How Long Did It Take to Translate That Bible?

“How long did it take you and Jo to translate the Bible into Canela?”

That is like asking a giant pumpkin growing contestant, “How long did it take you to grow that record breaking, 2,000-pound pumpkin? His answer might range from “Three months,” to “Thirty years,” depending on when he started counting.

It’s actually the wrong question to ask. Every pumpkin farmer knows he didn’t grow the pumpkin, Someone Else did. In the same way, although Jo and I were involved in translating that Bible, it was God who grew that project and produced the fruit—something much bigger than a giant pumpkin.

The Teenager’s Decision
Here’s how God grew that Bible translation: Sixty years ago the principal of my high school shook my eighteen-year-old hand, gave me a diploma, and sent me out into the world.

I was a relatively young Christian, God having brought me to decide to become a Jesus follower a few years earlier. Now He moved me to make another decision.

“Jesus,” I prayed, “You loved me enough to give Your life for me: I love you enough to give my life to You. I want to do something great for You. Guide my next steps.”

He did. It was 1956 and God showed me the logic of attending Bible school to study His Word, to learn public speaking, and to confirm that the greatest spiritual needs were overseas, on the mission field. To earn the money for school, I worked for a year—cleaning sewers, building oil tanks, and doing seismic oil exploration. I started Bible school in the fall of 1957.

The Training
After graduating from Bible school, I married Jo, the girl God had put into my life, showing me that Jo was just as committed to serve Him overseas as I was. To give us some ministry experience God provided us with a pastoral position in a small church in central Alberta, starting in the fall of 1962.

By the end of 1966, Jo and I had not only gained three years of experience in pastoral ministry, God had also led us to join Wycliffe Bible Translators, an organization committed to do whatever it takes to translate His Word into the language of every person on earth. We studied linguistics, literacy, cultural anthropology, the principles of Bible translation, and were trained in jungle survival techniques. During this time God also gave us three daughters and helped us to build a prayer and financial support team.

We arrived in Brazil, plunging immediately into Portuguese language study, and immersing ourselves in Brazilian culture. Finally, in the spring of 1968, after twelve years of training and preparation, God arranged events for us to move into the Canela village, at their invitation, and we began our “life’s work.”

Two Canela families adopted us. This is Jo's family.

Two Canela families adopted us. This is Jo’s family.

Growth and Fruit
We started by making Canela friends, learning their culture and inventing ways to write the sounds coming from their mouths. God helped us learn the complicated language He Himself had invented. We compiled a dictionary and set up an educational system, publishing about 20 reading booklets. It took five years before He gave us the confidence to start translating His Word, albeit tentatively.

On August 10, 1990, twenty-two years after we moved into the village, we celebrated the dedication and distribution of the published partial Bible in the Canela language. The thirty-four years of training and work was over. What started as a commitment by an eighteen-year-old kid, was finished by a fifty-two-year-old man.

Back to that Question
“How long did it take you and Jo . . .?” That question is irrelevant. God did it. Yes, He worked through Jo and me, but how far back did He begin to work? I grew up in a Bible reading family. Jo’s mother dedicated Jo to become a missionary when she was still a baby, never telling her until Jo was in missionary training.

The point is, the Canelas received God’s Word in its final, printed form at just the right time, since many of them had been reading Bible portions and were already believing His Word and following Him.

God loves to involve His people in His work. But He doesn’t “use” us. Not in the way we use a stir stick in our take-out coffee and then throw it into the trash.

I remember telling Jo that August afternoon, “It’s done. My life’s work is over. I could die right now and it would be okay.”

God, however, didn’t discard us after the job was done. He gave us eight grandchildren to love and influence. He put us into high-level Wycliffe leadership positions for nine years. He led me into an inspirational speaking ministry that took me to 450 cities, in 20 countries to speak at 1,100 events. God also grew me into a writer of children’s stories, and blog posts like these, many appearing in published books. And, 60 years since I was 18, He is getting me excited about writing an autobiography with the working title, “The Life of Jack: Stories that Make God Look Good.”

Here’s a good question, “How long do you and Jo want to keep on serving God?”
Our answer, “For as long as He keeps us alive.”

A New Confrontation with an Old Enemy

Note: For the first part of this story, please read last week’s post When Work Gets Boring

The Husband Arrives
Other relatives joined the parents and sisters to wail and cry over the totally unexpected death of the lovely young woman whose life I had been unable to save. After a while, I gave my place to close relatives, and stood by the door. As I saw the growing crowd outside, I realized this was a respected family and the girl had been highly regarded as a popular singer and dancer.

