How to Be Inducted Into the Hall of Fame . . . or Not

This man deserves a place in our Hall of Fame, the high school principal thought. His excitement grew as he continued to review the list of accomplishments that accompanied the nomination one of my fellow graduates had sent him.

Learned an unwritten indigenous language. Developed an alphabet, taught the native people to read and write in their own language. Practiced basic medicine, including dentistry, and taught hygiene. Translated part of the Bible into the language. Speaks four languages. Authored three books. Inspirational speaker in 400 cities in 20 countries.

Whoa! No one in our current Hall of Fame has done anything like this! he thought, and put my nomination on the short list.

Meanwhile, over a thousand kilometres away, two of my granddaughters were struggling with their algebra homework. As I saw their tears of frustration, I tried to comfort them by saying, “I was never any good at algebra either. I took the course twice and still didn’t pass. One day I was so discouraged that I broke down and cried right in class. So embarrassing!” I felt bad for having passed on my defective algebra gene to these granddaughters.

So what does this have to do with the nomination to my high school’s Hall of Fame? Everything, it turns out.

Jack looking happy doing non-algebra high school homework

When, a few weeks ago, the principal did a routine check of my course transcripts, he discovered that at graduation time I had been three credits short—the algebra course—and that I had, therefore, never officially graduated. Never mind that since then I had taken courses at five universities and had even lectured at some, I was technically a high school dropout. And, since only graduates were eligible for consideration to the Hall of Fame, he reluctantly pulled my nomination from the short list pile and dropped it into the trash.

When my fellow graduate told me the story of my rejection, I gave thanks that God chose Jo and me to serve Him in Bible translation and empowered us to do some amazing things for Him. Or more accurately, that God did amazing things through us. (It also helps to be a Dutchman with a typical healthy self-esteem.) For these reasons, I didn’t really need the Hall of Fame ego boost.

In the fifty-six years since my non-graduation, I have been profoundly grateful that other people excelled in math and developed the airplanes, vehicles, computers and electronic gear that my work, life and ministry depend on!

Not graduating from high school will definitely keep you out of your school’s Hall of Fame, but it doesn’t automatically mean you are destined for a life of failure. Here are some statistics on highly successful people who for one reason or another were unable to graduate from high school: 25 self-made billionaire business people, 10 Nobel prize winners, 14 USA Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients, 12 USA Congressional Gold medal recipients, 28 British knighthoods. And the one I like best, 55 bestselling authors!

This incident perfectly illustrates the fact that God creates every human being as a unique entity. We all have strengths and weaknesses in different and complex combinations. We need to ask: How has God gifted me? What are my strengths? Then give ourselves over to God to live our lives, raise our families, build our careers, and develop our ministries for God using those strengths.

If we serve Him faithfully, He will someday say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” Matthew 25:21 (NIV).

Or in the Popjes Paraphrase, “Come into My Hall of Fame!”

Five Decades of Marriage, Family and Ministry

I wanted to post this column celebrating our fiftieth wedding anniversary on our March 31 anniversary date, but I decided to keep my priorities straight and posted the April Fool column instead. The next weekend was Easter so during Passion week I posted an Easter column. I began traveling on my current speaking trip immediately after Easter, and I posted a column I had in reserve.

Now, finally, Jo and I invite you to celebrate and praise God with us by galloping over the sunny green hills and stumbling through a few dark stony gullies of our five decades of marriage, family and ministry.

Starting the ride of our life.

First Decade: 1962 – 1972 (Jack’s Age 24 –34)

°         Married March 31, after 8 month engagement.

°         Pastored Innisfail Baptist church 3 years.

°         Local newspaper published Jack’s first article.

°         Valorie, Leanne and Cheryl born. Valorie diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

°         Linguistic studies in Washington and Oklahoma.

°         Jungle survival training in Mexico. Joined Wycliffe Bible Translators, moved to Brazil.

°         Studied Portuguese, managed office and guest house in Rio de Janeiro.

°         Assigned to Canela project and moved to Belem.

°         Two half-year sessions in Canela village. Language learning and medical work.

°         Furlough in Calgary, AB. Raised more financial support.

°         Cheryl’s eyesight saved just in time. All three daughters made commitment to follow Jesus.

