Jaars Center

Language Matters

It’s more than a set of sounds, symbols, and syntax. Language shapes how you see the world. It’s intimately tied to your culture, history, and identity as a person. And throughout your life, it dictates what information you can and can’t understand.

“In French, it’s confusing. But in Ifè, it doesn’t matter how something is said;
when you read it, you understand it.”

– Kokou Amouzou, Ifè pastor in Togo

It connects to their hearts.

As Nelson Mandela said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” A translated Bible also redefines your entire relationship with God. He’s not an outsider anymore. He’s not the God of a different language and culture—he’s your God.

“Through this language, I can hear him talking directly to me. Now I am sensing through the language that he is like my close relative.”

– Yurranydjil Dhurrkay, Indigenous Australian translator and advisor

Which Language?

Many people speak three or four languages: One at home. Another at school or church. Another in the city. But they might not truly grasp something until it’s in the language they know best—usually the one they grew up speaking.

Understanding for All

For years, Jume heard John 3:16 and other biblical truths spoken in the local trade language Hausa, or in English. But these truths just didn’t sink in. Now, as she sits in her village in Nigeria and thinks about this famous verse, tears gather in her eyes and her mouth stretches into a wide grin.

Persevering in the Hope for Scripture

In the early 1980s Rev. David Gale found himself weeping at a conference near Juba, in what is now South Sudan. Pastors from many people groups attended the conference and each was asked to read a passage from the Bible in their language. Rev. David came from the Keliko people. Though the Keliko were evangelized in the early 1900s, their only access to God’s word was in two neighboring trade languages. So, when he was asked to read the Bible in his language he couldn’t. Not even one word of Scripture had been translated into Keliko.

But he turned his tears into prayers. He asked those at the conference to pray that his people would be able to translate the Bible into Keliko.

“Most of the time I can read and understand the Portuguese Bible, the English Bible, and even a little of the Greek Bible. But the way I understand it is somehow only on a superficial level. … When I read it in Makhuwa, it’s like I’m naked before God.”

– Bonifácio Paulo, Bible translation consultant-in-training in Mozambique

People gain pride in their identity.

For many minority groups, feeling inferior is common. Outsiders might ignore, mock, or discriminate against them. Their language might feel insignificant, because it isn’t spoken in school, the capital, or even church. But having a written form of their language—and a book as important as the Bible—can help people see how valuable they truly are.

“God speaks the language of our kitchen”

In the Kingdom of Tonga, the Niuafo’ou people are the only minority language group. Often they are considered as somewhat inferior. So they try to hide the fact they are from Niuafo’ou by speaking to each other in the national language of Tongan when in public.

Brighter, Deeper Words

When a woman was hired to translate Scriptures from Russian into her own language, she found the words were “so beautiful—brighter, more touching, deeper than Russian.” As she read about Jesus praying on the night before he was crucified, she couldn’t stop crying.

“Now, we are just like the French, the Germans, and the Americans. We have an alphabet and a Bible in our language, just like them.”

– Kouya man in Côte d’Ivoire, while holding some of the first Scriptures in his language