Mothers Buy a Better Future

“You don’t know who this is, do you?” (Don’t you hate that question?)
The Canela woman sitting on the front porch of our village house asked me again, “Don’t you know who this is?” pointing at the smiling young mother who held a nursing baby.

“Of course I do,” I said, guessing bravely, “she is your daughter.” She laughed and said, “I have many daughters. You just don’t remember, do you? Without your help when she was born, we both would have died.”

Instant memory flash-back to the week we arrived in the Canela village for the first time. A serious medical case: an anemic young woman, first baby, prolonged labour, tearing birth, burning with post-partum fever, and a sickly-looking baby. I injected the mom with a first dose of antibiotics and gave her some antipyretic and vitamin pills. My wife, Jo, and I prayed for healing and returned to treat both mom and baby every day until they were well.

And now, over twenty years later, there both of them sat on our porch, a happy young mother and grandmother. What’s more, both women had learned to read and were there to recite the Bible passages they had memorized, thus earning the right to receive a Canela Bible of their own when they arrived from the publishers.

Mothers pay a painful price to bring their babies into the world. Good mothers continue to pay the price to buy a better future for their children.

My mother gave up a stable environment, a comfortable home in the Netherlands, and all her friends and relatives, emigrating to Canada to buy her children a better future. She paid the price of loneliness living in isolated farmhouses—the only places we could afford to live. She lived in poverty as we struggled through those first years of immigrant life. And it didn’t stop there.

Sixteen years later, my mom, now a grandmother, took a deep breath and again paid a painful price to buy a better future. She blessed our move to Brazil—I, her oldest son, Jo, her only daughter in law, and Valorie, Leanne and baby Cheryl, her only grandchildren. She wanted to buy a better future, not for herself, not for us, not for her grandchildren, but for the Canelas—a people group she had never met.

Jo’s mother paid the same painful price. She bought a better future for the Canelas as she said goodbye to her only child, her only son in law, and the only grandchildren she would ever have. It was nearly four years before either of our moms saw their grandchildren again. When we lived in the Canela village, it was often months before they received a letter from us.

Over twenty years later, both our mothers came to Brazil to celebrate the dedication and distribution of the Canela Bible. Both of them tasted a little of the reward that awaited them in heaven.

When a mother hugs her newborn baby for the first time, the joy is so great it almost makes her forget the painful price. So also, as our moms sat on the village plaza, watched the Canela people hug their new Bibles and heard them sing their love to God, they said, “It was hard to send our children to be missionaries. Our hearts ached for them. But it was worth it. Oh, yes, it was worth it!”

Every mother paid a painful price to buy each of us a future, and many have continued to pay. Let’s make sure we honour our mothers this Mothers’ Day and every day after that.

My Two Mothers Meet. Mama birthed me in Holland, Inxe adopted me in Brazil 30 years later.


That Other Good Friday

The Original Good Friday
For nearly two-thousand years, Christians around the world have remembered the day Jesus died an agonizing death on the cross. And we should remember. God’s Son volunteered to leave His home in heaven, come to this planet to fight against Satan, destroy his evil works and bring healing and peace. He completed his task by suffering, dying and then rising from the dead.

No wonder we assigned a special day to remember His sacrifice for us. We call that day Good Friday.

That Other Good Friday
For exactly one-hundred years Europeans and North Americans have remembered another Friday—the day the First World War ended. And we should remember. Millions of fathers, sons and daughters volunteered to leave their homes, and go to war to fight against fierce enemies, destroy their evil works and bring healing and peace. They completed their task by suffering and dying—multi-millions of them.

No wonder we assigned a special day to remember their sacrifice, and the sacrifice of countless other soldiers in all the subsequent wars this past century. We call that day Remembrance Day, the day the First World War ended when an Armistice was signed on Friday, November 11, 1918. It was the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. This year, this other Good Friday falls on a Sunday, November 11.

How Do We Remember?
While we lived in freedom and comfort at home—enjoying our lives in college, career, church, and sports—these soldiers fought in far-away wars to bring this freedom to others. How do we best remember and honour those who suffered the fear of sudden attack, the horror of injury and death all around them, and, for so many, the loss of their own lives?

For some of us, this other “Good Friday” is simply another holiday, a time to spend with family or friends, to relax or catch up on some fall work around the house and yard. For others, it is much more meaningful.

