Nestled in the eastern reaches of the Himalayas is India’s picturesque state of Sikkim.
Around ten languages are spoken by the 600,000 residents who live there, including Lepcha which is the language of the oldest inhabitants of the region, and which has been in decline for some years.
In 2008, the Bible Society of India began translating the Old Testament into the language of Lepcha to meet the needs of the region’s 15,000 Lepcha Christians.
“Since we began translating the Bible there’s been a resurgence of interest both in the Lepcha language and in the Bible,” says one of the translation team, Pastor Pemba Stephen Lepcha.
“It’s becoming a matter of pride for people to have the full Bible in their own language. Many people say that they can’t wait to have the Bible!” he says.
Already, the Old Testament has been drafted, a painstaking process done by hand, but the most challenging task – that of typesetting - still lies ahead, and will take another two years to complete.
After that the team will start work on a revision of the New Testament, which currently lacks headings, subheadings and chapters making it difficult for people to read.
In the meantime the church is growing, both in the cities and in the rural areas.
In the village of Raymindu, for example, the church was started by a missionary from northern Sikkim seven years ago, and now serves four families.
“At first we had problems when we became Christians,” says a widow, who was the first person in the village to become a Christian. “The other villagers ostracised us and refused to help us with the farming. But now they work with us and they even come to some of our festivals at church, such as at Christmas.”
Bible Society New Zealand is supporting the Lepcha translation project this year, along with the revision of the Bible into 14 other languages in India, including Boro, Liangmai, Punjabi and Tamil.
Seventy year old Jin can’t stop smiling or singing. She’s walked for three hours in sub-zero temperatures to get to church.
The reason? Today, free Bibles are being given out to the congregation. And she’s got one.