Mothers Buy a Better Future

“You don’t know who this is, do you?” (Don’t you hate that question?)
The Canela woman sitting on the front porch of our village house asked me again, “Don’t you know who this is?” pointing at the smiling young mother who held a nursing baby.

“Of course I do,” I said, guessing bravely, “she is your daughter.” She laughed and said, “I have many daughters. You just don’t remember, do you? Without your help when she was born, we both would have died.”

Instant memory flash-back to the week we arrived in the Canela village for the first time. A serious medical case: an anemic young woman, first baby, prolonged labour, tearing birth, burning with post-partum fever, and a sickly-looking baby. I injected the mom with a first dose of antibiotics and gave her some antipyretic and vitamin pills. My wife, Jo, and I prayed for healing and returned to treat both mom and baby every day until they were well.

And now, over twenty years later, there both of them sat on our porch, a happy young mother and grandmother. What’s more, both women had learned to read and were there to recite the Bible passages they had memorized, thus earning the right to receive a Canela Bible of their own when they arrived from the publishers.

Mothers pay a painful price to bring their babies into the world. Good mothers continue to pay the price to buy a better future for their children.

My mother gave up a stable environment, a comfortable home in the Netherlands, and all her friends and relatives, emigrating to Canada to buy her children a better future. She paid the price of loneliness living in isolated farmhouses—the only places we could afford to live. She lived in poverty as we struggled through those first years of immigrant life. And it didn’t stop there.

Sixteen years later, my mom, now a grandmother, took a deep breath and again paid a painful price to buy a better future. She blessed our move to Brazil—I, her oldest son, Jo, her only daughter in law, and Valorie, Leanne and baby Cheryl, her only grandchildren. She wanted to buy a better future, not for herself, not for us, not for her grandchildren, but for the Canelas—a people group she had never met.

Jo’s mother paid the same painful price. She bought a better future for the Canelas as she said goodbye to her only child, her only son in law, and the only grandchildren she would ever have. It was nearly four years before either of our moms saw their grandchildren again. When we lived in the Canela village, it was often months before they received a letter from us.

Over twenty years later, both our mothers came to Brazil to celebrate the dedication and distribution of the Canela Bible. Both of them tasted a little of the reward that awaited them in heaven.

When a mother hugs her newborn baby for the first time, the joy is so great it almost makes her forget the painful price. So also, as our moms sat on the village plaza, watched the Canela people hug their new Bibles and heard them sing their love to God, they said, “It was hard to send our children to be missionaries. Our hearts ached for them. But it was worth it. Oh, yes, it was worth it!”

Every mother paid a painful price to buy each of us a future, and many have continued to pay. Let’s make sure we honour our mothers this Mothers’ Day and every day after that.

My Two Mothers Meet. Mama birthed me in Holland, Inxe adopted me in Brazil 30 years later.


Letting Ourselves Feel the Feelings.

Feeling the Loss
Multi-millions of people all over the world are feeling a sense of loss. Loss of health, loved ones, security, jobs, income, dreams, freedom to travel, to associate with others, and numerous other things important to us. They are gone, and a loss of any kind results in grief. Feeling sad is reasonable and we need to allow ourselves to feel this sadness deeply. Our emotional health depends on taking time to grieve a loss.

Jo and I Have Felt This Way Before
Jo and I went through a period of loss and deep sadness when we left Brazil permanently after nearly a quarter of a century of life and work there. We left behind our house, our friends, our coworkers, and the Canela people. We not only lost these, but we lost our work and identity as Bible translators. That part of our life was over. We grieved and hoped the feeling of loss would someday lessen. It did, although it never entirely went away. Some significant losses are like losing a leg; we might get used to it but will always miss it.

Of course, our feelings weren’t all sad. We had a deep inner joy, knowing that our dream had become a reality. The Canelas now had God’s Word in their own language, finally joining billions of other people who have had a Bible in their mother tongue for many generations.

Six Expressions of Grief
Years later, we learned that grief, and how we deal with it, manifests itself in various ways. We and others around us deal with the emotions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in multiple ways.

One attitude is Denial, “This virus won’t affect us.”
Another is Anger, “Stop telling me to stay home and not visit my friends.”
Then there is Bargaining, “Okay, I’ll keep two-metres away from everyone for a month, and then go back to normal.”
Eventually, Grieving deeply at our long-term loss, we ask, “Will we ever get back to normal?”
Near the end-stage is Acceptance, “This is for real. Okay, let’s figure out how we can live from here on.”

While we are going through these aspects of Grieving, we need to focus our thoughts on positive things in our lives; things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or worthy of praise  (Phil. 4:8) Remember also that Jesus promised never to leave us and that he invites us to cast our cares on him.

