Ghana (MNN) – It wasn’t long ago that the Siwu people of Ghana had to learn about God through the local trade language, Ewe. The lack of Scripture was a barrier to growing closer to God. In fact, they believed that God did not even speak Siwu.
But the truth is, these people were starving for God’s Word in their heart language.
Wycliffe Bible Translators USA is looking at “Feasting on Scripture” through the lens of the Siwu and another Ghanaian group, the Nyagbo.
Today, the Siwu have the New Testament in their language. But they are hungering for the rest of Scripture, too.
Josh Hiedelman of Wycliffe USA shares, “One of the obvious ways that you can see the Siwu so eagerly hungering for Scripture is when you attend church with them. We had a chance to do this with a team… in the fall of 2017. And all throughout the church there are printed copies of the New Testament that they have in their language. And they’re working on the Old Testament now, but the New Testament is already on its second or third printing. And they can’t keep copies on the shelves.”
The translation process for the Old Testament is well on its way. But the Siwu aren’t waiting for all of it to be done before they dig in.
“As soon as they get a book done, almost, they’re releasing it out to their churches so that they can begin using it.”
“And when you sit in a church service with them, and you see how integral their Siwu New Testament Scriptures are, all of the sudden it’s not a question anymore of… how important the Old Testament, the rest of Scripture, is for them. It’s just readily apparent.”
The Nyagbo are in a similar boat, although the New Testament is not yet complete. But in a similar way, they are distributing each new portion of Scripture as it gets translated.
“Over the last few years, as different portions have been completed, as soon as they’re ready, they print as many copies as they can and they send them out. So, early on in that project, as they were working their way through… translating the book of Luke, they took a set of parables from the book of Luke and they put that together into a pamphlet and they printed hundreds of copies of it and immediately got it out to all of the people groups.”
So it went with Mark and Acts. Heidelman shares this exciting news: “It’s likely that just within the next couple of years, the New Testament will be completed and fully released.”
Transformation Through Scripture
When people learn about God through a second language, they often have difficulty internalizing what they’re hearing. What’s even more difficult is remembering what was taught. That is because when you learn in a different language than the one you think, dream, and speak in, everything you take in must be translated internally.
Heidelman says it is astonishing to see the difference Scripture in someone’s heart language makes.
“When I meet with pastors from the Nyagbo and from the Siwu, it is amazing to hear them talk about the difference it has made to have Scriptures they can use in their own language. They talk about even just being able to watch, to look out over their congregations as they’re preaching, and just from people’s faces you can tell that they’re understanding better, that they’re more engaged because it’s their language. They’re more actively involved.”’
A pastor told Heidelman that before the Siwu had Scripture in their language, he had difficulty getting people from the congregation to pray at church events.
Heidelman says, “They didn’t feel like it was proper or okay to pray in Siwu. And then the New Testament was released. And everyone started using it, and they started preaching from the Siwu New Testament.”
For the first time, the Siwu understood that God spoke their language, too. And the pastor found a new level of participation when it came to prayer.
“Now he doesn’t have any problem finding anyone to volunteer to pray anymore. Because they realize they can pray in their own language.”
To have the completed Scriptures in the Siwu and Nyagbo language will mean that these people no longer have to survive on morsels of Scriptures. They will be able to feast on the Word of God. And this, Heidelman says, is life-changing for the Ghanaian people.
“They’re finding that the whole life of the community is being transformed. Their marriages are stronger. Their homes, their families are stronger. Their community life is more vibrant because these are areas where the church is growing strongly, and now that they have Scriptures in their own language, that growth is even increasing and is even getting stronger. And so they are finding, just as we do when we engage with Scripture, it impacts all of their life. Not just their Sunday morning service.”
What Does “Feasting” Look Like in Your Life?
This brings up an interesting point. The transformational power of Scripture is not unique to the Siwu and Nyagbo. It is available even to those who have had access to Scripture for centuries. But what often is the case when people have plenty, access to Scripture can be taken for granted.
“I think witnessing what’s happening with our brothers and sisters in Ghana should inspire us all to dive more deeply into Scripture and to rekindle our love for it if that love has tended to go cold. When you see just how important these Scriptures are in the lives of these churches and in the lives of these communities, it does inspire you to dive back in yourself!”
Heidelman hopes that by learning of groups like the Siwu and Nyagbo, other believers can approach Scripture with a new fervor and a readiness to learn what God is trying to show them.
As for these Ghanaian language groups, Heidelman says, “They are devouring these Scriptures, knowing that their lives will be changed and their communities will be changed because of it.”
Please pray for the Siwu and Nyagbo. Ask God to bless these people as they eagerly learn more about Him.