Blessed Christmas & Prosperous New Year

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A Quarter of Jo’s Growing Collection of International Nativity Scenes

Jo and I are looking forward to celebrating with our whole family sometime between Christmas and New Year when we are all together.

Thank you for reading my blog and emailing your many comments this past year. I learn something new every time I blog a new posting. I’m looking forward to more writing, more readers and more comments from you in the coming year.

My our Lord bless and prosper each one of you in every way this coming year.

A Blessed Christmas and a Prosperous New Year from both of us,

Jack and Jo

How Churches Miss Out on One-Third of Their Mandate

How Churches Miss Out on One-Third of Their Mandate

The pastor’s response to my tears astonished me.

I was on a flight from Brasilia in central Brazil to Belem at the mouth of the Amazon, and had been conversing with my seatmate, an elderly pastor. I had just spent a week in board meetings as the chairman of the board of SIL, Wycliffe’s field partner in Brazil. The agenda had been heavy since leftist political pressure had forced all our workers to leave their homes in the indigenous villages the year before and there seemed to be no end to our “exile.”

As I told him about the desperate situation—scores of indigenous people groups left without teachers, without medical help and without anyone to tell them about Jesus—I started to sob and could not continue.

I could not believe his response. He quoted Lamentations 3:27, “It is good for a man to bear the yoke when he is young.”

Then he turned to his book and started reading, leaving me to ponder.

Missionary Reach Out to Meet the Needs in Other Cultures

What does that text have to do with 100,000 indigenous people, living in the Brazil’s jungles, living in fear of evil spirits, living without the Word of God in their own language, with no chance of experiencing forgiveness of sins, no chance of deliverance from fear, and no chance of receiving the power to live a new life?

 

Pastors Who Over-Focus on Their Congregation

Then it came to me. The man was a pastor, a man with a shepherd’s heart. He meant well, wanting to remind me that hard things will come, and that it is good for them to come into our lives when we are still young. At 40 years old I was still young.

As a shepherd pastor, he saw me as a weeping sheep, a young man feeling frustrated and sorry for himself. It simply did not occur to him that my tears were not for me, but for Brazil’s hopelessly lost indigenous populations. As a pastor his daily concern was for his flock, his congregation, even a young man on a plane. He was focused so strongly on his pastoral function, he had lost sight of a lost world. He had forgotten that Jesus, his Shepherd model, had said, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also,” John 10:16 (NIV).

More than a decade later, I visited with an old time Bible school friend. We both had 25 years of ministry behind us, he as a pastor, I as a missionary. We discussed the difference between us and we concluded that those who have a vision for cross-cultural missions devote their primary energies to missions. But God calls people into many different types of ministry, some to be pastors, others to be evangelists, others to use their gifting in a wide variety of ways.

My Bible School pastor friend concluded, “Jack, we folk serving in ministries at home simply do not have the same fire in the belly for missions as you missionaries do. If we did, we would be out on the field too.”

Up-Reach, In-Reach and Out-Reach

And yet, isn’t it true that Jesus gave the Great Commission to “Go into the whole world and communicate the Good News to every person,” to the whole Church, not just to those individuals called to specialize in cross-cultural missions?

Pastor Reaching In to Meet the Needs of His Congregation

Tens of thousands of churches across Canada and the United States are staffed with people called by God to serve in church positions. Yet many of these servants of God are so committed to the Up-reach of worship and the In-reach of meeting needs in the congregation, they have forgotten the Out-reach of cross-cultural missions, confining that aspect mostly to local evangelism. Is God saying, “Oh well, two out of three isn’t bad?” I don’t think so!

When missionary colleagues talk with me about their church experiences, they tell me that too many pastors and churches display little vision, and even less passion, for cross-cultural missions and I remember my seatmate on that long ago plane flight.

Some Do It Right

Praise God, however, there are also a growing numbers of churches that are led by pastors who see beyond the congregation and its needs. They practice and preach Jesus’ Great Commission.

They not only promote missions in their church, they personally lead missions trips.

