Halloween, the Celebration of Fear

This week, fear-inducing scenes surrounded us. Figures of demons, devils and ghosts startled us as we walked in the mall, ducking to avoid spider filled cobwebs hanging in doorways. Theatres advertise horror films, Halloween costume parties are replete with vampires, witches and warlocks. It’s Halloween, the yearly celebration of things we fear.

We usually think of fear as a negative emotion. Jesus kept telling His followers, “Don’t be afraid.” But there is also a positive side to fear. 

Fear Is Not Always Negative
Our bodies are important to us therefore we dread suffering a crippling accident or debilitating disease. That’s why we fear, or at least profoundly respect, loaded firearms and powerful machinery, why we look both ways before crossing busy streets, and why we submit to the doctor’s probing during our annual medical check-up. These fears motivate us to actions that keep us alive and well.

What we Fear Shows What We Value
One of the most positive aspects of fear is that it helps us to understand ourselves better. What we dread shows us what we value. To determine what things I value the most, I recently listed some of the things that frighten me the most.

  • I fear committing “moral lapse” sins. I hear of fellow Christians speakers and writers who, through pride, abuse their power as communicators. Others, through greed and envy, embezzle ministry funds. Others, through lust and gluttony, sin by inappropriate sexual conduct, overeating or drunkenness. I value my fellowship with God and my reputation with those who know me. I value being respected by my wife, my family, and my colleagues. I value my public ministry as a speaker, writer and former Bible translator.
  • I fear suffering a crippling physical or mental injury or disease. I value being able to exercise choices and options. I hate being boxed in. I value serving God with my mind and body. I also value physical comfort and freedom from pain.
  • I dread messed up relationships with my family, friends, and colleagues. I value our interdependence, helping each other to succeed. I value mutual respect and appreciation.
  • I fear poverty. I value having the financial resources to live where I need to live, to travel to places of ministry, and to meet my needs and those of my family and of my ministry.
  • I cringe at the thought of losing all my computer data, my creative writing, personal history, my fifty-plus years of daily diaries, a lifetime collection of photos, etc. I value the written record of what I have done and experienced in the past because I constantly tap into it for my writings.
  • I fear that our children and grand-children and their spouses may lose their close relationship to God, drifting into low moral and ethical behaviour, or suffering major losses of health or relationships. My prayers for my wife and our extended family touch on these fears. I agree with the old apostle John who wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 JN 4)

So What?
During this Halloween week, let’s remember that no matter what happens to our bodies, our finances, or our goods, our soul is infinitely more important. As children of God we can sing, “Though trials should come . . . It is well with my soul.”

Unfortunately, hundreds of millions of people continue to live in fear, beset by Satanic forces. They don’t know that Jesus, the Son of God, has overcome Satan. They have never heard Jesus say, “Don’t be afraid.” They never will hear, unless we, His children, translate His Word into the language each group understands best.

 

The Canela Creation Story.

Long ago, life on earth was wonderful. Food was plentiful and easy to gather. Palms were not tall like they are now, but short, and their fruits and nuts could be plucked easily. Field-making and gardening tools like axes, machetes, and hoes didn’t need anyone to handle them; they worked by themselves.

One day Sun and Moon came to earth, to populate the earth with strong, beautiful people, and to set precedents that would benefit these descendants. Sun’s super-power was knowledge. He knew the purpose for their coming to earth and knew what Moon needed to do.

Moon’s super-power was to set patterns. Whatever Moon did would last forever.  Moon, however, depended on Sun to tell him what to do and what not to do. Unfortunately, Moon liked to do things his own way, even if it meant disobeying Sun.

Sun wanted to keep Moon from destroying the good life. “Don’t ever abuse any palm,” Sun said. “And don’t ever stare at the field tools working by themselves.” One afternoon, while Sun was napping, Moon picked some fruit from a palm, ate it and found it delicious.  The next fruit he picked, however, was hard and dry, so he threw it angrily against the trunk of the palm.  Immediately all the palms grew to enormous heights. Moon knew he had done wrong.

Moon then followed the sound of axes chopping. Instead of glancing at the tools and then walking away, Moon walked right up to where the tools were working by themselves. As soon as he stepped out into the open and looked at the tools, all the tools fell lifeless to the ground. Moon knew he had done wrong.

When Sun woke up, he soon saw the tall palms and the tools lying on the ground. He confronted Moon about his bad behavior. Moon kept lying, “I didn’t do anything.”

But Sun insisted, “Why do you go about setting bad precedents? Now our future descendants will suffer and have to work hard to make tools work.”

