Baptist Mid-Missions entered French Equatorial Africa in 1925. Following BMM founder William Haas's extensive work with the Sango language, the French government declared Sango to be the legal trade language. France granted independence to its African colonies in 1960, dividing French Equatorial Africa into four nations. The Dagba people reside in two of these countries, with approximately 10,000 living in Chad and 34,000 in the Central African Republic. Fifty-five percent of the population practice ethnic religions, while 30% profess Christianity, 15-20% of whom claim to be evangelical.
When African leaders in Chad declared the use of Sango illegal because it was not a Chadian language, Dagba pastors relied on a Chadian language in their church services by first reading the Scriptures in Sara Madjingaye and then translating it into Dagba. However, Dagba Christians desired to have the Word of God in their heart language. As early as 1953, they met and discussed the possibilities and then set out to find a Bible society that could help them. Finding none, they translated hymns into their language.
Before 1996, the Dagba had no written language. They received a glimmer of hope in 1985 when Dr. Bernard Northrup and Ada Temple, under the auspices of Bibles International, arrived to help the Dagba develop a written alphabet. Another 20 years passed before the publication of a reading primer. Finally, BI trained a small group of translators in 1997, who started working on the Gospel of Mark. Literacy teachers received training later that year.
Pastor Badjang Pierre began translating with the help of Medindo Békas, but by 1999, Pastor Badjang suffered from failing eyesight and passed the work on to Koyan Martin. Over the next ten years, Koyan translated the rest of the New Testament while Medindo typed it until Medindo's health declined, and Medindo went to be with the Lord in 2010. This caused great sadness because he had worked so faithfully and was eager to have the Word of God, not only in his language but in other languages as well. God provided another assistant translator, Naoyal Renée, who faithfully assisted Koyan through the process of making final corrections on the New Testament.
December 2017 saw the Dagba New Testament finally ready for printing. BI sent the text to a printer in Belarus who published 5,000 copies and then shipped them to Chad. These precious volumes arrived at the border of Chad and Cameroon in September 2018; however, customs officials held them up for several months. Yet our gracious God had the final say, and on January 26, 2019, the New Testaments were in Sarh, Chad for the Dagba dedication, having arrived only the day before.
The many faithful believers who had sacrificially labored to translate God's Word into the Dagba language and those who had generously supported the work all arrived at the outdoor ceremony with anticipation. Three BI translation consultants attended as well. BI Regional Coordinator for Africa Dr. David Cropsey traveled from the United States and challenged attendees from 1 John that in Christ there is light and no darkness at all, and that His Word brings the light of the gospel. With smiles on their faces, Dagba speakers paged through their newly acquired New Testaments. Some noticed that the Dagba committee had chosen to list the books of the Old Testament in the table of contents, aiding their understanding of the whole revelation of God and encouraging thoughts and hopes for the next step in Scripture translation. The Dagba people could truly understand, with the Word of God in their hands for the first time, that God speaks Dagba!
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