Really? I Had No Idea!

The First Story
Jo and I got a big surprise a few weeks ago when we spoke at a missions’ conference in a church near Carstairs, AB. A couple took us to their home for Sunday lunch during which I asked them to tell us their story. “I went to Bible school fulltime to prepare for cross-cultural missionary work” the husband said, “and my wife took classes part time.”

He then listed a number of ministry activities they had been involved in, as well as some startling ups and downs in their lives during which they experienced one astounding answer to prayer after another.

The surprise came when they told us that this call into full-time Christian service came one Sunday when they heard us speak in a small mountain town church about the Canela and our work there. Since they were new Christians, I was the first speaker they heard in church other than their pastor.

First Furlough Prayer Card Picture

First Furlough Prayer Card Picture

God used our stories to lead them to get training, and begin a life of ministry. The clincher came when we figured out this happened in our first furlough forty-four years ago! We had no idea that God had used us to point the way to ministry for them.

The Second Story
It reminded me of the day I was waiting for my flight in an airport, five years after we had completed the Canela work and returned to Canada. A man sitting nearby leaned over and asked, “Are you Jack Popjes?”

I admitted I was, and he said, “I last saw you in 1966 when you spoke at a church in Calgary telling us you and your family were about to leave for Brazil to learn an indigenous language and translate the Bible into it. I was a teenager at the time and after I heard you, I gave my life to God for full time ministry.”

He went on to tell me that he had gone to seminary, had just completed twenty-five years as a pastor in one church and was now on his way to start ministering in another church. He had kept track of Jo and my translation work among the Canela through our newsletters.

How Many Others?
Again, I had no idea that God had used Jo and me, thirty years before, to call this young man into ministry. I wonder how many other times God used us to impact people to make major life decisions. It appears God had other, more hidden ministry for Jo and me to do besides the obvious one of translating the Bible for the Canela people of Brazil.

Future Joy
One of the joys of eternity for God’s sons and daughters will be when meet people who were blessed by God through what we said, what we did, and how we lived our lives.

And what will be just as exciting is to finally meet people whom God used to impact me for good. I have, of course, thanked those I know personally, but there are also authors of articles and books I want to thank. I’m sure there will be a long line-up of people to talk with C.S. Lewis. Of course, in eternity waiting will not be a problem.

I especially look forward to thanking the first Bible translators, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They not only recorded the life of Jesus and all the stories He told so that the whole world could learn about Him, they also translated everything from Aramaic to Greek. And the principles of translation that they practiced are still followed by Bible translators today.

The Final Take-Away
It’s kind of scary to think that you and I are constantly influencing people, by our passion, by our words, and by our actions, yet most of the time we don’t even realize it.

May we all be the kind of people whom God uses to challenge others, to inspire, and impact people in positive ways.

A Routine I Developed as a Writer that is Practical for Any Christian

I’m a writer, and I want to share something with you which I learned as a writer.

“But I’m not a writer” you may be saying, as your finger stretches toward the Delete button. Wait a minute! It’s something I learned as a writer but it is practical for any Christian.

The Effort
All believers need to grow and develop in their spiritual lives. This doesn’t happen without effort; beside worshiping and interacting together with other believers, we need to study the Bible, read the spiritual insights of other Christians, and pray—disciplines which are often practiced privately.

No one decides on the weekend that he will be a surgeon, and goes to work on Monday operating on people. In the same way, when we began to follow Jesus, we did not immediately become mature, wise believers. That takes much learning and prayer, all of which take time.

The Time & Place
Even though I had many stories I wanted to write, I found that I could never find time to write them. Then I realized I could make time. Here’s how to make time to study, read and pray.

You don’t make the time by adding your Bible study to your To Do list because To Do lists don’t work. You need to schedule it. When I put my writing time into a daily schedule, at a set time, I began to write. You can do the same with Bible study.

And when you make time, you need to make a place as well. Productive writers and Bible students know that time and place tend to be connected. It has to do with what actors call body memory.

The Body Memory
Actors don’t just memorize and practice their lines in isolation. Everything they say and do is connected to what they said and did before—the actions they are performing, the direction they are facing, and their location on the stage. When I was on 25-city speaking tours, I would repeat the same 30-minute speech—word perfect, and move about the stage in exactly the same way each time. My body memory kept me on track with my words, and when I walked onto the stage, I started speaking instantly without hesitation.

The same is true for us Bible students. Once we have developed the habit of studying, reading and praying every day at a fixed time and in a fixed place, our body memory will start us instantly. We sit, we open the Bible and instantly start focused reading.

readingThe Variety
Making a time and setting a place will depend on each of our individual life circumstances. At a certain time, we go to a specific place—a room, a work station, a table in a corner, a chair, the back seat of a car—and after a few dozen times there, it becomes the place where we study. The moment we sit down and open our Bible, or devotional book, our minds and our bodies are ready for action.

