“Come help us with Bible translation!” That clear invitation from Bishop Andrew Gulle from the East of Lake Victoria Diocese (ELVD) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) on behalf of the remote Kerewe language community cannot be more passionately stated.
God has come
The Kerewe people of Tanzania live mainly on a large island in the middle of Lake Victoria. ELVD pastors are reaching out to them but the island is remote and accessible only by a four-hour boat ride from church headquarters in Mwanza.
Swahili, the national language of Tanzania, is widely used on the island. But within Kerewe communities people have limited understanding. “Using Swahili in the church caused people to stay back without praying, without coming to worship,” explains evangelist Sospeter Makene. “They left; they didn’t understand what was being said.”
“The Kerewe are proud of their heritage and their language, Kikerewe” says Jim Laesch, LBT’s Southern and Eastern Africa regional director. “Kikerewe is the language of emotion, song, of heart. Currently, it is mainly a spoken language, there is very little written material.”
The first Bible verses printed in Kerewe in a trial version got people excited. Sospeter remembers his grandfather’s reaction. “When I went to him, Grandfather exclaimed, ‘This is wonderful, now we are going to have this Word of God in our language! This is our open door to come back to the Church because the Word of God has come… in our language.’”
Actual translation began when LBT adjunct missionary Dr. Michael Megahan began working with ELVD Bishop Gulle and Rev. Oscar Lema to build a foundation for a translation effort. A translation work group was formed and translated the book of Jonah in fall 2017. It was shared at twelve different sites on the island. “They gave a thumbs-up approval,” says Michael. “They were ecstatic to hear the Bible in their own language.”
After a brief workshop in May 2018, three individuals were hired to serve on the translation team, including Sospeter Makene. Michael continues to mentor, assisting in team building and understanding all the steps in the translation process. The ELVD supports the plan going forward so that translators, community leaders and church leaders all work together for the same goal.
New LBT missionaries, Andrew and Alexis Olson, will join the team in the spring. Andrew will serve as translation advisor and exegete.
Bishop Gulle looks forward to welcoming the Olsons, saying, “We are eagerly waiting for them to help us with this translation. We want the Kerewe people to hear God speak to them in their language.”
You can be a part of this translation story. Pray for those who speak Kikerewe. Give a gift so that those living on this island would also know Jesus through this partnership with Lutheran Bible Translators.