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Bibleless Nations

Bibleless Nations

Photo Source Anna Diamantopoulou/Flickr Licensed/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Pontic Greeks quite possibly heard the Apostle Paul during his missionary journeys. This people group considers themselves descendants of the Argonauts, who set sail looking for gold and silver. Because of their desire to seek treasure in other lands, this group of Greeks eventually settled in Northeastern Turkey with the majority settling around the Black Sea.

During World War I, when the country underwent an ethnic cleansing, almost 250,000 Pontics were able to flee back to Greece. However, when they arrived, those that lived there could not understand their language. It had evolved into words and sounds that could not be understood because of the influence of the nations that had surrounded them before their dispersal. Today, this dialect of the Greek language is considered endangered as their descendants become more assimilated in the regions in which they live. Yet the Pontics want to keep their language and traditions alive. They try to pass down their traditional poems, songs, dress, and dances to their children. However, their brightly colored traditional dress cannot cover their spiritual darkness.

Though many profess to be Christians, they have no true knowledge of the Gospel. Some practice Greek Orthodox traditions, and others have converted to Islam. Because there is no Scripture in their language, a people who may have once been exposed to the truth are now living in spiritual darkness.

The Wasa are the largest ethnic group in the Western Region of Ghana with a population close to 300,000. The Western Region is tropical with an annual rainfall of sixty inches and is known for its production of cocoa, rubber, and palm oil. Other industries include fishing, animal husbandry, lumbering, and gold mining.


The Wasa face many challenges. The areas where gold is mined are damaged by erosion that causes flooding and ruins the land for farming. Also, many Wasa living in poverty mine gold illegally. These small, unregulated operations use chemicals and heavy metals that contaminate drinking water.
A second challenge is the Wasa language. Some of the older Wasa fear its demise. In an effort to modernize, children are punished for speaking their language in school. “English is a global language. Practice it now!!!” is written on at least one schoolroom wall.


Another challenge is the great spiritual need of the Wasa. Although their primary religion is listed as Christianity, its form is Non-Evangelical Protestantism which focuses more on social issues than a personal faith in Jesus Christ. Only Biblical teaching can correct this erroneous teaching, but there is no Bible in Wasa. A translation has reportedly begun. Will you pray for the Wasa and for those that are translating God’s Word for them?

Spring 2023-24

Ten thousand Pame live in San Luis Potosi, a state of central Mexico. They call themselves Xiúi meaning “indigenous.” The Pame cultivate maize, beans, squash, and chili which constitute their main diet. However, the soil is poor and rocky and many Pame are migrant workers.

Pame traditional religious beliefs in spirits, witches, and gods have mixed with Catholicism brought by the Spaniards. Pame call the Sun and the Catholic God by the same name. Likewise, they call the Moon and the Virgin Mary by the same name.

They need the truth found in God’s Word. But is it worth the time and toil of translating the Bible for a relatively small people group? Someone thinks so! And that is the rest of the story.

In 1980, BBTI graduate Rex Cobb began working in Bible translation among the Zapotecs in Oaxaca, Mexico. The people of his remote Zapotec village were suspicious of Americans, and it became increasingly difficult to minister among them. Bro. Cobb began to pray for Mexican nationals to assume the work of reaching their own indigenous people. In 1987, Rex learned of a Bible institute in the mountains of Chihuahua, Mexico, which was beginning to train students to do just that. God had answered his prayer!

He moved to northern Mexico and for four years taught the skills he had learned at BBTI. The first class had thirty-five students. Bro. Rex later moved on to church planting, and as the years passed, he wondered if he had made the right decision to leave the work with the Zapotecs and invest his time in training Mexican missionaries. Recently the Lord confirmed that yes, it was the correct decision.

Last March, at a mission conference in Gainesville, Texas, Rex met Dr. Neftalí Santos MD, a Mexican missionary to the Pame people of the state of San Luis Potosi. Neftalí taught the Pame people to read and is directing them as they translate the Bible into Pame. Neftalí studied linguistics and Bible translation at the Instituto Bíblico Maranatha in the city of San Luis Potosí. His teacher? Jorge Rocha, one of the students in Rex’s first class at the Bible Institute in Chihuahua! What a joy to learn how God has used Dr. Jorge Rocha to challenge and train dozens of men in the work of missions. Wondrous are God’s doings in our eyes!

God has a plan to reach every tribe and nation with the Gospel. He thinks it is worth the time and toil to translate the Bible for a relatively small people group. Neftalí thinks it is worth it and so do we! We are grateful He lets us get involved and has even let us see some far-reaching effects of BBTI’s ministry.

Fall 2023

Linguistics

Standing before you is a famed Drum Tower, a remarkable architectural achievement held together with groove joints instead of nails. As you admire the abundance of carvings and paintings on the multi-storied structure, music plays and a traditional song and dance begin. You are at a festival in one of the few Dong villages open to tourism.

