Language Connections

Last weekend our Executive Director Dr. Ryan Pennington traveled to Louisville to celebrate the dedication of the Gospel of Luke into Kinyamulenge. 

Quick language/geography lesson for you here: Kinyamulenge is the language spoken by the Banyamulenge, a minority ethnic group in the DRC who is historically from areas that today are in Burundi, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda. Their language is related to Kinyarwanda (spoken in Rwanda) and Kirundi (in Burundi). They are largely cattle herders and have been persecuted as “foreigners” in Congo. As a result, many Banyamulenge people have landed in the US as resettled refugees. That is how a group of translators with Pioneer Bible Translators wound up working with this diaspora group in Kentucky.

One interesting part of this is that until recently, Kinyamulenge had zero books written in their language! That’s right. Not one. That’s because there was no standardized written form that had been developed, tested and accepted. If I just blew your mind there and you need to go down the rabbit hole of how a language goes from oral only to a widely accepted written form, you can start here

This first publication will be another step in testing out the decisions the team has made in choosing how to represent this language on the written page. But I’ll stop with the language talk. Why are we talking about this here in Amarillo?

Many of you know that Ryan and his wife Crystal worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Papua New Guinea before coming to Amarillo in 2015. They set out to begin a translation project among the Ma Manda people, completing a grammarphonology and trial alphabet. You can read more of RLP’s history here. Ryan’s Ph.D. in linguistics and love for the use and preservation of minority languages has meant that he has stayed loosely connected to the Bible translation world. Now colleagues are looking for help with phonology issues in the development of the Kinyamulenge writing system, which just happens to be one of Ryan’s specialties…

Many Banyamulenge live in Amarillo, and we have long desired to connect more deeply with them. This is especially true now, as higher numbers from Congo are expected this year. Interestingly enough, the week Ryan attended the Luke dedication, he was also able to meet another Congolese pastor here in Amarillo named Jean Runezereza, who requested that Ryan bring back some copies for his congregation. 

So what do all of these connections and stories mean? Well we aren’t 100% sure, but we do know that we’ll be publishing Samuel’s life story this year, which will showcase this beautiful language and culture. And we know that we are using language as a doorway to connect with Congolese people in our community, so we must be heading in the right direction! Please pray for our team this year as we seek to be faithful to that vision in a way that brings flourishing to the community and glory to God. 

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