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?

 

God-Stories–A Powerful Weapon Against Satan

How About A New Story?

My teenage friends and I rolled our eyes as the elderly gentleman rose from his accustomed side front pew. As usual, he half turned to face the congregation, leaned his left hand on the back of the pew in front of him, as he always did, and began his testimony . . . again. We had all heard his conversion story from sixty years ago so many Sundays, we could have recited it for him.

I wanted to ask him, “Hasn’t God done anything for you recently?” but I had been a Christian only a few years, and now, I was learning how to be a well-behaved member of our small evangelical church.

True, some members of the congregation did stand and tell of recent answers to prayer, but for the most part, “giving your testimony” meant telling the story of how you came to repent of your sin and turn to God for forgiveness for the first time.

We do need to tell the story of our spiritual rebirth, but we need to realize that this birth starts a whole new life, filled with other God-stories—answers to prayers, amazing coincidences, needs He met, healings and special guidance. Our lives as believers should be overflowing with stories that bear witness to others of God’s work in and through us.

People Listen and so do Spirits
But not just to people. Spiritual beings are also listening. Angels give praise to God along with us as we tell our God-stories. The “other side” is listening too. Satan and his evil spirits hate hearing about God’s power in our lives. When we tell what God has done for us, Satan will do anything to shut us up. Why? Because our God-stories are weapons: powerful Satan defeating weapons.

How They Overcame Satan
Check out the scene in Revelation 12:11 which describes a large number of Jesus-followers who overcame Satan. How did they do this? By telling everyone about what God had done for them, through the atoning death of Jesus Christ. They were powerful witnesses against Satan and for God. They made God look so good, and Satan look so bad that he killed them. Yes, they were martyrs. That is why the word “martyr” comes from the Greek word that means “witness.”

Our testimonies, our God-stories of God’s actions in our lives are powerful Satan conquering weapons. What a pity that we don’t hear them regularly in church! No, not the same old story every Sunday, but new God-honouring, Satan crushing stories.

We who are followers of Jesus need to tell our God-stories to each other for encouragement, and to those who are not yet believers to let them know God can and does act in people’s lives.

A Fifteen-Year-Old Photo

Six of our Grandkds Telling Stories Over a Cup of Tea

Six of our Grandkids Telling Stories Over Cups of Tea

Fifteen years ago they were little kids telling stories. Now they are telling even more stories. Our youngest grandson is now seventeen; the five granddaughters range in age from nineteen to twenty-two years old. Each of them can tell a dozen stories of what they experienced while overseas on mission service trips. They have all been to Mexico and Brazil. Some have been to Guatemala, some to Pakistan, Thailand, and Zimbabwe. Some have lived for months in Australia. One worked on a Mercy ship for three months serving countries on Africa’s east coast—God-stories galore. And they have many more stories of God’s dealings in their everyday lives

Whenever I speak in public, I tell plenty of personal God-stories—what God has done for me, through me, or sometimes in spite of me. As I greet people at the door afterward, they often say, “Thank you for telling those stories. Isn’t God wonderful?” I smile and imagine Satan’s groan of pain.

What has God done in your life this past week? Have you told anyone yet? The angels are waiting to compose a song of praise about it. Satan hopes you’ll just keep quiet.

Drop Your Phone and Drive!

For thousands of years, great people of God have exemplified the concept, they have practised it, and have given warnings about it, and now the police are saying the same thing.

David the great king of Israel: “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek.” Psalm 27:4 (NIV)

Paul the church planting apostle: “I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing.” Philippians 3:13 (TLB)

James the brother of Jesus: “A double minded man is unstable in all his thoughts and deeds. James 1:8 (GNV)

Police in North America: “Multitasking while driving a vehicle is a crime.” Distracted Driving Law (TSA 115)

The scientific community confirms and illustrates the truth of what they are all saying, “The human mind cannot focus effectively on more than one thing at a time.”

