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Bible Translation

It All Started With a Phone Call

Feb 19, 2021
Kunama translation team

On an ordinary day in December 2017, Wendy Scott-Penson was busy ministering to Wycliffe partners and empowering them to connect their resources to Bible translation projects in communities around the world. She answered an incoming call and quickly realized that it was an unusual one.


The man on the phone, Stefano, was a Kunama speaker who was determined to bring the Bible to his people group who were now living in communities dispersed around the world; Stefano had been displaced to the United States. The Kunamas’ peaceful way of life was shaken in the late 1990s, when civil unrest broke out in Eritrea, a country in East Africa. Kunama people were forced to flee — some to nearby Ethiopia and some to Sudan where they lived in refugee camps (some for months and some for several years). Other Kunama people have been scattered across the globe. For most of them, returning home isn’t an option.

That was true for Stefano. He and his entire family fled Eritrea when he was a teenager. They traveled on foot for seven days before they reached the border of Ethiopia. “Everyone had to cut trees to build shelters; we all helped one another,” he said. “If not for help from God, many would have passed away. But everything happened for a reason. God humbled us and made us closer to him.”

Stefano slept on the streets of Sudan, eventually getting to the United States in December 1986. He accepted Jesus as his Savior when he listened to a street preacher praying. Stefano realized the importance of having God’s Word in Kunama. “We don’t want anyone left behind,” he said. Stefano wanted the “JESUS” film in Kunama and contacted the Jesus Film Project.

So Stefano returned to Ethiopia and met with other Kunama speakers who shared his desire to have the Word of God in Kunama. The Bible had been translated into their language, but the translation had several issues that kept Kunama people from reading it like missing verses and inaccuracies. Stefano asked the men if he could join them in their translation work. The Christians in the refugee camps in Ethiopia shared the same vision as Stefano, but he knew they were going to need even more help.

Wendy’s caller was adamant and passionate about God’s Word and he was turning to Wycliffe for help. Stefano’s call led to a long string of phone calls and emails, fact-checking conversations, and contact between Wycliffe Ethiopia, Eritrean Bible Society, Wycliffe USA and the Jesus Film Project. The organizations networked and finally connected with teams and resources.

Ultimately two teams were formed — one in Ethiopia that is working on revising the Old Testament and one in Canada with nine men translating the New Testament. The diaspora team and the team in the refugee camps work together, sharing the goal of completing the Kunama Bible in three years.

And to think that it all started with one phone call!

With your gift today, you can partner with the Kunama people as they continue to bring God’s Word to their community.

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