Those whose loved ones returned on stretchers, in wheelchairs or were buried in a far away country, keep this day as a remembrance of a life well lived.

Those who benefited from the sacrifices these soldiers made keep this day with a profound and heartfelt gratitude. I am one of those. I will always remember the day, sixty-two years ago, when the Canadian troops liberated Hilversum, my home-city in the Netherlands from five years of Nazi occupation.

How Should We Honour Soldiers?
How can we, how should we, how must we honour these veterans, both living and dead? Abraham Lincoln, during the dedication of a soldiers’ burial ground near Gettysburg, reminded his listeners that those men had died for the ideals of freedom and democracy. He urged them to dedicate themselves to these concepts so that “. . . these dead shall not have died in vain . . .”

Canadian army surgeon, Dr. John McRae closed his famous poem with the same sentiments:
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The Cause of War
On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The thirty articles in this declaration read like a biblical description of the Kingdom of God on Earth.

God wants every human being to enjoy freedom of speech and belief, and freedom from fear and want. These are the biblical Kingdom principles for which millions of soldiers fought, suffered and died.

When leaders such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot reject God, spitting their contempt on His ethics, they turn into monsters, start wars, kill multi-millions of people, and outrage the conscience of mankind.

What We Need To Do
These are also the Kingdom principles to which we, the living, need to commit ourselves to bring about. We need to apply them in our own lives and families, then in our communities and as far out as our ability and influence reaches.

After His death and resurrection, Jesus told His disciples to evangelize the world, to disciple the nations, and thus to advance the Kingdom of God on this earth.

This Sunday morning, November 11, as I stand still in silent remembrance, I will be profoundly thankful for the soldiers who died in battle against enemies who despised the basic teachings of God’s Kingdom and attacked my home country.

All we who believe the Bible is God’s Word need to honour these soldiers’ memory by rededicating ourselves to the vision of spreading His Word which is the source of these Kingdom principles. Let us recommit ourselves to do whatever it takes to provide God’s Word to every people group around the world . . .  in their own heart language.


In Praise of Single Women Missionaries

Because this Sunday is International Women’s Day, my first impulse was to write a long and personally satisfying blog post on the missionary woman who was most important to the Canela Bible translation program: my sweet wife, Jo. But since I reserve my Valentine’s day blog posts for eulogizing her, I will write this one instead:

In Praise of Single Women Missionaries

“We believe you would be a superb missionary, and we would be happy to send you out to represent our denomination on the mission field in Africa, except for two things: you are a woman, and you are not married.”

Johanna, a godly and capable woman who passionately loved her Lord and wanted to advance His Kingdom in the needy places of the world, was disappointed at the board’s decision.

Fortunately for her, for the Kingdom of God, and for tens of thousands of souls in Sudan and Nigeria, a number of individuals in her local church sponsored her ministry privately. They prayed, sent funds, and encouraged her during her years of ministry in Africa. The churches she planted continued to grow so much in strength and number that, seven years after her death in Africa, the denomination’s mission board formally adopted Nigeria as one of their mission fields.

The history of worldwide missions is replete with stories of how God used single women in astonishing ways to grow His Kingdom. Gladys, for instance, evangelized in China and cared for hundreds of orphans before and during the Second World War. Her book, The Little Woman was also made into a movie, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

A generation before, Mary lived and worked in Africa. Her story is the subject of two books; one of which is titled The White Queen of the Cannibals. She astounded Christians back home with matter-of-fact accounts of her death-defying dealings with native peoples.

My wife Jo and I hold single women missionaries in high respect. I remember with joy the gifted single women, though relatively anonymous, who helped us succeed in our linguistic and translation work. We absolutely could not have done it without them.

Patricia, a translator in a related language, calmed our fears that we had made a mistake in identifying seventeen phonemic vowels in the Canela language—there seemed to be far too many. She explained that the language she worked in had sixteen. She helped us to choose letters for the Canela alphabet and write up a clear description of each letter’s sound.

Eunice patiently walked me through the process of sorting out, and writing down, all the knowledge of the Canela grammar system I had swirling around in my head to make it understandable to others linguists.

Margery, after completing her own Bible translation project, painstakingly checked all our translation work, and happily reported that, although she tried, she had not been able to find a single nasty “collocational clash” in Acts. That was twenty-five years ago and although I have now forgotten what a “collocational clash” is, at the time I was enormously encouraged to hear that we did not have any.

