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Bible Translation is not the Goal

Years ago, while just beginning to learn about Kwakum culture, we asked a language partner for the worst thing he could imagine his son doing. His response was very telling. He said the worst thing he could imagine for his son was for him to get caught stealing. It was very interesting to me that he did not say “for my son to steal” but “for my son to get caught stealing.” This gave me an insight into the pressure of shame in the Kwakum culture. There is even a song that we sing sometimes in church that basically uses shame to encourage church members to be obedient to God. Part of the song goes: “In the villages people are talking about you. Behind the houses people are talking about you. They are speaking about you, so you better obey.”

One of the most striking ways that shame tempts believers here is in regard to confession of sin. Perhaps this is true of all of us, but it seems particularly true here: people do not confess their sins (or even their errors). In fact, I have never heard a Kwakum person publicly admit sin or wrong. That is, until recently.

A few weeks ago, one of our young new believers (we’ll call him Jacques) got into a fight with his brother. And boy was it a fight! The whole village started gathering around to watch as this young Christian yelled at his brother, hit him, and at one point even wielded a machete. Yikes! When I (Dave) realized what was happening I took Jacques aside and talked to him. We discussed how Jesus responded to conflict and he was willing to admit to me that he had done wrong.

Later Stacey took Jacques aside. He explained the situation, talked about how hard it was to be a Christian, and cried in his sorrow over what he did. Stacey gave him some assigned Bible reading with an opportunity for him to respond. She discussed it with him and asked at the end if he would be willing to confess his sin to our discipleship group. After some consideration, he agreed! The next Sunday evening, Jacques confessed his sin to our group and was comforted with reminders of grace and forgiveness.

You really cannot overestimate how big of a deal this is! This is literally the first time we have ever heard a Kwakum person confess sin publicly. And while this is only the beginning, it is a thrilling beginning.

But here’s the rub. Jacques has grown up in the church and can both speak and read French well. He has heard sermons all his life about the confession of sin. And while he has heard the words, they have never registered, never affected his life. Why? Because while he has heard the words, he has never seen them put into practice. He has never been discipled.

The greatest command in all of history is from Jesus in Matthew 28: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” You will notice that Jesus never said, “Go translate the Bible.” Obviously, I believe that Bible translation is a worthy endeavor. It is hard to “teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded” if they cannot understand what Jesus commanded. But Bible translation is not the goal, it is a means. Discipleship is the goal. This is in part because the Bible is fundamentally a book designed to be taught. We live in an amazing age in which the vast majority of people are able to read the Bible on their own. Throughout most of history (pre-Guttenberg) people have heard the Scriptures in community, and almost always accompanied with teaching. We are meant to understand the Bible together. And we are meant to understand the Bible with teachers.

This means that discipleship requires teaching and living out the Gospel. Discipleship is slow, difficult, and often heartbreaking. However, whenever we see young disciples taking steps toward Christ (even the small ones), we understand more the joy of heaven when one sinner repents.

I say all of this because our ministry model is not the fastest. We have taken some time recently out of translating Old Testament stories to work up a short evangelistic Bible study in Kwakum (which I will discuss below). We are thankful to have the freedom to do this because our organization (World Team) agrees that discipleship is the goal. Our plan is to spend many more years among the Kwakum, hoping to see many disciples of Jesus Christ, and even encourage a Kwakum-led church.

Progress: Bible Translation

We have been working on Old Testament Bible storying since February 2020. In that time we have finished completely 12 Bible stories and have started a total of 18. The process has been described before but is long and careful. Our most recent joy has been translating through the Joseph narrative. We had to break it down into 6 stories, as it is very long. It has been amazing to see how much these stories connect with the culture here. One aspect I had never thought about was how Joseph gave Benjamin 5 portions of meat at the feast at his house. When we read that, our translators went nuts! Can you imagine? Giving that much meat to the youngest brother! It makes me realize how similar the culture here is to the Jewish culture, and how that helps the Kwakum to grasp nuances to the text that I would naturally miss.

Progress: Evangelistic Bible Study

As I mentioned above, while we have made progress in our Old Testament story translations, we took a bit of a detour to work on an evangelistic Bible study. This study starts with who God is and walks the reader through the Fall and later the life and death of Christ. Then, it gives a short overview of the future coming of Christ and ends with a discussion about a life of faith. This has been a great study even for our translation team. One of the team (Bosco) said to me one day, “This book will be a great tool for evangelism, but I want to have a copy at home for me and my family to discuss.”

One of the main reasons that we decided to take this detour is that we have about 1 year left before our next furlough to the US. The estimated life expectancy in Cameroon is 58.1 years old (as opposed to 78.5 in the US). Three of our current Bible translators are older than 58, as well as our literacy director. One of our translators died in June of this year after a protracted illness. The truth is, people are dying around us every day, many of them do not know the Gospel. We are working on this study to equip Kwakum believers to share the Gospel now, while the Kwakum Bible is still incomplete. Please be praying that God would use these efforts to save many.

Progress: Literacy

Stacey and I have continued literacy classes in Dimako. Stacey has been working with the completely illiterate, whereas my class has been for those already literate in French. We took the final test a few weeks back and I had four students pass! We have moved on to a writer’s workshop where we have begun to produce a newsletter and some short booklets. The goal with the writer’s workshop is to get people writing consistently and producing things that others would want to read.

Progress: Discipleship

Our discipleship study has been increasingly encouraging. We have tried to cover topics very practical for the lives of the young believers. Recently, Stacey did a study on how important it is to read (or listen to) the Bible every day. At least one young man has taken that to heart and came to Stacey the other day with a concern because he had been reading something in the Old Testament. In this passage, a prophet was accusing Israel of sin because they had been eating rats. He was concerned because the Kwakum (including himself) regularly eat rats. It was a great opportunity for a discussion about the different parts of the Bible and how the apply to believers.

Prayer

  • Please be praying for the young believers in our discipleship group. Their names are: Patrice, Koo, Mami, Inde, Guilene, Jean Pierre, and Falonne. This is a very difficult place to be faithful in your walk with Christ. Pray that they would endure in the faith.

  • Please pray for the Evangelistic Bible Study in Kwakum. Pray that the end product would be easy to understand and would lead many to faith in Christ.

  • Pray for our kids. They are surrounded both by the Bible and by darkness. Please pray that they would choose Christ.

Praise

  • Praise the Lord for progress in Bible translation. I was just in a small village visiting one of our literacy graduates today and he said that he had heard we had translated the Sodom and Gomorrah story and he was excited to read it!

  • Praise the Lord for growth in the new believers. The more we see fruit the easier it is to keep pressing on. God is so gracious to allow us to see fruit.

  • Praise the Lord for protection. Throughout the COVID emergencies, we have stayed safe and healthy and have been able to continue working with only minor inconveniences.

As always, thank you for reading and for your prayers. We would love to pray for you so hit reply and let us know how to be praying.

Dave and Stacey Hare

http://haretranslation.com

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