The Neao speakers, a group within the Guéré people, live in Côte d'Ivoire (formerly known as the Ivory Coast) and number about 422,000. Despite Côte d'Ivoire’s official language of French, numerous other languages and dialects represent the many people groups that reside in the country. Fifteen percent of the Neao people profess Christianity, 4% of whom claim to be evangelical. Sixty percent practice ethnic religions, while 25% practice Islam.
Following the expulsion of all missionaries from Chad in the mid-1970s, several of those Baptist Mid-Missions missionaries began to minister in Côte d'Ivoire. Under the supervision of a BMM missionary, the Neao New Testament translation project began in 1976 and finished in 1981, with 4,000 copies published by Bibles International the following year.
One Neao pastor expressed the value of the Neao New Testament in this way: "You see few chapels along the highway. One reason [for this is] that the Word of God is not in their language, so they cannot read it, know God, and grow. For those who read French, yes, there are strong churches. But out here away from cities, it is not so. We need Bibles in our languages. Even French-reading university students have said they cannot understand their French Bibles. But with only my fourth-grade education, I have helped them understand by giving them a Neao New Testament and explaining it to them."
Many years of civil war disrupted life in Côte d'Ivoire, including education, which caused a low literacy rate of just over 1% among adults. Finally, after the years of conflict, the Neao churches reorganized and requested BI to restart the literacy program and finish Bible translation. A positive response to a survey in 2013 regarding a possible translation project led BI to adopt this as a Bible and Literacy project in February 2015.
Beginning with the revision and reprinting of the 1998 literacy primer in 2020, the current phase of the project focuses on advancing the literacy program in the Neao churches. During the next phase, revision of the 1991 New Testament translation will begin, followed by a first translation of their Old Testament.
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