The Book of Joy | Wycliffe Bible Translators The Book of Joy | Wycliffe Bible Translators
The Book of Joy, The Bible

They lost everything — possessions, homes and even their country. But hardships and trials are no match for the Keliko of South Sudan. They’ve found the secret of joy in difficult times: hope and faith built upon God’s Word.

Step into the Keliko community and see how the Bible in their language — the Book of Joy — is transforming every aspect of their lives. Discover how it’s possible to live fulfilled, beyond the limits of happiness, in every trial or circumstance.

"That day was a marvelous day
which will never be forgotten."

9:32

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In 1985 Keliko Pastor David Gale went to a conference in Juba, South Sudan. There the clergy were asked to read or sing Scripture in their own language, but he couldn’t participate.

God’s Word wasn’t available in Keliko. The language hadn’t even been written down.

This moment brought Pastor David to tears and sparked a desire for his people to have God’s Word in their language. His vision to see God’s Word translated into Keliko was embraced by the church and community.

He and fellow Keliko leaders declared Matthew 7:7 as the theme of their translation project: “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you” (NLT).

These faithful Keliko leaders and generations that followed would cling to this verse. Because their commitment to having the Word in their language would be tested in the face of various trials.

The late Rev. Canon David Gale, who initiated the Keliko Scripture translation

The late Rev. Canon David Gale, who initiated the Keliko Scripture translation.

Pastor David's son (right) helped with the project, and his grandson became a pastor and translator

Pastor David's son (right) helped with the project, and his grandson became a pastor and translator.

The team led by Pastor David eagerly started a translation program, but civil unrest created many difficulties for them and their families. As a result, the translation came to a halt before they could finish developing the written language.

But the Keliko continued to faithfully ask, seek and knock — for 10 long years.

When God opened the door again, the team restarted the work. Despite having to move the translation to different locations and be away from their families, the translators would not give up. Even when the Keliko were forced out of South Sudan in 2016 and scattered to refugee settlements in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, the translation moved forward with a team of translators led by Pastor David’s grandson.

Africa Map

The translation team worked on their Scriptures through civil unrest, hardships, sickness, displacement and opposition from neighboring peoples. Several times the team had to relocate the project in and out of South Sudan as well as work away from their families. Bringing translated portions to the community to be checked was also a challenge.

2010: Translators Ezekiah Dada, Enos Dada and Isaac Kenyi working in Juba, South Sudan.

2010: Translators Ezekiah Dada, Enos Dada and Isaac Kenyi working in Juba, South Sudan.

Consultant Wes Ringer helps check the Book of John with the translation team

May, 2008: Consultant Wes Ringer helps the translation team.

Translator and pastor Enos Dada sings from a Keliko song book.

July, 2013: Translator and pastor Enos Dada sings from a Keliko song book.

May, 2006: Consultants Joy and John Anderson (back row, left) work with the team to check 1-2 Timothy.

May, 2006: Consultants Joy and John Anderson (back row, left) work with the team to check 1-2 Timothy.

“It was really very difficult for us to move from … locations to other locations,” recalled translator Pastor Isaac Kenyi. “There was one time we moved from [Uganda] to the border. At the border there was no vehicle to board. Then we walked with our books and everything to the home area [in South Sudan]. It was a very big challenge.”

On multiple occasions, they faced incredible danger. After a particularly harrowing experience, the translators sent a report to the team with a surprising statement, not of complaint but of gratitude: “Thank God we’re still alive!”

“Despite all these challenges we did not give up,” said Isaac.

“We just sacrificed ourselves because we are Kelikos. We are speakers of the language. We need the Bible in our language.

“The church was praying for us and other people were praying for us. … This is how the translation continued.”

With help from Wycliffe and SIL*, the Keliko translation team worked with incredible resolve to provide the Word for their people and to fulfill their promise to complete the work that Seme’s grandfather started.

Translators and pastors Ezekiah Dada, Isaac Kenyi and Enos Dada celebrate the completed Keliko New Testament. Photo: April Haberger.

Translators and pastors Ezekiah Dada, Isaac Kenyi and Enos Dada celebrate the completed Keliko New Testament. Photo: April Haberger

On August 11, 2018, 33 years after Pastor David’s vision came to life, the Keliko New Testament with Old Testament portions was dedicated in northern Uganda by his grandson, Bishop Seme Nigo Abiuda, and fellow translators, pastors Isaac Kenyi, Ezekiah Dada and Enos Dada.

