A Life-long Commitment: an Eternal Reward

A Life-Long Commitment

“You guys are so fortunate! You don’t even know how blessed you are!” Hearing our Bible translating colleagues in Brazil telling us this surprised us. What are they talking about? we wondered.

The Report
We had just reported at a conference on our first year’s work with the Canela people. “The Canelas gave us Canela names and adopted us into their families,” we said. “They are happy to help us learn their language, and the chief keeps urging us to invent a way of writing Canela so we can teach people to read their language. People keep volunteering to help us.”

The Complaints
We discovered that many of our friends struggled to be accepted by their villagers. Some couldn’t find anyone willing to help them learn the language. Others had made learn-to-read booklets but found no one who had any interest in learning to read.

Jo and I had no idea why God blessed our work among the Canela in such a startlingly obvious way.

The Letter
Then, one day, we received a letter from Belfast. A man named Joe explained it all:

“Dear Brother Jack and Sister Josephine,
I just heard that you are among the Canela and plan to translate God’s Word for them. While on an evangelizing trip in Brazil, our team came upon a village that was not on our map. We tried to talk with the people, but we could not understand each other. They were such a fierce-looking group, with spears and clubs, we didn’t dare stay the night with them. So, we travelled on. Later I discovered that they were called the Canela.

The Answer
He went on to tell us a bit more about himself, and we were astonished to learn that God had moved him to start praying for the Canela people ten years before my wife and I were even born.

He continued to pray, without ever receiving any further information about the Canela, for forty years until Jo and I arrived as thirty-year-old missionaries. That’s when he wrote his letter.

He then prayed faithfully for another twenty-two years until we published a partial Bible translated into Canela, and Jesus planted His Church among the Canela people. Then, after Joe the Irishman had prayed for sixty-two years, the Lord took him Home, no doubt, to his exceeding great reward.

The Prayer Project
Two years after Jo and I left Brazil, we spoke at a conference in Suriname, so we took the opportunity to cross the border into Brazil to visit the Canela. Sadly, it was planting season, and about two-thirds of the people were away in their fields.

We walked from house to house, greeting our friends and taking pictures of individuals, couples, families, and extended families. We carefully recorded the names of each person on the photo and how they were related to the others.

When we returned home, we printed out the four hundred pictures and the names. Then, during the rest of that year, we spoke at scores of recruiting and fund-raising meetings. First, I told the story of Joe, the Irishman and his sixty-two years of praying. I then said, “If any of you here would commit to pray every day for a Canela man, woman or child by name and picture, come and see us after the meeting.”

I warned them that, just as Joe had prayed “in the dark” with no updated information, so they too would not have any updates. Even so, after a few months, four hundred individual prayer warriors across North America had volunteered to pray daily for the Canelas on the pictures.

The Rest of the Story
Last week I received a note from a prayer partner who started praying nearly forty years ago for a Canela girl and still prays daily for her by picture and name. She prayed as she visualized her Canela girl becoming a teenager, marrying, having children and now, as a grandma.

God continues to bless his Word, which the Canelas read and follow. As a result, the Church among the Canela continues to grow.

Planting His Church among the Canela is God’s work, but He invites His people to be involved. He called Joe from Belfast to pray for over sixty years. God called my wife and me to spend thirty-three years of our lives in training, linguistic research, teaching, and translation for the Canelas. He called scores of others to give and to pray.

God has partially rewarded Jo and me by letting us see the results of our work. Those praying “in the dark” will see the results and receive God’s full reward in eternity.

Love That Overcomes Hate

First Story
A few days ago, as I walked into Walmart a man at the door approached me. “I am homeless,” he said, “would you have a bit of change for me?”

“Yes, of course,” I said, “come with me.” As we walked back to the car, I said, “I love God and God loves people, so therefore I love people and love to help someone when I can.” I reached into a small bin below the dash and filled both hands with coins that I had been accumulating for just such an opportunity as this. When he held the pile of coins in his hands, he looked at me with tear-filled eyes and said, “Thank you, God bless you.”

