The Surprise in Church

A group of us Wycliffe Bible translators from different countries sat around the lunch table, enjoying our coffees and conversation at a speaker training seminar. Having recently completed our translation projects, we were taking turns around the table practicing telling anecdotes of our translation experiences. The next one to tell a story was a translator from Mexico or maybe some other Spanish speaking Latin American country. I am writing this story thirty years after I heard it, so I don’t remember his name, nor the name of the indigenous people among whom he worked, but his story impacted me. Here is his story as I remember hearing it:

The Story
My wife and I worked with a sizeable indigenous group that had been Christianized in Spanish many years earlier. One of their own people served as a pastor and preached from the Spanish Bible, explaining the meaning in their language. Although they had a building, the church was stagnant, showing no growth, and little evidence of the fruits of the Spirit among the churchgoers.

This is the only photo I could find of a white-hatted, possibly Latin American man.

The local culture did not allow men and women to sit together at meetings, so even in the church service, the men sat on one side of the aisle and the women on the other side. Another cultural distinctive was all the adult men wore white western hats—no matter where they were, at home, at work, or in public. I sometimes wondered if they slept wearing them. Even in church, all the men wore their white cowboy hats and removed them only when the pastor said, “Let us pray to God,” Having shown respect for conversation with God, after the Amen, the hats went back on.

After my wife and I had been there for a year and had learned quite a bit of the language, we did some experimental Bible translation. The pastor told us he would be preaching from 1 John 3 the following Sunday, so we worked all week with some men who were known as good storytellers to translate as much as we could. We completed 1 John 3:1-11, I typed it up and gave it to the pastor on Sunday morning to use for the Scripture reading.

“Let’s surprise the congregation,” I said, “Just announce the Scripture reading reference, open your Spanish Bible and start reading from the typewritten translation.”

That morning, as usual, the church filled up with the white-hatted men on one side and the women on the other. After the singing, when the pastor announced the Scripture reading, the attendees opened their Spanish Bibles, the pastor opened his and began reading the typed passage in their indigenous language.

He hadn’t even finished the first verse when, suddenly, like a great white wave, every man took off his hat. For the first time in their lives, they heard God’s voice talking to them. The hats stayed off as they heard about God’s love, how He wants to treat them as sons, and how they should love each other.

In the same language in which they scolded their kids, argued among themselves or told their spouses ‘I love you,’ they now heard God speaking to them. As the pastor finished reading, the women were teary-eyed, and many of the men wiped their eyes as they replaced their hats.

The Result
The pastor never again read God’s Word from the Spanish Bible. That Sunday marked a turning point in the life of the church. People crowded into the church to hear God speaking to them in their language. Some years later, even before my wife and I had finished translating the New Testament, the believers had tripled in number and built several more churches in other villages.

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The Four Words Challenge

“In four words tell us the biblical basis for worldwide missions.” The scribbled note startled me, and I wondered what had led someone to ask such a specific question.

It happened several decades ago when Jo and I travelled on a Wycliffe promotional tour and visited a dozen cities in Ontario when I was President of Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada.

Jack & Jo on tour in the mid-1990s.

That Sunday evening, the church was well filled with both older folks and young adults. As usual, we made sure that the congregation had access to slips of paper. After Jo and I were introduced, I asked the attendees to form small groups of three or four people and come up with a written question in any area of pioneer missions. “I will answer each question with an anecdote,” I said, “and ask you to make sure I answered your question.” After a few minutes, they passed the notes to the centre aisle, and the ushers brought them to me.

Jo showed and narrated about six minutes of slides (remember those?), giving a glimpse into our lifestyle and Bible translation ministry in the village among the Canela people of Brazil. Meanwhile, I was on my knees on the floor of the lobby, sorting dozens of slips of paper into categories.
At the end of the slide set, I walked in, held up some notes and said, “The questions on these notes are about our lifestyle in the village and have already been answered by Jo.” I read the first question and told an anecdote that answered it. I read similar questions together and answered them in one story.

After twenty-five minutes of telling stories, I came to the last question, the one about the biblical basis for missions in four words. I thought, someone probably attended a missions conference where the speaker had a four-word outline, and now they wonder if I have the same summary.

