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Bible translation - sharing the privilege of hearing God’s Word in our own language

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How wonderful it would be if everyone had the privilege of having the Bible in a language they understand well. What language does it for you? I know for me it’s my heart language or mother tongue. Reading the Word of God in a secondary language just doesn’t hit the spot!

Until just a few months ago, the Tonga people of Zimbabwe were still among 180 million people of the world who do not share this privilege. It may come as a surprise that so many people have never read the Word of God in their own language, but it’s a fact.

The majority of people who have no access to the riches of God’s Word are in Africa, comprising close to 800 languages still waiting for their first verse of the Bible to be translated.  

Tonga is one of approximately 120 such languages on Wycliffe South Africa’s radar. There are about 175,000 Tonga speakers living in Zimbabwe along a stretch of almost 1,000 km along the Zambezi River.

Our goal is to ensure that every language in Southern Africa has access to the riches of God’s Word by the year 2025. Innovative community-based Bible translation projects are geared for accelerated delivery with holistic community impact.

The Tonga Bible Translation Project started in November 2015, with a vision to train and equip dedicated church leaders for the technical and logistical demands of translation work. This is critical for accuracy, productivity, financial accountability – and very importantly, for community ownership of the process from beginning to end.

Members of the Tonga translation committee saw the wisdom of sharing the drafting process between five districts, to ensure widespread community acceptance and use of the Tonga Scriptures once published.  Ten translators were chosen, two from each of the five districts. The problem they faced was how to meet regularly, given the lack of transport to cover the distances between them.

Enter Honeyridge – a church in Randburg that saw the opportunity to accelerate Bible translation for the Tonga by meeting the practical need of transport. The church raised funds for ten hardy bicycles for the ten Tonga translators. In a desire to form a relationship with the translation team, a delegation of Honeyridge church members, accompanied by the Wycliffe Project Coordinator, visited the project and delivered the bicycles in person. 

Meeting face-to-face means heart-to-heart bonding takes place, and this is exactly what happened. After this meeting, the Tonga language can never be just another statistic for this church in Randburg. Nor will Honeyridge be just another church in South Africa. A friendship has been forged between real people with names, dreams, families and daily realities.   

After receiving the bicycles and project laptops, the Tonga translators were so fired up that they translated the whole book of Mark within a month. They use solar power for charging the laptops, and although internet connectivity is a problem, they find a way to upload the translation drafts to send for regular quality checks, where a qualified translation consultant checks the manuscript for consistency and accuracy of meaning.  Four times a year the team receives a consultant visit, when complex translation issues are resolved, and further in-service training is provided.

“The Tonga translation is estimated to take up to three years to translate 40 Bible stories that present an overview of the redemption story, from creation to the second coming of Christ,” explains Karen Floor, CEO of Wycliffe South Africa. “Already, the prospect of having a Bible in their own language is restoring hope and a sense of dignity for the Tonga people. In addition, it fans the flame of ethics and values. Endorsed by Zimbabwean education authorities, the translated Bible stories are being used as a tool for mother tongue education in schools.”

Picture yourself riding this year to encourage 10 Tongan translators to bring God’s Word to their people.

These ten translators get on their bikes every day and take to the dusty roads of rural Zimbabwe to gather around the translation desk, and then to meet with community members eager to assist with the testing and review of translation drafts. They do it because they are hungry to hear their people say: “Now I know God speaks my language.” By entering the Telkom 947 Cycle Challenge to ride with the Wycliffe South Africa team, you will be a part of supporting this translation.

I invite you to join me in riding to see Africa alive with God’s Word – one language at a time!

Enter today! All it takes is finding a bike and then spreading the word (about spreading ‘the Word’) to your family, friends and colleagues to make them aware of the cause we are raising funds for this year.   It’s that easy, and speaking from personal experience, I can tell you, it’s worth it – to know you have made a difference in the lives of people who will receive the joy of hearing God’s Word in their language for the very first time.




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