“About two weeks ago I was so happy. You know what happened?” The village chief of Agbo, Nigeria, smiled at Resonate Global Mission missionary Jonathan Barnhoorn.
“I wrote a letter in my own language to one of my assistants, and he did what I asked him to!” the chief exclaimed.
“This probably doesn’t sound like much,” noted Jonathan, “especially to those of us who write things every day—but to this village chief, this was the first time in his life that he had been able to do such a thing. Ten years ago, it would not have even been possible.”
The Importance of Heart Languages
Nigeria is a land of nearly 500 languages, and most of them, says Jonathan, have only ever been spoken, never written.
The people of Agbo speak the Nyankpa language in their homes and in conversation with their friends and neighbors, but there has never been a translation of Scripture available in their language. When they go to church, worship is usually conducted in the more widely spoken language of Hausa.
“Not everyone understands [Hausa] well,” said Jonathan—and that makes it difficult to understand Scripture, learn more about God, and grow in faith.
“As members of the CRC . . . being part of Resonate here helps us to feel more connected to our church. It is a great community,” said Jonathan. “And it reminds us that we are all part of a bigger community of Christians all over the world. No one person or organization is an island. We all need each other . . . we can’t do it alone.”
Understanding God’s Heart
Partnerships with organizations such as Wycliffe and SIL enable Jonathan and his team to collaborate with the Nyankpa people. Together they’ve adapted the spoken language of Nyankpa into a written language, translated the New Testament, and developed materials to help people learn to read and write in the language they understand best.
“People in the village of Agbo are starting to be able to read the Scriptures and understand the gospel,” said Jonathan.
“Translating the Bible into these mother-tongue languages is transforming, deepening our grasp of the depth of God’s love,” added Ron Geerlings, Resonate’s regional mission leader for West Africa. “Unlike the faraway, high god in traditional African religions, the translation of Scripture introduces people to the God who took on our flesh and speaks our language.”
As the Christian Reformed Church works together with other denominations and organizations, we're able to pool resources and join skills to do more to equip God’s church globally. Thanks for being part of God's mission.
A version of this story was originally published on crcna.org.