Meditating on Light

The Story
After four years of working with the Canela people of Brazil, we finally received the boxes of literacy primers. The villagers were eager to use these illustrated booklets to learn to read their Canela alphabet that Jo and I had invented during those years of analysis and language learning.

Now the books were here, but there was a huge problem. Adult Canelas work in their fields from sunrise to sunset, so they could come to classes only in the evening when it was too dark to see the blackboard or their books. Even the tiny oil lamps with their flickering, candle-sized flames could not dispel the darkness.

To solve that problem, Jo and I took our direction from God himself, who, as the first act of creation, said, “Let there be light,” and there was light! So as the first act of the creation of a literate Canela society, we brought in some 12-volt fluorescent light fixtures, connected them to a car battery that we charged with a 35-year-old war surplus hand-cranked generator, and, “There was light!”

From Entering Light to Bringing Light

Valorie Tutors Young Men at Night Class

It was light shining on their booklets that opened the door to giving Canelas the choice to learn new skills and gain further knowledge or to remain as they were.
We helped scores of Canelas to read, and we were thrilled that some of them passed on what they had learned and taught other Canelas to read. These Canela teachers were like Light bearers, passing on the Light to others.

It reminded me of how Jesus describes Himself, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12. He tells us, “You are the Light of the world. Let your Light shine before people in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father, who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14,16.

God Also Gives People a Choice
Just as we gave the Canelas a choice, so God, for the past two-thousand years, has given many people an opportunity: Enter the Light, and become a Light-bearer, versus Stay in darkness.

About this choice, Jesus said, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of Light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light and will not come into the Light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” John 3:19-20.

Some Canelas were not interested in learning to read, but this didn’t deter us. Some rejected learning because they thought they were too old, or their eyes were bad, or they had several younger family members who were readers. We encouraged ourselves by focusing on a significant goal—still fifteen years in the future—the translation of God’s Word into the Canela language, to be printed in books and distributed to the literate Canelas.

2 Corinthians 4:6 repeats the theme that God, who first ordered ‘Light to shine in the darkness,’ has flooded our hearts with His Light. We now can enlighten people because we can give them knowledge of the glory of God, as we see it in Jesus Christ.

So What?
This is what we all can do: meditate on every aspect of Jesus, the Light of the world—His love for us, His constant presence with us, and His invitation to cast all our cares on Him. The more we ponder on all these and other qualities of Jesus, the more His Light shines into our souls, minds, emotions, and bodies, and the more we shed Light to others.

Jo and I have never regretted bringing electric light to the Canela students, and even more so, we are over-the-top blessed that God made us Light bearers so that Canelas could enter the Light. We want to continue to be Light bearers to people around us today.

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Not Just a Warning

The Warning
“Don’t you know? Those people want to kill you!” My friend meant it as a warning, but when he explained, I took it as a great compliment.

The Explanation
One Monday morning in 1972, I walked 35 kilometres from the Canela village to the Ourives river, swam across it, and slept on its bank. The next day walked another 35 kilometres to the town of Barra do Corda. I stayed with Jim, a missionary friend. After mailing my letters, I spent the day buying dental and other medical supplies needed in the village. I enjoyed another night’s rest and the following morning at breakfast announced I was walking back to the village.

Jim looked up with concern and said, “You can’t walk back to the village.”

“Why not? I just walked down Monday and Tuesday. I can surely walk back Thursday and Friday. The medicines aren’t that heavy.”

“Don’t you know?” Jim said, “Some of those people along the trail want to kill you! Many people living in the hamlets between town and the river are relatives of the storekeepers in town and they don’t like you.”

“Why? What did I ever do to them?”

“Your name is mud among the merchants. For generations they’ve been ripping off the Canelas who come into town to trade baskets for tools and cloth. But last year, you and Jo taught many Canelas to read and do arithmetic. Now the storekeepers can’t cheat them anymore. Everyone knows you are here and that you will be walking back. If some hothead sees you are alone, he might well take a shot at you.”

The Affirmation
I happily accepted Jim’s offer of a ride to the river in his jeep. I was glad to get through the dangerous area safely and for the 35 kilometres I didn’t have to walk. Beyond that, however, I felt a deep happiness that had nothing to do with physical safety or comfort. I felt profoundly affirmed for our years of language analysis and educational work among the Canela that were now making a positive impact. As linguists and teachers we had brought about justice for the oppressed and downtrodden.

