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.

 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.

The 30th Anniversary

A few days ago, on Monday, August 10, Jo and I celebrated a significant anniversary of a major life event that took place on this date in 1990, 30 years ago. It was a Friday, and the location was on the central plaza of the main Canela village in Brazil. The occasion was the distribution of the newly printed partial Bible, which Jo and I translated for and with the Canela people.

A Major Investment
Starting in 1957, we spent 11 years in studies, training, and preparation for the ministry of linguistics and Bible translation in Brazil. For the next 22 years, we focused on producing a literate society and a partial Bible in the Canela language. It was a 33 year-long investment. A long time, but it was worth the effort!

Eternal Results

A generation growing up learning about God from the Canela Bible

We are thrilled to think that of the several thousand Canelas now living in the main village, a whole generation was born and grew up in homes where a Canela Bible was present. These 20 to 30-year-old parents are now themselves raising families that have access to God’s Word in their language.

Our Heartfelt Thanks to God
Our hearts are full of thanks to God for choosing Jo and me, and our family, to be involved in this significant task. We especially thank our daughters, Valorie, Leanne and Cheryl, for being part of our team. They played a vital role in developing deep relationships with Canela friends, playmates, and families. Right from the very beginning of language learning, they helped us sort thousands of slips of paper with Canela words and definitions to produce a dictionary. During school vacation, they spent many hours helping adult Canelas learn to read. And they prayed with in-depth personal knowledge for the Canelas and us.

Our daughters had to sacrifice much: the loss of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins back in Canada with whom they connected only briefly every five years. During their school years, they spent up to three months at a time in a boarding school on the mission centre separated from us while we worked in the village. When they graduated from high school, they left Brazil, and we were apart for years.

But God is no one’s debtor. He gave them dozens of uncles and aunts and life-long friends from among our fellow Wycliffe missionary families, also living on the mission centre in Belem.

The Large Team Back Home
We thank God for our extended families and for the friends we made during our decades of preparation and active ministry. Many became long-time faithful prayer warriors, encouraging correspondents (even with paper mail), and essential financial partners. We thank God for all of you, and we thank you for your part in bringing the Word of God to the Canela.

Our Co-Labourers in Brazil
Our thanks go up to God and to our fellow missionaries in Brazil on the centres, also the administrators, the teachers for our daughters, the pilots, the mechanics, the radio and computer technicians, and the PhDs in several academic disciplines, all freely sharing their expertise with us. We could never have completed this task without them. Frankly, we would never even have dared to start it without them.

We are also thankful for Bernard and Elke Grupp, the missionaries who have worked among the Canela for the past 18 years. They continually encourage us by sending reports of baptisms, Bible classes, the production of the Canela Illustrated Children’s Bible, and multiple productions in audio and video media like The Jesus Film in Canela.

Good Things From The Hand of God
Canela life has changed much since those long-ago days in the late 1960s when Jo and I began living with the Canela. Life expectancy has vastly increased. Infant mortality has drastically decreased. Most Canelas now can read and write in their own language. A whole generation has been going to school in town to be taught in Portuguese and is now growing up fluently bilingual.

Hundreds of people have prayed, given, assisted, encouraged, sacrificed and worked to make possible the Word of God in the Canela language.

Every one of us looks forward to that great worship scene in Revelation 7:9. “There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

Look! Yes, there they are! The Canelas!

 

After more than 20 years of meeting in the open air, the Canelas built a fireproof, waterproof church building patterned after local Brazilian churches.

Baptisms with plenty of witnesses

Adult believers baptisms take place frequently

Lots of children at special teaching sessions for them.

Many times the church just won’t hold everyone wanting to attend a teaching session.

 

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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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.

 

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.