“May God bless you too,” I said.

A Statement of Love and Acceptance
I have used that line, “I love God and God loves people, so therefore I love people and like to help when I can,” many times in all sorts of circumstances; from simply holding the door for someone carrying a bag or a baby, to stopping behind a car that had suffered a deer strike, and spending a messy twenty minutes pulling the dead animal back out through the windshield and extricating the passengers from the wreckage. And even when being courteous in traffic, motioning silently to another driver, I mentally repeat that line.

I wish I could tell you that I never act selfishly or get upset at other people. Just ask anyone who knows me well, like my wife and family. I often fail in my walk of love. We are human and Satan and his demons are the source of hate against God, and he looks for ways to destroy us who are God’s children. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8) That is why in my morning prayer time I often pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matt. 6:13)

Second Story
A few hours after the Walmart encounter, in one ten-minute television news segment, I saw and heard people with faces distorted by rage and mouths pouring out a rant of hate against those responsible for implementing an—at that time—politically correct method for integrating indigenous school children into Canadian culture. Others expressed deep disgust at the concept of June being the Rainbow month celebrating gender diversity. I heard a report of a twenty-year old driver, presumably filled with hate, who rammed his truck into a family of five Muslims walking peacefully on the sidewalk, killing four, making one orphan, and himself into a murderer.

God’s Opinion of Love and Hate
Hate is the opposite of love. Hate comes from Satan: love comes from God. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

Love is the central concept of God’s two greatest commands. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbour as yourself.” (Luke 10:27).

Love is the identifying characteristic of followers of Jesus. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Application of Love
It is relatively easy to love other followers of Jesus. What is not as easy is loving those who hate us, curse us, and do nasty things against us—from something benign like cutting us off in traffic, to treating us who are Jesus-followers as utterly self deluded and a hindrance to social progress. Which of us have not yielded to the temptation of speaking disparagingly of anti-God political parties? Yet, Jesus also commanded his followers to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:43-44).

May the God who loves us, help us to consistently love others—all the people He brings into our lives, including those who are still led by the evil one.

Suffering? A Part of God’s Plan?

Suffering? A Part of God’s Plan?
The hopeful news is that we are nearing the end of the lockdowns and isolation to safeguard us during the current pandemic. All these stringent measures are stressful to all of us. Our North American culture not only encourages us to avoid pain, stress, and suffering of any kind, it also provides many ways of escaping unpleasantness. No wonder this past year drug and alcohol abuse increased noticeably. Other evidence from opiate use, divorce and abortion are also on the rise.

We who are Christians are children of our own culture. We too are tempted to evade troubles and suffering.

We need to remember that Jesus promised that we, as His followers, would have trouble in this world. But he also told us, “Cheer up; I have overcome the world.”

As believers, therefore, we need to realize that we must not avoid trouble and suffering but welcome it. Our loving heavenly Father works out even our suffering to result in good for us.

We sometimes overlook the list of commands in Romans 12: “Do not lack in zeal. Keep your spiritual fervour. Serve the Lord. Be joyful in hope. Be faithful in prayer. Share with other believers who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

We pat ourselves on the back as we check off these seven commands. But there is one more: Be patient in affliction. Huh? Say what? Affliction? Suffering? No way!

Yes, says God. No avoiding trouble. No making yourself feel better with entertainment or drugs. No trying to make it go away faster. Be patient and endure.

Yes, Jo and I Suffered
For more than twenty years, my wife and I immersed ourselves deeply in the critical ministry of translating God’s Word for the Canela people. We volunteered service for God fully expecting Him to provide us with all the health, abilities, and finances we needed and to smooth the way to accomplish this complicated task efficiently and as soon as possible. Not so! Absolutely not so! Our experience was the opposite.

We endured ill health, lacked many abilities, were consistently under-financed. Obstacles of every sort filled our way. Yes, we suffered. I am currently writing the memoir of those decades and Jo and I joked this morning, that we could fill the entire book just with stories of the vehicles that let us down with mechanical troubles at the most inconvenient and even dangerous times.

