The Leafa* are a group of hunter-gatherers who live in a coastal region. Their proximity to Somalia Leafa the Leafa* homeland is susceptible to raiders and bandits from that war-torn country. Travelling is dangerous, and during the rainy season, the few tracks that serve as roads become soft mud, capable of carrying only traffic by foot.
- Country: Kenya
- Speakers: 7,000
- Start date: 1996
- Projected end date: 2022
Hunting wild animals and gathering whatever is edible from the natural forest vegetation are the key components of the traditional Leafa lifestyle.
Conservation laws now protect a range of wildlife species, which for centuries were key sources of food for the Leafa* community. The government has encouraged a move towards subsistence agriculture and a settled lifestyle. However, this also results in the gradual destruction of the Leafa* people’s natural forest home and its wildlife.
Some Leafa* men now work in labouring jobs, but most still prefer to live in remote rural areas and survive with little money. Losing the right to hunt threatens their whole lifestyle and culture, and they have little to fall back on. An article in a national newspaper spoke of them as ‘forest hunters without a choice’.
Prior to 1996, the Leafa* language had never been written down. The people value their language and have been eager to see it in written form.
Most Leafa* profess a predominant religion that is widely practised in their area. They believe in one high god, and have a sacred spot set aside as a place of prayer. Special people are designated to handle religious matters.
In 1993, an indigenous faith-based organisation involved with language development and literacy sent two men to work among the Leafa*. From 1995 to 2000, a national couple began learning and analysing the Leafa* language. An alphabet was agreed, and a dictionary was established. Another couple undertook language training in Nairobi and were based in the Leafa* area from 2003, continuing the language development, starting literacy and building relationships with the Leafa* people.
Since early 2014, this couple have remained with the Leafa* people in their homeland while the translation team has relocated for their safety because of the considerable cross-border unrest. They are using a computer program to draft translations of Scripture on the basis of an existing translation in a related language, starting with Luke's gospel.
- To translate the New Testament into Leafa*
- To establish a sustainable, community-based, mother-tongue literacy programme
- To promote the use of the translated Scriptures and other related literature (for example, Bible study materials and Sunday school materials)
- To see the lives of the Leafa* people transformed spiritually, socially and economically
Ten new literacy titles were launched in February this year for use in reading clubs in primary schools. County education officers and village leaders were invited to the launch ceremony, and several speeches were given. An influential local politician said:
‘Initially, we did not understand what this project is all about. Most Leafa* speakers were suspicious of the project, but we now know that the project is about empowering the Leafa* people through education. Quite a percentage of us Leafa* missed education. But now our children will benefit a lot since they can read books written in the Leafa* language. My own children were not going to school because of the language barrier, which got them so frustrated, but now they will go to school!’
- for peace in the Leafa* homeland, and safe access to those areas that are still insecure
- for those who have committed to learning to read and write their language, that God will prepare their minds and hearts to receive his word
- for the Gospel of Luke to be used by the Leafa* people
- for two team members who are currently involved in literacy and back translation, that God will use them in the near future to be translators in the Leafa* project and so speed up the work. Pray that the Lord will encourage them to stay with the project.
* name changed for security reasons
Witness and healing
In February, Lucy*, one of the Leafa translators who follows another faith, became very sick and was hospitalised for two weeks. The team visited and prayed with Lucy throughout, and it was during this time that she healed. During a later team meeting, Lucy shared the impact of this:
‘I am glad that I am better and thank God for the love and care you showed me when I felt helpless.’
Although Lucy is of another faith, the experience softened her attitude towards Christianity, as she witnessed the love of Christ through her fellow team members.
The team have most recently been busy moving forward with the translation of 1 John, Ephesians and 1 Thessalonians. Alongside this, the team have attended training that has increased their translation capacity, and have been working on plans to sensitively distribute Scripture.
A return to work
Due to the sensitivity of working in Bible translation, the Leafa team has often struggled to recruit local people. Earlier this year, however, they were able to expand.
From 2014–2016 Ian* was trained as a translator and worked part time with the team. Unfortunately, in 2017, he had a change of heart and refused to participate any longer. The team was saddened by this decision but kept praying.
After two years, their prayers were answered. In early 2019 Ian contacted the team and asked how he could help. The team praise God that today Ian is again involved in community checking.
Connecting with the community
When working on Bible translation it is vital for teams to find ways to connect with the community. Through this, more opportunities to share Scripture are created, trust is built and understanding of the context is improved. This is even more important for those, like the Leafa team, working in environments where there is hostility towards Christianity.
For the Leafa team this link has been made through facilitating literacy classes. Many community volunteers have been involved in helping to run these, and more Leafa people than ever are now able to read and write. This in turn has created more opportunities for the Leafa people, who struggle with marginalisation. It is this positive impact over many years that has helped the team to build bridges with the community.
Unfortunately, however, classes remain on hold due to insecurity in the region. We hope and pray that they will be able to recommence soon.
The team are rejoicing that they can share resources with other mission groups and organisations working in the area. They have helped provide written materials in the Leafa language, showing the importance of partnership to help further the kingdom of God.
Leaning on the Lord
The team this year have faced many hurdles, which they continue to persevere through. Although the attitude towards Christianity has improved in the region, there are still high levels of insecurity. As well as the literacy classes, the recording of Scripture for app use has also had to remain on hold, and tensions exist between different groups.
