Black Friday Shopping Frenzy

Something stirred in my memory last night as I watched a news report on “pre-Black Friday sales”. I saw a similar event nearly fifty years earlier among the Canela people of Brazil, but with a vastly different outcome.

The Mayhem
The TV news showed a clip of last year’s crowds of bargain hunting shoppers bursting into stores when the doors opened on Black Friday, to begin a shopping frenzy—greedily grasping and grabbing, and at times wresting and wrenching items out of the hands of other shoppers. Sometimes even pulling and punching other shoppers. This year the sales are starting earlier.

The Memory
Seeing that crowd remind me of one of the times we returned to the Canela after having been away for several months. A number of small boys had whacked down the weeds around our mud-walled house and as a gesture of appreciation, I gave each of them a handful of paper wrapped candy—a highly prized and rare treat for them.

As all the weed whackers were receiving their candy, more kids came running up. Since I had some candy left over, I gave a yell and threw the last few dozen candies high in the air towards the arriving group of kids. Instant pandemonium—kids greedily grabbed, grasped, wrested, wrenched, and at times almost wrestled other kids to get a candy.

The Rebuke
It was over in an instant, but the damage was done. Several village elders who had been sitting on a bench alongside our house and had watched this performance, got up and walked toward me, shaking their heads. They stood close and confronted me, their faces serious.

“No, no. Don’t throw candies at the kids as if you were throwing scraps at a flock of chickens. They are people, Canela people. You should have told them to line up, and then give each one a candy so there is no disorderly conduct like this.”

They went on to scold me for provoking their grandkids into shameful, disrespectful behaviour. “What if a Brazilian from the city had seen this? They would have thought they were among uncivilized savages. Please, don’t ever do this again.”

The Reactions
That was the early-years-among-the-Canela memory that popped into my mind as I watched the news. But what a different reaction! Instead of elders rebuking this behaviour, North American merchants were delighted, as were the TV media that gleefully showed the mayhem, with no thought of who else in the world might see this shameful, disrespectful behaviour.

If Canelas were to see this North American Black Friday madness on television, they would pity Jo and me for having to live among such uncivilized savages. They would ask themselves, “Why do countries that have had God’s Holy Word in their own language for many generations, still have people that act worse than we did before we ever received His Word in our language?”

The Questions
We may need to ask ourselves some questions too:

  • Am I letting my materialistic, things-oriented culture influence me?
  • Am I showing any signs of turning into a greedy, grasping, grabbing type of shopper, constantly searching for the best deal?
  • Am I becoming more dissatisfied with the stuff I have, wanting something more, something better, something nicer?
  • Would the best antidote for this poisonous attitude be to deliberately give things away?
  • Would downsizing our possessions simplify our lives?
  • Would we then be living truer to biblical standards?

The Answers
Probably Yes to all these questions. Time to change our way of living.


Climate Change

Climate Change
Jo and I have thought a lot about God and the first ten words of the Bible. It came about because of our week-long visits to northern Arizona and southern Utah. We were overwhelmed with God’s creative work exposed for human beings to see in the Grand Canyon, Zion Canyon and Bryce Canyon.

The Scientists’ Prediction
When we returned home, the first newscast we had seen for a month told us that eleven-thousand scientists had signed a declaration saying that the climate change we have noticed in the last few years is man-made and will devastate life on earth unless authorities take drastic action. For one thing, coastal cities such as New York will be inundated and made uninhabitable as polar ice caps melt and sea levels rise.

The scientist’s declaration came on the heels of the high-profile visit of climate activist, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg whose scowling face and condemning message is now familiar to every television viewer on earth.

Climate Change: God’s Creation Tool
I thought of God and how for multi-millions of years He used climate change to create the earth whose thousands of layers we saw in those incredible Grand Canyon scenes. We spent a full day trying to absorb the information as we looked down into and across those chasms. Another day we drove beside the river that had carved out narrow Zion Canyon, looking up at yet more multi-layered cliffs.

