The New Name

I have been writing my memoirs in a number of volumes which I call The Adventure Series. The first volume is the book of true stories for children but loved by adults, The Misadventures of Hansje: The Boy Who Kept His Guardian Angel Busy which covers my early years

The second volume is being published this week, The Adventures Begin: A Teen’s Memoir. You’ll be able to buy this book on my INSights and OUTBursts blog site soon.

(Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter of The Adventures Begin.)
After being seasick for over a week, I heaved a big sigh of relief when I finally stood on solid ground on Pier 21 in Halifax. It was Thursday, July 20, 1950, nine days of storms at sea since we left our home in Hilversum, Holland.

The women and children sat on suitcases and waited amid the confusion of baggage being unloaded and piled on the dock. The men stood in long lines to process their immigration papers and register their names. All I wanted to do was to board a train and start having adventures, and discover Canada with my physical senses, not just with my imagination from books.

The First New Name
Before we left Holland, we had already decided that we would change our Dutch names to English ones. We were going to be real Canadians; learn English, and integrate into Canadian society as quickly as possible.

During the immigration procedure the first name we changed was our family name. It was “Poepjes,” pronounced “Poop-yes” Unbelievable, but true.

Since it means the same thing in Dutch as it does in English, I had been teased and insulted for years because of that nasty-sounding name. I certainly didn’t want that to continue in Canada and neither did my parents. So, we took the “e” out of “Poepjes” and turned it into “Popjes.” In Dutch, this word means “little dolls” and had no meaning in English. Much better!

We also chose new, more Canadian-sounding first names. I was named Hans after my Papa. But since I was just a child, my name was Hansje, which meant Little Hans. In Canada, I was determined to be an adult with an adult name. So, Papa and I looked in the Dutch-to-English dictionary and saw the English translation for Hans was either John or Jack. I chose Jack since it sounded more manly to me, and Papa took John. I couldn’t wait to board the train and begin my new life in Canada as Jack Popjes—a young adult with a nice clean, new name.
End of the excerpt.

The Second New Name
This immigration experience was the only time I was able to choose my name. Eighteen years later, the Canela people adopted Jo and me into their tribal society and gave us Canela names. I have been known as Prejaka by thousands of Canela for the past fifty years. I value that name. But I look forward to another name, a secret name that I value even more.

The Final New Name
Someday, God will give me a new home, a new body, a new diet, a new life, and a new name. “Everyone who is victorious shall eat of the hidden manna, the secret nourishment from heaven, and I will give to each a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one else knows except the one receiving it.” Rev 2:17 TLB.

That name is the only one that matters—not Hansje, not Jack, not Prejaka—the new name created specifically for me by God. My future is so marvellous; God wants me to have a new name to match it.
May we all live in the victory that Christ gives as we look forward to receiving our new name.

You Cannot Learn Another Language Unless You Have This Ability.

The following language-learning story is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of my upcoming book of memoirs, The Adventures Begin. This event happened in October 1950, three months after our family arrived in Canada.
As a twelve-year-old, who had been an avid reader since age five, I was fluent in Dutch and had learned to understand Frisian, which my parents spoke to each other when they were talking about things I wasn’t supposed to know. English was my second language.

The Problem
We were about to drive into town for our Saturday shopping trip when Papa discovered our old car wouldn’t start. He needed to siphon some gas from the tank into a container so that he could pour it directly into the carburetor. He looked everywhere for a piece of hose.

Finally, he called me and said, “Run out to the Osten place and ask for a piece of hose.” Papa told me this in Dutch and used the Dutch word for hose, slang.

“Yes, Papa,” I said, “I already know the English word for slang.”

The Confusion
Many languages have words that could be the name of two different things. In English, for instance, a pipe can mean a small hand-held device to fill with tobacco and smoke from, or it can mean a ten-inch wide conduit to drain sewage. A bat is both a night-flying animal and an implement to hit a ball. The Dutch language has the same types of words. The Dutch word slang means both “hose” and “snake.” But I didn’t know that.

Twenty minutes later, I told Mr. Osten, “My father needs a snake.” When he looked confused and surprised, I explained, “He is fixing the car.” That didn’t seem to help.

So, I walked over to his pickup truck and pretended to shove a hose down the gas tank and suck on it to drain out some gas; I even made a horrible face and spat on the ground as if I had tasted some gas.

