Bev Erasmus from The Seed Company, an affiliate of Wycliffe Bible Translators, is a translation consultant working to translate Scripture into ten of the main languages in Madagascar.
One of the teams she is supporting, the Masikoro language team, has been working on their translation since 2001.
There is a great need for the translations to be complete because ‘Most people,’ explains Bev, ‘do not understand Malagasy, the official language, and we believe that’s a big reason why there are so few Christians. In this area —and I’m really guessing — maybe 10-20% of the people are Christian.’
The other 90%
‘There are three Bibles available in the official language, and nothing in any other language,’ Bev continues, further explaining the problem.
‘Having the Bible in their own language, is powerful. It really speaks to people. Whereas having it in the official language doesn’t speak to the people. It’s a foreign language to them,’ Bev explains.
Watch the Jesus film in the Southern Betsimisaraka language!
So far the Masikoro language team has completed the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, the book of Acts and the Jesus film. The life-giving words are already bearing fruit.
But there is still a long way to go. ‘I’d love to get a complete translation in any of the languages, but it’s slow. So we really need to build things into a real Malagasy Bible translation movement.’
'MAF has changed things completely!
Thanks to MAF, teams on the east coast like Betsimisaraka south are able to walk just half a day to where the plane can land.
It’s completely changed the way they work and their ability to make progress.' Bev Erasmus
Starting where the language is spoken
There are many unreached people in Madagascar like the Southern Betsimisaraka people, isolated by geography and the language they speak.
To grasp and understand the language, Bev’s team spend time with ordinary people in the villages — young, old, literate and non-literate, involving them in the translation process. These interactions are a witness in themselves.
‘We were sitting with a group of people,’ Bev continues, ‘and one of the ladies there had been absolutely against Christianity. But as we were testing and reading Exodus in Masikoro, she said, “If this is what it’s about, I’m becoming Christian!” And she did!’
The lady has now been baptised and is part of the church there.
Overcoming barriers to the Gospel
Unfortunately, travel to the remote regions is difficult for the translation teams. The terrain is notoriously hard to traverse.
To reach Betsimisaraka south, says Bev, would take a four-day walk — and that’s when the paths are in a fairly decent condition. One team, which took four days to reach Antsirabe for a language workshop, not only arrived tired, but ‘their feet were a mess’ and needed medical attention.
‘Fortunately,’ Bev smiles, ‘MAF has changed things completely. Thanks to MAF, teams on the east coast like Betsimisaraka south are able to walk just half a day to where the plane can land. Then MAF flies them out. It’s completely changed the way they work and their ability to make progress.'
A four-day walk to work
The prospect of the gruelling journey is enough to deter some. ‘I suspect a lot of them would have dropped out because of the four-day walk. There was one time when the rivers had risen before the walk home, and one of the guys was washed away. He didn’t die, but he could have! It happens.'
‘It’s the same four-day, gruelling ride for those based in Mananara or Betsimisaraka north. I think the road from Mananara to Tamatave has been described on TV as one of the worst roads in the world!’
Learn about the Masikoro people and the resources already available to them
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Producing a crop
The motto for The Seed Company is ‘Bible translation. Life transformation’. And that, according to Bev, is what they’re beginning to see.
‘We are already seeing communities changed. Not just individuals, but communities. Madagascar is being changed because, where the Bible has really taken root, people are believing, and the community is different. We’ve been to communities where women have a voice and where there’s honesty, there’s justice. It impacts their whole lives.'
‘We met one little group in Androy [Madagascar’s most southerly region] where they’d really got hold of the Gospel. We could see it in the way they treated each other, the way they treated guests, and the way they showed compassion to one another. The impact of the Bible and the Gospel is clear. It’s life-changing!’
Hand in hand
Teams of researchers and Bible translators can now reach remote and isolated areas on MAF flights, and colleagues from 6 or 7 translation teams can attend workshops where they can share their experiences and receive support.
Every precious travel day saved is a day sown into the Kingdom, as translators grapple to unlock another scripture for people who do not yet know Jesus.
‘MAF,’ concludes Bev, ‘has been an absolute blessing. They’ve gone out of their way, in all sorts of ways, working hand-in-hand with us. I really appreciate MAF.’
‘We are already seeing communities changed. Not just individuals, but communities. Madagascar is being changed because, where the Bible has really taken root, people are believing, and the community is different.' Bev Erasmus