Then the day at Bryce Canyon blew us away. The evidence of 60 million years of repeated floods and retreats, and land rising from sea-level to 8,000 feet, all the thousands of layers of sediment shown by relentless erosion over all this time. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Planet Earth went through a lot to get to its present state.

It reminded me also of God’s question of Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (Job 38:4). We weren’t there either, but, unlike Job, we could see the evidence of those foundations, layer upon layer of sediment and volcanic ash as God laid the foundations.

A Tranquil Scene
Strangely, these scenes evidencing massive upheavals and unremitting erosion reminded me of a different, much more tranquil scene that Jo and I visited several decades earlier. In the mid-1990s, we were preparing for a major leadership role in Wycliffe Canada, and we visited several other large Wycliffe home organizations.

One trip took us to England, and after collecting advice from leaders at head office, Jo and I visited some British missionary friends who had been our neighbours in Brazil. They took us around the countryside to see the sights and at lunchtime stopped at a restaurant called Harbour Inn, a very old inn, continuously inhabited and used for who knows how many centuries. After lunch we walked around admiring the old stonework, but I was also looking for something else.

“So why is this place called Harbour Inn?” I said, “I don’t see any harbour.”

Our friend took me a few yards to one side where there was a long stone quay with a drop-off of several metres to a grassy field.

“This was the harbour,” he said, “and ships came here to dock and unload their cargo and passengers. But that was many centuries ago.”

I stood on the quay and looked seaward. There was nothing to be seen except ongoing meadows with cows grazing in them. Not a sign of the sea, the shore was kilometres away.

Major Climate Change in Historical Times
That’s the memory that popped into my mind when I heard of the polar ice caps melting because of man-made climate change and drowning coastal cities like New York. Scientists are studying historical climate changes through all sorts of esoteric means, glacier ice cores, tree rings, archaeological digs and historical documents. They all show there have been many major and minor fluctuations in temperatures, rainfall and sea levels in historic times.

The figures and charts are confusing to an ordinary layman like me. But this one thing I know, once in historic times, this harbour had at least three metres of water, enough to float sea-going ships, but now, for who knows how many centuries, it is all dry land with cows grazing on it.

So, climate change is real; of course it is! But it is by no means a new development. There have been climatic upheavals throughout the ages, long, long before seven billion people depended on fossil fuels for energy.

So, what natural phenomena caused those rises and falls in temperatures and sea levels back then? Could these same natural occurrences be causing the current level of climate change? Could it be fluctuations in the sun’s heat? After all, it is 1.3 million times larger than Earth, and only eight light-minutes away.

Failed Doomsday Prophecies
A doomsday prophecy, even one signed by ten-thousand scientists, reminds me of scientist Thomas Malthus, famous for predicting the Malthusian Catastrophe, who more than two centuries ago foresaw inevitable worldwide famine because the world would not be able to produce enough food for the exploding population.

The total world population at that time was 1 billion, it is now 7 billion. And there has been no worldwide famine. The prophet/scientist, Malthus, was wrong. It makes me wonder about the current doomsday prophecy.

In the End, as in the Beginning, God is in Charge
Students of the Bible know that this world will not last forever in its current state. God Himself forecast its end in 2 Peter 3:10, “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”

It may well be that God is using this “fervent heat” not to destroy His creation, but to cleanse it, much as He cleansed the earth of sinful humanity through a world-wide flood of water back in the days of Noah. As in the beginning, so in the end, God is in charge.

An Astonishing Letter

This week as I was sorting and culling some papers in a keepsake file, I came across an astonishing letter we had received many years ago from one of our financial partners.

For all the past five and a half decades that Jo and I have been members of Wycliffe Bible Translators, God has supplied our financial needs through the gifts of family and friends. We thank God for these ministry partners, we pray for them, and we thank them for their faithfulness in sharing their finances with us.

The amazing letter was from Tracy, an old friend and a member of the congregation Jo and I pastored before we joined Wycliffe. It was a general letter written to all the missionaries he was supporting financially.

The Letter
“Dear Partners in the Gospel Ministry, I apologize for not sending you any financial support checks for the past four months.”

