By LEIGH ROBINSON
Around 1 500 people groups in the world still do not have any portion of the Bible in their native tongue. That number was reduced by one recently for the Makonde people in the far north of Mozambique. Twenty years ago a British couple, Benji and Rhoda Leach, both Cambridge University graduates, moved with their young family to the little town of Mueda to begin the task of translating the Bible into the Makonde language. Prior to this move Benji, a geologist, and Rhoda, a London barrister, had studied linguistics and learned Portuguese, the trade language of Mozambique.
On settling in Mueda, a town at that time without running water and electricity, the Leaches set about learning the Makonde language. That took several years. Their next task was to find and train a team of Makonde speakers to assist them with the translation. And so the translation work began. It was a long and arduous task interrupted by health crises (Benji suffered two brain tumours), home assignments to Britain, and slowed down by home schooling four children and the difficulties of day to day living in such a remote place. But one book at a time the New Testament was completed, as were the Old Testament books of Genesis, Ruth, and Jonah. The translation was tested with the local Christians and checked by linguistic consultants who are part of Wycliffe Bible Translators, the global organisation of which the Leaches are members. The completed work was then sent to South Korea for printing.
At last the day of dedication arrived – 23 July 2014. The celebration began with hundreds of singing, chanting, cheering, banner-bearing Christians marching through the town to a large square where public gatherings are held. Over a thousand people stood in the shade of huge mango trees for the duration of the two-and-a half hour service that included speeches, sermons, songs by multiple church choirs, and, at the end, a prayer of thanksgiving for both the printed and the audio versions of the Bible.
Once the proceedings were completed people were able to purchase copies for themselves. What a thrill it was to witness people holding the Bible, thumbing through its pages, reading the words, and realising with joy that God speaks Makonde! Nearly 3 000 of the 15 000 printed copies were purchased that day.