The Last Nation to Have no Indigenous Church?

Since 2011, possession of religious texts other than the Quran carries an automatic five-year prison sentence in the Maldives. Recent imprisonments show this is no idle threat. Yet no one would be arrested for carrying a Bible in Dhivehi, the language of the Maldives, because they do not have one! The translation of the Bible into Dhivehi began in 1810 with John Leyden a Scot; a remarkable man. Whilst travelling by boat from Travancore to Penang, being chased by a French warship, Leyden suffering from an ‘attack of revulsions of bile and liver, spleen, bloody flux, and jungle fever’ and yet he describes his mood as being ‘lightened’ by the opportunity to learn some 350 words in Dhivehi.

Leyden and his remarkable linguistic abilities soon became known to Rev Brown in Calcutta, Secretary of the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS). Rev Brown offered Leyden the sum of Rs200 to translate the Gospels into Dhivehi. Such was his amazing productivity that within 12 months he presented Rev Brown with three Gospels and half of John!

Later that year, 1811, Leyden was required to travel to Java as the translator on an expedition. Tragically, whilst in Jakarta, Leyden succumbed to a fever and died. Here begins a catalogue of ills to befall the translation process, a seemingly endless list. Rev Brown took on the completion of the task, but within 12 months he too had died. Others took up the mantle and by 1814 the Gospels were ready to go to print.

But there the trail goes cold. Did the manuscripts and fonts perish in the fire that destroyed the Mission at Serampore? Was the Maldivian overseer coerced back to the Islands and promised clemency if he brought the manuscripts and font with him? Theories abound. So does the opposition to the translation process.

By the 1990’s, small numbers of Christian professionals from various nations were working in the Islands. In 1998 the government clamped down suddenly, expelling expatriates and imprisoning Maldivians suspected of having Christian beliefs or sympathies. This was apparently due to some translated Bible portions in Dhivehi being discovered in circulation.

It was only in 2005, nearly 200 years since being started that a Gospel was finally published; Luke was the first book of Scripture to be completed in Dhivehi. At present there is no corporate act of worship amongst Maldivian people within their country, neither does anyone know the number of secret believers.

Please pray, fervently: for those involved in translation; that the Enemy would be thwarted; that the Bible translation will be completed; and that a bold Maldivian church would arise to ‘give glory to the LORD and declare His praise in the Islands’ Is 42:12.