The Student Who Taught the Teacher

What the Teacher Taught
When Jaco, our best translation helper, told me he had turned himself to God to follow Him, I started to cry. For thirteen years, Jo and I had worked, prayed, and waited for that moment. During the weeks following this magnificent event, I had been teaching my new younger brother in Jesus how to apply the Scriptures to himself.

For this devotional exercise, one morning, we read the first chapter of 1st Thessalonians. The night before, I had found and prepared some “prime the pump” verses that I could suggest just in case he couldn’t think of anything special.

I asked Jaco to read the chapter out loud. He did, and I asked, “What is God saying to you in this chapter?”

He replied, “Oh, the idea in verse nine, of course! That’s the best verse in the whole chapter!”

Huh, what? Verse nine? That wasn’t on my “prime the pump” list of ideas!

Then he read it and explained, “Look, Paul is happy with those Jesus followers in Thessalonica because they turned away from the fake dead gods to serve Our Living Father in the Sky!”

“Yes, that’s nice,” I said, “but what about it?” I was thinking of fake gods as worshiping images of idols, something Canelas did not practice.

“Look, they are just like me!” Jaco exclaimed, “I turned away from fearing the ghosts of our dead ancestors, away from the spirits of dead beings, and turned toward Our Father who is alive. So I don’t need to concern myself with dead things anymore, but with a living Father in the Sky!”

What the Student Taught the Teacher
Of course! A Canadian would never think of that! Jaco’s focus on that verse reminded me of how Canelas live in fear of the ghosts of the dead and constantly seek to appease them by practicing traditional ceremonies and rituals.

What God Taught the Teacher
God, too, had a lesson for me. “Listen, Jack, my Holy Spirit is well able to teach young Canela believers directly from My Word. You just keep on translating My Word into their language so I can speak personally to them.”

With that strong encouragement, Jaco and I spent every moment we were together to work on the translation.

Some weeks later, I asked Jaco to write his story of how he turned to follow God. Here’s a translation of what he wrote:

Jaco and some of his family

Jaco’s Story
Yes, I’m going to tell you how I turned to follow Jesus’ path because doing this has made me very happy. And that is no little thing to me.

Yes, I lived reading our Father’s Word for a long time, but I did not live following it. I may as well not have been reading it; that is how badly I lived. I used to speak badly about my friends; I lived thoughtlessly. I lived to please myself. Jesus saw me and was ashamed of me. I, however, was not ashamed of myself. Now, however, I have purposed within myself to turn from all these things. No man forced me to do this.

One day I sat quietly reading our Father’s Word, and I said to myself, “I am surely reading our Father’s Book. Why don’t I turn towards Him?” And then I did.

Jaco’s Friends Are Afraid of Change
And I told my friends and counselled my family according to the words of our Father, saying, “We should all enter into Jesus’ group.” But they didn’t want to enter, and some tried to turn me aside from my purpose, saying, “Don’t do this. If you do, evil will befall all of us. Our gardens will fail. Our wives will miscarry. These, your thoughts, are not ours. These ideas are different and wrong. Bad things will happen.”

But I replied, “How can this be? Our Father loves all people. He loves and looks after those who follow Him whether they be Indians like us or black people or whites.”

And again, I urged them and asked, “Will our group someday resolve to become followers of our Father, turning themselves after Him?” But no one replied; they all sat quietly. So, I left them and just talked to our Father and said, “My Father, once I lived belonging to our Enemy, but now I am Yours. Now our Enemy is troubling me, so, therefore, make me strong and keep him far from me.”

Yes, this is what our Father will do for me and for anyone who turns himself to follow after Him. My story is done.

The Teacher Learns One More Lesson
The conclusion of Jaco’s testimony was another valuable lesson to me, especially since years of Satanic opposition lay ahead. Jaco reiterated the ending of the Lord’s Prayer, “Deliver us from the Evil One.”


