Two weeks ago I was in Mbeya Region conducting research for my MA in Bible and Mission among the Malila language community. The Malila have been part of a Bible translation project involving 10 language communities of Mbeya and Njombe Regions for the past eight years, and are now very happy to have several books of the Bible published in their language.
The aim of my research was to see exactly how these translated Scriptures are being used, and what the Malila can teach other language communities who are in the same process of translating the Bible into their languages.
The three days that I was in Ilembo and the surrounding villages were packed full of meeting pastors and church members – together with the Malila Scripture Use coordinator I managed to conduct 28 interviews over the three days, and learned a huge amount from those I met with. It became obvious very quickly that the Malila are extremely proud of their language, probably more so than any other language community I have spent time with in Tanzania. There is a lot of excitement that their language is now written, and that portions of the Bible are now available to the Malila in the language that they love and know best!
Here are some (roughly translated) quotes from the various interviews in Ilembo and the surrounding villages:
“When the Bible says that Jesus walked somewhere, I understood in Swahili. But to hear that Jesus walked somewhere, in Malila… it is just like you are walking with your friend to the shops.”
“When people read Matthew 11:28-29 where Jesus invites all those with heavy burdens to come to him and find rest, people really identify with this in Malila because they are used to carrying heavy loads in their everyday life and work.”
“I have read many times the book of Jonah, where God tells Jonah to get up and go to Ninevah. But when I read this in Malila it is like God is standing right next to me and speaking to me! It makes me realise that God is close, and that he speaks directly to people.”
“When I hear the Swahili Bible it feels like it is coming from people. But the Malila Scriptures feel like they are coming straight from God.”
“When you hear Swahili you can understand and explain what the Bible is saying, but the Malila Scriptures go straight to your heart.”
“Having the Bible in Malila helps people to witness to others. In Swahili people may understand, but they find it hard to pass the message on to their friends. When people hear in Malila they can go and witness what they have heard to others… they feel like they are witnessing to something that is real.”