Language Preservation


You may ask yourself, Why have  they put Language Preservation under the heading of Scripture?

When William Tyndale translated the Bible from Latin into English over 500 years ago, the language was consider rude and vulgar.  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.  Tyndale’s work still affects us today.

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

William Tyndale was burned at the stake for his English translation, yet his work was the foundation for the King James version of the Bible published only 75 years later.  But, 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.

All languages spoken in worship to God

Just like every other nation, Uganda is filled with divergent cultures, languages and people groups.

‘After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, ‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” Revelation 7:9-10

What a great and glorious day that will be!  But we don’t want to wait until then to hear the languages of Uganda proclaiming the name of Jesus.  God has created every people to worship Him in their own unique way.

Language of the Bamasaaba

When the Bamasaaba (Pastor Shem’s tribe) shout out Yesu asimiwe!  (Praise Jesus!)  They are praising God as only the Bamasaaba can praise Him.  They have their own special language, dance and culture that God made for the purpose of worshiping Him.  When the Bamasaaba worship God as Bamasaaba they bring glory and honor to His name.  I hope you get this, because I’m about to have a Hallelujah moment just thinking about it.

People talk about the relatively small number of Lumasaaba speakers in the world (only three million).  Those statistics are not our focus.  We think about individual person in that group.  Three million – that’s a lot of lives, hopes, dreams.  Does their relative obscurity among the world’s population minimize the beauty or significance of their language?   In reference to Bible translation, some ask,  “Is the cost/benefit ratio worth it?”  While they make a valid point, it is not the final word on the matter.  Let’s expand that 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 was the Bamasaaba themselves who completed it.   The print version of the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, was released at Christmas 2016.  This is a monumental step forward for the Bamasaaba.

John 3:16 in Lumasaaba

This Bible is destined to standardize spelling, grammar and syntax of the Lumasaaba language.  It will give credence to the language.

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.

Mary Matuwa

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.  It was a revelation to here that “my Savior speaks my language!”

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.

Endangered 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.

Yes, we speak of Lumasaaba as an endangered language.  We say it is getting lost .  Pastor Shem’s father at 87 years old, stated that 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. Shem’s father passed away last year. He was our living Lumasaaba dictionary. People complain that 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.

Audio Scripture

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.

We have found there is a direct link to reading the Word in Lumasaaba and then the pastor preaching in Lumasaaba.  As it stands now after the scripture reading in church (Luganda language was the only one available for years) the pastor just naturally switched to that language when preaching.  That is why Pastor Shem takes every opportunity to read the Lumasaaba Bible in public.  He is often given the floor at pastor meetings to read entire chapters.  This helps people get used to the words of their own language that they have forgotten.



Join us in speaking Lumasaaba

Have you ever been riding in a minibus crammed together with 21 other sweaty people and wanted to tell someone sitting next to you that they have spinach between their teeth or toilet paper stuck to their shoe. Certainly it can be an awkward situation for anyone, especially if you don’t speak the same language.

Now you will be equipped to handle just such embarrassing moments with ease and confidence, especially if the other person is a Lumasaaba speaker.


Catherine and Shem Mabongor, leaders of Open Chapel International, have compiled a Lumasaaba language course, called Learning Lumasaaba, that will help you communicate exactly what you want to say in Pastor Shem’s native language of Lumasaaba.

Catherine Mabongor is from Alaska, but she loves the language of Lumasaaba.  She should – after all she is married to a Mumasaaba.  For years, Catherine has been asking her husband, Pastor Shem Mabongor (leader of Open Chapel International) a million questions about how to speak Lumasaaba.  The result of all of those inquiries is a Lumasaaba language learning book.

It has such helpful phrase as:

You’re standing on my foot. Wemile khushikyele shasse.

Where’s the toilet. Shisheyo shili wiyena.

Or perhaps more importantly:

My female cousin from my uncle on my mother’s side wants a cup of sugar.

Umukoko wasse uwa hotsa akana shikombe sukari.

You will learn how to speak in far and near past, as well as present and future tense, give commands and ask questions. It explains the difficult concepts of demonstrative pronouns, verb infinitives, indicative mood and negation.

Over two-hundred pages of the – who, what, when, and how – of Lumasaaba, including cultural notes, practical conversation practice, extensive vocabulary lists, and practical application through grammar exercises. There is no other book of its kind.

Get the Book

If you would like your copy, you will soon be able to order for Kindle on (which will include audio recordings of all the Lumasaaba text).  The final product should be available for Christmas 2018 giving.

There are over one and a half million Lumasaaba speakers in the world. This book is without precedent. It will encourage missionaries and other aid workers to use the heart language of those they minister to. Even other tribes within Uganda will find this book helpful in learning the language of their neighbors. Learning Lumasaaba will also become the gold standard for spelling, grammar and syntax for Lumasaaba, therefore helping to preserve the language from further erosion.

 Audio & Print Library

We are also in the process of compiling an audio and print library of Lumasaaba including:

  • Sunday School Lessons
  • Sermons in Tribal Languages
  • Songs in Original Tongue
  • Prayers in God’s Language
  • New Believers Correspondence Course

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