Every tongue is made to praise God. Every smile is meant to reflect His glory. We are doing our best to bring Christ to the Bamasaaba in their own language of Lumasaaba. But that’s not all!
Sounds and symbols are used to convey thoughts and ideas. Suppose, I tell you in Mandarin Chinese where I’ve hidden a million dollars. All you have to do is follow my instructions and the money is yours. Assuming you have never been to China and think mandarin is a type of tiny orange, you would go away without the riches I’m offering.
The Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 12: 9 “Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air.”
If you think instructions on how to find a million dollars is important, what about the message of Jesus Christ. Isn’t it even more important that the Gospel is given the hearing it deserves? In order to be heard, it must be spoken in a language the hearer understands.
If faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, as Romans 10:17 so eloquently puts it, then hearing is the key. But look at the next verse: “But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” Romans 10:18
While Paul is most definitely talking about the Israelites, the same can apply to those of us living in the Western world. We have had the Bible in our own languages for at least 400 years. Martin Luther completed his translation of the entire Bible into German in 1534. Just two years later, William Tyndale was burned at the stake for his English translation. Tyndale’s work was the foundation for the King James version of the Bible published only 75 years later.
Tyndale coined such English phrases as:
– in the twinkling of an eye
– harden his heart
– be of good cheer
– pearl before swine
– my brother’s keeper
These are just a few examples of the vast richness Tyndale’s translation gave to the English language, which was considered crude and even vulgar at the time. Anything worth reading back in the 1500’s was written in Latin. Tyndale not only brought the Word of God to the common man, but enriched and standardized the speaking, writing and use of English.
Believe me when I say the topic of how Tyndale’s work affects us still today is fascinating. But this is not the forum for a complete history of Bible translation. My point is, Tyndale did not choose to translate the Bible into English because English was widely spoken. Rather, English is now widely spoken, due in part, to Tyndale’s translation of the Bible into English.
The Bamasaba are found mainly in Manafwa, Bududa, Mbale, Sironko, Namisindwa and Bulambuli districts of Eastern Uganda, on the slopes of Mount Elgon. They are often (mistakenly) called Gisu, Masaba, etc. But whatever name you use, we are all made in the image of God.
There are approximately three million people who speak Lumasaaba. When I hear people talk about the relatively small number of Lumasaaba speakers in the world, I don’t look at the statistics. I think about individual people. Three million – that’s a lot of people. Does their relative obscurity among the world’s population minimize the beauty or significance of their language? Some would say that question is a mute point. In reference to Bible translation, they ask, Is the cost/benefit ratio worth it? While they make a valid point, it is not the final word on the matter. I would expand their question to include to, Who is willing to pay that cost? and What relationship do they have with the benefactors?
Isn’t that really what it all boils down to? Not money, but people.
There are many people who have laid the foundation for the Bible to be translated into Lumasaaba, but ultimately it is the Bamasaaba themselves who are doing it. The print version of the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is slated to be released at Christmas 2016. This is a monumental step forward for the Bamasaaba.
This Bible is destined to standardize spelling, grammar and syntax of Lumasaaba. It will give credence to the language. As things stand right now, if two Bamasaaba happen to meet in the capital city of Kampala, they will both switch to Luganda, the trade language of the country. Why is that? Even when I ask the Bamasaaba themselves, they cannot answer. “It is just like that,” they say. Of course, it is more than that.
Imagine you are a child who is beaten at school if you speak your mother tongue. This happens throughout Uganda, not just in Masaabaland. English must be spoken at school because it is considered the language of educated people. I understand the need for a common language, but a child gets the wrong message. They only hear that their language, the one their mother speaks to them at home in, is somehow less valuable than English or Luganda. Therefore, they as a people group, must not be as important. People feel minimized. But this Bible is going to change all of that.
When people read, “I have come that you might have life and have it to the fullest,” and they read Jesus’ words in their own language, then they believe Him. He is not saying – If you speak English you can have life to the fullest, but you – right there where you are – can have life through Jesus Christ. They believe the words of Jesus because He is speaking in their language.
“Ne ise neetsa khuubawa inywe buulamu, naluundi ndi mube ni nabwo mu bwitsufu.” Yokana 10:10b
The Jesus Film has been translated into thousands of languages. When Mary Matuwa, an elderly widow saw the Jesus Film for the first time, she didn’t care that Jesus looked white; he was speaking her language, the language of her heart.
Language, not just any language, but someone’s mother tongue, even if they’re fluent in other languages, can penetrate and touch that person where nothing else can. Especially if the message being conveyed is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So the Gospel is communicated through language and the Gospel has power. Power to redeem people, power to redeem cultures, power to rescue a language that has been slowly getting lost.
Getting lost – an interesting term. My husband’s father at 87 years old, told me there used to be many words in Lumasaaba to describe the different types of grass. Now there is only one. And that is just a single instance of words disappearing from memory. My father-in-law passed away last year. He was my Lumasaaba dictionary. People say Lumasaaba has few words, that it can’t be used to convey complex meanings. That is simply not true. The words are there, they are just being forgotten.
The people translating the Bible are using the list of words that have been compiled during the translation process, to create a Lumasaaba dictionary. The Lumasaaba Bible will help us all remember, not only the words of Christ, but also everyday words that would otherwise evaporate. The Bible is saving the Bamasaaba AND their language.
But, Bibles are printed to be read. If a person can’t read, the Gospel is still inaccessible to them unless someone reads it to them. The Bamasaaba come from an oral culture. That means they are much more comfortable hearing their language than reading it. In fact, many people can’t read their own language. Even educated people, fluent in English, are not able to read their mother tongue of Lumasaaba.
So let’s not just print the Bible in Lumasaaba, let’s record it as well.
There is a dramatized recording of the Lumasaaba New Testament produced by Faith Comes By Hearing. They have done a professional job, very impressive. We want to also record the Old Testament in Lumasaaba so the Bamasaaba people have the benefit of the entirety of scripture.
And that is what we are doing – recording the Old Testament in Lumasaaba. Again, it is the Bamasaaba who are reading their own language, but I consider it a privilege to help them record it. Of course, it is a cooperative effort; all mission work is. That means you as a ministry partner are here with us doing the work.
When we all stand around the throne of God, every tongue, tribe and language – as prophesied in Revelation 5:9, we will be worshiping. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be standing in the Lumasaaba section. I think you and I will feel right at home there.