The fact that you are reading these lines means that you know the alphabet and someone taught you to read and understand the meaning of syllables, words, and sentence structure. However there are millions of people in the world who for various reasons cannot read or write. The problem is not their inability to learn … The problem is that some languages have not been broken down into a written form—they have no alphabet, therefore, writing and reading is simply not possible…
When you say “Africa”…
Everything is different in Africa. Very often, traditional religions are found right alongside the Gospel of Christ, cultures and customs vary widely, and it has the warmest climate of all the continents. It is a continent made up of great paradoxes, with the remains of a colonial past still evident in many countries. The sad truth is that hunger, poverty, lack of education, and the belief that an improved life is not possible, combine to keep Africans down. Without a written language, people cannot read the Bible; neither can they gain an education to help themselves, their neighbors, and their countries.
If a language has not been broken down into a written form, it is impossible to translate any book into that language. The reality is that many nations in the 21st century are still unable to read the story of grace—the story of all stories in which a loving God looked down on the human race and made a way for them to receive eternal life—to give them hope! Three distinguished guests recently spoke to students in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Žilina. Reverend Paul Gilead Machira from Kenya , accompanied by the Director of Wycilife-Slovakia, Jaro Tomášovský, and his colleague Lenka Timkova, coordinator of financing projects for Slovakia, spoke to students in the Missionary Work with Children and Youth, and the Religious Education Teacher training programs about the lives and efforts of current missionaries in Africa.
At the beginning of the meeting, Jaro Tomašovský introduced the missionary work of Wycliffe-Slovakia. The mission of the organization is to make disciples of all nations, and then to translate the Bible into every language. It sees its role as helping “the church to fulfill its mission to make disciples of all nations, in order to bring the word of God—the Bible—to all nations in their native language.”
Rev. Paul Machira Gilead followed brother Tomasovsky in speaking to the group and he taught us all a song. As in Africa, where they not only sing, but also dance, so we were soon moving in the fresh African rhythms of the song. “Baraka for mungul welini for her for adzabu…” (God’s blessings are truly amazing!) And then we listened with bated breath to the story of this man that the Lord directed in the way he should go (Isaiah 48:17).
On the way to Nairobi
Brother Gilead spent his childhood in the church because his father was a pastor. There were always lots of Bibles in his parents’ house. Young Paul Machira never wanted to be a priest because he wanted to have a “real job in order to earn a lot of money.” After his studies were completed, he quickly found a job and in the first year was able to buy a new car, and a short time later, a big house. He got married, and then something happened that completely changed the way he and his wife had previously been looking at life.
As we know, the Apostle Paul was on the road to Damascus when the Lord intervened in his life. In the life of Paul Machira, God intervened on the road to Nairobi, the capital and most populous city of Kenya and of East Africa. On his way to Nairobi, P. Machira was involved in a very serious car accident (6 of the 10 people in the car died). This was a huge turning point in the life of the young man. “After that, I was no longer interested in material things, because I realized how crazy it was that I was focused only on myself.” At the time of the accident, Paul had a lot of money in his bank account. And several of those who died in the accident had even fatter accounts. But it didn’t make any difference. “Before the accident there was absolutely no indication that in a moment a terrible thing would happen,” recalls P. Gilead. “It happened in an instant, and I was hurt badly and it took a long time to heal afterward.”
A friend who visited Paul during his convalescence told him about Bible Translation and Literacy of East Africa (BTL), a non-governmental organization focused on translating the Bible and building literacy in a nation’s mother tongue. (To date BTL has completed seven translations of the New Testament and is currently working with another 20 linguistic groups, Ed).
Kenya has 60 language groups, of which 42 are considered to be major groups. Others are small and usually neglected. Many of them are spoken by people in remote areas where there is no access to education, hospitals, or running water. “Although I have been a resident of Kenya all my life, before that fatal auto accident, I’d never heard anything about these issues. I didn’t know there was such a need,” Paul admits. One important fact caught his attention—that if these people could not read or write, neither could they read the Bible. As a Christian (who grew up in a house full of Bibles!), he was touched. It was incredible for him to realize that in the year 2000, there were people in his own country who could not read the Bible. This knowledge convicted him. “I realized that I wanted to be a part of this work, this service through the organization Bible Translation and Literacy of East Africa. God began to change my life…”
PROFILE of Paul Machira
Reverend Paul Machira is a missionary in Kenya. According to his own words, he is married to his ‘best friend,’ with whom he is raising three children, aged two to eight years. He is one of the main organizers of the “Run for the Bibleless,” through which he seeks to inform the general public in Kenya of the needs of their countrymen who have not had the good fortune to have their own language in a written form. Through this event, they are seeking to stimulate interest and obtain the means to provide for translation work. It was Machira’s zeal and enthusiasm for God’s word that inspired Wycliffe-Slovakia to invite the Reverend to Slovakia. In October, P. Machira visited Christian schools and churches throughout Slovakia.