Only three boxes of Bibles in the Didinga language were on the small aircraft followed by two Didinga translation and literacy team members from SIL, Timan Dominic and Loki Brunos. The two men were going to Chukudum to prepare for the celebration of the new Bible translation together with the Didinga community. Since there is practically no phone network and very limited internet out there they couldn’t possibly coordinate things from SIL’s base in Juba, but had to be "on the ground" in order to get things ready for the big day.
Story by Thorkild Jørgensen. Photos by SIL and Florian Poinstingl.
'MAF is key to bringing our Bibles out to the communities of South Sudan, because it is too insecure to drive them.'
Tanya Spronk, SIL's Literacy and Education Coordinator
Yips of glee
Two weeks later, on Friday 2 March 2018, a large group of people – several of the women in traditional dress – walked the three km from town to the airstrip outside Chukudum.
At 10 o’clock, MAF’s eastbound shuttle arrived with 29 boxes of Bibles, and four hours later another MAF Caravan arrived with 11 passengers from Juba plus 50 kgs of workshop and literacy materials. The plane quickly took off again to collect five more people from Torit. Many of the passengers were from SIL, while others were MPs or church leaders from different denominations around the area.
They were all greeted with yips of glee, flower petals, singing and dancing by the group who had been waiting at the airstrip since 6 o'clock in the morning. A Bible was presented to the group and it was carried away high above people’s heads.
As the animated cries of excitement died down, Father Thomas Oliha, Apostolic Administrator from the Catholic diocese of Torit, thanked God and all the people who had been involved in making this Bible a reality. Now, the Didinga people would be able to learn about Jesus Christ in their own language, he told them. More yips of glee rent the air.
Several churches and missionaries have been in the area for decades, but although some Didingas have been devoted Christians all their lives the church is still fairly small and traditional beliefs are the most prevalent. A Bible in their own language will supposedly have a significant impact on the Didingas and may even ramp up the spiritual battles.
Saturday was the Day of Dedication, and around 1,500 people gathered at the Catholic Church and its surrounding Palica (church grounds) to celebrate.
The Bibles were dedicated and prayed over and speeches were held by SIL representatives, representatives from the different churches, a national MP, the county commissioner and several others. At the same time, teams from the surrounding communities and villages performed with dancing and singing.
Over the weekend the Jesus Film in Didinga was shown three times in different locations around Chukudum. A mind-blowing experience for many who had never watched a movie, let alone one in their own language! In that following 2 weeks the film was shown 2 more times once in Chukudum and once in a neighboring village about a 2 hour walk away. One evening, as people were walking home, Laura Robison from SIL, overheard an older woman saying to another, 'They beat him and killed him like that, and yet He still loves us?'
They people were eagerly looking through their new Bibles they had bought, but in reality many cannot read it because the literacy rate is extremely low. They will treasure it anyway and can try to follow when it is read in church. The younger generation will eventually be able to read the Didinga Bibles, as SIL has been training teachers to teach the children how to read the Didinga language, and developed materials to help them.
New Testament Audio Bibles have been recorded and put onto memory cards that work with basic phones and can be followed along with the written text on smart phones. Laura noticed that people were listening to their Audio Scriptures each night after having received them in the weeks following the visit.
Tanya Spronk, SIL's Literacy and Education Coordinator, summed up how MAF was able to help during the run up to the dedication: 'To make the very last part of all this happen MAF has been amazing! Boxes with Bibles are quite heavy cargo, and a lot of logistics were involved in getting people and Bibles to Chukudum at the right time. Over a thousand Bibles went out there for the weekend, and MAF went off their routes to make sure to drop enough Bibles and books in time for the dedication. MAF is key to bringing our Bibles out to the communities of South Sudan, because it is too insecure to drive them.'