Eight year-old Cheryl coaching a Canela adult through the learn-to-read booklet.

Eight year-old Cheryl coaching a Canela adult through the learn-to-read booklet.

Gloria’s knowledge and experience in developing “self-teaching” learn-to-read booklets was invaluable. With her help we made up highly effective illustrated reading primers. Students needed teaching only for the first dozen pages, then they picked up clues about the meaning of the new words and the shape of the new letters from the illustrations to finish the rest of the lessons practically without further help.

Isobel’s enthusiasm and encouragement helped us to produce a series of reading booklets of ever increasing complexity that prepared new readers to read the Scriptures.

Ruth’s commitment to the people group with whom she worked, and her willingness to live with them for months out in the bush without even a hut to call home, rebuked my love of comfort and challenged me to greater personal sacrifice.

Jane tripled my effectiveness when I suddenly found myself as the temporary executive director of the linguistic and translation organization in Brazil. She knew where to get the information I needed to make good decisions. She knew everything and everyone and had the experience I lacked.

A single woman’s life in a foreign land and culture is not easy. Indigenous societies often look down on single women. Naturally, many young women would prefer to marry and have a family. And yet, although they know that it is highly unlikely that they will find a suitable marriage partner on the mission field, they go, impelled by love for God and for His Kingdom.

I praise these women. So does God.


The Unwelcome Request—the Rest of the Story

“We want you to teach us the book of Our Great Father in the Sky.” the 15 young men had asked during our summer work session in the Canela village. Read it here:

During our brief break on the mission centre in Belem, at the mouth of the Amazon, Jo and I printed 30 copies of the book of Luke. When we returned to the village to start the next three-month work session we announced we would hold night classes for those who wanted to study the life of Jesus. We had no idea of the size of the job we had just taken on, but were soon to find out. I was going to feel like the worst missionary in the world!

Canelas wanting to join the class overwhelmed us. We limited it to adults who could read Canela fluently, write clearly and who promised to come every night.

We started with about 20 students, mostly men. We sat on logs in the open air behind our little wooden house. The first class started at 7pm with singing some of the newly composed Canela hymns, then several students prayed. Each student then read through a passage of Luke, one verse at a time, after which I explained a bit of background, answered questions and made a practical application. After more singing and praying they left at 9pm.

The next night I asked, “Who would like to teach the lesson I taught last night?” A brave young man volunteered and did well. We then read the next passage of Luke and I taught the second lesson. More singing and prayer and they left.

The third night, I asked for two volunteers, one to teach the first lesson and the other to teach the second lesson, after which I taught the next lesson. From there on, every night two students reviewed the previous two lessons and I taught the new one. By the end of the first week, we were in a productive routine and the class was growing as Jo graduated more adult readers from her “learn to read” night class.

But there was a price to pay. Not only did I have to prepare a lesson during day, I also had to wait until night class was over to prepare for the next day’s translation. Yes, I lost sleep. And yes, I was soon ready for a break. But no break came. Jo had her reading classes on the front porch, and I had my Bible classes out the back every night, seven nights a week. Week after week after week!

I longed for rain! I prayed for rain! “Please God, give me a break! Let it rain so we can’t have a class!” Sometimes it did rain, but it stopped by 7pm and didn’t start again until 9pm. Really! By the end of our work session, we had taught 70 consecutive two-hour night classes!

Some of the Night Bible Class graduates

Here’s how I expressed my feelings to God one day.

One hour after sunset, and here they come.

Young men, fresh from their bath after a hot day in the fields:

Young women, some with their babies on their hips.

Each one with God’s Word in their hands,

Many with it in their mouths,

practising their memory work.

Some with it in their minds,

thinking about the truths.

A few with it in their hearts,

applying it to their lives.

Here they come;

ready to thank God,

ready to pray,

to pray long, long prayers

for themselves, their children, their relatives, their friends,

even their enemies.

For our children far away,

for missionaries in other tribes,

for the sick,

for neighbors that still don’t know God,

for Brazil’s government,

for fields and gardens and rain and lost knives and axes.

Here they come,

To learn, to read, to study, to understand, to follow God’s Book.

Here they come, at last,

after eighteen years of

working and waiting,

studying and translating,

hoping and praying.

What a breakthrough!

What a success!

What joy and happiness!

Why then do I feel so resentful?

I must be the world’s worst missionary!

I shouldn’t feel that way!