Sun showed Moon how to make children. Sun walked into a deep pool of water and carefully clapped his cupped hands on the water. Immediately a strong, handsome Canela son rose up. He did it again, and up came a beautiful Canela daughter. Moon jumped into the pool too but just splashed about in the water any old way. Up came an ugly, black-skinned, kinky-haired sons, and ugly pale-skinned children with blonde hair, and weird-looking daughters with slanted eyes.

Sun was very displeased with the patterns that Moon was establishing. One day Moon asked Sun, “What will happen to our children when they die?”

“They will be like this,” Sun explained, picking up a long, thin plant stalk, very light like balsa wood. He speared it down into the deep water. It went completely under the water, but being light, it popped back out of the water and floated. “They will die, but very soon they will come alive again,” Sun said.

“Okay,” Moon said, “So that is what will happen. And before Sun could stop him, Moon picked up a large stone and threw it into the deep pool. It sank to the bottom and stayed there.

“Oh, why did you do that?” Sun scolded him. “Why are you always doing exactly the opposite of what I do? Now you have set a precedent for our children. When they die, they will stay dead!”

“It’s because I am all wrong and twisted in my thinking,” Moon lamented. “My way of thinking and living is all wrong. But now it is too late to change anything.”

“Let’s go back to our houses,” Sun said to Moon. “We’ve been down here long enough.” They ascended to the sky and stayed there forever, never thinking about their children or returning to earth again.

When Jo and I accepted the Canelas’ invitation to come and live with them fifty years ago, we never heard a Canela pray. Why should they? Their Creator had abandoned them.

When we translated the first few chapters of Genesis, the Canelas immediately identified the actions of Adam with those of Moon. “Adam disobeyed the Creator, and that is why things are in such a mess on earth.”

When they read the translation of 1 Corinthians 15:22, “Because of what Adam did we all die, but because of what Jesus did, all will be made alive,” they immediately equated Adam with Moon. And what’s more, they exclaimed, “So our Creator did not abandon us. He sent His Son Jesus to set new patterns and make things right!” That’s when they started to pray to their Creator. They now call Him Pahpam, Our Father.

This story is a Redemptive Analogy. God has embedded analogies to illustrate some aspect of redemption in every culture’s myths, legends, customs or language.

“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.

The PE and TE Puzzle

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

I wish we had taken Mark Twain’s philosophy to heart way back at the beginning of our Bible translation and linguistic research work in Brazil. If we hadn’t been so sure, we would not have made such a big mistake. Here’s the story:

The Discovery
In the first year of studying Canela, back in 1968, we made the interesting discovery that Canela verbs seemed to have two past tenses—one to indicate the recent past, the other the distant, long ago past.

Here is an example showing the differences in CAPS:

  • When a hunter returns from a successful deer hunt, he would say,
    Wa iTE po curaN = I past deer kill = I killed a deer.
  • When he sat by the fire telling stories of previous hunts, he would say,
    PE wa po cura = distant-past I kill deer = Long ago I killed a deer.

The immediate past always seemed to use the longer form of the verb, curaN instead of cura as well as a little word TE preceded by a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd-person prefix.
All the legends and myths of long ago started off with PE and the shorter form of the verb, cura.
It was a very clear, easy-to-see distinction. It had to be easy, of course, since we would never have discovered it so soon in our research if it had been difficult.

During the next few years, we wrote and published some learn-to‑ read booklets and printed well-known legends for the Canelas to practice reading. We even published a beautiful 150-page illustrated Life of Christ book. Naturally, since Jesus lived long ago, we used the distant past time marker, PE and the shorter form of the verbs.

The Problem
There was only one thing that bothered us. Once in awhile the Canelas told us stories about things that happened in the distant past. And there – right in the middle of all the distant past PEs – would be a string of regular past TEs. But, we had other, more confusing aspects of the Canela language to study, so, thinking that maybe the storyteller had slipped and made a mistake, we decided to concentrate on these more complicated aspects and leave the PE-TE problem for some other time. Bad decision!

Several years later we participated in a linguistic workshop taught, as usual, by a Ph.D. linguist. “What aspect of the Canela language are you going to study?” he asked. “Well,” I replied, “We should probably get this little PE-TE problem cleared up before we go on to more important things.”

The Research
He agreed, gave us some instructions, and we equipped ourselves with some highly sophisticated linguistic tools – two highlighter pens, one orange and one blue. We then coloured our way through a huge stack of distant-past stories. All the distant-past PEs and short verbs we circled orange and all the inexplicable TEs and long verbs we circled in blue. By the end of the day, we realized the problem was not rare at all. Every single one of the stories started off in orange, turned blue towards the middle and then went back to The Solutionorange at the very end.

