The Two Notes

“We hate you, we reject you, and we never want to see your faces in our village again!”

The note, signed by the young Canela chief of a new village, was addressed to Jo and me. Soon friends ran up to tell us the same kind of message had been sent to the chief and the leaders of the old, main Canela village where we lived as Bible translating missionaries in Brazil.

That note hurt!  Jo and I had been adopted many years before by Canela families, and the chief of the new village was a younger brother in my extended family. He and I had always gotten along well, and now this.

The Power Struggle
The previous year when some families talked of starting another village in a location near a different creek, everyone thought it was a good idea since the main village was getting a bit crowded. People from both villages helped to build homes, clear jungle, and plant manioc fields in the new location. But after a year, relationships deteriorated into a political power struggle between the two chiefs, each wanting the most people in his village.  And now, after weeks of vicious gossip, the new village chief and leaders had sent notes breaking off all relations with those of us in the old village. According to their oral history, this mutual hate between related villages was a long-standing tradition.

Our Response
Jo and I talked and prayed together and then sent back the following letter:
“Dear younger brother chief,
We received your note and read it, and it seems that you hate us and reject us and never want to see us again.  We don’t know why you feel that way.  Maybe someone lied to you about us.  We want to remind you that we are of Jesus’ group and, therefore, we don’t hate you back, nor do we reject you.  Instead, we love you now and always will.  To prove that we love you, we are sending twenty litres of lamp oil and thirty kilos of salt for you to distribute to all the people in the new village.
Your older brother.”

Angry Words
After we sent the letter and the gifts we faced a barrage of angry words from our relatives and friends in our village.

“Why did you send them gifts?  Don’t they hate us all?  That’s fine. We hate them back. We don’t need them.  Just let them sit out there in the dark without lamp oil. Let them eat tasteless food. They hate and reject us. Fine, we’ll hate and reject them!”

That evening the elders’ council called me to attend their meeting in the village plaza to listen to the chief and his counselors.  Each one spoke his piece.  All had the same theme.

“They hate and reject us, so, therefore, we’ll hate and reject them.  Also, we don’t understand why our friend sent them gifts in exchange for their insult.”

Then the chief turned to me and said,
“They even treated you that way, when all you have ever done is good. You taught them to read and write. You gave them medicine. You’ve never done anything against any of them.  I don’t know why you sent them that gift.  I hate them on your behalf!” He lapsed into silence, and I asked permission to speak.

My Explanation
“I want to talk to you,” I said.  “I’m not just going to give you my thoughts about this; I’m going to tell you what Our Great Father in the Sky thinks about this.”

I then went on to tell the chief, the elders council, and the village men gathered to listen what Jesus taught about how to treat our enemies.  I quoted Jesus and his orders to do good to those who hate us, to feed our enemies, and let them insult us. They listened, scowling and muttering to each other.  In the end, they said they still didn’t understand, but they wouldn’t be upset with me anymore for having sent the gift.

“Anyway,” they said, “it might make that group over there feel ashamed of themselves.”

Jo and I went to bed that night with happy hearts, possibly the only happy hearts in either village.

The Second Note
Three days later another note arrived from my younger brother chief—one with a startlingly different message.
“We’ve changed our mind. We don’t hate you, and we want to make peace.  You can come to our village any time you want.”

Whew! Thank you, Jesus!

It still took some months—a centuries-old culture based on mutual hatred doesn’t change overnight—but the bad feeling between the villages had begun to dissipate. Eventually, the Canelas turned the new village area into a joint manioc raising project, and the inhabitants began returning to the main village.

Jo and I were delighted that besides translating God’s Word in the Canelas’ language, we had a God-given, perfect public opportunity to translate His Word into action for everyone to see.

After this demonstration, no one in either village had any doubt that change was possible and that a new ethos of mutual love and acceptance could someday replace the old spirit of hatred and rejection.

I Distinctly Remember Forgetting That

“Jack!” my usually loving and soft spoken wife growled at me, “You are so bitter and so harsh, you can’t even control what you are saying and who you are saying it to.” She followed up this judgement by recommending that I quieten down and go to sit by the creek behind the house to meditate, think and pray.

She was right, as she often is, so I walked down the path from our mud-walled house in the Canela village to the small creek, thinking back over the past year. We, along with all other linguistic and educational teams working with Brazil’s indigenous people, had been under increasing pressure from the new leftist government. Numerous attacks on us “culture destroying missionaries” and “emissaries of multinational corporations” accused us of everything from being spies to exploiting the indigenous peoples for our own profit.

Since none of these accusations were even remotely true of us, we had prayed consistently that the unreasonable demands on our time would cease and the blockages and obstructions to the work would be lifted. Instead things got worse. I had not been reacting well.

I sat down on the log dock and thought of the names of individuals who were declared enemies and others who had hurt me. The Holy Spirit was quick to bring to mind ten people and situations that I deeply resented. I wrote them down in the notebook I always carried, while He reminded me that I was to forgive each one on the list and love them instead.

