By Angela Nelson
Many of the people who speak languages that don’t have a Scripture translation are located in areas that are difficult or impossible to access. Sometimes God works out His purposes by bringing refugees from these places to work on Bible translation outside their countries.
This happened with a man named Hamza* who didn’t believe that God existed—a view that didn’t bode well in the restrictive West Asian country where he grew up. Those who didn’t adhere to the majority religion were often persecuted. And after being imprisoned once for his atheistic beliefs, Hamza realized he wasn’t safe in his own country.
So Hamza fled to Central Europe as a refugee. There he soon met several other people from his homeland—one of whom was very vocal about his Christian faith. Hamza got tired of hearing this man talk about Jesus, but he decided to attend church with the man anyway to see what it was about.
That’s where Hamza met Robert,* a Wycliffe missionary working with refugees who speak Shali*—a language spoken by almost four million people from Hamza’s home country.
Hamza liked Robert and friendship developed. Hamza offered to help Robert translate a short document, and Robert later returned the favor by going to Hamza’s apartment to fix his computer. While he was there Robert took the opportunity to tell Hamza that God had a plan for his life. Hamza listened politely, but he wasn’t ready to accept the message yet. In fact, at the time he thought Robert was crazy.
Months later, as Hamza was feeling particularly discouraged and homesick for his family, he happened to pass by a church where he heard people singing in his mother tongue. Softened by this personal connection, Hamza went inside and finally opened his life to Christ that very night.
As a new believer, Hamza was eager to serve God by helping Robert and several Shali refugees with the Shali translation project. And after working with the team for several years, he’s now become the team’s co-leader. Together they’ve translated the Gospel of John, the story of Joseph, and the story of Abraham. They’ve almost finished the book of Acts and have many other Scripture portions in the process. The finished Scriptures have been distributed via booklets and audio CDs and have been broadcast on satellite TV and on the radio in Hamza’s home country. The team has also created a website, a Facebook presence, a YouTube channel, and an iPhone app to help people download text, audio, and video versions onto their computer or smart phone.
“I’ve just been amazed—people have been downloading this [app] all over the world,” Robert said, “Even inside [Hamza’s country] where it isn’t easy to have an iPhone, people are downloading and using the app, even though there’s risk with using [it].”
For many of the Shali, having God’s Word in their heart language is well worth the risk.