For the last three months, I have been advising a Bible translation organization in Ghana – the Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation (GILLBT). Sometimes I wonder what I can offer because GILLBT has been so successful. Among its many accomplishments are:
- Translated the NT into 28 languages and the whole Bible into five more
- Made more than 500,000 Ghanaians literate. Of those adults who learned to read in GILLBT classes, many then went to school with more than 100 getting university degrees, uncountable numbers becoming nurses or teachers and many others became pastors
- Earned the right to appear on an international web site with a handful of other organizations as having the best literacy practices in the world
- Won an international award for literacy
- Developed alphabets and grammars for more languages in Ghana than any other organization, by far
In July, I attended the annual meeting of GILLBT which a number of church leaders also attended.
The man responsible for the Presbyterian Church in the north of Ghana told me that out of GILLBT’s work his church has six ordained ministers and over 50 catechists. He also told me that people read the Bibles in their languages and it enables them to follow Christ.
Another pastor from one of the most dynamic and self-supporting churches in Ghana (The Church of Pentecost) said that the challenge in Ghana is to make the Gospel real to people. He went on to say that because of the work GILLBT his church was able to preach the Gospel into the local culture and make it real.
Yet another addressed the assembly and said: “You know my people – that we used to wear amulets and talismans for protections.” He went on to say that people thought those things were absolutely necessary. Today, he said, the talismans and amulets are gone. “They have been replaced by the Word of God in our hearts.” He said that can only happen when God’s Word is in the local language.
Right after these things were said in the meeting, I had lunch with Dr Solomon Sule-Saa (front right in photo, visiting land on which GILLBT might build). He is a research fellow at the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture in Ghana. He is also a member of the GILLBT board. When I remarked on the striking testimonies of the effects of GILLBT’s work, he told me and the others at the table that he became a board member because his MA and PhD research in northern Ghana revealed that GILLBT’s work resulted in transformation of community life including contributing to the end of a tribal conflict. He stated that “GILLBT is the most effective organization in northern Ghana. It creates more positive transformation than all government programs combined and for much less money.”
While I lived in Ouagadougou, I met a man who was doing research on the church in Ghana. He and his fellow researchers had collected information about all the churches in every city, town, village and hamlet in Ghana. He told me that GILLBT’s work was the most effective rural church planting program in Ghana because everywhere GILLBT started work, churches followed whereas before there had been none. Interestingly, GILLBT does not do church planting, but Bible translation and literacy. Out of that churches grow without anyone in GILLBT starting them.
So, if you have ever wondered if Bible translation in African languages is worth the trouble, just look at what has happened in Ghana.
GILLBT fell on hard times a couple of years ago. It has taken very effective steps to get back on track. They have named a new and dynamic director (for whom the board is praying in the photo, Dr. Sule-Saa in the back.). I am coming into that process when it is quite advanced to help plot a course forward. It is quite humbling and daunting, but it also a wonderful thing to be associated with an organization which has had such great impact.
I am really looking forward to making several trips to Ghana over the next year, perhaps longer and working by email and Skype with the GILLBT leadership.(For more about us, see our website www.HeartLanguage.org.)