I forgive you. I'm letting it go.

I forgive you. I’m letting it go.

It took a long time. But I eventually did it. I underlined the first name and said aloud, “I, Jack Popjes, hereby forgive you . . . . . for . . . .” I said the name and the offence. Then I tore the name off the list and, further tearing it into small bits, I dropped them into the creek repeating, “I forgive you, I love you,” as the pieces floated down stream.

I then processed the second name in the same way, then the third. As I said, it took a long time. At the end, I prayed and thanked the Holy Spirit for bringing these people to my mind and helping me to forgive them. I walked back to the house, found Jo praying for me, and told her what I had done. I hugged her and whispered my thanks and sat down at my study table finally able to concentrate on work again. I had forgiven, but I didn’t think I would ever forget.

I was wrong.

A few weeks later, back on the mission centre, I told our colleagues at a prayer meeting what I had done to forgive. As I told the story, it dawned on me that of the ten names on my list I could only think of two. I had forgiven, committed myself to forget and God, who knows how to forget our sins, helped me to forget.

Decades later I came across a quote by Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, who, when someone reminded her of an earlier vicious verbal attack by an opponent, said, “I distinctly remember forgetting that.”

I know what she meant. I distinctly remember that forgiving-and-forgetting incident so clearly that I was able to tell you about it just now.

Jesus was very serious about our need to forgive, not only because we have been forgiven, but because God won’t forgive us our sins against Him, unless we forgive those who sinned against us.

What a relief forgiving brings! The air is fresher, the sun shines brighter, and the emotional load is lighter.

Been There, Done That, I Understand

Back in my hotel bed after yet another productive time spent in the bathroom, I tried to remember when I last had such a severe case of diarrhea. Hmm, Indonesia a few years ago, I thought, and of course Brazil, nearly every work session in the Canela village.

I then started a mental conversation with Jesus, first asking Him to heal me and give me my strength back, and soon. I also reminded Him I was supposed to be in a suit and tie, giving a story packed speech that evening and every night that week before an audience of nicely dressed banquet guests who would be severely distracted if, in the middle of the speech, I had an accident or had to rush out to the nearest bathroom.

I was still mentally explaining my suffering to Him when the thought came, “Yes, I know.” And into my mind popped a vivid picture of Jesus grabbing some leaves and hurrying behind a boulder along the Jericho road to relieve Himself for the umptieth time while the disciples grinned knowingly.

Yes, the divine Jesus was also fully human and suffered the same problems we tend to suffer. “We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. . . . Though He was God’s Son, He learned trusting-obedience by what He suffered, just as we do” Hebrews 4:15, 5:8 (MSG).

Jesus2Meaning He was tempted to complain about being afflicted with infections and the resulting weaknesses especially when He was busy in ministry.

The next mental picture I got was of Jesus rejoining his disciples and laughing at his predicament.

I, however, was not laughing. I was not only tempted to complain, I did so, frequently, bitterly, and at length. I also claimed healing faithfully, but then doubted His willingness to instantly heal me since day after day nothing positive seemed to be happening. No, not a pretty picture.

It’s now a week later and after a five-day liquid diet, I’m happy to report my digestion is back on track. I’m thankful that there were no distracting accidents or interruptions during any of my five speeches although my presentations were noticeably weaker and less peppy.

I’m also thankful that I got a clearer view of the humanity of Jesus. He was not the thoroughly healthy figure in impeccably spotless white robes, wearing a halo and a devout expression so often pictured in paintings and biblical illustrations.

He looked and smelled a lot more like a Brazilian peasant farmer trudging back from his field to his village at sunset. Sweat stained shirt, dirt streaked pants, and feet the color of the soil they had been tramping since dawn.

Jesus traveled and ministered out in the open air. He also lived there. He and His band of young men slept on the ground, the grass, or the sand many nights, close to the dirt and dust of the earth. That showed on their clothes. He had dirt under his fingernails, and in many other places. He was often dead tired, falling to sleep instantly and soundly even in a tossing boat during a storm.

You know how when you go camping for the weekend you tend to feel gritty and grunky, smelling of sweat and campfire smoke? Then, when you get home, one of the first things you do is have a shower and put on clean clothes, right? Now think of going camping without a tent, sleeping bag, pillow, propane stove, lamp, flashlight, or canned food, and hiking 15 miles a day, week after week for months. That’s what it was often like for Jesus and His band.

In comparison, my problem was a mere inconvenience. Instead of having to walk everywhere, I rode in a van. I slept in an impeccably clean hotel bed every night, and most afternoons, instead of in the sand off the side of the road. I had clean clothes, plenty of liquids, food, medicines, and  . . .

Oh, Lord, forgive my complaining!

Are you complaining about something today?
Jesus says to you, “Yes, I know, I’ve been there too.”