The Best Question I Ever Answered with YES!

The Bedtime Stories
Our twin grandsons were born the year after we returned to Canada from our decades of work in Brazil—the first grandkids. A few years later, since they lived nearby, I was in demand to tell them bedtime stories. At the time, Jo and I were deeply involved in an intensive six years in top-level Wycliffe leadership, serving as CEO (now called President) of Wycliffe Canada. We had literally moved From Mud Hut to Executive Suite. (Hmm, that sounds like a good title for a book of memoirs.)

Eventually, vigorous games, like tag. were added to the bedtime stories. By the time they were ten years old, however, I didn’t play tag with them anymore because, at sixty-plus years old, I could no longer catch them. We also had a six-year-old granddaughter, Savannah, living near us in Canada and four younger granddaughters in California. Oh, and of course Savannah’s baby brother Aidan.

I wondered what life would be like being an active grandpa to eight young grandchildren, who increased in strength and stature every year, whereas I seemed to be going in the other direction. The only thing I could do to entertain them was to tell them stories of my life. I told them tales of growing up in Holland, and I made up bedtime stories on the spot with ideas they gave me. I longed to play more active games with them. Yet, their energy tended to surpass mine, and I ended up dropping out. I wondered how Savannah’s other Grandpa, the one living in Saskatoon, interacted with his grandkids.

A Granddaughter’s Question
Yeah, I was feeling rather gloomy about my Grandpa role. I talked to God, telling him I thought I wasn’t much of a grandpa, but I didn’t get a response. Then, one day, I made a phone call, and everything changed. I called our daughter Cheryl’s home (remember the time when every home still had a landline phone), and little Savannah answered.

“Hi Savannah,” I said, “this is grandpa.”

There was a moment of silence, and then Savannah’s voice came through hesitantly, “Um, are you the grandpa who tells us stories?”

Whoosh! A bright white light of understanding flooded my mind! I saw myself and my future in full clarity.

“Yes, Savannah! I sure am the Grandpa who tells you stories!”

I remember nothing else about that phone conversation. Savannah’s question, however, was God’s answer to my prayer and has guided my actions and ministry goals ever since.

A Wife’s Suggestion
After six years as leader of Wycliffe Canada, Jo and I served as Wycliffe leaders for three years in the Caribbean, living in Trinidad and travelling to Barbados, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. I told stories of missions and Bible translation in hundreds of churches and other meetings. But often, on Sunday afternoons, we were at home for five hours between church services.  One day Jo said, “Remember how you used to write a Sunday Afternoon Letter from Dad to our three daughters after they left Brazil? Why don’t you write a Sunday Afternoon Letter from Grandpa to the grandkids?”

Good idea! Jo often gives me good ideas, which I accept gladly and have a powerful and positive impact. So, I started writing story-letters to the eight grandkids each Sunday afternoon and emailing the letters to the three sets of parents. On Monday night, the parents read my story-letter to the grandkids as a bedtime story. During those three years, I wrote scores of made-up stories. The total number of words I wrote in short fiction tales for my grandkids was seven thousand words longer than The Hobbit. Hey, it’s just a page number comparison; it has nothing to do with quality!

A Calling Confirmed
After that three-year assignment to the Caribbean, I was invited to tell true stories of Bible translation to audiences to help them decide to support Wycliffe’s Bible translation work financially. Along with my personal speaking engagements, during those ten years, I told stories to about 750 audiences in 400 cities and nearly twenty countries.

Then, at age 76, I stopped travelling and sat down to write more books of stories. I have published five books of collections of story-based articles on Bible translation and three story-packed memoirs.

I thank God for confirming my calling as a storyteller that day twenty years ago when Savannah asked, “Are you the Grandpa who tells us stories?”



Really? I Had No Idea!

The First Story
Last week Jo and I were invited to the 125th anniversary of Innisfail Baptist Church. We started serving as pastor there fifty-eight years ago just before we left for Brazil. When introducing me as the speaker after the evening banquet, the current pastor told the audience that I had been the first missionary speaker he had heard after he started following Jesus as a teenager. The experience impacted him so strongly God used it to lead him into a life of full-time ministry. That happened during our first furlough in 1971-72. We didn’t know how we had impacted him until he told us last week.

The Second Story
This reminded Jo and me of a time several years ago when we spoke at a missions’ conference in central Alberta. A couple took us to their home for Sunday lunch during which I asked them to tell us their story. “I went to Bible school full time to prepare for cross-cultural missionary work” the husband said, “and my wife took classes part-time.”

He then told us about serving in several different ministries and about some startling ups and downs in their lives during which they experienced one astounding answer to prayer after another.

Jo and I were surprised when they told us that their call into full-time Christian service came one Sunday in a small mountain town in British Columbia when they heard us speak about our ministry among the Canela. Since they were new Christians, I was the first speaker they heard in church other than their pastor. God used our missionary stories to lead them to get training and begin a life of ministry. This event also happened in our first furlough many decades earlier! We had no idea that God had worked through us to point the way to ministry for them.

The Third Story
As Jo and I drove home talking about this story, I remembered the day I was waiting for my flight at a Canadian airport many years after we had completed the decades-long ministry among the Canela. A man sitting nearby leaned over and asked, “Are you Jack Popjes?”

1966 Prayer Reminder Card

I admitted I was, and he said, “I last saw you in 1966 when you spoke at a church telling us you and your family were about to leave for Brazil to learn an indigenous language and translate the Bible into it. I was a teenager at the time, and after I heard you, I gave my life to God for ministry.”

He went on to tell me that he had gone to seminary, had just completed twenty-five years as a pastor in one church and was now on his way to start ministering in another church. He had kept track of Jo and my translation work among the Canela through our newsletters. Again, Jo and I had no idea that God had worked through us, three decades earlier, to call this young man into ministry.

How Many Others?
I wonder now about the other occasions when God chose us to impact people to make major life decisions. It appears God had another, more hidden ministry for Jo and me to do besides the obvious one of translating the Bible for the Canela people of Brazil.

Future Joy
One of the joys of eternity for God’s sons and daughters will be when we meet people who were blessed by God through what we said, what we did, and how we lived our lives.

And what will be just as exciting is to finally meet people whose words God used to impact me for good. I have, of course, thanked those I know personally, but there are also authors of articles and books I want to thank.

I especially look forward to thanking the first Bible translators, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They not only recorded the life of Jesus and all the stories He told so that the whole world could learn about Him, but they also translated everything from Aramaic to Greek. And the principles of translation that they practiced are still followed by Bible translators today.

The Final Take-Away
It’s exciting and a bit scary to realize that you and I are constantly influencing people—by our passion, by our words, and by our actions—yet most of the time we don’t even realize it.

May we all be the kind of people through whom God works to challenge others, to inspire, and impact people in positive ways.