Bible poverty is real for people around the globe.
It’s real for some 500,000 Banyamulenge people in Central Africa who speak Kinyamulenge.
Victor Mikebanyi speaks 11 languages and works in missions at Southeast Christian Church. He has led outreach in Somalia, Kenya, Somaliland, Haiti, Jamaica, Djibouti, Sudan and now Louisville. But he has never read one verse of the Bible in Kinyamulenge, the language he learned as a child in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
He has prayed for 33 years that it would happen.
That prayer was answered July 19-21 as some 60 pastors and church leaders gathered at Southeast with representatives from Pioneer Bible Translators to pray, worship and strategize how to translate the Bible into Kinyamulenge.
Bible poverty is an invisible issue few Americans understand. In fact, 72% of Americans believe the Bible is available in every language, according to Wycliffe Bible Translators.
Yet, 2,100 people groups do not have a single verse of the Bible in their own language, according to Pioneer Bible Translators.
So they wait.
Persecution and violence has driven those who speak Kinyamulenge to places around the globe, including many who came to the U.S. as refugees.
The gathering took on the flavor of a family reunion. Some knew one another as teenagers and had not met face to face for decades. Others met through social media, and still others are new pastors and church leaders who learned about the project.
Taking advantage of every minute, the group met morning to night. On the last day of the gathering, they worshiped from 1 to 8:30 p.m.
“Many wanted to stay longer,” Mikebanyi said. “We are so grateful for this opportunity that many wanted to pray and celebrate through the night.”
Mikebanyi believes the translation of the Kinyamulenge Bible could lead to revival in Africa and the U.S.
“The Bible in our mother tongue would change everything,” Mikebanyi said. “I speak other languages, but I still pray in Kinyamulenge. It says exactly what I want to say. It will lead to revival because it will help people clearly understand the Word of God. Many will want to read and hear it in our language. We know that faith comes by hearing. I believe many will understand, follow and grow in faith.”
Pastor Peter Mutima came from Maine where he is the pastor at Bethel Christian Church.
He came to the U.S. in 1992 for seminary and stayed to minister to refugees.
“Now many are scattered across the United States,” Mutima said. “When Victor invited me to be part of this, I knew it was the right thing to do. Many of our people go to church, but they don’t know much because they don’t have Bibles. This would refine the way we live. It will lead to revival among our people.”
While many like Mikebanyi learned to speak and write several languages as they fled violence and persecution, having the Bible in their heart language will make a difference.
Tim MacSaveny is the program director for eight Pioneer Bible Translators projects. He speaks Swahili and has served on translation projects in Tanzania.
“Most Americans speak only one language,” MacSaveny said. “Many wonder why we would translate the Bible for people who already use Swahili and Kinyarwanda, which is the language in Rwanda. Some have been pastors in the U.S. for years. But the way people understand their first language is different than additional languages they learn. It takes extra effort to understand and read another language. When people hear something in the language they know best, their mother tongue, it impacts in deeper ways.”
Though it takes seven years on average to translate the New Testament and 18 to 20 years to translate the entire Bible, this project could be complete in five to seven years with help from those in the U.S. who speak Kinyamulenge.
While strategy going forward is still in progress, several translators in the U.S. will work with Pioneer Bible Translators.
Jeremy Harrison, the Diaspora Group coordinator for Pioneer Bible Translators, said the church grows three or four times faster when people have a Bible in their heart language.
“Our goal as an agency is not just to give a Bible but to change lives,” he said. “We want to see revival for Christ. We don’t just go to a place and translate a Bible. When the translation is complete, we don’t leave. We stay to make sure we train, transform lives and change the shape of the homeland.”
Once portions of the Bible are translated, an audio version will be available through Faith Comes by Hearing.