The Bydla are an agricultural group of people who live along the banks of a river about 125 miles from the coast of East Africa.
- Country: Kenya
- Speakers: 20,000
- Start date: 2003
- Projected end date: Ongoing with yearly review
The Bydla are largely self-sufficient. Cash income is from the sale of honey, cattle, and mats that the women weave. Trading is conducted with the people to the north and with businessmen in towns adjacent to the Bydla area.
Houses are constructed near the river, usually from banana or palm leaves over a framework of poles. Where flooding is not a problem, mud walls may be used instead of leaves. There are two rainy seasons each year, and during the dry seasons, when the river is down, the Bydla move into houses on their small farms where the river had previously been.
Their goats and cattle are brought to the river for watering but are grazed out away from the forest that borders the river. There are only a few dirt roads and travel is by dugout canoe and bicycle.
The people practise another major world religion and, as in most of Africa, elements of traditional animism can be found mixed in. There are very few known Bydla Christians.
As a result of cross-border violence in the Bydla region the translation team has relocated to a safer area, from where the translators visit the Bydla homeland when they can. They have made good progress, the New Testament has now been completed. Literacy work continues in the homeland, led by some Bydla people.
- to translate the full Bible into the Bydla language
- to establish a literacy programme which will enable people to read the Scriptures
- for peace in Kenya, especially in the project area
- for God to give the team the alertness they need to check the remaining books
- for Bydla people to read and understand God’s message of salvation through the translated Scriptures.
* name changed for security reasons
Project and progress
With the New Testament translation now complete and in the hands of a growing number of Bydla people, the Bydla team is now persevering with translation of the Old Testament. They are also encouraging Bydla believers to engage with Scripture, finding ways to reach out to more of the community, providing literacy classes for the many people who are unable to read or write, and partnering with other local mission agencies to coordinate efforts to bring the good news of Jesus to the area.
The Bydla team, made up of just three full-time staff members, is struggling to fulfil all the project goals and is always on the search for new members. Nevertheless, they have made progress over the last few months through:
- drafting Genesis 1–26
- distributing over 60 copies of New Testament
- growing the number of Bible study groups
- working on audio and visual versions of Scripture.
A growing number of women in the Bydla community are gathering each week to read God’s word together, but if you were to look for them you might have trouble finding them.
In the face of persecution for their faith, the Bydla team has set up underground Bible study groups. A group for new believers now meet together for fellowship and prayer twice a week, and other groups are growing. During these times a passage is read and discussed. The team prays that these groups will continue to flourish and be the beginnings of a big Christian movement in the community.
Peace in the pages of the Bible
As Bydla Christians’ faith grows, so too do the fruits of this in their local community. One believer shared how she has found new peace since reading the Bible in Bydla, and that she has seen a change, not only in her life, but also in her family’s.
For over ten years the believer had not spoken to her father, but after bringing this relationship before God in prayer and reading her Bible she has now reconciled with him. She shared:
‘I was surprised that the peace of God, which starts within someone’s heart by reading his word, can be extended to the people around you, just like it happened with me and my father.’
Faith in action
Local believer Fede* is now volunteering on the Bydla team, helping with literacy and encouraging people to engage with Scripture. Through this Fede has the opportunity to spend time with the community, where she often meets people suffering from sickness and injuries. In response Fede is able to step out boldy in faith, offering to pray for healing in the name of Jesus.
On one visit, Fede was able to pray for Anna*, a lady of another faith who for months had suffered with inflammation of the eye. Anna saw God at work as her eyes were healed. She is now asking questions about Jesus. The team prays for more opportunities to share God’s love with the community, and that Anna will come to truly know Jesus.
Eyes and ears
The Bydla team has been looking for ways to share Scripture in different ways, beyond the pages of a book.
One way is on screen, through the JESUS Film, which tells the story of Jesus’ life. Working in collaboration with a local partner organisation, the Bydla script has now been completed. The team is now working on finding voice actors so the recording can begin.
Five local people have also been secretly listening to Scripture through a story app which is being tested. So far they have reported that the app is helping them to improve their understanding.
Becoming a Christian among the Bydla community often comes with hardship, but with this hardship can also come a chance to share Jesus. When Helena* became a Christian a year ago her family responded by cutting her off completely.
During this time, Helena found counsel in the pages of her Bydla New Testament and the group of believers she meets with. It was here Helena came across Romans 12:18:
‘If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.’
Helena realised it was her responsibility to repair her relationship with her family, so she began greeting them whenever they were out in public. Her family was surprised that even though they had humiliated her, she remained calm and respectful to them. Through this they were able to witness how Helena had changed and have welcomed Helena back. Helena rejoices and testifies:
‘This can only be God that is revealing himself to my relatives, just as he did to me.’
Praise and prayer
Give thanks for:
- the good health and peace which the team and their families have been enjoying
- the growing interest in studying the Bydla New Testament
- the few Bydla people who have made the decision to follow Christ, and the impact this is having on their lives and community
- the completion of the JESUS Film script
- progress with translation of Genesis.