How My Bad Decision Gave Me a Good Insight

A Story From Thirty-two Years Ago
During the last years of our two decades of Bible translation work with the Canela people in Brazil, we had a Sunday habit of closing up our house for privacy for part of the day. The Canelas did not mind since most of them were off hunting, having been told by their Brazilian neighbours, “Sunday is a “bad day.” Don’t work on Sundays; you may cut yourself with an axe, or a snake may bite you.” We were working hard to finish the translation so they could learn that Sunday was a “Good Day.” It celebrated the day Jesus returned to life again so He could give them everlasting life also.

We listened to sermon tapes and prayed for our daughters, families, and ministry partners back in Canada. We also rode off on the Honda trail motorcycle we bought after selling our truck. It was great to get away, take walks, have a bath in a creek somewhere, and return to write letters to our daughters back in Canada and the US.

The Sunday Afternoon Ride
One Sunday afternoon, Jo and I rode our little Honda bike to the top of Rooster Hill, where we enjoyed an hour of privacy, silence, scenery, and the cooling breeze kept the irritating gnats away. Then, being curious, I rode off to check out a long line of palm trees far to the south. Jo stayed, hanging in her hammock. I knew palms usually grew near a creek, and I wanted to find a clean swimming hole. It turned out I would discover something more important than a swimming hole.

I zigged around fallen logs and zagged around dense bushes while trying to keep going south. I had to be alert for armadillo burrows and rock-hard termite nests hidden by tall grass. The sun was directly overhead. After riding for quite a while, I began to realize that either I was travelling in the wrong direction, or those palm trees were much farther away than I had estimated. Down on the bush-covered plain, it was impossible to tell. So, not wanting Jo to worry about my long absence, I turned around and headed back. I rode north, again dodging around obstacles.

Lost in a Trackless Wilderness
After a long time, there was Rooster Hill. Or so I thought. Nearing it, I saw that it wasn’t. Oops, I got myself lost. Remembering my survival training, I stopped and checked the time, 12:30 p.m. With the sky brightly overcast and the sun directly overhead, I would not know which way north was for another couple of hours. I knew Jo would be worried by then, so I decided to keep riding in the hope of getting somewhere that looked familiar. I rode slowly, constantly scanning for Rooster Hill. “Lord,” I prayed, please keep Jo from worrying and guide me to find my way.”

I also scolded myself as I rode looking for the hill:
“Dummy, why didn’t you take the bike bag with the compass?”
“Why didn’t you just stay with Jo and relax instead of dashing off on this useless trip?”
“Jo is going to be so worried and so angry when you get back … eventually.”

I drove about, looking for Rooster Hill for at least an hour—the longest hour of my life. Then, suddenly, there it was! Whew! I rejoined Jo and began to apologize and explain, but she didn’t seem to be at all upset at my being gone so long. I looked at my watch. 12:36 p.m. What! It was still ticking. Only six minutes had gone by since I realized I was lost. It had seemed like ten times that long!

My Discovery
The fingers of panic churn our insides when we think we are lost. We can’t think logically. Jo laughed at my alarm and concern for her. But then we talked about the concept of being lost. What is worse than realizing that you are lost, is to be lost and not know it until it is too late. We thought about the thousands of people groups worldwide, lost, not knowing the way to God, lost in fear-filled cultures and soul-destroying lifestyles. They don’t even know they are lost, just like the Canelas, before we translated a large part of God’s Word with them.

Our Prayer and God’s Answer.
Back home again, we prayed, “Lord of the harvest, please call your servants to translate your Word for these hundreds of millions of people, speaking several thousand languages. And raise up ministry partners for these translators to uphold them in prayer and sustain them with their gifts.”

God has been answering these prayers of his people. In the past three decades, many hundreds of language groups started reading newly translated partial Bibles in their own languages. Some translators were expatriates like Jo and me who worked in pioneer situations. And other translators were educated, bilingual Christian indigenous people, trained to translate the Scriptures into their own mother tongue for the thousands of monolingual speakers in the villages.


Reasons for Me to Remember

The Tears
I was chatting with an old guy who when he mentioned he had served in the military service.
“I have a soft spot in my heart for the Canadian military” I said. “It was Canadian soldiers who liberated the Dutch city of Hilversum where I was born and grew up during the war. I was seven years old when the tanks rumbled down our main street. I was there to greet them.”
“Is that so?” he replied, “My father was a paratrooper in the Netherlands; I was eight years old.”
Tears stung my eyes and I choked up. I wanted to say, “Thank you for being without your Dad during those years.” But I couldn’t get past a muffled, “Thank you.”

