Whatever Happened to All Those Pentecost Converts?

Summer Blogging Break
With this thought provoking post I am taking a summer break in my weekly blog. Jo and I are going to Mexico for three weeks in July with nearly our whole family to celebrate our belated 50th wedding anniversary. During August we hope to relax, read, study and prepare for fall ministries. Here’s wishing you all a great summer. See you again the first week of September!


Whatever Happened to All Those Pentecost Converts?
One moment 120 Christians were quietly praying together and the next moment the hall was filled with a howling hurricane. Then they saw what looked like flames of fire on each person. They ran out and started telling what God had done. The crowds were utterly bewildered to hear them speaking in their own languages even though they came from a dozen different parts of the world. Peter then preached a sermon which resulted in 3,000 converts.

Acts chapter 2 lists the countries represented by these new believers. Here they are in with today’s names: Arabian peninsula, Crete, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gaza, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Sudan, Syria, and Turkey. These converts went home and became missionaries to their own people, spreading the Good News for nearly 2,000 kilometres in every direction from Jerusalem.

Overlooked by Church Historians
Christianity is obviously strongly rooted, not just in Palestine, but in the whole Middle Eastern region. It shouldn’t surprise us therefore, that there are many solid, Bible reading, Bible believing Christians in north-east Africa and south-west Asia. And they are not all the product of modern mission efforts in the past century. The Church in the Middle East has been a faithful witness to Christ for the past two-thousand years.

The reason that this is a surprise to many Christians is well-stated by Paul-GordonChandler in his book, God’s Global Mosaic. “In Western theological colleges the study of church history begins in Jerusalem and proceeds quickly westward with the apostle Paul. Then there is a jump from the early church fathers to the medieval Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformation. Consequently, a student can be left with the impression that the church somehow ceased to exist in the lands of its origin.”

Strong Through Suffering
Although little is taught about the Church in the Middle East, they were strong churches, enduring enormous persecution. First under the Roman Empire, then under the Byzantine, or Eastern Roman Empire, Christians were harassed and martyred for centuries.

With the spread of Islam came more widespread oppression and killing that continues even today. The first time the word genocide was used to describe the systematic killing of an entire people group was 100 years ago when the Muslim Ottoman empire massacred the Christians in Armenia.

The Christians in northern Iraq were persecuted so much they were forced to migrate every couple of generations, much like European Anabaptist groups such as the Mennonites, Hutterites, and Amish centuries later.

“Killing Christians Pleases God”
God has been faithful, the Church in the Middle East has endured, and the twelve million Christians currently living in these nations continue to carry out powerful ministries under some of the most repressive regimes on earth.

What sobers me is that these millions of Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in the faith have a heritage of suffering few of us can look back on. These believers have endured for generations and continue to persevere in their faith even though most are treated as second class citizens and some of them live among people who sincerely believe that killing Christians pleases God.

What about Us?
In comparison, we western Christians, especially in English speaking nations, have had it relatively easy for many generations, living in countries where the laws are based on biblical principles. But as secular humanism grows stronger, laws are changing, and Christian principles are being pushed aside.

I wonder if we will soon see the day when churches are taxed, first on their property, and then on their income. And what if laws are repealed that currently allow churches and para-church ministries like Wycliffe to provide donors with tax-deductible receipts? And what if Christian schools were closed, home schooling banned, and all children forced to attend public schools?

praise_worshipAnd what if these rather mild acts of discrimination provoked, not a howling hurricane of protest, but a great spirit of unity among Christians, leading to an outpouring of the Holy Spirit?

What if, instead of uniting to protest, we united to praise God and pray for strength to endure increasing persecution?

Would we grow strong in faith like our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East who live by the words of Jesus, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world?” John 16:33 (NIV).


Good News from a Distant Land

Friday, June 21 is National Aboriginal Day in Canada. God is at work among aboriginal peoples all over the world. Here is Good News from the Canela in Brazil.

Prejaka. Prejaka! PREJAKAAAA, the Canela councillor shouted at the end of the naming ceremony. With that I  received a Canela name, Prejaka, taking the first step into being accepted by Canela society. That was 45 years ago this past week. After 22 years of work, we returned to Canada leaving behind a newly published translation of God’s Word in the Canela language, a hundred fluent readers, and a Bible in every house in the village.

