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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Literacy – a doorway to the world

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Literacy is a doorway to the world.  It is a foundational skill that many of us take for granted. But, did you know that nearly 800 million people in the world do not know how to read and write, and approximately two-thirds (almost 500 million) of these people are women, according to the 2013 UNESCO literacy statistics? Some of the lowest recorded literacy rates are in African countries that border north Africa including: Senegal, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Ethiopia.

Not having access to written language means:

  • Not having access to instructions on medications
  • Not being able to text on your cell phone which is one of the major forms of communication in many countries in Africa
  • Not being able to produce receipts for your business or read the prices of merchandise
  • Not being able to read a letter or email from a loved one

In March of 2012, I visited an Ngbakan literacy class in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  It was mostly women.

The women sang a song of welcome to my colleague, Maralee, and I when we arrived.

The instructors shared with us that because government education is not free, families are often left having to make difficult decisions about which of their children to educate.  When faced with that impossible choice, families often choose to educate their sons.

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This has left many adult women without basic reading and writing skills. Literacy courses like this one offered in the Ngbakan language can help fill the gap and provide women with an opportunity to become literate.  Learning to read changes lives.  Here are some facts about women and literacy:

  • Women who learn to read and have access to clean water live longer
  • Women who know how to read are more likely to have literate children
  • Women with some education tend to have lower infant mortality

People who can read have access to information that can help with any of these challenges.

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Learning to read numbers and do basic math was also a critical component of these Ngbakan literacy classes.  Seeing these ladies reading, writing, and doing math was exciting for me.  I felt so proud of them!

Literacy is a critical component to scripture translation programs.  If you’re in the US, you can give to support literacy programs.  Click here to learn more.

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Singing in Mono

Is it possible to sing in Mono? It is if that is the name of your mother tongue!

A year ago when I visited the Mono language community in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), I was reminded afresh of the excitement people have when they use their own language.

This video shows the pastor of the church we visited singing a song in the Mono language.  I think people in this church usually sing in Lingala (a regional trade language) or French (an official language of the DRC). You can hear a murmur in the background  – people were talking about this – their pastor was singing in Mono!

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Beauty in the Congo

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It’s been a little less than a year since I visited the Democratic Republic of Congo.  It was a wonderful trip that I will remember for a long time.  I hope to go back sometime.  While DRC seems to have had (and parts continue to have) more than their share of news-worthy struggle and conflict, I believe it’s this same struggle that has helped so many develop a true sense of what really matters in life.  It’s a maturity that can only come through the refinement of hardship. It gives people the ability to see beyond their present circumstances, and for Christian believers, it allows them to keep their faith focused on eternity.

I came across a beautiful story from CBS News in the USA that illustrates the resilience of many people in Congo and the gift for music that it seems so many in Congo have.  The segment is called Joy in the Congo.  It’s about the Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra.  The reporters called this group an impossible miracle.  To me, it’s expression of what it means to truly be Congolese – to be an overcomer, to have joy in hardship, to have true and tested faith.  Watch the video and be inspired!

Congolese music is popular music across Africa – lots of people listen and emulate it.  I wonder if this orchestra will start a new music trend across the continent!

Go here to learn more about the Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra.

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Reading your mother tongue

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When I was in DRC in March, the church service we went to in the village of Bili included a a time for people to share some of the what has been happening in the Mono Bible translation project.

Four people read portions from the gospel of Mark (translated into Mono).  Most of them had learned to read in the Mono literacy classes being held in the community.

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The coordinator of the literacy classes took the opportunity to encourage more people to attend the literacy classes that they were hosting.

Literacy classes are an important part of every translation program.  Most Bible translation programs that involve staff associated with Wycliffe are in small languages that have not previously been written down.  So as the Bible is being translated, the language is often also being written down for the first time.

While for the most part these communities may have a few people who have learned to read the national language, most will have never learned to read in any language. Literacy courses not only ensure that there will be people able to read the Bible and other materials translated into their language, but mother tongue literacy can also be a bridge to learning to read in the trade or national language of a country.

Learn more about literacy.

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