The Powerful Weapon the Church Is Neglecting

My friends and I rolled our eyes as the elderly elder stood up from his accustomed side front pew. As usual, he half turned to face the congregation, leaned his left hand on the pew, as he always did, and began his testimony . . . again. It was the well-rehearsed story of his conversion from sixty years ago. We had all heard it so many Sundays during “testimony time” most of us teens could have recited it for him.

I wanted to interrupt him to ask, “Hasn’t God done anything for you recently?” but I had been a Christian only a few years and now, during my late teens, I was learning how to be a well-behaved member of our small evangelical church.

True, some members of the congregation did stand and tell of recent answers to prayer, but for the most part, “giving your testimony” meant telling the story of how you came to repent of your sin and turn to God for forgiveness.

Now there is nothing wrong with telling the story of how God rescued us from our former lifestyle and set us on the path of right living. What we need to realize, however, is that our conversion is only the beginning of a whole life filled with actions of God—answers to prayers, amazing co-incidences, healings and special guidance. Our post-conversion lives should be overflowing with stories that bear witness to God’s work in and through us. When we tell those personal experiences—those God-stories— we are witnessing to the world even to the whole universe that God is alive and powerful and that He is in control.

Satan hates hearing about God’s power in our lives. When, like a witness in court, we tell what God has done for us personally, Satan will do anything to shut us up. Why? Because our God-stories are weapons: powerful Satan defeating weapons.

Check out the scene in Revelation 12:11. Here are a huge number of Jesus-followers who overcame Satan by telling everyone about what God had done for them personally, through the atoning death of Jesus Christ. They were powerful witnesses against Satan and for God they made God look so good and Satan look so bad that multitudes of other people abandoned Satan and turned to God. They just wouldn’t shut up, so Satan had to kill them. Yes, they were martyrs. In fact, the word martyr comes from the Greek word that means witness.

Our testimonies, our God-stories of God’s actions in our lives are powerful Satan conquering weapons. What a pity that we don’t hear them regularly in church! No, not the same old story over and over again every Sunday, but new God-honouring, Satan crushing stories.

Sharing Our Stories Over a Cup of Tea

Sharing Our Stories Over a Cup of Tea
(Courtesy of our youngest grandkids 11 years ago)

We who are followers of Jesus need to tell our stories every time we have the opportunity, to each other for encouragement, and to those who are not yet believers to let them know God can and does act in people’s lives.

Whenever I speak in public I tell plenty of personal God-stories—what God has done for me, through me, or sometimes in spite of me. As I greet people at the door afterwards, they often say, “Thank you for telling those stories. Isn’t God wonderful?” I can just hear Satan’s groan of pain.

What has God done in your life this past week? Have you told anyone yet?

The Explosion in the Godly Software Factory

When Jo and I began working as linguist-translators among the Canela people of Brazil we did not arrive unprepared. Experienced experts had taught us how to learn an unwritten language and Wycliffe had supplied us with the latest mid-1960s technology—pencils, notebooks, a manual typewriter and a high-quality reel to reel portable tape recorder.

During our first furlough we bought a used electric typewriter and some cassette tape recorders. That was pretty well it for most of our 22 years of working as translators. We started using the very earliest computers, saving files on audio cassette tapes, during the late 1970s and by the time the Canela partial Bible was being prepared for printing the translation was all keyboarded in DOS on a computer. The disk drive was nearly the size of a washing machine, but much more expensive, and the 18 inch removable disk held 2MB of information. (Reality check: the little $10 flash drive in my pocket holds over 8,000 times the information.)

Bible Translation Focused Software

We all know how computer hardware systems have changed since those years. But that is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The most profound changes affecting field linguistics, and Bible translation have been in the area of software.

Currently thousands of Bible translators are using software programs to quickly and accurately compile dictionaries, analyse texts, and organize cultural data, all things we and our colleagues did by hand on little slips of paper. Today linguists analyze the sound system of an unwritten language by recording native speakers and graphing the sound visually to determine phonetic differences. We used to have to peer inside a speaker’s mouth with a flashlight to see what position his tongue was in so we could replicate the sound ourselves. Who developed this specialized Bible translation focused software? No, it wasn’t Microsoft.

There is even a program that will translate a Bible book from one language into a related language producing a pretty good first draft. And believe me, it is incredibly easier, faster and better to start translating with a good first draft than with 1,000 sheets of blank paper. Who developed these marvels of technology and programming? No, it wasn’t Apple either.


These are the names of a few languages written in the orthographic script of the language.My spellchecker didn’t know what to make of them and underlined nearly all of them.

And what about those hundreds of weird scripts? Scores of them are so complex, using stacked diacritics, split glyphs and contextual shaping, they could only be written by hand or laboriously typeset for printing. There was no way to type them on a computer. But now there is. Specialized word processing programs currently let translators type their linguistic data and their Bible translation on a keyboard and the symbols and scripts appear, running from right to left or from the bottom up, or from the middle in both directions, whatever the language demands.

Gifted and Called by God

So who developed all these programs that so greatly speed up and improve Bible translations today? Mostly Wycliffe missionaries, highly trained Christian men and women, gifted and called by God to give their lives to this challenging pioneer work. The work is ongoing and demanding, I know. I have seen some of these folk at work—long hours, much prayer, much thought, and much study, research and sharing of ideas.

Obviously these specialists are not motivated by money, but by a love for God, and a love for the hundreds of millions of people who still do not have any of God’s Word translated into the language they understand best.

When I see the amazing tools available to current linguist-translators, I wish I were five decades younger. I would so join those translators! Oh yes!

(Editorial addition by Jack’s wife, Jo, “And so would I!)