Those Canadian soldiers rolling into town in their tanks and trucks were the best thing that had happened to me in my young life.

The Razzia
As a five-year-old, I was playing in the street in front of our house, when I saw German army trucks pull into both ends of our street and soldiers pounding on doors with their rifle butts, dragging men out to load them on the trucks. I ran into the house shouting “A razzia!” (A raid!) My dad and mom immediately ran to the back room, dragged a heavy dresser away from the wall, and folded back the carpet. Dad lifted the trapdoor and slid down under the floor, crawling into a tunnel that led to a neighbour’s house.

Mom and I replaced the trap door, rolled back the carpet and pushed the dresser back in place. I rubbed away the tracks the dresser had made on the carpet. Then I ran to the dining room and took away Dad’s plate and cutlery, and moved his shoes from the front door mat to the closet. Mom ran upstairs to take Dad’s pillow from the bed, and put all his clothing into a big box in the back of the closet. Fortunately, this time, the trucks filled up and left before they came to our house, so Mom and I dragged the dresser back again and lifted the trapdoor so Dad could come out of his hidey hole.

The Firewood
During the winter that I was six years old, I scavenged for pieces of coal, firewood, or anything that would burn. For quite a while I was very lucky. Every day a large German army truck would drive down a neighboring street. Two armed soldiers sat in the cab and a man sat on the back of the truck with his leg chained to a bolt. He was sitting on a huge load of small wooden blocks. I didn’t know it at that time but these blocks were used to make wood gas to run truck engines.

Four of us boys used to wait at a certain corner, hiding in the hedges along the road. When the truck began to turn the corner, the prisoner on the back of the truck would shovel as many blocks off the back end of the truck as he could, while we rushed out from our hedges and within seconds picked up every piece, shoving them into the gunny sacks we carried and ran away. When the truck had fully turned the corner, everything the soldiers saw in the rear view mirrors was normal. My Mom was always happy to see the wood I had found. I didn’t want to worry her, so I never told her where I found it.

The Freedom
When those Canadian soldiers arrived, our lives changed. No more danger of men being dragged off to work as slaves in mines or factories. No more hunger. No more cold houses. I thanked God for those soldiers then, and I thank God for them now.

May God bless all the men and women who are dedicated to fight evil, combat crime, rescue the perishing, and bring aid to the helpless.

Emotion and the Power of Language

This week, Jo and I entered a restaurant, showed evidence of our full vaccination status, sat down, removed our masks, and started a visit with two long-time friends. Was it ever good to be with them again, enjoying a meal together for the first time in several years! They were old friends from our Bible school years who had been missionaries in Africa during the time we were Bible translators in Brazil.

My mind suddenly flashed back to a similar mealtime back on the mission centre in Brazil. I was relaxed and comfortable in the cool, breezy dining room, looking forward to some excellent food and stimulating conversation. Jo and I sat with our hosts, a German family who, like us, were serving as missionaries in Brazil. As we chatted, our host leaned back in his chair and called down the hall to his teenage daughter filling another serving dish in the kitchen.

Elsa! Wir sind bereit. Kommt schnell! “Elsa! We’re ready. Come quickly!”

The loud voice, the urgent tone and the last word, schnell, sent a shock of fear through my system while the icy hand of panic clenched my insides.

Terror traveled eight thousand kilometres and thirty-five years to jab fear into my heart once again.

I was six years old, walking home from school with a classmate in Nazi occupied Hilversum, Holland. As we took a shortcut past a warehouse, we noticed the door was partly open, so naturally, we peered in. Suddenly a German soldier waving his machine gun ran out of a guard shack behind us shouting, Achtung! Verschwinden Sie! Schnell! “Hey! Get away! Quickly!” I had heard those shouted orders before, sometimes followed by shots . . . and screams.

