Back in Kenya

I’ve been in Nairobi, Kenya with a small team the last week covering several stories related to the Wycliffe organization in Kenya – Bible Translation and Literacy (BTL).  BTL oversees all of Wycliffe’s Bible translation work in Kenya, and is also fully engaging with the local church.  As a matter of fact, most Bible translation projects in the country are led by Kenyans, and much of the resources for those projects are coming from within the country.

The trip went well, and it was nice to be back in a familiar place. Nairobi is constantly changing.  There’s a new sky-scraper going in across the street from where we used to live!  But, still many things are the same, and I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with old places and old friends.

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On Saturday BTL had their annual Run for the Bibleless fund raising event. We’re currently working on a story about it.  This year more than 6000 people participated and they raised more than $50,000 USD for Bible translation!

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Another story we were working on while we were in Nairobi was about how people are engaged in praying for Bible translation.  One group involved in this is a men’s prayer group at a large Baptist church.  These guys meet every Wednesday at 6am, so it was an early morning for us!  The men come from across the city, to study scriptures and pray together.  They don’t only pray for Bible translation, but it is one topic they cover.

This will be our second story on prayer, and I’m looking forward to its completion.  Prayer is often done behind the scenes, but it’s one of the most important ways to be involved in any ministry.  It’s something we all can do, and it’s neat to see how people are involved in it across the globe!

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Appointed for God’s Purpose

In March of 2012 I traveled to DRC.  I interviewed Gaspard & Marie Yalemoto, and spent time visiting with people in their home area. Their story continues to challenge me to remember that God’s purposes will not be thwarted.
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Content with the path they had chosen for their lives, Gaspard and Marie Yalemoto spent many years ignoring the suggestions of friends and family members to consider something different. But God used the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo* (DRC) which began in 1996 to redirect their journey.

Running from God’s Call

Gaspard and Marie Yalemoto

Gaspard and Marie Yalemoto grew up in rural communities in north-western DRC, in central Africa. Their faith journeys began when they were both young.

Although he grew up in a pastor’s home, Gaspard didn’t fully embrace faith in Jesus until he was an adult. Still, he hated the idea of becoming a pastor himself. Marie attended a Catholic school, and at a young age she was invited by the sisters to become a nun. However, she never followed their prompting.

The pair met when Marie was studying to be a teacher, and Gaspard was serving on the school faculty. When she went on to University to study rural development, the couple began to write to each other. Soon after she completed her studies, they married.

Gaspard and Marie both sensed God had a unique work for them to do – but they had other ideas. Several pastors challenged Gaspard about his choice of career, and some even offered to pay for theological training. But Gaspard only desired to study engineering.

The Day Everything Changed

In May 1997 rebels stormed into Gaspard and Marie’s community and rounded up community leaders. Gaspard was among those captured and taken into the rainforest for execution.

Every night, the rebels shot some of their captives and brought the corpses back to the village the next morning. And every night, the soldiers prepared to kill Gaspard, but began arguing among themselves and instead let him live.

Then one evening, while Marie was praying and fasting with her mother-in-law and other believers, a pastor had a vision. He believed God wanted Gaspard to become a pastor. The pastor went to the rebel commander and told him to release Gaspard. The commander refused, but the pastor persisted.

Gaspard and Marie at church in Bili

“God needs that man,” the pastor responded. “Free him. If you don’t, you are going to have problems.”

Without any further explanation, the commander released Gaspard on one condition: Gaspard must complete a three-year theological studies program or he would be killed. A rebel soldier drove Gaspard in a military vehicle directly to the local theological college. Marie followed on foot with other believers from the community, walking for 64km to join her husband

The new direction in their lives was a source of joy: “Gaspard was supposed to die, but God protected him,” said Marie. “God changed the path that he was supposed to take.”

But it was also hardship: “I would say, ‘No, I want to die because I suffered too much,’” explained Gaspard. “I would ask myself, why am I here? What am I going to do?” Often, he wanted to pack his bags and leave.