Today the Keliko are still displaced and facing hardships, but you wouldn’t know it from the joy expressed by the church. They received what they asked God for — Scripture in their own language!

*A strategic partner

Continue to Chapter 1: Joy in Trials and Struggles

Deep in the heart of one of the world’s largest refugee settlements is an unexpected outbreak of joy.

If you travel for just over an hour east of Koboko, Uganda on rain-rutted red dirt roads, you’ll find yourself in picturesque countryside. Just off the busy road are shops as well as schools and churches. You’ll soon notice clusters of small, round mud-brick homes covered in thatch dotted across the land.

Arriving at the main gate to the Bidi Bidi settlement you wouldn’t know it spans over 100 square miles and houses over 220,000* of the almost 800,000 displaced South Sudanese in Uganda. This covers three districts of Uganda (Moyo, Yumbe and Arua). The bulk of the Keliko people are found in Bidi Bidi but they’re also scattered to Imvepi, Rhino, Morobi and other settlements.

There are no boundary fences, so at first glance the settlement looks much like surrounding villages with similar dwellings grouped together through the gently rolling hills. But that’s where the similarity ends.

The people in the countryside are Ugandans, going about their daily lives of school, work and social gatherings. Wave as you’re going by and you’ll get a happy wave back.

But driving through the settlements, most people are far from joyful. You might get a few customary waves in return, but for the most part faces reflect the heartbreaking reality of loss and limited resources. There’s not a lot to be happy about.

But when you approach the Keliko’s zone, you’ll find something very different.

The greetings are heartfelt and sincere — smiling, singing, dancing, laughing. Even better, you’re invited to join in as they say, “You’re welcome! You’re welcome!”

How is this possible?

The Keliko’s living situation is exactly the same as their refugee neighbors. They eat the same rationed beans and maize, wait hours for water and scavenge daily for firewood. Their kids sit in the same overcrowded classrooms (if they can afford the uniforms). They too get sick and endure many hardships.

Woman filling water cans
Boys working ground

"How did you learn to pray like this?"

1:01

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But the Keliko have one thing that many of their neighbors do not have: hope.

Keliko believers credit the hope that sustains them to one thing: God’s Word in their language. And from that hope comes joy — rich, real and inextinguishable.

“We know that the Israelites went to stay in Egypt in exile and that they really suffered. And God cared for them and brought them back to their land,” said translator and pastor Ezekiah Dada. “So also we South Sudanese know … that God is there to take care of us, and God is there to bring us back to our land.”

The gospel came to the Keliko over a hundred years ago and Christianity became the majority religion of the area. But without a Bible in their language — the one that speaks clearly to their hearts — preaching was a challenge for church leaders and many people were unable to engage personally.

For 33 years the Keliko asked God for wisdom as they endured hard times. They found that wisdom, along with joy and hope, through his Word translated into their language.

Church leaders and translation team members have seen so much transformation in the lives of the Keliko people as they engage with their Scriptures — throughout the translation process and now that they have the New Testament. Many have renewed their faith or found Christ for the first time just by hearing a single passage in Keliko.

Translator Isaac Kenyi sang a song based on Keliko Scriptures at a funeral, and 20 people came to Christ. Bishop Seme Nigo Abiuda preached from a translated passage, and 48 people received Jesus as their Savior. Powerful personal testimonies are rising as sweet incense to the Lord: Grace was freed from alcoholism; Bida seeks the Lord instead of a shaman. The list goes on and on.

Holding the newly printed New Testament in his hands, translator and pastor Enos Dada said, “This is for salvation. … When you read [the words] it will guide you not to fall in sin. It is a safeguard. It is a shelter. Though physically we die, we will be saved through this.”

Even as James 1:2-5 in Keliko is preached in a makeshift church made of plastic tarps and branches, there are nods and assents of agreement from the congregation because they know what it means to count it all — past suffering and current trials — as joy.

The Keliko people are not just enduring but blossoming in the difficult place they’ve been planted because they’re feasting on every word that God is speaking in their language.

*Source: UNHCR February 2019

Continue to Chapter 2: Joy in Identity

“The Keliko have done something!”

Keliko translation team members relay this phrase time and again. But it’s not their observation — it’s what others are saying about them. It’s a testimony to a new identity discovered in the process of Bible translation.

