In 2004 an amazing feast was prepared for the Gofa community in Ethiopia. For the first time, they could feast on God’s Word in Gofa — a language spoken by 233,000 people. Gofa translators had just completed the Gospel of Luke, plus the “JESUS” film dubbed in the Gofa language.
Now, eight years later, we returned wanting to discover: Had they been nourished? In other words, had their lives been transformed because of the Gofa Scriptures?
1. We sought to identify key areas of life and culture transformation.
To discover life transformation, we knew we’d have to go beyond documenting church statistics: church attendance, baptisms, conversions. True, such information was nearly at our fingertips. As a result of years of missionary work, many established churches now existed in the Gafo community.
But as outsiders, we were lacking a holistic picture. That is, we really didn’t know which areas of their lives and culture had been most affected by the translation. So we’d probe deeper, looking for patterns. This list covers some key areas infected by sin across cultures:
- Causality: How do they explain death, sickness, weather, famine, war?
- Relationships: How do they interact with family, extended kin, neighbors and cultural outsiders?
- Social Networks: How do they behave in social networks designed to further economic and religious goals?
- Time/Purpose: How do they understand time? Is it cyclical? Linear? Is their purpose for living clear or unclear?
- Rituals: Do their rituals contribute to the health of their relationships with God and each other?
- Forms of Power: How do they distribute power in the family, church, tribe, government and business? How do they resolve conflicts?
For true and lasting transformation, only the Word of God can empower people to overcome these areas of dysfunction.
2. We engaged in open dialogue to reveal areas of spiritual transformation.
Our method was not simply to interview people, following a formal scientific questionnaire. Rather, we developed sets of opening questions that hopefully would lead into deeper dialogue. Each insightful comment is followed by another question, and so on. Capturing the interviews on video allowed us to transcribe the recordings and identify themes later on.
Of course, we wanted the broadest and richest sample possible. So we applied the dialogue method to a cross-section of Gofa society: women, business people, government workers, teachers, farmers and pastors. As you can imagine, the sample provided a lot of detailed feedback, but patterns did emerge.
3. We discovered greatest spiritual impact in 3 key areas because of the Gofa Scriptures.
Of all the culture categories listed, three areas stood out as having greater spiritual impact.
The broadest impact was on time and purpose. The majority of people expressed a greater sense of God’s care in this life, the dignity of each individual created by God, and the need to place greater priority on spiritual things now.
Next were relationships. The Gofa translation helped people understand the importance of sharing Christ with friends, neighbors and family. And they began to value husband and wife relationships in a whole new light.
The third was social networks. They understood that integrating biblical principles into business dealings was part of living out Christ’s teaching within their community and with their neighbors. Practicing integrity, even among nonbelievers, was a new value for many of those interviewed.
Other findings showed that people were taking Scripture more seriously now that it was in their language. Engaging with the Gofa Scriptures meant they were now challenging traditional, syncretistic beliefs that had once remained unchallenged — when only the national language Bible had been available.
Finally, one last area of spiritual transformation took us by surprise. But for that, stay tuned. To be continued ….
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