So, Whom Do We Trust?

So, Whom Do We Trust?

We’ve all heard about the Boeing 737 Max airliners that were grounded for several years after two planes crashed killing everyone on board. The computer software problem that caused these tragedies has been fixed and the planes have now been cleared to fly again.

When I heard about passengers reluctant to board these planes “just in case” everything did not get fixed properly, a memory popped up in my mind.

The Story
The scene was the airport of Belem, Brazil, and Jo and I and our three daughters, four to seven years old, were about to fly home for a ten-month-long first furlough. We were near the end of a long line of passengers heading for the final passport and ticket check before we were allowed into the departure area. Since we were lined up along a series of windows looking out on the tarmac, I fought the boredom by watching our plane being serviced.

Several mechanics stood on ladders and were taking the cover off one of the engines. They did something inside with tools, then put the engine cover back on, moved the ladders away and signalled to the pilot to start the engine. The normal loud whine, but also lots of smoke and frantic waving by the mechanics for the pilot to shut off the engine. They put their ladders back up, took off the cover and worked some more on the engine. Again, they took down the ladders, signalled the pilot, more smoke and more frantic waving. During the 45 minutes we were in this line up this routine went on several more times.

Finally, since our family were among the last to check in, I saw out the last window, the signal to start the engine, the same smoke as before, but this time no frantic waving, the mechanics shrugged their shoulders, held up the palms of their open hands in the universal gesture meaning, “Who knows what the problem is?” and walked away carrying their ladders. Ten minutes later we crossed the tarmac and boarded the plane, ready to fly 4,500 kilometres from Belem to Miami, over mostly open ocean. No, we did not tell our girls what we had seen. Yes, we did pray for a safe arrival. Did we trust those mechanics? No way! Did we trust God? Yes way!

So, Now What?
That was half a century ago—five decades fill with Bible translation, leadership, recruiting, fund-raising, blogging, and authoring eight books. We also grew older, and we continued to trust God “who is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.” Rom. 8:28 (The Voice).

We continue to trust God in our current COVID situation. We go to stores for essential shopping, and interact with people, all masked and at a distance. We do church through Zoom and interact with our families the same way. But we also continue to meet people who refuse to wear a mask, even though new, more contagious, and virulent strains of the COVID coronavirus are being identified. We do what we need to do, and we are confident that God is still in control, not just of our lives, but of the entire COVID emergency.

I would like to stay alive and mentally alert to write the ninth book, a memoir of the Canela decades. And if that is God’s plan, Jo and I will stay alive, if not, well, that’s His business. We just keep on loving and trusting Him to keep “orchestrating everything to work toward something good and beautiful”.

The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Create it.

“The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Create it.” Peter Drucker

Happy New Year! Millions of people throughout the English-speaking world have heard, read, said or written this wishful greeting dozens of times in the past weeks. No wonder I keep thinking, “What could I do to create a Happy New Year for myself?

I rattled off some ideas on my keyboard. They quickly sorted themselves into things I want to Change, things I want to Keep the same, things I want to Start, and things I want to Stop.

I realized that planning for my 83rd year on earth, I couldn’t do this in my head, so last week I made up a chart and filled in the details. It looked so exciting I wanted to boil down a summary in alphabetical order and share it with you.

