The Ifè New Testament was dedicated in October 2009, but Ifè Christians long to have the whole Bible in their language. In fact they are so keen that they have set up a local non-governmental organisation to lead the language project. This organisation is responsible for translation, Scripture use, literacy and language development work.
- Country: Togo and Benin
- Speakers: 154,300 (according to the Ethnologue (world languages resource), but local estimates range as high as 400,000)
- Start date of the Old Testament translation project: 2014
- Projected end date: 2026
The Ifè people live in the southern part of Togo and in a small section of neighbouring Benin. In towns many speak the trade language or some French, but in rural areas where the majority of Ifè live, the people are monolingual for all practical purposes. Most Ifè are involved in agriculture and there is only limited development in the Ifè area. As a result, there is a lack of schools, medical facilities and clean water in several areas.
Thirty-five years ago there were few, if any, Christians among the Ifè. They were very attached to their traditional religion which involved ceremonies and sacrifices to many divinities. But now the number of Ifè Christians grows daily and the translation of God’s word has been a key factor in that change. An Ifè lady had this to say about the New Testament:
I can assure you that since I learned to read the Ifè New Testament fluently, I no longer read other versions of the Bible. For a long time I have heard teachings and sermons on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I even read that portion of the Bible several times and in different versions. But when I read the crucifixion scene in my own language, I shed tears! The words chosen to describe the scene were accurate and natural, and were very moving. Tears flowed, even without me realising it! After reading it, I wondered: Who are the folk who did this work? Where are they? How can I find them and congratulate them at least? And what about the Old Testament? When are they going to publish it?
The Ifè New Testament is available online, in print and as a dramatised audio version. The team has also been involved in an extensive adult literacy effort. To date more than 40,000 Ifè men and women have taken classes to learn to read, write and do basic maths in Ifè. The literacy programme has become increasingly active in development work as well – for example, reforestation projects and AIDS awareness campaigns.
The team’s goal is to finish translating the Old Testament by 2026. In addition, they have set up audio listening groups for those who are unable to read the New Testament for themselves, and they produce regular radio programmes in Ifè. These have had a far-reaching effect; recently some women at a funeral were singing Christian songs composed in Ifè, using traditional rhythms and styles. When asked how they knew the songs, the women confessed that they heard them on the radio and had become Christians through hearing the gospel message on the broadcasts!
- to employ trained translators who will be able to translate the Old Testament, and to revise the Ifè Scriptures and promote their use
- to see individual lives and the Ifè community transformed through God’s word in their own language, in both written and oral forms
- to raise awareness among the Ifè people and encourage them to support the project activities, including making financial contributions to the work
- to enable the national organisation to gain the necessary competence to manage itself well, and to be an example and guide to other similar organisations
Please pray for:
- health and safety for the translators and the members of their respective families
- wisdom and energy for the translation work and for other team activities
- God’s protection of the marriages, relationships and witness of the team.
The team have been encouraged to see local secular leaders, as well as churches, engaging with the translated Scriptures. The canton chief of the town of Afiho is now reading the Ifè New Testament each day. He finds it interesting, and testifies that it gives him knowledge and wisdom to enable him to fulfil his duties and responsibilities.
The prefect of Ogou Canton, Mr Akakpo, visited the translation office in September. He and his family are now writing to one another in Ifè. He is aware that minority languages are dying out and is grateful for the work of the team. He encouraged the translators, saying:
‘The riches of our language are real and we are the keepers of a great, fruitful, strong and dynamic heritage. Languages even create unity within groups. So let us safeguard what is worth saving and protect our treasure.’
The recent impact
- Amos, Obadiah, Hosea and Zephaniah checked by a translation consultant
- first drafts of large sections of Isaiah, Numbers and 1 & 2 Chronicles completed
- the civil marriage ceremony has been translated at the request of the local mayor
- continuing broadcasts made on two local radio stations of teaching and sermons.
Impact on the local church
Members of a Baptist church in the town of Moretan are thankful to have the New Testament and other material in Ifè. They recently voted unanimously to dedicate an entire month to activities in the Ifè language and also showed their appreciation by taking an offering for the work of the translation team. Other churches are also sending one-off gifts. This is particularly helpful at this time as a congregation which usually sends regular financial support to the team is temporarily channelling their funds towards a building project.
