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.

Our Triune God Loves His People to Work in Community Just as He Does.

The Story
On Sunday morning, the tinkling of teaspoons in teacups was the signal for me to slip out of bed and join the fun in my parents’ bedroom. Settled between them with a cup of tea and some Maria biscuits in my saucer, I joined them to sip, dip and nibble. After fifteen minutes of joy, my Mom would leave us to make breakfast, and the story would begin.

The stories usually were about a young man going out into the world to “seek his fortune.” I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but as he walked along the road, he would meet someone who had a special ability. One could swing his sword so fast he could use it as an umbrella during a rainstorm. The two would decide to seek their fortune together. Soon they would meet others with different special talents, and they would join the group.

Eventually, they would meet a problem, a princess held by a giant, for instance, and the young man and his group would devise a plan to defeat the giant and rescue the princess, each member using his unique skill. The result was often measured in bags of gold for each of them.

The Impression
Each story my dad told was different, but each had that same theme, and they made a profound impression on me. I make up similar stories to tell my children and grandchildren. When my wife and I went to Brazil as linguists, teachers, and Bible translators, I saw myself as the young man going out to gather a group of people with compensating talents to work together to “seek our fortune.” Wycliffe was a good fit for us since the agency values people with a wide variety of skills, but all of whom see themselves as a vital part of every translation team.

Working Together: It's the Right Thing to Do

Working Together: It’s the Right Thing to Do

The Result
As Jo and I lived with the Canela people, God led us to connect with men and women who had a natural gifting in various areas. We helped them develop these talents. One young man became very skilled at extracting rotten teeth. Others loved teaching people to read. An artist illustrated the translated Scriptures with sketches of Canela life. Several learned to type, and one had the knack of making sentences flow smoothly. At times, a dozen people worked together on various aspects of the translation work.

This way of working together interdependently fitted right in with the Canela culture. Together we accomplished things so massive, difficult and complicated, no single one of us could have achieved them as an individual.

The Contrast
Unfortunately, our North American culture glorifies independence. Our hero is the lone pioneer, conquering the wild west, building a log house for his family with his own hands, and clearing the land with his own axe.

Businesses, and even churches, in North America, spend much time and money teaching people to work together as a team. It doesn’t come naturally to us. We have a cultural bias against the concept. Only in sports like hockey or football do we value the team.

The Trinity
In that respect, Canela culture is far more godly than North American culture. Here’s why. God said, “Let Us make man in Our own likeness.” God is a community of three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They made human beings in Their likeness, to be people with the same need to live and work together in community as They had.

This kind of working community is a far cry from the military and industrial model of exploiting the labour of individuals to accomplish objectives set by generals or executives. The strength of the interdependent community lies in its people, not in its bosses. The more people grow in a deep appreciation for the variety of contributions from others in the community, the more productive the community becomes.

The Questions
So, is yours a godly (god-like) family? That is, does your family work together, as the Holy Trinity does?

What about your church? Are all the members engaged in ministry, each contributing to the whole with their own talents and abilities?


Oh, Those Begats!

Some churches hold seventy-hour Bible Reading Marathons during which volunteers read through the entire Bible aloud. All goes well until the reader comes to the “begats”, those long lists of forefathers. Densely packed with hard-to-pronounce names, readers stumble and make mistakes.

GenealogyIn our private reading, when we come upon those genealogies in the historical books of the Old Testament and the Gospels, we tend to just scan over them or even skip them entirely.

We consider genealogies of possible interest to Bible historians, but not for anyone else in today’s society. Bible translators who are working with other cultures, however, take a different attitude. They have to be aware of the potential value of these boring lists of names.

I remember chatting with some Bible translators in Brazil who were working among language groups related to the Canela. One lady told a story that stuck in my memory and made me treat the genealogies with greater respect in our own Canela translation project.

