Cross-Cultural Missions is Contagious

Last week’s post with the tongue in cheek title, The Romance of Foreign Missions, showed how missions is worth it. It turns out, missions is also contagious.

Raising Multi-Cultural Children
As a family involved in cross-cultural foreign missions, Jo and I with our three daughters lived for decades in three different cultures: English speaking missionaries on the mission centre, Portuguese speaking Brazilians everywhere, and Canela speaking native villagers where we lived for three to six months—a culture utterly different from anything else we had ever experienced.

Our three daughters fully identified with our work in linguistics, literacy and Bible translation. Even as small children they helped us by sorting slips of paper with Canela words that would someday become the dictionary. As they grew up they learned to speak Portuguese and some Canela and were active in indigenous ceremonies, dancing and singing. They also helped adults learn to read pointing at the words in the learn-to-read booklets with toothpicks and sounding out each syllable. We were not surprised, therefore, to see the effect of their personal experience in cross-cultural missions show up in our daughters’ families where missions was a high priority.

Three daughters, two sons-in-law, five granddaughters, and three grandsons.

Three daughters, two sons-in-law, five granddaughters, and three grandsons in the Canela village, Brazil, 2009.

Family Missions Experiences

  • One of our daughters and her husband lived and worked in Japan for two years as teachers of English as a second language.
  • Another daughter and her pastor husband have made missions trips to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, India and are currently in Cuba, teaching and preaching for two weeks.
  • Four of our grandchildren studied at a Christian school where every high school student goes on a missions work trip to Guatemala before he or she graduates. Our youngest grandchild is going next year.
  • As young children, our other four grandchildren accompanied their parents on missions trips to an orphanage in Mexico every year for seven years.
  • Later, they went with them to Pakistan, another time to Thailand, and once to Zimbabwe, Africa.
  • Two of our daughters took their families to Mexico for a week to help build houses.
  • Our entire family—fifteen of us—traveled to Brazil and visited the Canela one summer.
  • Another daughter’s son worked with Wycliffe in Jamaica for nine months. His wife recently completed a two week missions trip to Antigua in the West Indies.
  • One granddaughter is currently in Tanzania, Africa working as a volunteer on the Logos Hope ship for two months.
  • Several family members have been super generous in their financial support of missions.

(Oh, and I was in Winnipeg, Manitoba for five days recently. No, not to do missions, but to speak at a church missions conference.)

Two Major Results
The Kingdom building work accomplished on these trips made a positive impact on the people our extended family served. That is an obvious and major benefit. But there is another side to the story.

Our family members too, were impacted. No, not just by the tropical bacteria and parasites that I described in last week’s post, but by the life stretching experiences, and the joy that comes from obeying Jesus’ direct command to all His people,

“Go everywhere in the world. Tell the Good News to everyone” (Mark 16:15 ERV)

The Romance of Foreign Missions Work

Unwelcome News
On this day, February 11, 1976, exactly forty years ago, our family received some unwelcome news. We were living in Kelowna, British Columbia, on furlough after nine years of missionary service in Brazil.

Our doctor said, “The results of the Mantoux tuberculin skin test shows your whole family has been in contact with active tuberculosis.”

No surprise there. At least a dozen of our Canela friends in the village where we lived in Brazil had died of tuberculosis in the previous four years. But then he told us that Valorie and I had tested positive for the presence of mycobacterium tuberculosis. Mine was encapsulated and dormant, but Valorie had an active case of tuberculosis for which he prescribed a medication to take daily for one year.

Our doctor was the envy of his colleagues in the clinic, since none of them had ever diagnosed and treated an active case of tuberculosis. The disease was nearly eradicated in Canada with the introduction of the BCG vaccine for infants in the 1940s, occurring only in some aboriginal groups and among foreign born Canadians.

The doctor’s joy was complete when the following week all five of us were diagnosed with infestations of a parasitic bloodsucking hookworm, a tropical disease that explained our tendency towards anemia.

The Romance of Missions
I think of those diagnoses whenever someone tells me, “Oh, you have lived such an interesting life!” Others even talk about the “romance of foreign missions”.

I freely admit, our family has lived an extraordinary life. Yes, it was interesting. But “the romance of missions”? Tell that to the apostle Paul who was shipwrecked three times, traveled constantly, worked so hard he went without sleep, was often hungry and thirsty, without adequate clothes, and lived under the constant knowledge that he had a message people desperately needed to hear.

