God’s Preferred Way of Working

When I was a little boy, the tinkling of teaspoons and teacups coming from my parents’ bedroom on Sunday mornings was the signal it was time to jump out of bed and join the fun. Once I was properly settled between them, they would hand me my cup of tea and my saucer of maria biscuits and the sipping, dipping and nibbling would begin. I can’t remember what else we did during that fifteen minutes of togetherness, but I certainly do remember what came next. When my mom had finished her tea she would go downstairs to make breakfast, my dad would pour some more tea and tell me a story.

Many of the stories involved a young man going out into the world to seek his fortune. Invariably he would meet someone along the road who had a special talent, like swinging his sword so fast he could use it as an umbrella during a rainstorm. The two would decide to seek their fortune together. Soon they would meet others with special abilities and they would join the group. Eventually they would meet a problem, a princess being held by a giant, for instance, and the young man and his group would devise a plan to defeat the giant and rescue the princess, each member using his unique skill. The end result was often measured in bags of gold for each of them.

Each story my dad told was different, but each had that same theme and they made a profound impression on me. Not only did I make up similar stories to tell my children, and later my grandchildren, but when I became a missionary, I saw myself as the young man going out to gather a group of people with compensating talents to work together to “seek our fortune.” That is why my wife and I joined Wycliffe, a mission agency that values people with a wide variety of skills, people who consider themselves part of every translation team.

TypingAs Jo and I began living with Brazil’s Canela people, we prayed that God would help us find Canelas who were teachable and had natural gifting in various areas. We built into the lives and minds of the villagers we worked with by teaching them, strengthening their self-confidence, stretching their minds with new ideas, and expanding their lives with new skills.


30 years later he still pulls teeth

30 years later he still pulls teeth

One became very skilled at extracting rotten teeth. Several had the skill and patience to teach others to read. Another illustrated the Scriptures with his drawings of Canela life. Some were typists, some proofreaders. One was very good at making sentences flow smoothly. For some time we had seventeen Canela men and women working together with us. Canelas already were used to working together as an interdependent group in their own culture. We fitted in and were able to accomplish things so difficult and complicated, no single one of us could possibly have achieved them as an individual.

In North America when I talk about interdependent team building, working together in community and developing partnerships, I have to overcome a cultural bias against this concept. American cultural heroes are not about a tightly knit group with each member depending on the other, but about a lone pioneer family, going out to conquer the wild west, building a log house with their own hands in the middle of the wilderness, and clearing the farm land with their own axe. The cooperative harvesting and barn building came a generation or two later.

In that respect Canela culture is far more godly than North American culture. Here’s why. God said, “Let Us make man in Our own likeness.” God is a community of three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They made human beings in Their likeness, to be people with the same need to live and work together in community as They had.

BuildingThis kind of working community is a far cry from the military and industrial model of exploiting the labour of people to accomplish objectives set by generals or executives. The strength of the interdependent community lies not in its bosses but in its people. The more people grow in skill, high motivation and positive attitude, the more effective the community becomes.

What does your family look like? Your college? Your workplace? Your church?

Are people exploited and used, or strengthened and built into an effective community?

Thoughts on My 75th Birthday

Please excuse last week’s double mail out. Computer problems. It won’t happen again. I hope.

I am publishing this week’s post a few days early to coincide with my birth date, March 19

Thoughts on My 75th Birthday 

It is nice to know that at 75 years old, I have learned pretty well everything. Now if only I could remember any of it . . .

I do remember pondering my age at another occasion. On March 19, 1966 I sat on my bunk at Wycliffe’s jungle survival training base in southern Mexico and wrote the following in my diary: “Jo reminded me after breakfast that today I became 28 years old. Good grief! I’m getting ancient! The life expectancy at birth for men in this area is 33. Only five years to go.”

By the grace of God I lived longer than that. Much longer. Many times, however, my life could have been cut short. I was a passenger in two head-on car collisions that totally wrecked all four cars but from which I emerged with only a few cuts and bruises. I survived three industrial accidents: one a cave-in, one where a car ran over the manhole from which I was emerging, and another involving an unexpected dynamite explosion. A freak accident with a water-loaded 16 foot awning nearly broke my neck. I could have avoided the last one, but I was in a hurry and wasn’t thinking.

So why did God keep me alive? I often wonder about that. He continues to help me make good choices. When the Holy Spirit pointed out my sinfulness and that Jesus would save me if I wanted Him to, God helped me to say Yes! This led directly to giving my whole life over to Him to use in whatever way He thought best. I chose to attend Bible school, where I looked for a life partner who also had dedicated her life to God. God led me to choose Jo and to my great joy, she said, Yes.

