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Archive for April, 2011

Story by Christine Jeske

In 1984, Communist leaders in Ethiopia told a Christian named Dereje Tilahun to leave his job as a land surveyor and begin work as a political cadre (communist activist) within the Communist government.

“I said, ‘No.  You are atheist. I believe in God, so how can I join with you?’” he explained. “We had to speak up and say ‘This is wrong.’ I was bold enough to tell them.”

“I didn’t give up my faith”

Dereje Tilahun

He credited this boldness to the support he had from a group of Christians gathering together in their homes at night to pray and study the scripture.  Through all of the seventeen years of Communist rule in Ethiopia, this group grew closer to God and each other.

Dereje sees that God used this time to strengthen and prepare these believers as well as cement into his heart the importance of Bible study.  When Dereje refused to work for the government, he lost both his surveying job and his freedom.  Like many evangelical Christians in Ethiopia at that time, he spent time in prison.

“It was only six days,” he said with a smile, “But it was very tough!  I was obliged to lie on a cement floor.  In the evenings there were beatings.”

His understanding of scripture sustained him through that time.  “In prison, I secretly brought a Bible,” he laughed.  Whenever he could, he read the words aloud for the other prisoners who listened eagerly.

“I didn’t give up my faith.  I told [the guards] that the only way to salvation is Jesus Christ.  They were laughing at me, but sometimes now these same people are coming to Jesus Christ,” he shared.

From Land Survey to Bible Survey

After his time in prison, Dereje was without a job and unsure where to go. He spent two months praying and believing God would provide whatever he needed.  Through a friend, he heard about a job working with Scripture Union, an international organization that aims to make God’s Good News known to children, youth, and families through Bible reading and prayer.  Over the next ten years, Dereje worked with Scripture Union by spreading Bible Study and devotional materials across Ethiopia particularly among high school students.

“When I joined Scripture Union, I told them that I [went] from land survey to Bible survey,” he said.

The materials, though, were all printed in Amharic, the national language in Ethiopia.  As a native Amharic speaker, Dereje did not question whether people speaking any of the other languages of Ethiopia would understand these materials. Now, however, he sees the importance of providing scripture and devotional materials for people in their heart language.

This realization deepened when a childhood friend, Alemayehu Hailu, a Wycliffe Africa member who now serves as the Director of SIL Ethiopia, invited him to he attend a workshop done by SIL.  After the workshop, Alemayehu and others urged Dereje to join in translation work.

Recognizing the Need

Dereje went to his family and church members seeking prayer and discernment.  “It took me two years to decide,” he recalled. He was motivated by the incredible need he saw.
Dereje with Amharic Bible

“There are more than 80 languages in Ethiopia, and only 8 have the [whole] Bible!  It’s not good to give Amharic Bibles to those people who don’t understand.  We have to bring the Bible in their own language.  When it is in their mother tongue, they can understand it. They can love it.”

Finally in May 2009, Dereje stepped down from his job of fourteen years working with the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) in radio broadcasting and magazine editing.  He joined Wycliffe Africa and was seconded to SIL Ethiopia. He now works in the Scripture Use department where he oversees a team preparing and distributing printed materials, recordings, and videos that help people apply scripture to their everyday lives.

“I see that my life was built by the word of God by studying the Word in group Bible studies.  I want to transfer this idea, this knowledge, to other people in their own language.  Then their life will also be changed by it,” he shared.

“The Bible is my life,” he said while placing his hands on his well-worn copy of the Bible in his own language.  “I cannot live without the Bible.”

Photos by Adam Jeske

Read a longer version of this story

Editors note: Christine Jeske and her husband Adam have served as development workers in Nicaragua, China, and South Africa. She recently published a book called, Into the Mud–Inspiration for Everyday Activists. This story was originally written for the Wycliffe News Network.


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Mfangano Island, on Lake Victoria, is home to a small tribe called the Suba.

Last week, more than one thousand people gathered at a local orphanage to dedicate the newly translated Suba New Testament—a task that took nineteen years to complete. No one was happier than the lead translator, Naphtaly, who had worked so hard and grieved the death of some of the initial translators.

