Aiming at a Moving Target

Nearly sixty years ago I read a book written by some Wycliffe Bible translators called Two-Thousand Tongues to Go. No one back in the late 1950s had any idea that there were more than seven thousand languages spoken in the world, most of which had no part of the Bible translated into them.

During the past six decades, teams of linguistic surveyors discovered hundreds more people groups, speaking thus far unknown languages. At the same time, God was calling thousands of people to get involved in linguistics, literacy and Bible translation.

My wife Jo and I were one such couple. Fifty years ago, Brazil’s Canela people invited us to come and live with them and learn their language. Twenty-two years later we presented the Canela people with a newly published partial Bible in their own language. One done. Who knows how many to go!

The Moving Target
In the past half century, God led more than a thousand teams of linguists, literacy experts and Bible translators to start their work in those two-thousand languages. Wycliffe through its sister field organization SIL has been the most active organization. But there are a good number of others also translating the Bible. The old goal of two-thousand languages was being whittled down significantly. But all along the way, we felt we were aiming at a moving target. More languages were being discovered, even as other language and translation projects were being completed.

Nearly twenty years ago a new estimate was made, and each year, as projects were completed, the count came down. During these same twenty years, however, organizations using technology and the Internet found it far easier to collaborate in determining translation needs.

The Project
Early this year the calculations showed 1,633 languages to go, but now even this number needs to be changed. is an inter-organizational effort which is rebuilding the statistics from the ground up to have a more comprehensive understanding of the progress and remaining needs for Bible translation. The results of this research are both exciting and daunting.

For instance, partner organizations working with Deaf communities validated 368 sign languages that need to have a Bible translation.  Also 399 more languages were revealed to have no Scripture and no active translation, even though work was recorded as having been started. And more translation projects have recently been completed. After all the adding and subtracting was done the new goal is 2,184 tongues to go.

Down to Zero in Our Lifetime?
As a veteran Bible translator, recruiter and fund-raiser, I want to see those remaining needs drop to zero! In the meantime, Bible translators celebrate the increase in accuracy. After all, accurate facts are essential for strategic planning, and good stewardship of resources. When all the partners know the facts, it is easier to work together effectively and in harmony—something we know our God loves. The target is still there, but it is being whittled down faster than ever before in the history of Bible translation. God the Father is working together with us, His children, to get this task done.

“Only One Thing is Necessary”

It happened in our sixth year of Bible translation service in Brazil and led to clarifying a powerful life habit.

Some very dear friends came from Canada to help do some much-needed construction on the Bible translation centre near the city of Belem. For several months, Jo and I worked well together with them and deeply appreciated their fellowship and work. But one evening, they criticized us quite strongly.

The Criticism.
“Why are you always visiting with other missionaries in your spare time and spending hours at the swimming pool with your kids on Saturday afternoons? Why aren’t you evangelizing the poor people in the slums down the road?” Jo and I could understand why our friends would ask that. They loved meeting the needs of the poor back in Canada. The question led to a long discussion that evening.

Jesus’ Example.
I mentioned the well-known story in Luke 10:38-42 when Jesus answered a criticism of a similar nature. Jesus was visiting his friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and teaching others who came to visit. Mary was sitting nearby listening intently, when Martha came to Jesus and said, “Doesn’t it bother you that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!”

Jesus gave his famous answer, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about so many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Ministry: One Necessary Thing.
For Jo and me, the Canela Bible translation program was the “one necessary thing.” We still had at least fifteen years of work ahead of us before we could present the Canelas with the Word of God in their own language.

Jo and I were the only people in the world assigned to build a literate society and translate the Bible for the Canelas. For us, everything else, even evangelizing desperately needy slum dwellers was secondary. There were other Christians, thousands of them in Belem churches, who could, and did, evangelize the slums.

Jo & Jack, Cheryl, Valorie, Leanne

Family: One Necessary Thing.
But what about Saturday afternoons at the swimming pool with the kids? What is so necessary about that? Well, our daughters routinely lived in a boarding school for two or three months at a time. When we finally returned to the centre, we wanted to spend as much time together as a family as possible. When it came to responsibilities as parents, quality family time was the “one necessary thing” for all of us.

Fellowship: One Necessary Thing.
And visiting with other missionaries? Well, after three months of praying and sharing on a deep level only with your spouse, the need, and joy, of spending time with other believers is impossible to understand unless you have experienced it.

The Question We All Need to Ask.
In Mary and Martha’s situation, Jesus was sitting in their home and teaching those around him. Mary dropped her To Do list and grabbed the unique opportunity to learn personally from Jesus. Our natural tendency may be to act like Martha and live up to cultural expectations by preparing plentiful food for guests. But that may not be the “one necessary thing.”

