The Nawdba have their New Testament
Mid-November 2013 marks the arrival of the New Testament and the Psalms among the Nawdba, a people of Togo. With government representatives and various organizations (SIL, UBS, Wycliffe…), they assembled to celebrate the long-awaited event.
“God becomes a little more concretely Nawda,” the Bishop of Kara says at once. From now on, the Nawdba, a people of Togo and a part of Ghana, have the evidence that God speaks their language. They have access to the New Testament and Psalms in Nawdm since a few months ago.
“In our churches, we will directly hear the Word of God in our own language!” a Nawda exclaims. The habit in churches is to read the Bible in French, the official language of Togo, and yet “There is a large slice of population that can communicate only in Nawdm. They are left out of God’s worship. Nowadays, these persons don’t need an intermediary anymore to pray to God,” the regional representative of the Minister for Culture thinks.
Gabriel, one of the New Testament translators, adds, “Now, personal and in-depth reading is possible. They will be able to read it at home.”
Even unbelievers at the celebration
On the large square in the town of Niamtougou, wide pergolas replace the crush and noise of the Sunday market. There is still noise but this one is much different.
Drummers, accompanied by dancers with “maracas” attached to the ankles, are inviting everyone to join the group to celebrate the occasion. Songs in Nawdm burst on the place to praise God during this event.
About 300 people replace the saleswomen with their trays on the head. Instead of stalls with bulk cereals in basins, the public is there: Christians, Muslims, and animists. All have come to listen to the various speeches that honor the work produced by the linguists and the Nawdba translators.
To honor and encourage reading this Good News, Jacques Nicole, linguistics advisor, reminds several times that “the Word of God is a light, a good rain and a wealth… Read it carefully every day. If you do this, you’ll see what He [God] accomplishes in your life.”
Avoiding the disappearance of the language
Besides knowing God, this translation program also ensures the conservation of the Nawdm language, since it has enabled its writing down. “Many languages disappear over time because there is no research,” M. Edjidomele, the regional representative of the Minister for Culture, points out.
Abou Jonathan Sama, Togolese linguist at SIL Togo-Benin, explains, “If a tongue is only oral, especially if it is a minority language, it can get swallowed up. Once written, it is better used. One can produce documents that will contribute to the development in health, in agriculture, etc.”
Four decades of effort
Writing down an oral language is a titanic task. “This took four decades of work, with the first team established in 1976,” says Leed Higdon, the director of SIL Togo-Benin. This work was led by a collaboration between the missionaries and the Nawdba translators. Jacques and Marie-Claire Nicole are the pioneers, assisted by Marcel and Erika Gasser for about ten years. In 1995, they were joined by the linguist Hélène Ballarin-Bucasse, then by her husband, Jonathan. The backbones of the program are leaving Togo now. Nevertheless, nothing is over. Pierre Baguewabena, the Nawda coordinator, plans, “A team will raise awareness among the churches to encourage the usage of the translated Scriptures. We also want to see how the Nawda population is willing to use the New Testament, because we have the Old Testament translation in mind.”
Speaking to the Nawdba audience, Christophe Ensminger, director of the Assemblies of God in West Africa, adds, “A big step has just been accomplished but this work is not finished; it is only beginning. This Good News, we want it to become your Good News, to enter each home, each family… and to be Word of God for all this beautiful society.”
Source: this text is translated from the website of our partner Wycliffe France.