My Six Significant Mothers

The First: A twenty-four-year-old woman suffered a set of muscular contractions granting passage to a child. I was that child, and the young woman became my first significant mother. She did not have an easy life. When I was one year old, World War 2 broke out, and her country, Holland, was overrun by German armies. The following year, she gave birth to another boy. He had a leaking heart valve and died nine months later. She had two more children during the war and two more later. When I was only four years old, I remember sitting with Mama as she read me Bible stories from the illustrated Dutch Kinderbijbel. I owe my love for God to her. She emigrated to Canada with five children, including a five-month-old baby. Her faith in God did not waver, even during the poverty-stricken first decade as an immigrant.

The Second significant mother in my life was Jo’s Mom. She dedicated Jo to God for missionary service at her birth. Wanting to let Jo make her own decision, she did not tell Jo until after she graduated from Bible College and was on her way to take missionary training at BIOLA University.

The Third significant mother is my Josephine. She became a mother with the birth of Valorie—the first of three daughters—a year after we were married. For the fifty-eight years since then, Jo has been as close to an ideal mother for our daughters as I can imagine.
I always think of these three mothers when I read Psalm 92:12, 14: “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree . . . they shall still bring forth fruit in old age.”

The Fourth significant mother was our second daughter, Leanne, who gave birth to twin boys thirty years ago, making Jo and me grandparents. What a marvellous over-the-top experience that continues to be.

The Fifth: A few years later, our youngest daughter, Cheryl, had a little girl. Our first granddaughter, who made Cheryl my fifth significant mother. A few years later she had our third grandson.

The Sixth: The following year Valorie became my sixth significant mother with the birth of her daughter, followed a few years later with the birth of triplet daughters.

For two decades I also had a Canela Mother. She met my First Mother during the Canela Bible distribution celebration.

The Sacrifice: It was not until Jo and I were grandparents ourselves that we realized the sacrifice our mothers had made when they encouraged us to leave for Brazil as missionaries, taking away their only grandchildren, two and four years old, and a four-month-old baby whom they would not see again for four years.

Jo and I remained in Brazil for years after our daughters graduated and left to live and study in Canada, the USA and Germany. We prayed much for them. When they became mothers themselves, we praised God and were overjoyed that they keep inviting us to share in their lives and the lives of their children.

I thank God for giving me these six mothers in my life. I appreciate each one so much. They have helped me grow in my spiritual life and gave me a powerful reason to mature me in other ways. I also loved exercising the privilege of having significant input into various facets of their lives.

On Being Intentional Grandparents

Our Non-Relating Grandparents
Jo was only six years old when her family moved across two provinces, leaving all their extended family behind. She does not even remember her grandparents. I fared only a little better growing up in the Netherlands. My mother’s family lived in Friesland, a far-away province that we visited only once. I remember only one brief conversation with my Frisian grandfather.

My father’s family lived in the same city, and we were often together at my Opa and Oma’s house. I was twelve years old when our family left for Canada, and even though I was their first grandchild, I cannot remember either one of my grandparents ever speaking to me. During our first year in Canada, my mother urged me to write a letter to my Oma. I wrote a long letter describing the old farmhouse we lived in and the Canadian wildlife I had seen—gophers, coyotes, and hawks. Weeks passed without a response, then I read a postscript in a letter to my parents, “I see Jack’s handwriting is as bad as ever.”

That day, as a twelve-year-old, I pledged to myself, “If I ever become a grandparent, I will be the exact opposite of my Oma and Opa.”

Our Decision to Make the Time Count
Jo and I were relaxing one evening in our mud-walled, thatch-roofed Canela village house, missing our three daughters terribly and wondering how they were doing. We would have no direct contact with them for the next three months as they stayed in a residential mission school 600 kilometres away. We were grateful for our ten-minute early morning radio contact with Belem that we depended on if there was an emergency. And once a week, we had a one-on-one radio schedule with Rita, one of the boarding school’s parents, who passed on news about the girls and messages from them.

“You know,” I said, “this will be the pattern, on and off, for the rest of their school lives.”

“Yeah,” Jo said, “They’ll be with us in the village for a couple of months in the summer, and we’ll be with them in Belem for Christmas break and a month or so of translation workshops, but for at least half of the year we won’t be part of their day-to-day lives.”

“They’ll be with us during a couple of furloughs between now and the time they graduate from high school,” I said, “but then they’ll leave Brazil for good.”

It scared us to see we had minimal time to be parents to our daughters. We immediately made plans to be far more intentional as parents than we had been. We read books on improving Christian family living and made a “Family Life To-Do” list to follow when we were together in Belem. Being an intentional Daddy to our three daughters would be excellent preparation for acting deliberately as a grandpa to who knows how many grandkids.