It seems she had translated a number of stories about Jesus, the disciples, and the Jewish people, etc. When she read them, the indigenous people had listened closely and then told some of their own, similar, tribal stories of culture-heroes, and miraculous events. After some years, she translated the “less interesting” parts of the gospel, like the genealogies. When she read those sections to a group of villagers, they were fascinated.

Finally one blurted out, “You mean Jesus and these other people you have been telling us about really lived? They actually had parents and grandparents?”

It seems their own stories taught cultural and moral values, but the characters in them were made up.

From then on, the villagers accepted the Gospel stories about Jesus as completely different from their own stories, and better, since they were about real people.

This story reminded another friend to tell a story about a people group in the PacificIsland region. Ken, one of Wycliffe’s top linguists was about to demonstrate to an audience of Australian university students how a properly trained linguist can quickly learn to communicate in a language when neither the linguist nor the native speaker speak a language common to both.

The stage was set for this monolingual language learning demonstration with plenty of whiteboards, markers, and a table full of props. A linguist/translator walked onto the stage with the native speaker of the language Ken was going to learn. He turned to the audience and said,

“This is Maku, a member of the people group whose language I have been learning. He knows only his own language.” He then spoke briefly to Maku, walked off the stage and sat down in the audience.

Maku picked up a stool, took it over to the far corner of the stage and sat down. Then Ken, the linguist, walked onto the stage, faced the audience and briefly explained that he would be speaking a language spoken by an indigenous group he worked with in South America which he was sure the Pacific Islander would not understand.

He then ambled over to Maku sitting on his stool and greeted him. Maku ignored him. The linguist stuck out his hand for a handshake and repeated the greeting. He was again ignored. Nothing he tried got Maku talking to him.

At that point the translator who had brought Maku got up from the audience, walked onto the stage and spoke with him. He pointed at Ken and talked some more. Suddenly Maku made eye contact with Ken, smiled and started talking. From there on the demonstration went on successfully.

What had happened was that the translator had told Maku who Ken was, where he came from, and who his parents were. Once Maku had this background knowledge, he felt free to speak and interact with Ken.

Apparently the indigenous society he came from was extremely isolated and had good reason to be fearful of strangers. No one would interact with a stranger until they had been properly introduced by a third party.

When translation began in Maku’s language, the translator started with the genealogies, thus introducing Jesus and other characters of the Gospel—real people, real events, true stories.

As Christmas approaches, it’s good to remember we are celebrating a real event, one that really happened to real people.


The Sprint to the Finish Line

Last week’s episode ended with the depressing news that the door to translating God’s Word for Brazil’s people groups was still closed.

Jo and I prayed, (again) and discussed our options.

“What’s the use of going back to Brazil?”
“In Canada I could keep on speaking in churches and raise up more prayer support for Brazil’s people groups.”
“Val and Leanne are already in college. Cheryl will graduate from high school next year and go to college.”
“It would be nice to have a home here for them to visit at Christmas time.”

As we talked about staying in Canada, however, we felt an inner uneasiness. It became clear to us that our calling was unique.

Jo and I were the only couple in the entire world who knew both the Bible and the Canela language well enough, that with the help of some good Canela story tellers, we could complete a pretty good translation within the next five to ten years,

Jo put our thoughts into words,
“Honey, we are the only Bible translators for the Canela on earth. No one else is ready to do this job. Let’s just go back to Brazil, sit on the Canela doorstep, and wait it out until God opens the door.”

So we bought our tickets. A month or so later we arrived in Brazil and got settled in our home on the Belem centre. Then, it happened. Within two weeks we got some long awaited news from the government.

“If an indigenous people group wants certain missionaries to live and work within their villages, the government will permit these missionaries to do so.”

Wow! The Canelas had been wanting us back since the day we were expelled five years earlier! Within weeks we were back among the Canelas.

Was it ever good to see them all again! And to see all those Canela children who grew up hearing about us, but now seeing us for the first time. Open-mouthed and asking, “How come these white people talk just like us?”

Day after day, we reconnected with old friends, and mourned with family the death of many elderly Canelas.

