The Letter from Ireland

“You guys are so fortunate! You don’t even know how blessed you are!” Hearing our friends, fellow linguists and Bible translators in Brazil telling us this surprised and confused us. What are they talking about? we wondered.

The Report
We had just reported at a regional conference on our first year’s work with the Canela people. “The Canelas gave us Canela names and adopted us into their families,” we said. “They are happy to help us learn their language, and the chief keeps urging us to invent a way of writing Canela, so we can teach people to read their own language. We have more helpers than we know what to do with.”

The Complaints
It turned out that some of our friends struggled to be accepted by the people in their villages. Some complained that they couldn’t find anyone willing to pronounce words repeatedly, so they could learn the language. Others had made learn-to-read booklets but found no one who had any interest in learning to read.

Jo and I had no idea why God was blessing our work among the Canela in such a startlingly obvious way. It certainly wasn’t because we paid the villagers so well. Our income was well below where it should have been, and we simply couldn’t pay any more than the bare minimum.

The Letter
Then, one day, we received a letter from an Irishman named Joe that explained it all:

“Dear Brother Jack and Sister Jo,
I just heard that you were assigned to translate the Word of God for the Canela people of Brazil and I am delighted. In the 1920s I was a young missionary traveling from one village to another evangelizing the Portuguese speaking Brazilians. One day my companions and I stumbled on a village we had not known was there. The people couldn’t understand Portuguese, and we couldn’t understand anything they said. Moreover, they were a fierce looking group, carrying clubs, spears and large bush knives. We did not want to stay the night there. So we traveled on and slept in the jungle.”

The Answer
He went on to tell us that he later discovered this people group was called the Canela. Then he told us a little more about himself, and we were astonished to read that he started to pray for the Canela people ten years before my wife and I were even born!

He continued to pray, without ever receiving any further information about the Canela, for forty years until Jo and I arrived as thirty-year-old missionaries. That’s when he wrote his letter to us.

He then prayed faithfully for another twenty-two years until we published a partial Bible translated into Canela and Jesus built His Church among the Canela people. Then, after Joe the Irishman had prayed for sixty-two years, the Lord took him Home, no doubt, to his exceeding great reward.

The Prayer Project
After Jo and I left Brazil, we were involved in an intensive public speaking ministry throughout Canada and the United States. After two years, we spoke at a conference in Surinam, so we took the opportunity to cross the border into Brazil to visit the Canela. It was planting season, and about two-thirds of the people were away in their fields.

We walked from house to house greeting our Canela friends and renewing acquaintance with them. We also took pictures of individuals, groups, couples, and families. We kept a careful record of the names of each person on the picture and how they were related to the others.

When we returned home, we printed out the four-hundred pictures and the names. Then during the next speaking tour, I told the story of Joe the Irishman and his sixty-two years of praying. I then said, “If any of you here would like to pray every day for a Canela man, woman or child by name and picture, come and see us after the meeting.”

When volunteers came to ask for a picture and a name, I warned them that they would be praying “in the dark” with no updated information, just as the Irishman had prayed. Even so, after a few months, four-hundred individual prayer warriors across North America volunteered to pray for the Canelas on the pictures.

The Rest of the Story
I still receive notes from people telling me they continue to pray. One lady wrote, “I signed up to pray for a little three-year-old girl over twenty years ago. I have been praying for her every day and updating her age. I am now praying for her as a twenty-five-year-old wife and mother of children.”

God continues to bless the work of the missionaries currently in the village who promote the reading and studying of His Word. As a result, the Church among the Canela continues to grow.

This is God’s work, but He invites His people to be involved. The Irishman was involved in prayer for most of his life. God invited Jo and me to spend thirty years of our lives in training, linguistics, teaching, and translation. Others are involved in giving and prayer.

Some of us, like Jo and I, have seen the results of our work. Others, like those praying “in the dark” will only see the results, and receive God’s reward, in eternity.