The Solution
Mr. Osten laughed so long and hard that I laughed with him. He went into his garage and got me a piece of rubber tubing that was exactly right. “This is a hose,” he explained, “not a snake.” I thanked him, and he clapped me on the back and said, “Thanks for the good laugh.”

As I walked back home, I was happy to have learned another English word. Mr. Osten had laughed at my mistake, and that was fine since I now had a new word to teach Papa and Mama. Supper time was when Papa always asked me, in his best English, “What new word did you learn today? Teach us. Or do I need to spank you?” That last part was just in fun, at least I hoped so. But I always made sure I learned at least one new word, just to be safe.

The Ability
I didn’t know it then, but long after I had mastered English, I would learn and become fluent in two more languages, each more difficult than the previous one. Learning to speak these languages required the ability to laugh with those who laughed at my mistakes. Oh, and it also helps to have healthy self-esteem—not a problem for most Dutchmen.

The “Useless Church People” Story

The Beginning
The last job I had before attending Bible School in Calgary was with a seismic oil exploration crew based out of Three Hills, AB in the summer of 1957. I had told the crew I was a Christian. They noticed that I went to church on Sundays, my language was clean, and I didn’t smoke, drink or mess around with girls.

One weekend the boss gave us extra days off. My foreman, his girlfriend and another guy from the crew were driving his car to Edmonton. I asked him, “Can I ride with you as far as my folks’ house in Red Deer?”

“No problem,” my foreman said, “but be ready for us to pick you up at your house on Sunday. I’ll phone you to let you know what time we’ll come by.”

The Middle
That Sunday afternoon he called, “We’ll be at your house tonight at nine o’clock. Be ready.”

“I will be at church at that time,” I said. “Please pick me up there. The church is only one block off your route, right near the highway. You won’t even need to go all the way up the hill to my house.”

“Well, okay,” he said, but I sensed resentment in his voice.

That night, when I got in the front seat, my foreman, in the back with his girlfriend, yelled at me. “I hate like #*+# your changing plans on me, making me pick you up at a #@%* church, for *#@* sake!”

I didn’t say anything while he continued cursing “useless church people”. Eventually he turned his attention back to his girl.

Twenty minutes later, as we were driving down the two-lane highway at 100 kilometres an hour, the car ahead of us abruptly slowed down. Our driver slammed on the brakes, and to my horror, our car swerved to the left and slid sideways into oncoming traffic. The last thing I remember was seeing a pair of headlights only yards away through my side window.

When I woke up, my left wrist, knee, and head hurt. People ran up to help. I crawled out the driver’s door. A man helped me stumble to a nearby house where I sat on a couch to recover. A policeman came in, and after talking to the driver, asked, “Who was the front seat passenger?” I raised my hand. “You’re a lucky guy. If that car had hit your door, you would not have survived. Instead, it hit forward near the hinge door frame, which absorbed the impact.”

The Ending
The foreman’s car was a total wreck; he cursed and worried aloud about how we were going to get to Three Hills still eighty kilometres away. “I’ll phone my Dad.” I said, “He’ll come, pick us up, and take us to Three Hills.” I did, and Dad did, arriving a half an hour later.

At the end of the trip, Dad refused the money the foreman wanted to give him, saying, “Jack and I love Jesus, and we love helping people in trouble.” With that, he turned the car and drove home, completing a 225-km-long demonstration of Christian love. Five hours later he got up to go to work.

The cast I wore on my left wrist reminded my foreman for the next two weeks that “church people” might possibly have some use after all. Only God knows what impact, if any, this experience had on him. We all know, however, that Dad will hear Jesus saying, “I was stranded in a wrecked car and you drove me home.”

(This is an excerpt from Chapter 20 of my next volume of memoirs, The Adventures Begin.)

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The 30th Anniversary

A few days ago, on Monday, August 10, Jo and I celebrated a significant anniversary of a major life event that took place on this date in 1990, 30 years ago. It was a Friday, and the location was on the central plaza of the main Canela village in Brazil. The occasion was the distribution of the newly printed partial Bible, which Jo and I translated for and with the Canela people.

