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In Muslim-dominated camp

LHF translator perseveres in catechism work

 
Okach Omot Opiew lives with his wife and young children in the Dadaab Refugee Camp, located in Kenya near the Somalia border.

Dadaab recently made U.S. headlines when members of Al Shabaab, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, opened fire on non-Muslims living in the camp.

Unfortunately, such shootings aren’t out of the norm in Dadaab, which, with its population of more than 425,000 residents, is the largest refugee camp in the world. 

Okach describes life in the camp this way: 

“Life here is very dangerous, especially for Christians, because Dadaab is dominated by Muslims,” he says.

“Christians are not allowed to live as Christians. When we go to the market or when we are in the bus, they blaspheme us by calling us ‘gahal,’ which means pagan.

“Our women are forced by the Muslims to cover themselves. If they go to market and they are not wearing clothes like Somali women, they will be abused as prostitutes.

“Our children are also abused on the way to school, even in class. They are forced to wear the Somali cloth in school, and some of them who refused were dismissed. 

“They also force our children to contribute for their mosque construction in the school, but for us Christians, that is forbidden by the First Commandment." 

Under this pressure, “some Christians become Muslim by force,” he concluded.

Yet it is in this setting that Okach perseveres in the work he feels God has called him to do: translating Luther’s Small Catechism into the Anyuak language, spoken by his people.

Okach and his family are members of the Anyuak tribe, which numbers about a half million people living primarily in Ethiopia and South Sudan.

Thousands of Anyuak are now displaced in refugee camps, having fled ethnic cleansing by the Ethiopian government in 2003. About 5,000 Anyuak are refugees to the United States, settled mainly in Minnesota and Maryland.

Most Anyuak are Christian, and Okach was born into a Christian family. He first learned of the Lutheran faith in 1993, while living in Ethiopia. Okach is determined to see that Luther’s Small Catechism is translated into the language of his people (see related story, "Why I Am a Lutheran.").

With very little Christian literature translated into the Anyuak language, “Anyuak churches have no strong foundation of faith. We have a lack of educated theologians, and have only about 20 pastors,” Okach says. “Anyuak churches are growing, but with a very shallow knowledge of God. It is as wide as an ocean, but one inch deep.

“The Small Catechism, translated into our Anyuak language, will help our community of churches greatly with access to this wonderful, sound Biblical doctrine. I hope that the catechism may pave the way to open more Lutheran churches in our community.”

Okach has nearly completed editing the Anyuak catechism, which will then go to the press in the coming months.

Though he fears not only for his own safety, but also for the safety of his wife and children, Okach continues with his work, trusting that his Heavenly Father will guide and protect them.

“Here in Dabaab, twice they have attempted to burn the church I pray in, but God has protected His Church,” Okach says. “By God’s grace, it is my hope to carry out the great task of expanding God’s kingdom by attending seminary, perhaps in South Africa or the United States. If I can get this additional knowledge, I pray that I may one day help translate the Book of Concord into the Anyuak language, too.”

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