To Focus on the Message, Eliminate Distraction

No distractions! Eliminate anything in your presentation that might distract your audience from the point of your talk.

Public speaker coaches hammer this advice repeatedly. Don’t tempt your hearers with distractions. Don’t wear an outfit that calls attention to itself. No flamboyant ties. No unusual outfits. If a story doesn’t relate to your point, delete it, no matter how good it is. It will sidetrack some of your listeners.

Public speakers, pastors, and teachers all know reducing distraction is a basic principle of communication.

The same is true for pioneer missionaries working in an indigenous village. Jo and I had a vitally important message to communicate while living among the Canela for over twenty years.

“Your Creator God loves you, and wants you to know and love Him. He sent His Son to save you. God will fill you with His Spirit so you can relate to others in peace and love. He will fill you with peace and power so that you no longer fear death and evil spirits.”

We modeled this message for the Canela—living in peace with them, loving them, and living without fear, totally trusting God’s care for us no matter what happened.

But we knew we had some built in distractions. I was tall, blonde, and blue-eyed. We were foreign, speaking English to our kids and to each other. We were rich. Jo had, not one pan, but two, as well as a kettle; we seemed to have an unlimited supply of matches, and plenty of salt. We had more than one pair of shorts or piece of cloth each. I wore a watch, the only one in the village. Instead of eating with our hands from a cast iron pan on the clay floor, we ate with spoons from enamel plates at a table.

We were concerned that our foreignness and wealth would blind the Canelas so that they could not see that the peace and love they saw in us, came from our relationship with the Creator God.

This Canela family adopted Jo as their daughter.

This Canela family adopted Jo as their daughter.

Jo and I reduced this distraction by living as much as possible like the Canelas around us. We lived in a house with a clay floor, dried-mud walls and a palm-thatch roof, just like our neighbours. We ate what they ate, we learned their language, learned their songs, participated in their festivals and practiced generosity and became Canelas as much as we could.

We could afford a propane stove and refrigerator, which would have saved us much time, work, and inconvenience, but did without them for those decades. Our policy was, “If the Canelas can’t have them, and we can do without, we will.”

We did bring in things essential for our translation work like a tape recorder, camera, and lots of books, and writing materials. And, since we were the only modern medical “doctors” we brought in cases of soap and modeled good hygiene. We boiled our water for drinking and recommended this to the Canela, especially in the beginning of the rainy season when the creeks ran brown and the entire village suffered from diarrhea. We brought in hundreds of kilos of medicine and freely treated people through prayer and modern medicine for every type of disease. In these ways too, we modeled love, praying that people would focus on our message of God’s love for them, and not be distracted by our foreignness.

But today we live among Canadians, non-Christians as well as fellow believers and are a part of the Canadian church. God has a message of love for our non-Christian neighbours, coworkers, and schoolmates. I wonder what distracts them from hearing His message?

Are some of us indulging in unbiblical lifestyles? Do some of us dogmatically present strongly held opinions on such topics as: theology, government, politics, human rights, military action, pharmaceutics, big business, immigration, and temporary foreign workers, etc?

What in our daily lives distracts from God’s message? Is there anything about you and me that blinds, deafens, and sidetracks people from turning to God?

Eliminate distraction.




77: The Double Seven

Happy BD JackToday, Thursday, March 19, 2015 is my 77th birthday.

Because 77 is a double number, I decided to check out what God did in my life the other six years when I had a double number birthday.

Age 11: When I was 11 years old, God led my papa and mama to make a sudden decision to emigrate from Holland to Canada. We did so the following year. It was the start of a completely new life, socially, linguistically, and above all spiritually. It was in Canada that God led our family to attend our first ever evangelistic meeting, and I came to know Jesus as Saviour and Boss of my life. Eventual all our family came to Christ

Age 22: God led me to return to Bible college after I was expelled for a semester, (for just causes, long story!) I graduated a year after my class. God also led me to enroll in a radio announcers’ speech course to improve my pronunciation and public speaking ability. That same year God was also focusing my mind on a girl named Jo. Almost every page of my diary during that year mentions Jo, a letter from Jo, a date with Jo, being lonely for Jo, etc. No wonder we got engaged the following year!

Age 33: God led Jo and me to return to Canada for an early furlough to cast vision to our financial partners to raise the money needed to build a simple house on the mission’s centre in Belem, Brazil. He also moved my Dad and Mom to come and build it with us. Both our family and our Bible translation ministry flourished during the twenty years we lived in this house.

