On Being Intentional Grandparents

Our Non-Relating Grandparents
Jo was only six years old when her family moved across two provinces, leaving all their extended family behind. She does not even remember her grandparents. I fared only a little better growing up in the Netherlands. My mother’s family lived in Friesland, a far-away province that we visited only once. I remember only one brief conversation with my Frisian grandfather.

My father’s family lived in the same city, and we were often together at my Opa and Oma’s house. I was twelve years old when our family left for Canada, and even though I was their first grandchild, I cannot remember either one of my grandparents ever speaking to me. During our first year in Canada, my mother urged me to write a letter to my Oma. I wrote a long letter describing the old farmhouse we lived in and the Canadian wildlife I had seen—gophers, coyotes, and hawks. Weeks passed without a response, then I read a postscript in a letter to my parents, “I see Jack’s handwriting is as bad as ever.”

That day, as a twelve-year-old, I pledged to myself, “If I ever become a grandparent, I will be the exact opposite of my Oma and Opa.”

Our Decision to Make the Time Count
Jo and I were relaxing one evening in our mud-walled, thatch-roofed Canela village house, missing our three daughters terribly and wondering how they were doing. We would have no direct contact with them for the next three months as they stayed in a residential mission school 600 kilometres away. We were grateful for our ten-minute early morning radio contact with Belem that we depended on if there was an emergency. And once a week, we had a one-on-one radio schedule with Rita, one of the boarding school’s parents, who passed on news about the girls and messages from them.

“You know,” I said, “this will be the pattern, on and off, for the rest of their school lives.”

“Yeah,” Jo said, “They’ll be with us in the village for a couple of months in the summer, and we’ll be with them in Belem for Christmas break and a month or so of translation workshops, but for at least half of the year we won’t be part of their day-to-day lives.”

“They’ll be with us during a couple of furloughs between now and the time they graduate from high school,” I said, “but then they’ll leave Brazil for good.”

It scared us to see we had minimal time to be parents to our daughters. We immediately made plans to be far more intentional as parents than we had been. We read books on improving Christian family living and made a “Family Life To-Do” list to follow when we were together in Belem. Being an intentional Daddy to our three daughters would be excellent preparation for acting deliberately as a grandpa to who knows how many grandkids.

Sunday was already family day. We had backyard barbecues, ate out at a nearby restaurant, went sightseeing in Belem or exploring in the countryside. Friday night became Popjes Family Night, as the other twenty families on the centre soon discovered by the laughter and happy shouts emanating from our house through our glassless screen windows. We played games we made up like Sea Monster, which involved a lot of running and screaming. And hide and seek with all the lights off, plus all kinds of table games. I read the entire Lord of the Rings series of books aloud while the family puzzled or did Doodle art. After their twelfth birthday, I took our daughters out on individual weekly dates. We went for walks, sightseeing trips, a movie, or dinner, whatever each one wanted. Excellent preparation for becoming the intentional Grandpa I had vowed to be!

The First Grandkids
When I held our first grandkids, twin grandsons, one in each hand, just days after they were born, I mentally renewed the Grandpa vow I had made when I was twelve years old. I took them for baby carriage rides to give their Mom and Grandma a break, and as I pushed that baby carriage, I prayed for them, and I told them, “I love you. Ryan, I love you, Tyler. I will make sure you know that you matter to me.”

And that is what Jo and I did for each of our eight grandchildren. We spent time with them, listened to them, and loved them, each in their, and our own way. Jo excelled in crafting with the kids and making unique dishes and goodies when they came to visit. We played games, visited parks, and went camping with them at every opportunity. I told them bedtime stories and took them for walks. At least five of our grandkids spent many hours practicing their driving skills with me before they got their license.

When I was away on mission trips, I wrote them “Sunday Afternoon Letters from Grandpa.” I told them true stories of my childhood. I also wrote them made-up stories about a grandpa and eight grandkids with names much like theirs who had every kind of adventure. Jo, for her part, spent hundreds of hours crocheting or knitting afghans for each of our grandkids in designs, colours and patterns they picked out. She also sewed stuffed animals and doll clothes.

I wrote Jo and my memoirs in response to Scripture like, “Good people leave an inheritance to their grandchildren.” Proverbs 13:22. “One generation shall declare your works to another.” Psalm 145:4.

The Joy Being Intentional Grandparenting Brings
Our vow to purposefully and deliberately be Intentional Grandparents continues to bring Jo and me much joy, not just to our grandkids but also to ourselves. And I believe God is pleased too. “They will still bear fruit in old age; they will stay fresh and green” (Psalm 92:14).