David Rock, in his book, Your Brain at Work, says that thousands of experiments and studies over the past forty years have proved the phenomenon called dual-task interference. In one experiment, a group had to decide and record whether a light flashed on the left or right side of a window. The accuracy of their responses was high, like that of a Harvard MBA. Then a simple extra task was added: to identify if the light was one of three colors. Instantly, their accuracy dropped to that of an eight-year old.

We can, of course, do many purely physical acts at once. Street musicians play a guitar, a harmonica, and a set of drums all at the same time. I used to hike while slashing a path through the jungle with my bush knife. We can even mix physical and mental activity like walking while discussing a topic with a friend. No dual task interference there. On the other hand, I have been guilty of driving right past my exit because I was in the midst of telling a story to my passengers.

I failed because of what Linda Stone, a former Vice-President at Microsoft, calls continuous partial attention. My focus was split. While I told my story, I also had to keep alert for signs of the exit I was to take. She says, “To pay continuous partial attention is to keep a top-level item (my story) in focus, and constantly scan the periphery in case something more important (my exit) emerges.”

By the way, this does not happen when my wife is with me, since as soon as I start a story, she takes over the scanning of highway signs to tell me where to turn.

mugOther studies show that constantly doing two mental tasks at the same time reduces efficiency on both of them by about 50%. So, yes, we can force our brains to do two things at once, but it takes twice as long, or the result is about half as good.

Furthermore, a study done in the University of London found that some tasks requiring short, intense focus, like emailing and text-messaging, when done constantly, reduce mental capability from five to fifteen points on an IQ test which is about the same effect as missing a whole night’s sleep, or smoking pot/cannabis.

God has designed our brains to excel when we concentrate or attention on one mental task at a time. Our culture, however, glorifies multitasking: from the mother in her minivan, juggling a tight schedule while planning what to make for dinner, to the CEO in his office, reading memos, emailing instructions, making decisions, scanning reports, solving problems, all the while keeping his board’s directives in mind.

No wonder so many of us live under a constant sense of threat. We are forcing our brains to be on constant alert increasing our level of stress hormones and reducing our effectiveness.

But we who are Christians do not need to suffer this stress. We can simply obey God’s command, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 (KJV). He is in control. Our greatest personal problem, our relationship with Him, is already solved.

The current crisis facing us, our family, our business, our church, or even Christianity as a whole, is under His control.

We need to stop, ask Him to show us one single thing to do towards solving the crisis, then focus on doing it. Then do the next, and the next. One at a time.

That’s how He designed us to operate.

By the way, if you are reading this on your phone while stopped at a traffic light, and if you are the guy ahead of me . . .

The light is green! Drop your phone and drive!

 

 

 

The Surprise Visitor

It had been more than three years since our expulsion from the Canela village. We prayed for our Canela friends and daily longed to be with them.

One Saturday evening as my family and I were sitting down to our evening meal there was a knock on our door. I got up, opened it and there, to my utter astonishment, stood Jaco, our very best Canela translation helper—nearly a thousand kilometres from his village! I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say.

“Jaco, what are you doing here? How did you get here? Come in!”

“I walked for two days. Then I caught a ride on a rice freight truck for a day. Then I got on a bus for a day and a night, and I walked some more. Now, here I am. And what’s to eat?”

“Sit down, sit down. It’s so good to see you. Here, fill your plate.”

We had a great time visiting that evening and all day Sunday. Then on Monday, after a big breakfast, I asked him,

“So, Jaco, would you like to translate some more of God’s Word.”

“Yes!”

So we sat down across from each other at my study table. I dusted off the translation manuals and other books that I hadn’t been able to use for three years. It wasn’t hard to pray and thank God for bringing Jaco. I asked God to help us translate some more of His Word. I was, of course, praying in the Canela language, and when I was done I said,

Hamre,” meaning Done or Amen.

I opened my eyes and was about to open my mouth to start talking when I noticed Jaco still had his eyes closed. And then he started to pray.

“Hello, Great Father in the sky. This is me, Jaco, You’ll remember me. I’m one of those who just recently has turned to You, and begun to follow You.”

That’s when I began to cry.

