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Posts Tagged ‘Wycliffe Africa’

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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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

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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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Bonifacio Paulo, Pastor, Consultant in training, administrator in NampulaPhoto by Søren Kjeldgaard

Story compiled by Craig Combs

My name is Bonifácio Paulo. Sometimes I don’t know where things started in my process of becoming a Christian. I guess it began when my aunt married an influential leader in the Catholic Church. He came to me and said that the priest wanted some young people who would be willing to go to the seminary. At that time I never went to church. I started going to regular meetings and I began to understand what Christianity was. I still didn’t know what salvation meant.

I joined the Church of the Nazarene in 1992, through the influence of my brother. When the pastor of that Nazarene local church learned I was from the Catholic Church and seminary, he began to talk to me about salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. Soon he began to sense that God might have special plans for my life, so he encouraged me to go to the Nazarene seminary in Maputo, [the capital of Mozambique]. There, the process of my salvation took direction. I don’t remember a day that I can point to and say, this is the day I gave my life to Jesus. What I do know is that my salvation is a miracle.

While I was studying in Maputo, the seminary asked John Iseminger of SIL International to teach a course about the principles of Bible translation. That’s when my interest in Bible translation started. I remember thinking, “If I cannot understand Portuguese very well, even though I read and speak it, how much more for those who are not educated? They use the Portuguese Bible and Portuguese songs, but how much do they understand?” That’s what motivated me to get started in translation.

God speaks to our hearts. Most of the time, I can read and understand the Portuguese Bible. I can read and understand the English Bible and even a little of the Greek Bible. But the way I understand it is somehow only on a superficial level.  I can take [a] passage, read it, and find no change. I can even laugh! The terms do not get deep into my heart because they can’t. But I can read the same terms in Makhuwa, [my mother tongue], and it’s like I’m naked before God. That’s what God says to me. That’s the impact the Makhuwa Bible made in my life. I am where I am spiritually because of the Makhuwa Bible. When I read, I clearly hear God speaking to my heart.  It goes deep.

At the end of my time in Maputo, I received a scholarship for theological studies in Swaziland, but I told John Iseminger, [the director of SIL Mozambique], he should keep in mind my interest in Bible translation. While I was in Swaziland, I translated spiritual songs from Portuguese to Makhuwa and produced a book of songs we use in our church.

John kept my interest in mind. He came to me in 2007 and said, “I know what you are doing, what you are interested in and what you want to achieve. Would you like to work with us?” I said, “Oh yes!” By that time I had signed a contract with the Ministry of Education, and I was teaching full time. At the end of 2007, I canceled my contract and joined SIL.

For the first two years at SIL, I worked among the translation reviewers as part of the exegetical personnel. I would go with the translation groups, sit with them and serve as the exegetical adviser.  Now I am being trained as a translation consultant. I spend time with the consultants to see how the work is done.

DSC_0088Bonifacio with his wife, Busi, and their children at their home in Nampula, Mozambique. Photo by Craig Combs

In Africa, when you get into someone’s home and they give you a chair, you don’t say, no. You sit down. You don’t say, I came here only for this and this. If I’m to work with SIL and Wycliffe, not just through a one or two-year contract, why not be a member? I feel 100 percent comfortable to work in Bible translation. I want to join Wycliffe, to work with them and give as much as I can, knowing that I am at home. It is the best fit for my calling.

Bonifacio and his wife, Busi, are in the process of joining Wycliffe Africa.

Here’s a way that you can participate in supporting those being trained in Mozambique.

Editor’s note: Craig Combs is a communications consultant with Wycliffe International Communications. This story was originally written for the Wycliffe News Network.

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