How does a pastor preach without a Bible in his own language? HAZEL SOUTHAM travels to Burkina Faso to find out
Imagine trying to lead a church and build up a congregation without having a Bible in your own language. That’s the unenviable task of Pastor Matio Tindano (52) in rural Burkina Faso.
Burkina Faso is the world’s third poorest nation according to the United Nations. But it is also Bible poor.
Out of the West African country’s staggering 66 languages, only seven have even a New Testament. The rest have nothing.
In a largely Muslim and animist nation this has made spreading the Gospel difficult.
But, that could be set to change, thanks to a scheme sponsored by Biblefresh, a group of more than 40 Christian organisations here in Britain.
As part of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, Christians across the UK are being encouraged to get back into the Good Book – and help bring the Bible to Matio and many more like him.
How? Wycliffe Bible Translators and Bible Society are working together with local people to translate the Old Testament into the Bissa Lebir language and the New Testament into the neighbouring Bissa Barka language, both spoken widely in rural Burkina Faso.
This would ultimately bring the life-changing message of God’s love to more than 580,000 people.
Matio and his family are Bissa Barka speakers. Currently, the Bible isn’t available in their language. And that makes it hard for Matio to help lead the congregation in the village of Garango.
“The first difficulty is that in order to share the Gospel with the Bissa Barka people I use the Moore language. But there’s an historic problem between the two peoples, so that is a block for ordinary people. They don’t listen to what I have to say.”
Undeterred, Matio preaches in the local tongue – Bissa Barka – but all Bible readings have to be done in the unpopular Moore or the national language, French. Anecdotally however, it seems that locally as many as 90% of people don’t speak French, making the Bible a closed book, even to Christians.
Pastor Timothee Balbone (49) is the president of the Assemblies of God Church for the Bissa region. He says that the absence of a Bible in their language limits people’s understanding of their own beliefs.
“It’s difficult,” he says. “There cannot be much depth to people’s faith. It’s not really easy to lead people without having a Bible because you try to teach people something, but they can’t remember what you’ve said, as nothing is written down.
“It’s not a happy situation. We don’t like it, but we have to cope with it.
“Having the Bissa Barka New Testament will be a miracle,” he adds. “We’ll celebrate for days. Old people will be able to understand it. They’ll just read it and know.
“People will feel that God has come to us. It will be a big help.”
Back at Pastor Matio’s house, the struggle to try to understand the Bible continues. To read anything, his family use two different translations and a couple of dictionaries.
His wife, Agratou (43) admits that sometimes the effort is just too much.
“Often I don’t read the Bible because it’s just too difficult,” she says. “Every time I read the Bible to my children, I have to translate it so that they can understand. It’s been hard.
“I’m really in a hurry for the Bissa Barka New Testament to arrive. Then my neighbours and other Muslim women will listen to me when I talk about Jesus.”
Christians in the UK are being asked to give £1 for every Bible that they own to help start the work that will result in people like Matio and Agratou being able to read a Bible easily in their home.
Just £30 could translate a short passage, such as the parable of the sower; £70 could pay for an account of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 and £200 could see the creation account of Genesis retold.
The reality is, that because life expectancy is low in Burkina Faso, Matio, Agratou and Pastor Timothee may not see the New Testament in their lifetime. But Agratou is looking to the future: “My grandchildren will be able to read the New Testament in their mother tongue and will understand it better,” she says, smiling.
• For further details of how you can get involved, visit www.biblefresh.com
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