Sunday was already family day. We had backyard barbecues, ate out at a nearby restaurant, went sightseeing in Belem or exploring in the countryside. Friday night became Popjes Family Night, as the other twenty families on the centre soon discovered by the laughter and happy shouts emanating from our house through our glassless screen windows. We played games we made up like Sea Monster, which involved a lot of running and screaming. And hide and seek with all the lights off, plus all kinds of table games. I read the entire Lord of the Rings series of books aloud while the family puzzled or did Doodle art. After their twelfth birthday, I took our daughters out on individual weekly dates. We went for walks, sightseeing trips, a movie, or dinner, whatever each one wanted. Excellent preparation for becoming the intentional Grandpa I had vowed to be!

The First Grandkids
When I held our first grandkids, twin grandsons, one in each hand, just days after they were born, I mentally renewed the Grandpa vow I had made when I was twelve years old. I took them for baby carriage rides to give their Mom and Grandma a break, and as I pushed that baby carriage, I prayed for them, and I told them, “I love you. Ryan, I love you, Tyler. I will make sure you know that you matter to me.”

And that is what Jo and I did for each of our eight grandchildren. We spent time with them, listened to them, and loved them, each in their, and our own way. Jo excelled in crafting with the kids and making unique dishes and goodies when they came to visit. We played games, visited parks, and went camping with them at every opportunity. I told them bedtime stories and took them for walks. At least five of our grandkids spent many hours practicing their driving skills with me before they got their license.

When I was away on mission trips, I wrote them “Sunday Afternoon Letters from Grandpa.” I told them true stories of my childhood. I also wrote them made-up stories about a grandpa and eight grandkids with names much like theirs who had every kind of adventure. Jo, for her part, spent hundreds of hours crocheting or knitting afghans for each of our grandkids in designs, colours and patterns they picked out. She also sewed stuffed animals and doll clothes.

I wrote Jo and my memoirs in response to Scripture like, “Good people leave an inheritance to their grandchildren.” Proverbs 13:22. “One generation shall declare your works to another.” Psalm 145:4.

The Joy Being Intentional Grandparenting Brings
Our vow to purposefully and deliberately be Intentional Grandparents continues to bring Jo and me much joy, not just to our grandkids but also to ourselves. And I believe God is pleased too. “They will still bear fruit in old age; they will stay fresh and green” (Psalm 92:14).

We Christian parents and grandparents need to make absolutely sure that our kids and grandkids know we love them and that they matter to us. They need the love and attention only intentional parents and grandparents can deliver.

Holy Hilarity Sunday

Follow God’s Example—Laugh More
Our human ability to laugh at jokes, funny situations, stories and pranks is one of the characteristics that sets us apart from all the rest of God’s creation. It is part of being “made in the image of God.” God, too, laughs. “He that sits in the heavens shall laugh . . .” (Psalm 2:4).

Follow Children’s Example—Have More Fun
Have you ever noticed how much babies love to laugh? Jo sometimes comes across a YouTube posting of someone playing Peek-a-Boo with a baby or doing something ordinary like tearing a piece of paper, both of us can’t help laughing aloud along with the baby. No wonder Jesus, whom His enemies accused of being a party animal, said that we who are adults must become like little children or we will never see the kingdom of God. (Matthew 18:3).

Follow the example of people “under the influence”—Have a Good Time
In addition to children, we all know of people who are free of inhibitions and full of fun. Some sports like running or sky diving bring on a rush, a high feeling of well being, much like that felt by people who consume a moderate amount of alcohol or some other drug.  So are people who are under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul counsels us to get our uninhibited feeling by putting ourselves under the control of the Spirit because there is no danger of the excess and debauchery that results from drinking too much wine. (Ephesians 5:18). There is no way to overdose on the Spirit of God.

Paul often connects God’s Spirit with joy. During a serious explanation about the Jewish people’s inability to understand the Good News, he throws in an aside, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Corinthians 3:12) The Greek term elutheria, usually translated as “liberty” or “freedom,” carries the meaning of “being without restraint to enjoy, to be released from inhibition and constraint to enjoy pleasure.” In other words, Paul says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is good, clean fun.” That fits right in with Paul’s comment on being drunk on the Spirit.

The Reason for Being Deliriously Happy
Easter time underlines the fact that Christians have good reasons to be happy. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the most deliriously joyful event in the history of the world. It proved without a doubt that Jesus is God and victorious over death, hell, Satan and all his forces of evil.

