There was a party going on, but the Keliko people of South Sudan were only interested in one thing: finally reading the Bible in their own language.
In late August, the Wycliffe Bible Translators completed their 1,000th translation of the New Testament, this time for a small refugee tribe based in South Sudan.
“When they get the [New Testament], they kind of ignore the celebration for a while because the first thing they do is they sit down somewhere, open it up, and start reading it for themselves,” Russ Hersman, chief operating officer for Wycliffe, told Faithwire.
The translation, he recalled, left the native people “full of joy and hope.” The Wycliffe executive said the “gift of the African church” to the rest of the world is the believers’ zeal and passion for celebration.
For each translation Wycliffe completes, Hersman said, there’s “a big party” to dedicate the newly translated Scripture. The celebration was particularly powerful for the Keliko people, he explained, because they have been using a foreign translation of the Bible since 1917.
“For 101 years, they’ve been using someone else’s Bible,” Hersman explained. “So for them to have it in their own language, the language they live and dream in, this is just such a joy to them. … The Keliko, they’re primarily a refugee community, they have a hard life. And yet, they had such joy in the midst of this hardship over receiving the Scriptures, the New Testament, in their language.”
Wycliffe hopes to see such celebrations many more times. The organization has set the ambitious goal of having a Bible translation effort underway for all 7,000 of the world’s known languages by the year 2025.
In order to make that happen, Wycliffe partners with different organizations, churches of all denominations, and native translators from around the world because “we’re not trying to do this alone,” Hersman noted.
In fact, the Keliko translation was completed by a team comprised entirely of national translators. Wycliffe’s group aided in the process, but the actual writing was translated by four Keliko men who “hammered away at it the whole time.”
“We believe God wants to involve as many people from the church as possible in this,” he said, “so we do it all in partnership.”
As for Hersman, he said he developed “a passion” for Scripture as a teenager in high school. He then went to Bible college, where he was first introduced to Wycliffe. Before he learned about the organization, Hersman said, it never occurred to him millions of people around the world don’t have access to the same Bible he’s spent his life studying.
“I’ve got this feast and they’ve got this famine,” he said, noting he and his wife joined Wycliffe years ago. “That’s been over 40 years ago, and I’ll tell you, the passion hasn’t diminished.”