The Mono Translation Project

Mono translation team

It wasn’t until just before he completed his studies, that Gaspard could see God’s plan more clearly. The founding churches of ACOTBA-SUBO** were seeking native speakers to head up the Mono Bible translation. that had stalled during the war. Mono is the mother tongue of about 160 thousand people including the Yalemotos. Gaspard and Marie were an obvious choice to participate in the project.

The pair received two years’ additional training at the Bangui Evangelical School of Theology (FATEB) in neighboring Central African Republic, learning how to clearly get the meaning from the original biblical text into another language.

Afterwards, they returned to DRC to start translating the Mono New Testament. Gaspard became the leader of the four-person translation team, and Marie worked as one of the translators. The Yalemotos also worked on literacy programs and taught church leaders how to effectively use translated portions of Scripture. As some of God’s word became available in Mono, the Yalemotos saw people returning to God – just as they had done.

Leaving a legacy

Reading Mark in Mono

One day in March 2014 shortly after completing the first draft of the entire Mono New Testament, Gaspard awoke not feeling well, and by the next afternoon he died. His unexpected death was most likely caused by cerebral malaria.

His death was devastating, but God is still working through Gaspard’s obedience. The production of the first New Testament in the Mono language has continued, now, under Marie’s leadership. The team hopes to distribute the first copies as early as 2015.

* Between 1971 and 1997, the Democratic Republic of Congo was called Zaire.

** Association Congolaise Traduction de la Bible et Alphabétisation – Sukisa Boyinga (Congolese Bible Translation and Literacy Association – Conquer Ignorance)

Article by Jessica Whitmore
Photos by Heather Pubols

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This story was written for the Wycliffe News Network.

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God’s Word for Seven Deaf Communities

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I was in a Nairobi, Kenya for just a few days to help gather photographs of the celebration of the completion of several portions of scripture for seven Deaf communities in Africa:

  • 110 Bible stories on DVD for sign languages in Ghana, Burundi, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Tanzania
  • An initial 32 Bible stories on DVD for Nigerian Sign Language.
  • The completion of a video Biblical commentary (called The Deeps) for Kenyan Sign Language.

140920_6839 After participants from each translation team lifted the colored fabric that covered the DVDs they had so faithfully worked on, they shouted for joy and danced in the front of the room waving their DVDs above them.  It was exciting to share the moment with them.

It is estimated that as many as 400 Deaf communities around the world, each of whom use a different sign language, have never experienced God’s Word because it is not in a form they can understand.  DVD translations of scripture on one of the ways that many Deaf communities are access scripture for the first time.

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Brought out of Darkness

Pastor Paul was born into a pagan family and used to serve Satan. But when he came to know Jesus, he was brought out of the darkness and into the light. Now Paul is seeing this transformation happen for other families in his village.

Pastor Paul speaks a language in Senegal called Mandjak.  This language is spoken by nearly 200 thousand people in Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia.  While portions of the Bible have been translated into their language, Mandjak speakers eagerly await having the whole Bible in their own language.

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Saudade – Longing for what was

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It’s been a year since we left South Africa.  It’s been…

…a good year
…a hard year
…a year of reconnecting
…a year of loss
…a long year and a year of longing…

The first three months were the hardest for me.  I felt miserable most of the time, and all I could think about was our friends, our life, our home…in South Africa.  The grief felt so intense one night that I audibly sobbed for a long time.  I’m sure everyone in our apartment complex heard. In between sobs, I just kept saying, “I want to go back; I don’t want to be here.”

That intense flood of sorrowful emotion has subsided, but a sweet sadness remains for our adopted home. In English we might call this homesickness. Portuguese has a better word – saudade.  It is roughly translated a melancholy longing for what was.

There are so many things that I still miss: people, places, foods, activities, routines, even driving on the left. Mostly, I miss the sense of belonging I felt.

I don’t know when I’ll next be in South Africa, and I’ve accepted that our journey has moved us towards a new place.  However, I move forward with saudade, with sweet memories of our old life and a longing to someday return.

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