Yesterday I arrived home from a visit to Ivory Coast to attend the dedication of the New Testament in Kouya. It took place in the village of Dema, which is where we first lived when we moved to the Kouya area almost 25 years ago. In a number of ways this wasn’t a typical dedication. It was taking place a full 10 years after the New Testament was published: it had not been possible to hold a celebration because just as the New Testaments arrived in the port of Abidjan in 2002, civil war was breaking out in the country, and the dividing line between north and south split the Kouya area in two. Many of our Kouya friends suffered greatly during the fighting and during the political instability which followed. Although the New Testament was only now being officially dedicated, many Kouya Christians have been reading God’s word in their own language during the last 10 years, and I certainly saw quite a number of New Testaments which did indeed look well used.
Pastor Kalou Ambroise was an excellent Master of Ceremonies, assisted by Jacques who did a great job of interpreting what was said in French into Kouya and vice-versa. Rather than being dominated by long speeches by dignitaries as these events sometimes are, the formalities were performed with a light touch, bringing organisation and spontaneity together in typical Kouya fashion. After a brief word of welcome from the chief of Dema, there were short speeches from Emile (original translator), Didier (in his capacity as translator and as current Director of SIL), from myself and from Philip. But the programme made space for everyone’s contribution to be acknowledged: those involved in translation, in literacy, in supporting roles in Abidjan, as well as the many in Ivory Coast and other places who have faithfully prayed for the work.
A total of 6 Kouya translators were involved at different stages of the work (3 working with Philip and Heather Saunders and 3 working with Eddie and myself). Sadly, 3 of them are no longer with us and so to acknowledge their contribution, a symbolic copy of the New Testament was presented to each family in their memory. Tuali Bai Laurent, who for many years prayed that God would send people to help translate the Bible into Kouya, is also no longer with us, and I was very moved to be asked to present his widow with a copy of the New Testament.
The programme was interspersed with Kouya songs and with readings by newly literate Kouya women, while others gave fluent readings from the New Testament or acted out a scene from the gospels. It was also an opportunity to present and distribute the Megavoice audio players – Scripture has been recorded onto these in dramatised form so that groups of people can listen to God’s word and learn together.
There were several points in the proceedings which were quite emotional: Emile was overcome with emotion during his speech as he expressed his gratitude to God that he had lived to see this day! It was lovely the way Jacques and Kalou came alongside to support him, each with an arm around his shoulders, as he choked with emotion and the tears flowed, (reminding me of Aaron and Hur supporting Moses’ arms in Exodus 17:12). We were moved as Didier recounted how he had come to trust God during the time he and I were working on translating John’s gospel. There was sadness, too, as we remembered those translators who were no longer with us, but the overwhelming emotion of the day was one of rejoicing – we were ‘eating joy‘ as they say in Kouya, celebrating the way God’s word had come to the Kouya people! Being back in Kouyaland was quite emotional for me and seeing friends I hadn’t seen in years brought the memories flooding back. But this celebration wasn’t about a sentimental journey down memory lane; ultimately it wasn’t about us or even about the Kouya: it was about acknowledging what God has already done among the Kouya and anticipating what he will do among them through his translated word!
Thank you to John Hamilton for the photo.