The Two Notes

“We hate you, we reject you, and we never want to see your faces in our village again!”

The note, signed by the young Canela chief of a new village, was addressed to Jo and me. Soon friends ran up to tell us the same kind of message had been sent to the chief and the leaders of the old, main Canela village where we lived as Bible translating missionaries in Brazil.

That note hurt!  Jo and I had been adopted many years before by Canela families, and the chief of the new village was a younger brother in my extended family. He and I had always gotten along well, and now this.

The Power Struggle
The previous year when some families talked of starting another village in a location near a different creek, everyone thought it was a good idea since the main village was getting a bit crowded. People from both villages helped to build homes, clear jungle, and plant manioc fields in the new location. But after a year, relationships deteriorated into a political power struggle between the two chiefs, each wanting the most people in his village.  And now, after weeks of vicious gossip, the new village chief and leaders had sent notes breaking off all relations with those of us in the old village. According to their oral history, this mutual hate between related villages was a long-standing tradition.

Our Response
Jo and I talked and prayed together and then sent back the following letter:
“Dear younger brother chief,
We received your note and read it, and it seems that you hate us and reject us and never want to see us again.  We don’t know why you feel that way.  Maybe someone lied to you about us.  We want to remind you that we are of Jesus’ group and, therefore, we don’t hate you back, nor do we reject you.  Instead, we love you now and always will.  To prove that we love you, we are sending twenty litres of lamp oil and thirty kilos of salt for you to distribute to all the people in the new village.
Your older brother.”

Angry Words
After we sent the letter and the gifts we faced a barrage of angry words from our relatives and friends in our village.

“Why did you send them gifts?  Don’t they hate us all?  That’s fine. We hate them back. We don’t need them.  Just let them sit out there in the dark without lamp oil. Let them eat tasteless food. They hate and reject us. Fine, we’ll hate and reject them!”

That evening the elders’ council called me to attend their meeting in the village plaza to listen to the chief and his counselors.  Each one spoke his piece.  All had the same theme.

“They hate and reject us, so, therefore, we’ll hate and reject them.  Also, we don’t understand why our friend sent them gifts in exchange for their insult.”

Then the chief turned to me and said,
“They even treated you that way, when all you have ever done is good. You taught them to read and write. You gave them medicine. You’ve never done anything against any of them.  I don’t know why you sent them that gift.  I hate them on your behalf!” He lapsed into silence, and I asked permission to speak.

My Explanation
“I want to talk to you,” I said.  “I’m not just going to give you my thoughts about this; I’m going to tell you what Our Great Father in the Sky thinks about this.”

I then went on to tell the chief, the elders council, and the village men gathered to listen what Jesus taught about how to treat our enemies.  I quoted Jesus and his orders to do good to those who hate us, to feed our enemies, and let them insult us. They listened, scowling and muttering to each other.  In the end, they said they still didn’t understand, but they wouldn’t be upset with me anymore for having sent the gift.

“Anyway,” they said, “it might make that group over there feel ashamed of themselves.”

Jo and I went to bed that night with happy hearts, possibly the only happy hearts in either village.

The Second Note
Three days later another note arrived from my younger brother chief—one with a startlingly different message.
“We’ve changed our mind. We don’t hate you, and we want to make peace.  You can come to our village any time you want.”

Whew! Thank you, Jesus!

It still took some months—a centuries-old culture based on mutual hatred doesn’t change overnight—but the bad feeling between the villages had begun to dissipate. Eventually, the Canelas turned the new village area into a joint manioc raising project, and the inhabitants began returning to the main village.

Jo and I were delighted that besides translating God’s Word in the Canelas’ language, we had a God-given, perfect public opportunity to translate His Word into action for everyone to see.

After this demonstration, no one in either village had any doubt that change was possible and that a new ethos of mutual love and acceptance could someday replace the old spirit of hatred and rejection.

Not Just a Warning

The Warning
“Don’t you know? Those people want to kill you!” My friend meant it as a warning, but when he explained, I took it as a great compliment.

The Explanation
One Monday morning in 1972, I walked 35 kilometres from the Canela village to the Ourives river, swam across it, and slept on its bank. The next day walked another 35 kilometres to the town of Barra do Corda. I stayed with Jim, a missionary friend. After mailing my letters, I spent the day buying dental and other medical supplies needed in the village. I enjoyed another night’s rest and the following morning at breakfast announced I was walking back to the village.

Jim looked up with concern and said, “You can’t walk back to the village.”

“Why not? I just walked down Monday and Tuesday. I can surely walk back Thursday and Friday. The medicines aren’t that heavy.”

