In 2014, the Ilchamus people of Kenya brought an urgent request to Bible Translation and Literacy (BTL), the Wycliffe organization in Kenya and a partner organization of Wycliffe USA. “The evil one is taking over,” they said. “We need God’s Word. Will you help us?”
A few years earlier, BTL had helped the Ilchamus begin a translation project. Drafts of seven New Testament books were produced, but due to alphabet problems and disunity, the project was discontinued. Now they were ready to start again.
BTL agreed to help. They consulted with Seed Company, a Wycliffe affiliate organization that provides guidance and funding for translation projects, and decided to follow a project model called the Common Framework for Bible Translation. The model emphasizes local ownership of the translation process, as well as the rapid distribution of Scripture portions in easily accessible forms.
Increased ownership by the local community was their first concern. BTL, Seed Company, and a team from the Ilchamus worked together on the initial planning. They began by discussing the needs of the community. Together they defined a long list of needs and prioritized them. At the top of the list, they put “High rate of poverty and no hope for a better life.”
The Ilchamus were challenged to identify Scripture that would address each need, and as they found these passages, their excitement grew. To address poverty, they chose the Gospel of Matthew because it includes Jesus’ teachings about God as provider. They chose other books based on how each one would meet a need in their community. “Now we see how God’s Word applies to life!” they exclaimed.
Planning for rapid impact came next. They looked for ways they could package Scripture portions so that the Ilchamus could begin to engage with God’s Word in a short period of time, a few months. They decided to start with a set of Scripture portions in written and oral forms, as well as hymns, Bible stories and the “JESUS” film.
In April 2015, after four months of planning, the Ilchamus started translating. Six months later, they dedicated the Gospel of Matthew – their first published Scripture and the first book of any kind in their language. Disunity and lack of interest were gone. Approximately 3,000 people came to celebrate, joyfully dancing and singing! They bought 1,000 copies of Matthew and downloaded an audio recording of Matthew onto mobile devices hundreds of times.
The Scriptures quickly began to have impact. Lives began changing, and churches became more active partners in Bible translation. With interest high, they moved on to translate the Gospel of Luke and the “JESUS” film. They’re still on the move, completing more translation, wrapping some of it up in hymns and Bible stories, and producing more written and oral Scripture.
BTL and Seed Company are still partnering with them, providing consultant help and some funds, but the local community has made the project their own. Their translated Scripture finds ready users because both the portions chosen and the ways they are presented speak to the unique needs of the Ilchamus community.