Emotion and the Power of Language

This week, Jo and I entered a restaurant, showed evidence of our full vaccination status, sat down, removed our masks, and started a visit with two long-time friends. Was it ever good to be with them again, enjoying a meal together for the first time in several years! They were old friends from our Bible school years who had been missionaries in Africa during the time we were Bible translators in Brazil.

My mind suddenly flashed back to a similar mealtime back on the mission centre in Brazil. I was relaxed and comfortable in the cool, breezy dining room, looking forward to some excellent food and stimulating conversation. Jo and I sat with our hosts, a German family who, like us, were serving as missionaries in Brazil. As we chatted, our host leaned back in his chair and called down the hall to his teenage daughter filling another serving dish in the kitchen.

Elsa! Wir sind bereit. Kommt schnell! “Elsa! We’re ready. Come quickly!”

The loud voice, the urgent tone and the last word, schnell, sent a shock of fear through my system while the icy hand of panic clenched my insides.

Terror traveled eight thousand kilometres and thirty-five years to jab fear into my heart once again.

I was six years old, walking home from school with a classmate in Nazi occupied Hilversum, Holland. As we took a shortcut past a warehouse, we noticed the door was partly open, so naturally, we peered in. Suddenly a German soldier waving his machine gun ran out of a guard shack behind us shouting, Achtung! Verschwinden Sie! Schnell! “Hey! Get away! Quickly!” I had heard those shouted orders before, sometimes followed by shots . . . and screams.

So long ago. So far away. So many changes. I was now an adult, a husband, a father, a missionary in another continent. And this German missionary was no occupying enemy soldier—he was my friend, a missionary colleague, and a brother in Jesus.

What then triggered this vivid, fear-laden memory? Language. A specific language. The same language which had impacted me emotionally that day as a child. If, instead of shouting “Schnell!” in German, he had called in English, “Quickly!” or in Portuguese, “Rapido!” I would not have flinched in fear and panic.

Language has the power to evoke emotion in the hearer. And we depend on emotion along with logic to make decisions. Way back at the tower of Babel, when God invented languages, He put that power to stir emotion into languages. No wonder, therefore, that God uses languages to communicate His passion-filled Love letter to the world’s people.

At last count there are nearly 7400 languages in the world with a population of 7.0 billion people. He has called thousands of His servants to translate His Word into many of these languages. Over 700 languages have a complete Bible, nearly 1600 have at least the New Testament, and 1200 have some portions translated into them. These three groups total about 3500 languages.

Right now, translation work is progressing in over 800 languages, serving nearly 68 million people. Praise God for what He has done through His people!

Putting aside languages spoken be groups who are fully bilingual, another 145 million people speaking nearly 1900 languages still continue to wait for translation work to begin. Two thousand translation teams are needed. They, in turn, need many thousands of prayer partners and financial ministry partners.

Churches around the world need to listen to the urgency in God’s voice as he calls down our halls, for workers and ministry partners to come and get busy. Quickly! Rapido! Rapidement! Szybko! Snabbt! Raskt! Gyorsan! Brzo! Awjarê! Schnell!


An Insightful Grandson and an Angry Chief

The First Story
If you have done repairs to a loose kitchen sink you will know what suffering is. As you lie on your back, the edge of the under-sink-cabinet floor causes excruciating pain as it tries to pry apart your vertebrae. You are peering up into semi-darkness, holding a flashlight in one hand, the other feeling for the loose under-the-sink bolt, and needing a third hand to find the tools lying on the floor beside you. In the meantime, bits of grit and dust keep falling into your eyes.

I had been in that position for much longer than I wanted to be, and still, the job was not done. Just then, Ryan, our oldest grandson who had observed my torment for some time, made an insightful comment for a young teenager.
“You are not very good at fixing this kind of thing, are you, Grandpa?”
“No, I’m not, Ryan. My back hurts, and I hate working way up above my head, with dirt falling into my eyes.”