A Major Investment
Starting in 1957, we spent 11 years in studies, training, and preparation for the ministry of linguistics and Bible translation in Brazil. For the next 22 years, we focused on producing a literate society and a partial Bible in the Canela language. It was a 33 year-long investment. A long time, but it was worth the effort!

Eternal Results

A generation growing up learning about God from the Canela Bible

We are thrilled to think that of the several thousand Canelas now living in the main village, a whole generation was born and grew up in homes where a Canela Bible was present. These 20 to 30-year-old parents are now themselves raising families that have access to God’s Word in their language.

Our Heartfelt Thanks to God
Our hearts are full of thanks to God for choosing Jo and me, and our family, to be involved in this significant task. We especially thank our daughters, Valorie, Leanne and Cheryl, for being part of our team. They played a vital role in developing deep relationships with Canela friends, playmates, and families. Right from the very beginning of language learning, they helped us sort thousands of slips of paper with Canela words and definitions to produce a dictionary. During school vacation, they spent many hours helping adult Canelas learn to read. And they prayed with in-depth personal knowledge for the Canelas and us.

Our daughters had to sacrifice much: the loss of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins back in Canada with whom they connected only briefly every five years. During their school years, they spent up to three months at a time in a boarding school on the mission centre separated from us while we worked in the village. When they graduated from high school, they left Brazil, and we were apart for years.

But God is no one’s debtor. He gave them dozens of uncles and aunts and life-long friends from among our fellow Wycliffe missionary families, also living on the mission centre in Belem.

The Large Team Back Home
We thank God for our extended families and for the friends we made during our decades of preparation and active ministry. Many became long-time faithful prayer warriors, encouraging correspondents (even with paper mail), and essential financial partners. We thank God for all of you, and we thank you for your part in bringing the Word of God to the Canela.

Our Co-Labourers in Brazil
Our thanks go up to God and to our fellow missionaries in Brazil on the centres, also the administrators, the teachers for our daughters, the pilots, the mechanics, the radio and computer technicians, and the PhDs in several academic disciplines, all freely sharing their expertise with us. We could never have completed this task without them. Frankly, we would never even have dared to start it without them.

We are also thankful for Bernard and Elke Grupp, the missionaries who have worked among the Canela for the past 18 years. They continually encourage us by sending reports of baptisms, Bible classes, the production of the Canela Illustrated Children’s Bible, and multiple productions in audio and video media like The Jesus Film in Canela.

Good Things From The Hand of God
Canela life has changed much since those long-ago days in the late 1960s when Jo and I began living with the Canela. Life expectancy has vastly increased. Infant mortality has drastically decreased. Most Canelas now can read and write in their own language. A whole generation has been going to school in town to be taught in Portuguese and is now growing up fluently bilingual.

Hundreds of people have prayed, given, assisted, encouraged, sacrificed and worked to make possible the Word of God in the Canela language.

Every one of us looks forward to that great worship scene in Revelation 7:9. “There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

Look! Yes, there they are! The Canelas!

 

After more than 20 years of meeting in the open air, the Canelas built a fireproof, waterproof church building patterned after local Brazilian churches.

Baptisms with plenty of witnesses

Adult believers baptisms take place frequently

Lots of children at special teaching sessions for them.

Many times the church just won’t hold everyone wanting to attend a teaching session.

 

The Surprise in Church

A group of us Wycliffe Bible translators from different countries sat around the lunch table, enjoying our coffees and conversation at a speaker training seminar. Having recently completed our translation projects, we were taking turns around the table practicing telling anecdotes of our translation experiences. The next one to tell a story was a translator from Mexico or maybe some other Spanish speaking Latin American country. I am writing this story thirty years after I heard it, so I don’t remember his name, nor the name of the indigenous people among whom he worked, but his story impacted me. Here is his story as I remember hearing it:

The Story
My wife and I worked with a sizeable indigenous group that had been Christianized in Spanish many years earlier. One of their own people served as a pastor and preached from the Spanish Bible, explaining the meaning in their language. Although they had a building, the church was stagnant, showing no growth, and little evidence of the fruits of the Spirit among the churchgoers.

This is the only photo I could find of a white-hatted, possibly Latin American man.