I tend to get up an hour before my wife does. I make myself a fresh cup of coffee, take a handful of roasted almonds and sit in a recliner chair. While my laptop boots up, I eat a few almonds and have my first sips of coffee. Then I write my diary entry for the previous day, study some Scripture, and write a prayer after which I plan the day’s schedule and pray through it.

The Sacrifice
No matter when or where we study, read and pray regularly, one thing is sure: to make time we will need to sacrifice something else. I go to bed early, cutting back on leisure reading and television, so I can get up earlier to study and write.

When we plan a serious conversation with someone, we set a quiet, private place and time. I do the same thing when I converse with myself as a writer. And when we read God’s Word, and converse with Him in prayer, we need to follow the same pattern—set a distraction free time and place.

It’s the way He designed us to live, to work, and to learn.

The Solution God Provided


Last week I left you with a cliff-hanger, How are Jack and Jo going to translate “Jesus is the Lamb of God” when the Canelas have no concept of sacrifice? How will they ever understand the idea of Jesus offering Himself to suffer the death mankind deserved?

Here’s the rest of the story. Years passed as we translated other parts of the Bible, developed more learn-to-read materials, and prayed for a solution. The solution came when we returned from a furlough in Canada, arriving in the middle of a major Canela festival.

The Festival
Hundreds of Canelas were gathered in the central hub of the village. About fifty young women stood shoulder to shoulder in a long line singing and dancing. The dance and song leader shook his rattle energetically, stomping out a good strong beat. Dozens of young men, their bodies painted in red and black, waved spears and clubs above their heads as they danced and showed themselves off to the young women. The old men sat in small groups, smoking, chewing and spitting. The older women sat behind the line of dancing women, and gossiped. I dashed here and there taking pictures. It was so good to be back!

Suddenly I noticed one of the elders jogging very determinedly from his house down one of the radial paths towards the center hub. He was chanting loudly, and carried a muzzle loading shotgun. When he arrived in the midst of all the merriment, he pointed his gun into the air and BLAMM!!

Instant silence. Everyone stopped and looked at him. He handed his gun to another elder, then, waving his clenched fists, he started to rant. I heard words like Lazy! Good for nothing! Disobedient! and I thought, Oh, oh, some of this old uncle’s nephews are really going to get it. I had seen this ritual before.

The Punishment
At the end of his rant, he stepped into the crowd, grabbed one of his nephews by the arm and pulled him back to the open centre where everyone could see them. He said nothing, just looked the young man in the eye, then stomped heavily on his foot. The nephew winced and limped away.

I had seen uncles punishing nephews in a variety of ways, by lifting them up by their hair, rubbing peppers in their mouths and even putting stalks of sawgrass in their nephews armpit and jerking it out. Ouch!

I had witnessed this traditional Canela method of publicly shaming and punishing on other occasions. But then something happened that I had never seen before.

The Substitute
The uncle had just led another nephew out of the crowd and was about to yank him off his feet by the hair, when suddenly a young woman ran up out of the dancing line, stepped in front of the nephew and faced the uncle.

kritxwyThe uncle looked her in the eye and grabbing the hair on both sides of her head, yanked upwards several times, making her jump. She winced in pain and walked teary eyed back to her place in the dancing line where she stood rubbing her scalp, while the young man turned and walked freely back to his group. After that, no matter who the uncle tried to punish, some young woman ran out of the dancing line and took the punishment for him.

I knew what the relationship was between each of these young men and the young women. It was called the kritxwy [kreet-TSWUH] meaning ritual substitute—a person assigned to stand in for someone else. Every Canela has a kritxwy partner. Even I have one.

Once during a ceremony on the plaza it was my turn to sing and I forgot some of the words of the long song. When I faltered, I stepped aside and my kritxwy stepped up and finished my song.

Over the years I had seen this happen scores of times in all sorts of social situations, but I had never seen a kritxwy take the punishment for their partner. But when I saw that, I couldn’t wait to get back to the translation desk and translate all those passages that, for years, I had put aside.

The Result
The next day I came to the central hub and told the group of elders gathered there, Jesus Cristo pe mepahkritxwy, ne tamari mepancwyrjape ty! “Jesus Christ is our Kritxwy and it was He who died in our place!”

When we began using this term to describe Jesus and what He had done for them, it was like a bomb went off in the village. The Canelas suddenly began to realize who Jesus was, and many decided to follow Him.

God Himself had imbedded this redemptive analogy right in the culture and rituals of the Canelas many centuries before. He did this because He has always loved the Canelas and wanted them to know Him.

And now you know the rest of the story.