What Does “Thank you” Mean Anyway?

While translating the Bible with the Canela people of Brazil, my wife and I ran into a problem—we could not find a simple word or phrase for the concept carried in English by such words as gratitude, thanksgiving, grateful, thankful, and “Thank you.”

Were the Canelas never grateful? we wondered. And if they were, how did they express it? We knew we had to do some research to find a solution. After all, thanksgiving is a major, basic concept in God’s Word.

We asked ourselves, “What is implied when we say, ‘Thanks’?”
Here is the list we came up with:

  1. I had a need—something I didn’t have, or some action I could not do by myself.
  2. You had what I needed.
  3. You became aware of my need.
  4. You realized you could help me by supplying my need.
  5. You made an effort to give me what I needed.
  6. What you gave to me, or did for me, was good; it perfectly fit my need.
  7. I am now satisfied and happy.
  8. I feel a sense of debt to you.
  9. I acknowledge what you did by saying something to you.

Once we compiled the list we saw immediately how Canelas expressed gratitude. When receiving something they sometimes said, “Ita ahna, impej,” meaning, “It’s right, it’s good,” expressing #6 on the list. When they were very pleased with our gift they would say, “Ate ima hor pyren, ijakry!” meaning “Because you gave it to me, I am happy!” expressing #7.

Other cultures focus on different aspects.
For instance, Brazilians say “Obrigado” meaning “I am obligated to you” expressing #8.
Several cultures say, “I’m terribly sorry” which focuses on #5, the fact that you freely took the time and trouble to meet their need.

Human Babies: The Most Self-Centered Beings on Earth
Expressing gratitude does not come naturally to us. Not surprising since we start life as babies—the most self-centered beings on earth. It is all about our food, our comfort, and our pleasure. As small children, we have to learn that it’s not all about us. We need to learn to be aware of others, to share toys, to await our turn, and to be aware of the rights of other people.

Children need lots of help to learn to feel and express gratitude. Parents know how hard it is to teach their children to say “Thank you.” They constantly model gratitude by saying, “Thank you,” when a child does even the smallest thing voluntarily or in response to a request.

Selfish ingratitude has a history as long as the age of the universe. It started with Satan, the most impressive, beautiful and powerful angel created by God. Satan owed everything he was and all his abilities to God who created him, yet was not thankful. He refused to acknowledge God as superior, the Great Provider, and instead launched an angelic rebellion to usurp the throne of God.

God exiled Satan to earth, where for thousands of years he has polluted the minds and will of people with this same ungrateful attitude. The apostle Paul mentions this to the church in Rome as he describes people under the power of Satan, “. . . they neither glorified God nor gave thanks to Him . . . ” Romans 1:21 (NIV).

Imagine putting yourself out to help a friend, doing things for him, and giving him what he needs, but he takes it all for granted, never expressing gratitude. How long is your friendship going to last? In the same way, how can our relationship with God grow and strengthen if we take Him for granted and fail to thank Him for all that He has done, and is doing for us?

Our Sin: Taking God’s Blessings for Granted
Submerged in an ungrateful culture, it is so easy to take for granted all the things we got as gifts from God—many of them through little work or effort of our own. Think of our physical life and health, our spiritual life and growth, our families and friends, our freedom and affluence, the abilities and opportunities open to us, and especially God’s Word translated in our own language. Millions of people in developing countries would give their right arm to have what we take for granted.

How can we be more thankful?
We could start by taking our eyes off those few people who are richer than we are, and compare ourselves to the 90 percent of the world’s people who, through no fault of their own, are much poorer.

We could continue to compare ourselves with those who are sick and without health care, those who live under oppressive regimes, who have lost their friends and families, who have never had a chance to learn to read, and who have no Bible in their language.

We could share what we have been given with others who are in greater need than we are. Unless we regularly thank and praise God for all that He provides for us, and then go on to share our blessings with others, our ingratitude will lead to increasing selfishness, a hardening of our hearts, and eventually a ruined relationship with the Great Provider.

Canela Christians love to sing a hymn to Jesus with the line, “Acator pyren, me ijakryti!” meaning “Because you came, we are very happy.” Or “Thank You for coming to earth!”

Jesus the Saviour was God’s greatest gift to humanity—well worth thanking Him for and sharing with others.

New Book Being Published this Week
You may remember a small e-book that we published years ago, The Why & How of Bible Translation. We expanded this book by 45% to nearly double its size, now with 52 story based articles. It will be available for purchase on Amazon soon. The article above is included.

The Hope Stream Radio team was so excited to see this book in its earlier format they asked me to record every article in the new, expanded book. I did so and you can listen to this, and several other, articles on this link


What We Want and What We Need

Leanne’s Reaction
Having five granddaughters attending universities reminds me of the time about 35 years ago when we had three daughters in college while Jo and I were finishing the Bible translation program back in Brazil. Our daughter Leanne, a college freshman in Los Angeles, wrote us a letter with the following story:

I was enjoying my new friends as we sat chatting in the dormitory and I was thinking, “I’m starting to fit in,” when one of my friends said, “You really need a swimming pool here in southern California.”

