How do you reach communities with very low literacy? It’s a difficult practical and missiological question. Some have suggested that the Waata (also called Sanye) of the Kenyan coast (Tana River and Kilifi Counties) have such low literacy (estimated at less than 5%) that printed Bibles and materials may not be helpful and that oral transmission of the gospel and Christian teaching may be preferable.
However, this hasn’t deterred Bible Translation and Literacy (BTL) from seeking to bring the written Word of God to the Waata. Work began in 2012 and there is now a draft orthography (writing system) being finalised with the help of local speakers. Excitingly the Gospel of Luke has now been translated into Waata.
Luke’s Gospel is a very interesting choice because in its opening words it records the transition from oral to written transmission of the gospel.
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them [orally] to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
While informal conversations and retelling of the Bible story will often be the first engagement of a community with the gospel of Jesus Christ, for there to be stability and certainty there will need to be a move to the written Word of God.
“Pastor Philip Galgalo is anxiously waiting for the Waata Bible to enable him to preach the Word of God in his own language. All the Waata people who have so far come across the books are so excited about having their language written.”
With at least 75% of the 15-25,000 Waata yet to be reached with the gospel there is a long way to go but through the hard work of learning, loving, teaching and translation, BTL are bringing God’s Word to the Waata.
Read more on the exciting work of BTL with the Waata in CM Issue 7.