“Only One Thing is Necessary”

It happened in our sixth year of Bible translation service in Brazil and led to clarifying a powerful life habit.

Some very dear friends came from Canada to help do some much-needed construction on the Bible translation centre near the city of Belem. For several months, Jo and I worked well together with them and deeply appreciated their fellowship and work. But one evening, they criticized us quite strongly.

The Criticism.
“Why are you always visiting with other missionaries in your spare time and spending hours at the swimming pool with your kids on Saturday afternoons? Why aren’t you evangelizing the poor people in the slums down the road?” Jo and I could understand why our friends would ask that. They loved meeting the needs of the poor back in Canada. The question led to a long discussion that evening.

Jesus’ Example.
I mentioned the well-known story in Luke 10:38-42 when Jesus answered a criticism of a similar nature. Jesus was visiting his friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and teaching others who came to visit. Mary was sitting nearby listening intently, when Martha came to Jesus and said, “Doesn’t it bother you that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!”

Jesus gave his famous answer, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about so many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Ministry: One Necessary Thing.
For Jo and me, the Canela Bible translation program was the “one necessary thing.” We still had at least fifteen years of work ahead of us before we could present the Canelas with the Word of God in their own language.

Jo and I were the only people in the world assigned to build a literate society and translate the Bible for the Canelas. For us, everything else, even evangelizing desperately needy slum dwellers was secondary. There were other Christians, thousands of them in Belem churches, who could, and did, evangelize the slums.

Jo & Jack, Cheryl, Valorie, Leanne

Family: One Necessary Thing.
But what about Saturday afternoons at the swimming pool with the kids? What is so necessary about that? Well, our daughters routinely lived in a boarding school for two or three months at a time. When we finally returned to the centre, we wanted to spend as much time together as a family as possible. When it came to responsibilities as parents, quality family time was the “one necessary thing” for all of us.

Fellowship: One Necessary Thing.
And visiting with other missionaries? Well, after three months of praying and sharing on a deep level only with your spouse, the need, and joy, of spending time with other believers is impossible to understand unless you have experienced it.

The Question We All Need to Ask.
In Mary and Martha’s situation, Jesus was sitting in their home and teaching those around him. Mary dropped her To Do list and grabbed the unique opportunity to learn personally from Jesus. Our natural tendency may be to act like Martha and live up to cultural expectations by preparing plentiful food for guests. But that may not be the “one necessary thing.”

Each day, in every situation we need to ask ourselves, “At this moment, what is the “one necessary thing” that only I can do?”
Then do it . . . even if it provokes criticism from people you love.

Summer Blogging Break is Over—It’s Story Time Again.

Welcome back to another season of InSights & OutBursts with true-story-based blog posts that may give you a good laugh, or cause you to think, or stir you to constructive action.

A Story-Filled Summer.
I hope your summer was as good as mine was. My wife Josephine and I joined our families for a riverside/ocean beach camping vacation in Oregon during August. God was so good to us. We so much enjoyed the campfire evenings with the stories of what God had been doing in the life of each family member. We especially loved the ministry report stories from Ecuador, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Cambodia, the Ukraine and Orlando, FL from four of our granddaughters.

A Flashback to 1951.
In July I focused on writing sixteen years of memories—from our family’s arrival in Canada in 1950, to my little family’s departure for Brazil in 1966. I wrote about how shy I was as a teenaged immigrant, about being laughed at and bullied in school. I didn’t do well in math but excelled in reading. I learned English rapidly and went through library books the way a fire goes through kindling. When it came to writing stories in English class, I easily kept up with the rest of the students.

Once when each student had to stand up and tell a story to the class, I was the first up and got the most laughs. And the best part was, this time they weren’t laughing at me, but laughing with me. No wonder that I continued to tell stories on the playground,

The First Three Books.
Many years later, I refined my story telling through speeches, sermons, and missionary newsletters. When, in my early fifties, email and the Internet was developed, I wrote weekly story-based articles to send out by email. This was way back in 1995, long before the term “blog” was invented. Readers forwarded these missionary stories and mission insights to others and copied them to reprint in church bulletins and newsletters.

One day I got an email from Wycliffe USA:
“You know those emails you send out. People keep asking us for permission to reprint them in magazines. Please give us permission to print some of these in a book for a wider readership.”

Okay by me. So, in 2006, A Poke in the Ribs was released—fifty-two of my most popular columns. The book sold so well, Wycliffe asked for more columns to put in a second book. A Kick in the Pants was the result. After that, A Bonk on the Head came out.

