The Nawila are an agricultural group of people who live along the banks of a river about 125 miles from the coast of East Africa.

Fact file

  • Country: Kenya
  • Speakers: 20,000
  • Start date: 2003
  • Projected end date: 2018
  • Funds still needed for October 2017–September 2018: £7,674

The Nawila 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 Nawila 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 Nawila 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 Nawila Christians.

As a result of cross-border violence in the Nawila region the translation team has relocated to a safer area, from where the translators visit the Nawila homeland when they can. They have made good progress, and the first draft of the New Testament has now been completed. Literacy work continues in the homeland, led by some Nawila people.

Project goals

  • to translate the New Testament into the Nawila language
  • to establish a literacy programme which will enable people to read the Scriptures

Please pray:

  • for peace in Kenya and especially in the project area
  • for God to give the team the alertness they need to check the remaining books
  • for Nawila people to read and understand God’s message of salvation through the translated Scriptures.

* name changed for security reasons

Nawila women
Nawila women

Latest News

September 2018

Dedication of the Nawila New Testament

After many years of hard work, the Nawila New Testament was dedicated on 1 July 2018. For security reasons, the launch service could not take place within the Nawila community, so it was held in the Green Pastures church in Nairobi. A total of 300 people attended, including some Nawila people.

BTL receiving Nawila NT
BTL (Bible Translation & Literacy) board members receiving the Nawila New Testament from the language programme manager
Worshippers at the dedication
Bishop Mwahili and his wife worshipping God at the dedication ceremony

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 Nawila 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 Nawila people’s self-esteem.

Team leader holding up NT
The team leader holds up a copy of the New Testament. Having their language in written form has raised the self-esteem of the Nawila people.

A member of the translation team who became the first Nawila 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 Nawila 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 Nawila and ensure the language is used in their daily lives.

Changes for women

Until recently, Nawila 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, Nawila 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.

Continuing challenges

Despite the above progress, it is still difficult to be a Christian among the Nawila. 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.’

Prayer points

Give thanks for:

  • the successful launch of the New Testament
  • the changes in the lives of the Nawila 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.

Pray for:

  • the Nawila 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 Nawila 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.
March 2018

Audio Bible use

A colleague serving among the Nawila community met one of his Nawila 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.

Recent achievements

Many Nawila 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 Nawila 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 Nawila calendar was printed and distributed; this helps to raise awareness of the project.

There are six Nawila 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 Nawila 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 Nawila translation to transform the lives of many people in secret.

Nawila women
Nawila women receiving medical treatment

Women’s training course

The team held Scripture use and life skills training for 30 Nawila 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.

Pray for:

  • 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 Nawila people to be more receptive to God’s word.
October 2017

A group of 15 Nawila 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.’

Please pray:

  • 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
A Nawila woman
A Nawila woman