Sierra Leone | Kono New Testament (2008)
God’s Word Comes to the Kono People!
Leaders danced in the street to the energetic beat of drums. A parade marched through town. Were the Kono people welcoming a new chief? No, they were welcoming the arrival of the Kono New Testaments! At the ceremony, choirs sang enthusiastically, and hours of speeches were given along with many, many thanks. The long journey to bring God’s Word to the Kono people was finally over!
The Konos and Fear
The Kono, who number around 190,000, live in the eastern hill country of Sierra Leone. They are mainly farmers, growing rice, cassava, and many other fruits and vegetables. Some Kono mine diamonds. This trade attracts many people from around the world who try to “strike it rich,” and has contributed to a long rebel war in Sierra Leone, shown in the movie “Blood Diamond.
For so long, most Kono people lived in fear: fear of illness, of death, of crop failure, of a curse from an unhappy ancestor, and of inability to provide for their families. Most Konos are animists who believe they must go through their ancestral spirits to reach God. They also believe there are many witches and evil spirits at work in their lives who must be appeased or guarded against.
To a Kono, everything has a spiritual cause. Their lives have been controlled by fear. Parents put charms around their young children’s waists for protection from evil. Sacrifices are offered in the fields to protect crops. Amulets are hung in doorways to prevent witches from entering. Yet all these things fail. Fear remains.
Now is the time for freedom!
Now, for the first time, Kono men, women and children can hold in their hands the Word of God—the Kono New Testament. God now speaks their language. Jesus has set the Konos free from the power of the devil, and they can experience freedom from fear.
History of the Translation Project
In 1973, missionaries from LBT and The Institute for Liberian Languages (TILL) arrived in Sierra Leone. After conducting a survey of the languages, they discovered a great need for Bible translation and literacy work. LBT formed The Institute for Sierra Leonean Languages (TISLL) in 1974 and sent William Rasch to Sierra Leone to act as translation advisor for the Kono language. LBT and TISLL considered the Konos the most interested in having God’s Word in their own language.
The Rasches returned to the United States in 1978, due to illness in the family, never to return. A colleague, Pa Mondeh, continued translating for a time, but the work eventually stalled.
Jim and Susan Kaiser continue the work
In 1985, Jim and Susan Kaiser moved to Sierra Leone to restart the work with the Kono translation. Jim first assisted with a dialect survey to be sure one translation would be useable by all Konos. The few differences, though noticeable, didn’t affect understanding.
The Kaisers got to work learning Kono language, customs, and culture and meeting with church leaders.
Organization of the translation work
The translation work was organized under the Kono Christian Council until the Kono Bible Translation Committee was formed. In 1990, translators D.A. Mondeh-Gbegba and T.N. Fasuluku were hired, paid by offerings from the Kono churches.
Others join the team
Judy Olson joined the project in 1987 to develop primers and train teachers. In 1991, Allen Larsen came to help develop a transition primer from English to Kono and teach pastors and church leaders to read Kono.
Transition due to war
In 1992, the translation project was relocated due to the problems from the rebel war. In 1997, the coup forced the Kaisers to relocate to Cote d’Ivoire. Pa Mondeh and Pa Fasuluku continued to teach literacy and train reviewers, but when Pa Mondeh tried to flee to Guinea with his family, he was caught by rebels and beaten, and five of his children were kidnapped. He died in March 1999.
Pa Mondeh’s death was a large blow to the translation work, but thankfully, God had provided a capable replacement in the person of Komba Ngekia. Komba and Jim continued the translation work from Cote d’Ivoire. Others continued reviewing and testing the translation in Sierra Leone.
Compensating for further disruptions from war
In late 2002, it became necessary for all workers on the project to leave Cote d’Ivoire. Komba returned to Sierra Leone to continue the translation, and the Kaisers returned to the US. From 2003 to 2006, the team worked on their respective parts until translation-checking work was finished.
Many, many people had a part in making the translation possible: Konos who served on the Kono Bible Translation and Literacy Committee, translators, reviewers, testers, consultants, pray-ers, and financial supporters.
The Konos have a proverb: Konde fanka fanka an kanban dɔ kuiɛ koo. (The wings of many birds produce a loud noise). It speaks of many people working together to achieve a big result. Thanks for flapping along with us!
I want the Kono New Testament to be like rice. No matter what other food a Kono man eats, if he does not eat rice, he has not had any food for that day. Is there anything that is food more than the Word of God? Let us hope and pray that this book will make more and more Kono people hunger for the Word of God day after day, until eternity.Komba Ngekia, Kono Translator