°         Returned to Brazil on a freighter from New York. Jack’s Dad & Mom came to Brazil to help build our house on Belem centre.

Life Among the Canelas

Second Decade: 1972 – 1982 (Jack’s Age 34 –44)

°         All three daughters in boarding school in Belem during multiple work sessions in the village.

°         Jo survived appendicitis attack in village. Surgery in the city later.

°         Translated and published Life of Christ book in Canela. Translated Acts.

°         Furlough in Kelowna, BC. Postal strike, no income.

°         Valorie treated for latent tuberculosis.

°         Return to Brazil, Luke, 1 & 2 Thessalonians translated. Luke, Acts and 1&2 Thessalonians published.

°         Valorie outgrew juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

°         Political pressure, start of five-year exile away from Canela village.

°         Jack chairman of SIL Brazil, interim field director.

°         Jaco, first Canela who decided to follow Jesus.

°         Valorie graduated, started Biola University, Los Angeles, CA. Leanne graduated.

°         Jack severely depressed during furlough in Edmonton, AB.

Third Decade: 1982 – 1992 (Jack’s Age 44 –54)

°         Valorie and Leanne both in Biola University, Los Angeles, CA

°         Returned to Brazil. End of exile, returned to work among the Canela.

°         Cheryl graduated and attended Capernwray in Germany.

°         Translated rest of New Testament and the partial Old Testament.

°         Thirty-five young Canela men asked us to start a Bible class.

°         Valorie graduated from Biola University.

°         Leanne and Arnold married.

°         Jo’s father passed away.

°         Partial Bible in Canela published, project completed! Distribution and dedication celebration.

°         Returned to Canada, bought mini-motor-home, traveled two years in North America to visit supporting partners and speak in churches and promotional banquets.

°         Valorie and Kurt, Cheryl and Keith marry. Leanne and Arnold have twin sons.

°         Sold motor-home and bought house in Carstairs, AB. Worked in Wycliffe office.

Post Canela ride in leadership

Fourth Decade: 1992 – 2002 (Jack Age’s 54 –64)

°         Spoke at hundreds of promotional banquets and other events in scores of cities all across Canada and the USA.

°         Jo’s mother passed away.

°         Served six years as Executive Director of Wycliffe Canada, and three years as Executive Director of Wycliffe Caribbean.

°         Wrote 350 articles and weekly news and teaching columns.

°         Numerous work trips to Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, South America.

°         Jack’s father passed away.

°         Six more grandchildren born. Wrote two serial books of stories for the grandchildren.

The writing and speaking part of the ride

Fifth Decade: 2002 – 2012 (Jack’s Age 64 –74)

°         Sold house in Carstairs, bought house in Sunrise Beach, Sandy Lake, AB.

°         Spoke at about 350 banquets and other events in Canada, and the USA.

°         Published three books of columns.

°         Youngest grandson started suffering seizures and had brain surgery.

°         Jack’s mother passed away.

°         Spoke at overseas conferences in Malaysia, and Indonesia.

°         Made major vacation trip to Brazil and Canela with all children, grandchildren, 15 persons.

°         Jo had multiple hip replacement surgeries, revisions and repairs.

°         Sold house in Sandy Beach, moved to rental apartment in Spruce Grove, AB.

°         Twin grandsons graduated and started university, one engaged to be married.

°         Writing two more books of columns, to be published as ebooks.

°         Celebrated 50th wedding anniversary by writing this column.

(By Faith) Sixth Decade: 2012 – 2022 (Jack Age 74 –84)

°         More speaking tours and other speaking events.

°         Move to the Okanagan, British Columbia.

°         Continue weekly blog posts.

°         Publish five more ebooks.

°         Six graduations from high school, up to eight graduations from college.

°         Five to nine weddings.

°         Five to ten great-grandkids.

°         Possibly retire from Wycliffe.

°         God only knows what kind of age related medical problems for both of us.

°         Much continuing joy in marriage, in family and in ministry.

Thanks for joining us on this celebratory gallop through our lives. God has been soooo good to us!

How to Avoid the One Fatal Mistake That Can Sink Your Project

As a speaker, these are the invitations I thrive on:

From a retired couple: “When you are next in the area, please come and stay with us, and this time bring your wife.”