Age 44: I suffered a deep depression, as did Jo, because of intense opposition from elements in the Brazilian government who were against Bible translation work among Brazil’s indigenous people. They expelled all translators from the villages where we worked. I was so discouraged with God’s inaction, I gave up my faith in God. God did not, however, give up on me. He brought into my life a godly pastor who loved me and counselled me weekly for six months. After all his prayers and counsel, I turned back to God, received his forgiveness, and we returned to Brazil where God allowed us to complete the Canela translation project.

Age 55: God led Jo and me to participate in our first ever Marriage Enrichment Seminar. After thirty years of marriage, living far from pastors and counselors, we needed this help. Our marriage improved immensely which turned out to be extremely important since we were both about to enter some very rough waters. But God preserved our marriage in spite of years of heavy leadership responsibilities, much travel and long periods of separation.

Age 66: God put me back into a public speaking ministry. That year I traveled to dozens of cities to speak in churches, conferences, at banquets and other events casting vision for Bible translation, and to recruit workers and raise funds. That year was the first one of ten consecutive years of speaking at a total of 600 events. That same year, God also led the Wycliffe leadership to ask me to publish the writings I had been putting on my blog. They published my first book which led to eventually publishing three printed books and two ebooks.

Age 77: So what is God going to lead me into this year? I can hardly wait to see! It might be the writing of my autobiography. Friends are already making suggestions for a title, like, “You Don’t Know Jack!” I lean towards, “The Life of Jack: Stories That Make God Look Good.

God is good, all the time. I’ll report on what He did this 77th year on my 88th birthday.

Drop Your Phone and Drive!

For thousands of years, great people of God have exemplified the concept, they have practised it, and have given warnings about it, and now the police are saying the same thing.

David the great king of Israel: “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek.” Psalm 27:4 (NIV)

Paul the church planting apostle: “I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing.” Philippians 3:13 (TLB)

James the brother of Jesus: “A double minded man is unstable in all his thoughts and deeds. James 1:8 (GNV)

Police in North America: “Multitasking while driving a vehicle is a crime.” Distracted Driving Law (TSA 115)

The scientific community confirms and illustrates the truth of what they are all saying, “The human mind cannot focus effectively on more than one thing at a time.”

David Rock, in his book, Your Brain at Work, says that thousands of experiments and studies over the past forty years have proved the phenomenon called dual-task interference. In one experiment, a group had to decide and record whether a light flashed on the left or right side of a window. The accuracy of their responses was high, like that of a Harvard MBA. Then a simple extra task was added: to identify if the light was one of three colors. Instantly, their accuracy dropped to that of an eight-year old.

We can, of course, do many purely physical acts at once. Street musicians play a guitar, a harmonica, and a set of drums all at the same time. I used to hike while slashing a path through the jungle with my bush knife. We can even mix physical and mental activity like walking while discussing a topic with a friend. No dual task interference there. On the other hand, I have been guilty of driving right past my exit because I was in the midst of telling a story to my passengers.

I failed because of what Linda Stone, a former Vice-President at Microsoft, calls continuous partial attention. My focus was split. While I told my story, I also had to keep alert for signs of the exit I was to take. She says, “To pay continuous partial attention is to keep a top-level item (my story) in focus, and constantly scan the periphery in case something more important (my exit) emerges.”

By the way, this does not happen when my wife is with me, since as soon as I start a story, she takes over the scanning of highway signs to tell me where to turn.

mugOther studies show that constantly doing two mental tasks at the same time reduces efficiency on both of them by about 50%. So, yes, we can force our brains to do two things at once, but it takes twice as long, or the result is about half as good.

Furthermore, a study done in the University of London found that some tasks requiring short, intense focus, like emailing and text-messaging, when done constantly, reduce mental capability from five to fifteen points on an IQ test which is about the same effect as missing a whole night’s sleep, or smoking pot/cannabis.

God has designed our brains to excel when we concentrate or attention on one mental task at a time. Our culture, however, glorifies multitasking: from the mother in her minivan, juggling a tight schedule while planning what to make for dinner, to the CEO in his office, reading memos, emailing instructions, making decisions, scanning reports, solving problems, all the while keeping his board’s directives in mind.

