I have just written this article for the upcoming May edition of Wycliffe News, the prayer magazine featuring Wycliffe members from Ireland. One of our former members, Gareth Dalzell, worked with Sam Mubbala in Uganda.
Note: Gwere or Lugwere are names for the language spoken by the Bagwere people of Uganda
In March this year, the Gwere team joined three other Ugandan teams to remember and to celebrate what God had done for their projects over the years. It was a significant milestone after waiting so long to have God’s word in their heart languages.
Our story starts in 1971 when a missionary teacher at a secondary school in Uganda asked a student called Sam Mubbala if he would like to translate some Bible passages into the Gwere language. Sam, then just 17, had no idea what translation was all about, but said yes. That seed grew into a dream that has survived closed doors, frustrations, disappointments, war and tyranny.
As Sam began to translate the Gospel of Mark into his language, he realised that the message he was translating had the power to save him. God translated Sam through his Word before Sam finished translating it! He gradually came to understand how important it was to translate the Scriptures so that other Bagwere people could have the same experience.
Idi Amin became President in 1971 and his reign of terror meant expatriate Christians had to leave Uganda. Sam was isolated from outside help. He completed the draft of Mark’s Gospel but could find no one to publish it. Later Sam met an organisation interested in translation in minority languages – Wycliffe Bible Translators. Things were looking up! He was asked to help with a survey of six languages, including Gwere, which confirmed a definite translation need.
It was encouraging to learn more about the translation process but Sam soon realized that his draft translation of Mark was far too literal to be understood – another disappointment. Over the years, Sam came up against obstacle after obstacle – a dream with no prospect of becoming reality.
In 2001, Sam began an MA in Translation Studies at Nairobi Evangelical School of Theology (NEGST). After two tough years, he graduated, soon became the translation project leader and was joined by Richard Ngozi, another NEGST graduate in 2004. Together they started translating fulltime in January 2005.
In the 2004 edition of Wycliffe UK Words for Life magazine, readers responded to this prayer request:
Please pray that there will be no more dead ends and that at last Sam’s dream will become a reality – that Bagwere people would come to know God through his word in the language that speaks to their hearts.
Over the years those prayers have been answered.
Fast forward to the March 2015 celebration mentioned at the start: One speaker recalled God’s instructions in Joshua 4 to set up twelve memorial stones to remind them what God had done. These four Ugandan language teams decided to do something similar to commemorate the completion of the draft New Testament translations. As one translator from each language lifted up a memorial stone bearing the name of his language, the smiles on their faces reflected their joy of celebration, their sense of accomplishment, their anticipation of imminent publication.
Currently, the translators are going through a long process of detailed checks to ensure accuracy, consistency and naturalness in the language. Then they will work with a typesetter to prepare the text for publication.
Please pray for patience and stamina for Sam and the others, as well as God’s protection for them and their families during this important work. As we give thanks to God for enabling these people to receive God’s word in their language, please pray that God will prepare hearts to receive it and to be transformed.
Text adapted from Wycliffe UK Words for Life 2004 Issue 3 and TheTask.net November 2006 and March 2015