In July I traveled to Northern Botswana on behalf of The Seed Company to photograph the San people and document stories about Oral Bible Translation. The San people are a group that has been pushed out of many parts of Namibia and are struggling for identity. They are known for their unique click speaking language.
I googled “San People” right before I left for Botswana to learn about who I was going to meet there, because I honestly had never heard of the San, but I knew Botswana was known for its Okavango Delta, elephants, vast landscapes and safari. I arrived just as The Seed Company translation workshop was beginning in a small village on the border of Namibia. About 20-30 men and women gathered around in a circle and began reading Genesis together. They would read, talk about it together, listen to an audio recording of it, analyze it again, talk about it more and work hard at memorizing it. They were all so excited about the Bible stories they were learning.
It can sometimes take thirty years to translate the Bible into a written text in many places in the world. Oral Bible Translation makes a way for people to have the Scriptures now. I was blown away by how quickly everyone was able to memorize what they were hearing. Right now only a few books of the Bible have been translated into their local Khwedam language, and those are recorded to an audio device that many have and listen to daily. People like Mukoya John, who is blind, is able to hear the Word that way. The San love sitting in a circle around a campfire and sharing stories, so this method of Oral Bible Translation fits with their culture.
My new friend Eben, who is living and working among the San, shared about the art of oral storytelling. “If you really want to hear a story, you’re not going to say, ‘Oh, let’s go listen to a tape machine'” said Eben. “Instead, people say, ‘Please tell me that story,’ or ‘That reminds me of something else I heard.’ It communicates so much better if someone tells you a story in person.”
Oral Bible Translation is so important. God’s word is alive and begins to transform hearts and minds, sometimes with just one Scripture. I saw this with the San People. God is making a way for the San to learn about who He is and find their identity in Him.
What a gift it was to capture the lives of these new friends: Mukoya John, Matias, Julia, Keakantse, Anita, Anna, James and so many more! Hear from them in their own words how Scripture is transforming their lives!
“My heart is sore without a Khwe translation of the Bible.”
“My heart is earnestly looking for life from above. I want to give my whole life to God. I want nothing else but to know more about God in the Bible.” <– click to tweet
“I cannot read and write, but I hear the stories and put them in my heart.”
“If God can give me the power to learn the Bible, then I desire to learn. It is good to have the Bible in our own language – it is good to hear it clearly in our native language. <– click to tweet
The story recordings are so helpful, they are very much important. I help to prepare the corrections with the translations, so I listen to the recordings all of the time. The Bible translation should not stop, it needs to continue until we have a full Bible in Khwe.”
“I was just interested in the Bibles stories because it seems I have suffered in my life. I thought maybe if I joined the Bible study, then my life would get better. I always pray for God to help me because He is the Creator and the shepherd who looks after us. I had epilepsy and in 2010, had a seizure and was burned by a fire after falling in.”
“If I believe that He can help me, then I can be helped because He is a living God.” <– click to tweet
“All those things that happened in the Bible, when you read about them and what Jesus did, it makes you want to follow Jesus.”
“I want to know more about God’s word so that I can share information about God with those around me.” (Here Anita is sharing the story of Creation out of Genesis with her neighbors.)
“Now I have changed and I know God. He has shown me His way. Without knowing the Bible, I was in the wide road. I am now back to the narrow road which is bringing me to Him and showing me life.”
“I share the word of God in order for the community to change their beliefs. We believe in many things that are ungodly things, especially when sacrifices are done. I want these to completely change. God is the creator of the heavens and we should only worship Him.”
Sign up for a free copy of Co:MISSION!
The Seed Company just launched a new print periodical called Co:Mission and the first volume features the San people and my photography. You can subscribe for free (just go here) and get it in the mail. In the center of Co:Mission is this big pull-out poster of a little boy named China, one of my favorite photos from our trip.
[linebreak]Leave a Comment
Bev Duncan @ Walking Well With God says
You have so beautifully captured the San people. It never ceases to amaze me that people are so hungry for God’s word and when they read it or when it is spoken to them around a camp fire, they are filled with living water. I am working with a fledgling ministry – Redeemer Christian School in Pakistan – and I see in the faces of the children their joy in hearing about Jesus’ love for them. I wish you could capture their angelic faces as many hear the Word for the first time. What a wonderful ministry you have…thank you for sharing!
Blessings to you,
Wow, this is amazing. Your photos and those quotes – wow they are so powerful! Thank you for sharing them, and for all you’ve done to raise awareness and help them to fundraise for this new translation work.
Jeanne Takenaka says
Esther, this post brought tears to my eyes. It’s so beautiful to see people find their identity in Jesus. And when I see someone so “different” from me, it touches deeply. And how challenging for me that they want to teach the Bible and the truths Jesus taught to their community. I need more of a heart like that.
Thank you for sharing this. And, your photos are beautiful!
How awesome! Human contact can never be replaced with technology. What a beautiful work The Lord is doing in their lives. I love this story.
Joanne Peterson says
I had heard of Oral Bible Storytelling a number of years ago, but this captures the essence of the beauty of the ministry to the people who Jesus is speaking to and loving them in His personal way with other believers. Thank you for making us aware of the need for the San people, and all the other people groups are small and still need the Word for themselves.