Except for the shipwrecks (unless you count car accidents), Jo and I have experienced all the others, plus a smorgasbord of tropical diseases, and, let me tell you, there is nothing romantic about it!

It’s Worth It
But it’s worth it! Oh yes! We would do it again. For sure. The need is great. The command is clear. The promise of Jesus’ presence with us can be trusted. And Jo and I have had the privilege of seeing first hand the spiritual results of our work among the Canela people.

We have seen family attitudes turn from envy and selfishness to love and cooperation. We have heard Canelas singing their Creator’s praises with Bible based hymns in their own musical system. And we have celebrated an exploding interest in education, avid Bible reading and memorization.

2015-07-15b Kirche Richtfest (11) - KopieLately, the missionaries who are currently working with the Canela report numerous baptisms. And, even though Jo and I never as much as mentioned ever doing such a thing, the whole Canela community, on their own, decided that they wanted a permanent, brick-walled, tile-roofed church building right in the village circle. It was built this past summer.

It’s symbolic, forty years after the Canelas first heard His name, and twenty-five years after they received His Word in printed form, Jesus is in the village to stay. Cross-cultural foreign missions may not be romantic, but yes, it is worth it!

Work: A Curse or a Gift?

The Joy of Making Candy
“Wow! This stuff tastes good! And it’s so easy to make!” I was a twelve-year-old recently arrived immigrant kid and watched in amazement as one of my friends melted sugar in a frying pan and made a batch of peanut brittle. It was perfect! I wrapped up a few pieces to take home, and couldn’t wait to teach my mom the fun of candy making.

The Joy of Creating Earth
This is a little like what happened during the time of Creation. First God worked to create the Earth for people to live on. When He checked out the results and found them to be perfect, He couldn’t wait to teach Adam how to work creating beauty in the Garden He had planted. God enjoyed His work of creation and He wanted to share the work with Adam so he could enjoy creative work too.

Sewer ManholeThe Stinky Work
Of course, not all work is as enjoyable as creating Earth or making peanut brittle. As a teenager in the mid-1950s I regularly climbed into sewer manholes and worked for hours with decaying sewage lapping over the tops of my rubber boots, trying to unplug a clogged pipe. My bare hands and arms were covered with putrid filth as I shoved and pushed hinged rods far into a dribbling pipe then turned and pulled, twisted and yanked them out, ready to jump aside as the sewage finally poured out.

In comparison, the work of digging up a large part of the back yard for planting potatoes in early spring was a soft job, even though raising vegetables was singled out for a special curse after Adam’s disobedience.

Work a Curse?
So is work itself a curse? No. The ground was cursed so that it would bring forth weeds and make it harder to cultivate and reap a good crop. But work itself is not a curse. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15 NIV) So Adam was at work, taking care of the Garden God Himself had worked to plant. All this happened before Adam sinned and God cursed the ground.

God Works
The Bible is clear that God worked to create the universe and He is still at work. When Jesus was criticised for healing a man on the Sabbath, He replied, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too am working.” (John 5:17 NIV) If God is at work, and He created Adam to work, and Jesus worked, then how can work be considered a curse?

God has given all of us the capacity to work, develop skills, build, invent, or grow something. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) “It is God who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” (Deuteronomy 5:18 NIV)

The Joy of Work
Some of my work is to speak to groups about the why and how of Bible translation. Once when I had just finished a speech to an audience of nine hundred delegates at a national Gideon convention, the organizer handed me a generous honorarium cheque. As I was putting the cheque safely away in an inner pocket, I told him, “You Gideons and we Wycliffe Bible translators share the same passion to provide God’s Word to everyone. I enjoy speaking to people like you so much I’m almost ready to pay you for the privilege!”

Work: A Gift from God
I confess, I cannot recall singing joyful praises to God while I worked at those stinky jobs during my teenage years. Although one time I did thank Him for sparing my life when a ditch caved in and buried me in muck up to my neck. But, when the pipe was unplugged or a break was repaired, even that stinky work gave me a certain amount of satisfaction.

Starting at the bottom, literally, taught me that there is no honest work that is not a gift from God, the first Worker.