Crowds in local villages hear Jesus’ teaching in their own language

During a lift of Covid-related travel restrictions, the Mbugwe team finally held a dedication service and premiere showing of the translated JESUS film in the community. “Response was wonderful,” said one staffer. “We loaded the film on as many flash drives as we could, and they sold out!”

After the translation team completed Luke’s Gospel, they began work to create a new Mbugwe version of the JESUS film. For months, the team worked on translating again, complete with rigorous checks, from Scripture to film script. When it was ready, they held local auditions for voice actors, and then prepared to record all the parts.

“That’s when Covid interrupted everything,” said Michelle Haupt, the team’s Scripture Engagement Coordinator. “The community was so disappointed.” It was sixteen months later when the Mbugwe team finally got the opportunity to record its version, together with another Tanzanian language project doing theirs. Partner organisation Cru provided remote training and sent equipment for the team to complete the voice drama and pair it with the original film.

Even the celebration itself became an important milestone. “It was held at a large church that we had yet to develop a close relationship with,” explained Rose Savaiko, a Translation Advisor with the Mbugwe team. “They received us with great respect and kindness. We praise God for how his work is building bridges across all denominations.”

At the celebration event, the team and Mbugwe community (including voice actors for the film) were joined by many local church leaders. They all gathered to worship together, and pray for the release of the film. The next evening, hundreds gathered in Sangaiwe for the first village showing of the Mbugwe JESUS film. Among them were many who identify with other major faiths, or with none.

The first showing of the JESUS film in Mbugwe language, to hundreds gathered in Sangaiwe village. (photo: Msafiri Mofulu)

Those USB flash drives the team had loaded with the JESUS film also carried Mbugwe Scripture text and audio, as well as songs in the Mbugwe language. “We are daily receiving calls for more flash drives,” said Modamba, one of the Mbugwe Translators, “and for the film to be shown in their village. People are very eager to receive their own copies, but also to have a ‘special showing’ in their own villages.”

Plans have begun on how to best reach all Mbugwe villages with the JESUS film. The community has formed its own committees to help this local translation team carry out some of their goals. “One volunteer team,” said Savaiko, “even ran the logistics of planning the week of JESUS film recording, including helping to select actors, prepare studio, food, lodging and more.” Other groups of local Christian women have organized regular prayer walks for the Mbugwe Bible translation project.

Shishe, another of the Mbugwe translators, continues sharing the new film with his community. “Since the first time,” he said, “we have already shown the Mbugwe JESUS film in seven more villages. Next, we want to start training a team of volunteers to show it on their own.”Just weeks later, Shishe was in another Mbugwe village. As he walked down the street, he passed a hair salon and recognized the sounds coming from inside. “On a TV screen in the salon,” he said, “they had the JESUS film playing!”  Many people had gathered around to watch. Shishe eventually walked on, very encouraged. “I am excited to see how our community receives this work, truly responding to it more and more.”

This story was written for SIL Tanzania by:

Kenny Grindall (Communications Coordinator)

SIL International is a global leader among academic and professional organisations which offer language development services. SIL works alongside speakers of more than 1,700 languages in over 100 countries. Active in Tanzania since 1989, the organization makes its services available to all without regard to religious belief, political ideology, gender, race or ethnolinguistic background.