“Don’t you know?” Jim said, “Some of those people along the trail want to kill you! Many people living in the hamlets between town and the river are relatives of the storekeepers in town and they don’t like you.”

“Why? What did I ever do to them?”

“Your name is mud among the merchants. For generations they’ve been ripping off the Canelas who come into town to trade baskets for tools and cloth. But last year, you and Jo taught many Canelas to read and do arithmetic. Now the storekeepers can’t cheat them anymore. Everyone knows you are here and that you will be walking back. If some hothead sees you are alone, he might well take a shot at you.”

The Affirmation
I happily accepted Jim’s offer of a ride to the river in his jeep. I was glad to get through the dangerous area safely and for the 35 kilometres I didn’t have to walk. Beyond that, however, I felt a deep happiness that had nothing to do with physical safety or comfort. I felt profoundly affirmed for our years of language analysis and educational work among the Canela that were now making a positive impact. As linguists and teachers we had brought about justice for the oppressed and downtrodden.

The Joy
The joy I felt reminded me of the four levels of affirmation and praise that C. S. Lewis wrote about:

  • The first level is looking at work we have done and saying to ourselves, “Hey, I did a good job!” It is what the Creator did after each act of creation, as recorded repeatedly in Genesis 1, “God saw that it was good.”
  • The second level is someone else telling us, “You did a good job!” God wants us to praise Him for what He did. After doing a good job, we all have a basic need to hear someone tell us that we did a good job.
  • The third level is overhearing someone telling another, “Hey, she did a good job!” God wants to overhear us telling others how well He worked in our lives. Discovering that the merchants were no longer able to cheat the Canelas was like overhearing someone say, “Jack and Jo did a good job!” and I was full of joy, and still am.
  • The highest level of affirmation is God praising us for doing a good job. At Creation He praised His own works having seen that they were good. When God looks Jo and me in the eye and says, “You did a good job!” our joy will be complete

The Epilogue
It is now 45 years and two generations later. Many Canelas adults and all the young people now can read and write in their own language as well as in Portuguese. Bright, eager-to-learn Canela students now attend higher grades in town. They are earning income and come into the stores with money in their hands where storekeepers treat them as the equals they are.

The Need
Many millions of people all over the developing world are still like the Canelas were when Jo and I arrived in their village— illiterate, and without any of God’s Word in their language. We are nearly 80 years old, but if we could revert to being in our twenties . . . we’d do it again!

 

 

 

 

To Focus on the Message, Eliminate Distraction

No distractions! Eliminate anything in your presentation that might distract your audience from the point of your talk.

Public speaker coaches hammer this advice repeatedly. Don’t tempt your hearers with distractions. Don’t wear an outfit that calls attention to itself. No flamboyant ties. No unusual outfits. If a story doesn’t relate to your point, delete it, no matter how good it is. It will sidetrack some of your listeners.

Public speakers, pastors, and teachers all know reducing distraction is a basic principle of communication.

The same is true for pioneer missionaries working in an indigenous village. Jo and I had a vitally important message to communicate while living among the Canela for over twenty years.

“Your Creator God loves you, and wants you to know and love Him. He sent His Son to save you. God will fill you with His Spirit so you can relate to others in peace and love. He will fill you with peace and power so that you no longer fear death and evil spirits.”

We modeled this message for the Canela—living in peace with them, loving them, and living without fear, totally trusting God’s care for us no matter what happened.

But we knew we had some built in distractions. I was tall, blonde, and blue-eyed. We were foreign, speaking English to our kids and to each other. We were rich. Jo had, not one pan, but two, as well as a kettle; we seemed to have an unlimited supply of matches, and plenty of salt. We had more than one pair of shorts or piece of cloth each. I wore a watch, the only one in the village. Instead of eating with our hands from a cast iron pan on the clay floor, we ate with spoons from enamel plates at a table.

We were concerned that our foreignness and wealth would blind the Canelas so that they could not see that the peace and love they saw in us, came from our relationship with the Creator God.

This Canela family adopted Jo as their daughter.

This Canela family adopted Jo as their daughter.

Jo and I reduced this distraction by living as much as possible like the Canelas around us. We lived in a house with a clay floor, dried-mud walls and a palm-thatch roof, just like our neighbours. We ate what they ate, we learned their language, learned their songs, participated in their festivals and practiced generosity and became Canelas as much as we could.

We could afford a propane stove and refrigerator, which would have saved us much time, work, and inconvenience, but did without them for those decades. Our policy was, “If the Canelas can’t have them, and we can do without, we will.”

