THE MANDATE, God Goes Before . . . and After

Bible translator’s job: Translate the Bible so God can introduce Himself to people.
God’s job: Prepare the people to accept the introducers.
Forty-three years ago, in the spring of 1968, the Canelas took the second step in accepting us as part of their indigenous society. My wife and I went through the Canela adoption/initiation ceremony that made us members of their families and citizens of Canela society. It involved lots of red ochre paint, plenty of tree-sap glue and white hawk down all over our bodies. Surrounded by crowds of Canelas, we listened to the chief’s long speech; then each of the sub-chiefs and elders made shorter speeches.

We couldn’t understand a word.

I had taken the first step a month earlier when I first met the chief in town. Although he knew only a little Portuguese, he understood that we wanted to live in the village, learn Canela, and help where we could. He pantomimed giving me an injection in my upper arm, and made writing motions. “Yes,” I said, “we will treat sick people and teach you to read and write.”

“You come,” he said.

A few days later, I stood in the centre of the Canela village plaza surrounded by a large group of sombre, silent, serious looking Canela men. I faced a village elder who, leaning on his spear, chanted loudly for long time.

I couldn’t understand a word.

Abruptly he stopped chanting, and shouted loudly, “Prejaka! Prejaka! Prejakaaaa!” at which all those silent men behind me suddenly shouted, “Yuhaaa!”

Major adrenaline rush!

Then they all broke into smiles, grabbed my hands and kept saying “Prejaka, Prejaka, Prejaka.” It finally got it! I had just been given a Canela name—the first step into being accepted into Canela culture.

Jo and I experienced only one naming ceremony, but over the next few decades, we went through the adoption/re-initiation ceremony dozens of times—each time we returned to the village after an extended time away. And eventually we fully understood all those speeches.
“We have adopted you into our village and into our families. You are even more one of us now than when you first came to us. You now speak our language. You invented a way to write our language and taught us to read and write it and count and read numbers. You are training teachers. You make books for us. You help us with medicine. You are family and belong here. Join any festival. Go anywhere in Canela lands. Take pictures of any of us, and of any of our festivals. When outsiders come in just to look at us and our ceremonies and take pictures, we ask them for gifts, but we will never ask you.”

Still true.

A few years ago, after an absence of nineteen years, (forty-one years after the original invitation), we re-visited the village. Yes, once again, glue, feathers, red paint and a wide-open village welcome to our whole family—fifteen of us—including our eight grandchildren.

God arrived in the Canela village before we came to prepare them so they would adopt us and accept us as citizens. He stayed after we left to adopt many Canelas into His Family and accept them as citizens of His Kingdom.

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Does God Speak in Dreams Today?

I occasionally remember dreams I’ve had but Jo never does—except for one notable time in the Canela village.

One afternoon our whole family was having a swim in the creek just outside the village. I left first and our 10-year-old daughter Leanne decided to leave a minute later sprinting up the trail to catch up with me. As she rounded a bend, she nearly ran into a long grey stick propped between bushes about waist high, barring the trail. Oh, daddy is having fun with me, she thought, as she grabbed the stick to clear the path. Instantly the long grey snake wrapped itself around her arm and bit her.

She screamed, shook the snake off her arm, and raced back to the creek crying, “A snake bit me! A snake bit me!

When Jo heard Leanne scream, she instantly remembered dreaming this scene the night before—a dream she had forgotten. “It was like God was telling me, ‘Don’t worry. Be calm. I know all about this snake,’” Jo said later. She soothed Leanne and led the girls home. It did turn out alright; the snake either was not poisonous or God intervened and saved her.

What is it with dreams?

The Bible mentions dreams or visions over 220 times. Matthew begins his story of Jesus by telling of Joseph’s four dreams: 1) It’s okay to marry Mary. 2) Take your family to Egypt. 3) Go back to Israel. 4) Go live in Galilee, and one dream of the Wise Men: Go home without telling Herod about Jesus. Five dreams in the first thirty verses!

People took dreams seriously back in those days.

Even today, many non-western people take dreams seriously. Large numbers of Muslims in Iran are turning to Jesus. One third of these testify that a dream about Jesus telling them, “I am the way to God” had prepared them. This astounds people like me who explain vivid dreams by blaming the spicy food we ate the night before.

Dreams don’t astound Canela people. A popular early morning greeting is, “What did you dream?” One of our Canela friends and helpers started getting drunk on sugar cane rum every time he went into town. The Canelas elders’ council lectured him and shamed him but nothing helped. We prayed for him for years. One day we returned to the village from a two-month-workshop in the city and he told us he had stopped drinking after having a dream.

“’Do you want to stop drinking?’ a man up in the sky asked me. I told him I did. ‘Every morning take a large cup of cold water, go outside, look into the sky, think about me, and drink it down in one long swallow.’ I have been doing that for two months. One day in town someone offered me a drink of cane rum and when I smelled it I ran outside because I nearly vomited.”

