Posts Tagged ‘Ethiopia’

liffe Africa

Words and photo by Heather Pubols

Yonathan Zeamanuel explains to the Guji-Oromo team how to use Proclaimers* in listening group Bible studies. Yonathan and his wife, Tizita Zenebe (sitting to the right of him), are Wycliffe Africa members who are working to promote the use of Scriptures in the minority languages of Ethiopia.

*Faith Comes By Hearing works with language communities to produce dramatized audio Scriptures in local languages. These are played using a device called a Proclaimer. “Listening groups” are small groups that use the proclaimer to study the Bible together.

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Photo credit: Heather Pubols

Photo credit: Heather Pubols


By Elyse Patten

In southwest Ethiopia, a rough road carrying more pedestrians and cattle than vehicles runs past this dry landscape with its round houses. When these children’s parents were their age, no books had been written in their language –Guji-Oromo. Today, Guji speakers have a translation of the New Testament, literacy primers, and some health and cultural materials all in their own language. And a translation of the Old Testament is in progress! Thanks to the tireless work of educators and literacy specialists, children like these will be among the first in Ethiopia to have the opportunity to learn to read their language at a young age. You can imagine the implications of such opportunities for the nation of Ethiopia.

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Featured Photo

The sun sets on a gorgeous summer day over the village of Margau, Romania. Christians in this village are grateful to have a Bible to read, since they know what it is like to live without it. During the Cold War many Romanians risked imprisonment to smuggle, hide and share Bibles. And they haven’t forgotten. The small churches in this town, and other towns nearby, are pooling their resources to achieve something great. Together they support a missionary family to live in Ethiopia and are helping bring the Bible to speakers of the Shek/Maj languages—an  incredible testimony to what can be achieved by working together. Read the full story here on wycliffe.net.

Photo: Søren Kjeldgaard

Words: Elyse Patten

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Click here to read Part 2: Alune

On March 14, Wycliffe USA staff gathered in Orlando to celebrate sixteen recent Scripture translations. Three staff members shared stories about some of the translations featured. We have been posting the scripts for each of these stories on our blog. Here is the third and final story, by Jannah Welcome, who works in the Wycliffe Discovery Center:

The Gamo New Testament, Ethiopia


Greetings everyone! My name is Jannah Welcome, and I would like to share with you a little about an Ethiopian cluster project involving three people groups that recently celebrated their New Testaments. This is a Seed Company project that was officially launched in October 2003, and the goal was to take the Wollaiyta Bible and use it to translate the Gamo, Gofa, and Dawro New Testaments.

This cluster strategy is a relatively new approach that has been speeding up Bible translation in many parts of the world. By having local translators of related languages work side-by-side on their translations, they are able to help each other with faster, more accurate translations. You should go read John and Bonnie Nystrom’s new book Sleeping Coconuts if you want to learn more about how they work!

We’re excited to celebrate the Gamo, Gofa, and Dawro New Testaments from Ethiopia today. Though all rich in testimonials, the one I’d like to highlight here is the Gamo New Testament dedication.

The Gamo dedication was held on June 10, 2012, on the public square of Ch’ench’a, a town located on the mountains of southwest Ethiopia, west of Lake Abaya, where the Gamo people reside. There are over a million Gamo people, and ten ethnic sub-groups among them, who speak Gamo.

Not only do we celebrate today with the Gamoyans for receiving the Word of God, but the history of the location where the actual celebration took place is absolutely a tremendous testament of the restorative power of God at work. The dedication took place on the same grounds where communists brutally persecuted Christians just one generation ago. Many of the people’s possessions, including Bibles, were burned during the Derg regime from 1974–1991, and many believers were put in prison during that time.

The main translator for the Gamo New Testament—Pastor Tesfaye—spent two years in prison himself during the communist persecution. At the New Testament dedication, he was asked to offer an introductory prayer. But when he got up to speak, all he could do was cry. He told about the bloodshed he witnessed from his youth, and how they weren’t allowed to preach or even mention God’s name. They could only pray in their hearts or meet in people’s homes at night.

The dedication happened in the town’s main square, but years ago, that location was actually a police station—the same station where Pastor Tesfaye was imprisoned for three months before being hauled off to prison for two years. It’s also where many Christians were flogged and beaten for their faith in 1949 and 1950. More arrests followed, and the Christians were forbidden to care for their fellow brothers and sisters in prison, so many suffered and some even died.