Hopefully, the final result will show Meaning. Some of us are discovering new ways of connecting via our phones, video chats, and computer. Some people are finding the joy of walking, alone or with our family. Some businesses realize that they can operate remotely, without an office. Teachers are learning ways to lead students into learning through technology instead of in the classroom.

Welcoming Grief
The important thing for all of us to realize is that we must not get stuck in those early stages of Grief. We need to treat Grief as a temporary guest welcoming him into our lives, not slamming the door in his face. We must let ourselves feel our emotions deeply, admit to ourselves how we feel, even share them with others and think of the positive things in our lives. Only then will we move from Grieving into Accepting and finding Meaning.

NOTE: You can now buy Jack’s books as Audio books, PDF books or eBooks for immediate download.
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God’s Easter Redo Icon

Myths, legends and folktales fascinate us because they tell in metaphor story many segments of what I call the Cosmic Whole Story—the story of God and people as recorded in the Bible.

The Canela people with whom Jo and I translated a partial Bible have a myth about the origins of the human race, which shows how badly people need what we celebrate at Easter. The original tale is long and complicated, but here is a compact version:

The Canela Creation Myth
One day both Sun and Moon leave their houses in the sky to visit earth which is filled with plants and animals, but no people. Both Sun and Moon have certain special powers that they exercise during their adventures on earth.

Sun has the power of knowledge and teaching Moon what he should do by demonstrating what to do and warning him against doing the wrong thing. Moon, however, disobeys Sun and consistently does the opposite of what Sun demonstrates and wants Moon to do.

Unfortunately, although Moon is obstinate and unwilling to learn from Sun, it is he who has the power to set precedents–whatever Moon does on earth will go on forever.

Palm trees used to be short and easy for anyone to pluch the fruit, but when Moon disobeys Sun’s instructions and mistreats a palm tree, it shoots up to a great height. Since then, all palm trees are tall and harvesting their fruit is difficult.

One day Sun shows Moon how to make children. He wades into a creek, slaps the water with a cupped hand and comes up with a beautiful son. Moon wades in too, but whacks the water with an open hand instead of a cupped hand and emerges with an ugly child. They keep making sons and daughters for a while until they grow tired of it and return to dry land.

Moon then asks Sun, “What will happen to our children when they get old and die?” In answer Sun takes a long dry stalk from a naja palm and spears it deep down into the water, but being light, it pops back up again and floats on the surface. “This is what will happen to our children.” Sun explains, “When they get old they will die, but then revive and come alive again and go on living.”

Moon then picks up, not a naja palm stalk but a large stone, and before Sun can stop him, throws it into the water where it sinks to the bottom. “Now look what you have done!” shouts Sun, “Now our children will die and stay dead forever.” Sun and Moon ascend to their houses in the sky and never again concern themselves about their children.

The Bible Version of the Story
The Bible tells the same story. God, the Creator, placed Adam in the Garden of Eden. Just as Sun instructed Moon, so God taught Adam how to live in the garden and warned him about the forbidden fruit. Just as Moon wilfully disobeyed Sun, with disastrous consequences, so Adam disobeyed God and set a precedent, which led to death for all his future children.

The Canela myth stops there with people living under difficult conditions and dying in the end. The Cosmic Whole Story, however, goes on to a better ending.

God’s Redo Icon: The Rest of the Story
God clicked the Redo icon when he sent His Son Jesus to earth as the second Adam. Jesus did everything God intended Him to do without disobeying and reset the precedents earlier set by Adam. Instead of death, the consequence is life. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22) Because of what Jesus did in living, dying and returning to life, never to die again, God’s children, those who believe in Him, will live forever with Him.

The Canela people have been reading the “Rest of the Story” in their own language for the past thirty years. Many Canelas have chosen to believe in the God of the Bible, the Creator who loved them and who hit the Redo Icon to give billions of his creatures everlasting life.

This is what Easter is all about! It’s especially good news in these fear and panic-filled months during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Let’s celebrate God’s Easter Redo this Sunday!

Still Bearing Fruit in Old Age

The Question
“So, when do you plan to retire Jack?” somebody texted me last week when Jo and I were celebrating my 82nd birthday by ourselves at home. Hmm, a provocative question. I thought about it for a while.

I started earning a wage as an electrician’s helper when I was 13 years old. In the past 69 years I have been employed by more than a dozen different organizations and businesses. Some notable occupations: mental institute orderly, pastor, linguist, Bible translator, CEO of Wycliffe organization, fundraiser, motivational speaker.