Because after thirteen years of study, translating, praying and waiting, this was the first time I had heard there were any Canelas who had turned to God. And even though it was the first time I had ever heard a Canela pray, I could hardly wait to hear him say “Hamre” so I could ask him,

“When did this happen?”

“I have been reading those printouts of Luke and Acts every day for a long time. Then a few months ago, I was sitting in my hammock reading those papers and I asked myself,

‘Jaco, how much longer are you going to just lie here and read this stuff? When are you going to believe it and obey it?’

And I answered myself,

‘Right now.’

So I got up out of my hammock and walked out behind my house. I looked up into the sky and said,

‘Great Father in the Sky. This is me, my name is Jaco. According to those papers I have been reading, I am in a really bad relationship with You. I have not lived the way You wanted me to live. Will You please do something for me?’

And then, do you know what the Great Father did?”

“No, what did He do?” I asked.

“He adopted me into His family,” Jaco said, using the same term the Canelas used when one family adopted me as their son, and another adopted my wife as their daughter, and we became true citizens of the Canela village.

Popjes (206)I looked at Jaco, sitting across the study table from me and I thought, There sits the first Canela citizen of heaven.

“Then I went into the village,” Jaco continued, “and talked to some of my friends. They read the Great Father’s papers too and now there is a whole group of people who are following the way of Jesus.”

There had been no missionary, no evangelist or pastor in the village for three years. All there was of God was an early draft printout of a couple of Bible books. But God’s time had finally come.

He had begun to build His Church among the Canelas.

 

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.
http://www.jackpopjes.com/when-we-believe-things-about-god-that-are-not-true/

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
http://www.jackpopjes.com/the-unwelcome-request/
Bible Night Classes and the Rest of the Story
http://www.jackpopjes.com/the-unwelcome-request-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.

God’s Story about Cheryl: How I Blew it as a Dad

Our youngest daughter, Cheryl, was born with amblyopia, commonly called lazy eye—a condition in children when vision does not develop properly in one eye. When she was two years old, an epidemic of trachoma swept through the Canela village in Brazil where we worked. This is a serious eye disease that, at that time, had blinded six million people worldwide. Most of the Canela and all our family were infected and we worked day and night treating the sufferers with antibiotic ointment.

eye patch CherylWhen we took off Cheryl’s bandages, we saw that our toddler’s lazy eye had turned aside even more. The optometrist prescribed glasses and an eye patch to wear over the good eye to force the lazy eye to work. Each year he wrote stronger prescriptions.

After three years of service in Brazil our director ordered us to go on furlough much earlier than planned. “Your financial support continues to be so low,” he said, “you are borrowing money from other missionaries to buy groceries. Go back home and raise adequate support before you return to Brazil.”

When we arrived in Canada the eye specialist said, “It’s a good thing you brought your daughter in to see me today, her prescription is wrong, her lazy eye needs a different treatment. In another month or two it would have been too late. Her lazy eye would have gone completely blind.”

He prescribed different glasses, as well as a patch, and gradually her eye improved so much that by the time she entered college her vision was near normal.

1-20-P1040389When I finished writing this story, I gave it to Cheryl to read and she exclaimed, “You mean if we hadn’t been so under-supported and poor, you would have stayed for nearly another year, and I would have gone blind in one eye? I never knew that. Dad! This happened 45 years ago, why didn’t you tell me earlier!

Yeah, why didn’t I?

Because I failed in one of the most important duties parents have—to tell their children what God has done for them. All through the Old Testament, God commands His people to remember what He did to benefit them and their families and to tell their children, even to write them down.

Just before singing God’s praise for a long list of things that Hes did on earth for His people, the poet urged his listeners to action, “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord” Psalm 102:18 (NIV).

This incident encouraged me to keep going through my decades of daily journals and find incidents where God answered our prayers, where He protected us, where He arranged amazing co-incidences for our family. I continue to write them up, wanting to leave them as a legacy of God’s actions for our children, grandchildren and beyond.

So, what about you?

How do you remember the God-stories in your family’s life?

How do you pass them on to future generations?