The Bibles were brought in by canoe—a symbol of life for the island. Emotions ran high as people jumped and cheered, rushing to purchase copies of the book that talks about eternal life. The celebration continued for hours with singing, dancing, speeches, and food.

Today, the Suba can continue to celebrate as they read God’s Word in their own language for the first time. Translation like this takes all kinds of people in both language and support roles. Contact us to find out how you could be involved.

Boats are crucial for life on Mfangano Island. This one is carrying the message of eternal life.
Naphtaly opening a box of New Testaments
Wives of Suba translators read their new Bibles
A girl with her new Bible

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Dr. David Uth, Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church, Orlando

At church services this past weekend, Dr. David Uth, senior pastor at First Baptist Church Orlando, announced a new partnership with Wycliffe Bible Translators to complete the Northern Subanen New Testament in the Philippines. According to Dr. Uth, the church’s prayer and financial support will provide the final push to finish a draft of the translation.

Final checking of the translation is anticipated this summer, type-setting and printing in the fall, and a celebration of the completed New Testament is planned for February 2012. First Baptist Orlando looks forward to celebrating this joyous occasion alongside the Subanen.

Prayer requests for the project and the church were posted earlier today on the Wycliffe USA Prayer Blog.

The Seed Company, a Wycliffe affiliate organization, announced that they are partnering with the Translators Association of the Philippines to bring this phase of the project to completion. Just a little over ten years ago, Filipino translators answered the call to begin this project. Now, as the Subanen people prepare to celebrate God’s Word in a language they understand best, an Old Testament translation is being discussed.

In 2001 the translation team completed a translation of the Gospel of John, laying the foundation for the Jesus Film in Northern Subanen. The film is now shown regularly in the community with great impact.

By partnering with churches like First Baptist Orlando, Wycliffe promotes the goal of its Last Languages Campaign–to start a Bible translation in every language community needing it by the year 2025. Learn more at the Wycliffe USA Web site.

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Dave and Linda Marcy, who work at Wycliffe Bible Translators USA headquarters, understand that. Soon after the 1982 launch of the Bibleless Peoples Prayer Project (BPPP), they volunteered to pray for a language group in need of God’s Word. They were assigned the Ik people in northeastern Uganda, and they’ve been praying ever since.

Dave and Linda joined Wycliffe expecting to go overseas, but they were assigned to the home office because Dave’s computer programming skills were needed there. They were glad to serve as needed, but when BPPP began, they relished the opportunity to contribute to a field project through prayer.

They prayed for the Ik for twenty-two years, asking God to prepare this group of hunters and farmers for the Word and to prepare linguist/translators to help them get the Word. They also prayed for other Ik needs, including protection from warring groups around them.

Then in 2005, Dave met two new Wycliffe members—Terrill and Amber Schrock—when they came to Orlando for orientation. They told him they were on their way to Uganda to work with a people group called the Ik, and Dave realized he was looking at the answer to a prayer of twenty-two years! He didn’t know it then, but that prayer began when Terrill and Amber were two years old.

The Schrocks are now settling into life among the Ik, building trust and learning the language and culture. Since the day they arrived, they’ve sensed God’s rich blessings on them. The Marcys are still praying—for Terrill and Amber and for the Ik men and women who will one day partner with them in translation and literacy. They pray also for Jacob, a young Ik man who gave himself to Christ in 2007, perhaps as the result of their prayers, and who now pastors a new church in the community.

The Marcys delight in praying for the Schrocks and the Ik people because prayer focuses their attention on the front lines and because they value connecting with the generation that will finish the Bible translation task. Linda says, “Praying for a language group keeps us connected with the heart of God for the least, the last, and the lost!”

I’d like to invite you to join the BPPP prayer movement and pray for a people group still without God’s Word. You can sign up by following this link or write to bppp@wycliffe.org .

We are living at an amazing moment in history. More Bible translation programs are underway today than ever before, and the number of remaining needs is dropping fast—it will soon fall below 2000. But that’s still 2000 too many. Will you pray for one of these remaining groups, and keep praying until they have God’s Word in the language that best speaks to their hearts?

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