Why don’t we westerners, and Christians especially, dream God dreams? Is it because we don’t believe in dreams and therefore don’t have them? Or do we, but we aren’t comfortable telling anyone about them? Are we missing out? Have any of you readers had God oriented dreams? Want to tell me some?

THE MANDATE, The Book of Heaven

David Thompson is well-known in western Canada as the mapmaker who explored that part of North America 200 years ago. What is not as well-known is that, as a devout Christian, he carried his Bible and told stories about Jesus and heaven everywhere he went. 

In 1807, while charting the homelands of the Flathead Salish people who lived in southern Alberta and northern Montana, he found that these people couldn’t get enough of his stories. “Someday, someone will come and bring you the Book of Heaven,” he told them.

In 1832, a whole generation later, the tribe could wait no longer and sent four men on a 5,000 kilometre round trip to St. Louis, Missouri to find the Book and bring it back. Two of the men died before they arrived. The remaining two were received at the fort by General William Clark (Lewis and Clark Expedition) who introduced them to the priest. 
The two emissaries, however, were disappointed when no one could give them the Book of Heaven. Just before they started on their return journey, the town put on a farewell feast complete with many speeches. At the end of the feast, one of the Salish envoys gave a speech that had far reaching consequences.
“We came to you over the trail of many moons from the land of the setting sun beyond the great mountains … we came with an eye partly open for our people who sit in darkness; we go back with our eyes closed.
“We made our way to you with strong arms through many enemies and strange lands, that we might carry back much to them. We go back with our arms empty … Our people sent us to get the white man’s Book of Heaven … You took us where they worship the Great Spirit with candles, but the Book was not there. You showed us images of the good spirits and pictures of the good land beyond, but the Book was not among them to tell us the way.
“We are going back the long, sad trail to our people of the dark land. You make our feet heavy with gifts, and our moccasins will grow old and our arms tire in carrying them, yet the Book is not among them. When we tell our people in the big council, that we did not bring the Book, no word will be spoken by our elders or our young men. One by one they will go out in silence. Our people will die in darkness … they will have no white man’s Book to make the way plain. I have no more words.”
As news of this speech spread among Christians in England and the north-eastern US, missionaries and Bible translators began to penetrate the west. The Bible was translated into Cree 25 year later, but it would be many generations before the Flathead-Salish finally received the Book of Heaven in their own language.
Currently 6,860 languages are spoken by the world’s 6.9 billion people. An estimated 341 million people speak 2,078 languages in which not even one line of the Bible has ever been translated. Like the Flathead-Salish people of 200 years ago, they wait, and wait. 
Translating the Book of Heaven into these 2,078 languages is not a peripheral option—it is the most foundational task left for the Christian Church to accomplish.

©  2011 Jack D Popjes

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Part Two of Notice, Remember and Tell Stories

“Why did God make people?” The traditional Jewish answer is, “Because He loves stories!” 

True! Who packed the Bible full of stories? God did! Who constantly told them to His friends? Jesus did! Stories carry truth. Stories build faith. Stories bring glory to God. No wonder He arranges our lives so that we have stories to tell about Him. 

Jo was pregnant with Cheryl while Valorie and Leanne were just little tots. We were in the last week of a three-month-long survival training camp in southern Mexico, and I was about to go on a weeklong survival hike. “While you are away,” Jo said, “I will pray Psalms 91 and 121 every day.” (A vital part of the story.)

I left the next day with a small group of men. An experienced missionary led us a day’s hike into the jungle to play the part of a lost hunting party and practice our newly learnt survival skills until other groups of trainees found us—hopefully within a few days. 

We scavenged daily for food and for dry firewood to burn to keep us warm at night. One day while following and marking a faint trail, I spotted a long branch about the thickness of a fence post lying across a fallen log. Dry firewood! Alright! I put it on my shoulder and carried my prize back to camp. I dropped it near my improvised cot and lay down to rest before grabbing my machete to hack it into pieces. 

At the first blow, my firewood began to bleed! I stared at the gory mess that oozed from  the cut in the branch. Then, from a knothole near the middle slithered a four foot-long snake, with a nasty cut in its belly. I immediately stomped on its head, and carried the still writhing serpent to the staff member to identify. Yes, a highly poisonous snake. 

Oh happy night! Not only did the snake stay in the branch and not bite me, after a bit of cleaning and roasting it turned into supper—a welcome meal after meagre rations for nearly a week. I also thanked God for answering Jo’s Psalm 91:13 prayer about “trampling the serpent” and Psalm 121:7, “the Lord will keep you from all harm.”

That night I asked myself two “why?” questions. For thirty minutes as I carried that branch down the hill, the knothole had been right beside my head. If the snake had come out and bitten me in the neck or throat, I would have died within seconds. Why hadn’t it? Obviously, Someone with a plan wanted me alive. 

After I threw the pole down, the snake could easily have slipped out of the pole and escaped into the bushes. Why didn’t it? Obviously, Someone wanted me to know it was there. Someone who wanted me to tell the story. Someone who loves stories, especially stories that make Him look good. 

Like this one.
To Bring Him Glory,
©  2011 Jack D Popjes
Ph: 780 948-0082