Lack of vernacular Bible edges elderly out of the church

John Okoth at his Amani area near Huruma estate in Eldoret Uasin Gishu County Selling Christian books including bibles. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Several heavily trodden paths lead to a lone mud-walled church in Kasikini village within Miombo Woodland in Magarini, Kilifi County.

The structure serves several faithful drawn from the village and beyond.

Here, teachings are conducted in Waata, a local dialect spoken by the indigenous and minority community, who, among a few other minorities, are yet to have a Bible translated to their own dialect.

“As a pastor, I have to read the Bible and translate the meaning to the faithful who attend because we are yet to have one translated to Waata. Initially, very few people attended church, mostly children and youth, but we have had to read it and translate it to ease understanding,” said Habona Badiva, a teacher, who also doubles up as a pastor.

Missing out

The church in Kasikini started to accommodate the Waata community who felt they were missing out on church leadership positions in integrated churches. The community also felt the aged were being left out.

The Waata community, Badiva says, is yet to have a tribal code, something she says has made progress as a community a challenge. But to preserve their native language, she says preaching in the Waata dialect and composing songs has helped in spreading the gospel.

In 2018, Badiva recorded the first-ever Waata gospel song titled Aabah Jeesoh Farsinah (Let’s Praise Jesus), a song which she says the community received with a lot of excitement.

“For the first time, we had a song which the community could relate to. The community, especially the old, felt so connected with it and many started attending church. This also encouraged other people to compose gospel songs,” she says.


The struggle might soon see the community having the Bible translated to its dialect started in 2012 when an organisation chipped in to help them translate.

“We are hopeful that we will also have a Bible that the community can relate to, a Bible that will inspire the growth of faith and spread of the gospel.”

Sengwer of Embobut forest and the Ogiek recently joined many other communities who have over the years enjoyed the privilege of having a Bible translated into their local language.

In March, the Sengwer Holy Book was launched after translation in 2019.

The Ogiek Bible titled Logooywek Chemiach (Holy Book) was received with a lot of excitement in February last year.