Early mission work among the Dong began in 1910-1930 but was halted by communism when it was introduced in 1949. However, the Gospel never took a firm hold. Today only 1% of the Dong people claim Christianity. The 2020 census numbered the Dong at 3,495,993. Roughly half of them is Northern Dong and the other half is Southern Dong. While the customs and beliefs of the two groups are similar, their languages are different. The Northern Dong have no Bible.
The Dong practice Chinese folk religion. They worship their ancestors and believe in spirits and ghosts. Dong shamans use drums during rituals to appease any offended spirits.

The Dong have lived in a subtropical area of south-central China for generations. They cultivate rice, wheat, maize, sweet potatoes, cotton, and soybeans. Some raise pigs and hens. Under communism, the Dong’s standard of living has increased through the building of a solid rural infrastructure and improved education and health care. However, the Dong do not know how they can have eternal life through Jesus.

Spring/Summer 2023

Al Jazeera – Flickr
Creative Commons

The Kingdom of Bahrain is an archipelago nation located in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Saudi Arabia. Most Bahraini live on the main island. The town people usually live in apartments or houses made of cement and lime brick. The villagers live in thatched huts. The arid climate allows some dairy and vegetable farming, but most of their food is imported.

Bahrain has diversified its petroleum and commerce-based economy to include manufacturing, tourism, and international banking. This prosperous nation has a rich Middle Eastern heritage. Its people enjoy a relatively high living standard as well as free education and medical care.

Over 763,000 Bahraini Arabs are living in deep spiritual darkness. Islam is the state religion, and most Bahraini are either Shi’ite or Sunni Muslims. The Sunni monarchy rules over the Shia majority. Resulting dissension between these two Islamic sects led to the removal of political and civil rights. Due to western influence, the Bahraini are less strict than mainland Arabs. However, Islam is their culture. While they are more open to many western ideas, Christian beliefs are deemed pagan.

Arabic is the official language of Bahrain, but the people primarily speak Bahrani Arabic. Linguists have developed a Bahrani Arabic alphabet, yet there is no Bible in this language. Will you pray for the Bahraini?

Winter 2022-23

There are forty-four subgroups of the Jula, a sub-Saharan people, one of which is the Odienne Jula. The majority of the 183,000 Odienne Jula live in the northwest town of Odienne, Côte d’Ivoire which is an historic trading center. Odienne lies within the savanna region of Côte d’Ivoire where the soil is fertile. People make their living as merchants, craftsmen, and farmers. Rice is grown in the region and cashews have recently become an important cash crop (2019 Indiana University Press).

The Odienne Jula are resistant to the Gospel because they are both religious and clannish. They are 95% Muslim but also adhere to much of their ethnic religion. Ethnic religions consist of rituals, charms, and involvement in spirit worship which are entrenched in the people due to strong cultural and generational ties. The Odienne Jula are organized by clans, the lineage of which is traced through the men. Rather than viewing themselves as individuals, they find their identity in their clan. They guard against anything that might divide or weaken their kinship ties.

This unreached people group speak Wojenaka, a language also spoken by 18,000 Wassulu people, also of Côte d’Ivoire. It is reported that a Bible translation has begun; however, there are no scriptures in Wojenaka. Translators need prayer to overcome obstacles and wisdom to produce a faithful translation.

Fall 2022

Among the mountains and valleys of the Shan state of Myanmar live the Golden Palaung. Over 200,000 Golden Palaung speak the Shwe dialect of Palaung, which comes from the Mon-Khmer language family.

The Palaung are able to grow a number of crops in their area and they trade for additional foods with their pickled tea (also called laphet). This exclusive novelty is made by fermenting tea leaves over a long period of time and then preparing them to be eaten as a salad.

In addition to their special pickled tea, their traditional houses are quite distinct, and very impressive. They are raised off the ground and can house as many as six families. Some houses are nearly one hundred feet long! In spite of all this room, there is little if any division for each family in the house. Consequently, it is not surprising that single family dwellings are now becoming the norm.

Most Golden Palaung practice Theravada Buddhism. In addition, they continue to practice their traditional animistic religion. A distinction in their animistic belief is that of “nat worship.” Nats are the spirits of inanimate objects. If the people experience hardship, they believe it is because the nats need to be appeased by offering items such as betel or tobacco. Offerings are also given by a shaman at ceremonies during marriages, births, and deaths.

Summer 2022

Centuries ago, the most feared pirates in the Bay of Bengal terrorized com-munities in what is now Bangladesh. These pirates were called Maghs. Having left the seas long ago, the Magh are now valley farmers and dislike the term Magh because they do not want to be associated with pirates. They prefer the name Marma, which means “Burmese.” There are 182,000 Marma living in the Chittagong Hills of southeastern Bangladesh. There is no Bible in the Marma language.

Marma villages consist of ten to fifty houses made of bamboo, wild grass, and straw and are built on elevated platforms along the banks of streams. The space underneath the platform is used for keeping livestock or storing wood and handlooms. Rice and boiled vegetables are major food items. Nappi, a paste of dried fish, is a favorite.

The Marma practice Buddhism mixed with animism, believing that all living things have individual souls and through reincarnation will progress to a state of eternal bliss. They also believe in local spirits which reside all around them and must be appeased.