Jo and I had to learn that not just human efficiency, but also suffering is part of God’s plan. We had calculated it would take twelve to fifteen years in Brazil to complete the research, literacy teaching, and translation work, but took twenty-two years!

God’s Encouragement in Trouble
If it were not for God encouraging us, I would indeed have given up for good. But texts such as “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him” helped us hang in there.  (2 Tim. 2:12)
“We glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, character and hope that does not put us to shame.” (Rom. 5: 3-4)
“We are co-heirs with Christ: if indeed we share in his sufferings so that we may also share in his glory.” (Rom. 8:17)
“If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. (1 Pet. 2:20)

We also took much comfort in the fact that Christ suffered physical pain for us and therefore could strengthen us to endure it. (1 Pet. 4:1). And that we can know Jesus and “the fellowship of his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). And to “Rejoice in my sufferings, to fill up what is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the (Canela) church.” (Col. 1:24).

The Hardest Part
Some God-haters manipulated the government to exile Jo and me and our colleagues

Leaving Canela land, exiled for nearly six years.

from the villages where we ministered. When we got our orders to leave, we took courage from Psalm 37:7 “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways when they carry out their wicked schemes.” I’m sorry to say we did not wait patiently those long five years and eight months.

What hurt us the most was that being in exile delayed the time the Canelas would finally get God’s Word to read in their own language. Personal suffering was one thing, but the souls of the Canelas? How could all this delay be God’s plan?

The hard lesson we had to learn was that delays are part of our Eternal God’s plan. He has His own timetable. When God’s Word finally arrived in their language, the Canelas were eager to read it and many became ardent Jesus-followers. Since then, a whole generation of Canelas have been turning to follow Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

A Rough Beginning but a Glorious End

Here is a sneak preview of the first page of our fourth memoir, From Adventure to Mission: The Brazil Decades. I hope to finish the book this year, at least in a pre-publication draft.

A Rough Beginning but a Glorious End

First Story
“Jo, our parents are not going to believe this! I’m taking a photo to mail to them.” It certainly was an unforgettable scene.

Our four-year-old daughter Valorie had just swallowed some pain medication and lay on the bed with an icepack on her knee. Her leg was held straight with a removable sleeping cast. When she was just three years old, she was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Our doctors had warned us not to take her to live under stressful conditions.

“Don’t take her to live under stressful conditions,” the doctors advised. “She could end up in a wheelchair by the time she is a teenager.”

Valorie lay next to her four-month-old sister Cheryl who was suffering from a severe case of diarrhea and dehydration. She was prescribed antibiotic drops, which we gave to her every hour and every ten minutes, squirted some oral rehydration solution into her little mouth. A fellow missionary with nursing experience checked Cheryl regularly, saying, “Call me immediately if her temperature rises.”

Meanwhile, three-year-old Leanne stood by the side of the bed, consoling her two sisters, her left leg in a cast. Three days before, she had cracked her shinbone in a playground accident involving a swing.

I thought back to my prayer as the airliner flew over the dark mass of the Amazon. Jo and the girls were asleep on the plane, and as we flew towards Rio de Janeiro for our early morning landing, I re-committed myself and my family to serve God.

“Whatever it takes, Jesus, you are our Protector and our Provider. You promised to be with us, so I am ready to go, do, or experience anything to serve you, no matter how long it takes. Yes, I am ready to die down there if only you will use Jo and me to translate your Word for some people group in their own language.”

I took the picture, and before we mailed it with our next letters home, I wrote on the back of the photograph, “Our tenth day in Brazil.”

Second Story
Those first weeks in Brazil were a blur of activity. Our arrival in Rio and the next day’s flight to Brasilia was marred by the news that Customs was holding every piece of our checked baggage.

First Prayer Card

“It may take a few days to clear Customs,” officials told us. All we had was our carry-on baggage. Also, our two duffel bags shipped airfreight to save overweight charges were lost. They contained much of our clothing.