The Answer . . . Sort of
I have “retired” from all these jobs and positions, and for the past few years I’ve focused on a career in writing and publishing five books of God-stories, the first volume of my memoirs and am working on the next two volumes. After that, if God grants me physical and mental health for a few more years, I want to complete the half-finished children’s stories books on my computer and in my head.

The Angelic Visit Twenty Years Ago
“Jack,” my supervisor said, “as the new CEO of Wycliffe Caribbean, the first problem you need to tackle is the accounting system. It’s a mess.”
I’m the WordMan, I thought, not the NumberMan. Sending me to fix a finance accounting system is as helpful as sending a firefighter to aim his spouting hose at a drowning man.
The bookkeeper explained that Caribbean countries use a British system of accounting, but Wycliffe uses the North American system. No wonder things got confused!
I explained the problem to Wycliffe International’s VP of Finance, asked for help and got it.

A few weeks later a retired couple arrived from Great Britain. They were experienced accountants familiar with both British and American accounting systems and started work immediately. In a couple of weeks, they had solved the problems, revised our procedures, written a new manual, and trained our staff in the updated system. Then they left to enjoy a week on the beach before returning home – job well done. Not even angels could have done it better. Maybe they were.

Oh, how I appreciated those volunteers! We happily provided hospitality and meals. They radiated good will and oozed expertise. Like God the Creator, they turned our chaos into order.

This couple was neither the first nor the last of many highly effective retired people who practiced their skills on the mission field. I asked some of these folk why they volunteered. Here are their answers:

The Testimonials

  1. I hope God gives me many years of healthy retirement since I just love helping missionaries use their computers more effectively.
  2. In our retirement, we want to focus on what is important in our lives. So, we spend lots of quality time with our grand kids, but we also volunteer where we can use our experience in printing and publishing to help build God’s kingdom.
  3. Since I enjoyed certain aspects of my career more than others, I look for opportunities to volunteer my services in God’s service in missions in the areas I enjoy the most.
  4. My wife and I volunteer on the mission fields where we can use our chiropractic skills to improve people’s lives, but work at our own pace and on our own time schedule. We usually include a time of vacation after our volunteer service.
  5. I have always loved being a businessman. Now I love consulting on site with people who have gone overseas to start a business that meets physical, economic and spiritual needs.
  6. During my career as a medical teacher I missed the hands-on service to people in medical need. Now that I’m retired, I focus on volunteering where I can directly meet the needs of individuals and show my love to them as I build God’s Kingdom.
  7. I’m now 85 years old. I look on the two years in our late seventies that my wife and I spent overseas helping Bible translators become more effective as the greatest two years of my life.

The Opportunities
Every year, hundreds of retired people volunteer to go overseas to practice their professions and skilled trades to build God’s Kingdom. Wycliffe offers numerous opportunities for volunteers to get involved. Check them out on these sites and, when the COVID-19 pandemic is over, volunteer to serve somewhere:

“The godly will still bear fruit in old age; they will stay fresh and green.” Psalm 92:14 (NIV).


In Praise of Women Missionaries

Because last Sunday was International Women’s Day, my first impulse was to write a long and personally satisfying blog post on the missionary woman who was most important to the Canela Bible translation program: my sweet wife, Josephine. But since I reserve my Valentine’s day blog posts for eulogizing Jo, I’ll just use a picture of her and me, and will publish this one instead:

In Praise of Women Missionaries
“We believe you would be a superb missionary, and we would be happy to send you out to represent our denomination on the mission field in Africa, except for two things: you are a woman, and you are not married.”
Johanna, a godly and capable woman who passionately loved her Lord and wanted to advance His Kingdom in the needy places of the world, was disappointed at her denomination’s mission board’s decision.
Fortunately for her, for the Kingdom of God, and tens of thousands of souls in Sudan and Nigeria, several individuals in her local church sponsored her ministry privately. They prayed, sent funds, and encouraged her during her years of ministry in Africa. The churches she planted continued to grow so much in strength and number that, seven years after her death in Africa, the denomination’s mission board formally adopted Nigeria as one of their mission fields.

The history of worldwide missions is replete with stories of how God used single women in astonishing ways to grow His Kingdom.

Gladys, for instance, evangelized in China and cared for hundreds of orphans before and during the Second World War. Her book, The Little Woman, was also made into a movie, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

A generation before, Mary lived and worked in Africa. Her story is the subject of two books, one of which is titled The White Queen of the Cannibals. She astounded Christians back home with matter-of-fact accounts of her death-defying dealings with native peoples.

Single Women Missionaries–Our Heroes
My wife Jo and I hold single women missionaries in high respect. I remember with joy the gifted single women, though relatively anonymous, who helped us succeed in our linguistic and translation work. We absolutely could not have done it without them.

