When the Situation is Deadly, Dangerous and Desperate

One evening, as I relaxed in my hammock I thought, I love days when many of the Canelas are away hunting meat for a festival. No one to bother me as I catch up on my reading.

This is NOT Bible Translating for Dummies! See, no yellow cover.

Jo was next door attending the birth of a baby that had been coming since the afternoon. With our three daughters in boarding school in Belem, I had our mud-walled, palm thatch house peacefully to myself for the next hour or two.

But only ten minutes into my book I heard a kid running towards the house. He burst in through the open back door and shouted, “Your wife wants you to come right now!” I jogged after him and entered the room where a typical Canela birth scenario was unfolding. The young mother-to-be on the pole and mat bed was leaning back against her husband who had his arms around her below her breasts ready to tighten and squeeze down when the moment came. A couple of elderly women were taking turns feeling inside her to check the position of the baby. What was not typical was that her head lolled to one side and her unseeing eyes were rolled up so that only the whites showed.

Jo looked at me with deep concern showing on her face and said in English, “Honey, this woman is dying. She is unconscious. I can’t even feel her pulse anymore. She has been in labour too long. We need to do something or she’ll die.” I checked her pulse on the side of her throat, it was faint and slow. Not a good sign. If she died now the baby would die too.

I prayed as I ran back to the house, “Lord, give me wisdom and give it now!” I grabbed a flashlight and began to look over the medicine shelves at the scores of bottles, boxes and packages. We had everything from antibiotics to anti snake bite serum, from pills for intestinal parasites and diarrhea, to eye and ear drops. I had no idea what I was looking for.

Suddenly, behind some dental extraction tools and anesthetic, an ampoule stood out, Adrenalin. Hmm, that’s for allergic shock. I remembered. It makes the heart beat faster and stronger. Okay, that’s it! I grabbed the ampoule and a syringe and needle. In the bright light of my flashlight laid on a shelf, I drew in several millilitres of adrenalin and ran back to the house. Still praying, I grabbed her arm and injected the contents into her upper arm.

I felt for the pulse point in her throat. 5 seconds, 10 seconds, I could feel a stronger beat. 15 seconds her heart was beating hard and fast. Her eyes popped wide open, she stiffened, gave a scream and a mighty push. The husband squeezed down, everyone shouted, and within a minute, Whump! There was the baby! Whew!

Mom and week-old baby. Alive and well!

“Thank you, Lord,” I prayed as I walked back home, wondering if I could get back to my book. “Thank you for focusing my eyes on that adrenaline.”

It’s amazing what we can accomplish in situations where we have nothing to lose. The woman and the baby were going to die. That was sure. We had heard of it happening before. When death is inevitable and near, people will take crazy chances. Nothing to lose, everything to gain.

God often works his greatest miracles at times of utter desperation. Queen Esther and all the Jews of the Persian empire were facing certain death. Only the emperor could stop the executions. Although Esther was the wife of the emperor, she risked her life if she came to him without being called. But she went saying, “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” Esther 4:16 (NIV). She was going to die anyway and had everything to gain. Her act of desperation in the end saved the lives of all her people.

Four lepers were starving outside the walls of a besieged city. “If we sit here we die” they reasoned. “If we go into the city we die. Let’s go over to the besieging enemy, they might give us food. The worst they can do is kill us and we’re going to die anyway.” Their act of desperation in the end saved the lives of everyone in the besieged city. Read the whole story in 2 Kings 6:24 to 7: 20.

It’s amazing what God can do in desperate deadly situations where we have everything to gain by trusting Him.

The Day the Bottom Fell Out of Everything

Jo and I awoke early after a fitful sleep that first night in the main Canela village. Rain had wakened us several times as it blew in through the open holes in the mud walls, still without shutters. We were exhausted after the long trip and from unloading three packing drums and dozens of cardboard boxes from the truck the day before.

Unloading supplies for a seven month stay in the Canela village

We dressed, and I started a fire on the ground at the back door to boil water so Jo could make coffee and breakfast porridge. Our three pre-school daughters were still fast asleep in their hammocks, worn out from riding on top of the truckload of cargo for the four-day 60 kilometre last leg of the trip. After eating our breakfast, using the top of a metal packing drum as a table, I asked some Canela men to bring lots of thin palm canes to make shelves.

The chaos started when some of the cane shelves and tables were ready to be filled. I picked up a box of cans of food and two steps later all the cans dropped out the bottom scattering on the floor. The same thing happened to Jo with a box of medicines. Huh? What? Then it hit me. Construction of our mud walled, palm thatch roofed house was still going on the day we arrived, the packed earth floor was still damp, and the moisture had soaked into the bottom of every cardboard box. That explained it. But it solved nothing.