He then made another perceptive comment.
“But later on, Grandpa, you’ll be able to write a great story about this. It’ll be a really funny one.”

Yes! That I could do. Ryan and the other grandkids had heard me tell hundreds of true stories about all kinds of adventures and hard times—many with funny and always encouraging endings.
I remembered that sink fixing episode today as I researched my 1987 diary for stories to include in my memoir of our translation work among the Canela people of Brazil.

The Second Story
Here’s the story that stood out. In 1967, twenty years earlier, Pedro, the Canela village chief, had invited Josephine and me to come to his village to live and work. He wanted us to do medical work and teach his people to read and write. We had done this and much more, including saving the life of his son by driving him four hours to town to a doctor who confirmed my diagnosis of appendicitis and sent him to a hospital where he had surgery just in time.

We had always had a good relationship with Pedro, and when he asked if I could drive him, his wife and two or three men down the jeep trail a few hours to meet some people, I agreed. A continued good relationship with him was worth four hours of driving over rough terrain.

At noon, I drove our little quarter-ton pickup truck to his house. Pedro and his wife

Baskets & 3 daughters Okay, 10 Adult men, No Way.

climbed on, and so did ten other people.
“That’s too heavy, Pedro,” I said. “Look at the springs; they are all bending the wrong way and will break. I can take the five people you asked for but not all twelve of you. I broke all four of these springs this year and replaced them. But now they’ll all break too. I’m sorry, but I can’t take all of you.”

Pedro exploded in anger. He stalked off directly to the local government agency. He complained to the manager, telling him, “Get on your shortwave radio and tell your bosses in the city that we no longer want these teachers in our village.”
He stayed right there until the manager had sent that radiogram. Happily, several other Canela leaders overheard this order. They told others in the village who sent a large delegation to the government manager saying, “Everyone in the village wants the teachers to stay.”

These events were the beginning of an enormous confusion that eventually involved directors of the government indigenous agencies in three cities. These authorities repeatedly ordered us to leave the village, and each time the Canelas made the local manager send radiograms objecting to the order.

Even our own Wycliffe director got involved. He was called to the agency office in Belem, where the agency director told him, “The Canela chief, Pedro, and Blackpalm, a sub-chief, both want your people out of their village.” Just then, Blackpalm, who happened to be in Belem for medical reasons, walked into the office and heard this statement; he objected.

“The only one who wants the teachers out is Pedro. He’s a hothead and gets violently angry when he can’t get his way. I love working with the teachers. I taught them much of our language starting twenty years ago. They have been a huge benefit to health and education in our village.”

The Last Story
What a coincidence! No, it wasn’t. It was a God-incidence. God is in control and kept us productively working for three more years until the Canela Bible was published.

At the public Bible distribution ceremony, I gave Pedro the first Bible I took out of the box since he was the chief who had invited us to come. He made an impassioned speech. “Treat this book respectfully. It is more valuable than a cow or a new shotgun. It is God’s letter to us. Don’t tear pages out of it to make your cigarettes. Don’t leave it out in the rain. Our friends have worked for more than twenty years to make this book. Respect their work.”

What a change in Pedro from just a few years ago! I couldn’t help chuckling, and covered my grin with my hand.

Better Than an Enamel Plate

I will never forget that young mother’s prayer during night class!

We were in the last stages of the Bible translation program, where for twenty years Jo and I had been called Tehtikwyj and Prejaka by the thousand-plus Canela villagers. Two dozen Canela men and women surrounded me, sitting on logs, heads bowed in prayer. We had sung hymns set to Canela indigenous music patterns, and in a few minutes, would read and talk about a new draft of a chapter of the Bible.