For centuries the Keliko language was only oral. Because it wasn’t written down, Keliko wasn’t recognized or taught in schools. As a result many Keliko who didn’t learn the majority languages couldn’t go to school. Others ridiculed them and many Keliko faced identity crises.

“[People] undermined them [and] did not offer opportunities to Keliko people,” recalled Bishop Seme Nigo Abiuda, one of the translators. “Even in schools, when Keliko students perform[ed] well in classes, they were denied their rights. They were called with all sorts of names like ‘foolish,’ ‘poor’ and others. … It also made some Keliko fear to identify themselves as Keliko.”

People continued to deride the Keliko even as young pastors were selected to become translators for the Keliko Scriptures. “Many undermined and continued to discourage the people by saying we cannot manage to translate the Word as young as we were,” Bishop Seme said.

But as the translation team worked, first writing the language down and later completing portions of Scripture, something marvelous happened.

“When the translation process was succeeding and some portions were printed and used, people began to wonder,” continued Bishop Seme. “Then the government approved Keliko to be taught in lower [grade levels] in all the government and private schools.”

This spurred on the translators and encouraged the Keliko believers. The Keliko church experienced explosive growth as newly translated Scriptures were proclaimed in services, gatherings, youth conferences, funerals and on the radio.

Women who had not been able to attend school now began learning to read through a robust literacy program. They started filling roles in the church and the translation program. The translators’ wives began to grow in their understanding of the Keliko Scriptures and transformed into strong leaders, able to teach and lead women in ministry.

Mary Maka Seme and Margaret Isaac, both wives of translators, learned to read during the translation process and are now actively involved in ministry.
Mary Maka Seme and Margaret Isaac, both wives of
                                translators, learned to read during the translation process and are now actively
                                involved in ministry.

Mary Maka Seme and Margaret Isaac, both wives of translators, learned to read during the translation process and are now actively involved in ministry.

Mary Maka Seme and Margaret Isaac, both wives of translators, learned to read during the translation process and are now actively involved in ministry.

College student Jane, a niece of one of the original translators, was visiting her mother at the settlement. “When I first saw the conditions, I wept,” she said. But seeing her mother’s joy in learning to read has sparked a desire to learn to read the Keliko Scriptures.

"I said, 'Yes, this is our Bible.'"

0:56

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Even when the Keliko were displaced to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, the confident translation team and its church partners worked with incredible resolve to complete their New Testament translation. People in Koboko and the district took notice of these remarkable people.

When the day of the New Testament dedication dawned, local people lined the streets as translators and pastors marched with the Keliko Scriptures in a wooden ark. Musicians and groups of Keliko proudly advanced behind banners identifying their refugee settlements. Dignitaries from near and far came to pay their respects.

Translators and cousins, Ezekiah Dada and Enos Dada, carry the ark holding the Keliko New Testaments through the streets of Koboko, Uganda.

Translators and cousins, Ezekiah Dada and Enos Dada, carry the ark holding the Keliko New Testaments through the streets of Koboko, Uganda.

Koboko Municipal Council Mayor, Koboko District, Dr. Wilson Sanya held up the Keliko New Testament and said, “I have come to see what the Lord has done and I have it here in my hand. … I have a lot of friends that believe that this is the beginning of peace [in South Sudan] that is being dedicated through this Bible.”

The translation project has helped the Keliko people gain recognition and redemption. But most importantly, the Keliko Scriptures have created something the people have desired for a long time — joy in a new identity in Christ. The people once taunted as “fools” possess wisdom beyond that of this world through the Word of God.

Bishop Seme reflected on that journey: “It surprised many people [who thought] we would not reach … that level. Also it made the Keliko people who did not identify themselves come out. The Keliko who didn’t want to speak the language are now seriously learning the language. And the Keliko people are now proud of themselves.

“When you hear God’s Word in your language you feel proud and closer to him.”

Continue to Chapter 3: Joy in Purpose

Standing on a concrete bridge between two nations, the yearning for home is strong.

Rising up behind the bridge is a paved road leading to Uganda. In front is a winding dirt road sloping upward into South Sudan, the home of the Keliko people. Here, Keliko translation team members and church leadership — accompanied by Ugandans and guests — have gathered to take a rare look at the place where so many South Sudanese crossed over from their homeland.

The sorrow and loss are palpable as some Keliko walk to the edge of the bridge, unable to set even a toe in the rich red clay of home. For a while, there is silence.

Then someone begins to pray.