The Marma celebrate a number of yearly Buddhist festivals, one of which is Purnima, Buddha’s birthday. At this time, they make cakes by day and send lanterns into the sky by night. Sangrai, the Marma New Year, boasts a water festival which youths celebrate by splashing water on each other. They also go to monasteries to participate in bathing the Buddha statue.

Spring 2022

The 2000 census lists 45,000 ethnic Phunoi living in north-central Laos. Phunoi is one of eighty-four languages spoken in Laos. It is a Tibeto-Burman language which reflects the Burmese rule in Phunoi history. Phunoi is classified as a Loloish language which reflects a Chinese origin.

Experts believe there are 240 ethnic groups in Laos. In 1981, they were officially divided into five groups according to language. However, the former three group system is still commonly used, and it divides according to geographic location: lowland, hillside, and mountaintop. The Phunoi belong to the mountaintop group. The mountain forests furnish animals for hunting and food for gathering. Rice and corn are grown by the slash-and-burn method.

The official name of the Phunoi changed to Sinsali in the 1990s. The literal meaning of phunoi is “little people,” and Laotians now use this word in a disparaging manner. All tribal people are considered a low class of society and are referred to as phunoi.

Though many Phunoi have embraced Buddhism, the majority practice ethnoreligion. Ethnoreligion combines animism and ancestor worship. The spirits of animism are placated for favor in growing food or restoring health. The spirits of ancestors are invoked for protection and guidance. There is no Phunoi Bible to tell this people the story of the one true Creator God.

Bagobo-Klata of Mindanao

Located in the heart of the second largest island of the Philippines is a tribal people who cling tenaciously to their ancient customs and traditions. The Bagobos are a people steeped in ethnoreligion. They combine spirit worship, ancestral worship, and nature worship into a religion that is strict in ritual and full of fear. They are fiercely territorial, suspicious of outsiders, and very resistant to the efforts to assimilate them into the other cultures and languages around them. They believe to do so is to deny their religion and entire way of life.

The Bagobo are one of the largest groups of indigenous people of southern Mindanao. Historically a warring tribe, the Bagobos raided neighboring villages and offered human sacrifice to their deity, Pamulak Manobo, until the practice was forbidden under Spanish rule. They are largely agricultural, and rice is the staple of their diet. This diet is supplemented with hunting and fishing. The planting, cultivating, and harvesting of rice is deeply tied to religious rituals. Planting coordinates with the movement of the stars, hoping for the good-will of their god of the growing season. During harvest, the leader of their tribe (the Datu) will give an offering to the “spirit of the harvest.”

The Bagobo speak their own distinct dialect. It is an unwritten language with no Scriptures, therefore the
80,000-100,000 Bagobo souls are without God’s message.

Luobohe Miao of China

Imagine a dark place where superstition and fear rule peoples’ lives. It is a place where daily activities must be done in a prescribed manner or risk the ire of demons and the spirits of ancestors. There are no Christians, no Scriptures, and no hope. This is reality for the 123,000 Luobohe Miao (a group of the Hmong people cluster) who live in the mountains in southwest China. They keep to themselves in their own remote villages and live by farming.

The Luobohe are ethnoreligious—they are unified by both their ancestry and their animistic religion. Jewry is another example of ethnoreligion, especially in the Old Testament. To be a Jew was to be both a descendant of Abraham and a follower of the law of Moses.

The Luobohe language is tonal with three distinct tones that distinguish words. It is largely unwritten, though a Latin alphabet has been recently proposed. This language desperately needs a translation of the Bible. The Word of God can cross borders and go to places where missionaries cannot go.

Global Recordings Network recorded six Bible stories in Luobohe. You can listen to The Lost Sheep at https://globalrecordings.net/en/progra. Someone was the human instrument that produced this recording, the only glimmer of light for the Luobohe. Will you be another human instrument by praying for them? Pray for someone to take them the the Gospel, for heaven’s forces to bind the evil one, and for the light to shine brightly.

Tourists gather yearly to see the Yörük caravans depart their winter coastal homes for their summer pastureland in the Taurus Mountains. Excitement abounds. Sheep and goats walk single file, bells ringing. The huge loads of tents and equipment carried by camels are covered by colorful Turkish rugs. Women in their long, flowered skirts and young people dressed in their colorful best lend an air of festivity.

This 1,000 year way of life is vanishing as modernization infringes on traditional grazing rights and the younger generation look for an easier life with jobs in the city. In 2020, there were only eighty-six migrating families, and most of them used trucks and tractors to transport their animals. This yearly migration was disrupted by covid travel bans, and it will be difficult to overcome the loss of livestock.

The Yörük (name derived from the Turkish verb meaning to walk) are a Turkish tribal group numbering 463,000. They are Sunni Muslims, but Shamanistic practices of the past, such as warding off evil spirits, still exist. Their language is a dialect of Turkish (Balkan Gagauz Turkish) and has no Scriptures.

Yörüks are honorable with strong moral principles. They are frugal, but also warmly hospitable, offering visitors foods like butter, cheese, yogurt, and perhaps meat. The Yörük value cleanliness and freedom but will never be clean from sin and have true freedom without Christ.

Spring 2021