Why and How I Observe Lent This Year

Growing up in the Netherlands, speaking Dutch, I used the word “Lente” all the time to refer to the Spring season, as does the Old English term “Lenten.” Thanks for letting me indulge my linguistic bent.

I knew nothing about the term “Lent,” which liturgical churches use to denote the forty days before Easter. It reflects the forty days of fasting and prayer that Jesus experienced when the Spirit led Him into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Having withstood the temptations, He was cared for by angels before he started His three years of public ministry.

Our Experience with Lent in Brazil
Jo and I learned about Lent’s liturgical concept in Brazil through Carnival, which is a major Brazilian national holiday. Major cities stage parades with numerous samba bands and dancers, clubs and homes host wild parties, often accompanied with widespread drunkenness, debauchery, and depravity. In Rio de Janeiro, at least five million people pack the streets during those five days. Meanwhile, Evangelical churches safeguard their young people by operating youth camps far from the cities.

Suddenly, it’s Ash Wednesday. “This is the start of Lent,” I heard people say. I noticed how adherents of the dominant liturgical church repent of sinful behaviour, especially that of the previous week, start attending church more regularly, practise charity, and abstain from eating certain meats and drinking alcohol.

My Why and How
As I have done other years, I decided to observe Lent again this year. Coming as it does about six weeks after New Year, Lent gives me a chance to check on how I am doing with my (The Best Way to Predict the Future) plans. Lent calls for self-examination and prayer, both of which fit into making decisions on lifestyle and ministry plans.

Jesus defeated each one of Satan’s temptations by quoting a relevant command from the Bible. During Lent, therefore, I increase my reading and meditation on Scripture. I want to hear what God may say about the decisions I am making. Sometimes He brings up the memory of a person I need to forgive or someone to whom I need to apologize. Restoring relationships fits well into Lent.

Fasting is part of Lent and can take many forms of self-denial and discipline. As I have done in other years, during this Lent, I chose an area of my life in which I wanted to practice more than usual self-discipline and to consider it my part of fasting for the seven weeks of Lent.

Preparation for Ministry
Jesus’ time of fasting and prayer preceded His public ministry. Similarly, my time of fasting, prayer and meditation in God’s Word precedes writing my next book. I have been reading recommended memoirs for the past few months and have made audio recordings of my last two memoirs.

During Lent, I will plan the outline and content of a memoir covering more than two decades—telling the story of how the Canelas received God’s Word in their language—Jo and my most significant and impactful ministry. After Lent, I expect to go full speed ahead, following the plan and writing the book: From Adventure to Mission.

 Slander, Lies and Attacks Hurt, But In The End . . .

It happened one day after spending three months in the Canela village. We taught young men and women who were eager to learn to read. They were delighted with the self-teaching illustrated primers we used. They wanted to use them to teach others. Canelas who were sick sent for us nearly every day asking us to diagnose and treat their illnesses with the modern medicines we bought in town. We also translated quite a few chapters of Luke.

STOL plane landing near the Canela village

The First Story
At noon the STOL (Short Take-Off & Landing) plane arrived in the village, and now we were gassing up at the airport 70 kilometres from the village to fly us 600 kilometres back to Belem, where our three daughters were waiting for us in boarding school.

As Jo and I got out to stretch our legs, a jeep drove up. The driver hurried to the plane without saying a word to us and peered into the cabin and the cargo hold. I spoke to him, but he ignored me and kept examining the interior. When we started to reboard, he drove away.

The Brazilian friend who had brought our drum of aviation gas explained. “Locals can’t understand why a North American couple would come down here to live for months at a time in an Indian village. Some think you are illegally mining gold, hauling it out by plane.” Since the Rio Ourives (Goldsmith River) ran halfway between the town and the village, I could see where they might get that idea. “Ah,” I said, “I guess this guy was looking for mining equipment or sacks of ore.”