So long ago. So far away. So many changes. I was now an adult, a husband, a father, a missionary in another continent. And this German missionary was no occupying enemy soldier—he was my friend, a missionary colleague, and a brother in Jesus.

What then triggered this vivid, fear-laden memory? Language. A specific language. The same language which had impacted me emotionally that day as a child. If, instead of shouting “Schnell!” in German, he had called in English, “Quickly!” or in Portuguese, “Rapido!” I would not have flinched in fear and panic.

Language has the power to evoke emotion in the hearer. And we depend on emotion along with logic to make decisions. Way back at the tower of Babel, when God invented languages, He put that power to stir emotion into languages. No wonder, therefore, that God uses languages to communicate His passion-filled Love letter to the world’s people.

At last count there are nearly 7400 languages in the world with a population of 7.0 billion people. He has called thousands of His servants to translate His Word into many of these languages. Over 700 languages have a complete Bible, nearly 1600 have at least the New Testament, and 1200 have some portions translated into them. These three groups total about 3500 languages.

Right now, translation work is progressing in over 800 languages, serving nearly 68 million people. Praise God for what He has done through His people!

Putting aside languages spoken be groups who are fully bilingual, another 145 million people speaking nearly 1900 languages still continue to wait for translation work to begin. Two thousand translation teams are needed. They, in turn, need many thousands of prayer partners and financial ministry partners.

Churches around the world need to listen to the urgency in God’s voice as he calls down our halls, for workers and ministry partners to come and get busy. Quickly! Rapido! Rapidement! Szybko! Snabbt! Raskt! Gyorsan! Brzo! Awjarê! Schnell!


An Insightful Grandson and an Angry Chief

The First Story
If you have done repairs to a loose kitchen sink you will know what suffering is. As you lie on your back, the edge of the under-sink-cabinet floor causes excruciating pain as it tries to pry apart your vertebrae. You are peering up into semi-darkness, holding a flashlight in one hand, the other feeling for the loose under-the-sink bolt, and needing a third hand to find the tools lying on the floor beside you. In the meantime, bits of grit and dust keep falling into your eyes.

I had been in that position for much longer than I wanted to be, and still, the job was not done. Just then, Ryan, our oldest grandson who had observed my torment for some time, made an insightful comment for a young teenager.
“You are not very good at fixing this kind of thing, are you, Grandpa?”
“No, I’m not, Ryan. My back hurts, and I hate working way up above my head, with dirt falling into my eyes.”

He then made another perceptive comment.
“But later on, Grandpa, you’ll be able to write a great story about this. It’ll be a really funny one.”

Yes! That I could do. Ryan and the other grandkids had heard me tell hundreds of true stories about all kinds of adventures and hard times—many with funny and always encouraging endings.
I remembered that sink fixing episode today as I researched my 1987 diary for stories to include in my memoir of our translation work among the Canela people of Brazil.

The Second Story
Here’s the story that stood out. In 1967, twenty years earlier, Pedro, the Canela village chief, had invited Josephine and me to come to his village to live and work. He wanted us to do medical work and teach his people to read and write. We had done this and much more, including saving the life of his son by driving him four hours to town to a doctor who confirmed my diagnosis of appendicitis and sent him to a hospital where he had surgery just in time.

We had always had a good relationship with Pedro, and when he asked if I could drive him, his wife and two or three men down the jeep trail a few hours to meet some people, I agreed. A continued good relationship with him was worth four hours of driving over rough terrain.

At noon, I drove our little quarter-ton pickup truck to his house. Pedro and his wife

Baskets & 3 daughters Okay, 10 Adult men, No Way.

climbed on, and so did ten other people.
“That’s too heavy, Pedro,” I said. “Look at the springs; they are all bending the wrong way and will break. I can take the five people you asked for but not all twelve of you. I broke all four of these springs this year and replaced them. But now they’ll all break too. I’m sorry, but I can’t take all of you.”

Pedro exploded in anger. He stalked off directly to the local government agency. He complained to the manager, telling him, “Get on your shortwave radio and tell your bosses in the city that we no longer want these teachers in our village.”
He stayed right there until the manager had sent that radiogram. Happily, several other Canela leaders overheard this order. They told others in the village who sent a large delegation to the government manager saying, “Everyone in the village wants the teachers to stay.”

