Menunited's Don Latham Reports On Bible Translations and Tackling Aids with God's Love in Tanzania
Pioneer of the 'blokeish' men's monthly evangelism event 'Menunited', Don Latham's passion to see church and Christians unite and people set free by the love of God, recently led him to Tanzania! Here he gives his firsthand account of seeing incredible life-changing Bible Society projects including new language translations of the bible, and tackling the Aids epidemic - as well as restoring hope to Aids sufferers.
(PICTURES: A WOMAN HAVING AN HIV TEST IN TANZANIA, THE BIBLE SOCIETY, DON LATHAM, BIBLE SOCIETY PROCLAIMER, MASAI TRIBESMAN, A BIBLE, AIDS ADVERT)
Don and his wife Hilary were two of 13 people on the Bible Society hosted trip to Tanzania - travelling from Dar Es Salaam to Dodoma, the new Capital, flying north to the Ngorongoro Crater (thanks to MAF), before heading by road to Arusha and back by plane to Dar Es salaam.
Many Massai and Tanzanians cannot read so the 'Faith comes by hearing' project is making a major impact. Inspired by Romans 10 verse; 17 'So then faith comes by hearing the message and the message comes through preaching Christ.' The project helps to deliver solar powered proclaimers or audio bibles which looks like a portable radio, as part of The Bible Society's aim to record the bible in 2,000 languages and initiate two million listening groups by 2016.
We visited a Pentecostal church and an Anglican church in the village of Mnase and enjoyed a very different experience of 'church'...and saw firsthand how the proclaimer works.
There was singing and drum beating before the message was played to a mixed congregation. The evangelist played a dramatised story from the New Testament and then asked questions. It is truly interactive teaching! The growth is amazing and these proclaimers are used in prisons, with the blind, the illiterate semi-illiterate and the unwilling to read.
At a Masai church founded by the Lutheran church where this programme is used we experienced very much an African church - a simple table under the thorn tree - if it rains they shelter under a blue tarpaulin. The people gathered slowly bringing extra benches. Important visitors and the pastor simply robed sat on plastic chairs and at least 70 men, women and children and usually more come. The women gathered in their finery and all carry their precious Bibles.
They sang to us and there was much singing from the children. A girl read from the Bible. Then Reverend Jonathan Wilmot preached a simple sermon about Jesus seeing Nathanial under the tree. This was translated by the interpreter a retired schoolmaster who looked as if he could make an excellent basket ball player! And the men who were few in number came along complete with sticks. We could see several men with their herds not too far distant.
Many Masai men like their wives and children to come to church, but hesitate to come too. We cheered the men who attended this service. Perhaps they need to form a MENUNITED group!Translation work
Translation work is the key work of the Bible Society and co-ordinator, Julius travels miles by local buses as he has no car.
The Kimashame translation project was one of three projects we visited out of 12 projects Bible Society UK supports. Next year it will be reduced to four The Kimashame project will hopefully be completed by 2012.
Our group took out lap tops which we left behind - they will have one for each project - and an extra powerful one was going to some one in Bible House. Sometimes they are stolen and if there is no backup as we heard with the Kimashame project they lost a years work! Thankfully they now have backup.
We heard a church had requested the Kimashame translation - Kimashame is a small language group - although the particular request came from a huge church with three congregations of 1,000 attending every Sunday and many standing outside. The people are poor and the pastor often gets paid in chicken eggs or chickens. Big bags of maize form the peoples' offering which the pastor shares out and sells at market to run the church. I would love to go back and have been invited to preach in this church.
Around 47 congregations will benefit from this translation, the New Testament was completed in 2000 and they still need to translate Isaiah, Ezekiel and Chronicles. The translator we met explained that first the passage is hand written at home before they meet and type it up on the computer at the office. It is a painstaking process involving liaison with Julius, and payment is via a small honorarium.
Before any one can read this translation they have to learn to read the text so along side is a literacy programme using six books. We felt a real solidarity with these dedicated people who believe as we do that the best gift that we can give to any one is a Bible it is life changing and life affirming and above all life giving.
The Good Samaritan Project
The project reminds us of Jesus’ challenge to act like the Good Samaritan. On the walls of several huts in the villages we saw the words 'HIV/AIDS kills' daubed on the walls and sadly it does.
Thousands and thousands of lives are lost across Africa through this disease. It is rightly called 'the silent enemy who kills'...So what is the Good Samaritan Project? We went to a village called MLODA situated about 50 kilometres from Dodama by the bumpiest and dustiest road I have ever travelled along. We arrived shaking, but to a great welcome by the young people, all singing and waving their 'Good Samaritan' booklets. The project aims to put the Parable into action in fighting HIV/AIDS, and 'to take pity on the afflicted.' Luke10 verse:33.
There is the course manual which contains Biblical and health information which together with supporting Visual Aids, DVDs, pictures and worksheets help people to know the facts about HIV/AIDS, and how it is caused and spread...To know how to change their behaviour and hygiene, to turn back to God and return to Church, to learn how to live Godly lives and how to receive hope and dignity and finally, to learn how to become Good Samaritans and help the afflicted.
Usually each session starts with a retelling of the Parable and an important part of the teaching is through testimonies.
Here are two such stories: Christopher used to live in Dar Es Salaam. He gave his life to Christ in 2004 but even though he played the keyboard in church he was leading a very immoral life; sleeping around and made two girls pregnant, but didn’t marry either of them. Eventually he was persuaded to follow the Good Samaritan Project which really helped him to curb his behaviour and to change his ways.
God’s word transformed his life and helped him to focus on living a Christian life. He realised the seriousness of his sins and the need to say sorry. Although he didn’t admit it he probably had AIDS.
Damalisa was a very wayward young lady and admitted before following the course that she hated people who had AIDS, she literally shunned them. Now her attitude has changed and she does all she can to help them. Why? Because of Jesus’ words and learning the facts about the disease.
Just giving people health and hygiene advice is not enough. People with AIDS are ostracized, sex is not talked about and HIV/AIDS is a taboo subject so people with the disease sink deeper and deeper into ill health and lose all hope - only death remains - this is why the Bible Society feels so passionately about this project because people can be helped and saved! They can be taught how to live as God intends and can live purposeful lives even with the disease. There is hope and dignity!
The National Co-ordinator (Neema) is a lovely commited and inspiring person who travels the country by public transport to set up and encourage the groups. In 2007 there were just 5 such groups now there are over 65 in 100 churches, a real testimony to her leadership and hard work.What can we do too help?
We were inspired by the commitment and calibre of all the team we met. Pleae pray and give today to The Bible Society and/or consider joining Bible a Month which for £4 a month or units of £4 pounds you will be giving a Bible to someone somewhere in their own heart language.