The team is praying for wisdom as they make decisions going forward on how much priority to give to church engagement activities. The hope is that this might increase their local support base, as with the church in Moretan.
Praise and prayer
Give thanks for:
- availability of funds to allow reprinting of the New Testament and the publication of Genesis
- Ifè people, reading and studying their New Testaments
- translators having the opportunity to attend a spiritual retreat and a Biblical Hebrew course.
Please pray for:
- the drafting of the language association’s strategic plan
- wisdom for the team to know which aspects of the project to prioritise
- God to provide funds so that the team can fulfil their goals
- continuing good health for the team members and their families.
Recent progress and plans
Since the beginning of the year, the team has had several books checked by consultants, including 1 and 2 Kings, several more Psalms, Amos, Ezra and Obadiah. These consultant checks are the last big step before completing the translation process. With these books finished, more than 35% of the Ifè Old Testament is now done! Several other books are at various stages: the book of Hosea underwent community testing in June, and first drafts of Numbers, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Isaiah and more of the Psalms are all underway.
The team plans to set the Psalms to Ifè cultural music and produce videos of these, providing funding is available. It also hopes to produce more copies of the JESUS Film and their own Ifè evangelistic film, Assogba. They have printed copies of Genesis, however the sale price is prohibitive for many local people. The team is hoping to find further funds to subsidise (and thereby lower) the purchase price.
As there are no Ifè New Testaments left, and as the Old Testament will not be ready for publication for several years, the team has decided to reprint the New Testament. A specialist is coming from Cameroon to work with them in August to typeset a revised edition of the New Testament. If all goes smoothly, they will reprint 4,000 copies of the New Testament.
Personal impact stories
Two pastors have shared how having the Scriptures available in Ifè has helped their work. Pastor Nona Otcho, who leads a Baptist church in Konadabo, travelled 140km to the team's offices to express his deep gratitude for their work. He said, ‘It would be very difficult to exercise my ministry among the Ifè if this team did not exist to translate the Scriptures into the Ifè language.’
Pastor Baboutou from the village of Madjamakou also praised the team, saying: ‘I received pastoral training, but in reading the New Testament in Ifè and in listening to you during your radio broadcasts, I am even more enlightened and instructed. I would like you to help the members of my congregation to be able to read the Ifè New Testament for themselves – they need it as well!’
Praise and prayer
Give thanks for:
- the steady progress of the translation work
- the number of books already checked by consultants this year
- the growing list of books finished and ready for publication
- the good relationships within the team.
- God’s continued help and intervention throughout the entire translation process
- extra funding to subsidise the sale price of Genesis, to print a booklet of selected Psalms, and to produce more copies of the JESUS Film and other audio-visual tools
- God’s blessing on the team and the specialist as they work together to typeset a revised edition of the New Testament, and his provision as they seek to print 4,000 copies
- God to cause the local churches to understand the need to support the translation work in spiritual, material and financial ways
- consultant Komi Sena to be able to balance his work for other teams with his work on this project so as to have time to complete his Hebrew studies
- the continued health of the translators and team members, along with their families.
The team has recently seen how the project has had a positive influence on church pastors. A pastor in one Baptist church arranged for his church secretary to participate in the Ifè song composition workshop organised by the team last year. When he returned and shared what he’d learned, the pastor decided that all their church activities would be done in Ifè in future.
As a consequence of using Ifè songs for worship all the traditional dances, even those that were starting to disappear, now make the church vibrate — during the worship time, the prayer time and even during teaching and preaching! This has encouraged elderly people and people who have turned away from faith in Christ to come back to church. The latter used to see the church as a place of foreign worship among the Ifè, but now they’ve chosen to return to the Lord and claim his worship for themselves. On Sunday mornings, only the first people to arrive can get a seat in the church while the others are obliged to remain outside to celebrate the Lord. But apparently they don’t mind that at all!
Give thanks for:
- opportunities to speak at local churches, to encourage engagement in and support for the project
- the sale of Ifè New Testaments in regional churches.
- the follow-up to the recent consultant check of Ezra and 1 Kings
- the testing and reviewer meetings on Psalms and the team checking of Amos, Obadiah, Zephaniah and Hosea
- the publication of Genesis
- the churches to better understand the need to support the translation project in spiritual, material and financial ways
- the health of the translators, their families and the whole team.