We Christian parents and grandparents need to make absolutely sure that our kids and grandkids know we love them and that they matter to us. They need the love and attention only intentional parents and grandparents can deliver.

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.


Our Life Theme Scripture

When Jo and I got married over 50 years ago, the popular thing among Christians was to choose a “Life Verse,” a few lines from some Bible passage to use as a theme for the rest of life together. I can’t remember, but we probably prayed about it and then, in our youthful idealism, picked one that appealed to us.

We chose a verse from a totally inappropriate chapter of 2nd Corinthians. Chapter 9 is the key chapter in all of Paul’s writings dealing with sharing material goods and urging generosity in giving. Since we were both continually dead broke, the chapter did not fit us at all. Except for one little couplet in verse 6 that Paul pulled in from the generally known law of agriculture.

“Remember: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”

We picked that verse and applied it to ourselves. Our focus was not on giving money but on doing and working since we had our whole married life ahead of us. We committed ourselves to work for God and His Kingdom not by carefully metering out our service, but going full blast, grabbing every opportunity, and thus sowing our service generously and bountifully.

We started immediately. Within months of our wedding we had quit our jobs and were working in camp as counsellors, then we ran daily vacation Bible schools in several churches, and preached in others. We checked out various missions agencies but each one insisted on applicants having pastoral or other major experience in Christian service.

So that fall we took on the job of pastoring a small-town church. In those days the pastor and his wife did everything, from visiting parishioners, to organizing programs, to preaching two sermons a week. The church was in a building program and the pastor’s salary was minimal. To make ends meet I drove a school bus daily, and taxi and ambulance occasionally. For a while, I sold books door to door. I was the Youth for Christ director for a nearby city, and served on the board of our alma mater Bible school.

A year later we took an unpaid leave of absence for two months to study linguistics in the University of Washington in Seattle in preparation for becoming Bible translators with Wycliffe. Eventually, after more training, we traveled to Brazil with two toddlers and a baby, to start a lifestyle of bountiful sowing that made those early years of married life look pretty laid back.

Learning from the Canelas and Teaching Them

Today, five decades later, we are living proof of the truth of that verse. We sowed generously and we are reaping generously. A church among the Canela where there was none. A 750 page partial Bible translated into their language. A strong, ongoing educational program in the village. Nine years of top Wycliffe leadership positions. Speaking scores of times a year for the past two decades, writing blogs and authoring books continually for the past ten years. Three daughters and their families including eight grandchildren, all committed to loving Jesus and making their lives count for God and His Kingdom.

Yes, we are reaping generously. And it’s not over yet! God is good!

PS. Today (Thursday) we are leaving George Town, Cayman, after 6 days of ministry, 5 major speaking events, 4 one-on-one meetings, 3 working lunches/dinners, 2 workshops/seminars, and 1 hour-long radio talk show interview. Tomorrow I help run the two-day Inscribe Conference. By the way, next week I’ll post the “rest of the story” about the night Bible class.

Three Steps to Being a Hero to Your Kids This Fathers Day

Engine roaring, our one-ton truck jarred, shook and rocked as it laboured up the steep rocky river bank. The screaming and pounding on the cab roof started as we finally neared the top. “Daddy! Daddy! Stop! Blackie fell off!”

My wife, clinging to her seat beside me, glanced at me but wisely said nothing. It was the afternoon on the third day of difficult travel from our home on the mission centre in Belem, to the Canela village in Brazil. Jo knew I was nearing the end of my ability to cope.

Sand, water, jungle, rocks, whatever it takes. (Note little blond head above cab)

I kept going, accelerating through a stretch of deep sand on the trail at the top of the bank. If we slowed down there we would get bogged down and never start again. After 100 metres, we reached a piece of solid ground and I stopped. As I slid out of the cab and walked back along the heavily loaded cargo, 10-year-old Valorie leaned down from her perch on the cargo and explained, “Blackie fell off just after we crossed the river. Leanne let go of him when she had to use both hands to hang on.” Wide-eyed youngest daughter Cheryl nodded, saying, “It wasn’t her fault.” Leanne, at the very back was hunched over, crying.

I slogged back through the scorching sand, scrambled down the rocky slope, and saw Blackie near the bottom, lying limply on the sharp rocks. I picked up the much worn, black stuffed toy dog and clambered back up the slope. When I tossed the toy up to Leanne, she smiled through her tears and said, “I didn’t think you would stop.”