The Joy
The joy I felt reminded me of the four levels of affirmation and praise that C. S. Lewis wrote about:

  • The first level is looking at work we have done and saying to ourselves, “Hey, I did a good job!” It is what the Creator did after each act of creation, as recorded repeatedly in Genesis 1, “God saw that it was good.”
  • The second level is someone else telling us, “You did a good job!” God wants us to praise Him for what He did. After doing a good job, we all have a basic need to hear someone tell us that we did a good job.
  • The third level is overhearing someone telling another, “Hey, she did a good job!” God wants to overhear us telling others how well He worked in our lives. Discovering that the merchants were no longer able to cheat the Canelas was like overhearing someone say, “Jack and Jo did a good job!” and I was full of joy, and still am.
  • The highest level of affirmation is God praising us for doing a good job. At Creation He praised His own works having seen that they were good. When God looks Jo and me in the eye and says, “You did a good job!” our joy will be complete

The Epilogue
It is now 45 years and two generations later. Many Canelas adults and all the young people now can read and write in their own language as well as in Portuguese. Bright, eager-to-learn Canela students now attend higher grades in town. They are earning income and come into the stores with money in their hands where storekeepers treat them as the equals they are.

The Need
Many millions of people all over the developing world are still like the Canelas were when Jo and I arrived in their village— illiterate, and without any of God’s Word in their language. We are nearly 80 years old, but if we could revert to being in our twenties . . . we’d do it again!

 

 

 

 

Mandate, God, Prayer, or Coincidence?

In 1983, a group of 40,000 Sudanese people called the Tira were listed on the Bibleless Peoples Prayer Project as not having even a single word of the Bible translated into their language. Today, twenty-eight years later, many Tira are Christians and read the Bible in their own language.

Here’s what happened:

  • In November of 1983, David and Ray, two American students signed up to pray for the Tira with the Bibleless Peoples Prayer Project.
  • In May of 1986, Jerry and Jan promised to pray for this group.
  • In March 1990, Jane and Margeanne committed themselves to pray.

In August 1990, a report came to the Prayer Project organizers that a young Tira man, Avajani, was studying linguistics and Bible translation techniques. The organizers wrote to encourage him with the news that three teams were praying for his people group. They gave the names and the dates when they began to pray. Avajani’s response was astonishing!

  • Avajani told them he became a Christian in November 1983, the month David and Ray began to pray.
  • He was accepted for theological studies in May 1986, when Jerry and Jan started to pray. He heard about courses in Bible translation and was accepted as a student in March 1990, when Jane and Margeanne started to pray.

An atheist reading this sort of astonishing coincidence might well mutter to himself, “Hmm, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think that God was involved.”

God is definitely at work on planet Earth, and He invites us to join Him. He moves some to pray, and some to do hands on service. He wants every person to hear about Him in the language they know best.

Blessings,
Jack

Brief Introduction to Jack’s New Column, The Mandate

Welcome to The Mandate! (Mandate son of Look)

This is the column where I will focus strongly on cross-cultural missions, Bible translation around the world, cultural anthropology, basic literacy in societies that have been illiterate for generations, and the beauty and intricacy of human language.

In short, these columns will be like those I wrote in The Look when I was telling stories from our 22 years of living and working among the Canela people of Brazil. I will be writing about the biblical basis of cross-cultural missions, about how important it is that believers are mobilized to go to every part of the world and share the Good News with those who are not yet believers.

The definition of “mandate” is “an official command or instruction from an authority” and obviously refers to what we know as “The Great Commission” from Jesus to evangelize the world and disciple the nations.

This columns, or posts will be shorter than The Look was, no more than half the length. They will be easier to read, absorb and put into practice. Although they are shorter, I expect their impact will be the same.

So, what about all those neat stories from my personal life, and those incisive insights into current events that were not focused on missions? I will continue to write, bringing a biblical perspective to these things too, but not in The Mandate. I am starting another blog, where I will post about family life, marriage, education, history, current events, etc.

It too will be shorter than The Look, but will make an impact. It won’t be focused on missions but I fully expect there to be a missions flavour.

I thought of calling it INsights and OUTflows, you know, the idea of reading, remembering or experiencing something that leads to a biblical insight which then flows from my mind into yours. But knowing me, I thought I would instead call it, INsights and OUTbursts. I think you will know why!

I will, of course, continue to write stories and anecdotes. As a “doddering old dotard,” I have more anecdotes and stories than ever. I must be in my anecdotage.

Please go to the top of the column and click on Follow in the upper left part of your screen. You can all click on Share to send it to others. Or go to the side bar on the right and click on Subscribe, or Follow by e-mail. Eventually I will stop sending out this column directly to your email Inbox and instead rely on you signing up and getting it automatically.

Let me know what you think of this new effort at communication. What you like, what you don’t like, what your recommend. This development is still a work in progress.

By the way, remember that you can hold down the Control button on your keyboard and then roll the Scroll wheel on you mouse to increase or decrease the size of the font. Make it the size you like.