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Making Matthew Speak Real Safwa

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This post and it’s pictures originally appeared at https://bobcreson.com On July 11th 2017.

By guest blogger Steve Pence, Translation Administrator in Mbeya, Tanzania


Ahead of me on the road were my colleagues, Waya and Lawi, each on another motorcycle taxi. They are translating portions of the Bible into their own local language, Safwa. Today I would witness the testing of a draft of Matthew in a Safwa community.

Reaching our destination, we stood under the eaves of a building, trying to escape a steady drizzle. The motorcycle drivers huddled with us. Waya and Lawi took advantage of the opportunity, pulling out their trial texts of the Gospel of Matthew. The texts were printed in a large font and double spaced, with lots of room to write. Peppered across each page were words and phrases highlighted in pink, each of which needed to be investigated to make sure it communicated clearly and accurately.

With almost no introduction, just a few words saying that they were translating the Scriptures, Waya and Lawi began reading the Safwa words aloud. It was as if electricity shot through the air. One moment men quietly waited out a storm on a day that had turned gray and wet and sleepy. The next moment, eyes popped and hands waved as everyone tried to talk at once.

Lawi and Waya both started writing, scratching through words, drawing arrows into margins and making notes. A word they had used for “axe” was unknown here. It was used in another Safwa town at the bottom of the hill, but not up here on the mountain. And up here people don’t use the same word for killing another person as they do for killing a plant or a cow. Here they use a special word for each. Still, nearly everyone nodded in amazement, saying “Yes, this is real Safwa!”

As more people gathered, we were invited down the street and into a room. It was, as Waya called it, “a simple hotel.” We sat on a bench while others sat on empty buckets. The dirt floor was wet. A fire smouldered in the corner beside a collection of big thermos bottles, probably containing tea or hot milk. A single bare bulb dangled unlit from a rafter.

The animated conversation over God’s Word continued without a pause. One teenager excitedly told us he was born again. Another confessed, “I’m not born again. I don’t even go to church now.” But all were glued to the Safwa Scriptures being read and discussed.


When it was time to go, one young man stood and said, “Safwa! This is good! I understand it very well. I have been made happy.”

All across the highlands of southwest Tanzania, an area the size of Austria, scenes like these are being replayed as drafted Scripture portions are painstakingly checked in village after village. Eventually, more than three million people speaking thirteen languages will have God’s Word. Each of you has a part in this. Thank you!

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