My Venture into Self-Publishing.
I wanted to balance the physically abusive tone of these titles and self-published a small book, A Tickle in the Funny Bone, a book of humorous stories. The publishing process was not as difficult as I had feared, nor was it too expensive. This first success gave me the courage to publish a larger book: The Why and How of Bible Translation: What Every Christian Should Know but Few Do . . . Very Few.

The Sixth, and Most Popular Book.
Last year, while visiting our California family, our triplet twenty-one-year-old granddaughters had a question for me,
“Grandpa, remember those bed-time stories you used to tell us when we were little? You, know the ones about when you were a little boy in Holland called Hansje? If you write those stories for a book, we’ll help you edit them and draw pictures for each story; we’ll even design the cover.” Hmm, good idea!

A few months later, I finished writing thirty-seven stories and early this year the artists completed the illustrations. This spring I published the first volume of my autobiography, a book of true stories for children, The Misadventures of Hansje: the Boy Who Kept His Guardian Angel Busy.

Its popularity surprised me. It seems adults love to read these stories for themselves, even if they have no small children to read to.

The New BOOKS Page on My Blog.
I just completed a new BOOKS page online describing my six books and giving information and links to buy copies on Amazon. Please check them out on my InSights & OutBursts blog, just click the BOOKS tab and enjoy.

(Some of you who live in isolated locations and usually read my posts only as emails, next time you download your emails, type http://www.jackpopjes.com into your browser to get to my blog and the Books page.)


Announcing Jack’s Summer Blogging Break

Nothing New
As I usually do every summer, (I know it is hard on you raving fans who can hardly wait for my next post) I am taking a summer blogging break. If you really can’t get by this summer without a blog post from me, check out the blog archives www.jackpopjes.com

Writing Break
I’m starting with a week-long writing break, as I did last year. downloading tons of stories from my memory and my diaries to the computer for use in blog posts and books. I’ll be parking our motor home in an isolated area away from phones and disturbances and write steadily for a week. Please pray for Jo while I am gone. Last time I had a break like this she came down with a horrible case of shingles.

Exploration Trip
Also Jo and I will be taking a week or so off to relax and explore areas north of Edmonton, out towards Slave Lake, see the sights and visit museums and converse a lot. I really do love traveling in our little motorhome with the wife of my youth!

Family Vacation
In August we are joining our families in Oregon in a campground to reconnect with our kids and grand kids. In the past few months they have been on studying, working and on ministry trips in all sorts of places, Ecuador, Vietnam, China, the Ukraine, and in darkest Orlando, Edmonton, Chicago Stony Plain, and Los Angeles! We expect to hear tons of stories!

I’ll see you here again in early September with many new stories for InSights & OutBursts! Have a great summer!

The Day the Bottom Fell Out of Everything

The Arrival
It was a Sunday to remember! Jo and I awoke early after a fitful sleep that first night in the main Canela village. Rain woke several times as it blew in through the open holes in the mud walls, still without shutters. We were exhausted after the 4-day, 75-kilometre trip, and from unloading three metal drums and dozens of cardboard boxes from the truck the day before.

Unloading Six Months Worth of Supplies

So Far So Good
I started a fire outside the back door between three large stones to boil water in a black cast iron pot, so Jo could make coffee and breakfast porridge. Our three pre-school daughters were still fast asleep in their hammocks, worn out from days of riding on top of the truckload of cargo. Porridge bowl in hand, I asked some Canela men to bring lots of thin palm canes to make shelves.

The Problem
After setting up our only furniture—six small wooden stools—and building some makeshift shelves and tables, the chaos began. I picked up a box of food and, two steps later, all the food dropped out the bottom scattering on the floor. The same thing happened to Jo with a box of medicines. Huh? What? Then it hit me.

The Explanation
Construction of our mud walled, palm thatch roofed house was still going on the Saturday we arrived, so the packed earth floor was still damp, and the moisture had soaked into the bottom of all the cardboard boxes standing everywhere on the floor. That clarified the problem. But it solved nothing.

No matter how careful we were, the boxes kept coming apart. Rolls of film, bottles of medicine, boxes of pills, stack of paper, books, and packages of soup, everything was loose and mixed up with everything else. Our girls crawled on the floor, picking things up one by one, and sorting them in little heaps on shelves. Shelves! We need more shelves! We couldn’t live there, let alone minister to anyone, until we had created some order out of the chaos.

Genesis to the Rescue
A passage from Genesis 1 popped into my mind. “The earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep.” God looked at the mess and began to create some order. He sorted light from dark, night from day, sky from earth, and land from water. I felt a kinship with my Creator as I sorted my jumbled clutter into separate, orderly piles and stacks of food, medications, study supplies, equipment, and clothes, etc.