We did bring in things essential for our translation work like a tape recorder, camera, and lots of books, and writing materials. And, since we were the only modern medical “doctors” we brought in cases of soap and modeled good hygiene. We boiled our water for drinking and recommended this to the Canela, especially in the beginning of the rainy season when the creeks ran brown and the entire village suffered from diarrhea. We brought in hundreds of kilos of medicine and freely treated people through prayer and modern medicine for every type of disease. In these ways too, we modeled love, praying that people would focus on our message of God’s love for them, and not be distracted by our foreignness.

But today we live among Canadians, non-Christians as well as fellow believers and are a part of the Canadian church. God has a message of love for our non-Christian neighbours, coworkers, and schoolmates. I wonder what distracts them from hearing His message?

Are some of us indulging in unbiblical lifestyles? Do some of us dogmatically present strongly held opinions on such topics as: theology, government, politics, human rights, military action, pharmaceutics, big business, immigration, and temporary foreign workers, etc?

What in our daily lives distracts from God’s message? Is there anything about you and me that blinds, deafens, and sidetracks people from turning to God?

Eliminate distraction.

 

 

 

In Praise of Single Women Missionaries

Because this Sunday is International Women’s Day, my first impulse was to write a long and personally satisfying blog post on the missionary woman who was most important to the Canela Bible translation program: my sweet wife, Jo. But since I reserve my Valentine’s day blog posts for eulogizing her, I will write this one instead:

In Praise of Single Women Missionaries

“We believe you would be a superb missionary, and we would be happy to send you out to represent our denomination on the mission field in Africa, except for two things: you are a woman, and you are not married.”

Johanna, a godly and capable woman who passionately loved her Lord and wanted to advance His Kingdom in the needy places of the world, was disappointed at the board’s decision.

Fortunately for her, for the Kingdom of God, and for tens of thousands of souls in Sudan and Nigeria, a number of individuals in her local church sponsored her ministry privately. They prayed, sent funds, and encouraged her during her years of ministry in Africa. The churches she planted continued to grow so much in strength and number that, seven years after her death in Africa, the denomination’s mission board formally adopted Nigeria as one of their mission fields.

The history of worldwide missions is replete with stories of how God used single women in astonishing ways to grow His Kingdom. Gladys, for instance, evangelized in China and cared for hundreds of orphans before and during the Second World War. Her book, The Little Woman was also made into a movie, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

A generation before, Mary lived and worked in Africa. Her story is the subject of two books; one of which is titled The White Queen of the Cannibals. She astounded Christians back home with matter-of-fact accounts of her death-defying dealings with native peoples.

My wife Jo and I hold single women missionaries in high respect. I remember with joy the gifted single women, though relatively anonymous, who helped us succeed in our linguistic and translation work. We absolutely could not have done it without them.

Patricia, a translator in a related language, calmed our fears that we had made a mistake in identifying seventeen phonemic vowels in the Canela language—there seemed to be far too many. She explained that the language she worked in had sixteen. She helped us to choose letters for the Canela alphabet and write up a clear description of each letter’s sound.

Eunice patiently walked me through the process of sorting out, and writing down, all the knowledge of the Canela grammar system I had swirling around in my head to make it understandable to others linguists.

Margery, after completing her own Bible translation project, painstakingly checked all our translation work, and happily reported that, although she tried, she had not been able to find a single nasty “collocational clash” in Acts. That was twenty-five years ago and although I have now forgotten what a “collocational clash” is, at the time I was enormously encouraged to hear that we did not have any.

Eight year-old Cheryl coaching a Canela adult through the learn-to-read booklet.

Eight year-old Cheryl coaching a Canela adult through the learn-to-read booklet.

Gloria’s knowledge and experience in developing “self-teaching” learn-to-read booklets was invaluable. With her help we made up highly effective illustrated reading primers. Students needed teaching only for the first dozen pages, then they picked up clues about the meaning of the new words and the shape of the new letters from the illustrations to finish the rest of the lessons practically without further help.

Isobel’s enthusiasm and encouragement helped us to produce a series of reading booklets of ever increasing complexity that prepared new readers to read the Scriptures.

Ruth’s commitment to the people group with whom she worked, and her willingness to live with them for months out in the bush without even a hut to call home, rebuked my love of comfort and challenged me to greater personal sacrifice.

Jane tripled my effectiveness when I suddenly found myself as the temporary executive director of the linguistic and translation organization in Brazil. She knew where to get the information I needed to make good decisions. She knew everything and everyone and had the experience I lacked.

A single woman’s life in a foreign land and culture is not easy. Indigenous societies often look down on single women. Naturally, many young women would prefer to marry and have a family. And yet, although they know that it is highly unlikely that they will find a suitable marriage partner on the mission field, they go, impelled by love for God and for His Kingdom.

I praise these women. So does God.