That is why some denominations celebrate the Sunday after Easter as Holy Hilarity Sunday. It comes from the ancient tradition of celebrating several weeks of Risus Paschalis—the Easter laugh, God’s Holy Joke. From Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, all through the trial, torture, crucifixion and burial, things had been going Satan’s way. Then, suddenly Jesus’s scarred corpse rose to glorious life again.

Celebrate God Playing a Cosmic Joke on Satan
On Easter morning, God suddenly turned the tables and revealed that Satan had played into God’s hands. Satan’s plan to destroy Jesus was God’s plan to reveal Him as King of the universe. What a horrible surprise for Satan as he and his forces suddenly realized God had defeated them. No doubt they smacked their infernal foreheads and groaned, “If only we had known!” But they hadn’t. God in His wisdom had kept His age-old plan of redemption hidden from Satan. Paul says, “If they had known, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:8)

Three Cheers for Holy Hilarity Sundays
April Fool’s pranks are about the only thing left of this post-Easter celebration of God’s Cosmic Joke on Satan. Too bad. In the weeks following Easter, wouldn’t it be great if all around the world, hundreds of thousands of church services resounded with waves of laughter at the pastors’ funny stories, and congregations sang every glad, joyful, happy song in their repertoire? Maybe organizers for these hilarity-filled church services should get advice from fun-loving little kids.

Here’s One to Get Us Started
And here is a story that may give you the option to be amused: Back in the pre-Covid years a pastor was greeting people as they left the Easter morning church service when he stopped one man and said, “Hey I haven’t seen you since Christmas, brother. You need to join the Army of the Lord and come to church weekly.” The man leaned over to the pastor and whispered, “I am in the Army of the Lord, but active in the Secret Service.”

A link to my book of funny stories: A Tickle in the Funny Bone. https://www.amazon.ca/Tickle-Funny-Bone-Jack-Popjes/dp/1543116825

The Jesus Way to Pray

The Story
I surprised myself last fall while writing a chapter in my last book, Two To Get Ready. I was writing the story of how Jo and I had to make a significant, life-changing decision, and wanted to be sure that we were following God’s will. We remembered the Bible story of Gideon, who asked God for a sign to give him the courage to make a major decision. He put out a fleece overnight and asked that God keep it dry while all around the grass would be wet with dew. God kept the fleece dry, and Gideon made his decision.

I wrote how we committed ourselves to pray earnestly every day for a week that God would give us a clear sign to help us make our decision. On Saturday evening at the end of that week, Jo and I were getting ready for bed when I asked her, “So, did you get any sign from God?” That’s when I stopped writing in surprise.

I suddenly realized we had been praying all week long as individuals, not praying together as a couple. How different from what we are currently doing. Why did it take us years to learn the value and power of praying together as a couple?

Our Background
Thinking it through, I began to understand that praying individually was trained into us during our early years as believers. We were often taught in church and Sunday school to make sure we got away alone every day to have a time of private devotion: reading a passage from the Bible and praying.

“Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

I can’t remember hearing a sermon or a Sunday school lesson on Matthew 18:19-20 where Jesus teaches his disciples, “Truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Throughout our years in Bible School, it was the same, “Get into your private ‘prayer closet’ to read and pray. Our pre-marital counselling never mentioned praying together as a couple. Even during our Wycliffe training and preparation, which covered a wide variety of essential subjects, there was no emphasis on the power of praying together with someone else. And this was in the face of married couples or teams of single people living for months at a stretch in villages where they would be the only believers.

The Error
This historical focus on individual private prayer is likely due to a misapplication of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 6:5-6 “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Jesus condemned the practice of praying in public to be honoured by people and contrasted this with being honoured by God.

Our Practice
Now, Jo and I pray together about our plans for the day, people in our lives and all sorts of issues. We find this draws us together as a couple, and it encourages us to be faithful in prayer and meets our need for inner peace and strengths. We see many answers to prayer. God even strengthens our patience when he delays the response.

Jesus’ Example
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he did NOT say, “My Father who is in heaven . . . give me this day my daily bread, and forgive me my debt as I forgive my debtors, and lead me not into temptation . . .” No, he used the plural pronouns, Our Father, give us this day, forgive us our debts . . . .  Jesus taught us to pray with others.

 

Of Stories and Storytellers

It Started Eighty Years Ago
I have always loved stories. Eighty years ago, my mother read stories to me when I was just a little boy, and she taught me to read years before I entered grade One. I was already reading Dutch translations of Dickens’ classics and Jules Verne’s science fiction in grades Four and Five. It’s no wonder that I have always written stories, mostly true stories. When our grandkids were young, I told them stories I made up on the spot.