How to Raise a Missions Support Partnership Team

It’s a welcome trend in churches. People of all ages are following a vision for ministry and are spending their savings, vacations, and sometimes more, to meet critical needs outside the church.

The ministries that spark these visions vary widely. Some are in the inner city, some are overseas. Some require special skills, others just willing hearts and hands. Some require a few weeks, others could take a lifetime. The ministries differ, and so do the workers. But there is one thing common to these situations—the workers need prayer and financial support from those who stay home.

Occasionally someone, from grandchildren to fellow missionaries, ask me if I have any ideas on how to raise the support team they need. I usually tell them that in the same way God prepared them to get involved in this ministry, He has also prepared people to support them through prayer and gifts.

“Ask God to lead you to meet these prepared people.” I say, “Then be ready to share your vision with them.” So how do you share your vision?

A pastor’s wife used to kiss her husband as he was about mount the platform to preach, and whisper in his ear, “K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Sweetie.”

Excellent advice for anyone who wants to communicate something important. A simple outline, and one clear, plain story to paint a picture. Nothing complicated that might confuse, or distract the hearer’s attention. I usually advise the worker to simply answer the following questions and illustrate with a little story:

  1. Need: What is the deepest need wherever it is that you are going to work?
  2. Vision: What makes you the perfect person to help meet this need?
  3. Obstacles: What are the obstacles that stand in your way of meeting the need?
  4. Action: What do you want your hearer to do?

Here’s an example that can be adapted to any other support-raising scenario:

The Need.

Country X has very few Christians and almost none of the women can read, write, or do simple arithmetic. Some of those that can read, run small businesses from their homes, making things and selling them. Their families prosper in comparison to the families of women who are illiterate.

(I heard of Lita, mother of four who tried to run a small store from her home. The business failed within months because the merchants who sold her the goods cheated her, she couldn’t read the simple instructions that came with some of the items to be sold, and she had no way of keeping records except in her head.)

There is a deep need, therefore, for a teaching ministry among illiterate women, coupled with evangelism through the Word of God.

My Vision

I am an experienced schoolteacher and, through an outreach ministry of my home church, have worked for years with women who dropped out of school but want to go back and graduate. I loved coaching and teaching them, and led many women to Jesus. I enjoyed a good salary and pleasant working conditions. My life was great, but as I prayed, I felt I could do more to advance God’s Kingdom if I worked in an area of greater need. So I quit my job, sold my furniture, gave up my apartment lease, and am now ready to leave. I will be working under the direction of mission agency X which will keep me accountable, orient me to the local culture, and guide me as I improve my language skills.

The Obstacles

Satan opposes Christ’s Kingdom and is certain to counterattack. Just as David had 30 mighty men in his army, so I need 30 men, women and children in my prayer protection team to pray for me daily informed by my regular emailed updates. I also need $X to cover travel, as well as financial partners who will commit to send enough money each month to cover my personal and ministry expenses, which will be about $X.

I long to go right now and help hundreds of women like Lita learn the skills she needs to provide for her family. Unfortunately neither the prayer protection team, nor the financial partnerships are yet complete. These are the only obstacles to my going.

The Action

Please consider joining me in this critical, Kingdom-building ministry by becoming part of my prayer protection team, or one of my financial partners, or both. (In the rack in front of you is a small envelope, please take it out and look at it now. Please check the appropriate boxes on the envelope, fill in your contact information and drop it into the offering plate. Or, better yet, hand it to me sometime later. I’m ready to answer any other questions privately at any time.)

counselA simple four-minute speech like this, covers everything a potential partner needs to know. The example was in the setting of a speech to a group, but can, of course, be used in a one-on-one conversation as well.

By dropping the story about Lita and the references to the envelope, (in parentheses) the whole presentation is only two minutes long. It is what writer’s call an “elevator pitch” where the writer presents the idea for an article to an editor while riding in an elevator.

You may not need this advice personally, but I’m pretty sure you know someone who does. Feel free to forward it to them.