  1. Emotional Health: Keep on reading light fiction and true story-based memoirs to Jo in the evening. Start planning outings, and days trips in our mini-motorhome after the snow is gone, and cross-border trips after the pandemic is over.
  2. Extended Family: Keep interceding by name for each of our extended family with Jo each morning. Start having one-on-one dates with our eight grandkids, and with each of the four spouses when restrictions are lifted.
  3. Financial: Stop or make a Change in spending money on some subscriptions and recurring business expenses which are not paying for themselves. Start marketing my books: five titles on Bible translation, and three memoirs, all published in paperback, ebook and soon four in audio. Keep on having up-to-date records of Bank Accounts, Insurance, Wills, Medical Directives, Power of Attorney, etc. in a safe place and backed up online. Keep on finding things we no longer need and give them away or have them posted for sale online.
  4. Hobbies: Start making photographs with my 35 mm camera again, instead of quick snapshots with my phone. Keep sorting flower photos from Brazil with Jo, and Start producing collations and prints to decorate our bedroom
  5. Marital: Keep on with morning sharing and prayer times with Jo. Change to having even more frequent and regular dates with Jo, taking time to do things she enjoys as well as things we both enjoy.
  6. Mental-Intellectual: Keep on reading at least one book a week in a wide variety of genres but especially on memoirs since that is what I’m currently writing. Start reading and studying intensively every type of writing instruction I can find in books and online.
  7. Ministry/Work: Keep writing a bi-weekly InSights & OutBursts blog post. Start writing the fourth volume of my/our memoirs, From Adventure to Mission: The Canela Decades, complete at least in first draft. Keep on writing regular Popjes Updates to our prayer and financial partners, etc. and correspond accordingly. Keep alert for ways in which I can be of help to someone.
  8. Physical: Keep walking 5 kilometres a day in good weather. In winter walk when possible, if not, Start doing step up exercises for 20 minutes. Change to swimming when pool opens post-pandemic. Keep on with the modified ketogenic diet. Keep the 45-minute nap after lunch.
  9. Social: Post-pandemic Start building face to face relationships again. Meanwhile, Keep using Zoom to connect with family on Wednesday nights, Sunday afternoons, and with church friends Sunday morning. Keep in contact with phone and social media.
  10. Spiritual: Keep getting up two hours before Jo to read Scripture and my daily affirmations of truth and to write my prayer journal. Keep reading Scriptures and a YouVersion devotional with Jo in the morning and pray with her for ourselves, our family, and friends. Keep on trusting in God’s love, power and wisdom.

Now you know more about me than I did about myself a week ago.

Why Does Our Almighty, All-knowing God Want us to Pray?

It was Wednesday evening at the Bible translation centre in Belem, Brazil, the night when all the missions personnel gathered to share stories and pray for each other. For nearly two decades, whenever we returned from the Canela village for a consultant break on the centre, our whole family attended these prayer meetings. Now, however, we were within a few years of finishing the translation program, and our daughters had left Brazil for university. Valorie studied in Los Angeles, Leanne in Edmonton, and Cheryl in Capernwray, Germany.

The Story
Our neighbour and colleague, Marj, had something to share. “I just got a letter from our son Ken in Texas. A few weeks ago, he was riding home on his motorcycle around 1 a.m. after working late at his part-time job. He was exhausted, very drowsy, and suddenly collided with another vehicle. The impact threw him off his motorcycle, but he landed unhurt on the lawn of somebody’s house.

Then I remembered how a couple of weeks ago, I suddenly woke up around 4 a.m. feeling anxious about Ken. I immediately prayed for him until the fear left; I was at peace and went back to sleep. Today, when I read Ken’s letter, I checked the date and the time zone difference. Sure enough, God woke me up to pray for Ken on the very night and time as he was riding his motorcycle home.”

Does God Need Our Help, or What?
Hearing that story, Jo and I felt a firm assurance that God was taking care of our children as well, and we committed to be sensitive to his urging in our hearts to pray for them, not just regularly in our devotional time, but when the urge to pray hit us. Marj’s story also reminded me of the term the apostle Paul used to describe himself and his team in his first letter to the Corinthians. In 3:9, “We are co-workers with God.” In 6:1, “We are working together with God.” Paul was writing poetically about planting and watering, and that it was God who made things grow.

God had awakened Marj and given her the urge to pray for Ken who was in danger while riding his motorcycle 6,000 kilometres away. Why did God need her to pray? Because He wants His people to work together with Him. As we pray, He works to answer the prayer.

Two Stories From Long Ago
The fact that the outcome of God’s work somehow depends on our prayers is vividly illustrated in Exodus 17:8-15. The first battle after Israel’s escape through the Red Sea was an attack by the Amalekites. Joshua fought them on the open plain while Moses stood on top of a hill and lifted his staff to God as a symbol of prayer. As long as Moses lifted his staff high, Israel was winning, but when he got tired, and his staff sank and wavered, Amalek prevailed against Israel. Aaron and Hur found a rock for Moses to sit on, then held up his arms on either side, for a full day, until sundown and Israel won the battle. Verse 14, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it.’” Joshua needed to know that God had won the battle working together with Joshua’s army and their swords, and Moses and his staff of prayer.