Please pray for:
- the Lord to encourage and strengthen the few believers in the community
- the team to be able to recruit an additional translator
- more opportunities to share God’s word and put faith into action
- many more Bydla people to come to know the saving grace of God
- the team to remain healthy and focused.
A Bydla Christmas at long last
As we spend time celebrating at Christmas time to mark the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, we often don’t think twice about being able to openly share together. For the Bydla* Christian community, the reality is very different; they instead face possible persecution.
One Bydla team member has been dreaming for many years of the day when she would be able to celebrate the birth of Christ with her community. In December, it happened at long last.
With the help of a friend, a celebration was organised that saw 50 people from the community join together to mark the occasion. The event did not happen publicly, but they were able to share a Bible study, some Christian songs and a meal together. Gifts of Bydla New Testaments were then given out. This brought with it much rejoicing, and the Bydla team member shared:
‘It was my most fulfilling time of Christian service among the Bydla community. I believe that if we could get more such opportunities, many would follow Christ.’
Lives being changed
Following on from the completion of the New Testament, the Bydla team have been continuing, with your generous support, to make progress:
- the drafting of Genesis 1 has begun
- a Bydla calendar has been published
- Bydla Christians are being strengthened through Bible studies and one-on-one discipleship
- 100 copies of the Bydla New Testament have been distributed
- Community testing of a Scripture app, which may be used to help with distribution, has begun.
The team have been greatly encouraged by this progress and truly believe that ‘the Lord is using the message in the community as a seed that will bear fruit very soon’.
‘Thank you for keeping your promise’ – this was the* response of Isaac* as he was handed the Bydla New Testament. A response that may confuse some as Isaac is a passionate follower of another faith.
For many years Isaac was opposed to the work of the Bydla team, but after seeing the fruit of the literacy programme, he embraced it and even become a volunteer literacy teacher. His classes mostly contained students who also opposed Christianity, but, by the grace of God, their hard-line stance has now mellowed.
In 2010, Isaac made an astounding statement. He pleaded with the team to hasten the work of translation so that he could read the Bible to find mistakes, which he would then use to challenge the authenticity of Christianity. With this in mind the team remembered Isaac’s challenge to give him a Bible to read. They hope that as he reads it, the Spirit of the living Lord will speak to him in the language of his heart and transform him.
A call to literacy
The Bydla team is working in a community where they cannot openly advertise the need for new team members, often leaving them under-resourced. They rely on the Lord providing workers and are praising God that one community member, Fede*, has felt the call on her life to potentially join the team.
Fede, who used to follow another faith, recently spent time on an evangelism trip. It was here she saw for the first time how desperate the community were, living with low literacy, malnutrition and a heavy burden from other beliefs. Each fortnight she now returns to the community to build relationships and demonstrate God’s love.
Fede wants to make more of an impact and has said that she would abandon all she is doing to join the team if given the opportunity. The team is praying and trusting God for the finances to support her stepping into a literacy role that they have been struggling to fill.
Praise and prayer
Give thanks for:
- the joyful Christmas celebrations that took place for the first time
- the community being more open to the gospel than ever before and the distribution of over 100 Bydla New Testaments
- the Lord’s protection over the team members as they continue to work in a difficult context
- the team being able to begin work on translating Genesis.
Please pray for:
- more Bydla people to come to know the saving grace of the Lord
- recruitment of translators to enable the understaffed team to progress more quickly with translation
- financial provision for Fede* so she can join the team as a literacy worker
- good health for the team members and peace of mind as they continue with translation.
Dedication of the Bydla New Testament
After many years of hard work, the Bydla New Testament was dedicated on 1 July 2018. For security reasons, the launch service could not take place within the Bydla community, so it was held in the Green Pastures church in Nairobi. A total of 300 people attended, including some Bydla people.
The concern was for local Christians and those who have yet to make a public profession of their faith, as they are under threat. They only agreed to attend if their pictures would not be taken (all the images in this update are of Christians in Nairobi).
Impact of the project
When the project began, there was suspicion of Christians. Through the years, the team and its partners have prayed, and God has softened the hearts of the Bydla to his word. Now people are generally receptive to hearing Scripture read, and are looking forward to having access to the New Testament. In part, this change is a result of the Christians displaying Christ’s character through actions such as distributing clothing and food, particularly during times of famine.
The impact of the literacy work has also been significant. Having their language in written form has increased the Bydla people’s self-esteem.
A member of the translation team who became the first Bydla Christian reports that some words have been brought back into use, thanks to the Bible translation work. She observes: ‘Without this project, our language was withering; now it is saved.’
In February, the team was contacted by Mr RB*, the community leader, who requested a copy of all the titles that have been printed in Bydla since the project began. He wants to lobby the county government to facilitate a literacy programme among the elderly in the community, and to start a mother-tongue programme in the local primary school to boost the confidence of the Bydla and ensure the language is used in their daily lives.
Changes for women
Until recently, Bydla girls didn’t continue into secondary education and were married at a very young age. Earlier on in the project, a few girls received funding to go to college and train as teachers. They have since returned to their communities and are teaching in the local schools. Now the next generation of girls are learning that they can have a say in their futures.
