Notes from the Mission Field: Persecution, Preaching, Teaching, and Translating

Originally published by Lutherans in Africa:

Professor Dr Peter Kijanga and Professor Leonidas Kalugila, both distinguished professors from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania catch up with each other. Dr Kijanga translated Martin Luther's
Professor Dr Peter Kijanga and Professor Leonidas Kalugila, both distinguished professors from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania catch up with each other. Dr Kijanga translated Martin Luther’s “On the Bondage of the Will” into Kiswahili. Professor Kalugila is a full time member of our staff and has translated and written many books.

Sudanese Refugees

Last month, I began the newsletter talking about the situation in Dadaab Refugee Camp which is one of the largest refugee camps in the world. There are a couple Lutheran congregations there led by laymen since they do not have a pastor. I was planning to go there but just a week later there was a terrorist attack at a University in Garissa which is south of Dadaab. (link here) This prevented me from going there but also made it very difficult for any of the leaders to leave the refugee camp to come to Nairobi. In the end, four Sudanese evangelists were able to come to Nairobi where we comforted them with the Gospel. Many of you reading this, whether you are in the USA, Europe, Australia, or Africa, recognize that persecution is increasing against Christians, but the response in each of those places is quite different.

map2The Sudanese refugees who came to our center did not ask to leave Africa and go to a Western country. They didn’t ask for material gifts. They asked for the thing which they believe is the most powerful in the world, the Word of God. It seems, at times, that some people doubt the power of the Word of God and turn to manmade solutions. But think about this for a moment, how did Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead? Or the little girl? How did God create the earth and all that is within it? How did He bring light from the darkness? He did all this with His Word. Therefore, maybe the most dangerous thing in the West is not modernism, socialism, or Islam. It is doubting that God can change hearts and bring us the greatest blessings if we hear, learn, and believe His Word.

Anyuak Catechism

This naturally leads us to the main work we have been focusing on the past few months, translating the catechism into one of the languages of the people in the Dadaab Refugee Camp. Just looking at pictures of this camp (link here), you can picture the scene in Matthew 14. John the Baptist, the great prophet, had been beheaded and many of the new followers were like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus goes in a boat to a desolate place and crowds follow Him, 5000 men not even including the women and children. Jesus has compassion on them and teaches them. When they were fearing death and suffering, Jesus speaks words that give peace to the weary soul and He feeds them with the Bread of Life.

11165132 10152782849697407 7017462434755775803 o  1

In the same way, the disciples from Dadaab Refugee Camp came to translate the Word of Jesus and to take it back to their people who have been suffering much. To help me out with the work and also to get a taste of what Lutherans in Africa does together with the Lutheran Heritage Foundation, Rev Stephen van der Hoek and Rev Matthew Buse assisted with the editing of the translation of Luther’s Small Catechism into the Anyuak language. They were quite amazed each day to learn how important accurate translation is and how one or two words added, omitted, or altered completely change the meaning of the Word of God. Let me give you a few examples.

11270507 10152782851147407 2450732988784669504 o

Translation work is NOT easy. Different churches have different meanings for words and without proper training the entire meaning can be changed.

In the Baptism section of the Small Catechism the question is asked,

What benefits does Baptism give?

It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are these words and promises of God? Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)

Unfortunately, in the Anyuak translation of the Bible, the translators must not have liked these words and thus they added a word, “accept.” The Anyuak translation reads, “Whoever accepts and believes and is baptized shall be saved.” In this way they add the work of man to accept Jesus into their hearts. The problem is this, how will I ever know if I really accepted Jesus into my heart? This is the reason why you might find some of your Baptist friends who have been baptized six, seven, or twenty times. They do this thinking they weren’t serious enough the first dozen times.

To make matters worse, the next question in the catechism asks, “How can water do such great things?” The Bible passage quoted is from Titus 3:5-8.

“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:5–8)

11046272 10152782848967407 3694425588667197709 o  1

But, the Protestant translators obviously did not like the verse and removed any semblance of the words that baptism or any type of washing saves. It was confusing to the point that one is left to believe that man must do something in order to be saved and there are no divine gifts from heaven to cleanse us from unrighteousness. To be honest, this does make it difficult for Lutheran pastors in Africa because then they are accused of changing the Bible because the catechism translation is different than what United Bible Societies or Wycliffe Bible Translators has produced. Even more frustrating is that the Evangelicals who come to Africa think that it is not important to teach African pastors the biblical languages, Greek and Hebrew. Thus, many Bible translations being done in Africa these days use the Living Bible in English and then translate that English to an African language.

Let me give one more example on how one word changes the entire meaning. In the English catechism, the Lord’s Supper section is titled, “The Sacrament of the Altar” which is another valid term but the translators didn’t have a word for “sacrament” so they used “sacrifice” which gives the idea that Jesus is being sacrificed each and every Sunday. Again, this one word changes the meaning of the entire section. We do not sacrifice Jesus each and every Sunday but we receive His body and blood which was sacrificed in our place 2000 years ago on Golgotha, then He rose again after three days, victorious over death. Therefore we are not receiving dead meat but the living God!

