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Feb 5, 2018

Gwere New Testament launched in Uganda

Written by Kathryn A.

Launch draws 20,000 people, President Museveni is honoured guest.

"Budaka is on fire!" said a message from Joseph, who delivered 5,600 copies of the printed Gwere language New Testament. His message described no literal fire, but the air of excitement as people prepared to celebrate. It was even known that Uganda's President, Yoweri Museveni, would attend as Guest of Honour.


gweremusic17 A local youth marching band paraded through the grounds, then led the
crowd in singing the Ugandan National Anthem, East African Community
Anthem, and newly composed Lugwere Bible Anthem. (photo: Gift Asiku)
Outside a local restaurant, a large banner announced the event. Inside, the Launch Organising Committee watched the JESUS film in its new Gwere translation. The next evening, after the New Testament launch, it would be shown to the public for the first time.

At the event site, stacks of plastic chairs were delivered and a stage was set up. Decorators draped tents with fabrics in red, gold, and black - the colours of the Ugandan flag. At a nearby road junction, a sculptor put final touches to a monument depicting an open Bible on a lectern.

Launch day dawned. Buses arrived, bringing church choirs and school groups. Overnight, President Museveni's team had secured the area. Soldiers checked the details of those arriving. Upon entering the gate, everyone walked through a scanner and had their bags checked.

An elderly man with crutches sat on the back of a boda-boda (motorbike taxi). The team recognised him from photos of an earlier service, when several local churches had come together to praise God for the safe arrival of the Gwere New Testaments. He had expressed determination to march with the procession holding a copy of the Scriptures, even on his crutches. A team member spoke with him...

"His name was Victor," she said. "Very appropriate, I thought. I noticed his shirt bore the logo for the JESUS film. I commented on this, and asked if his was one of the voices for the Gwere language soundtrack. ‘Yes! I was the Angel Gabriel,' he told me proudly. Later, during the launch, we listened as he read the Gwere Scriptures, from Revelation 3:20-22."

Gradually, people filled every seat. Dressed in turquoise and yellow, a local church choir and musicians presented a song with traditional musical instruments. The lyrics spoke of receiving the Scriptures in Gwere language, setting the tone for the day's event. A local youth marching band paraded around, playing their drums and brass instruments.

President Museveni arrived to unveil the monument. On its base was a plaque commemorating the launch of the Gwere New Testament, engraved with words from the Old Testament book of Joshua:

"Be Sure That The Book Of The Law Is Always Read In Your Worship... and
Make Sure That You Obey Everything In It...
" Joshua 1:8 (GNB)

The President also planted a mango tree seedling in the proposed "Lugwere Bible Garden," (in Gwere, the community call their language Lugwere, and themselves Bagwere). Across from the event site, this garden and its trees symbolise the desire that God's Word be planted in people's hearts and bear fruit in their lives. The garden will remind future generations of the coming of God's Word to the Gwere people in their language.


gwerecrowd17 By day’s end, the team estimated that at least 20,000 people had
come to celebrate the launch of the Gwere New Testament and
watch the JESUS film in the Gwere language. (photo: Gift Asiku)
Once President Museveni was ushered in, the crowd stood up to sing the Ugandan National Anthem in English accompanied by the brass band. Then came the East African Community Anthem in Swahili, and the specially written Lugwere Bible Anthem in Gwere. The service then continued with Bible readings, a sermon, and prayers of intercession, all given by church leaders from a variety of denominations.

Several speeches followed, from local leaders and then by President Museveni. He spoke about the importance of preserving languages and valuing different cultures, about the uniqueness of the Bible and the need for unity. "Those who don't want people to speak their dialects," he said, "are enemies of Africa - they kill our heritage. One way of keeping a language alive is to translate the Bible."

He congratulated the Gwere people on the launch of the New Testament in their language, and also the Gwere language dictionary. He challenged cultural institutions to encourage children to learn to read and write in Gwere. He even gave 20 million Ugandan shillings (and pledged further donations) towards continuation of the Gwere Bible translation work.

President Museveni's final duty at the launch was to cut the cake. Arranged under their own tent were five cakes. The largest was shaped like an open book, decorated with the words of Joshua 1:8, to match the monument. Local leaders gathered around as the President cut the large cake. Pieces of cake were then distributed for launch attendees.


gwerentarriveGwere New Testaments are unloaded from one of numerous vehicles
which carried them from the SIL Uganda office in Entebbe to
Budaka for the launch celebration event. (photo: Gift Asiku)
After the President's departure, people flocked to another tent where the Gwere New Testaments were being offered for purchase. Meanwhile, choirs entertained the crowd with songs (in Gwere language) about the Bible or based on Bible verses. Later, the translation team tried to estimate how many people had come to the launch. "The committee ordered 16,000 chairs," one of them said, "and all were taken. Many people stood, and many more were able to enter after the President and his security left. We think that at least 20,000 people came!"

At sunset, several thousand people remained on the field. Their attention was drawn to two large screens beside the stage. Despite a light drizzle as darkness fell, they watched the JESUS film in Gwere language, and heard Jesus speak in their own language for the first time.

It was eleven years since Mark's Gospel was first published in the Gwere language, and more than forty years since local translator Samuel Mubbala began translating the Scriptures into Gwere as a school boy. God has been faithful, and has brought young Sam's dream to life. Finally, the Gwere people have the New Testament in their own language. Now, they long for the Old Testament to be translated into Gwere as well, so that they can have a complete Bible.


Scriptures marked (GNB) are taken from the Good News Bible, ©1994 published by the Bible Societies / HarperCollins Publishers Ltd UK, Good News Bible© American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992. Used with permission.

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