More Bible Teaching
“God is not the author of confusion, but of order,” is how Paul summarized his teaching to the church in 1 Corinthians 14:33-40. God constantly creates order. The Israelites leaving Egypt were a confused mob. God created order at Sinai, from there, they marched out in tribes, each in their allotted location. Before Jesus miraculously fed the unruly crowd, he ordered his disciples to make people sit in orderly groups of fifties and hundreds.

The Scientific Principle
Let’s face it, the second law of thermodynamics operates everywhere in the universe, even in the homes of Christians. Disorder tends to increase. Time schedules become skewed, pantry shelves get disorganized, and our good intentions fade away into failure.

On returning home from an extended family visit or ministry trip, it takes Jo and me days to get things re-organized. Critical things like glasses, keys, and power cords hide themselves the moment I turn my back on them.

God’s Will
God wants us to order our lives, so we have regular places and times to work, regular times of sleep, food, rest, and relationships. Frequent times of celebration with others, as well as silence and solitude. Jesus often went off by himself out into the hills to pray, to think, to plan. The Holy Spirit works through order. He blesses others through us when our lives are in order.

When we see an OUT OF ORDER sign on a gas pump or an ATM, we know they are useless. So, what makes us think we can be a source of blessing to anyone if our own lives are in a state of chaos, ready for an OUT OF ORDER sign?

It’s not just about having a place for everything and putting everything in its place. We need to look at every aspect of our lives and ministry for evidences of disorder, confusion and muddle, and create order. Are we punctual, or do others have to wait for us? Do we drive our vehicles in a way that confuses others? Do we have workable and effective routines?

Questions to Ask Before We Act
We need to ask ourselves,“What area of my life bothers me the most? Where has the bottom fallen out of it?”
Then, let’s do what our Creator God did as His first act of creation.
Stop everything, and first, create order out of the chaos.

How To Become a Hero to Your Kids: A Three Step Program

The Screaming
Engine roaring, our one-ton truck jarred, shook and rocked as it laboured up the steep rocky river bank. The screaming and pounding on the cab roof started half-way to the top. “Daddy! Daddy! Stop! Blackie fell off!”

My wife, clinging to her seat beside me, glanced at me but wisely said nothing. It was the afternoon on the third day of difficult travel from our home on the mission centre in Belem, to the Canela village in Brazil. Jo knew I was nearing the end of my ability to cope.

Same truck, different trip. Note blonde head above cab.

I kept going to the top of the bank, then accelerated through a 100-metre stretch of deep sand on level ground. If we slowed down there we would get bogged down and never move again. When we reached a piece of solid ground, I stopped.

The Explanation
I slid out of the cab and walked back along the heavily loaded cargo. Ten-year-old Valorie leaned down from her perch on some boxes and explained:

“Blackie fell off just after we crossed the river. Leanne let go of him when she had to use both hands to hang on.” Wide-eyed youngest daughter Cheryl nodded, saying, “It wasn’t her fault.” Leanne, at the very back was hunched over, crying.

I slogged back through the scorching sand, scrambled down the rocky slope, and saw Blackie near the bottom, lying limply on the sharp rocks. I picked up the much worn, black stuffed toy dog and clambered back up the slope. When I handed the toy up to Leanne, she smiled through her tears and said, “I didn’t think you would stop.”

The Result
That night, I kissed our daughters goodnight as they snuggled into their beds in our mud-walled, palm thatch house. Leanne, holding Blackie with one arm, hugged me tightly around the neck with the other.

“I thought I had lost Blackie forever. But then you stopped and walked all the way back to get him. You are the Best Daddy in the world!”

What I Didn’t Do
So what had I done to become “the Best Daddy in the world”? Spent money? Not a dime. Spent time? A ten-minute walk which is nothing in a three-day trip. Spent time in profound thought and planning? Naw, not a bit. Exercised my sensitivity? Well, maybe a little.

It was, after all, hard to ignore three daughters pounding their fists on the roof of a truck cab, just inches above my head, and screaming, Daddy! Daddy! And then, when I got down and saw a tearstained face and shoulders racking with sobs, even a relatively insensitive lout like me would tend to perceive there might be something going on that needed attention.

What I Did Do
I listened as Valorie explained the problem. Aha! A problem! I’m a problem solver, so this was right down my alley. And so I became, in the opinion of one 8-year-old girl, “The Best Daddy in the world.”

In summary: 1) I noticed something needed attention. 2) I listened as the problem was explained. 3) I used my gifts and abilities to solve the problem and meet the need.