We had already heard the rumour that we dug up Canela corpses, cut off their heads and sold them at a high price to universities for anatomical studies. Indeed, we often were at open graves, not to rob them, but to mourn along with the Canelas at burials. It happened all too frequently, especially when tuberculosis ravaged the village.

Brazilian Christians knew that we wanted to translate a good part of the Bible into the Canela language. How else would they have the opportunity to read about their Creator from a Bible in their own language, the same right as billions of people around the world have had for many years?

Brazilians tend to be generous. Even poor people give to the beggars on the street. All Brazilians are helpful to their families and their employees, and others they know well. But in the 1970s, the idea of charity to strangers was unknown. No wonder they suspected the motivation of foreigners, seemingly well funded but living in primitive conditions out in the jungle. Ignorance produced these suspicions and slanders. Jo and I began to experience pressures, even from government officials, that hindered our work with the Canelas.

The Second Story
A far more vicious and effective attack came from the 43rd International Congress of Americanists in 1979. At their meeting in Vancouver, BC, they passed a resolution to move governments to “expel Wycliffe Bible Translators’ field organization the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) from all the indigenous locations in North and South American countries.” They falsely accused us of “practicing compulsory religious conversion and annihilating the expression of Indian life and culture.” I heard about some religious groups, not Bible translators, who forced conversions by allowing only baptized believers to attend their schools, receive medical treatment, or buy in their stores. This was 100% false when applied to SIL workers.

About 900 people attended this Congress, although only 124 people (14%) were present in the last hours of the final day when this resolution was presented. Nine delegates jumped to their feet to protest that this did not align with what they personally knew to be true about Wycliffe and SIL. Even the chairman spoke out in favour of SIL. The resolution, however, passed 65 to 59. Brazil’s anthropologists jumped at the chance to cancel the contracts SIL had signed with the government permitting us to work in the indigenous villages.

The First Result
All SIL personnel were expelled from the villages in the forty different language groups where we worked. It was devastating not only for us SIL translators but for the indigenous people among whom we worked. The Canelas cried when we left, and some got angry. But there was nothing we could do. It was a terrible time of distress and confusion for many of us.

We kept up our spirits by reminding each other that God was still in control, He always knows what He is doing, and His love for us and the people groups we served lasts forever. We encouraged each other with promises such as,  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Matthew 5:11)

Brazil’s SIL translators were “in exile” for nearly five years. Then, finally, the Canelas and other indigenous societies won their long battle with the government, insisting that they wanted the translators back. Jo and I returned joyfully to the Canela village, where the Canelas received us in a grand celebration. We took no more furloughs but pressed on until the end. We completed our translation ministry on August 10, 1990.

The Last Result
Now thirty years later, a whole generation of Canelas has grown up reading God’s Word in their own language. Jesus built His Church in the Canela village, and scores of Canela believers have already gone Home to Glory. Yes, they are our great and growing reward in heaven.

So, Whom Do We Trust?

So, Whom Do We Trust?

We’ve all heard about the Boeing 737 Max airliners that were grounded for several years after two planes crashed killing everyone on board. The computer software problem that caused these tragedies has been fixed and the planes have now been cleared to fly again.

When I heard about passengers reluctant to board these planes “just in case” everything did not get fixed properly, a memory popped up in my mind.

The Story
The scene was the airport of Belem, Brazil, and Jo and I and our three daughters, four to seven years old, were about to fly home for a ten-month-long first furlough. We were near the end of a long line of passengers heading for the final passport and ticket check before we were allowed into the departure area. Since we were lined up along a series of windows looking out on the tarmac, I fought the boredom by watching our plane being serviced.

Several mechanics stood on ladders and were taking the cover off one of the engines. They did something inside with tools, then put the engine cover back on, moved the ladders away and signalled to the pilot to start the engine. The normal loud whine, but also lots of smoke and frantic waving by the mechanics for the pilot to shut off the engine. They put their ladders back up, took off the cover and worked some more on the engine. Again, they took down the ladders, signalled the pilot, more smoke and more frantic waving. During the 45 minutes we were in this line up this routine went on several more times.

