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Tackling Bible Poverty

Tackling Bible Poverty
“Bible poverty, simply put, is when a person or people(s) do not have meaningful access to the Bible in their mother tongue or heart language." - Andrew Heffren. On a recent flight, Angelina reflected on their journey so far.

Angelina and son Elizer. Tackling Bible Poverty.
Angelina and son Elizer.

What is Bible Poverty?

“Bible poverty, simply put, is when a person or people(s) do not have meaningful access to the Bible in their mother tongue or heart language.

“Try to imagine what it would be like to try and exercise our faith without the Bible. How would you come to understand who God is and what He has done? Where would you go to learn how best to practice your faith? How would you evaluate the accuracy of what you are taught about Christ and the Christian faith? Though not impossible, these questions become substantially more difficult to answer without access to the written, authoritative word of God, and we are often guilty in taking this for granted.” (1)

MAF passengers Angelina and Grover met in Canada when they undertook the same master’s programme to become Bible translators, having both individually experienced a clear call to that ministry. First arriving in Chad in July 2019, they hoped to begin their assignment in the central city of Mongo after a few months in the country. However due to Covid and other events their plans took a different course, and they finally arrived in Mongo to begin their work in August this year. On a recent flight, Angelina reflected on their journey so far.

C208 on the ground in Mongo. Tackling Bible Poverty
C208 on the ground in Mongo.

In Great Need

“The first time I heard about the need for Bible translation, that not everyone has access to the Bible in their language or the language they understand best, I was in high school. I was at a conference, and I talked to someone who worked for Wycliffe [the worldwide Bible translation organisation] who told me about how not everybody has access to scripture.

She continued, “I remember wondering why I hadn’t ever heard of this; I grew up going to church, but I didn’t know there was such a thing as Bible poverty. So it caught my attention.

“Later I studied linguistics at university and in my final year, as I considered what to do after graduation, I attended a class at a local church with guest speakers from Wycliffe. One shared the story of her work in Papua New Guinea, and it really impacted me; I felt the Holy Spirit was giving me a nudge. I read her autobiography, and through that the Lord called me into Bible translation.

“It’s amazing when I look back and see how God was developing my interest, how He had been preparing me for Bible translation work through my degree in linguistics, even though I didn’t know it at the time.”

Fast forward several years. Having completed their studies, Angelina and Grover became members of Wycliffe and started praying about where they could serve.

“We wanted to go somewhere where there was a great need for Bible translation and after looking at options, we narrowed it down to Cameroon or Chad. We felt led to choose Chad, and the more we read about the country, the more we prayed about it, the more we felt peace.”

C208 on the ground in Mongo. Tackling Bible Poverty.
C208 on the ground in Mongo.

Partnering for Bible Translation

Subsequently they joined SIL, Wycliffe’s partner organisation that specialises in linguistics and literacy education, to serve with SIL Chad.

By the time they arrived, they had learnt some French, and added daughter Valerie to the family.

“Our first field assignment was Arabic learning and cultural orientation. When we got here, Grover was asked to cover technical services at the SIL centre in N’Djamena for a few months, so whilst there we each met with a language helper for a few hours a week. This gave us a good start, although opportunities to use our Arabic were limited.”

As the time to move to Mongo approached, the Covid-19 pandemic took hold and so the family returned temporarily to the USA. Following a high-risk pregnancy, their son Elizer was safely born and they were able to come back when he was a few months old. This time there were no further obstacles to their relocation, and they are now three months into their new life.

“We don’t have reliable electricity or running water,” Angelina explains, “so Grover set up a solar system and we can have some lights and fans, and a fridge for cold water. He also moves water every day from outside barrels into the indoor area so that we can wash dishes and hands. It’s been a bit tricky with two little kids and no running water but it’s also good exercise; you get a lot of arm workouts carrying buckets!

Tackling Bible Poverty. Pre-flight prayer with Phil, Grover and daugter Valerie.
Pre-flight prayer with Phil, Grover and daugter Valerie.

Working in the Community

“We like the community feel of Mongo, we like the pace of life. In this very ‘open door’ culture, people can come to visit any time, and they want you to visit them often as well. That is so helpful for our language and cultural learning, but it’s not always realistic for us with the kids, so we’re still navigating that, establishing rhythms and boundaries. As we don’t know the culture very well yet, we sometimes make mistakes, but people are kind and genuine. So far, we’ve just felt very welcomed.”

Arabic study continues: Grover has a daily two-hour class, while Angelina works more informally.

“When visitors come, we roll out a mat in our front yard and we’ll sit with them and share water or tea. I take some chalk and sit with whoever is there, and when I hear them use a new word or phrase, I just jot it down next to me on the concrete.”

She continued to share, “I feel like my Arabic is conversational, my grammar is still poor, but I can get by. I feel much more confident than I did in N’Djamena, because now we live much closer to the community and use our Arabic every day.”

They are also looking for other things to get involved with as they grow more proficient in the language and more accustomed to life in Mongo.

Phil taking off from N’Djamena (seen through the Covid screen). Flying out of N’Djamena.
Phil taking off from N’Djamena (seen through the Covid screen). Flying out of N’Djamena.

What the Future Holds

“There have been a couple of language projects proposed for Grover that would involve the Old Testament,” Angelina says. “There are about 25 languages in this region and most of them don’t have the Old Testament, so he has a few options to consider.

“As for me, I’m on a committee that is planning a dedication event for the Chadian Arabic Bible. I coordinate the logistics and liaise between our different partner organisations. We’re planning a big event just after Christmas and praying that 1000 people will attend. We pray that God will prepare hearts, sow seeds, and that people will engage with scripture. Who knows what God’s going to do? We’re very excited.”

Although aware of MAF’s work through church and family connections, Angelina and Grover had never flown with us before.

“It’s been great, it’s been a blessing,” she shares. “We were absolutely exhausted before this trip to N’Djamena and so were greatly encouraged by our family and supporters back home to take a flight rather than the long, gruelling bus ride of eight hours with only one break. We really appreciate MAF and all that you do in Chad and around the world.”

  1. (Andrew H.; YWAM Vancouver online article: https://ywamvancouver.org/ blog/2021/10/08/what-is-bible-poverty)

Story and photos by Katie Machell

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