The Leoma* people, an ethnic group from the middle of their country, number around 22.5 million and have a literacy rate below 50%. They live in all of the country’s provinces and there are also a significant number in the bordering country. Having adapted to their extreme environment the resilient Leoma people highly value generous hospitality and loyal friendships.
- Location: South Asia
- Speakers: 22.5 million
- Start date: 1992
- Projected end date: 2024
Most Leoma are agriculturalists, working as farm labourers for local landlords. They are treated as poor relations by their neighbours, and they resent this. Their economic level is very low. Rainfall in their area is low, and summer temperatures are very high indeed.
There is a real lack of educational opportunity for the Leoma. The people are trapped in poverty, fear and ignorance as a result of this. However, there is a small, growing Church amidst the national religion, Islam, needing God’s word in their heart language and literacy skills to make use of the Scriptures. A small fellowship meets and is using the translated materials. The project started in 1992, with Old Testament translation appropriate to the local community, and since then the Leoma translation team has been working hard. To date, approximately 80% of the New Testament and 10% of the Old Testament has been translated.
- to translate the complete Bible into Leoma and see it distributed among Leoma speakers
- to produce and distribute language development materials such as dictionaries.
The focus of the Leoma team is to produce a translation in a style that is acceptable, natural and clear. In an uncertain political climate foreigners are not able to access significant portions of the area where this language is spoken. It is not known how long foreigners will be able to keep working in country, so for this and many other reasons mother-tongue translators are best placed to do the work. However the national government and the small national Church do not share this vision for a translation in the local language. Militant groups have become entrenched in the area where the language is spoken, so it is necessary for translation work to be carried out very discreetly. The secrecy also makes it difficult to get the early translations checked by local speakers.
Since not many people in this community can read, the project aims to reach people with a written style that is easy to understand, and also in a poetic form and in audio format. This will give them access to God’s word in a form and format that is much appreciated in their culture. The aim is to make the Scriptures more accessible to all who wish to read or hear them for themselves, by producing them in an easily understandable form using key terms that convey meaning well.
A national consultant is being trained in order to serve translation projects in the country in the future.
Please pray for:
- God’s protection for all involved in this sensitive project
- a way to be able to safely test translated portions
- new sources of funding to be available for this work, as a major funder recently had to stop their support
- a revival among the Leoma people as they access God’s word in their own language.
* name changed for security reasons
Preserving the culture
To help preserve the Leoma culture and foster enthusiasm for the language, plans for a collection of easy-to-read local stories, put together in a writers’ workshop, are being explored. This will be led by Alfred*, the Leoma literacy worker. Alfred* will soon visit a similar project to see a workshop in action and gain advice from local team members.
Doors to distribution
Due to the security risks of the Leoma project, the team have to think carefully about how they distribute translated Scripture. To ensure the Bible portions are well received, it is essential to first build trust with the local community. This opens the door to people being receptive to receiving them.
A partner organisation has now been identified that will enable Scripture to be distributed and used for evangelism. Most recently, this has resulted in the Gospel of Matthew being shared with a growing movement of believers.
The significance of this moment was shared by the team:
Their context is very difficult and we pray that they will be encouraged by this, the first book they’ve seen in their mother tongue!
Translation focus for 2019
Thanks to your generous support, the faithfulness of God and the hard work of the Leoma team progress is continuing to be made with translation.
The focus for 2019 is on translating 1 Corinthians. Due to its length, the team are estimating it will take the whole year to complete the process of drafting, checking and re-checking.
Perseverance and prayer
The Leoma team have been persevering through many challenges and emphasise the need for prayer more than ever at this time.
As the area becomes increasingly hostile to foreigners and current teams become frailer, it is vital that there is an increase in training local people. Literacy classes struggle to continuously run due to fewer teachers being available.
The team also need to find more ways to distribute Scripture as they prepare for the full New Testament in Leoma. The ability to share via websites and apps are currently being explored. The team are nervous, however, about the work they are carrying out becoming known and the reception to it.
Praise and prayer
Give thanks for:
- the possibility that the New Testament could be completed within three years
- the relationships with partner organisations and the church in the local community
- the team’s progress as they having been working on 1 Corinthians this year
- God’s protection over the translators and local believers.
Please pray for:
- strength for translator Walter*, who is caring for his unwell mother and healing for her
- sensitivity as the translation team is introduced to more believers from the language group
- a connection which brings real trust and great fruit as the Bible is distributed
- progress with making Scripture available on websites and apps
- wisdom for translators and the consultant so that the work will be faithful to the original text and sound natural to Leoma readers.
It is amazing that so much completed translation work – 80% of the New Testament and 10% of the Old Testament – has been accomplished within the context of the secrecy and isolation of the translation team. Each team member is the only believer within his family, and each has faced threats of familial excommunication, divorce and death in order to continue this important work.
The team is currently working on translations of 1 and 2 Corinthians and Ephesians. All four gospels have been translated, but not all have been published – however, there is a Scripture-based ‘Life of Christ’ biography online. Ten books have been published online – Genesis–Leviticus, Deuteronomy [selected portions], Jonah, Acts, Romans, Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude and Philemon – along with stories of Adam, Noah, Ruth, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They have also done some recording of these, but had to stop as there were too many security issues to continue.
Challenges and concerns
With so much work completed and ready for distribution, the great need now – especially in view of the fear and secrecy the team is operating in – is for wisdom in how to get the materials out there without endangering the team and work.
The team urgently needs a few trusted partners or a Scripture Engagement worker who can become strategically involved in publishing materials online while avoiding censorship, as well as providing help with distributing the materials that have already been printed. (K* says he may have found someone suitable, whenever the team is ready for this.)
There are also other challenges facing the team, specifically health concerns. B*, 77, the longest serving member of the team, has kept going by the grace of God for over 30 years on the project, despite suffering stroke-like symptoms last year. It is clear the team will need to find someone to replace him, but because of the trust and security concerns, this is a challenge. A*’s family’s health has improved, but they still need prayer for continued well-being, as does W*.
Multilingual education (MLE)
The literacy work has continued in designing, producing and distributing materials in the local language, supporting teachers and training them to encourage the use of language in the schools.
Give thanks for:
- all the work the team has completed so far
- their dedication to the work despite the very real threats and isolation they experience
- the improved health of A*’s family.
Please pray for:
- health and strength for the team, especially B*
- courage and boldness for the team
- the training of another national translation consultant to assist the senior national consultant
- the uncertain visa situation, which is making it more challenging for foreign consultants to work face-to-face with the translation team
- wisdom on how best to distribute the translated material, including the need for trusted partners and a Scripture Engagement worker who can help publish the material online – and that the team may be ready for K*’s potential contact.
The previously completed portions of Mark, Luke, John, Acts and the booklet The Life of Christ have been revised by the team, as were the notes accompanying the text. The introduction to Colossians was completed. The introductions to Jude, and 1 and 2 Peter were checked.
There was further discussion about the need for a website for the language. Wisdom is needed in how best to make Scripture materials available online without compromising the security of the project.
Multi-lingual education progress
One of the team was encouraged during his surprise school visits that the students are learning well. He tests the children with words written on flash cards, and if he notices someone having difficulty he draws their attention back to the alphabet chart to reinforce the particular sound of that letter.
He expressed concern that in the third school the teacher is only coming for three days a week and he is considering how to address that situation.
Please pray for:
- good health for the team and their families; several are not well at the moment
- encouragement for the team as they work without the support and fellowship of a believing family, local friends and partners
- protection of this sensitive project, and for a breakthrough for wider testing and use of translated portions in the community