One thing that I find encouraging is that, though these brothers and sisters were being persecuted to the point of being homeless, they were more frightened by the almost total crop failure. This would mean if they did escape persecution, that starvation was another factor to consider. I was deeply moved by their story and am so grateful they don’t have to go through this anymore. You can imagine what it must have been like for Pastor Tesfaye and the Gamo people to not only be free to follow Christ now, but to also have God’s Word in their own language for the first time. And as Pastor Tesfaye, now older and wiser, held his new Bible in his hand, he said to the crowd, “God has taken vengeance with His love.”

To see pictures and a two-minute video of the Gamo dedication, click here.

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Rural home in southwest Ethiopia
Rural home in southwest Ethiopia.  Photo by Heather Pubols

On a Sunday morning in the town of Chambe in southwest Ethiopia, Pastor Bilu Demissie Shorbote explained to his congregation the words of Psalm 23.  “In Christ,” he said, “there is a place of healing and comfort.  Has anyone here experienced God’s comfort?”

“Amen.”  The people responded together.

Bringing hope and light

In recent months, the town of Chambe had experienced new and tangible evidence of God’s comfort through a booklet about HIV and AIDS.  The booklet, originally titled Kande’s Story, tells the story of a young woman whose parents die of AIDS and how members of the local church respond with support and healing.

Kande’s Story is a true-to-life account based on stories told by a church leader from northern Nigeria about children in his community.   The story was first written in 2004 by Shellbook Publishing Systems, who then allowed SIL to further adapt and use the story and add a facilitator’s manual.  Since then it has been translated into 139 languages, including thirteen in Ethiopia.  Among these is the Guji dialect of Oromo spoken in the village of Chambe.

As people read and discuss Kande’s Story, they uncover ways to apply scripture to their everyday life as the facilitator’s guide includes Bible passages.  Together participants discuss Jesus’ treatment of lepers, God’s view of sexual sin, justice for orphans and widows, and much more.

Healing a stigma

An estimated 2.1% of Ethiopian adults were HIV positive in 2007, but that number has been climbing toward the Sub-Saharan African average of 5%.  A staggering 22.5 million people across Sub-Saharan Africa are HIV positive, and nearly 15 million children are orphans due to AIDS.

The stigma of the disease remains strong in Ethiopia.  Communities often ostracize those suspected of having HIV and their family members.  Churches commonly teach that HIV is the wrath of God and a proof of sin in the life of the infected person.  Many people will not touch an infected person, and they even fear to pronounce the name of the disease, calling it instead “that thing.”

The impact of the story is noticeable.  In Kibre Mengist, a city near Chambe, a group of HIV positive people have started meeting every Friday in a public place. Together they share coffee, friendship, and support. Their public presence boldly announces their HIV positive status to the community with an openness unheard of before Kande’s Story workshops.

"I used to be afraid of people who are HIV positive."
Hamero Kedir talks to Danbala Elema. Danbala
helped to 
translate Kande’s Story into Guji-Oromo.
Photo by Heather Pubols

“I used to be afraid of people who are HIV positive,” said Hamero Kedir, a young woman from the region.  “Now I will say hi, shake their hands, and come close to them to try to help them.”

Spreading the word: “a new taste of freedom”

When government leaders in the region surrounding Chambe heard about Kande’s Story, they became excited.  They approached the presenters and asked for the workshops to be repeated in each of the 15 districts across a region of four million people.  Previously in this region the fliers, posters, and radio broadcasts regarding HIV and AIDS were only in the national language, Amharic.

“The government has given training on HIV, but this one is special because it is in our mother tongue and whoever is given the training should give the training to another,” explained church leader Worku Mute, who is referring to the method where those who read the story and participate in the workshops are asked to teach others about the disease, so the story spreads exponentially.

Others can help spread Kande’s Story. Guji translator Danbala Elema said they need more copies of the translated booklet to distribute.  The first printing included 20,000 copies, but some four million people speak the language.

Kande's Story team
The leaders involved in doing Kande’s Story workshops in the Guji Oromo area.
Photo by Heather Pubols

“My wish is that it could reach every people,” said Worku, who coordinates the sending of local missionaries through Evangelical Church Fellowship of Southern Ethiopia and would like every missionary to have a copy.

As the church service closed in Chambe, Pastor Bilu Demissie Shorbote and the congregation sang, “Jesus saved me from dying, cast away my sin.  Now I am free and happy.”  Today, as people read Kande’s Story in their mother tongue in Chambe and across Africa, Jesus is giving those affected by HIV and AIDS a new taste of freedom and happiness.

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Editor’s 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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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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