Prayer Time
Now, it was time to pray. First, I heard prayers asking God to heal sick children, for a good crop, and for help to find a lost bush knife. Then a young mother prayed:

“Great Father in the Sky,” she began. “I want to thank You for sending our brother Prejaka, and our sister Tehtikwyj, to us so long ago when I was just a baby. First, they taught us to read our own language. Then, they worked with us to translate Your Words into it. Now we can read Your Letter to us. Now we are discovering that You love us very much. Now we are learning how we can live to please you. Please help them to finish Your Book soon.”

Prayer for Donors
Then came the unforgettable part that brought tears to my eyes.

“I also want to thank You for all Prejaka and Tehtikwyj’s friends far away in their own country. For all these years, their friends didn’t forget them, but kept sending them money. They know that our brother and sister don’t have a food garden here as we do. Their faraway friends send them money so they can buy food and gas for their truck. They send this money, not because of friendship, but because they are all part of Your family, Great Father.

“They have money and maybe they see a new enamel plate or a shiny spoon and ask themselves, ‘Should I buy this for my family?’ But then, they decide not to buy anything, but instead, they send the money to our brother and sister so they can live here and make the books of Your Word.

“And they sure chose right because Your Word is so much better than a new spoon and more valuable than even an enamel plate. As a reward, give these faraway brothers and sisters lots of healthy children; make their gardens grow well, and keep them from getting sick. Amen. “

What’s Happening Today
Bible translation programs are going on in thousands of languages around the world right now. Translation teams have completed programs in hundreds of languages in the last ten years. So, it is very likely that while you are reading this column:

  • Somewhere in the world, someone is reading or hearing the Word of God in their own language for the first time.
  • Somewhere, Jesus is showing the Great Father to someone who has only recently heard about Him.
  • Somewhere, the Holy Spirit is inspiring new believers to thank God for His Word, to thank Him for those who bring His Word and to ask Him to bless those who send the money that makes it possible.
  • Somewhere, God blesses donors to Bible translation and cross-cultural missions as He answers prayers by new believers such as that young Canela mother.

To those of you who give to Bible translation and cross-cultural missions, someone who you will not meet until eternity, could be asking God to bless you because, as that young Canela mother said,
“You sure chose right.”

A Life-long Commitment: an Eternal Reward

A Life-Long Commitment

“You guys are so fortunate! You don’t even know how blessed you are!” Hearing our Bible translating colleagues in Brazil telling us this surprised us. What are they talking about? we wondered.

The Report
We had just reported at a conference on our first year’s work with the Canela people. “The Canelas gave us Canela names and adopted us into their families,” we said. “They are happy to help us learn their language, and the chief keeps urging us to invent a way of writing Canela so we can teach people to read their language. People keep volunteering to help us.”

The Complaints
We discovered that many of our friends struggled to be accepted by their villagers. Some couldn’t find anyone willing to help them learn the language. Others had made learn-to-read booklets but found no one who had any interest in learning to read.

Jo and I had no idea why God blessed our work among the Canela in such a startlingly obvious way.

The Letter
Then, one day, we received a letter from Belfast. A man named Joe explained it all:

“Dear Brother Jack and Sister Josephine,
I just heard that you are among the Canela and plan to translate God’s Word for them. While on an evangelizing trip in Brazil, our team came upon a village that was not on our map. We tried to talk with the people, but we could not understand each other. They were such a fierce-looking group, with spears and clubs, we didn’t dare stay the night with them. So, we travelled on. Later I discovered that they were called the Canela.

The Answer
He went on to tell us a bit more about himself, and we were astonished to learn that God had moved him to start praying for the Canela people ten years before my wife and I were even born.

He continued to pray, without ever receiving any further information about the Canela, for forty years until Jo and I arrived as thirty-year-old missionaries. That’s when he wrote his letter.

He then prayed faithfully for another twenty-two years until we published a partial Bible translated into Canela, and Jesus planted His Church among the Canela people. Then, after Joe the Irishman had prayed for sixty-two years, the Lord took him Home, no doubt, to his exceeding great reward.

