Bonifacio Paulo thought he was following the call of God to become a priest, but a chance meeting took him in a different direction towards Bible translation, as God showed him how life-changing it is to hear the Word of God in your own heart language.
His own heart language is Makhuwa, but Bonifacio read the Bible in Portuguese for many years before he finally picked up a Bible in his mother tongue.
His journey started in northern Mozambique, where a family member encouraged him to study at a Catholic seminary. Bonifacio was on a path to becoming a priest, but God had other plans for his life. One Sunday afternoon, during his Grade 12 year at the seminary, he met a young man who asked him a simple, yet probing question: “Do you know Jesus?”. This brief encounter remained etched in his mind as the moment that made him question what he really believed and marked a turning point in his life.
At the end of that year, Bonifacio was told not to return to the seminary and one can only deduce that it was God’s intervention. The next chapter of his life took him to Maputo, where he spent four years studying at Bible College, and where Bible translation first came onto his radar.
During this time, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), Wycliffe’s counterpart in Mozambique, presented a course on the principles of Bible translation, and one of the course requirements was to read the Bible in your mother tongue. Although the Bible translation was available in Makhuwa, it was not readily accessible, so up to that point, Bonifacio had been reading and studying the Bible in Portuguese, while also studying English, French, Latin and Greek.
As he started reading in Makhuwa, the words gripped his heart and made an impact he had never experienced before. “It was as if I was reading the Bible for the first time. Although I had understood the words intellectually before, it now made sense on an emotional level. It was no longer just text on paper, but the words spurred me on to take action,” explains Bonifacio.
He wondered that if he, as a well-educated man, did not truly understand the message of the Word of God, how much more would a less educated person struggle to understand, and how much would they miss of what God wants to say to them. This question sparked his interest in Bible translation and in 2007 he started working for SIL as an exegetical adviser. As he spent more time with Bible translation consultants to see what they do, it was confirmed in his mind that God was leading him to become a translation consultant.
In October 2014, Bonifacio and his wife, Busie, joined Wycliffe South Africa and in 2016 he completed his training to become a translation consultant. He is currently part of Wycliffe’s Translation Services team, working on projects in Angola and Mozambique.
Although it seemed his path was clear, Bonifacio learnt that God had a very specific plan for his life. He had to be prepared to change direction and to be uncomfortable at times, but he was ultimately led to where God intended him to be: making the Word of God accessible to people in their own language, the language of their hearts.