Finally, since our family were among the last to check in, I saw out the last window, the signal to start the engine, the same smoke as before, but this time no frantic waving, the mechanics shrugged their shoulders, held up the palms of their open hands in the universal gesture meaning, “Who knows what the problem is?” and walked away carrying their ladders. Ten minutes later we crossed the tarmac and boarded the plane, ready to fly 4,500 kilometres from Belem to Miami, over mostly open ocean. No, we did not tell our girls what we had seen. Yes, we did pray for a safe arrival. Did we trust those mechanics? No way! Did we trust God? Yes way!

So, Now What?
That was half a century ago—five decades fill with Bible translation, leadership, recruiting, fund-raising, blogging, and authoring eight books. We also grew older, and we continued to trust God “who is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.” Rom. 8:28 (The Voice).

We continue to trust God in our current COVID situation. We go to stores for essential shopping, and interact with people, all masked and at a distance. We do church through Zoom and interact with our families the same way. But we also continue to meet people who refuse to wear a mask, even though new, more contagious, and virulent strains of the COVID coronavirus are being identified. We do what we need to do, and we are confident that God is still in control, not just of our lives, but of the entire COVID emergency.

I would like to stay alive and mentally alert to write the ninth book, a memoir of the Canela decades. And if that is God’s plan, Jo and I will stay alive, if not, well, that’s His business. We just keep on loving and trusting Him to keep “orchestrating everything to work toward something good and beautiful”.

The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Create it.

“The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Create it.” Peter Drucker

Happy New Year! Millions of people throughout the English-speaking world have heard, read, said or written this wishful greeting dozens of times in the past weeks. No wonder I keep thinking, “What could I do to create a Happy New Year for myself?

I rattled off some ideas on my keyboard. They quickly sorted themselves into things I want to Change, things I want to Keep the same, things I want to Start, and things I want to Stop.

I realized that planning for my 83rd year on earth, I couldn’t do this in my head, so last week I made up a chart and filled in the details. It looked so exciting I wanted to boil down a summary in alphabetical order and share it with you.

  1. Emotional Health: Keep on reading light fiction and true story-based memoirs to Jo in the evening. Start planning outings, and days trips in our mini-motorhome after the snow is gone, and cross-border trips after the pandemic is over.
  2. Extended Family: Keep interceding by name for each of our extended family with Jo each morning. Start having one-on-one dates with our eight grandkids, and with each of the four spouses when restrictions are lifted.
  3. Financial: Stop or make a Change in spending money on some subscriptions and recurring business expenses which are not paying for themselves. Start marketing my books: five titles on Bible translation, and three memoirs, all published in paperback, ebook and soon four in audio. Keep on having up-to-date records of Bank Accounts, Insurance, Wills, Medical Directives, Power of Attorney, etc. in a safe place and backed up online. Keep on finding things we no longer need and give them away or have them posted for sale online.
  4. Hobbies: Start making photographs with my 35 mm camera again, instead of quick snapshots with my phone. Keep sorting flower photos from Brazil with Jo, and Start producing collations and prints to decorate our bedroom
  5. Marital: Keep on with morning sharing and prayer times with Jo. Change to having even more frequent and regular dates with Jo, taking time to do things she enjoys as well as things we both enjoy.
  6. Mental-Intellectual: Keep on reading at least one book a week in a wide variety of genres but especially on memoirs since that is what I’m currently writing. Start reading and studying intensively every type of writing instruction I can find in books and online.
  7. Ministry/Work: Keep writing a bi-weekly InSights & OutBursts blog post. Start writing the fourth volume of my/our memoirs, From Adventure to Mission: The Canela Decades, complete at least in first draft. Keep on writing regular Popjes Updates to our prayer and financial partners, etc. and correspond accordingly. Keep alert for ways in which I can be of help to someone.
  8. Physical: Keep walking 5 kilometres a day in good weather. In winter walk when possible, if not, Start doing step up exercises for 20 minutes. Change to swimming when pool opens post-pandemic. Keep on with the modified ketogenic diet. Keep the 45-minute nap after lunch.
  9. Social: Post-pandemic Start building face to face relationships again. Meanwhile, Keep using Zoom to connect with family on Wednesday nights, Sunday afternoons, and with church friends Sunday morning. Keep in contact with phone and social media.
  10. Spiritual: Keep getting up two hours before Jo to read Scripture and my daily affirmations of truth and to write my prayer journal. Keep reading Scriptures and a YouVersion devotional with Jo in the morning and pray with her for ourselves, our family, and friends. Keep on trusting in God’s love, power and wisdom.