So, we sat down with our linguistic consultant and asked the important linguistic question; “Why do these orange stories turn blue?” After many days of pondering, praying, and testing, we got the beginning of an answer.

The Solution
It turned out that in stories set in the distant past, the orange parts, the ones with PEs and short verbs, tended to be descriptions, settings, bits of explanation, background information, and summary, etc. The blue parts, those with the TEs and long verbs were the important story-lines, the main actions, and the climax.

What an eye-opener! We were very glad for the break-through, but were sad to realize that our beautiful Bible-story book was orange from cover to cover. All background, all settings, all description, all supporting explanation. No main actions, no vitally important things happening. No climax, not even in the story of our Lord’s resurrection!

The Prevention
Linguist-Bible translators don’t need to make these types of mistakes anymore. In the past forty-five years, vast amounts of linguistic research have been gathered and are now taught at places such as the Canada Institute of Linguistics (CanIL). A summer training session will be held in Trinity Western University. Check it out here https://www.canil.ca/summer/

 

How God Stamped His Word “Holy” to the Canela

The Problem
Each time I told a story to the Canelas about Jesus performing a miracle they told me a story of the great exploits of some Canela culture heroes from their legends and myths. We tried to tell them that the stories from the Bible were special, true, real, and unique. They were Holy, having to do with God. They didn’t get it. We prayed – a lot.

Then it got worse. The Brazilian government changed, and the new officials refused to renew the permissions missionaries needed to live and work among indigenous peoples We found ourselves exiled from the Canela village. We prayed – a lot.

The Permit
We kept on working on the mission centre in the city, completing seven easy-reading booklets and the books of Luke and 1&2 Thessalonians. When the newly printed books arrived, we made a formal request to the government to visit the village and deliver the nine books. We prayed – a lot.

We praised God when we received a notice that permission had been granted but with exceptions. I flew to Sao Luis to see the government official. He gave me the permit and asked me to read it. I noticed that although we were allowed to leave the seven reading booklets in the village, the books of Luke and 1&2 Thessalonians were excluded. I had to sign a promise that I would not leave the books of sacred Scripture in the village.

I took my pen, shot up a prayer to God to work this out in His own way, and signed the document. On my return to the centre I told my missionary colleagues, and we prayed – a lot.

The Excitement
The next day, John, a fellow missionary, and I loaded a steel drum with seventy sets of books packed in plastic bags onto his pickup truck and left for the Canela. Several days later the Canelas received us with great joy since it had been several years since we were there. Their joy turned into wild excitement when they saw the seventy-five parcels of nine books in their language. The chief and elders immediately ordered me to the village central plaza and report.

I showed them each of the seven reading books. The elders were pleased to see several of their favourite legends in print as well as the health and hygiene booklets. When I finished, the chief pointed to the two remaining books, the Scripture books. “What about those books?” he asked.

“Oh, those are different. I can’t leave them here.”

“Why not? What are they about?”

“One is about Jesus, the Son of God, when He lived on earth long ago. And the other is the counsel of Paul. He was one of the elders of the Jesus group.”

“Well, you can at least tell us what is in those books,” the chief said.

The Explanation
So, for the next hour I gave an overview of the life of Jesus, reading excerpts from Luke, then read parts of Paul’s letter.

“We really want those books!” the chief exclaimed, “Why can’t you leave them?”

I explained about the government permission and that I had promised not to leave the Bible books. “I will leave them with my friend Sr. Duca in town,” I said, “You can go there and pick them up and bring them in yourselves.”

The Canela elders were not pleased with that idea at all. “It’s seventy kilometres to town,” they said, “it’s a two-day walk and two days back.

“Do those government people have these stories in their language?” the chief asked.

“Yes, they have. These stories about Jesus were translated into Portuguese hundreds of years ago. All Brazilians have been able to read them for many generations.”

“Then, why won’t they let us have them?” the chief exclaimed. “Why can’t we read those books and choose for ourselves if we want them or not? They did!”

“Just leave them here,” one of the elders advised, “We won’t tell anyone you did.”

“No, I’m sorry, I can’t do that,” I said, showing them my copy of the document, “I promised the government chief that I would not leave them here and signed his paper.”

The Chief’s Anger
Suddenly the chief sprang up, pulling his machete from its sheath. He laid the sharp edge on his forearm, and, with his face inches from mine, shouted, “If I cut my arm what comes out? Blue stuff? No! Red blood. We Canelas are human beings just like those city people! Why do they treat us as if we aren’t people? Why can’t we have what they have had for a long time?”

I couldn’t answer, and we sat quietly for a while. Suddenly the chief said, “The counsel will talk about this some more, and in the morning, we’ll tell you what we have decided.” So, John and I went to our house in the village, and we prayed – a lot.