That night, I kissed our girls goodnight as they snuggled into their beds in our mud-walled, palm thatch house. Leanne, holding Blackie with one arm, hugged me tightly around the neck with the other. “I thought I had lost Blackie forever. But then you stopped and walked all the way back to get him. You are the best daddy in the world!”

So what had I done to become “the best daddy in the world”? Spent money? Not a dime. Spent time? A ten-minute walk which is nothing in a three-day trip. Spent time in profound thought and planning? Naw, not a bit. Exercised my sensitivity? Well, maybe a little.

It was, after all, hard to ignore three daughters pounding their fists on the roof of a truck cab, just inches above my head, and screaming, Daddy! Daddy! And then, when I got down and saw a tearstained face and shoulders racking with sobs, even a relatively insensitive lout like me would tend to perceive there might be something going on that needed attention. I listened as Valorie explained the problem. Aha! A problem! I’m a problem solver, so this was right down my alley. And so I became, in the opinion of one 8-year-old girl, “The Best Daddy in the World.”

In summary: 1) I noticed something needed attention. 2) I listened as the problem was explained. 3) I used my gifts and abilities to solve the problem and meet the need.

If you are thinking, Hmm, I’m going to follow this simple three-step program, so that on this Father’s day I will be my kid’s hero, here is some advice. In this Blackie incident, I didn’t need my wife’s help to sense something needed my attention but usually I need to ask her to help focus my attention on what is needed. I sometimes need her to explain the problem. And when I am really dense she needs to suggest what I could do about it. You may want to do the same. Then you act, using your best abilities and gifting, and Tadaa! You become a hero.

It doesn’t take a lot to make a deep and lasting impression on a young daughter or son. May our heavenly Father help us earthly fathers to make positive impressions, maybe even heroic impressions, on our children.

Lessons from a Coffee Drinker

Brazilians know how to drink coffee: North Americans don’t. Having drunk coffee regularly with Brazilians for nearly 25 years, I always suspected they did it the right way. Now there is scientific proof.

Dr. James Wyatt at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago determined that if you drink just a few ounces of coffee every hour throughout the day, instead of a large amount first thing in the morning, it will keep you alert all day long.

That is, of course, exactly how Brazilians drink their cafezinho: a small two-ounce cup, filled with strong espresso coffee and plenty of sugar. In cities you are never more than a minute’s walk from a stand or shop where you can get your hourly dose. Every visitor to a business or government office is handed a cafezinho the moment the visit starts. Steady little shots of caffeine all day long. In contrast, we 110 million North American coffee drinkers start our day with an extra large Tim Horton’s or Starbucks to get our morning jolt. Now Dr Wyatt tells us we’re doing it all wrong.

We do like to go for the Big Event, don’t we? And not just in coffee drinking either. We tend to go for the strong focus, the major push, and the all out effort, but avoid the slow, steady, daily, drip, drip, drip of continued action. We are event oriented, not process focused.

Many would-be authors get hugely inspired at a writers’ conference and start writing a book, but then after a while — seven chapters in my case — the sheer dailyness of it all dries up the inspiration and the book goes into the bottom drawer for good.

Think of how much time, effort, planning and expense people put into their wedding. But what about their marriage? I have met couples who desperately needing to learn about marriage who refuse to buy and read a good marriage book because, “It’s too expensive, and besides we don’t have time to read.”

Exercise clubs and spas flourish because they know people will buy a membership, start a program full of good intentions, but after a few weeks drop out.

I know Christians who spend hours in church on Sunday, getting their full 16 ounces of worship, teaching, prayer and fellowship, but never open their Bibles the rest of the week.

There is nothing wrong with a major kick-off event. I remember giving my life to God to be a missionary. It was a major emotional and spiritual event in my life. But that was followed by nearly fifty years of thousands of little, daily decisions — small acts of obedience in the same direction.

This required daily re-commitment, scheduling, planning and discipline. You know, the sort of things few of us can do without help from other people. We need encouragement, practical help, and someone to whom we are accountable.

Inscribe Christian Writers Fellowship is where I got the help to restart my first book and keep writing every day. My third book has just been published. I could not have done it without the encouragement of other Inscribe writers.

And, of course, my hourly dose of coffee. Time for one right now.

This post is my contribution to the ‘Inscribe Summer Blog Tour’. For more about the tour, a blogging schedule, or to find out how to join Inscribe, go to the above blog tour link. If you leave a comment, you will also be eligible for some great prizes!

Readers who receive my posts by email: Please comment by emailing me. jack_popjes@wycliffe.ca