It was hopeless. We had to get those boxes up off the floor before the dampness would damage the contents. But no matter how careful we were, the boxes kept coming apart. Rolls of film, jars of medicine, packages of soup, everything was loose and mixed up with everything else. Our girls were on the floor, picking things up one by one, and sorting them in little heaps on shelves. Shelves! We need more shelves! We couldn’t live there, let alone minister to anyone, until we had created some order out of the chaos.

A text from Genesis 1 popped into my mind. “The earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep.” God looked at the mess and started creating some order. He sorted light from dark, night from day, sky from earth, and land from water. I felt a kinship with my Creator as I sorted my disorganized mess into separate orderly piles and stacks of food, medications, study supplies, equipment, etc.

Order is important. Paul summarized his teaching to the church in 1 Corinthians 14:33-40. “God is not the author of confusion, but of order.” God constantly creates order. The Israelites leaving Egypt were a disorganized mob. By the time God got done creating some order at Sinai, they marched out in tribes, each in their allotted location. Before Jesus miraculously fed the unruly crowd, he instructed his disciples to create order out of chaos and have people sit in groups of fifty and hundreds.

Let’s face it, life on planet Earth, even in the homes of Christians, still obeys the second law of thermodynamics which indicates that disorder always tends to increase. Hot coffee gets cold. Cold lemonade gets warm. Time schedules become skewed, pantry shelves get disorganized and our good intentions and good beginnings fade away into failure.

It took me a week to recover from my last major trip. Stuff was piled in chaos on my study floor, desks, and shelves. Critical things like glasses, keys, and power cords hid themselves the moment I turned my back. Before I could do any writing, planning, or even extended praying I had to create some order out of the chaos.

God hates chaos and loves order. He wants us to have regular places to work, regular times of sleep, food, rest, times of silence, solitude and thought. Jesus did this constantly, going off by himself out into the hills to pray, to think, to plan. The Holy Spirit works through order. He blesses others through us when our lives are in order.

When we see an OUT OF ORDER sign on a gas pump or an ATM, we know we won’t get any gas or money from them. So what makes us think we can be a source of blessing to anyone if our own lives are out of order and in a state of chaos?

We need to look at every aspect of our lives and ministry for evidences of chaos and put them in order. It’s not just about having a place for everything and putting everything in its place. Are we punctual, or do others have to wait for us? Do we drive our vehicles in a way that confuses others? Do we have workable and effective routines? What about our relationships? Our service for God?

We need to ask ourselves, “What area of my life bothers me the most? Where has the bottom fallen out of it?”

Let’s do what God did as His first act of creation. Bring order to the chaos.

Three Steps to Being a Hero to Your Kids This Fathers Day

Engine roaring, our one-ton truck jarred, shook and rocked as it laboured up the steep rocky river bank. The screaming and pounding on the cab roof started as we finally neared the top. “Daddy! Daddy! Stop! Blackie fell off!”

My wife, clinging to her seat beside me, glanced at me but wisely said nothing. It was the afternoon on the third day of difficult travel from our home on the mission centre in Belem, to the Canela village in Brazil. Jo knew I was nearing the end of my ability to cope.

Sand, water, jungle, rocks, whatever it takes. (Note little blond head above cab)

I kept going, accelerating through a stretch of deep sand on the trail at the top of the bank. If we slowed down there we would get bogged down and never start again. After 100 metres, we reached a piece of solid ground and I stopped. As I slid out of the cab and walked back along the heavily loaded cargo, 10-year-old Valorie leaned down from her perch on the cargo and explained, “Blackie fell off just after we crossed the river. Leanne let go of him when she had to use both hands to hang on.” Wide-eyed youngest daughter Cheryl nodded, saying, “It wasn’t her fault.” Leanne, at the very back was hunched over, crying.

I slogged back through the scorching sand, scrambled down the rocky slope, and saw Blackie near the bottom, lying limply on the sharp rocks. I picked up the much worn, black stuffed toy dog and clambered back up the slope. When I tossed the toy up to Leanne, she smiled through her tears and said, “I didn’t think you would stop.”

That night, I kissed our girls goodnight as they snuggled into their beds in our mud-walled, palm thatch house. Leanne, holding Blackie with one arm, hugged me tightly around the neck with the other. “I thought I had lost Blackie forever. But then you stopped and walked all the way back to get him. You are the best daddy in the world!”

So what had I done to become “the best daddy in the world”? Spent money? Not a dime. Spent time? A ten-minute walk which is nothing in a three-day trip. Spent time in profound thought and planning? Naw, not a bit. Exercised my sensitivity? Well, maybe a little.

It was, after all, hard to ignore three daughters pounding their fists on the roof of a truck cab, just inches above my head, and screaming, Daddy! Daddy! And then, when I got down and saw a tearstained face and shoulders racking with sobs, even a relatively insensitive lout like me would tend to perceive there might be something going on that needed attention. I listened as Valorie explained the problem. Aha! A problem! I’m a problem solver, so this was right down my alley. And so I became, in the opinion of one 8-year-old girl, “The Best Daddy in the World.”

