Thursday, November 9, 2017

Tembo New Testament received with much joy! (by Jennings)

(This post is taken from a recent newsletter, but with more photos and description.)

After more than 20 years of linguistic work, literacy classes, translation and checking, war and insecurity, the Tembo people now have the entire New Testament in their language! Praise God!!

The dedication ceremony was held Oct. 7, in the city of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Tembo home area is actually several hours away, in another province. But the project moved to Goma around 15 years ago because of militia fighting in their home area, a knock-on effect of the genocide in Rwanda. The situation in the Tembo homeland is still dire at times… villages burned, pillaged, people attacked, raped, killed.

Translator Robert Mwanjale (far right) in the village of Ziralo, distributing the book of Genesis.
Goma has not always been much safer. The Tembo continued working there in 2002, after a volcanic eruption that sent lava through the center of town, and in 2012, when the city was taken over by Rwandan rebels.

Road to the Goma airport, with the volcano Mount Nyiragongo in the background. Lava from multiple eruptions covers much of the city and surrounding area.
Goma, city of over 1 million people
The Tembo community in Goma is strong and cohesive, and they have been very supportive of the translation project. They attend literacy classes in Tembo and teach their children to speak and read the language, even though Goma is dominantly Swahili. There are weekly radio broadcasts in the Tembo language, including songs, Scripture readings and preaching. Tembo people from all over the area call in to comment and to send greetings over the radio to family who are scattered. The Tembo translators and literacy workers make regular visits to the home area despite the danger. (Recently, two Tembo project workers were robbed and roughed up by militia on their way home from a trip.)

The Tembo had always planned to hold the dedication in the town of Bunyakiri, where the project first started. But due to insecurity and bad roads, they decided to have it in Goma, for the safety of visitors and to thank the Goma community for their support.

Thousands of people came to celebrate, dance, and hear Scripture in Tembo. Several of us attended from our Bunia office, and others came from Kinshasa, Kenya, the U.S. and Europe. It was a joyful celebration from start to finish!

The ceremony was held in a large, new hall that normally rents for thousands of dollars a day. A well-wisher donated it for the ceremony for just the cost of cleaning. Local support for Tembo language work was evident. The Vice Governor of the Province came, as did several church denomination leaders. But most of the attendants were Tembo people – men, women and children. They heard Scripture read, sang songs, danced, and heard speeches.

Tembo ladies listening to Scripture being read in their language

Above: Dancing to traditional Tembo music. At one point, a policeman approached the crowd, and I wondered what he would do. He joined in the dancing, enthusiastically. 

The family in the photo above have a long-time relationship with the Tembo project. The husband and wife (far right) lived in Bunyakiri and helped get translation work started in the early 1990s. Their daughter (second from left) now teaches in Uganda, and she is engaged to the man next to her. He is Ugandan and speaks Luganda, the largest language in the country. Interestingly, he could not follow any of the French or much of the Swahili in the service, but he could read and hear quite a lot of the Tembo, because they are related (Bantu) languages.

Above: Honoring the Tembo translation team and language committee. The four men in the middle in black suits are the translation team: Rev Masumbuko Shabani, Rev Rasi Chirimwami, Pastor Ndeshibire Jimmy, and Mwanjale Robert. Next is their denominational president, Rev Kombi, and literacy director Rev Nganga Batasema.
Traditional dancing - it involved a lot of complicated shoulder work. Very impressive!

Rev Masumbuko (head translator) and Rev Rasi (also a team member and a revered pastor) pray as the New Testaments are brought in.

The New Testaments were brought into the hall carried on a litter, as a king would be. There was cheering and joy, but also a sense of solemnity. Reverend Masumbuko, the head translator, was visibly moved. He put his face in his hands as the books approached, and, above, he embraced fellow project member Rev Nganga (far left).

A highlight of the ceremony was this young girl – daughter of Rev Masumbuko - reciting a poem in Tembo. The poem starts as a lament about the bitterness of life: "The world is bitter. The world tastes bad. The world is thorny." Then she asked, "What should we do?" Then she held up the New Testament and proclaimed, "Let us each strive to regularly read the Word of God! The Word of God is our strength. The Word of God is our salvation. The Word of God is our joy!" and she finished by reciting all the books of the New Testament in Tembo. People cheered, and many came to the stage to congratulate her. An official present was so impressed that he announced he was going to pay her school fees for year! (Her mother waved her arms in the air and cheered at that news.)

The ceremony was striking in terms of people’s excitement about Tembo culture and language – music, dancing, multiple readings, the poem – but also in terms of support from the wider community. The Vice Governor attended and gave a speech on the importance of translation for community development in DRC. He also pledged to donate a copy of the Tembo New Testament to every school in the province that has Tembo children.

The president of the Baptist denomination that sponsored the translation, Rev Kombi Kasokero (above, left, addressing the group of honored visitors), has been a passionate advocate for the Tembo translation. He is not Tembo himself, he stands nothing to gain personally from this translation, but he cares about his people. A Dutch journalist interviewed him after the ceremony and asked why he thought Bible translation was important to people, when there are so many other pressing needs – food, education, peace. Rev Kombi said that translation is important so that people will understand the Gospel and learn to live in peace, without killing each other. Amen! That is also our prayer.

Above: the Vice Governor of the province (far left) and the traditional chief of the Tembo people (next to him).

They invited me to say a few words while people were eating their snacks (peanuts, bread, cheese, sausage, and a soda). Rev Nganga translated into Tembo. I told about the first time I went to Goma to work with the Tembo team, 7 years ago, and language committee president came to formally welcome me. He said, "We Tembo, we love working with women. We really appreciate them. Because when the father comes home, he says to the children, "Have you done your homework?" (shaking his finger at them), but when the mother comes home, she says, "Oh my children, have you eaten? (spreading her hands generously before them)"

I told them what a joy and privilege it was to work with the Tembo over the years, and urged them to use the translation to fight false teaching in the church. We see a lot of "prosperity Gospel" teaching here, and we also hear stories of very abusive teaching. In some churches, pastors charge money to pray for people - different sorts of prayer (for healing, for a husband, for a job, etc.) have different prices. Another translator told me about a church that tells people they need to start paying for their "heavenly home" while they are still here in this life. (I didn't ask how much roofing sheets go for in heaven.) The sad thing is that people accept this kind of corruption. When I suggested to the Tembo that their Baptist church could draw people by advertising that they will pray without charging, one reverend said, "But now people think that if they don't pay for prayer, that prayer isn't worth anything." In some churches, rich people are given great honor, while the poor are neglected. This is completely against God's word. But it fits with the culture. There is a need for people to understand what God's word actually says, and to have enough confidence in the truth of it that they can combat these false and harmful teachings.

In addition to the New Testament, they were selling various other publications in the Tembo language, including traditional stories, the book of Genesis, a manual on trauma healing, and an illustrated dictionary (Tembo-French).
Bunia group (including our pilot, back seat middle) heading back to the airport

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