Suddenly there was a commotion. The dead woman’s young husband ran into the house. He had been working in his manioc plantation several kilometres away, and some friends had run back to tell him the news.

He flung himself on top of his dead wife. As he hugged her he kept crying out, “Oh, I love you so! I love you so! Why did you have to die? I love you so!”

We all burst out crying again. The wailing went on for a long time. Eventually some people came in with supplies to prepare her body for burial. They gently pulled her husband off his wife’s body and began to paint her body decoratively and cut her hair, as if she was getting ready for a special festival.

The Last Dance
When they were done, a group of young men and women came in. “She needs to dance with us one more time,” they said.

Several young men carried her outside and held her upright while others draped her arms over the shoulders of two young men on either side of her. Then more young men and women quickly joined the line dance, singing loudly even as the tears flowed. They did the dance steps, the girl’s limp legs dangling and her feet dragging on the ground. A few minutes later they carried her back into the house.

Naked Fear
Those in charge of the burial preparation wrapped her in a cloth with only her face showing, then placed her on a mat and bound it tightly all around her. At that point two men came in with a long pole. They laid the pole on top of the bundle and tied it firmly to the pole.

1-I BurialJust as they lifted the pole to their shoulders and began walking toward the door, her husband stood up, his face still streaked with tears.

He shouted at his dead wife, “I used to love you! But now I don’t. Now I hate you! Go away. I hate you. Don’t come back here as a ghost and haunt me. I don’t love you anymore. I hate you. I hate you!” Her father and mother joined in the shouting and so did her sisters.

I stood there stunned, looking at the naked fear displayed on the faces of her family. As the burial party left, I slowly walked back home, my useless medical case hanging from my hand.

Anger and Excitement
I entered our house, sat down, and ate some dinner, and told Jo all that happened. I felt something growing within me. I was angry at Satan who had bound these people in fear of ghosts with the evil eye, returning to haunt and to kill others with a glaring look.

But I also felt a growing excitement. These people were bound with Satan’s ropes of fear, but Jo and I were preparing a sharp Sword of the Spirit to cut through the knots that held them bound.

It was evening, time to rest, but I was too excited to lie in my hammock to read. Instead, I sat down at my study table and continued to work on expanding that dictionary.

We would fill that shoebox with slips of paper! We would learn this language well! And, God helping us, we would translate the Good News that Jesus is more powerful than any ghost and any spirit.

Satan Confronted
In my excitement and anger, I whispered as I worked, “Satan, I rebuke you in the Name of the Risen Jesus. You will not enslave these Canela people forever.  These little words I learn and classify will someday declare God’s Word to the Canelas in their own language. God’s Word will be a sharp Sword in the Holy Spirit’s Hand. He will cut through your knots and chains of fear with which you have shackled these people for generations. These slips of paper have the words that will someday declare that Jesus is the Victor over you. Jesus will cast out fear, He will build His Church and set up His Kingdom in this village.”

I worked till deep into the night and could hardly wait for morning so I could start again.

When Work Gets Boring

Jack StudyBoring Monotony
“This is getting tedious,” I said, scowling at the shoe box partly filled with slips of paper, and Canela word lists scattered over my work table.

I stood up, stretched, and muttered to myself, “Day after day, week after week, nothing but hours and hours of writing down words, and grammatical features on hundreds of little cards. This monotony is getting me down.”

In comparison, learning to speak Canela was a lot of fun, even though I regularly got laughed at whenever I practiced a new expression. But writing words on little cards was demotivating.

I looked at the clear blue, dry-season sky and prayed, “Lord God, please help me. This dictionary needs many hundreds more entries before we can start to translate Your Word.”

Sudden Panic
“Come quick. A woman is dying!”  The shout broke my mid-morning musings and I ran out to the porch of our mud-walled house where a boy pointed across to a house on the far side of the village. I grabbed my small case of medical supplies and ran after him.

“Oh Lord,” I prayed as I ran, “Please help me. I’m not a doctor. But You know all about this situation. Whatever it is, I know You can handle it.”

I ran into the house and knelt down by the young woman lying flat on her back on a mat. Her mouth was closed, her nostrils were full of white foam – not breathing. I put my ear on her chest – no heartbeat. No evidence of life at all.

“She wasn’t feeling well,” her mother explained, “so she laid down for a nap and suddenly she was choking, and then she stopped breathing. And after quite a while white foam came out of her nose. That’s when we sent for you.”

