We started our journey to South Omo early in the morning of June 25, 2015. Our destination was a Bible translation station in Gisma, which is a Tsamai village in Woito Valley. After a full day’s journey, we reached Chano Mile, a small village just outside of Arba Minch. We took the time to stop by at the Chano Mile Congregation and discuss with the ministers the work of the Gospel. The next day after breakfast we continued our journey to Gisma, We had made an appointment to meet Mr. Filo, one of the translators, in a lodge just off the main high way in Birayle.
Mr. Filo Wado is a father of three and a local evangelist who works at the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) as the Tsamai language translator in Gisma. The Gospel of Jesus Christ was first introduced to the Tsamai people by the Ethiopian Kale Hiwot church. After sometime they sent one evangelist to a place called Alo. Even though he tried earnestly, he only had one convert. On top of this, the convert and the evangelist were soon chased out of town for converting and accepting Jesus Christ. Soon after, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus in cooperation with the Norwegian Lutheran Mission came to the Tsamai area through Konso. The Gadawa who are people group living between the Konso and the Tsamai, speak similar language as the Tsamai and many evangelists from that area were sent to the Tsamai people.
Even though they were many, in the past 25 years only a few committed their lives to Jesus Christ. In the late 1980s, the NLM built a station in Gisma with school and clinic to serve the people living in the area. The few Christians that were there were meeting in one of the classrooms every Sunday for church service.
The evangelists coming to this area did not have enough knowledge about the community and its customs and cultures and Mr. Filo suggested that they should be well equipped with this knowledge in order to effectively reach out to these people or any other people groups. There is a great need to strategize and design different ways and techniques to reach these communities with the gospel in their own context. In all these years, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has not had the impact that it is expected. It is very challenging to penetrate the culture of the people, and it is important to contextualize the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the culture of the people.
In 2012, things began to change for the better. These days, there is a great revival and thirst for God that is prevailing in this area. The people of Tsamai used to be reserved because of the changes Christianity brings to their culture. Through the method of “story telling”, that is, telling Bible stories, many are now receiving Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. There are now about 600 Tsamai people who are followers of Christ. The fact that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is being preached in the language of the people and that there is more prayer involved, is bringing about this change. Many in Tsamai want to be free from the work of evil one and from their bondage to fear.
Currently, there are about 25,000 people who speak the Tsamai language and it is very important to have Bible in the language the people understand well. In addition, translating the Bible will also helps to keep the Tsamai language from dying out. Up till now, the Tsamai language has never had an alphabet or a written form of the language. The SIL, together with the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, is working hard to address this problem.
The major challenge for the Tsamai congregation is that the majority of the community members are not literate. Those who are literate would rather have a higher paying government job than the small salary the church has to offer. This in turn creates a difficult situation, as it is always best to have people who understand the culture of the Tsamai community to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them.
The Bible translation project for the Tsamai language started in 2013 and it is hoped to bring a great change in the lives of the Tsamai people. Some books of the Bible have been completed (Luke, Acts, and Genesis) and part of Mark is being translated.
Mr. Filo has asked Christians who read this article to pray for a mental and spiritual change in the Tsamai people so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can increase and be spread amongst them.