At a joyous celebration in mid-February 2017, the Náhuatl [Na-WA-tul] New Testament, with a summary of the Old Testament, was dedicated in Tatahuicapan, Mexico. Six men dramatically brought in the boxes of Scriptures (see photo above) with traditional tumplines (sacks on their backs connected over the head with a strap, used to haul firewood or crops from the field).
At the ceremony, the directors of the Mexican Bible League and SIL (Wycliffe’s key field partner) both gave speeches in Spanish, while the rest of the songs, speeches and prayers were mostly in Náhuatl. During the ceremony, a number of children and adults read verses in Náhuatl.
Originally started in 1943, the translation project was facilitated by three expatriate translation teams over the years. The third team, Chris and Elaine Hurst, working with Wycliffe Canada, began in 1986 and brought the project to completion. The whole Hurst family—including adult children and grandchildren—was called up on stage as part of the celebration.
Plácido, Esteban and Hilario, three dedicated Náhuatl translators, were presented with name-embossed copies of their Scriptures and given certificates of appreciation. Esteban and Plácido started working with the Hursts in 1992 and Hilario began in 2005, although he had worked on the Gospel of Luke video before that.
“Elaine and I are immensely grateful for the level of commitment these three men have shown,” says Chris.
The Mecayapan variant of the Náhuatl New Testament was dedicated a week later with about 700 people attending. The translation team worked together to make the necessary adjustments to produce translations specifically suited to each municipality. These Scriptures will serve the 30,000 Aztec people from two municipalities in the state of Vera Cruz. It is one of the 20 or so variants of Náhuatl, the languages of the Aztec people.
For many of the Aztec people present at the events, having a New Testament in their own language gave tremendous prestige to their mother tongue, which they tend to consider second class.
“Now that the dedications have been completed,” says Chris, “the real work has begun—getting the Scriptures into the hands of the people. There are some good things happening with more people using the Scriptures in Náhuatl. Plácido told me recently how happy he was when he went to visit a pastor and found him reading from the Náhuatl Scriptures.”
Chris has been getting good reports back from the three local translators.
“Hilario told me that people in his church bring their Náhuatl Scriptures to each service,” says Chris. “People have told Hilario that they are reading the Word more now, since they understand it more easily.”
One friend of Hilario’s, David, recounted how he went to visit an older man and shared some Náhuatl Scriptures, which are available in audio format as a smartphone app. The man responded, “Wow, where did you get that from? I’ve never heard the Word of God so clearly!”
Chris continues: “Plácido told me of a pre-literate friend who had been listening to Acts and was able to recount the whole life of St. Paul with all his travels. And Esteban shared how he preached in Náhuatl and an old lady came up to him afterward and gave him a kiss, because she said the Word meant so much to her in her language. That church would normally just use Spanish.”
A Mexican ministry has made audio devices available to more than 80 church leaders; the units are being well used in services.
Chris will continue to visit Plácido, Esteban and Hilario to encourage them as they face the huge task of promoting the use of Scriptures in their language (which speakers refer to as “true talk/word”).
The Náhuatl [Na-WA-tul] New Testament was among the Scriptures published in 2017 that were translated (into 32 languages spoken by 2.2 milion-plus people) with Wycliffe involvement.
Lamnso Bible Available in Cameroon
The task of translating the Bible into the Lamnso language began in 1971. It culminated in a Bible dedication in November 2016 (not included in the 2017 figures above), with the presentation of the entire Bible, plus the Lamnso dictionary.
This 45-year process has been a journey in which God raised people up to be an integral part of His work for the Nso people. Enthusiastic choirs sang and danced. There was a poignant cultural dramatization of the lost condition of mankind in their struggle with personal conflict and sin, and the saving grace offered to all cultures through the sacrificial death of Christ as Saviour. The emotional dedication was filled with joy and praise to God, including spontaneously being led in the hymn, “To God Be the Glory!” (It was sung in English, which is the language of wider communication in the northwest region of Cameroon.)
One cause for celebration is the potential for far-reaching usage of the Lamnso Bible and dictionary, even beyond the church. In 2012 the government authorized the teaching and learning of indigenous languages and cultures in Cameroonian schools. Following that decision, many Bible-based literacy publications became part of public school curriculum.
Following the dedication, Charles Grebe (the son of Karl Grebe, the late translator/translation consultant from Wycliffe Canada serving with partner agency, SIL) gave cultural perspective to the completed work. Charles spoke of his stepmother Frida reading a passage from the Lamnso Old Testament to her elderly mother, who is a strong believer in Christ. After hearing the verses in Lamnso, her mother exclaimed, “I hear (understand) it very well!” Frida's mother was able to explain Lamnso words used in Scripture that were unfamiliar to her highly educated daughter.
Frida Grebe said, “My mother used to be my dictionary. Now we can read the Bible together in Lamnso, and I also have my [actual] dictionary as a guide.”
It is the prayer of SIL and the Christian Church in Cameroon that both the Bible and dictionary will be used widely in several ways: as an instrument for the growth of individuals and the Church; a vehicle for evangelism; and a tool for language learning and preservation of linguistic culture for the Nso people in Cameroon and those living elsewhere.
With one voice everyone can proclaim, “To God Be the Glory!”