If you are thinking, Hmm, I’m going to follow this simple three-step program, so that on this Father’s day I will be my kid’s hero, here is some more advice:

Advice Some Of Us Need
In this Blackie incident, I didn’t need my wife’s help to sense something needed my attention but usually I need to ask her to help focus my attention on what is needed. I sometimes need her to explain the problem. And when I am really dense, she needs to suggest what I could do about it. You may want to do the same.

Then you act, using your best abilities and gifting, and . . . Tadaa! You become a hero! It doesn’t take a lot to make a deep and lasting impression on a young daughter or son.

When the Situation is Deadly, Dangerous and Desperate.

The Deceptively Quiet Start
It was a quiet evening in the Canela village, half a lifetime ago, when I learned an important lesson. Jo was next door attending the birth of a baby that had been coming since the afternoon. With our three daughters in boarding school in Belem, I had our mud-walled, palm thatch house peacefully to myself for the next hour or two. As I relaxed in my hammock with a book, I thought, I love days when most of the Canelas are away hunting meat for a festival. No one to bother me as I catch up on my reading.

The Birthing Scene
But only ten minutes into my book I heard a kid running towards the house. He burst in through the open back door and shouted, “Your wife wants you to come right now!” I jumped up, ran after him to the house next door, and rushed into the room where a typical Canela birth scenario was unfolding. The young mother-to-be on the pole and mat bed leaned back against her husband who had his arms around her below her breasts ready to tighten and squeeze down when the moment came. A couple of elderly women were taking turns feeling inside her to check the position of the baby. What was not typical was that the mother’s head lolled to one side and her unseeing eyes were rolled up so that only the whites showed.

The Danger
Jo looked at me with deep concern showing on her face and said in English, “Honey, this woman is dying. She is unconscious. I can’t even feel her pulse anymore. She has been in labour too long. She’ll die if we don’t do something.” I checked her pulse on the side of her throat, it was faint and slow. Not a good sign. If she died now the baby would die too, unless I cut her belly open to take the baby out. But there was zero chance of the relatives consenting to let me do that. “ Great Father in heaven, help us!” I prayed in Canela.

The Prayer of Desperation
I also prayed as I ran back to the house, “Lord, give me wisdom and give it now!” I grabbed a flashlight and began to look over the medicine shelves at the scores of bottles, boxes and packages. We had everything from antibiotics to anti snake bite serum, from pills for intestinal parasites and diarrhea, to eye and ear drops. I had no idea what I was looking for.

Suddenly, behind some dental extraction tools and anesthetic, an ampoule stood out, Adrenalin. Hmm, that’s for allergic shock. I remembered. It makes the heart beat faster and stronger. Okay, that’s it! I grabbed the ampoule, a syringe and needle. In the bright light of my flashlight, I drew in one millilitre of adrenalin and ran back to the house. Still praying, I injected the adrenalin into the muscles of her upper arm.

The Waiting
My fingers on the side of her throat, waiting. Ten seconds, no change. Another ten seconds and I felt a slightly stronger beat.

Another twenty seconds and her heart was beating hard and fast. Then her eyes popped wide open, she stiffened, panted, gave a scream and a mighty push. Her husband helpfully squeezed down, everyone shouted encouragement, and within a few minutes, Whump! There was the baby! Whew!

One Week Later

“Thank you, Lord,” I prayed as I walked back home to boil the syringe and needle. “Thank you for focusing my eyes on that adrenaline. Thank You for showing the Canelas You care and answer a desperate prayer for help.”

It’s amazing what we can accomplish in situations where there is nothing to lose. The woman and the baby were going to die. That was sure. We had heard of it happening before. When death is inevitable and near, people will take crazy chances. Nothing to lose, everything to gain.

The Miracles in Desperate Times
God often works his greatest miracles at times of utter desperation. Four lepers were starving outside the walls of a besieged city. “If we sit here, we die” they reasoned. “If we go into the city we die. Let’s go over to the besieging enemy, they might give us food. The worst they can do is kill us and we’re going to die anyway.” Their act of desperation in the end saved the lives of everyone in the besieged city. Read the whole story in 2 Kings 6:24 to 7: 20.

Queen Esther and all the Jews of the Persian empire were facing certain death. Only the emperor could stop the executions. Although Esther was the wife of the emperor, she risked her life if she came to him without being called. But she went anyway, saying, “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” Esther 4:16 (NIV). She was going to die anyway and had everything to gain. Her act of desperation in the end saved the lives of all her people.

It’s amazing what God can do when we call on Him for help in dangerous, deadly situations,and we are ready to act in desperation.