Together, the group prays for peace in South Sudan and the opportunity for the Keliko to return home and spread the Good News through their newly translated New Testament. As the sweet incense of prayer rises to the Lord from a place of despair, hope and resolve rise too.

Joy is welling up in renewed purpose.

The Keliko accomplished so much in the 33 years of their New Testament translation project. But they’re not about to stop now. Displaced and scattered to refugee settlements in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Keliko are actively using their New Testament with Old Testament portions and talking about when they can complete their Bible.

“We have received the New Testament. … And we have understood some of the things [in it],” said Mary Maka Seme, wife of translator and bishop, Seme Nigo Abiuda. “And we will feel happy when the Old Testament is also translated so we will know [all of what] God is speaking.”

“It was a real joy to see that [the Keliko] wanted [hymns] in their own language to speak meaningfully to the people, and they wanted their own music. They’re proud of their culture and it’s very good to see." — John Anderson, Wycliffe translation consultant

This is the first item on a long agenda of translation and Scripture engagement projects that the Keliko are determined to complete. They have hymn books but now want prayer books for services. They have basic grammar books but want a dictionary and other curriculum. Literacy workshops are thriving but they want to expand to an even more robust program.

“The impact I have seen, because of these products, [is that] the Keliko now know God,” said translator and pastor Enos Dada. “They are becoming true believers.”

"It is very, very important for Keliko people to learn to read by themselves."

1:01

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Again and again the Keliko talk about Daniel’s accomplishments in exile. They also talk about how God brought the Israelites back to their land after trials in Egypt and the wilderness. The Keliko have made a plan based on the examples of Daniel and the Israelites — to use their time in the settlements for the furtherance of the gospel.

The Keliko church is rising up, equipping ministers, Christian educators, lay leaders and more to impact their neighbors and surrounding communities.

Robust literacy workshops, under the leadership of Elisa Anyani, are held for students at all levels of ability. People like Neema A’dilo, who never went to school but learned to read in a literacy workshop, are now teaching others. The goal is to not only read for education, but to fully engage with the Keliko New Testament.

In an advanced literacy class, literacy specialist Elisa
                                Anyani (back left) has students read the Keliko New Testament which sparks
                                meaningful discussions.

In an advanced literacy class, literacy specialist Elisa Anyani (back left) has students read the Keliko New Testament which sparks meaningful discussions.

Neema A’dilo leads a literacy workshop in the Bidi Bidi
                                refugee settlement.

Neema A’dilo leads a literacy workshop in the Bidi Bidi refugee settlement.

The youth, who in the past had little interest in services before the Keliko Scriptures were available, are now taking center stage leading worship in Keliko using traditional instruments and tunes.

“When a preacher is going to preach, the youth will ask for the theme,” said Pastor Enos. “They say, ‘Give us the theme, we want to compose a song!’”

Those committed to faith in Christ are also being discipled. They gather to read and study the Word together. Young men without jobs are reading Scripture to the children. Women are ministering to each other and serving in church.

Young people are actively reading the Keliko New Testament and writing Scripture-based songs for church.

Young people are actively reading the Keliko New Testament and writing Scripture-based songs for church. Women are now serving in the church in roles such as lay readers.

Women are now serving in the church in roles such as lay readers.

Keliko believers are living with Daniel in mind; instead of thinking of their lives as merely “on hold” until they return home, they’re using this “exile” to prepare themselves to grow God’s kingdom where they’re planted and, hopefully, back in South Sudan.

The Keliko have discovered that their purpose — wherever they are — is to abide in God’s Word and share the gospel of peace with others.

Continue to Chapter 4: Joy in Generosity

The service is packed.

Men, women and children — well over 100 people — are sitting in plastic patio chairs and on long wood beams in an open-sided tent made of plastic tarps and branches. More people look in at every opening. And around the circumference a larger crowd is seated under any shade available.

For the Keliko people, church is a joyful gathering of believers.

The newly translated Keliko New Testament is read, prayers are uttered, announcements made, sermons given and worship exuberantly led by the youth and accompanied by spontaneous dance. And of course, like most churches around the world, this church takes an offering.

But what exactly do people living in this refugee settlement give to the Lord?

Everything.

Worship Offering

The generosity of the Keliko is astounding.

When the offering begins, worship and dancing resume. People get out of their seats and dance to the front of the church. They’re smiling as they sing, and cheerfully put whatever they can into a wide, bowl-shaped basket held by a child.

