The Story

The continent of Africa includes around 1000 distinct languages. Of those, Oromo is one of the five most widely spoken. Some argue it is surpassed only by Arabic and Hausa. Oromo is the mother tongue for more than 30 million people. There was no such thing as written Oromo until the 1880s. Like so many languages, the impetus for developing a written text was the desire to translate the Bible. Because the ruling families of Ethiopia were mostly of Amharic origin, they opposed teaching and publishing in the Oromo language. The goal was for Amharic to become standard throughout the Abyssinian empire, thus uniting the peoples around a common language and culture. This insistence on Amharic continued through the reign of Haile Selassie.

Nevertheless, the Oromo people continued to adhere to their own language and customs. In 1991, over 1000 Oromo intellectuals met and agreed Oromo would be written in a modified Latin alphabet called Qubee.

The original translation of the Oromo Bible was completed by a freed slave named Hika (1856-1931), a native Oromo man converted under the ministry of Lutheran missionaries. Upon conversion, he adopted the name Onesimus Nesib, after the fugitive slave that Paul led to Christ as recorded in the book of Philemon.

Like Wycliffe, Tyndale and Luther before him, Onesimus was persecuted for his Gospel ministry and for putting the Bible in the language of his people. However, the Oromo Bible was completed in 1899, and in 1991 the translation was improved and updated.

The Need

The Oromo people are the largest people group in Ethiopia. In the past two decades, there has been rapid advance of the Gospel with thousands of churches starting, growing and reaching out. Despite persecution and few resources, Good News travels fast! However, in order to strengthen and ground these Christians and to fuel the continued growth of the church, Oromo believers need Oromo Bibles. 

There is an Oromo Bible, and there is a high literacy rate among the Oromo people—the problem is supply. Only about 2% of Oromo believers have the Scripture in their own language. Frontline Missions International is joining with key partners, the Bible League of Canada, the Ethiopian Bible Society, and a network of pastors in Ethiopia, to publish and place thousands of copies of God’s Word in the heart language of the Oromo people. So far, 60,000 Bibles and 100,000 New Testaments have been distributed. An additional 60,000 Bibles and 100,000 New Testaments are paid for, printed, and in the process of being distributed. We are currently raising funds to reach our goal of placing 1 million copies of God's Word in Ethiopian hands by 2020. The Ethiopians are participating by contributing approximately 1/4 of the needed funds. If you would like to participate with them, the printing and distribution cost of an Oromo Bible is approximately $6.

The greatest missionary is the Bible in the mother tongue. It needs no furlough and is never considered a foreigner.
— William Cameron Townsend