The belongings of villagers scattered in the hills where many of them ran to hide during a raid by Boko Haram Photo credit: Bible Society of Cameroon

Bible translators are at risk of terrorist attacks in Africa’s Sahel region

Terrorism poses a constant threat to many Christians and Bible translators in the western part of the Sahel region of Africa, where we are involved, through your generous support, in many Bible projects. In 2019 your generosity helped support vital Bible work in Cameroon, and in 2020 your donations enable work to continue in other countries in the region where Christians are targeted by extremists.

Translating the Bible is tough enough at the best of times, requiring years of dedication and sacrifice, but some translators also work in extreme danger – in regions plagued by terrorists who want to harm them.

Last autumn, for example, armed Islamist extremists arrived in a quiet village in Cameroon where Bible translator Marcel* lives with his family.

The gunmen, belonging to the notorious Boko Haram terrorist group, smashed their way into homes, beat villagers and ransacked the village. The chief and a young person were killed and, as has happened several times before in this and many other villages in the region, Marcel and other villagers fled to hide in the hills.

Boko Haram has killed more than 1,300 people in Cameroon and displaced around 200,000. At least 200 churches have been forced to close, with several of them burnt down. Boko Haram is also active in other countries in the area including Nigeria, Niger and Chad.

The continuous danger faced by Christians in the region is why the identities of villagers, the names of the languages into which they are translating the Bible and the names of the villages where they live and work cannot be revealed in this story, which is just one example of the danger and difficulties that are faced in many countries in the western Sahel area.

Red alert

‘Just before the attack a woman was alerted and was able to inform some villagers,’ Marcel said of the raid on his village.

‘But we had no way to defend ourselves. On several occasions we have complained to the authorities to no effect. Sometimes we have been given two soldiers, but have had to pay for their transportation and food, and it is expensive. We were left with no choice but to desert the village,’ said the Bible translator.

Marcel’s wife, Rose*, was in their house when the Boko Haram terrorists arrived, but managed to run out of the back door and hide among some nearby boulders.

Gunshots

‘They broke open all the doors and there were so many of them that you could hear gunshots from all over,’ she recalled. ‘They went into the house and carried all my belongings away.’

While the village men fled further into the hills – ‘because the terrorists are so violent with them’, explained Rose – many of the women hid in the bush closer to the village so as to take care of crops, the village food supply. For two nights everybody slept outdoors, unable to return home until Boko Haram had left.

Attacks like these are all too familiar for Marcel and the other Bible translators working in the Sahel region of Africa, a semi-arid area that lies below the Sahara Desert. In one attack a translator was kidnapped and remained missing for a week. Despite the constant danger they are in and the regular interruptions to their work when they have to hide in the hills, the translators are determined to keep on going until they have made God’s word available in their mother tongues.

Thank you for your generous gifts. Christians in the region need your continued support and your prayers. For prayer guidance please visit our Africa prayer tree where you can also post and share a prayer yourself if you feel moved to do so.

* Names changed to protect identity.

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