“No, you don’t,” I said, without even thinking about it.  

“Yes, you do,” my friend insisted, “it gets hot here in the summer, and you need a swimming pool in the backyard.” The other girls all chimed in with their affirmations.

“No one needs a swimming pool,” I said, “We need air to breathe; we need water to drink, but no one needs a swimming pool.”

Leanne’s Background
It wouldn’t be the last time Leanne’s life in an indigenous village in the Brazilian jungle collided with the affluent California lifestyle. Growing up in a mud-walled hut, roofed with palm-thatch, drinking smoky-tasting boiled water and eating whatever roots and wild game the Canelas brought to trade with us, doesn’t prepare a young woman to fit well into a college surrounded by peers who grew up in an affluent society.

On the other hand, Leanne, who, as a child, helped physically to bury playmates killed by malaria, tuberculosis and diseases borne by polluted drinking water, brought a different perspective to her college friends, so insulated from the rest of the world. She provided a badly needed reality check between wants and needs.

Jo and I fully understand Leanne’s jungle village-oriented view. But we also understand her California friends. They grew up in the same relative affluence many of us live in right now.

Our Modern Dilemma
Our modernized world brings us unbelievable benefits—things we take for granted our parents grew up thinking of as utter luxuries. We consider our abundance as harmless, even a blessing from God who gave us the power to create wealth. Progress in transportation and communication, for instance, has gone so far, and so rapidly, we now expect to own and use fast, dependable vehicles, and multiple personal devices to keep in touch with each other and keep us entertained.

The material benefits, however, turn into a curse when they come between us and our close relationship with God. They tend to make us believe that we are the centre of our lives. That is the theology of secularism—you and I in the centre of all the physical, here and now, material world, with God somewhere out in the margin, off to the side of our daily lives.

Being Generous with Our Stuff
The best antidote to secular materialism is to practice generosity, giving away at least ten percent of our income to people or services that will not benefit us in any way. Giving to church doesn’t cut it, that is simply giving as a consumer for benefits. We need to give at least ten percent of our income beyond church giving to spread God’s worldwide Kingdom.

We also need to be generous, not just with money, but with the material goods we own, allowing others to borrow the things we own and share them freely with those who need them. I used to have a little sign in my workshop in Brazil that said, “You don’t have to own it to enjoy it.”

All twenty missionary families on the missionary centre lived by that philosophy. We borrowed each other’s tools freely. Jo and I owned 1,000 books. But at any one time, 300 of them were on other people’s bookshelves. Some people owned vehicles, the rest of us borrowed them, keeping track of the mileage and reimbursing the owner for the gas used.

Why God Gives Us the Power to Create Wealth
So why does God bless His people with wealth? David explained it clearly in Psalm 67:1-2, 7.

“May God be gracious to us and bless us . . .  so that Your ways may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations . . . God will bless us, and (as a result) all the ends of the earth will fear Him.”

When we use the wealth that God helps us to earn freely for the purpose He gave it—to spread His Word among the nations, we build up our bank account in heaven.  But when we embezzle and use it only to enhance our lifestyle, it turns into a curse.

Leanne was right, we need air to breathe, and water to drink, but even more than that, we need God’s Message in a language we can understand. Millions of people speaking over 1,600 languages still need to have a Bible in their own language. They really need it.

What Billy Graham Said About Bible Translation

In Memory of Rev. Billy Graham 1918-2018.
The Reverend Billy Graham went to be with the Lord last week, February 21, at the age of 99.

We all know him as one of the most renowned preachers, evangelists and Christian authors of our time, bringing the Good News to multi-millions of people during his lifetime.

Billy Graham, Promoter of World-wide Bible Translation
What is not as well-known, however, is that he was also a strong promoter of world-wide Bible translation. He was a friend of Wycliffe’s founder “Uncle Cam” William Cameron Townsend, and served on the Wycliffe board.

Thirty-seven years ago, at the Wycliffe Jubilee Service celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Cakchiquel Bible translation in 1981, Rev. Graham shared these words about serving in Bible translation:

Billy Graham Urges Christians to Go, Go, Go!
I was thinking today just what you would read about if you were to get out a file of newspapers from the last 50 years and see what the world has called the significant events during that time.

I have no doubt in the annals of heaven that one of the most significant events of the last half-century has been the explosion of Bible translation, which has brought the Word of God to hundreds of tribes and languages.

And much of this is because of the vision and genius of Cameron Townsend. He was a university dropout, with an urgent desire to serve the Lord wherever the Lord should lead him. And this should encourage many of you that are thinking about going into this type of ministry — that God can take a dedicated heart and consecrate it to his service and shape the world.

You have to face squarely how your talents and your gifts and your training prepare you for Christian service. In fact, it might be said that Jesus only had two verbs: come and go. “Come unto me,” and, “Go into all the world.”

Go out quickly into the streets and into the lanes. Go out into the highways and hedges. Go into the vineyard. Go into the village. Go into the city. Go into the town. Go to the lost sheep. Go thou and preach the kingdom of God. Go, go, go, go — go ye into all the world!

