Dagba Celebration Day

In 1925, Baptist Mid-Missions (BMM) entered French Equatorial Africa. Following BMM Founder William Haas's extensive work with the Sango language, the French government had declared Sango to be the legal trade language. In 1960, France gave independence to its African colonies, dividing French Equatorial Africa into four nations. The Central African Republic and Chad are two of these countries, with the Dagba people residing in both.

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 Scripture in Sara Madjingay and then translating it into Dagba. But Dagba Christians showed their desire 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.

The Dagba people received a glimmer of hope in 1985 when Dr. Bernard Northrup and Ada Temple, under the auspices of Bibles International, came to help them write down their alphabet. Another 20 years passed before they had a reading primer. Finally, in 1997, BI trained a small group of translators 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 had to pass the work on to Koyan Martin. Over the next 10 years, Koyan translated the rest of the New Testament and Medindo typed it. In 2009, Medindo's health declined, and he went to be with the Lord in 2010. This caused real 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 whole process of making final corrections on the New Testament.

The Dagba New Testament was finally ready for print in December 2017. 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 the dedication on January 26, 2019, proceeded on schedule, the Dagba having received their New Testament Scripture shipment just one day before the ceremony.

The Dagba dedication day, January 26, 2019, the celebration day for the New Testament dedication, started with the kind of jubilation and cadence only our Chadian African brothers and sisters comprehend in depth. It began with the 7:00 a.m. arrival of dignitaries and guests. People arrived on foot, bicycles, moto (motorcycle) taxis, cars, and trucks. Outdoors, with all the pomp and circumstance due Chadian dignitaries, SBH[1] and ATEBAM[2] officials and their BI counterparts, the Dagba people, and their neighbors, rejoiced as their leaders led in prayers, praise, exhortations, honoraria, gift-giving (to BI and SBH), and special sales of their New Testaments. From 8:00 – 12:00 the overhead canopies helped shelter the more than 500 celebrants from the 100° equatorial sun. These shelters had been set up adjacent to the church that houses the Dagba translation center in Sarh, Chad's third largest city. Nearby is the Chari River where a number of enterprising Dagba families live who have plantations. They had used their fruits and profits to help fund the Dagba translation teams. Notably, their entrepreneurship has been an example to all Chadian and African translation projects.

At noon, as ecstatic buyers and recipients thumbed through their new treasure, other guests looked over their shoulders to see not only verses they could now read clearly in their mother tongue, but also book introductions, titles, and maps. The Dagba believers now have the major resource needed to be light bearers using this New Testament to grow in grace through study, and to enjoy the harvest by memorizing and sharing its glorious gospel light. To God be the glory, "great things He hath done" (1 Sam. 12:24).

[1] Société Biblique Horeb (Horeb Bible Society)

[2] Association Tchadienne des Eglises Baptistes Mid-Missions (Chadian Association of Baptist Mid-Missions Churches)