Making the Transfer Outside the Gate

At sunrise on the central plaza the chief gave us his orders. “Put all those books back into that steel drum. Load it onto your truck and drive back up the road twenty kilometres through the gate where the Indian land ends. My son will follow you on the government tractor. He will bring the drum back on the tractor and distribute the books. That way you will have kept your promise to the government, but our seventy readers will have all the books.”

God’s Solution
And that’s what was done. We heard later that the first books everyone wanted to read were, of course, the special books, the forbidden ones. Our prayers were answered!

It was a clear example of Psalm 76:10, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee” (KJV) when God used the government’s prohibition to draw attention to the uniqueness of His Word. From then on, the Canelas treated the Bible stories as special, true and unique.

When, ten years later, the partial Bible was published it was called, Pahpam Jarkwa Cupahti Jo Kahhoc. The Book of God’s Highly Respected Word

The Easter Confusion

It happened during an Easter Sunday service, fifteen ago, but it made such a powerful impact on me I still remember it with awe.

While I served as executive director of Wycliffe Caribbean, I was away from home most weekends and preaching in churches. One Easter Sunday in Trinidad, however, I had no speaking engagement, and walked to a nearby church.

Since I had visited a few times and preached there once, the usher recognized me and seated me in the front pew, next to the pastor and his wife. After a rousing time of musical worship and celebration, the pastor introduced the special visiting speaker, the president of the denomination.

The Invitation
“But before our president brings the message,” he said, “I’d like to welcome our brother Jack Popjes from Wycliffe. Jack, please come up and bring a few words of greeting from Wycliffe.”

Inviting visiting pastors or missionaries to say a few words is customary in many Caribbean churches, so I was not surprised. I took the microphone, knowing I was expected to speak for at least five to ten minutes. I gave a two-minute update on Wycliffe Caribbean and the world of Bible translation, and continued, “This Easter morning I am remembering what happened the first time we spent Easter in the Canela village of Brazil.”

My Story
In he next two minutes I told about sitting near the Canela old men’s council and listening to them arguing over how someone had died. Some insisted he had been executed. Others disagreed saying he had died in a fight, “How else did he get holes in his hands and feet if he wasn’t grabbing and kicking at the spears?” Hey! They were talking about Jesus, His crucifixion and death!

I prayed for an opportunity to speak. Suddenly the chief called on me to sit with them, and said, “Our Portuguese speaking Brazilian neighbours told us that this week everyone is remembering the death of a really important man. But we don’t understand what happened. Do you know anything about this?”

“Yes, I do!” I said and ran home to get the freshly translated story.

That was the first time I publicly read the Passion and Easter story in Canela. Even though it was only a first draft translation, hearing the clear facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection made a huge impact on the Canelas. (Read the full story in chapter 4 of my latest book, The Why & How of Bible Translation, available on Amazon.)

“Hundreds of millions of people,” I told the congregation, “speak over 4,000 languages in which none of the Bible has yet been translated. It breaks my heart that right now, today, this very Easter Sunday morning, they are still just as confused about Easter as the Canelas were back in the early 1970s.”

The President’s Response
I sat down, and the denominational president entered the pulpit. He opened his Bible, arranged his notes, looked over the congregation and said,

“I sense some of you need to respond to what you have just heard. Do you feel God wants you to commit to personally do something to bring His Word to those Bible-less people groups? Maybe you are willing to work overseas. Or you may want to commit to pray or give as you have never prayed or given before. If you want to make such a commitment, come forward right now, and I’ll pray for you.”

That’s when we saw God’s Holy Spirit at work.
One by one, men, women, young people and older folks got up and walked to the front and stood with bowed heads. As more people kept coming, the pastor whispered to me, “I’ve never seen this before. Come with me.” He organized lines for people to be prayed for by the visiting speaker, by himself, and by me.

As the people kept coming, we laid our hands on them and prayed. After over half the congregation had come, received prayer, and had returned to their seats, nearly an hour had passed. The visiting speaker never did preach his sermon. He stood with tears in his eyes, asked everyone to rise, and gave the benediction.

The Results
Some months later, a Wycliffe team led a well-attended, in-depth workshop in that church on how to get involved in Bible translation. Later that year, Wycliffe Caribbean signed a ministry partnership agreement with that major denomination.

God is still at work!
In the fifteen years since I told that two-minute story in Trinidad, people groups speaking hundreds of different languages have received God’s Word in their language for the first time. Currently, Bible translation projects are ongoing in nearly 2,000 other languages!

He is alive! Happy Easter!
But remember that 1,600 people groups are still as confused about Jesus as the Canelas were. They still wait for someone to translate God’s Word in their language.