After decades of work, four New Testament translations are dedicated on the same day
By Natalie Holsten
The day was a mix of joyous celebration and solemn ceremony. The sounds of exuberant singing and traditional harp and drums filled the air. Some participants danced, wearing outfits made from the same blue patterned cloth, a Congolese tradition to mark a special occasion.
If there was ever a special occasion to mark, this was it: the Pagabete, Mono, Lobala, and Ngbandi-Ngiri—four people groups in the northwest part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—were receiving the New Testament in their heart languages. These four groups combined are almost half a million people.
“Today is a great day for us,” said Rev. Bolobo Obed, coordinator of the Lobala translation, who attended the April 25 dedication in Gemena. “We are very happy that now the New Testament in Lobala is completed. Now the Lobala people have the book in their hands, and we pray that this book will change lives for the glory of God.”
The translations didn’t come easy. More than three decades ago, western missionaries from Wycliffe Bible Translators began working in several tribes that did not yet have the Bible, or even a written language, in their mother tongue.
When missionary Sharon Morgan first traveled to the village of Ngakpo in 1995 to work with the Pagabete people, the journey required travel by truck, dugout canoe, and bicycle. The trip, which took several days, was exhausting.
An MAF pilot, Phil Smith, accompanied Sharon and her coworker on a subsequent trip to the village, to see if an old airstrip there could be used. The pilot instructed the villagers to trim palm tree branches and take down a huge termite mound at one end of the airstrip. After that, pilot Rod Hochstetler did the first flight for the missionaries, and the difference was profound.
“That was so wonderful, as after that we could go in and out by plane, so rather than taking a couple of days of tiring travel, we could be there in about half an hour,” Sharon recalled. “I remember the first time we flew in that way, and I was expecting to be too tired to do much the first day, needing to recover, but of course, we weren’t tired!”
When war broke out in the DRC in 1996, the missionaries were forced to leave, and it soon became evident that they would not be able to return and continue their work.
The Congolese, determined to see the scriptures in their languages, took over the translation, encouraged and advised by the missionaries from afar. The national translators persisted through many difficulties, including the ongoing disruption of civil war, sickness, and the loss of co-workers. As MAF was able, flights were done to support to the translation work.
“MAF has been very useful and at the heart of Bible translation works, and especially the Lobala Translation Project,” Rev. Bolobo shared.
Rev. Bolobo has seen firsthand how hearing God’s word in a heart language can change lives. He recalled one Lobala preacher who had abandoned his faith for many years. “But after hearing the living Word of God preached in Lobala during one of our visits to the Lobala language areas, he repented and came back to God. We prayed for him and he resumed his preaching work as a catechist. This was so touching to the Lobala translation team during our visits.”
Despite the challenges, the work moved forward, and in April of this year, the four New Testament translations were dedicated. MAF staff Rod and Valerie Hochstetler and Dan Carlson, along with several of the missionaries who did the pioneer translation work, were able to fly on MAF into Gemena to join in the celebration.
“It was a gift of God to see the thread of Him working in people’s lives over the span of thirty years,” Rod shared. “As pilots we have a bird’s-eye view of God’s creation; being at this dedication was a bird’s-eye view of God at work over time.”
Each translator received a copy of their New Testament translation, and after the service, members of the different language groups were able to purchase New Testaments of their own.
“My hope is that by receiving these New Testaments, people’s lives will be transformed, people will be nourished by the Word,” said Rev. Goma Mabele, director of ACOTBA, the Congolese Bible translation organization that oversaw the translations.
MAF will continue to support efforts in the DRC and other parts of the world to help people have the Bible in their heart languages. Your support and prayers play a part in seeing translations like these come to fruition.
This story appeared in the fall 2021 edition of FlightWatch. Read the full issue here: