My wife, Jo, and I had committed our lives to missionary work but were pastoring a church in Innisfail, Alberta, while searching what kind of overseas ministry to enter. We knew that we would probably need to learn another language, and so, on the urging of Howard Klassen, director of Wycliffe Bible Translators in Canada, we decided to attend their summer course in linguistics and language learning. We thoroughly enjoyed the studies and the fellowship with students and teachers.
Six months later, on a snowy February Monday, we received a letter from Wycliffe inviting us to take the more advanced summer course, including Bible translation techniques. We needed to complete the application papers before the February 28 deadline. They had to be accompanied by a cheque for fifty non-refundable dollars which was a significant commitment. We didn’t want to do that and then, later cancel service with Wycliffe. We had to be sure. And, of course, this would be a pivotal decision, setting us on the path to becoming Bible translators in some who-knows-where jungle village.
“Let’s pray this week for God to give us a sign,” I suggested, “something obvious, as palpable as Gideon’s fleece that stayed dry when all the grass was wet with dew.
“God of Gideon,” we prayed, “Jo and I need a clear sign from you—some unmistakable indication that You want us to take this advanced Bible translation course.”
We prayed this prayer at meal times and during our private prayers all that week.
That Saturday evening at 9:00 o’clock, I slipped the notes for my two sermons and adult Sunday class into my Bible, poured two mugs of hot chocolate for Jo and me and, sipping my drink, asked Jo,
“Well, did you get any sign from God this past week?”
She shook her head, “No, I didn’t. What about you?”
“I didn’t either,” I said, thinking, Shucks, now we need to start all over investigating different mission agencies. And, besides, I am getting somewhat excited about a career as a pioneer Bible translator.
We sat there sipping our hot chocolate, silent and deep in thought.
Suddenly the phone rang, breaking our pensive silence.
“Hi Jack, this is Howard Klassen. I wasn’t planning to be in Innisfail tonight but got caught in a snowstorm, an interesting story. Do you happen to have a guest bed?”
We certainly did, and I gave him directions to our house.
Jo looked at me questioningly.
“That was Howard! He’s here in town and coming to stay the night!”
A few minutes later Howard knocked on our door and was soon sitting in my chair sipping hot chocolate while Jo and I sat together on the sofa waiting to hear his story.
“I am speaking at the Bible school in Didsbury tomorrow morning,” he began, “and drove up from Calgary to stay overnight there. It was cold but a beautiful clear starry night. When I pulled off the main highway to drive west towards Didsbury, on a snow-covered side road, the weather suddenly changed, and it started to snow heavily. I could hardly see beyond the hood of my car. I nearly drifted into a ditch and was afraid I’d get stuck and have to spend the night in my car. So I turned around at the first farm driveway and drove back to the highway.
Instantly the snow stopped falling, and I saw a bright starry sky overhead. Hmm, that was a quick snowstorm, I thought and turned back onto the road to Didsbury. But the same thing happened. Sudden heavy snow, and a trackless snow-covered road. Once again, I turned back to the highway, and it cleared up. I did this three times. Then I remembered you two live in Innisfail which is only half an hour’s drive further north, so I decided to drive on, find a phone booth and give you a call. And here I am.”
Jo and I both sat there smiling broadly, and I said, “Great tale, Howard, now let me tell you the rest of the story. I don’t know if you feel like a Gideon’s fleece, but you are one.”
Then I told him about our weeklong prayer for a sign that God wanted us to move ahead with Wycliffe.
Howard was delighted and led us in prayer for the people group, wherever they might be, who would someday have God’s Word in their language because of the decision we had made that night.
The following Monday morning we filled in and mailed the application along with the cheque for $50 (non-refundable) before the registration deadline.
Twenty-five years later, in the Canela village in Brazil, we distributed the newly translated partial Bible to eager new believers.