United Republic of Tanzania
One Saturday in April 2009, the pastor of a church in Bumangi village slowly got onto his bicycle and went down the hill to his church. He went slowly because he was sixty-three years old and nearing retirement, and also because this day was an important day. He had grown up in Bumangi; this was the very same church building where he worshipped with his family as a boy. After finishing his pastoral training, his denomination sent him elsewhere in Tanzania to lead several different congregations, but just last year he had been given the position here in his home village and was allowed to finish his final years of pastoral work in this familiar church.
Today he was expecting visitors, a Bible translation team. Earlier this year they had begun translating the Bible into Zanaki, his mother-tongue, and had now finished Luke 1 and 2. Now they wanted to read it aloud for a small group to get input into how to improve their draft of these chapters. As he neared the church, he saw that a group of people had already arrived and he began to grow excited, realizing that quite soon he would be listening to the Bible read in his own language for the very first time!
When everyone was greeting one another, he saw that a very elderly man who had been the pastor of this church until he retired over twenty years ago was there. This white-haired man was beaming with joy; he could hardly contain himself as he vigourously thanked the translation team for their work to bring the Word to his people. As they all went into the church together, the current pastor talked to the others about how when he arrived at this church a year ago he had to change his usual preaching style to include speaking some in Zanaki. He had been used to only using the national language, Swahili, when preaching, but he had realized that not everyone understood when he read the Swahili Bible or preached in Swahili, so had started to use both languages when preaching. “However,” he told the translation team, “I still have to read only the Swahili Bible because there is none in Zanaki yet! We are so happy you are working on it now and it will bless our church very much by helping people to understand.” The retired pastor joined in, saying that people grew excited whenever Zanaki was spoken at church and would go up to the pastor afterwards to thank him for using it. He said, “It touches our hearts like Swahili doesn’t. We know the meaning of the Swahili words, but only from school and work. They aren’t deep words to us, they don’t go inside us like Zanaki words do.”
The translation team and the people from Bumangi village who had come to help by giving feedback all sat down, and one translator stood up to read Luke 1. The two pastors sat next to each other, both eager for the moment and serious with the weight of it. What a blessing to be among this small group of Zanaki people, the first ever to hear the Bible in their mother tongue, and to hear it while sitting in their very own village church where they had pastored the people of Bumangi. One day it would be another pastor who would have the opportunity to actually preach from the translated Scriptures when they were complete, but here they were among the first ever in the world to hear Luke read in Zanaki.
In Zanaki, the translator read, “The good word of Jesus, as writen by Luke.” The two pastors nodded and smiled. This was just the beginning of what would be deep words, words that would reach inside the Zanaki people.