I left that question for the last since I did not know how to answer it. Then, as I took a breath to read the question aloud, I suddenly remembered 1 John 2:2. (Thank you, Holy Spirit, for reminding me!) So, I looked out over the audience, read the question, and said, “The answer is ‘Not Only For Ours,’” putting up one finger at a time as I pronounced each word.
Then, I quoted the whole verse, “Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and Not Only For Ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” Again, enumerating each word with my four fingers. The congregation burst into applause. Surprising, but not unpleasant.

As always, I asked, “Did that answer your question?” A young man put up his hand and said, “Actually I meant to ask, ‘In few words,’ not ‘In four words.’ Sorry, my writing is so sloppy.” Everyone burst out laughing.
I looked at the paper again, and, yes, I messed up. The scribble could also be read as “few” not “four.”

I was happy the Holy Spirit used a young man’s sloppy writing and my careless reading to emphasize that God wants everyone in the whole world to know the Good News of forgiveness of sins and a renewed life.

 

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Meditating on Light

The Story
After four years of working with the Canela people of Brazil, we finally received the boxes of literacy primers. The villagers were eager to use these illustrated booklets to learn to read their Canela alphabet that Jo and I had invented during those years of analysis and language learning.

Now the books were here, but there was a huge problem. Adult Canelas work in their fields from sunrise to sunset, so they could come to classes only in the evening when it was too dark to see the blackboard or their books. Even the tiny oil lamps with their flickering, candle-sized flames could not dispel the darkness.

To solve that problem, Jo and I took our direction from God himself, who, as the first act of creation, said, “Let there be light,” and there was light! So as the first act of the creation of a literate Canela society, we brought in some 12-volt fluorescent light fixtures, connected them to a car battery that we charged with a 35-year-old war surplus hand-cranked generator, and, “There was light!”

From Entering Light to Bringing Light

Valorie Tutors Young Men at Night Class

It was light shining on their booklets that opened the door to giving Canelas the choice to learn new skills and gain further knowledge or to remain as they were.
We helped scores of Canelas to read, and we were thrilled that some of them passed on what they had learned and taught other Canelas to read. These Canela teachers were like Light bearers, passing on the Light to others.

It reminded me of how Jesus describes Himself, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12. He tells us, “You are the Light of the world. Let your Light shine before people in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father, who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14,16.

God Also Gives People a Choice
Just as we gave the Canelas a choice, so God, for the past two-thousand years, has given many people an opportunity: Enter the Light, and become a Light-bearer, versus Stay in darkness.

About this choice, Jesus said, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of Light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light and will not come into the Light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” John 3:19-20.

Some Canelas were not interested in learning to read, but this didn’t deter us. Some rejected learning because they thought they were too old, or their eyes were bad, or they had several younger family members who were readers. We encouraged ourselves by focusing on a significant goal—still fifteen years in the future—the translation of God’s Word into the Canela language, to be printed in books and distributed to the literate Canelas.

2 Corinthians 4:6 repeats the theme that God, who first ordered ‘Light to shine in the darkness,’ has flooded our hearts with His Light. We now can enlighten people because we can give them knowledge of the glory of God, as we see it in Jesus Christ.

So What?
This is what we all can do: meditate on every aspect of Jesus, the Light of the world—His love for us, His constant presence with us, and His invitation to cast all our cares on Him. The more we ponder on all these and other qualities of Jesus, the more His Light shines into our souls, minds, emotions, and bodies, and the more we shed Light to others.

Jo and I have never regretted bringing electric light to the Canela students, and even more so, we are over-the-top blessed that God made us Light bearers so that Canelas could enter the Light. We want to continue to be Light bearers to people around us today.

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How COVID-19 is Making Us More Human.

What Makes Us Human?

As a shovel is made to dig, a knife to cut, and a hammer to strike, so you and I are made to create.

To say, “Oh, not me, I’m not creative,” isn’t humble, it’s ignorant. You might as well say, “I’m not human.”

God Created Creators
When God created light, night and day, land and sea, fish, birds and animals, he checked his work and pronounced it, “Good.”

But when He created human beings in His own image—as micro-copies of Himself—He did NOT say it was good. No. Instead, He looked at the human being he had created and said, “Very good!” He had created a creative being.

Then God set Adam to work. His first task was, of course, a creative one. He brought each animal to Adam to see what he would name it, and whatever name Adam came up with, that was its name. God didn’t interfere or correct, He trusted Adam’s creativity to come up with a suitable name.

