By Dr. Paul Opoku Mensah- GILLBT Executive Director
Recently GILLBT took delivery of copies of the latest issue of the Journal of African Christian Thought, the journal of the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture. Titled “New Directions for Bible Translation in Africa”, and with Rev Prof Gilbert Ansre and myself as Guest Editors, the issue is based on revised presentations of the final GILLBT@50 conference in September 2012. It is part of a number of publications that would result from the anniversary celebrations—and was launched at the AGM in Tamale on Saturday July 27, 2013.
Like the conference itself, the articles cover a wide range of issues on Mother tongue Bible Translation in Africa. But they all intend to address the present state of affairs as well as what urgently needs to be done from now on. They celebrate and critically rethink the work in light of the changed and changing context in which Mother Tongue Bible translation takes place in the country and on the continent. A critical aspect of this context is the growth of the church in Ghana and Africa. Consequently, particular emphasis is given to the challenge of ensuring the ownership of Bible Translation by the church in Ghana, and the African continent. The outline of the volume—presentations and authors—is as follows:
1. “New Directions for Bible Translation in Africa,” Rev Prof Gilbert Ansre & Dr Paul Opoku-Mensah (Guest Editors)
2. “The State of Bible Translation in Africa: An Overview,” Dr Aloo Mojola; UBS Bible Translation Consultant, Kenya;
3. “Re-appraising the History and Place of Mother Tongue Bible Translations,” Rev Prof David Ekem, Trinity Theological Seminary;
4. “The Impact of Bible Translation on the Okuoko Cult,” Naana Nkrumah, GILLBT Translation Consultant;
5. “The Language Factor in African Christian Mission: Bible Translation and Biblical Interpretation in the Church in Africa Today,” by Rev Thomas Atta-Akosah; former GILLBT member
6. “Skopostheorie: A Functional Approach to the Future of Bible Translation Africa?,” Rev Nathan Esala, Lutheran Bible Translators, Ghana;
7. “Engaging the Context of Bible Translation in Africa: The Francophone Initiative,” Dr Michel Kenmogne, Associate Director for Africa, Wyclife Global Alliance & Coordinator, Francophone Initiative
8. “The Contribution of Mother tongue Bible translation to the formulation of African theology,” Dr Abel Ndjerareou, theologian and former Director of ATALTRAB in Chad;
9. “Africa and the Global State of Bible Translation,” Kirk Franklin, CEO, Wycliffe Global Alliance
10. “Building a Viable Bible Translation Movement in Africa: Lessons from the Church,” Apostle Dr Opoku Onyinah, Chairman of Church of Pentecost
The composition of the speakers and articles thus makes for a broad understating—thematic and geographic—of the state of Bible Translation on the African continent. The concluding article is a revised version of the well-received keynote address at the Grand finale celebrations of GILLBT@50 by the Chairman of the Church of Pentecost, Apostle Dr Opoku Onyinah. Titled “Building a Viable Bible Translation Movement in Africa: Lessons from the church,” it addresses the critical issue of the ownership and embeddedness of Mother Tongue language development and Bible translation in Africa.
Overall the publication raises issues that point to New Directions for Bible Translation in Africa—and for the work of GILLBT. These include:
1. A celebration of the missionary involvement in Bible translation in Africa but an acknowledgement of the dwindling missionary presence and role.
2. A call for a return to the nationalism of post-independent Africa of the 1950s-1960s that provided the foundations for the work of Mother Tongue Bible Translation fifty years ago.
3. A call for a corrective research to the dominant mission’s historiography which downplays the role Africans have played in Bible translation, and to highlight African agency at a time when African involvement is critical to sustaining the work of the previous decades of Bible translation
4. A need for closer cooperation between the Bible translation agencies and the institutions for higher learning and research in Africa–as such collaboration is critical to the contributions Africa can, and ought to make, to the Global Bible Translation movement.
5. A need to put issues of ownership, financial viability, national capacity at the centre of discussions on the future of Bible translation in Africa.
6. The urgency for formalised collaboration with the Churches that, as stressed by a number of the authors, is critical to the future of Bible translation in Africa.
Concluding our introduction to the volume, Rev Prof Ansre and I call for the establishment of “an African wide platform for theologians, translators, church leaders, and other scholars” to “start a conversation” on the future of Mother Tongue Bible translation in Africa. Ultimately we see this as a critical advocacy platform that could be used to building the vision for National/African ownership. I have committed GILLBT to take a leadership role in establishing this platform, for which we will be collaborating with the theological institutions and Bible agencies.
Indeed we see the collaboration with the Akrofi-Christaller Institute in the publication of this volume as part of the necessary foundation that needs to be built for this platform. And we will further consolidate this by teaming up with Akrofi-Christaller Institute to jointly launch the volume in Accra and Kumasi. Such collaboration enables us to move our work into the area of theological/missiological engagement—an area we have hitherto not been actively engaged in, but which is critical to sustaining the impact of our work.