While Ethiopia is home to the ancient Garima Gospels, the world’s oldest illustrated Christian book, not all Ethiopians have access to the Scriptures in their own language. Wycliffe Associates hopes to close that gap by working toward the launch of mother-tongue Bible translation workshops for language groups that are without a single verse of the Bible.
“God is at work in Ethiopia,” says Bruce Smith, President and CEO of Wycliffe Associates. “The church is growing fast, but the people and their leaders are painfully aware that having God’s Word in their own heart language is absolutely essential to evangelism, to discipleship, and to the church taking the lead in dealing with humanitarian crises and fighting back against false doctrines.”
The average Ethiopian lives on barely one dollar per day, putting the possibility of independently assembling a Bible translation workshop out of reach for Ethiopian churches.
According to Ethnologue, 88 living languages are spoken in Ethiopia, 85 of which are indigenous languages.
Christians in Ethiopia are asking Wycliffe Associates for the tools to share God’s Word with their people in the language they understand. Mother-tongue translators from 15 language groups are prepared to translate the Scriptures using the organization’s MAST strategy (Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation) at a cost of $20,000 per language.
“They need computer tablets loaded with our translation software and the training to use them,” Smith says. They need a safe place to work; they need help with travel, meals, shelter, and the basics of life while the work is going forward. These are people living in abject poverty.”
“The Ethiopian people’s passion for God’s Word is so great that some have tried to start translating the Scriptures already. But it’s agonizingly slow. Our MAST methodology will propel the work into high gear. They will give it their all. They are not asking anyone else to do it for them. They only need the training and the tools.”
MAST is a collaborative translation method that enables mother-tongue translators to work in parallel, translating and checking multiple passages simultaneously. Using this methodology, the entire New Testament can be translated in months rather than the years that traditional translation methods have previously taken.
In 2016, teams of mother-tongue translators using the MAST methodology started 351 new Bible translation projects, and 58 New Testaments were completed.
“For our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia who are so deeply committed to evangelism, to discipleship, and to church-planting and church-building, but have struggled so much with language barriers, this is like the last piece in the puzzle,” says Smith. “I believe that it is not God’s will for the people of Ethiopia, after waiting for generations upon generations, to be forced to wait even longer to experience God’s Word in their own heart language.”