God’s Preferred Way of Working

When I was a little boy, the tinkling of teaspoons and teacups coming from my parents’ bedroom on Sunday mornings was the signal it was time to jump out of bed and join the fun. Once I was properly settled between them, they would hand me my cup of tea and my saucer of maria biscuits and the sipping, dipping and nibbling would begin. I can’t remember what else we did during that fifteen minutes of togetherness, but I certainly do remember what came next. When my mom had finished her tea she would go downstairs to make breakfast, my dad would pour some more tea and tell me a story.

Many of the stories involved a young man going out into the world to seek his fortune. Invariably he would meet someone along the road who had a special talent, like swinging his sword so fast he could use it as an umbrella during a rainstorm. The two would decide to seek their fortune together. Soon they would meet others with special abilities and they would join the group. Eventually they would meet a problem, a princess being held by a giant, for instance, and the young man and his group would devise a plan to defeat the giant and rescue the princess, each member using his unique skill. The end result was often measured in bags of gold for each of them.

Each story my dad told was different, but each had that same theme and they made a profound impression on me. Not only did I make up similar stories to tell my children, and later my grandchildren, but when I became a missionary, I saw myself as the young man going out to gather a group of people with compensating talents to work together to “seek our fortune.” That is why my wife and I joined Wycliffe, a mission agency that values people with a wide variety of skills, people who consider themselves part of every translation team.

TypingAs Jo and I began living with Brazil’s Canela people, we prayed that God would help us find Canelas who were teachable and had natural gifting in various areas. We built into the lives and minds of the villagers we worked with by teaching them, strengthening their self-confidence, stretching their minds with new ideas, and expanding their lives with new skills.


30 years later he still pulls teeth

30 years later he still pulls teeth

One became very skilled at extracting rotten teeth. Several had the skill and patience to teach others to read. Another illustrated the Scriptures with his drawings of Canela life. Some were typists, some proofreaders. One was very good at making sentences flow smoothly. For some time we had seventeen Canela men and women working together with us. Canelas already were used to working together as an interdependent group in their own culture. We fitted in and were able to accomplish things so difficult and complicated, no single one of us could possibly have achieved them as an individual.

In North America when I talk about interdependent team building, working together in community and developing partnerships, I have to overcome a cultural bias against this concept. American cultural heroes are not about a tightly knit group with each member depending on the other, but about a lone pioneer family, going out to conquer the wild west, building a log house with their own hands in the middle of the wilderness, and clearing the farm land with their own axe. The cooperative harvesting and barn building came a generation or two later.

In that respect Canela culture is far more godly than North American culture. Here’s why. God said, “Let Us make man in Our own likeness.” God is a community of three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They made human beings in Their likeness, to be people with the same need to live and work together in community as They had.

BuildingThis kind of working community is a far cry from the military and industrial model of exploiting the labour of people to accomplish objectives set by generals or executives. The strength of the interdependent community lies not in its bosses but in its people. The more people grow in skill, high motivation and positive attitude, the more effective the community becomes.

What does your family look like? Your college? Your workplace? Your church?

Are people exploited and used, or strengthened and built into an effective community?

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: http://www.jackpopjes.com/the-unwelcome-request/

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!