The Gospel in its simple beauty (John 3:16, Kinyarwanda translation)

I love the Rwandan translation of the Bible. Kinyarwanda is my favorite language right now, and although I don’t know much of it, I can understand some familiar Scripture passages by comparing phrases to my English Bible and using my two dictionaries. (I have one print Kinyarwanda-English dictionary and one on an app, and I also have friends who speak the language.)

But what is this language and how did I come to know it? Almost exactly a year ago, I began an internship in Denver, where I worked as an intern for the health coordinator in the refugee and asylee department. I also befriended several case managers, one of whom was from Burundi and had long been a refugee in Rwanda before coming to the States and becoming a citizen. This particular case manager friend, Zacharie, speaks six languages including English, Kirundi and Kinyarwanda, and last July he began to teach me Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda.

Although I can read some Kinyarwanda at a painstakingly slow pace, I still know minimal vocab and certainly do not yet know the words nuances since I only had a teacher during summer 2014. Yesterday I tried to make some headway in my vocab, however. I learned that buhoraho means eternal (see John 3:16) and iteka means forever (John 3:18). I had thought they meant the same thing, but Zach informed me that the former is an adjective (ubugingo buhoraho–eternal life) and the latter is an adverb (nzagukunda iteka–I will love you forever).

Uwiteka is a name meaning Lord or Eternal One. (Eternal One– isn’t that beautiful?!) Simply put, according to Zach it means God. Mwami is a name for Jesus meaning King or Eternal. Jesus is Yesu.

Don’t zone out of this language lesson yet–I’m just getting to the point, the Gospel as read in John 3:16. The word that stands out to me the most in this passage presented below is cyane, an adjective meaning “a lot” or “immensely.” The letter C in Kinyarwanda sounds like a ch in English. Try saying the word cyane aloud now. Got it? Okay, I think we’re good with words for now, so let’s dig into the Scripture itself.

In my simplistic understanding of the language, I can read John 3:16 in Kinyarwanda and receive it as a beautiful, deep truth. I’ll show you the various translations below: First ESV, then Kinyarwanda, and my understanding of each.

John 3:16 and 17: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

To someone who has never heard the Gospel like this before, those verses are powerful. But after you have been in church for your entire life and can say this passage while spying nocturnal sheep, it begins to lose its meaning. Personally, I gloss over it because I think I already know what it says.

Another con of knowing the English translation so well has to do with the language itself. In English the words “so loved” seem meaningless and archaic. “So” doesn’t mean anything anymore because everything is super sized in the States today. (Oops, I even used the modifier to describe how well I know English, and I didn’t even realize it! See, it’s practically meaningless now.)

Kinyarwanda is still fresh and thrilling to me, however.

Johana 3:16 and 17: Kuko Imana yakunze abari mu isi cyane, byatumye itanga Umwana wayo w’ikinege kugira ngo umwizera wese atarimbuka, ahubwo ahabwe ubugingo buhoro. Kuko Imana itatumye Umwana wayo mu isi gucira abari mu isi ho iteka, ahubwo yabikoreye kugira ngo abari mu isi bakizwe na we.

I can compare the translations phrase by phrase, clause by clause, and pick out which word means what based off the few I know already. My dictionary is always handy, of course. Kuko means because, Imana is God, yakunze is the third person singular and the distant past of the verb for love (gukunda), mu is a preposition translated in or into, isi means world, and cyane means a LOT: For God loved in the world a LOT, the passage begins. God loved the world a LOT, immensely.

While I want to learn more Kinyarwanda with the goal of communicating well in the language, I am glad that my simplistic understanding allows me to see the Bible in a new light, as if starting over again. Newness is, after all, what Yesu is talking about in the passage above.

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