Dogon Bible Translation Dedication Draws 5,000

By Al Stombaugh, Alliance Field Director, Mali, West Africa

Alliance missionaries brought the good news to the Dogon, a tribal people in Mali bound by ancestor and spirit worship, in 1931. Today, there are an estimated 15,000 Dogon believers, celebrating the culmination of decades of work—the translation of the Bible into their heart language.

The last rays of sunlight cast shadows over the jagged cliffs as we drove the final few kilometers toward the village of Sangha.

Acres of dark green onion fields contrasted sharply with the otherwise desolate landscape—a striking testimony to the industriousness of the Dogon who populate this remote region.

Our van full of missionaries and Malians finally arrived in the village after an 11-hour drive from Bamako, Mali’s capital. We were among 5,000 people who had traveled by foot, donkey, bush taxi, and motorcycle to this site—the historic center of the Dogon Alliance Church—the venue for the Dogon Bible translation dedication.

All-Night Party

The excitement in the air was almost palpable. Dozens of large, colorful canopies stretched over wooden poles had been set up to provide shade for the thousands who would attend the dedication ceremony the next day, January 28.

As we sat down to a supper of toh and jabaji (millet with onion sauce—a Dogon staple), the drums began to beat, calling the people to an all-night celebration.

By 9 a.m. the next morning, tents were packed to overflowing (even though most people had been up all night singing and celebrating until 6 a.m.). Festive dancing to the unique rhythms of the Dogon drums ensued for an hour and a half as we awaited the arrival of Mali’s Minister of Education, Literacy, and National Languages, Professor Salikou Sanogo.

Once his motorcade comprised of many high-ranking officials arrived, and the honored guests were properly escorted to their assigned seats, the moment everyone had been anticipating began.


Led by a procession of drummers and singers dressed in traditional costume, porters appeared with cartons of Dogon Bibles balanced on their heads and carried them into the center of each tent.

When the first carton was opened and a copy of the newly translated Bible was held up for everyone to see, the crowd erupted. Imagine, 5,000 people singing, dancing, and cheering at the top of their lungs!

Holding the Bible high so all could see it, Dr. Youssouf Dembele, the chief translation supervisor, declared: “This translation is based on the original languages of the Scriptures and is an accurate copy of God’s divine Word!” Everyone again cheered enthusiastically.

Copies of the Bible were then distributed to each of the six Alliance district superintendents in the Dogon region, who were exhorted to make God’s Word available to every Dogon believer.

For the next several hours, various dignitaries as well as church and missions representatives paid tribute to the dedication and hard work of those who had undertaken the mammoth task of translating the entire Bible into the Dogon language over several decades.

Although the heat was stifling under the tents, no one wanted to leave. And in typical Malian fashion, the ceremony was finally brought to a close five hours after it had begun.

Reflections: Returns on 80-Plus Years of Ministry

That evening, I sat on the roof of the small rock-hewn hotel where I was staying. I had a perfect view of the old C&MA mission station—just three small houses and a chapel built out of rock. In the background was the old village of Sangha nestled in the cliffs.

As I pondered the events of the day, my mind went back to those first C&MA missionaries—the Stamms, McKinneys, Ballards, Burnses, and others who first settled here in 1931. They gave their lives to bring the gospel to the Dogon people. They spent years learning the language and initiated the work of translating portions of the Scriptures into the heart language of the people.

I thought about how much these missionaries would have loved to have experienced what I had just witnessed, and how blessed I was to be here.

What You Can Do

Praise God for the completion of the first translation of the Bible into the Dogon language; pray for many more Dogon to come to know Christ through His Word. Pray also for Alliance workers the world over engaged in ministry to the lost.

Give to the Great Commission Fund—partner in the exciting work of The Alliance, bringing the good news to whole people groups who have never heard the message of hope and redemption only Jesus offers.

This video was produced by x15a2


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