The Prayer Project
Two years after Jo and I left Brazil, we spoke at a conference in Suriname, so we took the opportunity to cross the border into Brazil to visit the Canela. Sadly, it was planting season, and about two-thirds of the people were away in their fields.

We walked from house to house, greeting our friends and taking pictures of individuals, couples, families, and extended families. We carefully recorded the names of each person on the photo and how they were related to the others.

When we returned home, we printed out the four hundred pictures and the names. Then, during the rest of that year, we spoke at scores of recruiting and fund-raising meetings. First, I told the story of Joe, the Irishman and his sixty-two years of praying. I then said, “If any of you here would commit to pray every day for a Canela man, woman or child by name and picture, come and see us after the meeting.”

I warned them that, just as Joe had prayed “in the dark” with no updated information, so they too would not have any updates. Even so, after a few months, four hundred individual prayer warriors across North America had volunteered to pray daily for the Canelas on the pictures.

The Rest of the Story
Last week I received a note from a prayer partner who started praying nearly forty years ago for a Canela girl and still prays daily for her by picture and name. She prayed as she visualized her Canela girl becoming a teenager, marrying, having children and now, as a grandma.

God continues to bless his Word, which the Canelas read and follow. As a result, the Church among the Canela continues to grow.

Planting His Church among the Canela is God’s work, but He invites His people to be involved. He called Joe from Belfast to pray for over sixty years. God called my wife and me to spend thirty-three years of our lives in training, linguistic research, teaching, and translation for the Canelas. He called scores of others to give and to pray.

God has partially rewarded Jo and me by letting us see the results of our work. Those praying “in the dark” will see the results and receive God’s full reward in eternity.

Love That Overcomes Hate

First Story
A few days ago, as I walked into Walmart a man at the door approached me. “I am homeless,” he said, “would you have a bit of change for me?”

“Yes, of course,” I said, “come with me.” As we walked back to the car, I said, “I love God and God loves people, so therefore I love people and love to help someone when I can.” I reached into a small bin below the dash and filled both hands with coins that I had been accumulating for just such an opportunity as this. When he held the pile of coins in his hands, he looked at me with tear-filled eyes and said, “Thank you, God bless you.”

“May God bless you too,” I said.

A Statement of Love and Acceptance
I have used that line, “I love God and God loves people, so therefore I love people and like to help when I can,” many times in all sorts of circumstances; from simply holding the door for someone carrying a bag or a baby, to stopping behind a car that had suffered a deer strike, and spending a messy twenty minutes pulling the dead animal back out through the windshield and extricating the passengers from the wreckage. And even when being courteous in traffic, motioning silently to another driver, I mentally repeat that line.

I wish I could tell you that I never act selfishly or get upset at other people. Just ask anyone who knows me well, like my wife and family. I often fail in my walk of love. We are human and Satan and his demons are the source of hate against God, and he looks for ways to destroy us who are God’s children. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8) That is why in my morning prayer time I often pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matt. 6:13)

Second Story
A few hours after the Walmart encounter, in one ten-minute television news segment, I saw and heard people with faces distorted by rage and mouths pouring out a rant of hate against those responsible for implementing an—at that time—politically correct method for integrating indigenous school children into Canadian culture. Others expressed deep disgust at the concept of June being the Rainbow month celebrating gender diversity. I heard a report of a twenty-year old driver, presumably filled with hate, who rammed his truck into a family of five Muslims walking peacefully on the sidewalk, killing four, making one orphan, and himself into a murderer.

God’s Opinion of Love and Hate
Hate is the opposite of love. Hate comes from Satan: love comes from God. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

Love is the central concept of God’s two greatest commands. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbour as yourself.” (Luke 10:27).

Love is the identifying characteristic of followers of Jesus. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Application of Love
It is relatively easy to love other followers of Jesus. What is not as easy is loving those who hate us, curse us, and do nasty things against us—from something benign like cutting us off in traffic, to treating us who are Jesus-followers as utterly self deluded and a hindrance to social progress. Which of us have not yielded to the temptation of speaking disparagingly of anti-God political parties? Yet, Jesus also commanded his followers to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:43-44).