Three Kinds of Stories
Even today, I read, write and tell stories.
1. Some are fiction stories that I may have read or heard, or I may have made up myself; some may be jokes.
2. Some are true stories about other people, which they told me, or which I had read or heard from others.
3. Some are true stories about me. I tell what has happened to me, what I did personally, what I saw, heard, said, and felt.

My Story
This third type of story is the most important to me because it is My Story.
When someone listens attentively to me telling My Story, they are accepting me. They may not agree with everything I did or said during My Story’s events, but if they let me finish My Story, they are accepting, even honouring me.

If, on the other hand, they interrupt me or stop me from telling My Story, their actions do not say, “Your story is not important,” but “You are not important.”

When we interrupt or walk away from someone telling His Story, we reject not just the story but the storyteller. We are our personal Story.

Responding to a Personal Story
After someone tells Their Story, we need to respond somehow—thank them, ask questions, or make some positive comments. We may feel the person did or said something wrong or hear something we disagree with, and we can point that out, but only after hearing their whole story.

To some extent, this is also true when the storyteller is telling someone else’s story. We must be careful not to interrupt since telling that story about someone else is important to the speaker, and we need to listen closely to discover why this is important.

What God Thinks About Our Stories
Jesus pointed out that the words we speak show what is in our hearts, our real inner selves. “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:45.

We all need to monitor what we store in our memories and emotional centre since Jesus also said, “By your words, you will be acquitted, and by your words, you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:37.

I have often noticed when someone in a small group has told His Story, there is a second of silence, and the next speaker jumps in with a story of their own. That is as rude as being introduced to a stranger, and instead of conversing briefly with them, turning away immediately to talk with someone else. God has something to say about this too, “Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak.” James 1:19

Supernatural Spiritual Power in Our Story
God empowers Our Story with Satan-defeating power when we tell Our Story of what Jesus did for us or through us, or possibly even despite us. Revelation 12:11 describes a group of martyrs. “They triumphed over him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” In other words, they put their faith in the atoning death of Jesus, and they told Their Story of what Jesus had done. As a result, they defeated Satan.

Our ability to tell and to appreciate hearing stories is a beautiful gift from our Creator. Let’s treat this gift with honour, both when telling and when listening to stories.

Why and How I Observe Lent This Year

Growing up in the Netherlands, speaking Dutch, I used the word “Lente” all the time to refer to the Spring season, as does the Old English term “Lenten.” Thanks for letting me indulge my linguistic bent.

I knew nothing about the term “Lent,” which liturgical churches use to denote the forty days before Easter. It reflects the forty days of fasting and prayer that Jesus experienced when the Spirit led Him into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Having withstood the temptations, He was cared for by angels before he started His three years of public ministry.

Our Experience with Lent in Brazil
Jo and I learned about Lent’s liturgical concept in Brazil through Carnival, which is a major Brazilian national holiday. Major cities stage parades with numerous samba bands and dancers, clubs and homes host wild parties, often accompanied with widespread drunkenness, debauchery, and depravity. In Rio de Janeiro, at least five million people pack the streets during those five days. Meanwhile, Evangelical churches safeguard their young people by operating youth camps far from the cities.

Suddenly, it’s Ash Wednesday. “This is the start of Lent,” I heard people say. I noticed how adherents of the dominant liturgical church repent of sinful behaviour, especially that of the previous week, start attending church more regularly, practise charity, and abstain from eating certain meats and drinking alcohol.

My Why and How
As I have done other years, I decided to observe Lent again this year. Coming as it does about six weeks after New Year, Lent gives me a chance to check on how I am doing with my (The Best Way to Predict the Future) plans. Lent calls for self-examination and prayer, both of which fit into making decisions on lifestyle and ministry plans.

Jesus defeated each one of Satan’s temptations by quoting a relevant command from the Bible. During Lent, therefore, I increase my reading and meditation on Scripture. I want to hear what God may say about the decisions I am making. Sometimes He brings up the memory of a person I need to forgive or someone to whom I need to apologize. Restoring relationships fits well into Lent.

Fasting is part of Lent and can take many forms of self-denial and discipline. As I have done in other years, during this Lent, I chose an area of my life in which I wanted to practice more than usual self-discipline and to consider it my part of fasting for the seven weeks of Lent.

Preparation for Ministry
Jesus’ time of fasting and prayer preceded His public ministry. Similarly, my time of fasting, prayer and meditation in God’s Word precedes writing my next book. I have been reading recommended memoirs for the past few months and have made audio recordings of my last two memoirs.

During Lent, I will plan the outline and content of a memoir covering more than two decades—telling the story of how the Canelas received God’s Word in their language—Jo and my most significant and impactful ministry. After Lent, I expect to go full speed ahead, following the plan and writing the book: From Adventure to Mission.