, to follow up on literacy classes that had been started there.
After the work finished, the class supervisor told the director, ‘I listen hungrily to all your radio broadcasts. They are good, and very interesting. But I am worried about our religion, and my faith. All of us here consult the soothsayers and the shamans, and we practise magic. But you teach us that all we need is Christ, we don’t need all that other stuff to protect us.’
This led into a big discussion of the question, during which the director was able to share the gospel with everyone gathered there. Praise God!
God’s protection in unrest
Our partners report, ‘We have known many socio-political troubles in the country and in the town where the project is located. These have included homes being broken into, buildings set on fire, and even a few reported deaths. For one week, the night guards ran away to save their lives. You have to hide to get away. We praise God that our centre remains intact, not having been touched. The personnel are also safe.’
- the new translators began work on Ruth, following the training they have been receiving
- a final read-through of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Revelation was conducted
- checking was carried out to ensure that improvements suggested by the consultants had been incorporated into the translation
- 30 new literacy teachers were trained, and established teachers attended refresher classes
- more literacy materials were printed
- 45 literacy classes were followed up on
- radio broadcasts continued
- samples of Galatians were printed and distributed, and Bible studies were held using the translated portions
- a week of prayer for the project was held, attended by church leaders and believers
Praise and prayer
Give thanks for:
- God’s protection of the team, of their health and safety despite the unrest in the country
- the partnership between different organisations which ensures the continuation of the project
- God’s protection on the team as they travel
- interest from non-Christian Flame speakers
- the support of local authorities for the work
- continued good health for the team, especially as the time for the publication of the New Testament approaches
- the finishing-off of all the pre-publication tasks, including typesetting, re-reading and correcting mistakes – it is a lengthy and painstaking process
- the newly recruited personnel to integrate well into the team and catch the vision for Bible translation.