Each day, in every situation we need to ask ourselves, “At this moment, what is the “one necessary thing” that only I can do?”
Then do it . . . even if it provokes criticism from people you love.

Summer Blogging Break is Over—It’s Story Time Again.

Welcome back to another season of InSights & OutBursts with true-story-based blog posts that may give you a good laugh, or cause you to think, or stir you to constructive action.

A Story-Filled Summer.
I hope your summer was as good as mine was. My wife Josephine and I joined our families for a riverside/ocean beach camping vacation in Oregon during August. God was so good to us. We so much enjoyed the campfire evenings with the stories of what God had been doing in the life of each family member. We especially loved the ministry report stories from Ecuador, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Cambodia, the Ukraine and Orlando, FL from four of our granddaughters.

A Flashback to 1951.
In July I focused on writing sixteen years of memories—from our family’s arrival in Canada in 1950, to my little family’s departure for Brazil in 1966. I wrote about how shy I was as a teenaged immigrant, about being laughed at and bullied in school. I didn’t do well in math but excelled in reading. I learned English rapidly and went through library books the way a fire goes through kindling. When it came to writing stories in English class, I easily kept up with the rest of the students.

Once when each student had to stand up and tell a story to the class, I was the first up and got the most laughs. And the best part was, this time they weren’t laughing at me, but laughing with me. No wonder that I continued to tell stories on the playground,

The First Three Books.
Many years later, I refined my story telling through speeches, sermons, and missionary newsletters. When, in my early fifties, email and the Internet was developed, I wrote weekly story-based articles to send out by email. This was way back in 1995, long before the term “blog” was invented. Readers forwarded these missionary stories and mission insights to others and copied them to reprint in church bulletins and newsletters.

One day I got an email from Wycliffe USA:
“You know those emails you send out. People keep asking us for permission to reprint them in magazines. Please give us permission to print some of these in a book for a wider readership.”

Okay by me. So, in 2006, A Poke in the Ribs was released—fifty-two of my most popular columns. The book sold so well, Wycliffe asked for more columns to put in a second book. A Kick in the Pants was the result. After that, A Bonk on the Head came out.

My Venture into Self-Publishing.
I wanted to balance the physically abusive tone of these titles and self-published a small book, A Tickle in the Funny Bone, a book of humorous stories. The publishing process was not as difficult as I had feared, nor was it too expensive. This first success gave me the courage to publish a larger book: The Why and How of Bible Translation: What Every Christian Should Know but Few Do . . . Very Few.

The Sixth, and Most Popular Book.
Last year, while visiting our California family, our triplet twenty-one-year-old granddaughters had a question for me,
“Grandpa, remember those bed-time stories you used to tell us when we were little? You, know the ones about when you were a little boy in Holland called Hansje? If you write those stories for a book, we’ll help you edit them and draw pictures for each story; we’ll even design the cover.” Hmm, good idea!

A few months later, I finished writing thirty-seven stories and early this year the artists completed the illustrations. This spring I published the first volume of my autobiography, a book of true stories for children, The Misadventures of Hansje: the Boy Who Kept His Guardian Angel Busy.

Its popularity surprised me. It seems adults love to read these stories for themselves, even if they have no small children to read to.

The New BOOKS Page on My Blog.
I just completed a new BOOKS page online describing my six books and giving information and links to buy copies on Amazon. Please check them out on my InSights & OutBursts blog, just click the BOOKS tab and enjoy.

(Some of you who live in isolated locations and usually read my posts only as emails, next time you download your emails, type into your browser to get to my blog and the Books page.)


The Misadventures of Hansje: The Boy Who Kept His Guardian Angel Busy

Jack’s Sixth Book
This book is the first volume of Jack’s autobiography. It covers the first twelve years of his life, including the years of Nazi occupation in Holland and the difficult years immediately afterwards. It is written for children since these true stories were first told to Jack and Josephine’s eight grandchildren, who after they reached their twenties, urged him to write these stories. Two granddaughters volunteered to draw the illustrations To and design the cover.

What Others Say About The Misadventures of Hansje
Once a week, I Skype with my young granddaughter who lives over 1,500 kilometres away. One day, after our chat, I read her a chapter of the “Hansje” book. Now when I Skype, the first thing she says to me is, “Grandma, can you read me a Hansje story? Please?”
One of the first purchasers of The Misadventures of Hansje.

Buy it here as paperback and e-book
Canada: The Misadventures of Hansje
USA: The Misadventures of Hansje