Now you know more about me than I did about myself a week ago.

Why Does Our Almighty, All-knowing God Want us to Pray?

It was Wednesday evening at the Bible translation centre in Belem, Brazil, the night when all the missions personnel gathered to share stories and pray for each other. For nearly two decades, whenever we returned from the Canela village for a consultant break on the centre, our whole family attended these prayer meetings. Now, however, we were within a few years of finishing the translation program, and our daughters had left Brazil for university. Valorie studied in Los Angeles, Leanne in Edmonton, and Cheryl in Capernwray, Germany.

The Story
Our neighbour and colleague, Marj, had something to share. “I just got a letter from our son Ken in Texas. A few weeks ago, he was riding home on his motorcycle around 1 a.m. after working late at his part-time job. He was exhausted, very drowsy, and suddenly collided with another vehicle. The impact threw him off his motorcycle, but he landed unhurt on the lawn of somebody’s house.

Then I remembered how a couple of weeks ago, I suddenly woke up around 4 a.m. feeling anxious about Ken. I immediately prayed for him until the fear left; I was at peace and went back to sleep. Today, when I read Ken’s letter, I checked the date and the time zone difference. Sure enough, God woke me up to pray for Ken on the very night and time as he was riding his motorcycle home.”

Does God Need Our Help, or What?
Hearing that story, Jo and I felt a firm assurance that God was taking care of our children as well, and we committed to be sensitive to his urging in our hearts to pray for them, not just regularly in our devotional time, but when the urge to pray hit us. Marj’s story also reminded me of the term the apostle Paul used to describe himself and his team in his first letter to the Corinthians. In 3:9, “We are co-workers with God.” In 6:1, “We are working together with God.” Paul was writing poetically about planting and watering, and that it was God who made things grow.

God had awakened Marj and given her the urge to pray for Ken who was in danger while riding his motorcycle 6,000 kilometres away. Why did God need her to pray? Because He wants His people to work together with Him. As we pray, He works to answer the prayer.

Two Stories From Long Ago
The fact that the outcome of God’s work somehow depends on our prayers is vividly illustrated in Exodus 17:8-15. The first battle after Israel’s escape through the Red Sea was an attack by the Amalekites. Joshua fought them on the open plain while Moses stood on top of a hill and lifted his staff to God as a symbol of prayer. As long as Moses lifted his staff high, Israel was winning, but when he got tired, and his staff sank and wavered, Amalek prevailed against Israel. Aaron and Hur found a rock for Moses to sit on, then held up his arms on either side, for a full day, until sundown and Israel won the battle. Verse 14, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it.’” Joshua needed to know that God had won the battle working together with Joshua’s army and their swords, and Moses and his staff of prayer.

Many centuries later, the people of Israel had abandoned the worship of God. Ezekiel the prophet kept urging the people to return to God, warning them of disaster ahead. At the end of a long description of how He planned to destroy the nation, God said, “I searched for one man among them . . .  a man who could advocate for the land, a man who could convince Me not to destroy it; but I found no one. Ezekiel 22:30. The next verse starts, “So, I will turn my anger loose on them . . .” The nation was destroyed, but even just one person interceding for mercy could have stopped the judgment.

