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.

 

To read more stories like this one:
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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.

 

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!

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.