From a pastor: “Please let me know if you are available to speak some Sunday. My church needs a greater vision for missions and Bible translation.”

From the principal of a Christian school: “Our students need hear from people like you who have done something significant with their lives. Come any time.”

From a denominational leader: “Only a few of our churches have caught the vision of Bible translation, I’d love to see you help spread that vision throughout our denomination.”

I had been on a short speaking tour in a province 3,500 km (over 2,000 miles) from home and nearly every day had been receiving these invitations. When I returned home I mentioned this to the person who had organized the trip, and he instantly volunteered his services to set up a full six-week tour. I was delighted since I’m no good at setting up tours.

God's Word in Every Language

I was full of energy, enthusiasm and brimming with story ideas, but then I made a fatal mistake. What I should have done was sit down with my wife and plot a six week tour on our planning calendar for the following year. I should have given the tour organizer the official go ahead. I should have emailed or phoned all those pastors, principals, leaders and potential hosts and told them of our firm plans to tour the area.

I should have. But I didn’t.

Instead, as I conversed with some people about the short tour, I, on the spur of the moment, mentioned the plan for a much longer follow-up tour. Unfortunately these people had not been to that province for years, they had not seen the people I had seen, nor had heard their invitations. They were not antagonistic, they simply did not share my vision. I dissipated my energy trying to convince them, and my enthusiasm waned as they brought up problems and objections, advising me to wait until things could be sorted out.

Before anything was resolved the organizer got involved in other work and . . . my wife and I never did go on that tour. We were deeply disappointed as were probably all those who had given us such hearty and urgent invitations. My foolish and fatal mistake quenched the Spirit, wasted ministry opportunities, and killed the project.

I should have known better. I’m a practiced writer. I’m an experienced speaker. Writers of articles, authors of books, and preachers of sermons know you should never talk about your new idea until the article is in first draft, the story is plotted, or the sermon is outlined.

We need to use our God-given energy to create these new things, not to defend or explain them to people. I’m not saying we should just independently push our way through to the end without getting any input from other people. The Lone Ranger, “I can do it by myself” attitude might sound heroic but it is far from biblical.

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22 (NIV)

Exactly! We all need advice, help, input and even critique from other people. But not just from anybody. They have to be people who share our vision. Those are the people we need to invite to ask the penetrating questions that will reveal potential weaknesses. We need to ask for advice on how to improve the plan, or the article, or the sermon. But not until later. First we must pour our pent up creativity into the project. Once it is well-developed, we should look for more input.

I failed to do that. I made that one fatal mistake. And I sank my project.

How a Simple Easter Story Affected a Church and the Denomination

God’s Spirit moved unexpectedly during the Easter Sunday service in a crowded church in Trinidad. As executive director for Wycliffe Caribbean, on most Sundays I would be away speaking in churches, but this time I had the weekend off and decided to attend a church a few blocks from my office. I had visited a few times and preached there once.

The usher seated me in the front pew, next to the pastor and his wife. After a rousing time of musical worship and celebration, the pastor introduced the special visiting speaker, the president of the denomination.

“But before our president brings the message,” he said, “I’d like to welcome our brother Jack from Wycliffe. Jack, please come up and bring a few words of greeting from Wycliffe.” Inviting visiting pastors or missionaries to say a few words is customary in many Caribbean churches, so I was not surprised. I took the microphone, knowing I was expected to speak for at least five to ten minutes. I gave a two-minute update on Wycliffe Caribbean and the world of Bible translation, and continued, “This Easter morning I am remembering what happened the first time we spent Easter in the Canela village of Brazil.”

I then told a two-minute story about the Canela old men’s council arguing over how someone had died. Some insisted he had been executed. Others disagreed saying he had died in a fight, “How else did he get holes in his hands and feet if he wasn’t grabbing and kicking at the spears?” Suddenly I realized they were talking about Jesus, His crucifixion and death!

As I prayed for an opportunity to speak, the chief called on me, and said, “We’ve been hearing news from our Portuguese speaking Brazilian neighbours that this week everyone is remembering the death of a really important man, but we don’t understand what happened. Do you know anything about this?”

“Yes, I do!” I said, and ran home to get the freshly translated story.

