Last week was a busy one. I started teaching two Zomba Theological College classes, one on the minor prophets and the other on practical theology; I gave a talk about reading the Bible with youth to a group of Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) and Anglican youth leaders; I preached at a mid-size CCAP church. The common theme in all of this activity was the Bible. I was teaching how to read the Bible, how to relate it to ministry, and how to get others to read it; I was putting into practice what I was teaching by preaching a word of life from it.
All of this was in English. I wish that I could speak Chichewa better so that I could help people connect with the words better. I have my students translate from English to whatever language is their “heart” tongue (mostly Chichewa but also Tambuka and Yao) and they talk amongst themselves in whatever language they want, but all education is done in the lingua franca of Malawi which is English. Translation is not one of my specialties and I am keenly aware of this deficiency in weeks like this.
One of my regrets from my time in Arusha at the World Council of Churches Conference on World Mission and Evangelism #CWME was that I could not connect with the United Bible Societies. There was too much going on and while they graciously invited folks to come and hear about their work, it was just too much. I did take their annual report because I was curious if two Bible projects related to my work in Malawi were in there. They are.
Over the past few years, the Dutch Mission Agency has been sponsoring the translation of the Bible into Elomwe, a language spoken by about 1,000,000 people in the Phalombe area straddling the Malawi/Mozambique border. Many of these people are poor farmers with very rudimentary literacy skills. For them to read the Bible in English or Portuguese would be very difficult. Now, for the first time, the Elomwe people have an Old Testament in their heart language. TEEM was given a small grant to translate some of our grass roots theological training material into Elomwe to help people understand what God is saying to them through the Bible. We are still studying the effectiveness of our material but the intent is inspiring – to allow people to hear God in their own language.
The other project was the completion of a study Bible (New Testament) in Chichewa. Approximately 9,700,000 people have Chichewa as their first language and it is the other main language of Malawi (with English). Now there is a study edition that helps their reading of the Bible. The current principal at Zomba Theological College, the Rev. Dr. Takuze Chitsulo, was heavily involved in this multi-year project because he previously worked for the Bible Society. Now, Rev. Dr. Chitsulo has a doctorate from University of Kwazulu-Natal where his dissertation focused on the minor prophet Habbakuk and reading the Biblical prophets within the Malawian social context. Perhaps the next step will be to produce a Chichewa study edition for the entire Bible.
The Presbyterian Church in Canada supports TEEM and aided Rev. Dr. Chitsulo in getting his doctorate. Both TEEM and Rev. Dr. Chitsulo bring the written word of God to people who want to read the Bible in their own language. While I wasn’t involved in the Elomwe translation project and Rev. Dr. Chitsulo has moved on from the Bible Society, my ministry fits within a much larger context and history that the Presbyterian Church in Canada has supported.
The United Bible Societies 2017 Annual Progress report says:
When a community receives the Scripture in their language, something profound happens. People feel that God is speaking directly to them, from among them. “God speaks my language!” is a common joyful reaction as they start to experience the hope and transformation of the Bible.
In some small way my busy week has contributed to this hope and transformation. That makes a hectic week of teaching and preaching worth it in the end – the PCC is helping to bring hope and transformation through the written word of God.