They visit the mission field regularly to sharpen their vision and rekindle their passion.

They make sure that cross-cultural missions is part of their church’s strategic plan.

They promote organizational structure with a missions committee, and encourage the missions superintendent.

They welcome missionaries who are good communicators and encourage them to tell challenging and faith building stories to their congregation.

Some pastors are so on fire for missions I’m astonished they aren’t on the field.

The Church needs many more like them.

Di Jamiekan Nyuu Testiment

Di Jamiekan Nyuu Testiment Launch

Finally, after years of work, tons of controversy, and reams of arguments, but with ever increasing support, the New Testament in the Jamaican language is being launched this Sunday, December 9, 2012. Jo and I are delighted that our grandson, Tyler Vanderveen, worked in Jamaica for the past seven months under Wycliffe Caribbean to promote the use of the Scriptures in Jamaican.

For generations the Jamaican Creole language, usually referred to as patois or patwa, has been looked down on, scorned, and not considered a real language. No wonder the word “patois” is never written with a capital letter.

During the years the Bible translators were working, letters to the newspaper editors and callers to radio phone-in programs presented the usual objections to translating the Bible into patois—the language spoken by about two million Jamaicans:  “Jamaican patois is not good enough to express the concepts of the Bible.” They also urged the usual advice, “Speakers of patois just need to learn English better.”

Those days are finally over. From now on, what used to be disparagingly called broken English will be called the Jamaican language. While English is the official language ofJamaica, most children grow up speaking Jamaican and learn English in school.

For centuries, every new translation of the Bible was criticized. Jerome translated the Bible from Greek into Latin around 400 AD. It was criticized because he had not translated it into the classical Latin used by orators and poets, but into the common, everyday Latin spoken by people on the street and at home. That is why they called Jerome’s translation the Vulgate. It was vulgar, not in the sense of being indecent, but of being common.

Disapproval of new translations is routine. Even the partial Bible that my wife and I translated—with the help of gifted and trained Canela associates—was disparaged. Imagine that! Whenever I showed the Canela Bible to Portuguese speaking Brazilian pastors, they automatically assumed that the translation in Canela was not as clear, as accurate, or as good as the Bible they used in preaching to their Portuguese-speaking congregations.

I did not argue with them, but I knew from sitting in their church services that when they read the archaic three-hundred-year-old Portuguese Ferreira de Almeida version, they had to take most of the sermon time to explain to the congregation what the passage meant before making an application. Meanwhile no one needs to explain what the Bible in Canela says—it speaks clearly right off the page.

Wherever in the world the Bible is translated into minority languages, someone will level criticism at it. In having their work scorned, the translators of di Jamiekan Nyuu Testiment, as well as the translation teams currently working in nearly two thousand other minority languages around the world, are in good company. John Wycliffe, who did the first major translation since Jerome’s Vulgate a thousand years earlier, was strongly criticized for translating the Bible into English. A contemporary historian and fellow clergyman, Henry Knighton spoke for the clergy of his day when he criticized the translation into English as follows:

“Christ gave the Scriptures to the clergy and doctors of the Church so that they could use it to meet the needs of lay people and other weaker (uneducated) persons. John Wycliffe has now translated it into common English which has laid the Bible more open to literate laymen and women than it has formerly been to the most learned of the clergy. The jewel of the Church, hitherto the principal gift of the clergy and the divines, has now been cast abroad, and trodden under foot of swine, and is now made ever more common to lay people.”

Henry Knighton used the wrong metaphor. The Word of God is not a jewel to be preserved in a glass case, admired, and taught about by the well-educated chosen few. Jesus Himself called God’s Word not a jewel but seed which is meant to be scattered generously everywhere and to sprout in prepared soil.

The Creator made men and women in His own image, with the capacity to hear Him and communicate with Him irrespective of their educational level. God looks for people with receptive hearts—hearts that will respond when they hear His Word in the language they understand best.

Jamaicans everywhere on earth can finally read and hear God’s Word clearly. May they respond in faith and understanding as never before.