Sunday, March 5, 2023

Mother Languages Day 2022 (Jennings)

February 21 is International Mother Languages Day. For the past 11 years, we've had a joint celebration with Shalom University of Bunia, including academic papers and cultural presentations. This year there were only 3 papers, two of which were given by Douglas! He described the process by which "new" languages are officially added to the world's list of languages, and he reported on the results of a literacy survey done in the Vanuma language. There was good interest in both of his presentations.

The other presentation was given by a young man who runs a school for the Kihema language. He has trained people in person here in Bunia, and many more via WhatsApp, for people in the diaspora. With the Hema community under attack the past several years, there is increased interest for people to learn their traditions and language. Several of his students presented a sketch, showing the elaborate system of greetings and welcome in a Hema household. Then they described the many uses and benefits of cow's milk (the Hema are herders), and they made butter using the traditional method, in a large calabash (gourd).

Finally came the most popular part of the day... singing and dancing! We heard from the Hema, Ndo Kebhu, Kakwa and Lugbara groups. Here are some video clips. The Lugbara community in Bunia is quite large and enthusiastic. Their leader works at Shalom, and he led them in the singing and dancing. Many audience members came up on the stage to join in.

For the larger groups, especially Lugbara, the dancing started as a presentation, facing the audience, but soon turned into a circular dance. To me, that seemed to show that dance is a communal activity, not just something to present to an audience.


Monday, July 19, 2021

The Amazing Race, Eye Surgery Edition (by Jennings)

Rwanda Charity Eye Hospital (...the finish line)

(Note: This is how I experienced the days leading up to Douglas' eye surgery. He plans to give his perspective in a later post.) 

One Saturday in early May, Douglas told me that he was having blurry vision in his left eye. He had something very similar in his right eye in January 2020, and that turned out to be a tear in his retina that he was able to have repaired in Birmingham. We assumed that he was having the same problem in his left eye this time. He needed to have his eye checked ASAP, and he would probably need treatment. But we didn't know where to go, only that he would most likely need to leave the country. 

At this point, it started to feel like a nightmare episode of The Amazing Race: 

"Your husband's left eye needs urgent treatment or he could end up with a detached retina. You will need to do the following:

 1. Get his passport back from immigration (it had been sent in for a new visa) or get a document to stand in place of the passport.

2. Find out where in east Africa you can get retina treatment

3. Figure out how to get there and buy a ticket

4. Get a COVID test

5. Find a place to stay in a place where you might not know anyone

Also, time is of the essence, as he could end up with a detached retina and lose sight in his eye.

Okay, go!"

Friday, January 22, 2021

Guest post: the Omi New Testament

A dear friend in the UK, Dr. Sarah Casson, has been working for many years as a translation consultant with the Omi Bible translation team, near the border of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with South Sudan. She recently wrote a beautiful newsletter about the translators, their community, and how the translated Scriptures are already being used. The Omi are set to publish their New Testament + Genesis in the coming months. I asked if I could repost part of her newsletter here, and she kindly agreed. I have edited slightly to remove names, and added emphasis (bold).


 “By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth…” Ps. 65:5

motorbike travel: the quickest way in north-eastern DRC

There are upsides to being remote, and I don’t mean attending meetings in pyjamas. While much of the world was paralysed by the pandemic in 2020, it was business as usual for the Omi translators in a small town in north-eastern DRC. This meant persevering through the final technical checks of their New Testament in Omiti. It meant travelling by motorbike regularly to the nearest town –  dodging tropical storms and road blocks –  to get a good enough connection to work with me via zoom, as well as fixing the solar battery system when it fried, and pausing work to attend funerals of loved ones, including grandchildren.

Omi language team
Mercifully the coronavirus has continued largely to pass the Omi community by, and in November 2020, seventeen years after two translators first began work on the Gospel of Luke, the green light was given for typesetting. The process was carried out by a Cameroonian colleague, a specialist typesetter. It involved laying out the text, making maps, inserting images, headings and front matter, running consistency checks and much more. A last-minute installation of an internet connection at their office meant that the translators were able to work regularly on zoom from the heart of their community. Our first three-way video meeting with the translators in DRC, the typesetter in Cameroon and me in the UK brought broad smiles to all our faces. Ten years ago this would have been impossible and the typesetting would have been shelved till after the pandemic. I’m not always as thankful for technology as I should be; praise God for it!

preparing the text for typesetting

detail of map of 1st century Palestine in Omiti

The New Testament and Genesis, combined in one volume, are now typeset and awaiting printing. It’s hard to express how extraordinary this achievement is! Before preparation for Bible translation work began in this disadvantaged community, the Omi language had never been written. Speakers were used to their language and culture being despised and overlooked. Even in other parts of DRC, people have rarely heard of the Omi people. Church services in the Omi region are frequently led in more dominant languages such as Bangala and Lugbara, though Omi speakers often only understand these partially. This gives the message that Omiti is not a worthy medium for communicating important information and that God speaks a foreign language. Gradually as the translation has progressed the Catholic church has started to use passages in church services, following the lectionary. Scripture read in Omiti triggers lots of animated discussion outside church. People are starting to grasp that God speaks their language and loves them and their culture!

church choir and traditional harp on the move
The translation has demanded dogged determination from the translators and other members of the Omi project team. They’ve been through many dangers, toils and snares. They were left reeling when an American colleague died suddenly in January 2019. He had been involved with the Omi language from the beginning of the project, and had hoped to accompany the team over the finish line of New Testament publication. There have been many other moments of disorientation: the period when the Lord’s Resistance Army passed through the region in 2009, then another rebel group in 2013, the time when one of the translators nearly died of malaria while at a workshop in Bunia, and moments when highly skilled colleagues have resigned. As I scroll through the pages of precise Omi script with its delicate tone markings I am moved to tears remembering the struggle it represents. Its completion is a testimony to God’s faithfulness and grace. 