These events were the beginning of an enormous confusion that eventually involved directors of the government indigenous agencies in three cities. These authorities repeatedly ordered us to leave the village, and each time the Canelas made the local manager send radiograms objecting to the order.

Even our own Wycliffe director got involved. He was called to the agency office in Belem, where the agency director told him, “The Canela chief, Pedro, and Blackpalm, a sub-chief, both want your people out of their village.” Just then, Blackpalm, who happened to be in Belem for medical reasons, walked into the office and heard this statement; he objected.

“The only one who wants the teachers out is Pedro. He’s a hothead and gets violently angry when he can’t get his way. I love working with the teachers. I taught them much of our language starting twenty years ago. They have been a huge benefit to health and education in our village.”

The Last Story
What a coincidence! No, it wasn’t. It was a God-incidence. God is in control and kept us productively working for three more years until the Canela Bible was published.

At the public Bible distribution ceremony, I gave Pedro the first Bible I took out of the box since he was the chief who had invited us to come. He made an impassioned speech. “Treat this book respectfully. It is more valuable than a cow or a new shotgun. It is God’s letter to us. Don’t tear pages out of it to make your cigarettes. Don’t leave it out in the rain. Our friends have worked for more than twenty years to make this book. Respect their work.”

What a change in Pedro from just a few years ago! I couldn’t help chuckling, and covered my grin with my hand.

Better Than an Enamel Plate

I will never forget that young mother’s prayer during night class!

We were in the last stages of the Bible translation program, where for twenty years Jo and I had been called Tehtikwyj and Prejaka by the thousand-plus Canela villagers. Two dozen Canela men and women surrounded me, sitting on logs, heads bowed in prayer. We had sung hymns set to Canela indigenous music patterns, and in a few minutes, would read and talk about a new draft of a chapter of the Bible.

Prayer Time
Now, it was time to pray. First, I heard prayers asking God to heal sick children, for a good crop, and for help to find a lost bush knife. Then a young mother prayed:

“Great Father in the Sky,” she began. “I want to thank You for sending our brother Prejaka, and our sister Tehtikwyj, to us so long ago when I was just a baby. First, they taught us to read our own language. Then, they worked with us to translate Your Words into it. Now we can read Your Letter to us. Now we are discovering that You love us very much. Now we are learning how we can live to please you. Please help them to finish Your Book soon.”

Prayer for Donors
Then came the unforgettable part that brought tears to my eyes.

“I also want to thank You for all Prejaka and Tehtikwyj’s friends far away in their own country. For all these years, their friends didn’t forget them, but kept sending them money. They know that our brother and sister don’t have a food garden here as we do. Their faraway friends send them money so they can buy food and gas for their truck. They send this money, not because of friendship, but because they are all part of Your family, Great Father.

“They have money and maybe they see a new enamel plate or a shiny spoon and ask themselves, ‘Should I buy this for my family?’ But then, they decide not to buy anything, but instead, they send the money to our brother and sister so they can live here and make the books of Your Word.

“And they sure chose right because Your Word is so much better than a new spoon and more valuable than even an enamel plate. As a reward, give these faraway brothers and sisters lots of healthy children; make their gardens grow well, and keep them from getting sick. Amen. “

What’s Happening Today
Bible translation programs are going on in thousands of languages around the world right now. Translation teams have completed programs in hundreds of languages in the last ten years. So, it is very likely that while you are reading this column:

  • Somewhere in the world, someone is reading or hearing the Word of God in their own language for the first time.
  • Somewhere, Jesus is showing the Great Father to someone who has only recently heard about Him.
  • Somewhere, the Holy Spirit is inspiring new believers to thank God for His Word, to thank Him for those who bring His Word and to ask Him to bless those who send the money that makes it possible.
  • Somewhere, God blesses donors to Bible translation and cross-cultural missions as He answers prayers by new believers such as that young Canela mother.

To those of you who give to Bible translation and cross-cultural missions, someone who you will not meet until eternity, could be asking God to bless you because, as that young Canela mother said,
“You sure chose right.”