No wonder so many of us live under a constant sense of threat. We are forcing our brains to be on constant alert increasing our level of stress hormones and reducing our effectiveness.

But we who are Christians do not need to suffer this stress. We can simply obey God’s command, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 (KJV). He is in control. Our greatest personal problem, our relationship with Him, is already solved.

The current crisis facing us, our family, our business, our church, or even Christianity as a whole, is under His control.

We need to stop, ask Him to show us one single thing to do towards solving the crisis, then focus on doing it. Then do the next, and the next. One at a time.

That’s how He designed us to operate.

By the way, if you are reading this on your phone while stopped at a traffic light, and if you are the guy ahead of me . . .

The light is green! Drop your phone and drive!




In Praise of Single Women Missionaries

Because this Sunday is International Women’s Day, my first impulse was to write a long and personally satisfying blog post on the missionary woman who was most important to the Canela Bible translation program: my sweet wife, Jo. But since I reserve my Valentine’s day blog posts for eulogizing her, I will write this one instead:

In Praise of Single Women Missionaries

“We believe you would be a superb missionary, and we would be happy to send you out to represent our denomination on the mission field in Africa, except for two things: you are a woman, and you are not married.”

Johanna, a godly and capable woman who passionately loved her Lord and wanted to advance His Kingdom in the needy places of the world, was disappointed at the board’s decision.

Fortunately for her, for the Kingdom of God, and for tens of thousands of souls in Sudan and Nigeria, a number of individuals in her local church sponsored her ministry privately. They prayed, sent funds, and encouraged her during her years of ministry in Africa. The churches she planted continued to grow so much in strength and number that, seven years after her death in Africa, the denomination’s mission board formally adopted Nigeria as one of their mission fields.

The history of worldwide missions is replete with stories of how God used single women in astonishing ways to grow His Kingdom. Gladys, for instance, evangelized in China and cared for hundreds of orphans before and during the Second World War. Her book, The Little Woman was also made into a movie, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

A generation before, Mary lived and worked in Africa. Her story is the subject of two books; one of which is titled The White Queen of the Cannibals. She astounded Christians back home with matter-of-fact accounts of her death-defying dealings with native peoples.

My wife Jo and I hold single women missionaries in high respect. I remember with joy the gifted single women, though relatively anonymous, who helped us succeed in our linguistic and translation work. We absolutely could not have done it without them.

Patricia, a translator in a related language, calmed our fears that we had made a mistake in identifying seventeen phonemic vowels in the Canela language—there seemed to be far too many. She explained that the language she worked in had sixteen. She helped us to choose letters for the Canela alphabet and write up a clear description of each letter’s sound.

Eunice patiently walked me through the process of sorting out, and writing down, all the knowledge of the Canela grammar system I had swirling around in my head to make it understandable to others linguists.

Margery, after completing her own Bible translation project, painstakingly checked all our translation work, and happily reported that, although she tried, she had not been able to find a single nasty “collocational clash” in Acts. That was twenty-five years ago and although I have now forgotten what a “collocational clash” is, at the time I was enormously encouraged to hear that we did not have any.

Eight year-old Cheryl coaching a Canela adult through the learn-to-read booklet.

Eight year-old Cheryl coaching a Canela adult through the learn-to-read booklet.

Gloria’s knowledge and experience in developing “self-teaching” learn-to-read booklets was invaluable. With her help we made up highly effective illustrated reading primers. Students needed teaching only for the first dozen pages, then they picked up clues about the meaning of the new words and the shape of the new letters from the illustrations to finish the rest of the lessons practically without further help.

Isobel’s enthusiasm and encouragement helped us to produce a series of reading booklets of ever increasing complexity that prepared new readers to read the Scriptures.

Ruth’s commitment to the people group with whom she worked, and her willingness to live with them for months out in the bush without even a hut to call home, rebuked my love of comfort and challenged me to greater personal sacrifice.

Jane tripled my effectiveness when I suddenly found myself as the temporary executive director of the linguistic and translation organization in Brazil. She knew where to get the information I needed to make good decisions. She knew everything and everyone and had the experience I lacked.

A single woman’s life in a foreign land and culture is not easy. Indigenous societies often look down on single women. Naturally, many young women would prefer to marry and have a family. And yet, although they know that it is highly unlikely that they will find a suitable marriage partner on the mission field, they go, impelled by love for God and for His Kingdom.

I praise these women. So does God.