The Tembo people are literally dancing for joy after finally receiving the Bible in their native tongue thanks to a 21-year effort by Wycliffe Bible Translators.
It was a dangerous undertaking. This African tribe is situated deep in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they face nonstop violence and persecution.
“They experienced war and insecurity in their area for more than 20 years,” Jon Hampshire, Communications Coordinator for Wycliffe says. “They’ve had to work with this threat on their welfare and the welfare of their families the entire time they were doing this translation.”
Hampshire and his wife Cindi have spent the last two decades working to bring the gospel to the Congolese in their own language.
He says the Tembo people have faced displacement, deadly combat, ethnic and political unrest, and even a volcanic eruption that destroyed many homes.
“I would get emails from them saying ‘Today, we were doing translation work and the bullets were flying and we were hiding under out desks.’ Yet, these friends of ours persevered and continued working through these great challenges,” Hampshire said.
None of that compares to the joy of finally having the Bible in their own language. They welcomed the new Bibles with praising, singing, and dancing.
“They’ve had the Bible in Swahili, which is the trade language of the area and they’ve had the Bible in French, which is the national language, but these languages don’t speak to their hearts like their mother tongue does,” he said. “We’ve heard testimony after testimony of people who’ve said ‘I’ve heard that verse in French and I’ve heard that verse in Swahili, but I didn’t ever really know what it meant until I heard it in my mother tongue.'”
The regional vice governor was so moved by the accomplishment he vowed to place the new Bible in every school in his province.
Now, the translators are working on four new translations for other Congolese languages. .
Hampshire says Christians who have the luxury of reading the Bible in their native tongue have a lot to learn from these translators.
“They consider this a very precious book. We’ve got the Bible in English, in my mother tongue. We’ve got the Bible in many different versions. These people have one version, one New Testament,” he said.
There are hundreds of languages in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone and Wycliffe will continue translating the Bible one language at a time.