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Sierra Leone's First-Ever Krio Bible Makes Impact

FILE - Several hundred Sierra Leoneans leave a church in Freetown.
After decades of work, the first translation of the Bible into the Sierra Leone dialect of Krio was published less than a year ago. The translation is gaining widespread use, and is helping to increase church attendance in the capital, Freetown.

The Warren Memorial Church in Freetown has chosen to use the newly created Krio Bible at its services. People sing in Krio and there is also preaching in Krio.

The Krio Bible at the Warren Memorial Church in Freetown, Dec. 29, 2013 (N.deVries/VOA)
The Krio Bible at the Warren Memorial Church in Freetown, Dec. 29, 2013 (N.deVries/VOA)
This version of the Bible has actually taken decades to create explains Ruby Pearce, who helps run the services at the church. She said the Bible Society of Sierra Leone had the idea for the creation of the first ever Krio Bible in the 1970's.

Pearce said bible translators came to Sierra Leone in 1974, but were only working part time. The translation of the New Testament was finished in the 1980's. Translation of the Old Testament stretched well into the new century, until the Krio Bible was finally completed in the spring of 2013.

Pearce said it was a significant step for the country, as the majority of the population speak Krio. "We need to know our God understands our language and there are some nuances in the English language that we cannot understand, no matter what, but when it is in our own language we are able to approach God better," she stated.

That approach is getting better results, from what she can see at church services. Pearce estimates about 10 to 20 percent more people come to church when the Krio Bible is used. "When we have our Africana service ... People respond better because they stand up and talk. They always say, in our own language we never make any mistakes when we are talking, so they are very comfortable," she explained.

The Krio people are descendants of freed slaves. Their language dates back to the colonial era, when it was developed by early settlers in the western part of Freetown. It is a mixture of English and African languages, with some additional words borrowed from French and Spanish.

Desmond George Williams, the senior steward of the Warren Memorial Church, said he is pleased with the positive reaction the Krio Bible has had over the past few months. "People hearing the story from a language they understand, gives it a fresh outlook, brings the story closer to them when they hear it in the vernacular. And I think that is one great strengths that the Krio Bible has had," he said.

Twenty-eight-year-old Cindy Williams agreed. She sings in the choir at Warren Memorial church and said that having the Krio Bible on hand is helpful to prepare for for services in Krio too.

Previously it would take longer to put together a Krio service due to translating from English to Krio.

"But now we have the Bible, so if we want to do a Krio service we just make reference to the bible, give the person the passage, it is easier, it makes it easier for us now," noted Williams.

She added that many young people have said they now feel a stronger connection to the Bible, as well as a new appreciation for their language.