Our mud-walled, palm thatch roofed house had been torn down, the timbers used for other houses, when government officials had told the Canelas we would not be returning.

24 square metres in which to cook, eat, sleep, and to work together with 3 Canelas.
24 square metres in which to cook, eat, sleep, and to work together with 3 Canela translation helpers.

We lost no time in replacing it. With the help of many Canelas and some colleagues from Belem, we built a two-room, pole frame, wooden shack on a concrete floor, with a pole-rafter, corrugated asbestos roof. A day of sawing and hammering and we had shelves, a bed, a study desk, more work tables and a kitchen counter. A 4X6 metre (13X20 feet), ten-day wonder.

Let’s get to work again! Jaco, our best translation helper, was eager to get to started and so were we.

That was the beginning of a seven-year sprint to the finish line of a twenty-two-year marathon. We asked the Brazil Wycliffe leadership to excuse us from all administrative work, conferences, and non-translation workshops. We planned no regular furlough, no speaking engagements, or major vacations. We made just three quick trips back to Canada—Jo’s major surgery, Valorie’s graduation, and Leanne’s wedding.

Jo and I each focused on translating the Scriptures (1st draft, back-translation, exegetical check, 2nd draft, consultant check, pre-final draft, key-boarding, etc., etc.) for at least ten hours a day, six days a week.

During this seven-year sprint, a group of young literate Canelas pled with us to teach them the Bible. Read how God interfered in our rush to finish the translation in these two postings from the fall of 2012.

The Unwelcome Request for Bible Teaching
Bible Night Classes and the Rest of the Story

Finally! Handing copies of God's Word in the Canela language to men & women eager to read it.

Finally! Handing copies of God’s Word in the Canela language to men & women eager to read it.

On Friday, August 10, 1990 we finally celebrated the distribution of the Canela Bible! It was the greatest day of our lives. Thirty-three years earlier, Jo and I had started our training in Bible, linguistics and anthropology. The last twenty-two years had been focused on the Canela translation project. Now our careers as Bible translators with the Canela people had come to a successful end.

My parents, and Jo’s mom came to help us celebrate. So did our daughters and their husbands/husbands-to-be. My younger brother and his wife and a number of Wycliffe colleagues also joined us in the Canela village. Over a thousand Canelas gathered in the central village plaza, and we handed out a Canela Bible to readers from every house. A never-to-be-forgotten day!

Since then, for a whole generation, the Canelas have had the Scriptures in their own language and as a result, Christ’s church among the Canela continues to grow.

Jumping to Conclusions: Bad Exercise

It was Friday, July 31, 1987, when I heard the news on Brazilian radio. “A major tornado has hit a provincial capital in southern Canada.” I listened carefully, expecting to hear about Toronto, Ontario which is on the same latitude as South Dakota. Imagine my surprise when the announcer said, “Edmonton, a city in southern Canada, suffered major damage with 20 fatalities.”

Edmonton!? Canada’s northernmost provincial capital? The gateway to the North? With its long cold winters, it’s in southern Canada? Jo and I looked at each other and shook our heads, as much in dismay over the grief caused by the tornado, as over the ignorance of the announcer.

But, later, when I looked at a map of North America, I could understand why the reporter considered Edmonton to be in southern Canada. That’s because it is! It is well over 2,500 km from the northern boundary, and only 500 km from the southern border. It’s not just in the southern 50 percent of Canada, it’s in the southern 15 percent!

Eli‘s Worldview Versus Hannah’s Reality
I thought of this incident when I read the story in 1st Samuel 1, of Eli the priest seeing Hannah, the childless woman, moving her lips but not uttering a sound. He glanced at her and knew he’d seen that behaviour before, in drunks. So he rebuked her for being drunk. Wrong! She was anything but drunk. She was fervently praying for a child.

In his worldview, he saw soundlessly moving lips as evidence of drunkenness. In the reality of Hannah’s worldview, she was praying. In the reporter’s worldview, he saw Edmonton as a provincial capital located in the southern fifth of Canada, while Edmontonians see ourselves as the northernmost outpost of civilization.