After that came raising a family, a wide variety of Christian service experience, missionary training, and nearly 25 years in Brazil as Bible translators for the Canela people. This was followed by a decade of leadership in Wycliffe, and now by a continuing ministry of speaking at events in hundreds of cities around the world, and writing nearly a thousand articles, columns, and stories published on line, in magazines or books.

All this is obviously God’s doing and no credit to me.

I dropped out of high school after repeatedly failing algebra. I was expelled from Bible school for behaviour that was outside of school standards. I failed jungle survival training camp and Wycliffe accepted me into membership only after two years of probation. While Jo got all A’s, my grades were so poor I had to take remedial linguistic courses. For several years, I did not consistently show Jo that I loved her the way I should have. In my forties, after years of severe testing, I lost my faith in God’s power, wisdom and love and was restored only after six months of intensive weekly counseling. Even now, I need to be accountable to another person to keep me living in the way I know I ought to live.

Chocolate-Coffee Icecream Cake. Now Everyone's Favorite

Chocolate-Coffee Icecream Cake. Now Everyone’s Favorite

So what’s next? The average age at which my parents and grandparents died was just short of 90. So, if I follow in their genetic footsteps, and my guardian angel does not retire, I may still have another 15 years left on this earth. Currently my goals for these final years are to unreservedly love “the wife of my youth,” our wonderful daughters, our incredible grandchildren and all our extended family. This, of course, means being together with them often.

I have been working for years on a more long-term project—writing and organizing a legacy of diaries, memories, stories, photographs, slides and videos. These record not only our family history, but the God-stories—the times when God moved in our families, preserving, guiding, healing, answering prayer, and in many ways showing that He is alive and actively at work.

As long as I am physically and mentally capable, I want to keep on giving story-filled speeches and writing story-based articles. I cannot think of any retirement activity that would be more satisfying than this.

75 = 21+54I do have one question. What are the legal privileges of turning 75? You know, at 16 you can drive, at 17 join the army, at 18 drink alcohol, vote and get married, (hopefully not in that order). At 60, 65 and 70 pensions and RIFFs kick in, but the only thing that happened at 75 is that my travel medical insurance expired. Where’s the benefit in that?

Taking Risks or Taking Care

I was only seven years old, but I vividly remember the penetrating cold of the hard steel truck bed on my bare knees; with my heart pounding in my throat, and tears streaming down my cheeks, I begged God to get me off that army truck before it drove away with its load of children.

It happened in Holland, not during World War II when truckloads of people were transported to forced labour or death camps in Germany, but in early December of 1945, six months after Canadian armies had liberated our city. So why was I so afraid?

Very simple. Every day as I went out to play or walk to school, my mom reminded me, “Wees voorzichtig!” “Be careful,” often adding other advice such as, “Stay away from soldiers. Don’t run and fall. Don’t throw stones. Don’t play with fire. Stay away from deep water. Don’t talk to strangers. Never get in a vehicle even if your friends say it’s okay.”

My mom lived in fear all my life. She had a nervous breakdown after my baby brother died of a congenital heart defect and didn’t get over it for many years. She didn’t want anything to happen to me, or my dad. Yet my dad and my uncles were on a list of men to be deported to a forced labour camp and frequently fled to hide in the swamps and lake areas near our city, leaving my mom worrying and wondering when, or if, my dad would return.

But after liberation life and the rules had suddenly changed. My dad and mom themselves lifted me onto the back of the truck and told me, “It’s okay, you’re going to a Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) party. Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet will be there. You’ll get candy. They’ll bring you back here afterwards.” All their assurances went unheard, shouted down by a lifetime of dire warnings.

Today we continue to live in a culture in which mothers tell their kids to be careful and we sign off our emails with, “Take care.” And yet, throughout history, nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished by people who “took care” but rather by courageous folks who “took risks.”My wife and I decided to take big risks when we became Bible translators. We did not “take care” but were ready to risk our family’s health. The rheumatoid arthritis specialist warned us our two year-old daughter would probably be in a wheelchair by the time she was a teenager if we didn’t maintain a stress free lifestyle. Yet we moved into a high stress life style, starting with three months in jungle survival training in southern Mexico when she was three, followed by two decades of pioneer lifestyle in the Canela village of Brazil.

First Popjes Prayer Card 1966

First Popjes Prayer Card 1966

We did not “take care” but risked our lives and limbs as we traveled over thick jungle in small single engine airplanes, forded streams, and wrestled our way through mud and deep sand with vehicles not designed for that type of travel. We did not “take care” but risked disease, parasites, and stings and bites from jungle critters. We suffered them all, yes, including tuberculosis, and bites from snakes and rabid dogs. We did not “take care” but risked hardship and penury as we embarked on a nearly five decade-long ministry without a guaranteed salary.

