For granted

Title page of first Twi Bible

The Bible was first translated into the most widely spoken language of Ghana, Twi, in 1871. So when I arrived in Ghana in 2011, those people already had the Bible for 140 years. Children growing up in Christian families just found the Bible. Hardly anyone wondered how they came to have the Bible in their language. No one ever preached on the history of the Twi Bible. So it was just an unquestioned feature of their lives.

Not only that, most Twi Christians assumed without evidence that other languages in Ghana had the Bible too. All this makes Ghanaian like many American Christians who read their Bible without wondering where it came from or if it has been translated into other languages.

Meeting with pastor after presenting Bible translation to his church

When we began presenting Bible translation to Ghanaian churches, people were astonished. We frequently heard surprised voices realizing that they had never wondered how they got their Bible. They were even more surprised to learn that a number of languages in their country did not have the Bible. Knowing the role the Bible in their language played in their personal lives and their churches, they were dismayed that some of their compatriots lacked that same blessing.

On hearing the facts, church leaders sometimes committed their churches on the spot. They just needed to hear facts they didn’t know and to be challenged about things they had assumed or taken for granted. Besides, those who value the Bible in their own lives make the most ardent supporters of Bible translation.

Systematically putting out the facts to the right churches and church leaders is a key way to include them in the worldwide Bible translation movement. Growing that movement is speeding translation dramatically, outpacing even the speed increase from technology

Advice from Ghana Taxi Windows

Ghanaians love to put interesting sayings on their vehicles and shops. Often they are quotes from the Bible and, almost as often, quotes of traditional sayings, some of which sound like they might come from the Bible, like “God’s time is best”.

A number offer advice to the reader. These are often found on taxi windows. Another feature of Ghana is that Ghanaians are not embarrassed to write the signs in their own languages. Taxi windows are as likely to carry words in the Twi or Ewe (pronounced Aye-Vay) languages as they are to display English. Most of the advice is pretty good.

We’ll start on the main road from Kumasi to Accra, where I found this taxi offering advice in the Twi language. Literally it means “Think about yourself”. The meaning is something like “Don’t put your nose in other peoples’ business”, “Mind your own business” or “Don’t Meddle”.
My next example comes from the streets of Accra. This taxi driver is also offering advice in the Twi language. We are told to “Let it go”, meaning that when someone does something bad to you, then let it go. In other words, forgive them. “Let it go” is an interesting idiom for the concept of forgiveness. It is important that we do not assume that the English and Twi idioms have exactly the same meaning. That considered, the hard part of forgiveness is often to “let it go”, that is, not keep dwelling on the matter, running it over and over in our heads.

Next we have a taxi on a road in the beautiful highlands of Eastern region. This time we have advice in English. Apparently, gossiping is not something confined to any one culture or age. We are warned about it in parts of the Bible written 2,000 years ago. This taxi driver seems to think that the advice is as relevant for contemporary Ghanaian society as it was then.

One day, I walked out the gate and found this taxi beside the road. The driver was grabbing a bite to eat from the roadside food stand. I commented on his advice. He brightened up. According to him, we need to be humble because even Jesus Christ was humble. I suppose that he had read the second chapter of the book of Philippians. About an hour later, he came driving past me as I was finishing my walk. He leaned out the window, smiled and yelled, “Be humble!”

These photos were originally posted on my Facebook feed. If you liked this, you might also like Festooned with Signs, God’s Time is Best. or Shame.


Country Western

Sign - Philips Memorial ClinicNot long ago, I sat in the waiting room of a doctor’s office in Accra listening to a Ghana FM station. One of the songs was in great classic Country Western style, sung by a female vocalist. From its style and quality, it could have been on any classic Country Western station in the US – with one exception. The excellent vocalist was singing in the Twi language.

We live in a world where cultures are no longer nicely discrete things that only rarely interact with each other. Some stuff we export from the US makes me ashamed, but a Gospel Country Western tune in Twi by a Ghanaian Gospel group sounds pretty good in my ears. By the way, the staff and some patients were quietly singing along in Twi on many songs.

Where did a Ghanaian language group pick up Country Western style? Well, I don’t know, but we can get a clue from a Ghanaian word – Boga. It means a Ghanaian who emigrated to a different country, lived there for years, and then moved back to Ghana, usually with some money earned abroad. When a society has a word for something specific like that, it means that it happens a lot.

Sign on car window - Boga

Ghanaians, especially taxi divers, like to put words, slogans and Bible verses on their rear windows