Many centuries later, the people of Israel had abandoned the worship of God. Ezekiel the prophet kept urging the people to return to God, warning them of disaster ahead. At the end of a long description of how He planned to destroy the nation, God said, “I searched for one man among them . . .  a man who could advocate for the land, a man who could convince Me not to destroy it; but I found no one. Ezekiel 22:30. The next verse starts, “So, I will turn my anger loose on them . . .” The nation was destroyed, but even just one person interceding for mercy could have stopped the judgment.

God Does His Part; We Need to Do Our Part
Did God limit himself to work in this world, mostly in response to His people’s prayers? It seems like it. We do know he wants us to keep in constant connection with him. Maybe something is going on in the spiritual realm we know nothing about, like the story of Job. Let’s be sure we do our part and pray about everything that comes to our minds. Be in constant contact with God’s Holy Spirit and pray at ever urging. As the apostle Paul said, “Pray without ceasing.”

 

 

The Best Question I Ever Answered with YES!

The Bedtime Stories
Our twin grandsons were born the year after we returned to Canada from our decades of work in Brazil—the first grandkids. A few years later, since they lived nearby, I was in demand to tell them bedtime stories. At the time, Jo and I were deeply involved in an intensive six years in top-level Wycliffe leadership, serving as CEO (now called President) of Wycliffe Canada. We had literally moved From Mud Hut to Executive Suite. (Hmm, that sounds like a good title for a book of memoirs.)

Eventually, vigorous games, like tag. were added to the bedtime stories. By the time they were ten years old, however, I didn’t play tag with them anymore because, at sixty-plus years old, I could no longer catch them. We also had a six-year-old granddaughter, Savannah, living near us in Canada and four younger granddaughters in California. Oh, and of course Savannah’s baby brother Aidan.

I wondered what life would be like being an active grandpa to eight young grandchildren, who increased in strength and stature every year, whereas I seemed to be going in the other direction. The only thing I could do to entertain them was to tell them stories of my life. I told them tales of growing up in Holland, and I made up bedtime stories on the spot with ideas they gave me. I longed to play more active games with them. Yet, their energy tended to surpass mine, and I ended up dropping out. I wondered how Savannah’s other Grandpa, the one living in Saskatoon, interacted with his grandkids.

A Granddaughter’s Question
Yeah, I was feeling rather gloomy about my Grandpa role. I talked to God, telling him I thought I wasn’t much of a grandpa, but I didn’t get a response. Then, one day, I made a phone call, and everything changed. I called our daughter Cheryl’s home (remember the time when every home still had a landline phone), and little Savannah answered.

“Hi Savannah,” I said, “this is grandpa.”

There was a moment of silence, and then Savannah’s voice came through hesitantly, “Um, are you the grandpa who tells us stories?”

Whoosh! A bright white light of understanding flooded my mind! I saw myself and my future in full clarity.

“Yes, Savannah! I sure am the Grandpa who tells you stories!”

I remember nothing else about that phone conversation. Savannah’s question, however, was God’s answer to my prayer and has guided my actions and ministry goals ever since.

A Wife’s Suggestion
After six years as leader of Wycliffe Canada, Jo and I served as Wycliffe leaders for three years in the Caribbean, living in Trinidad and travelling to Barbados, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. I told stories of missions and Bible translation in hundreds of churches and other meetings. But often, on Sunday afternoons, we were at home for five hours between church services.  One day Jo said, “Remember how you used to write a Sunday Afternoon Letter from Dad to our three daughters after they left Brazil? Why don’t you write a Sunday Afternoon Letter from Grandpa to the grandkids?”

Good idea! Jo often gives me good ideas, which I accept gladly and have a powerful and positive impact. So, I started writing story-letters to the eight grandkids each Sunday afternoon and emailing the letters to the three sets of parents. On Monday night, the parents read my story-letter to the grandkids as a bedtime story. During those three years, I wrote scores of made-up stories. The total number of words I wrote in short fiction tales for my grandkids was seven thousand words longer than The Hobbit. Hey, it’s just a page number comparison; it has nothing to do with quality!

