When your Bible is Illegal

By Wycliffe UK

Lily, a translator in the Lentomi Bible translation project, was flying back to her home country in Asia after attending a conference abroad. At the airport in the capital city Lily’s mobile phone was inspected and officials discovered that it contained an audio New Testament.

Suspecting that Lily might be a religious extremist, they confiscated the phone and detained her at the airport for questioning.

The interrogation lasted two hours, as the officers tried to make her incriminate herself. But Lily felt no fear as she calmly answered all the questions.

At one point a group of officers were gathered around her, and one of them asked to listen to her Scripture app. It ‘happened’ to be in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. When the head officer pushed the button, everyone present heard the beginning of Matthew chapter 7 in their own language, which says:

Do not judge others, and neither will you be judged. In the manner that you judge, likewise will judgement be passed on you.(Matthew 7:1-2)

Lily noticed one of the officers turn pale as he exclaimed ‘What did he say?!’ and he went on to retell in his own words what he had just heard. In response Lily told him that it was true, we all reap what we sow.

On arriving home, Lily prepared the place for a possible search by removing the Christian material that was there. At the same time a prominent local Christian was advocating on Lily’s behalf, explaining to government officials that she wasn’t some dangerous radical, and was not even a Muslim.

An email alert went out to hundreds of people around the world to pray for Lily. One request was that she would be allowed to leave the country even while under investigation. She was planning to attend an important training event in another part of Asia later that month. Thankfully, she was able to depart and return home without any complication.

Her home never was searched. About a month after her phone had been confiscated Lily was called back to the airport. She was informed that nothing illegal had been found on her phone and it was returned to her, with the audio New Testament still there!

Within six months of this in­ci­dent the first ever copies of the full Bible in the Lentomi* lan­guage came off the print­ing presses. The fi­nal­ized text of both the Old and New Tes­ta­ments, to­gether, with all sup­ple­men­tal study ma­te­r­ial, to­talled 1,968 pages. Over the 22-year span of the pro­ject, for­mally launched in 1994, about 15 in­di­vid­u­als were in­volved in ei­ther the trans­la­tion process or sup­port­ing roles. A fur­ther 20-30 helped to re­view and test drafts of the text, with hun­dreds more pray­ing for the work and con­tribut­ing to it financially.

There are roughly 25 mil­lion Lentomi* speak­ers, who by cul­tural back­ground are Mus­lim. They have long been one of the largest eth­nic groups in the world with­out a full Bible in their lan­guage. In­ter­est in the com­plete Lentomi* Scrip­tures was so great that in 2013 the pub­lisher took the ex­tra­or­di­nary step of re­leas­ing on its web­site a pro­vi­sional ver­sion of all 66 books. In late 2014 it was re­ported that in the pre­ced­ing year over 45,000 por­tions of the Lentomi* Scrip­tures had been down­loaded from the In­ter­net, in­clud­ing an av­er­age of 24 full Bibles every day! Please pray that the elec­tronic ver­sion of the newly com­pleted Bible in its var­i­ous for­mats would work well.

The next chal­lenge for the Lentomi* trans­la­tion pro­ject is get­ting the newly printed Bible into the coun­try where most Lentomi* speak­ers live. Pray that the au­thor­i­ties will give per­mis­sion for copies of the Bible to be im­ported and distributed. Of­fi­cial ap­proval of the pub­li­ca­tion is cru­cial, as plans to pro­duce an au­dio ver­sion pro­fes­sion­ally de­pend largely on the Bible’s sta­tus within the country.

The ul­ti­mate aim of Wycliffe Bible Trans­la­tors is to see lives trans­formed through engaging with God’s word.

God has al­ready been us­ing the Scrip­tures in the Lentomi* lan­guage to com­mu­ni­cate the mes­sage of his love. Though a very small per­cent­age of the Lentomi* pop­u­la­tion, the num­ber of be­liev­ers in Jesus is now likely in the tens of thou­sands, and is grow­ing in the midst of con­sid­er­able op­po­si­tion and pres­sure.

Pray that the Lentomi* Church will be re­silient, bold and cre­ative in mak­ing known the Good News just as Lily was dur­ing her air­port interrogation.

*Name changed for security reasons


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