Patricia, a translator in a related language, calmed our fears that we had made a mistake in identifying seventeen phonemic vowels in the Canela language. There seemed to be far too many. She explained that the language she worked in had sixteen. She helped us to choose letters for the Canela alphabet and write up a clear description of each letter’s sound.

Eunice patiently walked me through the process of sorting out and writing down all the knowledge of the Canela grammar system that swirled around in my head to make it understandable to other linguists.

Margery, after completing her own Bible translation project, painstakingly checked all our translation work, and happily reported that, although she tried, she had not been able to find a single nasty “collocational clash” in Acts. That was many decades ago, and although I have now forgotten what a “collocational clash” is, at the time, I was enormously encouraged to hear that we did not have any.

Gloria’s knowledge and experience in developing “self-teaching” learn-to-read booklets were invaluable. With her help, we made up highly effective illustrated reading primers. Students needed teaching only for the first dozen pages. By looking at the illustration, they picked up clues about the meaning of the new word, and the shape of the new letter, to finish the rest of the lessons practically without further help.

Isobel’s enthusiasm and encouragement helped us to produce a series of learn-to-read booklets of ever-increasing complexity that prepared new readers to read the Scriptures.

Ruth’s commitment to the people group with whom she worked, and her willingness to live with them for months out in the bush without even a hut to call home, rebuked my love of comfort and challenged me to greater personal sacrifice.

Jane tripled my effectiveness when I suddenly found myself as the temporary executive director of the linguistic and translation organization in Brazil. She knew where to get the information I needed to make right decisions. She knew everything and everyone and had the experience I lacked.

A single woman’s life in a foreign land and culture is not easy. Indigenous societies often look down on single women. Many young women would prefer to marry and have a family. And yet, although they know that it is highly unlikely that they will find a suitable marriage partner on the mission field, they go, impelled by love for God and His Kingdom.

I praise these women. So does God.


The Day I Made Myself Look Good But Felt Rotten Later

The Hike
It was mid-afternoon on the second day of slogging through sand, splashing across creeks and plodding up and down rocky slopes on my seventy kilometres hike from the Canela village to the nearest town to buy medicines. Only three more hours to go, I thought, but they’ll be the hardest.

Just then, I came to a path leading towards some palm-thatched building. I followed the trail and saw a couple of teenage boys drinking coffee. They immediately called me to join them and have a mug. I happily sat down and chatted with them.

“We’re also going into town,” one of them said, “and we are catching a ride with my uncle who is loading up sand on his truck about an hour’s walk down the road. Wait until we finish eating and get our stuff, and we’ll walk together. You can ride with us into town on the truck.

“Thanks, that’s great news,” I said, “but I’ll start walking now. You’re half my age, and I’m already tired; I might slow you down if we walk together. I’ll see you down the road.”

The Trick
As I tramped along, I thanked God for shortening my walk by at least two hours. After half an hour, I came to a ten-metre stretch of road with a long mud puddle along one side and damp ground along the other side. Hmm, I thought, here’s a chance to impress those boys with my walking ability.

With that, I switched into a leaping mode, lengthening my stride from 70 cm to well over a metre long. Reaching the dry area, I turned around to look at my footprints. Oh yeah! Impressive! I said to myself and walked on at a more sedate pace.

The Admiration
When I reached the truck, I rested in the shade as a half dozen boys shovelled sand onto the dump truck. About the time it was full, my two friends from up the road arrived, and we all climbed onto the back of the dump truck. As it ground it’s way slowly along the sandy path, they introduced me to the others.

“I thought we’d catch up to him,” one of them said, “but even though we walked our fastest, we couldn’t catch up. Then we came to a damp part in the road and saw why. You wouldn’t believe the huge strides he takes – nearly twice as long as ours. No wonder he got here before us!”

Yes! I was looking good! As I faked a modest smile at the admiring group, a still, small voice in my head said, Now would be a good time to tell them about your trick. I ignored it. I was enjoying their praise. Hey, I kept telling myself it’s not often that I get recognition for my physical prowess. I’ll take it, even when I don’t deserve it. Besides, who cares? It’s just a little thing.

The Conviction
In bed that night, however, I felt rotten as my conscience replayed the incident, this time accompanied by Jesus’ words from Luke 16:10 “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities” (TLB).

I had made my reputation—what people think of me— more important than character—who I really am. I need to focus on building my character and let God deal with my reputation.

The Lesson
This lesson has stayed with me for the rest of my life. Decades later, when I was a sought-after missionary speaker in the Caribbean, I was often addressed or introduced as “Dr. Popjes.” Oh, that sounded good in the ears of a high-school dropout! But Luke 16:10 kept me from letting that slide!