The Leoma* people, an ethnic group from the middle of their country, have a population of more than 15 million and a literacy rate of 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: More than 15million
- 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
Persevering with translation
The Leoma team continues to work under threat of persecution, but are nonetheless making progress with Bible translation. This year the team of three is focusing on translating the 257 verses of 1 Corinthians. The importance of persevering despite the cost is something which the team reminds themselves of daily:
‘Bible translation is a dangerous thing. We know it, but we take up the challenge for the simple reason that we are interested in those people for whom the Lord gave his life.
If God loves the whole world, then the Leoma people are included, but how will they know that God loves them if they do not have the message in their language? That is what keeps us going.’ – Leoma translator Ibrahim*
This month we ask you to hold up translator Alfred* and his family in particular in your prayers as they overcome many struggles.
Alfred’s wife continues to suffer with health problems following the birth of their child and is also experiencing depression. Sadly, Alfred also has a difficult relationship with his only brother and doesn’t have a good support system within his extended family.
Alfred’s workplace can often be a challenging environment as it is in his small home, which he shares with his wife, six children and aged father. Their home also shares a wall with the town mosque, and on a number of occassions Alfred has been accused of adopting different values and beaten as a result.
In all of this, Alfred continues to persevere and stand strong in his faith, looking with joy towards his Lord and Saviour.
In the next Wycliffe magazine, Words for Life, look out for more stories from the Leoma people. You will find amazing testimonies from the Leoma team, which we hope will be an encouragement to you. The next issue comes out in April. If you don’t already receive Words for Life you can sign up for it here: wycliffe.org.uk/wordsforlife.
A proverbs milestone
After many months of hard work and consulting with the community, we are pleased to report that Alfred has now put the finishing touches to the book of local proverbs.
These are now ready for distribution in the local community, with 1,000 copies printed and published. The hope is that these will raise the profile of translation work, help relationships to grow and pave the way for Scripture to be shared.
To increase the reach of Scripture, the Leoma team has been working on how to use digital tools effectively. Most recently this has involved collaborating with teams in three other countries to put together a website where translated Scripture can be published. In order for this to have maximum impact, the teams are carefully considering how to make it as appealing as possible for the majority of the population. This has caused some delays but is a vital step.
Alongside this, progress is being made on a social media campaign focusing on reaching Leoma speakers in a way that is culturally relevant and appealing. As with the website, careful thought is going into how to present information. Care is being taken to ensure it is clear that it comes from within the language community to build trust with readers.
Praise and prayer
Give thanks for:
- the continued translation progress
- the encouragement and fellowship during a recent visit from an overseas team
- the completion of the book of proverbs and the many copies now available
- the team’s perseverance and reliance on the Lord in the face of persecution.
Please pray for:
- website challenges to be overcome and materials to be available soon
- wisdom in distributing the published proverbs
- many local people to be wonderfully and eternally impacted by translated Scriptures
- Leoma believers to be firmly established in their faith and walk the straight path
- peace in the Leoma region and protection over the team and their families.
The Leoma team has been continuing to persevere with Bible translation despite being at risk of persecution for their faith and work.
We praise God that the team has made positive progress with the New Testament. Over recent months they have completed the first stage of drafting and checking 1 Corinthians and begun translating the first few passages in 2 Corinthians.
Work on the translation of the Leoma New Testament also relies on global connectivity and teamwork. The two local translators, Walter* and Alfred*, regularly work in partnership with two translation consultants based outside the country. Through working together they are able to move forward with the translation of the Bible into Leoma.
For Leoma team member Alfred, the last few months have seen a change of direction and exciting new beginnings.
Alfred has been part of the Leoma team for over ten years, looking after literacy. During this time, Alfred has also dedicated 10% of his time to helping the Leoma translation team with reviewing and checking. With this experience, Alfred has now moved over to work full-time on the translation team.
Alongside changing roles, Alfred has also been going through through family changes. Alfred and his wife have just welcomed into the world a healthy baby boy. Alfred’s wife, however, has been quite unwell since the birth, with dizziness and fainting, resulting in ongoing hospital visits.
To pave the way to the Leoma people engaging with translated Scripture, the team has been putting together a book of local proverbs and easy-read stories. Through these, the hope is that enthusiasm for reading in the Leoma language will grow.
So far, a collection of 260 proverbs has been gathered and drafted. Through the testing of these, the first fruits of engagement with the language are already being seen. Alfred has shared the drafted proverbs with two of his friends, who have given him valuable feedback. He aims to pass them on to three more local people.
Literacy winding down
After months of discussion and prayer, the difficult decision has been taken to bring the literacy work among the Leoma community to an end.
With a population of more than 15 million people, the few schools which have been running over recent years cannot meet the needs of the number of language speakers. This, combined with the challenge of the few trained teachers only being voluntary and unable to consistently commit to regular classes, has resulted in classes not thriving as first hoped.
The community is, however, not being left completely without resource. Literacy coordinator Alfred has been working hard on language materials, which are now ready for printing and distribution.
With the team now able to increase its capacity, efforts will be mainly focused on making progress with Bible translation.
Praise and prayer
Give thanks for:
- the team’s recent progress on the New Testament translation – checking and drafting 1 and 2 Corinthians
- the opportunity to share and receive feedback from local people on the translated proverbs
- good teamwork during recent annual meetings with partner organisations to discuss the future of the project.
Please pray for:
- the health of translator Alfred’s* wife who has been unwell following the birth of their new baby boy
- a smooth transition into the role of full-time translator for Alfred
- the Lord’s grace and enabling in the work
- ways to be found to distribute Scripture effectively
- literacy materials to continue to be used well and to be a blessing to the community.
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