That was the first time I publicly read the Easter story in Canela. Even though it was only a first draft translation, hearing the clear facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection made a huge impact on the Canelas. (See “The Easter Confusion Continues” pages 59-60, A Poke in the Ribs.)

“Hundreds of millions of people,” I told the congregation, “speak over 4,000 languages all around the world in which none of the Bible has yet been translated. It breaks my heart that right now, today, this very Easter Sunday morning, they are still just as confused about Easter as the Canelas were back in the early 1970s.”

I sat down and the visiting speaker entered the pulpit. He opened his Bible, arranged his notes, looked over the congregation and said, “I sense I should give an opportunity for some of you to respond to what you have just heard. Do you feel God wants you to give yourself to Him to act in whatever way He calls, in order to bring God’s Word to those who still don’t have it in their languages? It may be that you are willing to personally go overseas, or to pray or give as you have never prayed or given before. If you are ready to make a commitment, come forward and I’ll pray for you.”

That’s when the Spirit’s work showed.

They kept coming, we kept praying.

One by one, men, women, young people, and older folks got up and walked to the front and stood with bowed heads. After about twenty people had come, the pastor whispered to me, “I’ve never seen this before,” stood up and organized a line for people to be prayed for by the visiting speaker, by himself, by the chief elder and by me.

The people kept coming. We kept laying our hands on them and praying. After over half the congregation had come, received prayer, and had returned to their seats, nearly an hour had gone by. The visiting speaker never did preach his sermon. He stood with tears in his eyes, asked everyone to rise, and gave the benediction.

One Saturday, some months later, a Wycliffe team came to that church and ran a well-attended, in-depth workshop on how to get involved in Bible translation. The following year, Wycliffe Caribbean signed a ministry partnership agreement with that denomination, the largest one in that part of the Caribbean.

God is at work! In the ten years since I told that two-minute story, people groups speaking hundreds of different languages have received God’s Word in their language for the first time. And Bible translation projects are ongoing in nearly 2,000 other languages! May God speed the day that not one person on earth remains confused about who Jesus is, why he died and what His resurrection means.


He is alive! Happy Easter!

Do You Know the Two Most Revealing Words in the English Language?

As a Christian and a writer, I am convinced that words have an almost supernatural energy or power to influence people. It started at creation when God used words to create the universe. “Let there be light,” He said, and there was light.

God made Adam in His own image—to be just like Him. Is it any wonder that the first work God assigned to Adam was to name the animals—a job requiring the use of words?
Words have started marriages and words have destroyed them. Words have set off wars, and words have negotiated peace. Words in advertisement sell products, and words in complaint comments online cause buyers to return the items for a refund.

Words fascinate, which is why linguistic researchers constantly study language and how it influences people. Recently linguists published a preliminary report of a unique study of North American English. Instead of focusing on meanings of words and phrases, the linguists focused on the sounds—the vowels and consonants.

What they discovered intrigued them so much they had computer programmers develop a program not only to analyse, but to forecast what sounds and combinations were the most persuasive, the most powerful, and thus the most influential in the English language.

They knew that “e” was the most used vowel and “t” the most used consonant, but they were not on the short list of most powerful vowels and consonants. Instead, the vowels “a, i, o” and the consonants “f, l, p, r” appeared to be the sounds represented in the most influential words in English. A complete analysis and report is still years away, but advertisers, public speakers, and writers like me are already looking forward to using words with these sounds to help persuade their listeners and readers.

This discovery fascinates me, and as a Bible translator, I wonder if it will lead to a new version of the Bible in English using as many as possible of these “power” vowels and consonants. Beyond that, who knows? Maybe this computer model can be used on some of the nearly 2,000 languages that still don’t have any of the Bible translated into them. Just think, Bible translators would have lists of words and synonyms using the specific vowel and consonant sounds most influential in those particular languages.

Even in the most remote villages of the world, Bible translators now use solar charged battery powered computers, a far cry from the pencils and notebooks my wife and I used to start the translation program among the Canela people of Brazil 45 years ago. God speaks of the end of time in Daniel 12:4 when “. . . knowledge shall be increased.” Who knows what this exciting discovery might lead to in years to come.

I do know this. These powerful vowels and consonants spell the Two Most Revealing Words in the English language, “April Fool”.