In Cameroon, the dream to give birth to a nationally based organization dedicated to Bible translation and literacy developed slowly. The idea began to take shape sometime in 1977, following which various consultations were held around the country to discuss the possibilities and test the felt need. The consultations initially took place in the capital, Yaoundé, and by late 1981 similar meetings had taken place in eight other cities around the country. The organization, Cameroon Association for Bible Translation & Literacy (CABTAL), was officially recognized by the government in 1987 and began work in September 1989.
Working from the start with two major partners (Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL Cameroon Branch), the organization set out as its aim “…to make CABTAL an arm of the Church in Cameroon, for the work of Bible translation, literacy and Scripture use in the mother tongue.” Currently, the ministry operates with three major guiding strategies for mobilization of the Church in Cameroon: Vision sharing with Bible training institutions; Vision sharing with Cameroonian churches; and Recruitment of national language workers.
There are over 270 languages within Cameroon’s borders, presenting a big challenge to CABTAL and its partners. Michel Kenmogne, former General Director of CABTAL, says that the remaining Scripture translation need in Cameroon will involve about 104 of those languages. At present, the ministry is engaged in 23 language programs with around 200 personnel working in various capacities. In order to optimize the use of resources for the remaining need, CABTAL has begun to work with a new strategy: starting programs for groups of related languages – an approach known as “clustering.”
Even though the challenges ahead are huge, CABTAL has seen encouraging results come from its efforts to bring the Scriptures to people in their heart language. When asked to share an example of the impact of the Word on people’s lives, Michel said, “A man who was a witchdoctor in [the Mundani] community watched [the Jesus film] for the first time. The next Sunday he went to church with his wife. Another person expressed surprise to see him there, as he never went to church. The man said, ‘I watched the Jesus Film. If anybody watches that film and does not change his way of living, he is not a human being.’”