People constantly tend to misinterpret actions by others who have a different worldview. It happens between adults and children, immigrants and long-time residents, seniors and college graduates, international travelers and local residents, and between the haves and the have-nots in our society.

Canela Women’s Bare Breasts
One day a cargo truck stopped in the Canela village on its way to a Brazilian town. When the young Brazilian men who were catching a ride on the truck saw all the women were topless, hundreds of them, they immediately assumed they were in a village of sluts and began to behave accordingly. They took pictures of each other draping their arms over the shoulders of half naked Canela women while they grinned lewdly into their friends’ camera. As Brazilians, they came from a hyper-sexed society, like our North American culture, which views breasts as sex objects, while on Canela mothers, breasts were thought of as baby feeding organs.

Happy hunter with sloth. Very good eating! And No, they are NOT a protected species.

Happy hunter with sloth. Very good eating! And No, they are NOT a protected species.

Canela Banking System
When we started our 20 plus years of living among the Canela, it seemed like we were living in a village of beggars since our neighbours kept asking for things from us. It was only after we understood the culture better that we realized they were not beggars, but simply practicing trading on the credit system. For generations they had been without refrigeration, or salt to preserve meat. When a hunter brought home fifty pounds of deer meat, he would have plenty left over after feeding his family. So when neighbours would come and ask for some meat, he would gladly give it, knowing he was building up credit with them, to cash in the next time they had excess food. For generations the Canelas had used this incredible mental debt and credit system. No paper, no IOUs, it was all done on mutual understanding and family memory.

We saw them at first as a village of beggars, but we were wrong, the Canelas were operating a sophisticated banking system where debts and credits generally were kept in balance. American bankers could have learned something from them!

Next time you see someone do something that strikes you as crazy, ask yourself, Is this person of a different age, culture, nationality or nationality? If so, try to understand why that action may be perfectly okay in the other person’s worldview.

When was the last time you jumped to a wrong conclusion and said something that showed up your ignorance?

A Special Posting to Celebrate the Launch!

BT EBook_Cover Final_Printsize_v3A few weeks ago I published my second e-book, The Why and How of Bible Translation: What Every Christian Should Know, but few do . . . very few. I immediately sent a download code to the more than fifty people who had already bought it, sight unseen, in previous months. Now it is ready for a general launch.

The 28 story-based articles in the three sections of this book shed light on worldwide Bible translation, a subject most Christians are confused about.

  • Why does the Bible need to be translated, isn’t it easier just to teach indigenous peoples the national language?
  • How is the Bible translated and how can you be sure it is translated accurately?
  • How has technology changed the world of Bible translation?
  • Why did Mark and Luke change what Jesus actually said instead of quoting Him exactly as Matthew did? Should today’s translators follow their example?
  • What is more difficult than translating from one language to another? Hint, think cultures.
  • Find out why support for Bible translation would skyrocket among Christians, if linguistics was taught as widely as biology, chemistry or physics.

A Special 25% Discount to Celebrate the Launch
The Why and How of Bible Translation: What Every Christian Should Know, But Few Do, Very Few
To download your 25% off ebook, only $2.99, go the publisher’s site  

Open a free account. Click on Add to Cart.
Fill in this discount code VT57J. (Code expires on November 15, 2013)

You can download this book to your computer, laptop, tablet, e-reader, iPad, Kobo, Kindle, Nook, or smartphone, etc., as many times as you want and in as many formats as you want.

Tickle-Funny-Bone-cvrP3In Case You Missed the First E-Book
Here’s how to buy the first e-book, A Tickle in the Funny Bone, which is a collection of a dozen of my humorous columns including all the April Fool’s columns and the often hilarious responses from readers.

Download from the publisher’s site for only $1.99

Next week’s posting on INsights & OUTbursts “Jumping to Conclusions: A Bad Exercise”