How Long Did It Take to Translate That Bible?

“How long did it take you and Jo to translate the Bible into Canela?”

That is like asking a giant pumpkin growing contestant, “How long did it take you to grow that record breaking, 2,000-pound pumpkin? His answer might range from “Three months,” to “Thirty years,” depending on when he started counting.

It’s actually the wrong question to ask. Every pumpkin farmer knows he didn’t grow the pumpkin, Someone Else did. In the same way, although Jo and I were involved in translating that Bible, it was God who grew that project and produced the fruit—something much bigger than a giant pumpkin.

The Teenager’s Decision
Here’s how God grew that Bible translation: Sixty years ago the principal of my high school shook my eighteen-year-old hand, gave me a diploma, and sent me out into the world.

I was a relatively young Christian, God having brought me to decide to become a Jesus follower a few years earlier. Now He moved me to make another decision.

“Jesus,” I prayed, “You loved me enough to give Your life for me: I love you enough to give my life to You. I want to do something great for You. Guide my next steps.”

He did. It was 1956 and God showed me the logic of attending Bible school to study His Word, to learn public speaking, and to confirm that the greatest spiritual needs were overseas, on the mission field. To earn the money for school, I worked for a year—cleaning sewers, building oil tanks, and doing seismic oil exploration. I started Bible school in the fall of 1957.

The Training
After graduating from Bible school, I married Jo, the girl God had put into my life, showing me that Jo was just as committed to serve Him overseas as I was. To give us some ministry experience God provided us with a pastoral position in a small church in central Alberta, starting in the fall of 1962.

By the end of 1966, Jo and I had not only gained three years of experience in pastoral ministry, God had also led us to join Wycliffe Bible Translators, an organization committed to do whatever it takes to translate His Word into the language of every person on earth. We studied linguistics, literacy, cultural anthropology, the principles of Bible translation, and were trained in jungle survival techniques. During this time God also gave us three daughters and helped us to build a prayer and financial support team.

We arrived in Brazil, plunging immediately into Portuguese language study, and immersing ourselves in Brazilian culture. Finally, in the spring of 1968, after twelve years of training and preparation, God arranged events for us to move into the Canela village, at their invitation, and we began our “life’s work.”

Two Canela families adopted us. This is Jo's family.

Two Canela families adopted us. This is Jo’s family.

Growth and Fruit
We started by making Canela friends, learning their culture and inventing ways to write the sounds coming from their mouths. God helped us learn the complicated language He Himself had invented. We compiled a dictionary and set up an educational system, publishing about 20 reading booklets. It took five years before He gave us the confidence to start translating His Word, albeit tentatively.

On August 10, 1990, twenty-two years after we moved into the village, we celebrated the dedication and distribution of the published partial Bible in the Canela language. The thirty-four years of training and work was over. What started as a commitment by an eighteen-year-old kid, was finished by a fifty-two-year-old man.

Back to that Question
“How long did it take you and Jo . . .?” That question is irrelevant. God did it. Yes, He worked through Jo and me, but how far back did He begin to work? I grew up in a Bible reading family. Jo’s mother dedicated Jo to become a missionary when she was still a baby, never telling her until Jo was in missionary training.

The point is, the Canelas received God’s Word in its final, printed form at just the right time, since many of them had been reading Bible portions and were already believing His Word and following Him.

God loves to involve His people in His work. But He doesn’t “use” us. Not in the way we use a stir stick in our take-out coffee and then throw it into the trash.

I remember telling Jo that August afternoon, “It’s done. My life’s work is over. I could die right now and it would be okay.”

God, however, didn’t discard us after the job was done. He gave us eight grandchildren to love and influence. He put us into high-level Wycliffe leadership positions for nine years. He led me into an inspirational speaking ministry that took me to 450 cities, in 20 countries to speak at 1,100 events. God also grew me into a writer of children’s stories, and blog posts like these, many appearing in published books. And, 60 years since I was 18, He is getting me excited about writing an autobiography with the working title, “The Life of Jack: Stories that Make God Look Good.”

Here’s a good question, “How long do you and Jo want to keep on serving God?”
Our answer, “For as long as He keeps us alive.”

4 thoughts on “How Long Did It Take to Translate That Bible?

  1. Great blog. We’ve been hanging around this translation stuff about the same amount of time. “God having brought me…” “God showed me the logic…” “the girl God had put into my life…” “God arranged events…” “…The Canelas received God’s Word in its final, printed form at just the right time,” As a strong believer in God’s sovereignty I especially appreciate your wordings in the quotes. It seems in our generations of today the emphasis is on what I have to do. As our daughter-in-law says. while living with friends just after HS because her home had been broken up for several years, “I didn’t find God. HE found me.”

    And as I heard years ago, we may retire from a job, but we don’t retire from ministry.
    So, carry on,

    • Thank you, Ken, for your great words of encouragement. You know how to do it!
      Yes, it was certainly God that did it, all through Jo and my lives.
      I’m working on an autobiography right now. The working title is
      The Life Of Jack:Stories That Make God Look Good.


  2. Thanks for this beautiful and inspiring story, Jack. How wonderful that God has called you to be his servants in the mission field and in the translation of the Bible into the Canela language. May God bless you and Jo for following his direction throughout this long process you have described. May God continue to “use” you in the best and most influential ways during your senior years. I pray that God will send his angels to watch over the two of you and your family while Jo continues to heal from her surgery.


  3. I want a copy of that book when it comes out!
    And great blog post – I agree – God’s timing is perfect.
    Pam M.

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