The First Story
If you have done repairs to a loose kitchen sink you will know what suffering is. As you lie on your back, the edge of the under-sink-cabinet floor causes excruciating pain as it tries to pry apart your vertebrae. You are peering up into semi-darkness, holding a flashlight in one hand, the other feeling for the loose under-the-sink bolt, and needing a third hand to find the tools lying on the floor beside you. In the meantime, bits of grit and dust keep falling into your eyes.
I had been in that position for much longer than I wanted to be, and still, the job was not done. Just then, Ryan, our oldest grandson who had observed my torment for some time, made an insightful comment for a young teenager.
“You are not very good at fixing this kind of thing, are you, Grandpa?”
“No, I’m not, Ryan. My back hurts, and I hate working way up above my head, with dirt falling into my eyes.”
He then made another perceptive comment.
“But later on, Grandpa, you’ll be able to write a great story about this. It’ll be a really funny one.”
Yes! That I could do. Ryan and the other grandkids had heard me tell hundreds of true stories about all kinds of adventures and hard times—many with funny and always encouraging endings.
I remembered that sink fixing episode today as I researched my 1987 diary for stories to include in my memoir of our translation work among the Canela people of Brazil.
The Second Story
Here’s the story that stood out. In 1967, twenty years earlier, Pedro, the Canela village chief, had invited Josephine and me to come to his village to live and work. He wanted us to do medical work and teach his people to read and write. We had done this and much more, including saving the life of his son by driving him four hours to town to a doctor who confirmed my diagnosis of appendicitis and sent him to a hospital where he had surgery just in time.
We had always had a good relationship with Pedro, and when he asked if I could drive him, his wife and two or three men down the jeep trail a few hours to meet some people, I agreed. A continued good relationship with him was worth four hours of driving over rough terrain.
At noon, I drove our little quarter-ton pickup truck to his house. Pedro and his wife
climbed on, and so did ten other people.
“That’s too heavy, Pedro,” I said. “Look at the springs; they are all bending the wrong way and will break. I can take the five people you asked for but not all twelve of you. I broke all four of these springs this year and replaced them. But now they’ll all break too. I’m sorry, but I can’t take all of you.”
Pedro exploded in anger. He stalked off directly to the local government agency. He complained to the manager, telling him, “Get on your shortwave radio and tell your bosses in the city that we no longer want these teachers in our village.”
He stayed right there until the manager had sent that radiogram. Happily, several other Canela leaders overheard this order. They told others in the village who sent a large delegation to the government manager saying, “Everyone in the village wants the teachers to stay.”
These events were the beginning of an enormous confusion that eventually involved directors of the government indigenous agencies in three cities. These authorities repeatedly ordered us to leave the village, and each time the Canelas made the local manager send radiograms objecting to the order.
Even our own Wycliffe director got involved. He was called to the agency office in Belem, where the agency director told him, “The Canela chief, Pedro, and Blackpalm, a sub-chief, both want your people out of their village.” Just then, Blackpalm, who happened to be in Belem for medical reasons, walked into the office and heard this statement; he objected.
“The only one who wants the teachers out is Pedro. He’s a hothead and gets violently angry when he can’t get his way. I love working with the teachers. I taught them much of our language starting twenty years ago. They have been a huge benefit to health and education in our village.”
The Last Story
What a coincidence! No, it wasn’t. It was a God-incidence. God is in control and kept us productively working for three more years until the Canela Bible was published.
At the public Bible distribution ceremony, I gave Pedro the first Bible I took out of the box since he was the chief who had invited us to come. He made an impassioned speech. “Treat this book respectfully. It is more valuable than a cow or a new shotgun. It is God’s letter to us. Don’t tear pages out of it to make your cigarettes. Don’t leave it out in the rain. Our friends have worked for more than twenty years to make this book. Respect their work.”
What a change in Pedro from just a few years ago! I couldn’t help chuckling, and covered my grin with my hand.