A Life-Long Commitment
“You guys are so fortunate! You don’t even know how blessed you are!” Hearing our Bible translating colleagues in Brazil telling us this surprised us. What are they talking about? we wondered.
We had just reported at a conference on our first year’s work with the Canela people. “The Canelas gave us Canela names and adopted us into their families,” we said. “They are happy to help us learn their language, and the chief keeps urging us to invent a way of writing Canela so we can teach people to read their language. People keep volunteering to help us.”
We discovered that many of our friends struggled to be accepted by their villagers. Some couldn’t find anyone willing to help them learn the language. Others had made learn-to-read booklets but found no one who had any interest in learning to read.
Jo and I had no idea why God blessed our work among the Canela in such a startlingly obvious way.
Then, one day, we received a letter from Belfast. A man named Joe explained it all:
“Dear Brother Jack and Sister Josephine,
I just heard that you are among the Canela and plan to translate God’s Word for them. While on an evangelizing trip in Brazil, our team came upon a village that was not on our map. We tried to talk with the people, but we could not understand each other. They were such a fierce-looking group, with spears and clubs, we didn’t dare stay the night with them. So, we travelled on. Later I discovered that they were called the Canela.
He went on to tell us a bit more about himself, and we were astonished to learn that God had moved him to start praying for the Canela people ten years before my wife and I were even born.
He continued to pray, without ever receiving any further information about the Canela, for forty years until Jo and I arrived as thirty-year-old missionaries. That’s when he wrote his letter.
He then prayed faithfully for another twenty-two years until we published a partial Bible translated into Canela, and Jesus planted His Church among the Canela people. Then, after Joe the Irishman had prayed for sixty-two years, the Lord took him Home, no doubt, to his exceeding great reward.
The Prayer Project
Two years after Jo and I left Brazil, we spoke at a conference in Suriname, so we took the opportunity to cross the border into Brazil to visit the Canela. Sadly, it was planting season, and about two-thirds of the people were away in their fields.
We walked from house to house, greeting our friends and taking pictures of individuals, couples, families, and extended families. We carefully recorded the names of each person on the photo and how they were related to the others.
When we returned home, we printed out the four hundred pictures and the names. Then, during the rest of that year, we spoke at scores of recruiting and fund-raising meetings. First, I told the story of Joe, the Irishman and his sixty-two years of praying. I then said, “If any of you here would commit to pray every day for a Canela man, woman or child by name and picture, come and see us after the meeting.”
I warned them that, just as Joe had prayed “in the dark” with no updated information, so they too would not have any updates. Even so, after a few months, four hundred individual prayer warriors across North America had volunteered to pray daily for the Canelas on the pictures.
The Rest of the Story
Last week I received a note from a prayer partner who started praying nearly forty years ago for a Canela girl and still prays daily for her by picture and name. She prayed as she visualized her Canela girl becoming a teenager, marrying, having children and now, as a grandma.
God continues to bless his Word, which the Canelas read and follow. As a result, the Church among the Canela continues to grow.
Planting His Church among the Canela is God’s work, but He invites His people to be involved. He called Joe from Belfast to pray for over sixty years. God called my wife and me to spend thirty-three years of our lives in training, linguistic research, teaching, and translation for the Canelas. He called scores of others to give and to pray.
God has partially rewarded Jo and me by letting us see the results of our work. Those praying “in the dark” will see the results and receive God’s full reward in eternity.