The thought suddenly popped into my head. While this girl was sleeping, she suddenly vomited and, because she was lying on her back, she breathed the contents of her stomach into her lungs. With her lungs full of stomach acid, she would have died almost instantly.

“She’s gone.” I said. “I can’t do anything for her.”

“Yes, you can!” her parents said, pointing at my medicine case. “You can give her that same injection you gave your neighbour. Remember, she died and you brought her back to life again.”

A Flashback Story
I remembered the event of a couple of months earlier. One evening Jo had gone next door to check on a girl who had been in labour nearly all day, leaving me to study by the light of the kerosene lamp. Suddenly a little girl ran in saying, “Your wife wants you to come right away.”

I ran to the neighbour’s house which was packed with female relatives.

“Jack,” Jo said, “Her pulse is extremely fluttery and weak. For the past half hour she has been only semi-conscious. I think she’s dying.”

I ran back to our house, grabbed a flashlight and scanned the contents of our medicine shelves looking for something that would help low blood pressure and a fluttery pulse. I noticed a small bottle of injectable adrenaline.

“Hmm,” I thought as I grabbed the bottle and a syringe with a long needle. “Adrenaline makes the heart beat. Let’s try it. There’s nothing to lose.” I aspirated a couple of millilitres of adrenaline into the syringe and ran back to the young mother-to-be.

She was lying very still, leaning back against her husband, barely breathing. I gave her the shot deep into a muscle mass, and felt for a pulse in her throat.

It gradually became stronger and more regular. Then suddenly, there it was, a pounding rapid heartbeat. Her eyes flew open, she took a deep breath, then another one. Relatives shouted encouragement. She pushed, let out a yell, and there was the baby! Joy all around!

What Was the Use?
No wonder this poor dead girl’s parents insisted I give their daughter the same injection. So I did, knowing it would accomplish nothing for the girl, but at least I could not be accused of refusing to use the miracle injection.

I closed my medicine case, and my tears flowed freely as I joined in the crying and wailing.

And I prayed, “Lord God, I feel so helpless, so useless. There’s nothing I can do but cry with them. Is that all I’m here for?”

A few hours later that prayer was answered.  (A story that will need to wait for next week. )

It’s a Nice Problem to Have, But How Do You Handle It?

It happened again this past week. Not at all unpleasant, quite enjoyable, in fact, but still somewhat disconcerting since there was quite a bit of it.

To explain, I need to back up a bit. Right back to the first chapter of Genesis.

God’s Example
We all want to do a good job. When any of us look back on something we accomplished we want to be able to say, “That’s a good job.” There’s something godly about doing that. Our Creator did the same thing. After six days of creating He looked back on all His work and “saw that it was good.” God did it and He wants us to. That’s why He gave us one day a week to stop working, rest, and look back to evaluate the work we did.

Our Situation
Now, for many of us the work we do impacts other people. People in my family serve others in a huge variety of ways; everything from cooking and cleaning to carpentry and construction, and from preaching and printing to painting and performing. And I work with words.

All of these services impact people and sometimes, quite often, actually, people are moved to say, “Thank you. That was really good. You did a great job.” There’s nothing wrong with that. When it comes to praise, the Bible teaching is clear, “Never praise yourself. Let others do it” Proverbs 27:2 (ERV). So it is perfectly okay for us to praise others or to receive praise from them. But still . . . .

A Probing Question
Last week, after publishing my InSight and OutBurst testimonial article on couples needing to read the Bible and pray together, I received a far greater than normal number of responses expressing agreement and appreciation. It made me stop and ask, “Why am I doing this? To get praise?”

No, even though it is satisfying to get praise, that is not my motivation. Yet, when I receive praise, I know that it is somewhat misplaced.

The ideas for these blog posts and their development into a well-rounded article do not come from my mind but through it. Each part comes from another Mind. It is the Creator Himself who puts the ideas into my head and leads me to expand and develop the piece. So really, it is He who should be praised.

But I can hardly reject the words of appreciation and tell people, “Don’t thank me, thank God.” We all know that God is the Originator of all good things. But we also know that it takes work, effort, skill, and discipline to turn an idea into a useful article, a bag of groceries into a delicious meal, or a pile of lumber into a cozy home.

What Works for Me
So lately I’ve been doing something quite deliberate and intentional that I picked up from fellow Dutchman Corrie ten Boom. Whenever someone writes me a thank you email, or tells me they appreciated a speech, or enjoyed reading an article, here’s what I do:

These are for You, Lord.

