The Waala people live in the Upper West region of Ghana and number approximately 85,000, with only 3% of the population professing Christianity and 1.5% of those claiming to be evangelical. In 1993, 30% of the Waala people could read their language of Waali.
In 1945, war conditions in French Equatorial Africa changed Baptist Mid-Missions missionary Gust Pearson’s plans, so he traveled to Accra, Ghana instead. Not long after, other missionaries joined him, and they began ministering together in Christiansborg, followed later by another ministry among the Waala people in the Upper Volta region’s capital of Wa.
These missionaries began translating the New Testament into Waali, and when they completed it in 1984, it became the only printed material to exist in this language. Although the translation work commenced before the formation of Bibles International, by its completion, BI had become involved and printed the finished New Testaments. As missionaries began to distribute the New Testaments for free in public schools, they became surprised by the Muslim teachers’ eagerness to accept and use the Waali Scriptures as reading and writing textbooks for their students. In one secondary school, a teacher suggested that the students write the name of Pastor Samuel Seidu inside the front cover to remind them that one of their people had been responsible for the translation. In this predominantly Muslim school, his suggestion became a great tribute to Samuel Seidu, who had been buried next to the Baptist church in that school’s village.
Recognizing that extremely low literacy among the Waala contributed the most to the barriers between the Waala people and their New Testament, the missionaries began teaching literacy classes simultaneously with their translation work. Many of the young men who attended these reading classes became both vital literacy teachers and faithful church leaders. As they brought literacy classes to neighboring villages, these new literacy teachers also became evangelists and helped plant churches in these villages. One missionary wrote, “Through our Baptist Mid-Missions’ literacy program we have reached thirty-four villages. Literacy classes were held during the dry season of 1993 in twenty-four villages. Approximately 460 students attended. We are awed by the tremendous growth in the literacy program. We have distributed 4,000 New Testaments… These books may get dirty and worn, but they will not collect dust from lack of use.”
BI adopted the Old Testament translation project in 1994. The remarkably cheerful Hamidu Insah, who has suffered with paraplegia since his teens, became the main translator. During this time, Solomon Dansieh assisted in translation and compiled a Waali dictionary, which provided significant help to literacy efforts. He brought his dictionary to BI, who eventually published it in 2016.
The BI translation team finished the Old Testament translation in 2009 and participated in a three-hour dedication service for the complete Waali Bible in May 2010. Even the rain that started about 4 minutes into the program could not dampen the indescribable joy of the people who now had the complete Word of God in their language.
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