The local culture did not allow men and women to sit together at meetings, so even in the church service, the men sat on one side of the aisle and the women on the other side. Another cultural distinctive was all the adult men wore white western hats—no matter where they were, at home, at work, or in public. I sometimes wondered if they slept wearing them. Even in church, all the men wore their white cowboy hats and removed them only when the pastor said, “Let us pray to God,” Having shown respect for conversation with God, after the Amen, the hats went back on.

After my wife and I had been there for a year and had learned quite a bit of the language, we did some experimental Bible translation. The pastor told us he would be preaching from 1 John 3 the following Sunday, so we worked all week with some men who were known as good storytellers to translate as much as we could. We completed 1 John 3:1-11, I typed it up and gave it to the pastor on Sunday morning to use for the Scripture reading.

“Let’s surprise the congregation,” I said, “Just announce the Scripture reading reference, open your Spanish Bible and start reading from the typewritten translation.”

That morning, as usual, the church filled up with the white-hatted men on one side and the women on the other. After the singing, when the pastor announced the Scripture reading, the attendees opened their Spanish Bibles, the pastor opened his and began reading the typed passage in their indigenous language.

He hadn’t even finished the first verse when, suddenly, like a great white wave, every man took off his hat. For the first time in their lives, they heard God’s voice talking to them. The hats stayed off as they heard about God’s love, how He wants to treat them as sons, and how they should love each other.

In the same language in which they scolded their kids, argued among themselves or told their spouses ‘I love you,’ they now heard God speaking to them. As the pastor finished reading, the women were teary-eyed, and many of the men wiped their eyes as they replaced their hats.

The Result
The pastor never again read God’s Word from the Spanish Bible. That Sunday marked a turning point in the life of the church. People crowded into the church to hear God speaking to them in their language. Some years later, even before my wife and I had finished translating the New Testament, the believers had tripled in number and built several more churches in other villages.

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The Four Words Challenge

“In four words tell us the biblical basis for worldwide missions.” The scribbled note startled me, and I wondered what had led someone to ask such a specific question.

It happened several decades ago when Jo and I travelled on a Wycliffe promotional tour and visited a dozen cities in Ontario when I was President of Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada.

Jack & Jo on tour in the mid-1990s.

That Sunday evening, the church was well filled with both older folks and young adults. As usual, we made sure that the congregation had access to slips of paper. After Jo and I were introduced, I asked the attendees to form small groups of three or four people and come up with a written question in any area of pioneer missions. “I will answer each question with an anecdote,” I said, “and ask you to make sure I answered your question.” After a few minutes, they passed the notes to the centre aisle, and the ushers brought them to me.

Jo showed and narrated about six minutes of slides (remember those?), giving a glimpse into our lifestyle and Bible translation ministry in the village among the Canela people of Brazil. Meanwhile, I was on my knees on the floor of the lobby, sorting dozens of slips of paper into categories.
At the end of the slide set, I walked in, held up some notes and said, “The questions on these notes are about our lifestyle in the village and have already been answered by Jo.” I read the first question and told an anecdote that answered it. I read similar questions together and answered them in one story.

After twenty-five minutes of telling stories, I came to the last question, the one about the biblical basis for missions in four words. I thought, someone probably attended a missions conference where the speaker had a four-word outline, and now they wonder if I have the same summary.

I left that question for the last since I did not know how to answer it. Then, as I took a breath to read the question aloud, I suddenly remembered 1 John 2:2. (Thank you, Holy Spirit, for reminding me!) So, I looked out over the audience, read the question, and said, “The answer is ‘Not Only For Ours,’” putting up one finger at a time as I pronounced each word.
Then, I quoted the whole verse, “Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and Not Only For Ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” Again, enumerating each word with my four fingers. The congregation burst into applause. Surprising, but not unpleasant.

As always, I asked, “Did that answer your question?” A young man put up his hand and said, “Actually I meant to ask, ‘In few words,’ not ‘In four words.’ Sorry, my writing is so sloppy.” Everyone burst out laughing.
I looked at the paper again, and, yes, I messed up. The scribble could also be read as “few” not “four.”

I was happy the Holy Spirit used a young man’s sloppy writing and my careless reading to emphasize that God wants everyone in the whole world to know the Good News of forgiveness of sins and a renewed life.

 

To read more stories like this one:
Buy Jack’s Print books:

https://www.jackpopjes.com/category/books/
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