God Created Us to be Imaginative
God made human beings with the capacity to imagine—to picture in our mind, to visualize something in our imagination. We see the finished product with the eye of our mind. Our imagination is God-given, it is one of the things that sets us apart from animals.

First Story
When our first grandchildren, twin boys, were about two years old, they loved to “fix” things. From their favorite kitchen drawer they would equip themselves with “tools” such as mixer beaters, a metal spatula, an egg beater, etc., and crawl under the dining room table to tap and rattle their tools on the bolts and metal slides. In their imagination they were repairing cars, trucks, rockets, and who knows what?

Is COVID-19 A Benefit?
For generations, creativity was trained out of us by our culture. In the past three months, however, COVID-19 has forced us to use our creativity to do things counter-culturally. Naturally creative school children are no longer taught to follow the old rules and color between the lines. Instead, old rules are out, and teachers, parents and students work together creatively in unique ways to to teach and to learn.

Workers in factories and offices were made to work like robots, doing the same thingsover and over again. Employees were fired for exercising creativity—thinking of other, better ways to do things. In the past three months, employers in many industries are encouraging people to work from home wherever possible.

Moms at home with their kids have had to be creative to keep the kids busy while not allowing them to play with other children, or even go to the playground.

Five months ago, if you had asked a roomful of adults, “How many of you are creative?” few people would have raised their hands. But, once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and the opportunity comes up to ask this of another roomful of adults, probably every hand will go up.

Second Story
When we need to solve problems, especially in situations we have not encountered before, our creativity has a chance to emerge. During our decades in Brazil, for instance, Jo creatively adapted her recipes substituting Canadian ingredients with whatever was available in the Canela village during the no-fruit season. Yes, she used crackers, lemon juice, and cinnamon to make a pie that tasted deliciously like apple pie.

As it did in God’s mind, all creation starts in our imagination. He imagined light, expressed it in words, and it sprang into being. So it is with us. We imagine an improvement to our home, a story to write, or a solution to a problem. We express it, talk about it with others, and begin work to create a reality.

What Does God Expect of Us?
God expects us to serve Him, not by blindly obeying a set of rules—a list of do’s and don’ts—but rather by creatively using our minds and hearts, our experience and skills, and our relationships and resources to do His work. No, most of us don’t need to name more animals, but there are problems galore to solve creatively in this sin-cursed world.

We are to love our Creator God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

May our Creator God guide us as we commit to using the creative imagination he gave us to love him by lovingly meeting the needs of others in this needy world, from the homeless man or woman around the corner to Bible-less people groups around the world.

From Chaotic Confusion to Clear Wisdom in Four Steps

Six years ago, after taking delivery of our factory-built home, the deer whose territory we had suddenly invaded, gave it a wide berth for several weeks. Eventually, however, they understood the house would do them no harm, and they used the old trails again, even though some led right past the house.

Like our deer, we human beings also tend to fear what we do not understand. New ideas, new gadgets, and new situations are chaotic and confusing; they frighten and bewilder us. Unless we process this Chaos correctly, our fears will drive us to reject these new things even though they are highly recommended by those who understand them.

Step One: From Chaos to Facts
Five decades ago, when my wife and I began living among the Canela people of Brazil, we could not understand a single word coming from the mouths of dozens of excited Canelas surrounding us. It was chaotic! How could we ever understand and relate wisely to these people, let alone translate the Bible with them? Fortunately, our training had prepared us to step-by-step, turn Chaos into Facts.

Old men have infinite patience. They were my favorite language teachers

Using special symbols, we wrote down the sounds we heard, the greetings, and people’s names. We pointed at body parts like eye, ear, nose, and objects like grass, stone, stick, as well as actions such as hit, throw, drink, and filled our notebooks with the sounds we heard coming from the Canelas’ mouths. In that way, we turned the Chaos of sounds into Facts.

 

Step Two: Sorted and Organized Facts Become Information
We sorted these Facts: the vowels and consonants into charts, the nouns and verbs into separate lists, eventually developing a full dictionary. We compared, tested, and described how words were used in a meaningful context, thereby turning thousands of Facts into useful Information about the Canela language.

Step Three: Placing Information in Context Becomes Knowledge
“How does this Information fit into the total culture?” we asked ourselves. We found out what Canelas believed about spiritual realities, how they treated disease, what they were afraid of, what their goals and aspirations were, and what they thought about God. As we gained a fuller understanding of the context of Canela thinking and living, we turned Information into Knowledge.

