I Embarrassed Myself in Grade Four Because of my Dad’s Old Bible

I learned to read at such a young age, I can’t remember a time I didn’t know how to read. (No, it’s not because I’m so smart, it’s just that I grew up in the Netherlands and Dutch is far easier to learn to read than English.)

Books Gave Me Wings

Throughout my early school years I read books the way fire reads dry wood. I loved riding my bike around the neighbourhood, but books gave me wings that would take me anywhere: they were my videos and my movies. When I finished reading a book I felt more alive than when I started.

One of my favourite authors was Anne de Vries who wrote spellbinding books about a boy and a girl who lived on a farm. Their names were Jaap and Gerdientje and the stories of helping in farm work fascinated me so much I felt I knew those kids and their friends personally.

Because they were so real to me, I once greatly embarrassed myself in grade four in the Christian school I attended. Several times a year inspectors came and questioned the students. One time they asked the class, “What was the name of the girl who gleaned grain after the reapers?” obviously expecting to hear, “Ruth, the one who married Boaz.”

I had just finished reading a story about a girl gleaning grain and knew the answer to that question! I shot up my hand and shouted, “Gerdientje.” The inspectors looked bewildered, the teacher embarrassed, and as the class erupted in mocking laughter, my face turned red.

I, of course, knew the story of Ruth and the reapers. My dad had read it several times during our daily Bible readings. But he read from the 1637 Statenvertaling Bijbel, with hard-to-understand vocabulary, syntax and grammatical structures that were more than 300 years old.

The Jaap and Gerdientje stories, however, were written in the here and now language of today—the language my friends and I used when we told jokes, argued, or played tricks on each other in the streets of Hilversum. When I read the fictional stories I clearly saw the characters living their lives in full colour, complete with smells, tastes and stereo sound. Whereas when my dad read the true stories from the Bible they were merely words or fuzzy grey drawings in my mind.

No wonder I eventually became a Bible translator. My wife and I spent nearly thirty years in training, preparation and finally translating a partial Bible for the Canela people of Brazil. We wanted them to experience the stories and truths of the Bible in all their vivid reality.

We are dedicated to the translation of the Word of God into the here and now language of every one of the approximately nearly 7,000 people groups on earth. The goal is to have an active translation program operating in every language that needs it by the year 2025.

Thirteen years and nearly 2,000 languages to go. A new program needs to start every two or three days. With God all things are possible.

Homo Narrans, Story-Telling Man

As I sorted through some papers, I came upon a thank you card from a group that had invited me to speak five times at a retreat last year. I remembered that I had done much research reading to present 15 major themes.

“Thank you,” the card said, “for all your stories that will help us grow.”

Hmm, not a word about any of the 15 themes I had worked so hard to develop and present. I remembered telling a couple of personal experience anecdotes to illustrate each theme.

Jack the Story Teller with his Indonesian interpreters

We love stories. Our lives are full of them. We enjoy telling them, and listening to other people spin yarns, often responding with a similar tale from our own experience. It is through listening to their personal stories that we get to know other people. It is through remembering and telling our stories we gain a deeper understanding into ourselves.

We human beings are called homo sapiens, “Thinking Man,” to set us apart from other species. It is not our opposable thumb that makes us different from animals, all the great apes have them, nor the ability to remember, elephants do that, or the ability to communicate information through sound waves, dolphins and whales do that too.

We, on the other hand, live through complex experiences, we think about them and then  we share these experiences with others. We tell them our stories. People are story generators, we live stories and we listen to stories and we tell stories. Some authors and poets argue that home sapiens could more properly be called homo narrans, Story-Telling Man.

We can even make up stories that haven’t happened and tell them to entertain, to inspire, and to teach. We day dream, imagine, and envision things and situations that don’t exist and work to turn them into reality. Others are inspired when they hear our story.

A Yiddish question: “Why did God create people?” Answer: “Because He loves stories.” God made us in His image. Just as He loves stories, so we love them. Jesus told parables throughout His teaching ministry. Prophets told stories to warn people away from sin, or like Jonah, lived their stories. The whole Bible is a vast collection of interrelated narratives, making a complete story of God and his relationship to mankind.

