“I have also undertaken to translate the Bible into German. That was necessary for me; otherwise I might have died someday imagining that I was a learned man. Those who think themselves scholars should try to do this work.” —Martin Luther
From the time of Wycliffe, Huss, Luther, Erasmus and Tyndale until now Bible translation has been one of the foremost evangelistic tools and revolutionized societies on multiple levels as it increases literacy and encourages personal investigation of God’s Word.
One of the great challenges of the 20th and 21st centuries has been expanding translation into the languages of more remote people groups, whole-heartedly believing that God speaks in every tongue.
For Kenya, a land with at least 60 distinct languages in use, one major challenge was finding a way to translate the Bible for certain tribes where no one spoke Swahili, the lingua franca of East Africa.
If no one in that tribe could read the Swahili Bible and no outsiders could speak their tribal language well enough, then another solution had to be found.
Two teams stepped up to the challenge.
Funding the Project
The Bible Society of Kenya and Bible Translation and Literacy were founded in 1970 and 1981 respectively. Their mission to bring the Bible to every tribe in Kenya—on a few occasions the first printed form of some tribes’ language—caught the vice president’s attention.
Fall of 2018, Kenya’s vice president’s wife, Rachel Ruto, came to Colorado Springs and visited with Gary Wilkerson, the president of World Challenge. As she described the initiative, Gary felt moved to help support their cause.
When Ruto returned and told her husband about World Challenge’s support, he was shocked.
Immediately, he began reaching out to other Kenyan political leaders and church ministers, telling them, “This is a project to bring the Bible and literacy all over Kenya. If foreigners care about this, then Kenyans should care even more!”
Local leaders began stepping forward to donate and pledge their support.
By spring, almost all of the current Bible translation projects were funded by the sacrificial generosity spurred into being by the Holy Spirit and the vice president’s vision.
The Ongoing Work
Out of the 60 languages that Kenya’s millions speak, 21 have a complete translation of the Bible. Another 16 languages now have the New Testament.
This leaves 23 languages that either only have select books translated or nothing, so translators are still hard at work.
The translation process begins by entering a village and seeing if any of the native speakers also know either of Kenya’s official languages: English and Swahili. If they don’t, then the translators look for one person who is willing to begin learning another language. As they gain mastery of Swahili or English, they are introduced to the Bible and work with translators to ensure accuracy and readability.
This process can take between 12 and 15 years for an entire Bible.
One woman, upon finally being presented with the Word in her native language, hugged in to her chest and cried out, “We have prayed for many years for this.”
For her and others like her, the Bible is both access to the power of literacy as well as a deeper relationship with God for themselves and the next generations.