May God’s Word in Omiti bring hope, joy and fullness of life to Omi people as they hear about Jesus, who has not passed them by but has come to the heart of their culture.

by Dr. Sarah Casson

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Virtual Scripture checking (Jennings)


A translation consultant (back left) and new translation team in Isiro

Back in March of this year, I was supposed to travel to Isiro for a consulting session with a new translation team on their first translated Scripture portion, Genesis 37-50, the story of Joseph. New teams often start with one of the Gospels. But after much discussion, this group decided to start with Genesis, to give their community a fuller background to God's story before Jesus's birth. They started with chapters 37-50 because it is narrative (mostly), which is easier to translate than more theological passages, such as the beginning of Genesis. Better to start with easier passages first, to hone translation skills, and to create something interesting people will want to read or listen to as their first experience of Scripture in their mother tongue.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Calm and the Storm

In March, we watched in horror and wonder as COVID-19 spread through much of the world. In DRCongo, we began to prepare and brace ourselves. But so far, there have only been 2 confirmed cases in our province, and those were months ago. So it was as if we were living in the calm before the storm. Except we had our own storm. Here’s how it all looked to us.

March 31, 2020: Coronavirus had begun to spread in the capital, Kinshasa, and there were 2 confirmed cases in Ituri province, where we live, including one in our town of Bunia. The Congolese government issued restrictions: schools, churches and restaurants were closed; public gatherings of more than 20 people were prohibited. Our administration decided to close our office. We had a final prayer meeting and said good-bye to each other.

Prayer meeting to close our office

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Home Improvement!

Ever since we moved into this house in 2011, we've struggled with flooding every time there is a heavy rain. There has been an incomplete drainage ditch coming off the road and running along the left side of our compound. In recent years, the city widened the drain at the road, and now all the rain water from both directions comes into that hole. Then... it just created a flood that swept water, debris, trash (including broken glass) and layers of dirt into our side yard. Here are a few photos:  
After a storm, layer of dirt and debris on the patio (including broken bottle)
We tried adding sandbags, but they also got flooded

At the end of March, our landlord sent a work team to build a large, cement drainage ditch that would carry all the rain water from our street to the street below, instead of into our yard. Alongside the ditch, they built a brick wall between our compound and the neighbor's. A team of 10 young men did the work. Some of them were high school students available because schools are closed due to COVID-19, others are full-time masons. They worked hard for 5 weeks, 6 days a week, 8-10 hours a day. We kept them supplied with drinking water and snacks, set up a hand-washing station, talked to them about COVID-19, and kept the dogs inside, away from them. 
Drainage ditch on the left, wall starting on right

Monday, March 2, 2020

Back in Bunia!! (by Jennings)

A year or so ago, I drafted a blog post reminiscing about all the things we love about our life in Bunia, and wondered if we would ever get back to that "normal" life... the life we loved, that was interrupted by my cancer.
Well, here we are!!! We are so thankful to God that He has allowed us to return.
Much is the same. Same house, same furniture, same employees, same dogs, same office. We're all a bit older, and I do feel the effects of the cancer treatment on my body. But it's been mostly a very smooth transition back to our Congolese life.
Front of the house (our entrance is on the right)
Dogs playing their weird little game

Monday, February 17, 2020

Bonus Time (by Jennings)

This is part of a series of short posts I'm writing to reflect on what God has done in my life and how my experience with cancer -- the pressures and the opportunities -- has changed me. I hope that it may have some benefit to encourage others.
Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money". Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that." James 4:13-15

When I heard that my cancer had returned, as a metastasis (one to be treated "aggressively"), my whole outlook changed. Would the treatment work? Would I make it to age 53? To 60? Suddenly, planning for the future took on a new meaning... would I *have* a future, in this world? For how long? I was still reeling, emotionally, when Douglas called me from Uganda. "I have bad news." One of our dear friends in Nairobi had died of a heart attack. Out of the clear blue, at his son's soccer game. He was only 62, a runner, in excellent health, as far as we all knew. I was worried about my lifespan in terms of years... but nothing is promised to us, not the next five minutes.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Home Sick (by Jennings)

(or "How we came to visit family in the U.S. for the holidays, and I ended up bald and living in my parents' guest room")

NB: I wrote this piece back in March 2019, when I was still reeling from the news that I had a recurrence of endometrial cancer, as a metastasis, and that I would need 4 months of chemo and radiation and might need to stay in the U.S. for 2 years. At the time, I wondered if I would ever see our home in Bunia again. My deepest fear was that our life there was over, and I was in shock at that idea. I wrote the following post in the midst of those thoughts and emotions. I'm posting it now because it expresses much of what I love about our Congolese life.
What "coming home" looks like, every day, in Bunia

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

October Highlights 2: Workshop in Goma

The last week of October and first week of November, I (Jennings) traveled to Goma to work with four teams that are in the early stages of translation. At the moment, they are midway through the translation of Luke's gospel.
A large part of the workshop focused on using Paratext software. I tried to use some adult learning techniques I had been reading about. A few weeks before the workshop, I asked the project managers to find out what the translators most wanted to work on, that would be most helpful to their work going forward. They answered that they really needed work on computer software (Paratext), key Biblical terms, and exegesis. I tried to make sure there would be lots of practice and repetition, so that they would remember what they learned. One day, I gave them an exercise to do and joked that it was a "quiz". They seemed to like the idea, as a challenge, so we had an exam at the end of the workshop. This was to help them feel that the certificate they received reflected a real, measurable accomplishment.