In 1998 I took the plunge and went on my first short-term missions trip. It was a little unusual in the big realm of short term trips, as it was to a Bible translation project in Togo, West Africa, a Francophone country. I didn’t speak a whole lot of French and having grown up in Wycliffe, I was sure I already ‘got’ the need for Bible translation. However, all the circumstances and gifts to make it happen were clearly leading me to go on the trip. I could write a TON more about that trip but I’ll have to save that for another day.
On the 14th January 2015, 16.5 years later, I started my journey back to that very same village. Before you think ‘ooo dramatic’, I had been back already, leading multiple other short term teams to the same project. It had, however, been 4.5 years since I last visited.
I left our home in Jos and drove to the capital, Abuja, picking Gareth Mort up in a town along the way. Gareth was my team leader from 1998, and is now my colleague here in Nigeria. The next day we flew direct to Lome where we successfully negotiated the Ebola check and the general health check (but only by God’s grace, due to Gareth’s missing Yellow Fever certificate!). We applied for and were granted visas in the airport in Lome.On Friday we were due to catch a nice coach up country, but there were no seats left. So we took ‘public’, aka a mini-bus with 4 people squished onto every three seats and more luggage on top of the bus than capacity inside. I was thankful for Gareth’s thinness! We weren’t so thankful for the bus stopping every 10 miles looking for more passengers. It took nearly 10 hours to get to Sokode, not even the town we were finally destined for. We arrived in Bassar late, in the dark, to a very warm welcome from Samuel’s family. In 1998, Samuel had only just joined the translation team, he was young and unmarried. We were blessed that he spoke English, both then and now!
Saturday at 07:20 Gareth and I left the house and wandered into town. We were hoping to come across the parades headed to the football stadium where the Dedication was to be held. We saw what we thought was probably one of the 3 parades, but they were headed in the wrong direction, so we carried on to the stadium.It was fantastic to see banners and greet some people, slightly odd to be ignored by most of the other white faces – it wasn’t like they could miss us!
The dedication itself was marvellous. There were LOADS of people. There were some very high profile folks out there too. The national director of AOG, the chief, the Prefet, the representative of the local government, pastors, preachers, most of the Catholic diocese, the church association committee (ACEB), SIL, Wycliffe, Bible Society, 2 brass bands and people of literally ALL ages came out to join the celebration.Now I do probably suffer from a bit of attention deficit disorder, I doubted I could sit still for 6 hours and listen to speeches in 2 different languages neither of which I spoke. So I tried to find out what people were saying and I took to live tweeting the event. You can go to http://twitter.com/hashtag/nchambible and see the event as it unfolded. You could tell when people appreciated what was said by the enormous cheer that was let out.
The most enormous cheer certainly came when Sheila Crunden was giving her speech.Sheila is a Brit who arrived in Bassar, Togo in 1969 and was very involved in translating the New Testament with a whole string of people including Monica Cox who was also in attendance at the dedication. These two remarkable ladies, now in their mid seventies and eighties, had returned specially for the Dedication but still trekked to church and to visit houses. During one dinner we shared with them, they engaged in a healthy discussion about how to mark tones in translation. Monica, who worked on literacy, and Sheila who worked on the translation entered what seems to me to be an age-old debate about marking them all or only marking some of them. I admit I didn’t follow all the technicalities, but it was fun!
After about 3 hours of speeches the Bibles were finally revealed and prayed over and paraded around the stadium and then distribution begun. It started with an offer for the “big” ie important people to buy the very first copy for a lot of money. Then the price reduced bit by bit and eventually swarms of people came to buy. It was funny, even knowing this was going to happen,
the boxes were being held on the edge of the stadium and the seller kept running out at his table! It was wonderful to see so many people desperate to get their hands on the Bible in their own language.
We attended church with Samuel the next morning and it was brilliant seeing so many people clutching their new Bibles. It was sad that so many people were struggling to actually read it fluently – it reinforced to me the need to be doing literacy as soon as is possible in our projects. There was a couple who were married 3 weeks before and were brought to the front of the church and introduced (it seems that is customary in this church) and when they came they were clutching a copy of the new Bible. The groom, despite not being a native Ncham speaker, received huge applause as he tried to read a couple of verses. People DO love hearing and having God’s word in their own language!
Monday we relaxed, although actually I think Gareth worked on one of his projects from Nigeria. Then on Tuesday we started the long journey home in reverse. We did get to travel in the nice coach this time, though we also had to fly Lome to Lagos to Abuja, the last leg of which was delayed a couple of hours. But we got home safe and glad to have made the trip and been part of the dedication. The people in Bassar and particularly Samuel and his family have been part of my life for nearly 17 years. They will always have a place in my heart, my email inbox and my Whatsapp.