Giving Advice: How to Turn a Teflon Attitude into Velcro

“If you had the opportunity to do your translation program over again,” I asked the veteran translator, “what would you do different?” His answer astonished me, it was not at all what I had expected.

My wife and I had just completed translating a set of stories from the Gospels outlining the Life of Christ. The translation consultant who was checking our book had worked for 25 years to complete the translation of the New Testament for an Amazon indigenous group.

“I would take more vacations,” he said.

Asking some follow-up questions, I discovered that he had been taking vacations more often and for longer periods than we had ever taken in our lives and yet felt he should have taken more! My wife and I decided immediately to change our “work, Work, WORK!” orientation and plan for significant times away from work to rest, relax and recover. This decision led us to join other missionaries on the centre to build a simple house near a beach where we could get away for a weekend and for longer times during school holidays. Some of our best family memories come from those vacation times.

We had more energy for our work once we had met our own family’s needs for rest. I loved getting away from everything to sit alone in a hammock to think through past accomplishments and dream, plot and plan for future actions.

I thought of that incident recently when a group of us were talking about the need for older people to be prepared to mentor and advise younger folk. The air soon filled with stories of how our sage counsel and wise advice were rejected.

“Young people just don’t listen,” was the complaint. “They think that just because they understand computers and other high tech devices better than we do, we have nothing of value to teach them.”

“Yes,” added one grandma, “it’s like they are Teflon coated, nothing we say sticks to them.”

As we discussed this situation together, we concluded that the problem was not so much that young people were unwilling to listen but that we older folk were giving advice in the wrong way. We admitted that we often tried to give guidance when we had not been asked for it. We also realized that we may have left teens with the impression that we knew everything and had never made any mistakes.

1-old-man-byoungman“I remember the first time I got a speeding ticket,” I once told a group of teenagers. They stopped talking and texting and leaned forward to hear the rest of the story. I went on to tell them about doing stupid things in Bible school and how I got expelled. I had their full attention as I told one story after another of where I had goofed up and how I would do it differently if I had the chance to do it over. Instead of Teflon, they were like Velcro, as they latched onto these testimonies, and, hopefully, drew their own conclusion leading them to avoid my mistakes.

There is good reason to use testimonial stories since there is power in them. A text in Revelation 12:11 tells about some people who “overcame Satan, by . . . . and the word of their testimony.” Just think, we can defeat Satan in people’s lives by telling others what God has done for us, in us, through us, or even in spite of us.

I pray for opportunities to tell testimonial stories that produce “Bring it on. Tell me more,” Velcro attitudes in my hearers. I trust them to draw their own conclusions and avoid saying, “Now this is what you should do.”

That would be like ripping off the Velcro and putting on the Teflon.

Are You Ready to Praise God for TAKs?

“So how much have computers speeded up the work of Bible translation?” people often ask me when they find out I’m a Wycliffe Bible translator.

I’m the right guy to ask since my wife and I started our Bible translation career by hand writing the translation, then copying it with carbons on an Underwood manual typewriter. Twenty years later, it was all on a computer, and we noticed the improvement.

The big difference, however, was not in speed but in quality. Revisions were accurate since they didn’t need to be typed out again, a process that always introduced errors. Instead of hand typing and retyping three revision drafts, we now ran a Bible book through a dozen drafts, each one just a little better than the previous. The quality went up but it still took a long time.

New Technology That Speeds Up Translation

Just a few years ago, however, a new technology was developed that really does accelerate the pace of Bible translation around the world. I’m talking about Translation Acceleration Kits, also known as TAKs, which are used by nationals translating the Bible into their own tribal languages, most of whom live in extremely isolated areas of the world.

I used to complain when my wife and I had to leave the village and drive two or three days over difficult roads to reach the translation centre in Belem where we could get our translated material checked by translation consultants. We thought we had it hard, but now I am discovering that in comparison to what some mother-tongue translators go through, we had it easy.

Whenever I travel in the USA raising funds for these TAKs my heart is stirred night after night as I watch videos of men who have literally risked their lives getting to a consultant. Some travel for fifty miles across rough seas in an open boat powered by an outboard motor. Others travel for weeks over robber infested roads, climb steep mountains, or pick their way through swamps,  carrying their precious manuscript to be checked at a translation centre.

042012_Bible Tech_set up equipFor many of them, a new day has dawned. Hundreds of teams of mother-tongue translators in remote locations in Africa, Asia and the PacificIslands have now been equipped with Translation Acceleration Kits. Even without access to electricity, phone or Internet connection, they are now communicating in real time with translation experts hundreds or even thousands of miles away via satellite connection.

So, What is a TAK?

1-1-P1030606A TAK consists of four main components. 1) a laptop computer, 2) a satellite communications terminal, both of which are powered by 3) an ordinary car battery which is kept charged through 4) a cloth based solar panel made of photovoltaic fabrics. It folds up into a small parcel and fits easily into a backpack along with the laptop computer, and the satellite modem. The unit is highly portable, and car batteries can be found anywhere in the world that vehicles can reach. A TAK costs about $3,500, another 1,000 are needed immediately.

TAKs: The Best Thing for Communication Since Planes

Bush planes and jungle pilots made a huge impact on missionaries sixty years ago when they began penetrating previously inaccessible areas of the world. I know. We saved weeks of travel time when we flew to and from the Canela village in Wycliffe’s JAARS planes. TAKs are the first major breakthrough to accelerate the pace of Bible translation in remote areas since the start of missionary aviation.

Last week I sang the praises of the NewLife app for the iPhone developed by the Gideons in Canada which puts the whole Bible with notes and helps on any iPhone for free. This week is the TAK verse of this hymn of praise.

“Thank You, Lord God of the universe, for helping Your Church to use high technology to speed Your Word to every man, woman and child on planet Earth, in their own language.”