These are for You, Lord.

I accept the praise and appreciation, and simply say, “Thank you”, while imagining I am receiving a single stalk of a cut flower. Being Dutch, I usually visualize a red or yellow tulip.

Then, at the end of the day, I arrange these tulips in a vase, and present them to my Mentor saying, “These are for You. Thank you for working through me to bless all these people. Could we do it again sometime?”

This system keeps my pride under control. It seems to work for me.

How do you deal with praise when it comes to you?

My Marriage Do-Over

Why I Could Not Post on This Blog Last Week.
Thursday February 18, my wife, Jo, flew back home from San Jose, CA, to prepare for a routine colonoscopy. The following Monday, the 22nd, she was diagnosed with a localized cancerous mass in her bowel. Within hours I was packed up and started driving 34 hours to be with her, immediately plunging into follow-up procedures. All my focus was on her, not on my weekly InSight & OutBurst. We are now waiting for a surgery date.
Now here is the post, My Marriage Do-Over, that I wrote long before this medical crisis. 

The Awkward Question
“So, Jack, if you could do your marriage over again, what one thing would you do different?”

Good question! It popped into my mind as I was thinking about our 54th wedding anniversary coming up on March 31. I wondered how I would answer.  As I meditated on it, I was surprised to feel regret, as well as some guilt. Here’s why:

My Regret and My “Yeah, but . . .”
For at least the past ten years Jo and I have read the Bible and prayed together every day with great regularity and constancy. But not during the previous four decades. I wish now we had started right from the beginning.

Teenage Jack at Prayer

Teenage Jack at Prayer

To make myself feel better, I started thinking of reasons why we had not. And, fortunately, they were very good reasons. As young Christians in the 1950s two things were pounded into us in sermons, at church young people’s meetings, and through Youth for Christ clubs and rallies.
1) You must read your Bible and pray every day, preferably in the morning, and
2) you must witness to others, telling them the story of your conversion.

And I did, faithfully, well, at least the part about reading the Bible and praying. I kept track in my diary of passages I read, and things I prayed about. Yes, my personal devotional life was fine.

And it continued to be fine throughout my student years and on into marriage, pastoral ministry, nearly 25 years of missionary work in Brazil, and the 10 years of leadership ministry afterwards. I read the Bible and I prayed, as did Jo, faithfully every day. That’s what we had been trained to do, and that is what we did. Oh, I prayed together with Jo for all meals and on exceptional occasions or special situations, but we didn’t “do devotions” together, at least not regularly and certainly not consistently. Except for praying together at prayer meetings, our prayers were mostly solitary, private, “closet” prayers.

Private Prayers Are Not Enough
There is nothing wrong with that, of course. Jesus prayed alone, as did Daniel and other heroes of the faith. Private, solitary prayer is absolutely essential to a healthy spiritual life. It is a fact, however, that the Bible refers to praying in groups of varying sizes far more often than to praying alone.

Jesus said, “When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there” Matt. 18:20 (MSG).

More “Yeah, buts . . . “
Jo and I received no pre-marital counseling. Few couples did back in the early 1960s. No pastor ever told us we should read God’s Word and pray together as a couple. I can’t remember ever hearing it preached about. I did hear plenty of reinforcing sermons about having personal, private, devotions, but I neither heard nor read any advice for husband and wife to pray together. Nor did Jo and I see it modeled by parents, pastors or friends. If they were doing this, I certainly never heard about it.

I also remembered that for decades we lived a highly pressured, often chaotic lifestyle: frequent travel, many separations, crowded housing, lack of privacy, and “on call” 24 hours a day, seven days a week for months at a time in the Canela village.

All these arguments in my defense made me feel a little better, and a little less guilty, but didn’t take away from the fact that, if I had our marriage to do over again I would change this one thing.

Right from the start of our life together—even during our courtship and engagement—I would plan and schedule a time to regularly and consistently read the Bible and pray together with Jo.

It was Jo’s hip surgeries that finally nudged us into reading and praying together with much greater regularity and consistency.
Don’t Follow My Example
So, what about you? Here’s hoping you are reading and praying together with your best friend, your fiancé, your spouse. If you are, good for you! And don’t keep it a secret from friends, your kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews.

And if you aren’t, start now. Don’t wait for some crisis, medical or otherwise to start.

In other words, don’t follow my example. Improve on it!