More than 40,000 copies of Luther’s Small Catechism, translated by LHF into 8 different languages, have arrived in Nairobi, Kenya for distribution throughout East Africa.
For 5 of those groups, it is the first time they can read the catechism in their own language.
“As a time-tested publication, Luther’s Small Catechism continues to teach, inspire and comfort thousands in Africa through its uncomplicated grasp of the Christian faith,” says Rev. Dr. Dinku Bato, LHF’s coordinator of African translation projects.
“And why is this?” adds Tuomo Simojoki, who manages projects out of LHF’s Kenyan office. “Because it is so simple. In Africa, there are so many different churches and teachings that people come across. Then someone gives them a booklet that lays out the teaching of the Bible in a simple format, and also has Bible passages that explain where the teaching stems from. It is helpful, refreshing and convincing. This is the power of the catechism!”
The Päri people are a minority tribe who fled the violence of South Sudan to the huge refugee camps of northern Kenya. The extremely hot and arid climate makes everyday survival difficult.
“They have nothing in the camps, but often nothing to return to back home either,” explains Simojoki. “For too many of them, there is nothing in the foreseeable future that would give earthly hope. So the Gospel spreads to comfort them. They might have been forsaken by people, but they have not been forsaken by Jesus, who is the lover of the weak and lowly. He loves those who are trampled on by the strong. LHF wants to assist in this precious work.”
“The Lutheran Church is small and young in Burundi. This is the first time Luther’s Small Catechism is translated in the Rundi language. There are a few independent Lutheran Churches in Burundi, but this translation was done in collaboration with two of them.
“The Rundi language is spoken by all people in Burundi, which is rare in Africa because usually the colonial borders broke language groups in an illogical way. This is a great assistance with LHF’s translation work, in that we are able to cover an entire country with a single language translation,” Simojoki said.
The Gikuyu people are the largest tribe in Kenya, yet the Lutheran Church has only a few congregations amongst them. Therefore, there haven’t really been translations into their language before. “Now the time is ripe for the catechism! We were lucky to get an active team of three people: two pastors and a deaconess who did the translation quickly and precisely,” Simojoki said.
“We have found that getting materials into any language helps the Lutheran Church grow, as other Christians come across the materials and become interested in the Biblical theology of the Lutheran Church.”
The Kalenjin people are actually made up of nine different “clans” with their own variations of the language. This demonstrates the difficulty of translation in Africa: Many languages vary from region to region and sometimes the differences are quite big.
“We then need to decide whether we treat certain language variations as distinct languages, or whether we try and find a common translation that suits the majority. With the Kalenjin, we chose this latter option. For some fringe areas the translation might be difficult to follow, but the majority will be able to use it. Future projects include the Small Catechism with Explanation and a hymnal, which are almost ready too,” Simojoki concluded.
Dholuo is the second biggest language used within the Lutheran Church in Kenya, and there is a strong base of Lutheran churches in Luo territory. The Luo people stand out because they started educating themselves early, and there is an appreciation of books in their language.
“On a practical note, with a large number of educated pastors and theologians it gives LHF the opportunity to find good translators easily. This is not so in every language!” reflected Simojoki. “Sometimes perhaps there is only one person who has the theological and academic training necessary to provide a faithful and accurate translation.”