May the God who loves us, help us to consistently love others—all the people He brings into our lives, including those who are still led by the evil one.

Suffering? A Part of God’s Plan?

Suffering? A Part of God’s Plan?
The hopeful news is that we are nearing the end of the lockdowns and isolation to safeguard us during the current pandemic. All these stringent measures are stressful to all of us. Our North American culture not only encourages us to avoid pain, stress, and suffering of any kind, it also provides many ways of escaping unpleasantness. No wonder this past year drug and alcohol abuse increased noticeably. Other evidence from opiate use, divorce and abortion are also on the rise.

We who are Christians are children of our own culture. We too are tempted to evade troubles and suffering.

We need to remember that Jesus promised that we, as His followers, would have trouble in this world. But he also told us, “Cheer up; I have overcome the world.”

As believers, therefore, we need to realize that we must not avoid trouble and suffering but welcome it. Our loving heavenly Father works out even our suffering to result in good for us.

We sometimes overlook the list of commands in Romans 12: “Do not lack in zeal. Keep your spiritual fervour. Serve the Lord. Be joyful in hope. Be faithful in prayer. Share with other believers who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

We pat ourselves on the back as we check off these seven commands. But there is one more: Be patient in affliction. Huh? Say what? Affliction? Suffering? No way!

Yes, says God. No avoiding trouble. No making yourself feel better with entertainment or drugs. No trying to make it go away faster. Be patient and endure.

Yes, Jo and I Suffered
For more than twenty years, my wife and I immersed ourselves deeply in the critical ministry of translating God’s Word for the Canela people. We volunteered service for God fully expecting Him to provide us with all the health, abilities, and finances we needed and to smooth the way to accomplish this complicated task efficiently and as soon as possible. Not so! Absolutely not so! Our experience was the opposite.

We endured ill health, lacked many abilities, were consistently under-financed. Obstacles of every sort filled our way. Yes, we suffered. I am currently writing the memoir of those decades and Jo and I joked this morning, that we could fill the entire book just with stories of the vehicles that let us down with mechanical troubles at the most inconvenient and even dangerous times.

Jo and I had to learn that not just human efficiency, but also suffering is part of God’s plan. We had calculated it would take twelve to fifteen years in Brazil to complete the research, literacy teaching, and translation work, but took twenty-two years!

God’s Encouragement in Trouble
If it were not for God encouraging us, I would indeed have given up for good. But texts such as “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him” helped us hang in there.  (2 Tim. 2:12)
“We glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, character and hope that does not put us to shame.” (Rom. 5: 3-4)
“We are co-heirs with Christ: if indeed we share in his sufferings so that we may also share in his glory.” (Rom. 8:17)
“If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. (1 Pet. 2:20)

We also took much comfort in the fact that Christ suffered physical pain for us and therefore could strengthen us to endure it. (1 Pet. 4:1). And that we can know Jesus and “the fellowship of his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). And to “Rejoice in my sufferings, to fill up what is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the (Canela) church.” (Col. 1:24).

The Hardest Part
Some God-haters manipulated the government to exile Jo and me and our colleagues

Leaving Canela land, exiled for nearly six years.

from the villages where we ministered. When we got our orders to leave, we took courage from Psalm 37:7 “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways when they carry out their wicked schemes.” I’m sorry to say we did not wait patiently those long five years and eight months.

What hurt us the most was that being in exile delayed the time the Canelas would finally get God’s Word to read in their own language. Personal suffering was one thing, but the souls of the Canelas? How could all this delay be God’s plan?

The hard lesson we had to learn was that delays are part of our Eternal God’s plan. He has His own timetable. When God’s Word finally arrived in their language, the Canelas were eager to read it and many became ardent Jesus-followers. Since then, a whole generation of Canelas have been turning to follow Jesus.