Although the French colonialists brought their language and culture to the Côte d’Ivoire over a hundred years ago and established the first schools, not enough Bakwé use French well enough to be able to benefit from French Bible translations. Bakwé is still the main language spoken at home and in the family. For another generation or more Bakwé Christians need to have access to the Scriptures in the language that they understand best; the language of their souls. And that is one of our goals –to translate the Scriptures into the Bakwé language.
As George M. Cowan of Wycliffe has so aptly said, ‟A practicing Christian community with the Word of God in its own vernacular can feed itself, discipline itself, and multiply itself. No church is ever truly indigenous that does not have its ultimate source of authority for doctrine and conduct directly accessible to the people in their own language.” Speaking of the Bible, Martin Luther said: “Would that this book were in every language, in every land, before the eye and in the ears and hearts of all men.” We echo that wish for the Bakwé people!
When I was a young boy growing up in Liberia, West Africa, I remember something that happened to me that really got my attention later on in life. I used to play outside with my Liberian friends. I grew up speaking English, Kpelle and some Hungarian. I was a selfish little boy at times, and I remember that I sometimes hogged my toys –not letting anyone else play with them. When I did, my little Liberian friends would sometimes call me names in Kpelle. Now I knew Kpelle well enough to know all the gross things that they were saying about my anatomy, but I would just keep on playing and ignore them. When that didn’t seem to work, they would switch into English, and POW! My blood would boil! I would drop everything and chase down the boy who called me names. Why would I respond that way? Why did I not react when they spoke the same words in English? Well, that is just the way it works! Those of you who know Latin, just try calling someone who knows Latin a name using Latin and see what happens. Nothing! Then try it in English. Actually, you’d better not, unless you can do zero to sixty in 10 seconds!
While it is true that the Holy Spirit has to open eyes and ears for anyone to truly benefit from the Scriptures, we don’t want to put unnecessary obstacles in the way of someone’s hearing. The Scriptures need to speak clearly, without being muffled by the language being used.
On the hearer’s side, there is also the problem of using a second language to hide from the truth. This is much harder to do with one’s mother tongue. We have found that people may seem quite competent in French as their second language for use on the street. They may even be able to haltingly read French out loud. They may even say that they prefer to read the Bible in French. But the truth is, reading the Scriptures in their “mother tongue” hurts too much — they get confronted with the raw truth in unambiguous language and can’t hide behind the foreign words. This is also why we translate.