Week after week, our checked baggage continued trapped in Customs with hints about money needing to change hands. Wycliffe’s field partner, SIL, had a no-bribes policy, so for five months, we did without our clothes and many other personal items before Customs finally released our baggage. Several weeks later, the two duffels were found and released. Opening our luggage and bags, we were not surprised to find that Cheryl had outgrown most of her little outfits. We had expected this, of course, and had already bought some clothing during those months of waiting. All this added to the strain of arriving without adequate financial support.

The Glorious End
God took care of us during our twenty-two years in Brazil. Instead of being a stuck-in-a-wheelchair teenager, Valorie was captain of her high school’s volleyball team. And best of all, the Canela people gladly received God’s Word in their language, and Jesus established His Church among them.

This year, fifty-four years since I took that photograph, God continues to bless Jo and me, our families, and the work He led us to do among the Canelas.

My Six Significant Mothers

The First: A twenty-four-year-old woman suffered a set of muscular contractions granting passage to a child. I was that child, and the young woman became my first significant mother. She did not have an easy life. When I was one year old, World War 2 broke out, and her country, Holland, was overrun by German armies. The following year, she gave birth to another boy. He had a leaking heart valve and died nine months later. She had two more children during the war and two more later. When I was only four years old, I remember sitting with Mama as she read me Bible stories from the illustrated Dutch Kinderbijbel. I owe my love for God to her. She emigrated to Canada with five children, including a five-month-old baby. Her faith in God did not waver, even during the poverty-stricken first decade as an immigrant.

The Second significant mother in my life was Jo’s Mom. She dedicated Jo to God for missionary service at her birth. Wanting to let Jo make her own decision, she did not tell Jo until after she graduated from Bible College and was on her way to take missionary training at BIOLA University.

The Third significant mother is my Josephine. She became a mother with the birth of Valorie—the first of three daughters—a year after we were married. For the fifty-eight years since then, Jo has been as close to an ideal mother for our daughters as I can imagine.
I always think of these three mothers when I read Psalm 92:12, 14: “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree . . . they shall still bring forth fruit in old age.”

The Fourth significant mother was our second daughter, Leanne, who gave birth to twin boys thirty years ago, making Jo and me grandparents. What a marvellous over-the-top experience that continues to be.

The Fifth: A few years later, our youngest daughter, Cheryl, had a little girl. Our first granddaughter, who made Cheryl my fifth significant mother. A few years later she had our third grandson.

The Sixth: The following year Valorie became my sixth significant mother with the birth of her daughter, followed a few years later with the birth of triplet daughters.

For two decades I also had a Canela Mother. She met my First Mother during the Canela Bible distribution celebration.

The Sacrifice: It was not until Jo and I were grandparents ourselves that we realized the sacrifice our mothers had made when they encouraged us to leave for Brazil as missionaries, taking away their only grandchildren, two and four years old, and a four-month-old baby whom they would not see again for four years.

Jo and I remained in Brazil for years after our daughters graduated and left to live and study in Canada, the USA and Germany. We prayed much for them. When they became mothers themselves, we praised God and were overjoyed that they keep inviting us to share in their lives and the lives of their children.

I thank God for giving me these six mothers in my life. I appreciate each one so much. They have helped me grow in my spiritual life and gave me a powerful reason to mature me in other ways. I also loved exercising the privilege of having significant input into various facets of their lives.

On Being Intentional Grandparents

Our Non-Relating Grandparents
Jo was only six years old when her family moved across two provinces, leaving all their extended family behind. She does not even remember her grandparents. I fared only a little better growing up in the Netherlands. My mother’s family lived in Friesland, a far-away province that we visited only once. I remember only one brief conversation with my Frisian grandfather.

My father’s family lived in the same city, and we were often together at my Opa and Oma’s house. I was twelve years old when our family left for Canada, and even though I was their first grandchild, I cannot remember either one of my grandparents ever speaking to me. During our first year in Canada, my mother urged me to write a letter to my Oma. I wrote a long letter describing the old farmhouse we lived in and the Canadian wildlife I had seen—gophers, coyotes, and hawks. Weeks passed without a response, then I read a postscript in a letter to my parents, “I see Jack’s handwriting is as bad as ever.”