In summary: 1) I noticed something needed attention. 2) I listened as the problem was explained. 3) I used my gifts and abilities to solve the problem and meet the need.

If you are thinking, Hmm, I’m going to follow this simple three-step program, so that on this Father’s day I will be my kid’s hero, here is some advice. In this Blackie incident, I didn’t need my wife’s help to sense something needed my attention but usually I need to ask her to help focus my attention on what is needed. I sometimes need her to explain the problem. And when I am really dense she needs to suggest what I could do about it. You may want to do the same. Then you act, using your best abilities and gifting, and Tadaa! You become a hero.

It doesn’t take a lot to make a deep and lasting impression on a young daughter or son. May our heavenly Father help us earthly fathers to make positive impressions, maybe even heroic impressions, on our children.

Bible Translation: More Complex Than You Think . . . Way More!

All major world religion have preserved the words of their founders in the very language in which they spoke them. All except Christianity.

Jesus spoke the Galilean dialect of Aramaic and except for a dozen or so words, none of the hundreds of thousands of words He spoke during his three years of ministry were written down for us in His own words. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were the first translators. They translated all the stories about Jesus, and all his teachings, from Aramaic to Greek. Ever since, Bible translators have been translating from Greek into other languages.

Most North American church goers don’t appreciate the fact that Christianity was started as a translated religion, and thrives only through translation into local languages. Nor do most people understand that the Gospel writers did not simply translate between to closely related languages such as English and French. Instead, they translated from the Semetic language family into the Indo-European language family. There is as much relationship between these two language families as there is between English and Mandarin Chinese. Besides that, they had to keep in mind they were translating from a Jewish culture to a Greco-Roman culture. Again, a huge difference.

Jack in late 1960s starting translation with Canela

Bible translation, therefore, is an extremely complex task, but one that God has blessed throughout the ages. Today I want to introduce as a guest blogger, a friend and Wycliffe colleague who knows far more about Bible translation than I do. Hart Wiens is Director of Scripture Translations for the Canadian Bible Society. He laid the groundwork for the translation of the Scriptures for the Kalinga people of the Philippines.

Hart’s article appeared in the June 6 issue of Christian Week and is reprinted with permission.

Tackling translation

In his widely acclaimed book, Translating the Message, Lamin Sanneh, professor of World Christianity and History at Yale University, wrote that, “The central and enduring character of Christian history is the rendering of God’s eternal counsels into terms of everyday speech.” This demonstrates that, “God does not absolutize any one culture.”

This is a radical departure from the tenets of the religion in which Sanneh grew up where authoritative communication from God was restricted to one language. Translation is key to the spread of Christianity.

Recently, though, disagreement over the faithful and sensitive treatment of certain key terms in a few situations where Islam is the dominant religion has sparked a controversy that has deeply touched the hearts of people engaged in and supportive of this work.

The controversy

While the U.S. branch of Wycliffe Bible Translators has been specifically named in this controversy, the issues raised have relevance for the broader translation community and for the Church.

There are two main issues involved. The first has to do with the use of the term “Allah” for God. Some of Wycliffe’s translation work used this word, which raised questions for many in the Christian community.

While there is legitimate debate in some languages over the use of this term by Christians, it is commonly accepted in languages where Islam is the dominant faith. Semitic languages such as Arabic commonly use “Allah” where English uses “God.” The word is actually closely related to the Hebrew term “El” and “Elohim.”

The second, more challenging, issue is how to translate familial terms for God as “Father” and Jesus as “Son” in languages where these terms are only understood biologically. If translators are not careful, serious misunderstandings arise about the nature of the Trinity. Unfortunately literal renderings have mistakenly been understood to imply that God and Mary had a sexual relationship.

In these situations translators struggle to find more accurate ways of communicating the true nature of the father and son relationship in the Trinity—a relationship of familial rather than biological intimacy.

The response

Wycliffe has given assurance that their personnel “are not omitting or removing the familial terms, translated in English as “Son of God” or “Father,” from any Scripture translation. Wycliffe continues to be committed to accurate and clear translation of Scripture. The eternal deity of Jesus Christ and the understanding of Jesus’ relationship with God the Father must be preserved in every translation.”

Further, Wycliffe has agreed to submit to a review of its Bible translation practices through a formal review led by respected theologians, biblical scholars, translators, linguists, and missiologists from the global Church and conducted under the auspices of the World Evangelical Alliance.

Go forward in love

As we consider this situation, Paul’s words in Colossians 3 come to mind: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience . . . And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

It would seem advisable for concerned people to give the review process initiated by Wycliffe and the World Evangelical Alliance a chance to bear fruit so that the ministry of Bible translation can go forward and Christ’s Kingdom can flourish.