We often tell the story of our conversion. We testify how God drew us to Himself, led us to repent, and filled us with new life. We call these stories testimonies. Testimonies have the power to defeat Satan. Revelation 12:11 tells the future story of the final fall of Satan and judgement on him. The passage describes the martyrs who defeated him,

“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”

The power to overcome Satan lay in two things, the fact that Jesus died to pay the penalty of sin, and the fact that the martyrs told the story of how Jesus had saved them from sin. Isn’t it significant that the sacrificial death of God’s Son is mentioned in the same sentence as people telling the story of what this sacrifice meant to them? When we tell others the stories of what God has done for us, we defeat Satan.

Wow! Talk about powerful!

So, how about it? Beyond your conversion story, do any of you have a list of God stories you tell? Stories of what God has done for you, your family, and your situation?

Tell me about them.


Mandate, God, Prayer, or Coincidence?

In 1983, a group of 40,000 Sudanese people called the Tira were listed on the Bibleless Peoples Prayer Project as not having even a single word of the Bible translated into their language. Today, twenty-eight years later, many Tira are Christians and read the Bible in their own language.

Here’s what happened:

  • In November of 1983, David and Ray, two American students signed up to pray for the Tira with the Bibleless Peoples Prayer Project.
  • In May of 1986, Jerry and Jan promised to pray for this group.
  • In March 1990, Jane and Margeanne committed themselves to pray.

In August 1990, a report came to the Prayer Project organizers that a young Tira man, Avajani, was studying linguistics and Bible translation techniques. The organizers wrote to encourage him with the news that three teams were praying for his people group. They gave the names and the dates when they began to pray. Avajani’s response was astonishing!

  • Avajani told them he became a Christian in November 1983, the month David and Ray began to pray.
  • He was accepted for theological studies in May 1986, when Jerry and Jan started to pray. He heard about courses in Bible translation and was accepted as a student in March 1990, when Jane and Margeanne started to pray.

An atheist reading this sort of astonishing coincidence might well mutter to himself, “Hmm, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think that God was involved.”

God is definitely at work on planet Earth, and He invites us to join Him. He moves some to pray, and some to do hands on service. He wants every person to hear about Him in the language they know best.


Brief Introduction to Jack’s New Column, The Mandate

Welcome to The Mandate! (Mandate son of Look)

This is the column where I will focus strongly on cross-cultural missions, Bible translation around the world, cultural anthropology, basic literacy in societies that have been illiterate for generations, and the beauty and intricacy of human language.

In short, these columns will be like those I wrote in The Look when I was telling stories from our 22 years of living and working among the Canela people of Brazil. I will be writing about the biblical basis of cross-cultural missions, about how important it is that believers are mobilized to go to every part of the world and share the Good News with those who are not yet believers.

The definition of “mandate” is “an official command or instruction from an authority” and obviously refers to what we know as “The Great Commission” from Jesus to evangelize the world and disciple the nations.

This columns, or posts will be shorter than The Look was, no more than half the length. They will be easier to read, absorb and put into practice. Although they are shorter, I expect their impact will be the same.

So, what about all those neat stories from my personal life, and those incisive insights into current events that were not focused on missions? I will continue to write, bringing a biblical perspective to these things too, but not in The Mandate. I am starting another blog, where I will post about family life, marriage, education, history, current events, etc.

It too will be shorter than The Look, but will make an impact. It won’t be focused on missions but I fully expect there to be a missions flavour.

I thought of calling it INsights and OUTflows, you know, the idea of reading, remembering or experiencing something that leads to a biblical insight which then flows from my mind into yours. But knowing me, I thought I would instead call it, INsights and OUTbursts. I think you will know why!

I will, of course, continue to write stories and anecdotes. As a “doddering old dotard,” I have more anecdotes and stories than ever. I must be in my anecdotage.

Please go to the top of the column and click on Follow in the upper left part of your screen. You can all click on Share to send it to others. Or go to the side bar on the right and click on Subscribe, or Follow by e-mail. Eventually I will stop sending out this column directly to your email Inbox and instead rely on you signing up and getting it automatically.

Let me know what you think of this new effort at communication. What you like, what you don’t like, what your recommend. This development is still a work in progress.

By the way, remember that you can hold down the Control button on your keyboard and then roll the Scroll wheel on you mouse to increase or decrease the size of the font. Make it the size you like.