A Calling Confirmed
After that three-year assignment to the Caribbean, I was invited to tell true stories of Bible translation to audiences to help them decide to support Wycliffe’s Bible translation work financially. Along with my personal speaking engagements, during those ten years, I told stories to about 750 audiences in 400 cities and nearly twenty countries.

Then, at age 76, I stopped travelling and sat down to write more books of stories. I have published five books of collections of story-based articles on Bible translation and three story-packed memoirs.

I thank God for confirming my calling as a storyteller that day twenty years ago when Savannah asked, “Are you the Grandpa who tells us stories?”

 

 

How God Prepared me to Trust Him

The Problem
As a Dutch boy, I was proud of being Dutch and our dike-building engineering abilities. By the time I was in Grade Nine in Canada, the Dutch had turned 6,800 square miles (4.5 million acres) of sea-bottom into farmland. Here’s a comparison with Canada: Each homesteader was granted 160 acres of land. The amount reclaimed from the sea by the Dutch would have been enough for 27,200 pioneer families’ homesteads. I should have had plenty of that high self-esteem for which the Dutch are famous. But I didn’t. My classmates often called me Dummy, and I felt that they were right.

I was always the last to be chosen on a sports team. I sucked at carpentry-shop, and was worse in arithmetic. I especially hated being called to the blackboard to solve an arithmetic problem in front of everyone. I always made mistakes, and everyone laughed at me.

I believed in God in a general way. But I had no close relationship with Him. I always felt guilty, either for things I should have done and didn’t do or for something I had done that I shouldn’t have done. So, even when I occasionally prayed that I would feel better about myself, I didn’t expect Him to do much for me. And then, one day, He did.

What I Didn’t Know
I knew all the things I wasn’t good at. But I didn’t realize that God had been preparing me for years to be good at something. He had helped me to develop a valuable skill with words—and I didn’t know it.

Growing up in Holland, I biked to the library every Wednesday to borrow two or three books to read that week. I was twelve years old when we left Holland, and I had probably read 500 books. In the two years in Canada, I read library books in the way fire reads kindling.

The Story
Then came the day in Grade Nine English class when the teacher taught us how to write a letter. I listened with half an ear because I had written lots of letters to friends in Holland, and besides, I had a book open on my lap and was engrossed in a gripping story. The teacher said, “Alright, everyone, take a sheet of paper and write a one-page letter to a friend. You have forty-five minutes.”

I thought of a funny idea for my letter, then looked up from my book. The whole class was scribbling, erasing, thinking, and scribbling some more. I kept reading my book. Suddenly the teacher warned us, “You have twenty minutes to finish.”

I closed my book and wrote a letter to an imaginary friend telling him about my weekend visit to some make-believe cousins who lived on a farm.  I wrote about climbing up the windmill tower. I wrote about chasing pigs that had escaped and about a bull that chased us.

To make the letter unique and easy to read, I quickly drew a little cartoon picture to replace every noun. I filled my whole letter with tiny sketches of fat pigs, flapping chickens, skinny cousins, an angry bull, a windmill, apples, a glass of milk, etc. Then the teacher said, “Time’s up. Hand in your letter.” I signed my letter and took it to her desk.

The Solution
The next day, the teacher said, “I am happy to say that many of you wrote excellent letters. But one of your letters was outstanding. It was one of the most original and best letters anyone has ever turned in during this class. I am putting it up in the school hallway for everyone to read and enjoy. Jack, congratulations on writing the best letter!”

Wow! I hadn’t expected that! What a surprise! It had been so simple, taking only twenty minutes. Even though I stank at many school activities, it was good to know I rocked at writing.  And best of all, nobody ever called me Dummy again.

The Best Lesson
In the last month of Grade Nine, I attended an evangelistic crusade meeting, where I heard that Jesus would forgive all my sins and be my Friend. I gladly accepted this great gift. No more feeling guilty! Yea!