Step Four: Making Decisions and Acting on Knowledge Becomes Wisdom
Before we could translate God’s Word into Canela, we needed to turn Knowledge into Wisdom. That is, we needed to apply our current Knowledge of the Canela culture and language to making wise decisions in translation. We naturally depended on our Information filled dictionary and grammar descriptions, our Knowledge of the culture, and the feel we had for fluency in the language. We depended on the Canela translation helpers we had trained, our Knowledge of the Bible, and the leading of the Holy Spirit, to make final wise decisions.

How This Works in Ordinary Life
I remember meeting a young computer programmer who wanted to help meet the spiritual needs of people in third-world countries. He planned to pray and regularly give from his income but was bewildered by the Chaos of numerous organizations and individuals, all looking for financial and prayer partners.

Step One: He turned this Chaos into Facts by researching the organizations.

Step Two: He processed the Facts into Information by sorting them into categories: type of ministry, location, policies, etc.

Step Three: He then turned this Information into Knowledge by putting it into the context of his personal preferences, the things that appealed to his emotions, that fitted his thinking and theology.

Step Four: Based on this Knowledge, he prayed for God’s Holy Spirit to lead him and then made a Wisdom decided to financially support a missionary family he knew who was involved in developing computer programs to use in Bible translation.

Have a great couple of weeks turning Chaos into Wisdom. Deer do it by instinct; we can do it by design.

 

The End, the Start, and the Middle

 Three Questions Re: Final Future, Present Day, and Intermediate Future

  1. How do you feel about becoming one of the growing COVID-19 statistics listed under Active Cases or even recorded under Deaths? Yeah, knowing that at age 82, I am part of the “vulnerable group” I do have some feelings about this.
  2. Are you getting tired of the information flood telling you things like, “Stay home, wash your hands, wear a facemask, and keep two metres away?” Yeah, me too.
  3. What are your thoughts about the endless predictions of the New Normal, and the ever-changing plans to move towards it? Yeah, they are talking about the rest of our lives, I have many thoughts.

Our Final Future
If we have become God’s children through faith in Jesus’ death for us, many of our negative feelings dissipate. Since God is in control of this world, then, as His children, we know we are in His care, today, tomorrow, and at the end of our life, no matter what happens or when. We also know that because of Jesus’ resurrection, we will receive new bodies that will never die. Our Final Future will be glorious. One of my favourite descriptions of our future end is in Revelation 21, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.  He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” We can be sure of our Final Future.

Our Present Day
We can also be fairly sure of the Present Day. God gave us today and gave us the choice of how we want to live, work, plan, communicate, and act in the Present. Although God gave us a free will to choose, He also gave us a purpose for living. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And love your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus also assured us of His help and His presence as we live our lives. “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” So how do we love God and love our neighbours in this present day? Build a relationship with others and help meet their needs as if we were meeting Jesus’ needs. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Our Intermediate Future
Now, what about our Intermediate Future, that unknown, “anything could happen” stretch between the Present Day and the Final Future? First of all, as believers, we are not to worry, fret, or be apprehensive about the weeks, months and years ahead. We are not to fear the future. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? Your Father in heaven knows that you need them.” Luke 12:22, 25, 26.

This doesn’t mean we should not confidently plan and diligently work towards providing for ourselves and our families. But as we plan and work, God has a requirement: recognize that He is in ultimate control

Living in Brazil, we often heard the expression, Se Deus quiser. “If God wants/wills.” For several centuries English incorporated a Latin term Deo Volente, ‘God Willing’ usually abbreviated as DV. “I expect to arrive before dark, DV.” But our secularized society no longer recognizes God’s sovereignty over plans and actions. Even as Christians, when we plan, we tend to forget that God is in total control. We have gotten out of the habit of saying, “If it is the Lord’s will, I will live and do this or that.” James 4:15. Without keeping God’s ultimate authority in mind, we talk enthusiastically about our plans and work. Here’s His opinion: “You boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.” James 4:16.

In the Present Day, during this pandemic as Christians, we need to more than ever, love God with all our heart and love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Only then will we have the confidence to live each day knowing Jesus is present, that He wants us to cast all our care on Him, and step out in faith into the unknown Intermediate Future. At the end of which is a glorious Final Future!