During the past 23 years several missionary teams have spent time working in the Canela villages, promoting literacy and Bible reading as well as helping them share the Good News with others. Eleven years ago, Bernard and Elke Grupp came from Germany with their young children to live among the Canelas in the main village where we used to live.

1st Good News
They are doing excellent work and are held in high regard by the Canelas. We visited them four years ago during a special family vacation trip to Brazil and were much impressed with their open attitude and commitment. Bernard and I have worked together on several projects. I prepared the script for the Jesus Film several years ago and he organized the process of dubbing the Canela lines into the film. Occasionally he asks my advice on things he is dealing with in the village. Just recently, I helped solve some problems in the production of the audio version of the Canela partial Bible. God is at work!

2nd Good News
Just recently, he sent a report which thrilled us even more than usual. A large gathering of Christians had been organized in the nearest town, Barra do Corda, about 70 kilometres north of the village. Three hundred Christians from 14 different indigenous people groups came together for mutual encouragement and celebration. Bernard and Elke were there with Canela believers from the main village and from the village farther west. They met believers and the missionaries from the large southern Canela group called the Kraho, and from related language groups such as the Gaviao and the Krikati. It was the first ever such gathering of indigenous Christians in that area. God is at work!

3rd Good News
Bernard is computer savvy and was able to adapt the old 1991 film “The Canela Investment” for use among the Canelas. He edited out some irrelevant sections and replaced them with Bible reading and Canela singing. The new version tells the story of how God used Jo and me to bring the Good News to the Canela both through our lives and through the translation of His Word. The video turned out to be a hit when he showed it in mid-April at a special dia do indio celebration in the village.

2103-04-30 Ponto+Sarah-Geb (175)4th Good News
Bernard also told us about the most recent baptisms. This time it was three women we know well. One was Hipo, the daughter of the late Jaco, our best Canela translation helper and the first Canela to follow Jesus. Another was the daughter of the late Capertyc, the incredibly patient man who helped us learn Canela and excelled at telling stories illustrating the meaning of Canela words. Yes, God is definitely at work!

2103-04-30 Ponto+Sarah-Geb (176)How do Jo and I feel right now? These quotes will give you some idea.

  • Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land. Proverbs 25:25 (NIV)
  • I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 3 John 1:4 (NIV)

Donors Beware

The truck ground to a stop in the Brazilian Indian village. A government official climbed down from the cab and told the driver to pull back the tarp part way. Villagers crowded closer to see shovels, axes, hoes, bush knives, rakes, rotary manioc graters, and two-metre-wide shallow pans for roasting manioc.

tarp truck“The government knows you need these tools and equipment,” the official began his speech, pausing frequently so his words could be interpreted into the local language for those who didn’t understand Portuguese.

“We are going to many Indian villages and leaving tools and equipment in each village that needs them.”

“Yes, yes, we need all things in our village!” several voices shouted.

“Especially the roasting pans,” the chief added, “Our old one has holes in it.”

“Before I give you some of these tools, I need to know one thing,” the supervisor said. “Are there any missionaries living here?”

“Yes, there are,” the chief replied, pointing to two women in their thirties standing at the edge of the crowd. “Those two missionaries give us medicine when we are sick. They teach us to read and write in our own language. And they tell us stories about God.”

At that, the supervisor signaled to the driver to cover the load and retie the tarp. As the tools disappeared from their sight, the villagers shouted, “Hey, what about the tools? Aren’t we getting any?”

“You already have missionaries helping you,” the official shouted over the clamour. “You don’t need the government’s help. Just ask the missionaries for the tools you need.”

With that, he climbed into the cab and the truck drove off leaving the villagers bewildered. Their shock soon turned into action. The chief turned to the two women and accused them of being stingy, of not giving them the tools and equipment they needed.

The women were devastated. Their missionary support income was barely enough to cover their most basic personal physical needs and the medicines they gave away. They had absolutely no way of providing the villagers with thousands of dollars worth of tools and equipment and, in tears, told them so.

“Well, then, you need to leave,” the chief declared. “The truck has to come back through our village. Maybe they will have a few things left. If we tell the government official we have permanently sent you away, they may leave those things here.”

And that is what happened. It was rumoured that officials with their personal anti-Christian agenda often manipulated the indigenous people into expelling missionaries using the promise of essential agricultural tools as leverage.