Attendees of the recent seminar on the Structure of Lutheranism, the Lord's Supper, and the Ten Commandments. Thanks to Rev Dr Anssi Simojoki, Rev Matthew Aaron Buse and Rev Stephen van der Hoek for teaching and leading these seminars!
Attendees of the recent seminar on the Structure of Lutheranism, the Lord’s Supper, and the Ten Commandments. Thanks to Rev Dr Anssi Simojoki, Rev Matthew Aaron Buse and Rev Stephen van der Hoek for teaching and leading these seminars!

Our Sudanese brothers were so happy for this teaching and it is important for you to know that you are making this possible! We do not charge the refugees money for the teaching or the books but it is you who help us to organize these teaching opportunities. On their behalf, we thank you very much! We would also like to thank the Lutheran Heritage Foundation which provides us grants to publish these books. Both the training seminars and the books are essential. It is wonderful that the organizations can work together in harmony.

We cannot be grateful enough for God’s protection and your prayers. These men and one lady traveled under the threat of terror from Islamic militants but I am happy to inform you that they arrived here safely and they also returned to their homes safely. At the same time, I say this with caution, because after they returned back to Dadaab one Christian Church was burned down in the camp and one of the Lutheran members was beaten. Thanks be to God that no one was killed, but this is their daily reality. Therefore, continue to pray for them and for the work. They are confident that if the Gospel continues to go out then hearts will be changed, just as Saul once stood by as Stephen was stoned to death but then the scales fell from his eyes and he became a great missionary for the church. We believe the same can happen with those persecuting the church today.

Annual General Meeting

In the midst of all these activities, we hosted our annual board meetings for the two organizations, Lutherans in Africa and the Lutheran Heritage Foundation (African office). Lutherans in Africa is responsible for organizing all the training seminars as well as supporting the missionaries and their families. The Lutheran Heritage Foundation (African office) coordinates translation of books and publishes them with the support of the Lutheran Heritage Foundation (USA global office).

On the last day of our board meetings, we were honored to have Rev Matthew Heise, director of Lutheran Heritage Foundation join us.
On the last day of our board meetings, we were honored to have Rev Matthew Heise, director of Lutheran Heritage Foundation join us.

These yearly meetings are extremely important. African Lutheran Church leaders from various countries come to our mission center in Nairobi from various countries including Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Congo, Rwanda, DRC, and Zambia. It is important to understand that the continent of Africa is three times larger than the entire United States. Just as Idaho is different from New York City, so is Zambia different from Sudan. In some areas, the Lutherans are facing challenges related to tribal religions and ancestor worship. Others are being persecuted by militant Islam. Still others have members that are confused by Pentecostal practices and other heresies. Therefore, the training each needs varies a bit. The foundation is the same and we always begin with the Six Chief Parts of the catechism but after that emphasis is needed to address different contexts. And to be honest, I do not always have the answer. Therefore to bring together devoted Lutheran Church leaders who are in the trenches each day is an opportunity to exchange with one another, to pray with one another, and to encourage each other.

IMG_0427Land Updates

We are still progressing with the new mission center. Suitable land has been located and the board members were able to visit. The buyer has agreed on a reasonable price. What remains now is verifying the title deed with the land registry (note: working with government offices in Africa moves VERY slowly). Once everything is verified, then the purchase contract will be written and payment made. Please continue to pray for the mission center. This first step takes the longest but it is essential that all the legal procedures are followed so that nothing is lost.

Thank You LIA Supporters!

It is encouraging for us who work in the mission field each day to know that there are people all over the world who are supporting Lutherans in Africa. Over the past year and in particular in the past months we have posted requests for catechisms in English. These are needed for secondary Lutheran schools in Africa which use English to teach the children. While it is a small percentage of children who actually get to attend secondary school in Africa, many of them will be the future leaders of the countries here. This is why it is important to give them a solid theological foundation. Now we can do this because you, the supporters of Lutherans in Africa, have sent boxes and boxes of catechisms, New Testaments, Bibles, Bible story books, and Lutheran hymnals. Slowly but surely you are making a difference. Thank you for your continued support. God bless you!


In Christ,

      Rev James May


Lutheran Confessions

23 In the second place, since we know now what Baptism is and how it is to be regarded, we must also learn why and for what purpose it is instituted. We must learn what it profits, gives, and works. For this also we cannot find a better resource than Christ’s words quoted above, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” [Mark 16:16]. 24 Therefore, state it most simply in this way: the power, work, profit, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is this—to save [1 Peter 3:21]. For no one is baptized in order that he may become a prince, but, as the words say, that he “be saved.” Large Catechism IV. Baptism McCain, Paul Timothy. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. 2nd ed. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2006.

We encourage you to share our newsletters with your family, friends, congregations, etc.

You may print copies and distribute them or share electronic versions online. Thank you!

To support the preaching of the Gospel and the training of workers for the harvest, please make a donation: – via this PayPal link to help with the LIA Training Center – via this PayPal link to help with daily mission work

or send your check made payable to Lutherans in Africa, with either LIA Training Center or daily mission work written in the memo, to:

Lutherans in Africa c/o Bethlehem Lutheran Church 7500 State Road Parma, OH 44134

Click here to download a two-page, printer-friendly PDF version of this newsletter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.