According to translator Bishop Seme Nigo Abiuda, everyone in the church desires to give something: Many sell portions of their food rations or take small jobs in the host community in order to give back to the Lord.

Some who have no way to make money still come forward in the same fashion: dancing, singing and smiling. But then they do something unexpectedly beautiful — they joyfully bend toward the offering basket, stretching their empty hands into it. It’s a simple but sacred gesture that can’t be overlooked. Perhaps from the depth of their hearts these worshippers are saying, “If I had something to give, I would place it here.”

Even deeper than that, their actions demonstrate a life that is all in for the kingdom of God.

This act of selfless generosity reflects the sacrifices made to further the Good News among the Keliko: They know that the work of continuing to translate Old Testament Scriptures into their language is an investment. It’s hope in hard places. It’s a future of eternal reward.

"Whatever little they have, they share it with people."

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This generosity among the Keliko believers doesn’t end with a church service or translation work. They live out a culture of hospitality for guests and each other. After church, resources are pooled and willing hands join together to provide a community-wide picnic — a love feast resembling the fellowship of the early believers in Acts 2:42-47.

Even with thousands of people in attendance at the New Testament dedication in a nearby town, resourceful Keliko leaders partnered with the local church and businesses to make sure everyone could enjoy a celebratory meal.

Town Food.

Whether at tea during a literacy class or a large gathering, the Keliko spread out table covers and set meals out with care. There are moments that you feel, as they’re making the best of whatever food is available, that there’s a very special guest in attendance. And there is.

The King of Kings is there among them.

Continue to Chapter 5: Joy in Victory

In the days leading up to the dedication of their New Testament, the Keliko people joyfully sing the words of Psalm 66:5 with a sense of victory: “Come and see what the Lord has done.” The church and translation team have overcome many obstacles to complete their translation project — trials, loss, displacement.

“Those in opposition [to the Keliko project] said, ‘Isaac, will you succeed in this translation?’” reflected translator Isaac Kenyi. “I said, ‘By [the] grace of God the Bible will come out.’ And they have seen it!”

But the Keliko don’t credit this victory to themselves; they simply share in what God has done through them.

A special church service was held at the Imvepi refugee settlement a few days before the dedication. The community that gathered praised God for what he has done for them over the years. Bishop Seme Nigo Abiuda preached, with nods and exclamations of assent from the people, that God himself is the victor and they share in his victory:

“Why do we praise the Lord? We praise the Lord because the Scripture in our language is here! We praise the Lord because if he were not [with us] our [language] would not be in Scripture.

“The Lord has done so many things in our lives. Because he has done so many things in our lives, what are you going to do? Praise him more and more! Pray and call upon his name. It is only God who can do great things.

“[King] David says we should get to know God. Tell testimonies to other people. … What do we [say to] the Lord? Thank you! The Lord has done marvelous, miraculous things. Things you are unable to do.

“Did the Keliko do things? I think the Lord has done these things through the people. That’s why we need to praise the Lord.”

The Keliko translation team was responsible for the bulk of the work. But they acknowledge that the Lord brought them many great supporters and co-laborers. Those supporters also share in this victory with the Keliko. So do all the people who came alongside the Keliko to pray and to partner financially.

But the Keliko church leaders know that victory is much more than what’s already been accomplished. It’s about the joy that comes from being transformed by the eternal power of Scripture.

"They have now received the gospel of peace."

1:19

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“I am therefore urging all the people to read, reflect and enrich their spiritual life using the translated materials such as the Bible, the ‘JESUS’ film, recorded Bible and [Scripture] songs to attain ... eternal life,” Bishop Seme declared in the dedication program.

They’re also looking to the future, believing that the Word will have transformative power through the generations.

“The Bible has been launched at a time when we are facing many challenges. It is my belief that the love of God provided through friends and partners will impact the next generation,” said Dimba David, dedication organizing committee chairman.

With the light of the Word shining in their hearts, the Keliko testify of God’s power in their lives. At the dedication, the Archbishop of Central Equatoria Internal Province, Episcopal Church of South Sudan, His Grace Dr. Paul Yugusuk was so moved by the transformation happening because of the Keliko New Testament that he expressed a desire to have the Scriptures translated into his own language.

“It is this infallible Word of God we use to bring our people back to Sudan. It is this Word of God we use to bring our people to salvation,” said the Archbishop.

The victory has only just begun.