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Nov 26, 2007

The Blessing

Three weeks later, I arrived in the Ikizu village, where I was warmly greeted by the workshop participants. My presence drew interest from bystanders, who came over to see what this young, tall, white woman was doing sitting under a tree talking with a group of Ikizu elders. They wandered over and I explained, "These elders and I worked together for several weeks to decide how to write Ikizu so that we can translate the Bible."

My explanation resulted in an animated discussion in Ikizu. Suddenly the newcomers and elders were writing in the dirt with their fingers. Words in the Ikizu appeared on the ground, scattered under the tree as the elders taught the others how to read and write their own language. As I watched, I sensed that a blessing had arrived.

My hosts had a full agenda for me. One of the activities was to attend the Seventh Day Adventist church on Saturday morning. This is the main church in the village, which is a mix of both Muslims and Christians. The church leaders there asked us, "Can you return this afternoon to share at the second service?" While I found this invitation a remarkable example of Christian fellowship and lack of denominationalism-my host was a Mennonite and the pastor of a church in another village-nobody else seemed a surprised and they readily agreed.

When the time came for me to speak I began, "I have been praying for you for three years, ever since I began preparing to come to Africa. It is a blessing to finally meet you." Two of the elders and I proceeded to share about the work that had already been done (create a writing system), and the work planned to do (translate the Bible). "Please pray for us," one man asked the church in closing. "Translating the Word of God will not be an easy task, nor is it one that the devil wants us to do. He will fight this work and we need your prayers."

We asked for questions, and instead of questions, people stood up and to express their joy. One man shared, "Many of our young people move away to cities and forget our language and culture. If not for this project, what makes us Ikizu would die. But now our people will always know their language because it will be written down in the Ikizu Scriptures, and they will remember. Thank you for helping us keep our language and culture alive."

A woman stood up and was close to tears as she addressed the church. "I am not an Ikizu; I come from a different group that already has the translated Bible. I read the Scriptures in my own language every day and I understand them when sometimes I do not know what the Swahili Bible means. I did not know until today that anyone was going to translate the Bible into Ikizu and I am so happy for you! You are a small group and very poor, often the last to receive things. But now you will have the Word of God in your language, which is the most precious gift you could receive. Praise God for this wonderful, wonderful blessing He is bringing you!"

When she finished, it began to storm. Tropical thunderstorms and driving rain on a metal roof do not create good acoustics for public speaking. But nobody moved from their seats, including the pastor. After a moment of wondering what to do, one Ikizu woman who understood the writing system seized the opportunity. We had brought three Ikizu alphabet charts which showed the language's seven vowels, and she began circulating these and went from person to person, teaching everyone how to read Ikizu. Just as the service ended, the rain stopped. The choir sang a closing hymn and we all filed out to shake hands and greet one another.

The three days I spent with the Ikizu were filled with good experiences and warm hospitality. I was saddened, however. I noticed that whenever Ikizu neighbors meet, their conversation is always in Ikizu as it is throughout the day. In church, family devotions, and prayer, however, they switch to using Swahili, the language of their Bibles. I hope that someday after this project is complete, I will return to this village and to hear people talking with God as they would with their Ikizu friends. It is obvious to see that God has been at work, is at work, and will continue to be at work among the Ikizu people of Tanzania, and the opportunity to be a small part of it is a wonderful, wonderful blessing.

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