He then explained that he had been in the hospital to treat a bleeding ulcer. Shortly afterward, he had a massive heart attack. While he was recovering from quadruple bypass surgery, his ailing wife died. A week after returning home he got pneumonia and was again admitted to the hospital. He concluded his letter with these words,

“I have not worked for four months, so I have received no paycheck. I may not work again. But I will try to keep sending half of what I used to send before all this happened. God bless you in the continuance of your work. I’m sure the Lord will supply. God has greatly blessed me.”

What a Ministry Partner!
This financial partner wrote this letter when he was eighty-two years old! He had been exercising his faith by sending his gift to Wycliffe for our support every month for thirty-five years without a miss until then!

Through his gifts, Tracy was part of our team when we worked for twenty-four years in Brazil and translated the Scriptures for the Canela people of Brazil and planted Christ’s Church there. He was a part of our team for the nine years I was president of Wycliffe Canada, and then of Wycliffe Caribbean. After that, he continued to partner with us for eleven years in our speaking and writing ministry.

Finally, at nearly ninety years old, he went Home to enjoy fellowship with the Lord he served throughout his life, and to hear Him say, “Well done, you good and faithful servant!”

A Faithful Team
As Bible translating missionaries, Jo and I have stood before many hundreds of church congregations. I wave that red Canela Bible and tell testimonial stories of how God gave His Word to the Canelas in their language and how they responded. Often people will thank us for the pioneering work we did.

Yeah, we pioneered. But Jo and I did not do it alone! We could never have done it without people like Tracy, who exercised his faith in God, shared his finances with us and prayed for us.

Ted, another long-term financial and prayer partner told me, “You know, Jack, when I see you holding up that red Canela Bible, I think, ‘That book is partly mine!’” And he is absolutely right.

When we believers give to missions, pray for missionaries, and in other ways support world evangelization, God will not forget the sacrifices we make. His “Well done!” is waiting for us.

Really? I Had No Idea!

The First Story
Last week Jo and I were invited to the 125th anniversary of Innisfail Baptist Church. We started serving as pastor there fifty-eight years ago just before we left for Brazil. When introducing me as the speaker after the evening banquet, the current pastor told the audience that I had been the first missionary speaker he had heard after he started following Jesus as a teenager. The experience impacted him so strongly God used it to lead him into a life of full-time ministry. That happened during our first furlough in 1971-72. We didn’t know how we had impacted him until he told us last week.

The Second Story
This reminded Jo and me of a time several years ago when we spoke at a missions’ conference in central Alberta. A couple took us to their home for Sunday lunch during which I asked them to tell us their story. “I went to Bible school full time to prepare for cross-cultural missionary work” the husband said, “and my wife took classes part-time.”

He then told us about serving in several different ministries and about some startling ups and downs in their lives during which they experienced one astounding answer to prayer after another.

Jo and I were surprised when they told us that their call into full-time Christian service came one Sunday in a small mountain town in British Columbia when they heard us speak about our ministry among the Canela. Since they were new Christians, I was the first speaker they heard in church other than their pastor. God used our missionary stories to lead them to get training and begin a life of ministry. This event also happened in our first furlough many decades earlier! We had no idea that God had worked through us to point the way to ministry for them.

The Third Story
As Jo and I drove home talking about this story, I remembered the day I was waiting for my flight at a Canadian airport many years after we had completed the decades-long ministry among the Canela. A man sitting nearby leaned over and asked, “Are you Jack Popjes?”

1966 Prayer Reminder Card

I admitted I was, and he said, “I last saw you in 1966 when you spoke at a church telling us you and your family were about to leave for Brazil to learn an indigenous language and translate the Bible into it. I was a teenager at the time, and after I heard you, I gave my life to God for ministry.”

He went on to tell me that he had gone to seminary, had just completed twenty-five years as a pastor in one church and was now on his way to start ministering in another church. He had kept track of Jo and my translation work among the Canela through our newsletters. Again, Jo and I had no idea that God had worked through us, three decades earlier, to call this young man into ministry.