God Does His Part; We Need to Do Our Part
Did God limit himself to work in this world, mostly in response to His people’s prayers? It seems like it. We do know he wants us to keep in constant connection with him. Maybe something is going on in the spiritual realm we know nothing about, like the story of Job. Let’s be sure we do our part and pray about everything that comes to our minds. Be in constant contact with God’s Holy Spirit and pray at ever urging. As the apostle Paul said, “Pray without ceasing.”



The Best Question I Ever Answered with YES!

The Bedtime Stories
Our twin grandsons were born the year after we returned to Canada from our decades of work in Brazil—the first grandkids. A few years later, since they lived nearby, I was in demand to tell them bedtime stories. At the time, Jo and I were deeply involved in an intensive six years in top-level Wycliffe leadership, serving as CEO (now called President) of Wycliffe Canada. We had literally moved From Mud Hut to Executive Suite. (Hmm, that sounds like a good title for a book of memoirs.)

Eventually, vigorous games, like tag. were added to the bedtime stories. By the time they were ten years old, however, I didn’t play tag with them anymore because, at sixty-plus years old, I could no longer catch them. We also had a six-year-old granddaughter, Savannah, living near us in Canada and four younger granddaughters in California. Oh, and of course Savannah’s baby brother Aidan.

I wondered what life would be like being an active grandpa to eight young grandchildren, who increased in strength and stature every year, whereas I seemed to be going in the other direction. The only thing I could do to entertain them was to tell them stories of my life. I told them tales of growing up in Holland, and I made up bedtime stories on the spot with ideas they gave me. I longed to play more active games with them. Yet, their energy tended to surpass mine, and I ended up dropping out. I wondered how Savannah’s other Grandpa, the one living in Saskatoon, interacted with his grandkids.

A Granddaughter’s Question
Yeah, I was feeling rather gloomy about my Grandpa role. I talked to God, telling him I thought I wasn’t much of a grandpa, but I didn’t get a response. Then, one day, I made a phone call, and everything changed. I called our daughter Cheryl’s home (remember the time when every home still had a landline phone), and little Savannah answered.

“Hi Savannah,” I said, “this is grandpa.”

There was a moment of silence, and then Savannah’s voice came through hesitantly, “Um, are you the grandpa who tells us stories?”

Whoosh! A bright white light of understanding flooded my mind! I saw myself and my future in full clarity.

“Yes, Savannah! I sure am the Grandpa who tells you stories!”

I remember nothing else about that phone conversation. Savannah’s question, however, was God’s answer to my prayer and has guided my actions and ministry goals ever since.

A Wife’s Suggestion
After six years as leader of Wycliffe Canada, Jo and I served as Wycliffe leaders for three years in the Caribbean, living in Trinidad and travelling to Barbados, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. I told stories of missions and Bible translation in hundreds of churches and other meetings. But often, on Sunday afternoons, we were at home for five hours between church services.  One day Jo said, “Remember how you used to write a Sunday Afternoon Letter from Dad to our three daughters after they left Brazil? Why don’t you write a Sunday Afternoon Letter from Grandpa to the grandkids?”

Good idea! Jo often gives me good ideas, which I accept gladly and have a powerful and positive impact. So, I started writing story-letters to the eight grandkids each Sunday afternoon and emailing the letters to the three sets of parents. On Monday night, the parents read my story-letter to the grandkids as a bedtime story. During those three years, I wrote scores of made-up stories. The total number of words I wrote in short fiction tales for my grandkids was seven thousand words longer than The Hobbit. Hey, it’s just a page number comparison; it has nothing to do with quality!

A Calling Confirmed
After that three-year assignment to the Caribbean, I was invited to tell true stories of Bible translation to audiences to help them decide to support Wycliffe’s Bible translation work financially. Along with my personal speaking engagements, during those ten years, I told stories to about 750 audiences in 400 cities and nearly twenty countries.

Then, at age 76, I stopped travelling and sat down to write more books of stories. I have published five books of collections of story-based articles on Bible translation and three story-packed memoirs.

I thank God for confirming my calling as a storyteller that day twenty years ago when Savannah asked, “Are you the Grandpa who tells us stories?”