That day, as a twelve-year-old, I pledged to myself, “If I ever become a grandparent, I will be the exact opposite of my Oma and Opa.”

Our Decision to Make the Time Count
Jo and I were relaxing one evening in our mud-walled, thatch-roofed Canela village house, missing our three daughters terribly and wondering how they were doing. We would have no direct contact with them for the next three months as they stayed in a residential mission school 600 kilometres away. We were grateful for our ten-minute early morning radio contact with Belem that we depended on if there was an emergency. And once a week, we had a one-on-one radio schedule with Rita, one of the boarding school’s parents, who passed on news about the girls and messages from them.

“You know,” I said, “this will be the pattern, on and off, for the rest of their school lives.”

“Yeah,” Jo said, “They’ll be with us in the village for a couple of months in the summer, and we’ll be with them in Belem for Christmas break and a month or so of translation workshops, but for at least half of the year we won’t be part of their day-to-day lives.”

“They’ll be with us during a couple of furloughs between now and the time they graduate from high school,” I said, “but then they’ll leave Brazil for good.”

It scared us to see we had minimal time to be parents to our daughters. We immediately made plans to be far more intentional as parents than we had been. We read books on improving Christian family living and made a “Family Life To-Do” list to follow when we were together in Belem. Being an intentional Daddy to our three daughters would be excellent preparation for acting deliberately as a grandpa to who knows how many grandkids.

Sunday was already family day. We had backyard barbecues, ate out at a nearby restaurant, went sightseeing in Belem or exploring in the countryside. Friday night became Popjes Family Night, as the other twenty families on the centre soon discovered by the laughter and happy shouts emanating from our house through our glassless screen windows. We played games we made up like Sea Monster, which involved a lot of running and screaming. And hide and seek with all the lights off, plus all kinds of table games. I read the entire Lord of the Rings series of books aloud while the family puzzled or did Doodle art. After their twelfth birthday, I took our daughters out on individual weekly dates. We went for walks, sightseeing trips, a movie, or dinner, whatever each one wanted. Excellent preparation for becoming the intentional Grandpa I had vowed to be!

The First Grandkids
When I held our first grandkids, twin grandsons, one in each hand, just days after they were born, I mentally renewed the Grandpa vow I had made when I was twelve years old. I took them for baby carriage rides to give their Mom and Grandma a break, and as I pushed that baby carriage, I prayed for them, and I told them, “I love you. Ryan, I love you, Tyler. I will make sure you know that you matter to me.”

And that is what Jo and I did for each of our eight grandchildren. We spent time with them, listened to them, and loved them, each in their, and our own way. Jo excelled in crafting with the kids and making unique dishes and goodies when they came to visit. We played games, visited parks, and went camping with them at every opportunity. I told them bedtime stories and took them for walks. At least five of our grandkids spent many hours practicing their driving skills with me before they got their license.

When I was away on mission trips, I wrote them “Sunday Afternoon Letters from Grandpa.” I told them true stories of my childhood. I also wrote them made-up stories about a grandpa and eight grandkids with names much like theirs who had every kind of adventure. Jo, for her part, spent hundreds of hours crocheting or knitting afghans for each of our grandkids in designs, colours and patterns they picked out. She also sewed stuffed animals and doll clothes.

I wrote Jo and my memoirs in response to Scripture like, “Good people leave an inheritance to their grandchildren.” Proverbs 13:22. “One generation shall declare your works to another.” Psalm 145:4.

The Joy Being Intentional Grandparenting Brings
Our vow to purposefully and deliberately be Intentional Grandparents continues to bring Jo and me much joy, not just to our grandkids but also to ourselves. And I believe God is pleased too. “They will still bear fruit in old age; they will stay fresh and green” (Psalm 92:14).

We Christian parents and grandparents need to make absolutely sure that our kids and grandkids know we love them and that they matter to us. They need the love and attention only intentional parents and grandparents can deliver.