How Many Others?
I wonder now about the other occasions when God chose us to impact people to make major life decisions. It appears God had another, more hidden ministry for Jo and me to do besides the obvious one of translating the Bible for the Canela people of Brazil.

Future Joy
One of the joys of eternity for God’s sons and daughters will be when we meet people who were blessed by God through what we said, what we did, and how we lived our lives.

And what will be just as exciting is to finally meet people whose words God used to impact me for good. I have, of course, thanked those I know personally, but there are also authors of articles and books I want to thank.

I especially look forward to thanking the first Bible translators, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They not only recorded the life of Jesus and all the stories He told so that the whole world could learn about Him, but they also translated everything from Aramaic to Greek. And the principles of translation that they practiced are still followed by Bible translators today.

The Final Take-Away
It’s exciting and a bit scary to realize that you and I are constantly influencing people—by our passion, by our words, and by our actions—yet most of the time we don’t even realize it.

May we all be the kind of people through whom God works to challenge others, to inspire, and impact people in positive ways.

Comfort in Culture Shock

Comfort in Culture Shock
Most of us experience some form of anxiety when we travel outside the comfort zone of our own country, language and cultural setting. This feeling of unease is called culture shock and although unpleasant, it is not life-threatening. Or is it?

Our first missionary term in Brazil was filled with multiple opportunities to experience culture shock. We adapted to two cultures, learned two languages and invented a writing system for one of them. Living with the Canela people in their jungle villages, we learned to live without clean water, plumbing, electricity, mail, and phone service. That’s fine during a few weeks of vacation camping, but a strain for six months at a stretch with three pre-school children.

The society to which we were adapting found comfort in a woven palm-leaf mat for sleeping, sitting cross legged on the hard clay floor, a pair of shorts for the men and a piece of wrap-around-the-hips cloth for the women. We learned to do without most things we had been used to for the first three decades of our lives. In all this, we experienced the fact of the Holy Spirit as our Comforter. We often needed to feel His comforting peace and Presence to relax the tensions we felt.

Back to Canada
After four years of adjusting to these stresses we returned to Canada for a furlough. I thought I had it all together. My motto was, “Bring it on! The God of all comfort and I can deal with it.” That is why it was such a surprise when one culture shock situation nearly cost me my life. Right in my own country!

My brother Henry had bought a used car for us and now accompanied me to the government registry office to register it and get the license plates.

A Major Culture Shock
I was surprised when, instead of waiting for an hour in a long line, it was our turn and the clerk called us to the counter, “We’d like to register this vehicle,” Henry said, handing the clerk the bill of sale and the certificate of insurance. She glanced over them, mentioned the fee which I handed over in cash. She worked her typewriter for a few minutes, then reached under the counter and clattered the license plates on the counter. She dropped the registration card, bill of sale and insurance certificate on top of them, looked over my shoulder and called, “Next.”

My mind still flooded with memories of enduring endless hours of Brazil’s bureaucracy, I picked up the papers and license plates and in a shocked daze slowly turned away from the counter.

“Let’s go,” Henry said and started walking to the door. I followed him wordlessly as nightmare remembrances of endless red tape whirling through my mind. I walked through the door, reliving the frustrating, sometimes day-long standing in multiple lines in Brazil to accomplish what I had just done in five minutes.

I was in full-blown culture shock as I crossed the sidewalk, stepped off the curb and took the first step to certain death. That’s when Henry grabbed my arm and yanked me out of the way of the oncoming bus.

His brusque life-saving action broke through my home-country, re-entry culture shock. As Henry drove me home, I explained to him what agonies I used to endure when dealing with bureaucracy in Brazil.

The fact that God had prompted Henry to grab and jerk me out of harm’s way so brusquely was a great comfort to me.

The Fires in Brazil–Fake News

The Fires in Brazil

I often ask myself, when watching or reading news online. “Is this event real, or has it been manipulated to be sensational?”

Since television producers depend on advertising for their income, the more people watch their programs, the better. And the more sensational the program is, the more people will watch it. Most of the time I just need to accept what I see as true since I don’t know enough about a situation to judge correctly.

