After a lifetime of reading the Bible, listening to sermons and doing anything spiritual in a language that is not their own, Malawi’s Elhomwe people are delighted to have the first New Testament in their mother tongue. It was published last year by the Bible Society of Malawi and there are high hopes that it will help Elhomwe Christians to grow spiritually. (Watch the video at the end of this story.)
Sitting in a small, mud brick church in a village in southern Malawi, farmer Manuelo Paya looks on with pride as his 12-year-old daughter, Falice, reads out loud from Matthew 5. It’s the first time she’s read something in her own language because the Elhomwe New Testament is the first book ever published in the language.
“This is a wonderful book!” he exclaims. “I love that it’s in my mother tongue. The Elhomwe language has been a little forgotten but this book will help pass it onto our children.”
New and powerful experience
Up till now, Christians among Malawi’s 1.5 million Elhomwe speakers have had to use the Bible in Chichewa, which, along with English, is the country’s official language. Reading the Bible in their language, and even praying in it, is a new and powerful experience for them, according to Hayes Metani, one of the Elhomwe translators.
“It’s the first time that Elhomwe speakers can really start to understand the Gospel,” he notes. “We haven’t had this opportunity before because we’ve been using a language that we don’t clearly understand.”
He goes on to describe people’s amazement during a recent church service, when a member of the congregation was asked to pray in Elhomwe.
‘God hears our language!’
“They said, ‘We never knew that we can speak with God in our language, and that God hears our language!’” he recalls with a smile.
Olive Limani, the chief of an Elhomwe village, beams as she holds the New Testament.
“I am so excited to hold this in my hands! There are two ways this New Testament will affect the Elhomwe people: spiritual growth and the learning of our language by our children. For a long time the Elhomwe language has been undervalued. Now people are seeing its value.”
Brian Chifika, another Elhomwe translator, says that many Elhomwe people have been involved in the translation project.
“We do a lot of field work and outreach, where we go into the villages and meet ordinary people. They show great interest and feel very proud that the Bible is being translated into their language. It’s what they’ve been waiting for.”
Please pray for the ongoing work to translate the Old Testament. It is hoped that the full Elhomwe Bible will be ready by 2018.
(Text adapted from an article by Katri Saarela, Helsinki Lutheran Parish Union.)