I know that Christian relief organizations in North America frequently fund these village level humanitarian projects. When I heard that story during our time of working with the Canela people, I wondered, Do any of the donors know that their gifts are used to expel Christian missionaries from the villages where they minister?

I speak at dozens of events each year to raise funds for a variety of Bible translation projects like the Translation Acceleration Kits. After checking that the project is overseen by honest and reliable people, my wife and I usually help to fund it personally. How can I ask others to give to a project when I don’t give to it myself?

A Latin phrase Caveat emptor means “Let the buyer beware.” The term is often used in real estate transactions, advising the buyer to perform their due diligence before finalizing the purchase. In these days of fund raising scams and manipulation, I wonder what the Latin phrase is for “Let the donor beware?”


Bible Translation Enriches the Worldwide Church

“From countless pulpits every week we hear an implicit message that has wormed its way into our minds: we lack the key to unlocking the secrets of Scripture because we don’t know the original languages.”

This is the first sentence of an article by Jost Zetzsche in the April, 2013 issue of Christianity Today titled “Knowing What the Bible Really Means” subtitled, Why Multiple Translations Might Even Be Better Than Scripture In Its Original Languages.

The author draws a parallel with pre-Reformation times when illiterate churchgoers had to depend on church authorities to tell them what the Bible said and meant.

Yeah Jost! You are my kind of man!

God, Who invented languages and implanted them in people way back at the Tower of Babel, loves languages. All languages. There is no special holy Bible language—not Hebrew, not Greek, not Aramaic, not even Latin or Shakespearian English. God reveals Himself in His Word and He wants it translated into all the world’s languages so everyone may know His great love for people.

Every time the Word of God is translated into a new language, the process brings out further meanings and insights into the depths of God’s Word, bringing deeper understanding by readers all over the world.

I remember how this happened when we were translating Luke 7 into Canela. It’s the story of local Jewish leaders who came to Jesus asking Him to heal the servant of a Roman centurion, saying, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”

For each of the English first person plural pronouns, “we”, “us” and “our” the Canela language has two words, mepa and mei. Mepa is used when the person spoken to is included, and mei when the person spoken to is excluded.

Jack translatingFor example, let’s say I am teaching a class and say, “We (mepa) are studying Luke,” meaning “We (including you who are listening to me) are studying Luke.” If someone poked his head in the door and asked what we were studying, I would say, “We (mei) are studying Luke,” meaning, “We (but not you) are studying Luke.”

So it was easy to translate, “He loves our (mepa) nation.” Since Jesus was part of the Jewish nation, the Jewish leaders included Him. But then came the second part, “He has built our synagogue.”

This synagogue was in Capernaum where Jesus lived and where many of His disciples lived. If the Jewish leaders considered Jesus a member of the Capernaum synagogue, they would use the word mepa, including Jesus. If, however, they did not consider Him a member of their synagogue, they would use mei, excluding Jesus.

One day I posed this problem to a group of third year Greek students in a seminary and joked with them, saying, “Look it up in Greek.” Their knowledge of Greek was useless in this case since neither Greek nor English considers the inclusive and exclusive aspects of the person spoken to.

It took some study on the part of the seminarians to come up with a good decision based on the fact that He was known everywhere as “Jesus of Nazareth.” The Canelas, however, don’t need to study the situation. They can simply read the mei, excluding Jesus, in the text and know instantly that the Jewish leaders considered Jesus a member of another synagogue.

Try reading 2nd Corinthians 5 and decide when the pronouns “we,” “us” and “our” refer to the Corinthian Christians (mepa, inclusive) and when they refer only to the writers Paul and Timothy (mei, exclusive). We translated the pronouns in verses 1 to 10 as mepa, including the Corinthians, but in verse 11 we switched to mei, excluding them. The Canela portion of God’s worldwide Church has, in this small area of meaning, a better insight into Scripture than people who read the Bible only in English or Greek.

God Revealing Himself

God Revealing Himself

Thousands of languages all over the world have unique features that force translators to explore deeper meanings and gather further insights, and thereby bringing the readers into a greater understanding of the Word of God.

Long ago God began to reveal Himself to mankind as He, through the Holy Spirit inspired prophets and apostles to write His Word. Ever since then this same Holy Spirit has been helping scholars to translate it into the more than 6,500 living languages of the world, thereby increasingly revealing more of Himself to the world’s peoples.

The Church as a whole is, therefore, enriched by translating the Bible into all God’s languages.