But not in the past few weeks!
When news programs depicted the imminent destruction of the Amazon rainforest, I said, “Wait a minute! I know something about that!”

Our family lived for over two decades in and on the edge of that rainforest, and I have traveled extensively in Brazil. So, let me assure you right now, the alarming reports about the imminent destruction of the Amazon rainforest by wildfires are FAKE NEWS.

The Amazon Rainforest is NOT in danger of burning up.
The pictures of fires we see on television and online are NOT taken inside the Amazon rainforest. They are taken much farther south and are simply showing the best way to clear land and prepare it for agriculture—a method that has been practiced for centuries, long before Europeans came to Brazil.

What Europeans and North Americans don’t realize is that Brazil’s vast Amazon jungle rainforest extending out to a nearly a thousand kilometres from the banks of the three-thousand-kilometer-long Amazon river, is utterly unlike any forest in western North America.

Most trees in western North America are softwood, resinous trees, like spruce, pine, fir, cedar, hemlock and tamarack, which catch fire easily. Well over two thousand out-of-control wildfires raged in British Columbia in 2018. Over half of them were caused by lightning strikes. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest burn in western North America every year. The largest one on record is a single fire in British Columbia and Alberta that burned 1,600,000 hectares (four million acres).

The Amazon Rainforest is Fireproof
In stark contrast, the Amazon rainforest is a fireproof forest consisting of gigantic hardwood trees as tall as a ten, fifteen, or even twenty story building. The daily thunderstorms over vast areas of the rainforest produce thousands of lightning strikes, yet never a wildfire. The rainforest is well named. It rains constantly somewhere in that forest every day—an average of fifteen million tons of rainwater every minute, every day, all year long.

No wonder the Amazon rainforest is a soggy, swampy, fireproof hardwood jungle! That is a good thing because it not only produces at least six percent of the oxygen we breathe, it also has a huge, irreplaceable biodiversity of vegetation, animals, and insects. All this rainwater flows out into the Atlantic at a rate of 200,000 cubic metres per SECOND in the dry season, and 300,000 cubic metres per SECOND in the rainy season.

Replacing Trees with Oxygen Producing Food Crops
The Canela village where we lived is not located in the Amazon rainforest, but south of it near a vast, sparsely treed grassy plain. In April or May, the Canelas head out to the margins of creeks and streams where, instead of grass and scrub brush, the soil produces good-sized trees and thick underbrush. Each family spends many weeks preparing three or four hectares to plant their gardens by chopping down these trees. Some are old-growth forest; most are trees that grew up in old gardens that were abandoned after a few years of use. They cut off the branches and slash down the underbrush. They leave the trees to dry for months in the blazing sun during the last part of the six-month-long dry season. Then in August, the men return to set fire to the dry chopped-down bush. The fire burns fiercely but stops dead at the edge of the living forest. During the September rains they plant their gardens—rice, squash, beans and lots of root crops like manioc.

Tens of thousands of backwoods farmers and ranchers follow the practice of replacing trees and undergrowth with oxygen producing agricultural crops all over the part of Brazil that is south of the Amazon rainforest. The population in the vast Amazon rainforest is very low, so slash-and-burn agriculture is not practiced there to any great extent. The largest city on the north bank of the Amazon River is Manaus. On satellite pictures it is a small grey blob in a vast green ocean of trees. The human population is minuscule along the thousands of kilometres of Amazon river and the further thousands of kilometres of tributary rivers in the Amazon rainforest.

Back in the late 1960s, before there was a passable road into the Canela village, Jo and I used to fly to the village in a small single-engine plane. We avoided traveling in August since there was no GPS guidance and the pilot couldn’t see to navigate because of the smoke. And that was fifty years ago! Fire has been the primary way of clearing land for as long as Brazil has had a human population.

This month’s experience with news reporting reminded me to take all sensational news with a grain of salt.

Parabens Brasil!
By the way, this Saturday is the 7th of September, Brazil’s Independence Day. Parabens Brasil! Eleven of our family plant to celebrate this weekend with plenty of Brazilian food!