We took risks because we believed what Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” Mark 8:35 (NIV).

First Year in Canela Village

First Year in Canela Village

Jesus wasn’t lying, we experienced the truth of His statement. God took care of our finances and continues to provide each month. God used modern medication to heal all the diseases we caught. God kept us safe, though not necessarily comfortable, in our travels. God healed Valorie of rheumatoid arthritis in her late teens. And yes, we left the Canela with a partial Bible translated into their language, a basic education system, and a very young church.

I will not pass on my mother’s advice to you.  Instead I’ll sign off with

Don’t take care, take risks.

PS: What risks have you taken lately to advance to Kingdom of God?

New Bible Translation Tools for a New Generation

I invited my friend and colleague Hart Wiens to write a guest post showing yet another way in which God is using modern high technology to accelerate and improve Bible translation around the world. Jesus was no doubt pleased to see His prayer for unity answered in the way two major organizations worked together on this. Hart is Director of Scripture Translations, Canadian Bible Society.

New Bible Translation Tools for a New Generation

“I think the ParaTExt software is simply incredible. I am constantly amazed at how powerful it is, how fast it is, and how much easier it makes it to do my Bible translation project. ParaTExt is simply brilliant.”

Those words from Matt and Christy Taylor, SIL translators serving in Papua New Guinea, are typical of the user response to the computer tools we deliver to translators around the world. How different is their reality to the tools we carried to our field assignment in the Philippines 40 years ago – a manual typewriter, pencils, reference books and lots of carbon paper and whiteout. We had to retype our work multiple times and used a big table for all the reference books we needed to consult. We repeatedly heard tragic stories of manuscripts being lost, burned, or eaten by termites, sometimes after years of grueling effort.

Translating the Bible Into Their Own Indigenous Language

Translating the Bible Into Their Own Indigenous Language

God’s Gift to Accelerate Bible Translation
Today translators open their computers and on the screen they see a suite of software with multiple windows which all scroll together as they move from one verse to another. Built into our software is an entire library of Bible versions, commentaries, lexicons and other resources which they can display for use in their research even as they enter their translation in a separate window. All their work is saved on a central server in “the cloud” and they can share their work with colleagues in separate locations with the simple click of a button. If the computer is lost, stolen, or damaged, their work is still secure and can easily be recovered. The translated Scriptures are stored in a standard format which makes it relatively easy to convert the files to “typeset” page setup, ready for printing or even for immediate delivery to readers through new media such as e-books and smart phones.

God Uses His People to Develop His Gift
The software is called ParaTExt and is delivered and supported through the computer resource department of SIL, Wycliffe’s field partner, and through the United Bible Societies’ Institute for Computer Assisted Publishing (ICAP). The delivery and support of these tools is one of many ways in which the Bible Societies and SIL partner in the ministry of Bible translation. SIL recognized the immense potential of computers to support Bible translation, when it launched an ambitious project in the 1980s to produce a comprehensive suite of software to support all aspects of SIL field work. For many reasons the project took longer than anticipated, especially for the tools to support Bible translation. Since this was a priority for the Bible Societies, UBS launched a separate project to produce a suite of tools modeled on an early prototype built by Dr.Reinierde Blois, a Bible Society consultant serving in Africa.

A Software Marriage Made in Heaven
When the first version of this program was launched in 1997, it was an immediate and unexpected hit. Very quickly the demand for this software had outstripped the capacity of the Bible Societies to support its users. For some years SIL continued to work on a parallel tool called the Translation Editor (TE), to address needs that were not covered in the early versions of ParaTExt, but the rapid development and increasing ability of ParaTExt to meet their needs, eventually resulted in an agreement to merge the two programs. This agreement to partner was due to the persistence of visionary leadership and the gracious response of SIL software development staff who set aside their tool in order to partner for the greater good of God’s Kingdom.

Worldwide Impact
National Bible translators, many of them translating the Bible into their own mother-tongue, are effusive in their praise:
From Indonesia: Since we started using the latest version of ParaTExt our translation work became integrated and easier for our mother tongue translators and for us as overseers.
From India: The ParaTExt 7 software is a great blessing and help. We wish we had known about it several years ago. That would have reduced our workload immensely.
From Georgia, Eurasia: ParaTExt provides the best translation tools ever on our computers.
From Cameroon, Africa: I want to thank you for ParaTExt 7.1. I hope to use it successfully for Bible Translation into Mfumte language.