CAMEROON, West Africa - More than 340 million people across the globe don't have a Bible in their own language. For decades, Wycliffe Bible Translatorshas been working to eliminate that number.
Now, an increasing number of local people are even taking part in rendering the scripture into their own language.
According to Wycliffe's website, the ministry has completed more than 700 Bible translations since it was founded by William Cameron Townsend in 1942.
Gospel in Yambetta
Cameroon, located on the Africa's west coast, is home to 19 million people.
Most speak the official languages of English or French, but some 280 language groups blanket the country. Forty percent of the people here are Christians, yet most do not have Bibles in their native tongue.
The Bible says in Revelation that God will gather a people from every nation, every tribe, and every tongue. Part of that is being fulfilled in the Cameroon village of Babetta, where the word of God is being translated into Yambetta, the native language of the people here.
Life in the remote village is simple, especially when it comes to communicating. Yambetta is usually only spoken, not written. But that's about to change.
In a tiny room here, translators have been working from dawn till dusk, translating the gospel into Yambetta, their mother tongue.
"We are very glad when we understand the word of God in their own language," Leonard Bolioki, the project's main translator, said.
Pride and Joy in Translation
This work is close to the heart of Wycliffe USA President Bob Creson. For nearly 10 years, Creson and his wife, Dallas, served as missionaries in Cameroon.
He said the work of Bible translation has changed dramatically in the last 20 years.
"I think the thing that's hit me the hardest is to see the number of Cameroonians that are taking leadership in the Bible translation process here in Cameroon," Creson said. "It's just different than it was years ago."
Wycliffe has teamed up with the Cameroonian Association for Bible Training and Literacy.
"I think it gives them a great sense of pride, and ownership," George Shultz, coordinator for the association's Bible translation degree program, said.
Program Director Efi Tembon said Bible translation is just part of the story.
"Most of the languages we work in are languages that had never been written before, never had an alphabet, never had even one book in their language," Tembon said.
"So when we start to work in a language we send a linguist in to study the language, come out with an alphabet, with a writing system, and start to do books -- a reading and writing to help the people learn how to read and write," he explained.
Here they're working on translating the Bible into Tunen, and they're working on the book of Revelation in Tunen.
Transmitting God's Word
Technology has been another game changer. Translators here use a portable satellite to collaborate with experts in other parts of the world. This helps ensure biblical accuracy.
The translating has helped lead to transmitting. In addition to reading the scriptures, people are also listening to the word in their own language through the program, "Faith Comes By Hearing."
"In Africa people prefer listening to reading," Ambassa Apolinaire, the program's coordinator, said. "Most of the time, we record the whole New Testament from Matthew to Revelation. After the recording, we go into the field and we set up listening group in churches, in quarters, in houses. And people meet to listen to the word and discuss."
Local pastors say having the word of God in a language they can understand is a great blessing.
"When I went to biblical school I studied the word of God in French, and I thought that I had mastered it," Pastor Georges Mossasso recalled. "The fact now that I can speak, read, write and even preach -- that makes me proud."
"When I visited this church they were doing their service in their own language, they sang in their language and preached the gospel in their language," Tembon said. "When I looked at the faces of the people it was clear to me that God was in that place because it was joy on their faces."
Translators say that makes their work worthwhile.
"To be a translation consultant is both a distinction and it's an affliction," Paul Kimbi, a translator, explained. "The joy of doing it and the joy of seeing people read the word of God and understand helps us overcome whatever difficulties we encounter."
The work also leads to unexpected blessings.
"When it was in the process of being translated, the person who did the translation, and he listened to the CD, he said the parable that Jesus gave was as if he was hearing it for the first time," Crepin Sintsime, Nugunu Project Coordinator, said.
Meanwhile, Bolioki and his team have completed about 60 percent of the New Testament translation into Yambetta.
He joyfully awaits the day when he can read the scriptures in his native tongue and share it with others.
"This Word that became flesh moves into the village. He's no longer a foreign God," Creson said. "He's no longer someone who doesn't understand my deepest needs."
And now more than ever, that realization can help lead to a life-changing relationship.