It was then I realized that it was God’s Spirit who had motivated me to read so many books and to love words and that it was He who had given me the idea of using cartoon pictures to make my letter unique. I knew then I could trust Him forever.

 

How To Doubly Please God

The Question
A pastor friend and I were chatting about our personal prayers. “I write out my daily prayers,” I said. He looked surprised and said, “Why would you take time to write them out? When did you start doing that?”

“I find that writing out my prayers helps me to focus,” I said. “I have records of a few dozen prayers per year starting when I was fifty years old. But then something happened when I was fifty-five that clinched the value of praying by writing. I’ll tell you the story.”

The Story
A few years after Jo and I returned to Canada from our decades of Bible translation ministry in Brazil, Wycliffe Canada assigned us to work in a program to help young people become members of Wycliffe. Since Jo is by nature deeply interested in people and is gifted with the ability to discern personal problems, she served as a confidential interviewer and counselor with young women.

One morning I walked into the room where Jo was studying the responses to a highly personal questionnaire. As soon as she saw me, she closed her confidential file, and looked up at me with tears in her eyes.
“What’s the matter, Hon? I said.
“I need to interview this girl and will need to discuss some painful things. I just don’t know how to handle this situation.”

The Promise
With that, she picked up her folder and stood up to leave for the interview room. I hugged her and impulsively said,
“I will pray for you the whole time you are talking with her.”
“Thanks, Hon” she said, we kissed, and she walked out.

As the door closed behind her, I thought, What have I done? This interview will last an hour. I have never prayed for a whole hour about one thing in my whole life! Besides, I know nothing about the situation. I don’t even know who the girl is.
I knew, however, that I could write for an hour, so I sat down with my laptop, and started a letter to God.

 The Letter
“Dear God, Jo just walked out to interview a girl and I promised to pray for her the entire time she is with her. I have never prayed for any one person for that long my life, so please put thoughts and ideas into my head that I can bring to you in prayer.”

As I wrote, thoughts did come into my head. I wrote, I thought, I reread, I cried a few times. I kept writing, thinking, and writing some more. Suddenly I heard the door open. What? Jo had returned! The hour was over, and I wasn’t done praying yet!

 The Result
Jo read my prayer from my laptop screen, then looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “Wow! This is amazing! God led you to pray about the very things we needed to talk about. And our interview went perfectly. She is going to be okay.”

“About that same time,” I said to the pastor, “I saw the movie Chariots of Fire and was struck by the words of Eric Liddell, the famous Olympic Christian athlete, ‘I believe God made me for a purpose. He made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.’

“I knew God had made me a writer. Then I read Proverbs 15:8, ‘The prayer of the upright pleases Him’ and I put the two concepts together. I please God when I write, and when I pray, my prayers please Him. I thought, From now on, I’ll do both at once, and doubly please Him.

The Pastor’s Story
Sometime later I saw this pastor again. “I had been counseling a young married couple,” he said. One spouse needed to confront the other in private, so as they entered another room I promised I would pray for them during their private conversation.

“I remembered your story, Jack,” he said, “so I sat down with my laptop and wrote a letter to God about the couple and the confrontation that was going on at that very time. It took a long time, but God just kept me writing by putting ideas into my head.”

I was delighted to hear that my story had helped him to pray in a focused way over an extended period of time.

The Journey Into Praying by Writing
For about five years I wrote a Midweek Report. Each Wednesday I wrote a report to the President of my life. I thanked Him for the things I had been able to accomplish, brought problems to Him to help me solve and wrote to him about whatever came into my mind during that time: people, situations, finances, health, relationships, and mechanical or electronic problems, etc.

For the past fourteen years I have been writing daily prayers. I started off with five days a week, and eventually this habit grew to daily written prayers. Not everyone is a writer, for those of you who are, I hope these stories will encourage you to “double please God” through your prayers and through practicing the skill you are good at.

What About Non-Writers?
And what about those of you who confine your writing to making a grocery shopping list and signing birthday cards?  You are not left out. You, too, can please God by doing what He made you good at–cooking, baking, carpentry, sewing, painting, and caring for people, etc. God has given each of us one or more talents and when we use them, we will feel His pleasure. When we use them prayerfully we will doubly please Him.