Our Triune God Loves His People to Work in Community Just as He Does.

The Story
On Sunday morning, the tinkling of teaspoons in teacups was the signal for me to slip out of bed and join the fun in my parents’ bedroom. Settled between them with a cup of tea and some Maria biscuits in my saucer, I joined them to sip, dip and nibble. After fifteen minutes of joy, my Mom would leave us to make breakfast, and the story would begin.

The stories usually were about a young man going out into the world to “seek his fortune.” I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but as he walked along the road, he would meet someone who had a special ability. One could swing 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 different special talents, and they would join the group.

Eventually, they would meet a problem, a princess 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 result was often measured in bags of gold for each of them.

The Impression
Each story my dad told was different, but each had that same theme, and they made a profound impression on me. I make up similar stories to tell my children and grandchildren. When my wife and I went to Brazil as linguists, teachers, and Bible translators, 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.” Wycliffe was a good fit for us since the agency values people with a wide variety of skills, but all of whom see themselves as a vital part of every translation team.

Working Together: It's the Right Thing to Do

Working Together: It’s the Right Thing to Do

The Result
As Jo and I lived with the Canela people, God led us to connect with men and women who had a natural gifting in various areas. We helped them develop these talents. One young man became very skilled at extracting rotten teeth. Others loved teaching people to read. An artist illustrated the translated Scriptures with sketches of Canela life. Several learned to type, and one had the knack of making sentences flow smoothly. At times, a dozen people worked together on various aspects of the translation work.

This way of working together interdependently fitted right in with the Canela culture. Together we accomplished things so massive, difficult and complicated, no single one of us could have achieved them as an individual.

The Contrast
Unfortunately, our North American culture glorifies independence. Our hero is the lone pioneer, conquering the wild west, building a log house for his family with his own hands, and clearing the land with his own axe.

Businesses, and even churches, in North America, spend much time and money teaching people to work together as a team. It doesn’t come naturally to us. We have a cultural bias against the concept. Only in sports like hockey or football do we value the team.

The Trinity
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.

This kind of working community is a far cry from the military and industrial model of exploiting the labour of individuals to accomplish objectives set by generals or executives. The strength of the interdependent community lies in its people, not in its bosses. The more people grow in a deep appreciation for the variety of contributions from others in the community, the more productive the community becomes.

The Questions
So, is yours a godly (god-like) family? That is, does your family work together, as the Holy Trinity does?

What about your church? Are all the members engaged in ministry, each contributing to the whole with their own talents and abilities?

Why Is It So Hard?

“I wish all the Christian missionaries in Brazil were fleas,” the Brazilian government official said through gritted teeth, “I would squash them under my thumbnail like this!” pantomiming the action on the corner of her desk for the delegation of mission leaders who were seeking an appointment with a government minister.

It was in the late 1970s and yet another discouraging incident in the long, sad, saga of satanic opposition to bringing God’s Word to Brazil’s indigenous population.

The chained and locked gate that separated us from our friends at the end of this 20 kilometre path.

The chained and locked gate that for five years separated us from our friends at the end of this 20 kilometre path.

I will never forget those horribly discouraging years when the government expelled all missionaries from native villages. Jo and I yearned to be back with the Canela people we so loved and longed for. We prayed for them, wondering if there was anyone to give them medical aid, or teach them to read, and knowing no one was there to help them translate God’s Word into their language. This mental and emotional anguish was much harder to bear than the bouts of malaria, hepatitis, trachoma, and parasitic infestations so many of us routinely suffered.

After five years of hostile antagonism, the government finally asked the indigenous groups of they wanted the missionaries in their villages, and the prohibitions were lifted. All across Brazil, villagers gladly welcomed the Bible translators who rejoined their indigenous fellow workers at last to continue medical, linguistic, education, and Bible translation work.

When we, in the end, returned to the Canela village, the dried mud-walled, palm-thatched house we had lived in for ten years was gone, along with everything in it. Government officials had encouraged the villagers to help themselves to our furniture, pots, pans and dishes, as well as the house poles, lumber, doors and shutters. The house was torn down and replaced by someone else’s mud and thatch house. On our return, we built a 4 by 6 metre, two-room wooden shack in which we lived and worked for eight years as we completed the Canela education and Bible translation project.

“Why is it so hard?” we often asked ourselves when one of our daughter’s had a birthday, but she and her sisters were 700 kilometres away in boarding school. We always missed them so much. It was during Holy Week; I got an answer to that question as I thought about Christ’s suffering for us and how we, in turn, also need to suffer.

Jesus said, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” John 15:20. It was in that light that I re-read Colossians 1:24. The apostle Paul wrote poetically, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” Jesus, our Master, suffered agony and death to bring salvation to the world. We Christians now take our turn to suffer as we pass on the message of this salvation to the world.

Jo and I experienced what Paul wrote about “feeling like a mother in the pain of childbirth,” Galatians 4:19. Like a mother, we felt a deep down, fierce joy as we suffered the hardships and opposition while “giving birth” to the Canela Church through God’s Word in their language.

As disciples of Jesus we need to be prepared to suffer, and do so gladly, so that His Body, the Church, will grow larger and stronger. “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus promised us, “but cheer up, I have overcome the world” John 16:33.

This Good Friday, as we think about what it cost Jesus to suffer on the cross to restore us to fellowship with God, let’s ask ourselves,
What am I sacrificing to spread this good news of forgiveness and salvation to the world?”
“What it is costing me in time, money, work, or pain?”
“What do I suffer?”