Illness has also been a theme this year; all team members were sick at least once and one family member of a translator was involved in a serious accident. The team remain encouraged though as they have seen God’s power to preserve them through many difficult situations.
Praise and prayer
Give thanks for:
- God’s protection over the team as they face many challenges, and for the ongoing progress
- the overcoming of many health issues among the team
- translator Ian* returning to work after being away for almost two years
- links made with the community through literacy.
Please pray for:
- no further derailment of work through sickness and spiritual attacks
- literacy classes being able to recommence
- God’s provision for the team, as the cost of living rises
- the upcoming community reviews and consultant checking, that God will provide community members willing to engage with Scripture even if they may not be Christians.
The recent impact
- completion of the review, back translation and consultant checking of Acts
- completion of the team checking and correction of 1 and 2 Corinthians
- drafting of the first five chapters of Ephesians.
When the project began it was dangerous for team members to admit they were involved in Bible translation and literacy work. This was due to the local community adhering to the hardline principles and practices of the majority religion. Recruiting team members was difficult and people were reluctant to help with community testing. Those who did work with the team did so in secret and lived in constant fear.
The team are praising God that the prevailing attitude has changed significantly. Although it is still dangerous to be too public about the work, they now have people contacting the project to offer their services as translators. Community testing is also easier, with people being willing to come when invited, and to participate fully and freely in the process.
Going beyond translation
There is a strong team of literacy workers who are fully engaged with the project but sadly, due to continuing insecurity, the literacy classes remain on hold.
In June, two months after the classes were suspended, Project Officer Patrick travelled into the area. The rains had been heavy, making some roads impassable, but he was encouraged to find that the area was sufficiently stable and that people were busy working on their farms.
Despite the difficult conditions, there is still enthusiasm from the local people to continue with literacy. This is evidenced by one of the Leafa* literacy teachers teaching a few people in their home each day. They all want to demonstrate to Patrick that the area is more stable, in the hope that the literacy classes can recommence.
Praise and prayer
Give thanks for:
- number of students who have been identified as having the potential to join the teaching staff
- the keenness of the Leafa* to continue with their literacy classes
- greater acceptance of the Bible translation and literacy work in the community
- good health for the Leafa* team members.
Please pray for:
- continuing security in the region and wisdom for those who need to make decisions about when the literacy classes can recommence
- a number of training sessions that are planned for the team over the next few months.
AH* is keen on learning
The Leafa* team travelled deep within the insecure Boni forest to search for key terms.
It was very demanding, but thanks be to God – the keeper and protector of men – the team received strength for it.
There, we came across a 13-year-old girl, AH*, who joined the literacy programme two years ago. This girl was not like the other girls. Her deep questions revealed a great thirst for education, and an anxious desire for it to continue. We reassured her that security will be restored sooner or later, and the learning will continue. She then said, ‘I want to go to university and be the first Leafa* medical doctor!’
* name changed for security reasons
Praise and answered prayer
Asked why she was shedding tears, one woman reported:
‘God has answered my long-time prayers. God has surely answered my prayers. This man was the only man among my learners. I thought this would demoralise him and cause him to perform poorly, but I thank God he can read and write – not only in Leafa*, but also in Kiswahili.
‘I am now satisfied with the fruits of my labour. I believe this will be an opening that will bring more men to learn.’
We thank God that the translation and literacy work is still going on, and that people’s lives are being changed in the midst of the challenges facing the area.
- The book of Matthew was checked by a consultant
- The back translation of Matthew was finished
- The book of 1 Corinthians was drafted to chapter eight
- The book of 2 Corinthians was drafted to chapter eight
- Key terms research was carried out
- The corrections for the book of Acts were completed
- for stable security in the area so we can resume the literacy work
- the Leafa* team to be kept in good health during the third quarter so we can progress with the translation work.
Literacy is worth it!
The thirst for knowledge among the Leafa* people has really grown over the years. One village elder went against the culture and traditions of his age group and people when he joined the local literacy class. He became the laughing stock of his village because he was learning with the children but he persevered, knowing that it would be worth it. His wife’s attitude caused him problems though. She thought that the shame was too great and she was afraid to talk with the rest of the women, thinking they were judging her. Because of this, she gave her husband a difficult time. Now, however, the tables have been turned. Now her husband can stand with confidence before a crowd of people, young and old, proudly reading any text while others listen. His wife is called ‘the woman whose husband can read and write’ and this makes her the happiest amongst the Leafa* women in her village.
- Romans was checked by a translation consultant
- Colossians was checked in the local community
- the team drafted the whole of Acts, as well as the first few chapters of 1 and 2 Corinthians and Galatians
- Twenty literacy learners graduated during the recent International Literacy Day celebrations
Give thanks for:
- the ongoing impact of the literacy classes and the improvement in people’s job opportunities as a result
- significant progress in the translation of the New Testament
- wisdom for the translators when there are no obvious Leafa* words to express biblical concepts
- stability in the area; five literacy classes were forced to close recently because of security issues
- plans to train ten literacy teachers
- progress with the translation of Matthew
- the Leafa* people to accept Jesus and his word