If you profess the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, you have that command and you have to face it, and you have to do something about it.

We have been commanded to deliver a message to every one of the four billion people who live on this planet and especially to the hidden peoples with no written language. And we have a responsibility to see that every language has the Word of God written in it.

Current Statistics are Encouraging
In the decades since Billy Graham made this speech, world population has grown to more than 7.6 billion. We now know that there are over 7,000 languages in the world of which 5,300 already have a Bible, a New Testament or an ongoing translation program, leaving 140 million people speaking 1,636 languages that are still without any of God’s Word in their language.

That means that about 98% of the world’s population has at least some hope of hearing or reading some of God’s Word in their own language. It leaves only 2% without anything, and no one yet assigned to start a translation project. Most business people would be satisfied with 98% of market share — but not God!

In Jesus’ story of the ninety-nine-sheep safe in the sheepfold, He focused on the concerned shepherd who searched everywhere to find and bring the one lost sheep to safety. Surely, Jesus wasn’t just talking about sheep, but about the 2% of the world’s population that is still without any of His Word.

As Billy Graham might have said, “Go and find those who are lost in dangerous places, down in linguistic gullies and stuck in cultural brambles, and bring them into the fold!”

A Letter from Brazil

A few weeks ago, I published The Letter from Ireland telling the story of Joe Wright, the Irishman whom God led to start praying for the Canela people in Brazil ten years before Jo and I were born. Sixty-two years later, after twenty-two years of intensive work, we completed the Bible translation program for the Canela. So, what has God done among the Canela since that summer in 1990 when we left?

Jo and I just experienced the truth of the passage, “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country,” (Prov. 25:25) when we received a letter from Brazil a few days ago.

First Some History
During 1991-92, a Swiss couple, Freddi and Helen Frantz, who worked in a smaller Canela village about forty kilometres west of the main village, made sporadic visits to the main village to encourage Bible reading.

For the next ten years an American couple, Dennis and Shirley Ficek, who had worked among the Kraho, a people group closely related to the Canela, moved to the main Canela village and lived in the small house we had left for them. They encouraged believers and promoted Bible reading and prayer.

Then in 2002, sixteen years ago, a German couple, Bernard and Elke Grupp moved into the main village with their young family to live and work there, learning the language, holding Bible classes, and evangelistic services.

In 2009, Jo and I visited the Grupp family in their village location, bringing our whole family – fifteen of us – so our grandchildren could experience for a few days the village where their mothers grew up.

The Church Among the Canela is Growing
I am much impressed with Bernard and Elke’s work. He is highly computer literate and upgraded the Canela dictionary I had left with him. Because of his professional contacts and technical knowledge, The Jesus Film was dubbed in Canela and has been shown numerous times in various villages.

Of course, it helped that the electric power company needed to run some power lines through Canela lands during which time they “electrified” every home in the village. Many Canelas now have cellphones with the Canela Bible downloaded on it. Jo and I were in the middle of the translation project forty years ago. What a lot of things have changed since then!

Bernard & Elke Grupp Family

Highlights from Bernard’s Letter from Brazil
In his recent letter from Brazil, Bernard reported that in January twelve more Canelas gave their lives to Christ: four adults, four young people, and three children. God had to lead one of those adults from alcohol addiction through deep waters of diabetes, hospital and near death, to bring him to Himself. God brought this man and Bernard together in amazing coincidences, riding together in the same vehicle from the hospital; and the man and his family staying in the same house where Bernard often has evening church services when he visits another Canela village.

Just a few weeks ago, after the Sunday children’s program, two twelve-year-old boys came up to Bernard and said, “We want to give ourselves and our sins to Jesus.”

Older believers urge new Christians to listen to the Canela Bible on the Proclaimers – a very popular way of hearing the Bible. Listeners often follow along in their printed Bibles to improve their reading skills. Proclaimers are practically indestructible, can be heard by groups up to 300 people at once, the installed pre-recorded microchip lasts forever, the battery can be charged by the built-in solar panel, or by a windup crank. The device can be recharged enough times to play the entire Canela Bible one-thousand times.

A few weeks ago, Bernard traveled to the village where the Swiss couple used to work and distributed another sixteen Proclaimers. Canelas like to take their Proclaimer with them when they travel up to fifteen kilometres away to work in their fields so that they can listen to Scriptures in the evenings.

At the end of January, the Brazilian Bible Society began producing an attractive illustrated version of the Canela Bible for children. We praise God for this publishing project and ask His blessing on it.

Jesus is building His Church among the Canela and it is constantly growing. Almost every email we receive from Bernard and Elke tells of more baptisms. Several years ago, the Canelas decided to build a church building, a strong, rainproof and fireproof building that would last. Some of our family and financial partners helped purchase materials for this building.

Jo and I are so thankful that we can see and hear of the spiritual and physical results of our long-ago work. Yes, we sometimes get thirsty for good news, and this Letter from Brazil was the cold water to quench our thirst.