Surely no other missionary ever does.

But I do!

Haven’t I worked hard all day?

Don’t I have a right to relax?

I resent having to give up all my evenings.

“Your” evenings?

How much of your day did you dedicate to ME?

8 hours? 16? 22?

No, Lord, all of me is Yours.

All my life, every day, all 24 hours.

Even those two precious evening hours are Yours.

One hour after sunset, and here they come

To learn of God.

And here I come too,

to learn of Him, submission,




Thank You Lord, for Night Class.

It was the graduates of those 70 night classes who became the core leadership of God’s Church among the Canelas!

The Day the Bottom Fell Out of Everything

Jo and I awoke early after a fitful sleep that first night in the main Canela village. Rain had wakened us several times as it blew in through the open holes in the mud walls, still without shutters. We were exhausted after the long trip and from unloading three packing drums and dozens of cardboard boxes from the truck the day before.

Unloading supplies for a seven month stay in the Canela village

We dressed, and I started a fire on the ground at the back door to boil water so Jo could make coffee and breakfast porridge. Our three pre-school daughters were still fast asleep in their hammocks, worn out from riding on top of the truckload of cargo for the four-day 60 kilometre last leg of the trip. After eating our breakfast, using the top of a metal packing drum as a table, I asked some Canela men to bring lots of thin palm canes to make shelves.

The chaos started when some of the cane shelves and tables were ready to be filled. I picked up a box of cans of food and two steps later all the cans dropped out the bottom scattering on the floor. The same thing happened to Jo with a box of medicines. Huh? What? Then it hit me. Construction of our mud walled, palm thatch roofed house was still going on the day we arrived, the packed earth floor was still damp, and the moisture had soaked into the bottom of every cardboard box. That explained it. But it solved nothing.

It was hopeless. We had to get those boxes up off the floor before the dampness would damage the contents. But no matter how careful we were, the boxes kept coming apart. Rolls of film, jars of medicine, packages of soup, everything was loose and mixed up with everything else. Our girls were on the floor, picking things up one by one, and sorting them in little heaps on shelves. Shelves! We need more shelves! We couldn’t live there, let alone minister to anyone, until we had created some order out of the chaos.

A text from Genesis 1 popped into my mind. “The earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep.” God looked at the mess and started creating some order. He sorted light from dark, night from day, sky from earth, and land from water. I felt a kinship with my Creator as I sorted my disorganized mess into separate orderly piles and stacks of food, medications, study supplies, equipment, etc.

Order is important. Paul summarized his teaching to the church in 1 Corinthians 14:33-40. “God is not the author of confusion, but of order.” God constantly creates order. The Israelites leaving Egypt were a disorganized mob. By the time God got done creating some order at Sinai, they marched out in tribes, each in their allotted location. Before Jesus miraculously fed the unruly crowd, he instructed his disciples to create order out of chaos and have people sit in groups of fifty and hundreds.

Let’s face it, life on planet Earth, even in the homes of Christians, still obeys the second law of thermodynamics which indicates that disorder always tends to increase. Hot coffee gets cold. Cold lemonade gets warm. Time schedules become skewed, pantry shelves get disorganized and our good intentions and good beginnings fade away into failure.

It took me a week to recover from my last major trip. Stuff was piled in chaos on my study floor, desks, and shelves. Critical things like glasses, keys, and power cords hid themselves the moment I turned my back. Before I could do any writing, planning, or even extended praying I had to create some order out of the chaos.

God hates chaos and loves order. He wants us to have regular places to work, regular times of sleep, food, rest, times of silence, solitude and thought. Jesus did this constantly, going off by himself out into the hills to pray, to think, to plan. The Holy Spirit works through order. He blesses others through us when our lives are in order.

When we see an OUT OF ORDER sign on a gas pump or an ATM, we know we won’t get any gas or money from them. So what makes us think we can be a source of blessing to anyone if our own lives are out of order and in a state of chaos?

We need to look at every aspect of our lives and ministry for evidences of chaos and put them in order. It’s not just about having a place for everything and putting everything in its place. Are we punctual, or do others have to wait for us? Do we drive our vehicles in a way that confuses others? Do we have workable and effective routines? What about our relationships? Our service for God?

We need to ask ourselves, “What area of my life bothers me the most? Where has the bottom fallen out of it?”

Let’s do what God did as His first act of creation. Bring order to the chaos.