The lives of many adult women have also been transformed after meeting regularly to listen to Bible stories (currently, 12 groups meet with the Scripture Engagement worker, with an average of six women in each group). Usually, once they are married, Bydla women are dependent on their husbands to provide for their family’s needs. Now, as the women have been paying a small amount into a savings club each week, they have saved enough money to lend it to women to start small businesses (such as making snacks, keeping goats and burning charcoal) and thus achieve a degree of financial independence.
Despite the above progress, it is still difficult to be a Christian among the Bydla. To date, no men and only four women have made their faith public, and they have been ostracised by their families. The team is praying that the newly published New Testament will have a significant impact. One translator quoted Isaiah 55:11: ‘My word goes out from my mouth and will not return empty, but will accomplish what I desire and will achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’
Give thanks for:
- the successful launch of the New Testament
- the changes in the lives of the Bydla women
- the return to health of the Scripture Engagement worker, and the fact that her ladies remained strong despite her absence
- a regular stream of people graduating from the literacy classes – in the last quarter, 156 people graduated from four different locations.
- the Bydla to be more receptive to God’s word
- the Scripture Engagement and literacy classes to bear fruit in the community, and for more people to take on leadership roles in this work
- the safety and livelihood of the many Bydla people who had to abandon their homes earlier this year due to flooding of the local river. Most are living in makeshift dwellings and depending on others for food and other essentials.
Audio Bible use
A colleague serving among the Bydla community met one of his Bydla friends who happily reported to him that he is pleased to have been given God’s word in his own language. He confided in him that he has been listening to the recorded book of Matthew and had already reached the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Many Bydla Christians are engaging with the project in prayer, in anticipation of the New Testament launch. Some keep on calling to ask when they will receive their copy! It’s exciting to see the thirst of the Bydla people for God’s word in their own language, and we look forward to hearing what God does in their lives through it.
The team has finished working on the introductions to the New Testament books. The translators have also agreed on the maps and illustrations to go into the New Testament.
The 2018 Bydla calendar was printed and distributed; this helps to raise awareness of the project.
There are six Bydla Bible story groups. Besides telling Bible stories, the participants:
- are studying a health booklet on malaria
- have learned how to make soap and now sell it in the community
- have started a savings and credit scheme for financial self-empowerment
The story groups have made a big difference in the lives of the Bydla women. One significant transformation is how open they are to the gospel. Five of them have already given their lives to the Lord Jesus and continue on as secret believers. A number of them have been healed miraculously.
It is encouraging to see how the Lord is using the Bydla translation to transform the lives of many people in secret.
Women’s training course
The team held Scripture use and life skills training for 30 Bydla women who had accepted the Lord Jesus as their saviour. Through this they hope that the women will be in a position to reach out to others and lead more financially independent lives.
The ladies gathered together for discipleship, to help them understand the God of the Bible more. The team would pick a subject, for example forgiveness, read Bible passages dealing with the subject and then allow the ladies to ask as many questions as they wanted, to which the team would respond using the Scriptures.
This turned out to be very exciting to the group. It gave them even more desire to read the Bible. Sometimes they would stay up late to discuss the questions, way beyond everyone’s normal bedtimes!
At the end of the three days, they were still yearning for more teaching.
Rukia, one of the ladies in attendance, testified that what she had learnt about forgiveness was like pure gold. According to her, much of the enmity in her community was a result of wrong teaching. They had been taught that the offended person needs to take revenge on behalf of God, rather than letting God take care of the matter. She said she will teach everyone to forgive and let it go, and she will live in this way too. She hopes and believes that many will learn from her actions.
Praise and prayer
Give thanks for:
- the community being more open to the gospel than ever before
- the smooth final checking process that the team is going through at the moment
- God’s protection of the team members.
- strength for the painstaking work of the final checks
- good health for the team members as they continue the final checks of the New Testament
- the Bydla people to be more receptive to God’s word.
A group of 15 Bydla speakers, all of whom were from the majority religion, gathered for a read through of the New Testament. The team planning the activities were very nervous that these people would feel offended when asked to read through the Bible. They all joyfully appreciated reading the Scriptures though, because of the wealth of information contained in them about God and godliness, and because they loved seeing their own language in print.
It was wonderful to observe that even after the ‘official’ reading time ended, most of them continued reading till late into the night. They all came up with very helpful comments for improving the translation. They confessed that they were challenged by the moral standards of the Bible, especially in the teachings of Jesus about the Ten Commandments. At the end of the day, everyone there requested a copy of the New Testament when it is printed.
Another encouragement was reported by the project leader, Peter Njeru. He writes, ‘I was very encouraged when the area chief was given an opportunity to speak at a ceremony in a local school. She quoted Jeremiah 33:3 in Swahili, to the amazement of many. This was a wow moment for me because the first time I went in that community in 2009 one could not mention the word Bible, let alone quote a verse from it, without serious consequences. As we draw close to the completion of the New Testament, God in his plan has been preparing this community to embrace his word and as a result have their lives transformed.’
- for the final New Testament read through sessions
- for the facilitators, that God will give them wisdom and good health as they conduct the read through sessions
- that they will have the cooperation of the community members who will be participating
- for God to touch the people taking part so that they will be receptive to his word