Cameron Townsend was told when he was trying to sell bibles in Latin America to the Quechua people that if God really cared He would speak to them in their language. (Loosely remembered quote) I have never forgotten that message that God desires to speak to people in their language.
rachel monger says
Beautiful photos and stories! Thank you! It is so true that absolutely nothing compares with the wonder of the Word as it takes root and bears fruit in people’s lives! We work in Tanzania and it is such a wondrous privilege to see people seek and grasp God’s story for themselves. Rachel
Susan Gruener says
Awesome Esther! Thank you for sharing your photos with us, and the stories of the San people. Now we know the San people and can pray for them. I heard it said, that one day that ‘last’ person will receive Christ, and usher in Jesus’ return! Just maybe that ‘last’ person will be one of the San people…
Steve Simms says
The spoken word is so very powerful. Thanks for showing how effective it can be.
barb Kennedy says
I am truly humbled we have so much here in Canada, and U.S. my live so small when I see these beautiful people with so little have such a hunger and love for God
World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women says
The World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women is an organisation of three and a half million women in over 70 countries and has as its motto”To know Christ and to Make Him Known”. This program fits beautifully with that. Our next World Assembly in 2016 will have as its theme “Chosen People: Called to Proclaim”. As World President I would love to share this story and photos at that event.
Dolly London. says
Hallelujah!! God is Awesome, I truly give God thanks for your obedience to the ” Call”.
I have never heard of the San people and to read your story and see those photos brought tears to my eyes and an overwhelming feeling of how sweet and real is God’s grace.
I thank God for your life and allowing Him to break your Alabaster Box, so that sweet fragrance of Christ can be released to saturate their lives.
Renewed strength and fresh anointing as you continue to do the will of your Father.
Brent Edwards says
The Word of God is alive…and this is living proof. Thank you so much for bringing to light another place where the Living Word is bringing hope to a people who obviously have embraced the joy of finding life in Christ.
The work that the Seed Co is doing, in partnership with Wycliffe and others translating God’s Word, I believe to be the precursor to Christ’s return. I applaud the courage and commitment that it takes to give up “creature comforts” to be a part of bringing the Word to another people group. May God’s richest blessings and care be yours!
Bonnie Klein says
This article was such a blessing! I am a part of the Great Commission Women, an auxiliary ministry of the Christian & Missionary Alliance denomination. The C&MA has joined with several other mission organizations (including Seed Company) in the “Onestory” partnership, to reach Bibleless unreached people groups. The theme for our GCW National Project this year is “TELL ME a STORY”!—to raise funds for storytelling training of international & national workers, also to provide technological equipment for the orality ministry. It is estimated that approximately 2/3 of the world’s population are oral learners—Storytelling is a vital means to reach them before Christ’s return!—God bless you, & thanks for focusing on this important ministry!
God has promised that HIs Word will not return unto Him void but will accomplish that for with it has been sent. How wonderful to see how the San people are embracing His Word with such joy and zeal. God continue to bless this important Ministry.
Very inspiring account of how amazing people spend their time and talent to bring life to the Word
and share it with others. Praise God!!!
Beth Williams says
It never ceases to amaze me that people around the world “hunger” for the Word of God–yet a lot of people in US don’t care about or want to hear it. We don’t treat it like we should–memorizing scripture and devouring every word!
Why can’t we get back to the basics of loving God’s word and hungering for it? I love the pics and quotes!!
Angelina Bong says
How timely. I just came back from Maun, Northern Botswana for an arts festival. I saw your post in my inbox and I know I just had to open it up. I’m a poet and a storyteller. Reading this affirms to me the importance of storytelling especially in shedding God’s truth and love to the world. It has been an amazing experience in Northern Botswana and I know you have probably felt the same. God bless your endeavours and mission!!
Edwin Dalimbang says
Wow! I am so blessed in your ministry. Thank you for sharing this to me Sis. Sharon.
Rina O'Neill says
Thank you for a beautiful work done – and giving up of self to do it! A seed planted will give much in return. Be blessed for your unselfishness.
This is amazing! See what these missionaries are doing, discovering the undiscovered by heart empowered by God’s love, humm! May bless them and double their zeal for Christ.
May this message of love and obedience to Jesus’ command awaken us from spiritual slumber in Jesus’ Name Amen.
Pamela Kelly says
God’s Word is alive and full of power and needs to be exhorted, or proclaimed over people to bring them hope and encouragement in their lives, especially the wonderful knowledge that they have a Savior Jesus Christ Who loves them. As we have seen with the San people, with the advancement of modern technology, the Word that God speaks is reaching the uttermost places and peoples on the earth, clear evidence that the Great Commission is reaching fulfillment in these last days, before the return of Messiah to claim His bride from every nation and from every tribe.
Andrene M. Powell says
I am very happy for the San people:) Getting to know God and finding out all about Him and His Everlasting Love for the people He’s created is a marvelous blessing. It’s overwhelming the love you feel when The Spirit of the Lord moves through you. They are most blessed to be learning of The Almighty Creator of the Universe, and I pray that they grab hold and never let go!!! Jesus is the very best thing that can EVER happen to anyone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:)