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Photo trip keeps language work in focus

Photojournalist Alan Hood's 2022 visit to Cameroon highlights contributions made by national colleagues, in a language project known as the Ndop Cluster.

Ask Alan Hood for his thoughts on capacity building, and there’s a good chance he’ll mention a Cameroon Bible translation project called Ndop Cluster. Alan has a special interest in the project because in his work as a photojournalist for Wycliffe Canada, he has visited Cameroon twice to photograph many of the local translators and expats involved.  

The project is known as a “cluster” because translation teams are working together to translate Scripture for nine distinct, but related, language groups on the Ndop Plain of Cameroon’s North West region. In a tenth language which already has the New Testament, team members are helping their neighbours gain literacy skills and engage with the translated Scriptures. 

To help the Ndop teams build capacity for these and future ministries, Canadians Dan and Melody Grove, Cameron and Valerie Hamm, and Daphne Natyna have shared knowledge, skills and tools so that local believers could take ownership of the work and make it more sustainable. 

Other expats, serving with Wycliffe’s key field partner, SIL, have also made significant contributions to the work in Cameroon. Wycliffe Canada provides funding, thanks to the generous donations of believers across Canada.

Alan is deeply impressed by the Ndop teams’ commitment to Bible translation. Even though they are now displaced from the Ndop Plain due to ongoing political unrest and violence, they have continued working strategically to overcome one of the most serious obstacles to the work of Bible translation.

Pius, Edward, and Novethan, who have been friends and colleagues in Bible translation for more than 20 years, talk following a service at Grace Baptist Church in Mbouda, Cameroon. Pius and Novethan are working towards certification as Bible translation consultants while Edward is focusing on Scripture use and literacy.
(Photo: Alan Hood)

“Around the world,” says Alan, “there’s a critical shortage of qualified translation consultants, especially nationals. Local translators often labour for 15 years at least to complete the New Testament in their language and then, to qualify as a consultant, they have to do additional studies after that. The process can span 20 years or even longer . . . so Wycliffe and its partners want to make it easier for our national colleagues to become consultants.” 

In Cameroon, a local translator named Alfred Njinyo has completed the necessary training and now serves as a translation consultant, while two others, Novethan Shanui and Pius Mbahlegue, are steadily progressing in their studies. 

Pastor Edward teaches Bamessing-speakers from the Ndop Plain how to review the Scriptures.  As reviewers, they will check translations to ensure they are  accurate, clear and natural-sounding in their language.  

(Photo: Alan Hood)

A fourth man, Edward Woghombong, serves the Ndop Cluster project as a consultant focused on engagement with the translated Scriptures. In that role, he works with team members to identify church and community needs that God’s Word can speak to, so printed materials, workshops and other Bible-based resources can be developed to address topics such as trauma healing, health and hygiene and agricultural practices.

Heart ties

Back in 2020, Alan began preparing for a return trip to Cameroon, to photograph a New Testament dedication event for one of the 10 Ndop language groups, Bambalang. The planned trip presented an opportunity to “wrap up” some stories he had helped tell in 2007, when Novethan, Pius and Edward were just beginning their work. But then political unrest, which began over perceived inequalities between English-speaking and French-speaking communities in the region, began to escalate. 

“That interrupted plans for the dedication event. And of course, the Covid pandemic came along too.” 

Finally, in September 2022, Alan was able to return to Cameroon and meet with Ndop team members he had grown to love and respect. However, because the strife there had forced team members and most villagers to leave the Ndop Plain, Alan had to meet with his friends Novethan, Pius, and Edward in the city of Mbouda, south of their homeland. 

Pius has finished his master’s degree in biblical exegesis and is still in training to become a full consultant. Meanwhile, Novethan is working on a master’s degree, while carrying on with Bible translation as a trainee consultant for the Bamessing language group.

Sharing skills in photography

As Alfred, Novethan and Pius grow in their capacity to carry out Bible translation, there are other needs, too, in complementary ministries like literacy, Scripture use initiatives, education, that are benefiting from the knowledge and skills shared by Wycliffe Canada staff members and other colleagues. 

Media training is one of those ministries that Alan saw an opportunity to serve. 

Gershom Keye, right, is a Bamessing translator. Here, he practises using a donated camera during the translation reviewers course. Having a well-trained, local photographer adds capacity for project teams to promote and publicize their work.
(Photo: Alan Hood)

On last year’s trip to Cameroon, Alan brought a spare camera and flash unit to share with Ndop team member Gershom Rweye, along with some training in photography and photojournalism. Gershom proved to be a keen and eager student, and that was encouraging for Alan, because it can be challenging to source quality photos from the field for Wycliffe Canada’s communications needs.  

“Often, we receive good quotes from people saying how much the Word of God has had an impact on their lives . . . but sometimes we don’t have a quality photo of the person who said it, or even the context of where the picture was taken. And very often they send in photos that are done on a cellphone and of course . . . the cameras on them are not always the best, so you just really don’t have very good photos. 

“So one of the things I thought was, could we raise their capacity to produce photos that are directed towards what we need, and really show what they are doing, so that they themselves can start to drive their media.”

Alan was very happy with photos Gershom took, in an area that Alan was unable to visit due to the ongoing conflicts. Two of Gershom’s photos, featuring a co-worker named Stella, were published in the Winter 2023 issue of In Other Words.

Novethan studies the Scriptures in the morning during his devotion time. Although Novethan has more than 15 years experience in Bible translation, he still needs experience in working with other language communities before he can be certified as a translation consultant.  Additionally, he plans to obtain a master's degree from South African Bible Institute, like his co-worker Pius Mbahlegue has done. “[The training process] is long, that is true,” says Novethan. “As much as I desire it to be fast, I also desire to be fully equipped."
(Photo: Alan Hood)

More than head knowledge

Alan is impressed by the progress of Bible translation and other ministries he has observed on the Ndop Plain, and by the growth he’s witnessed in his Cameroonian friends. 

“They are very committed, godly people. And not just the men, but also their wives. Their wives are working together with them, and they’re very close. These men are true pastors . . . so for them it’s not just this detached, academic life of translating the Bible. 

“They are very much involved in people’s lives, encouraging them and praying for them.”

Learn more about the Ndop Cluster project

Translation consultant Ginny Bradley, far right, comments on the first draft translation of 1 Thessalonians, during a  checking session with translators from the Bamessing language group.  Checking sessions can lead to disagreements, so good interpersonal relationships are necessary, along with excellent skills in exegesis.
(Photo: Alan Hood)
At Grace Baptist Church in Mbouda, Cameroon, a Sunday school teacher interacts with students about a Bible story she shared. The church was founded by Novethan, Edward and Pius to minister to people displaced from the Ndop Plain because of ongoing violence.  The three men share responsibilities for preaching, teaching and serving Communion.
(Photo: Alan Hood)

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