Slander, Lies and Attacks Hurt, But In The End . . .

It happened one day after spending three months in the Canela village. We taught young men and women who were eager to learn to read. They were delighted with the self-teaching illustrated primers we used. They wanted to use them to teach others. Canelas who were sick sent for us nearly every day asking us to diagnose and treat their illnesses with the modern medicines we bought in town. We also translated quite a few chapters of Luke.

STOL plane landing near the Canela village

The First Story
At noon the STOL (Short Take-Off & Landing) plane arrived in the village, and now we were gassing up at the airport 70 kilometres from the village to fly us 600 kilometres back to Belem, where our three daughters were waiting for us in boarding school.

As Jo and I got out to stretch our legs, a jeep drove up. The driver hurried to the plane without saying a word to us and peered into the cabin and the cargo hold. I spoke to him, but he ignored me and kept examining the interior. When we started to reboard, he drove away.

The Brazilian friend who had brought our drum of aviation gas explained. “Locals can’t understand why a North American couple would come down here to live for months at a time in an Indian village. Some think you are illegally mining gold, hauling it out by plane.” Since the Rio Ourives (Goldsmith River) ran halfway between the town and the village, I could see where they might get that idea. “Ah,” I said, “I guess this guy was looking for mining equipment or sacks of ore.”

We had already heard the rumour that we dug up Canela corpses, cut off their heads and sold them at a high price to universities for anatomical studies. Indeed, we often were at open graves, not to rob them, but to mourn along with the Canelas at burials. It happened all too frequently, especially when tuberculosis ravaged the village.

Brazilian Christians knew that we wanted to translate a good part of the Bible into the Canela language. How else would they have the opportunity to read about their Creator from a Bible in their own language, the same right as billions of people around the world have had for many years?

Brazilians tend to be generous. Even poor people give to the beggars on the street. All Brazilians are helpful to their families and their employees, and others they know well. But in the 1970s, the idea of charity to strangers was unknown. No wonder they suspected the motivation of foreigners, seemingly well funded but living in primitive conditions out in the jungle. Ignorance produced these suspicions and slanders. Jo and I began to experience pressures, even from government officials, that hindered our work with the Canelas.

The Second Story
A far more vicious and effective attack came from the 43rd International Congress of Americanists in 1979. At their meeting in Vancouver, BC, they passed a resolution to move governments to “expel Wycliffe Bible Translators’ field organization the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) from all the indigenous locations in North and South American countries.” They falsely accused us of “practicing compulsory religious conversion and annihilating the expression of Indian life and culture.” I heard about some religious groups, not Bible translators, who forced conversions by allowing only baptized believers to attend their schools, receive medical treatment, or buy in their stores. This was 100% false when applied to SIL workers.

About 900 people attended this Congress, although only 124 people (14%) were present in the last hours of the final day when this resolution was presented. Nine delegates jumped to their feet to protest that this did not align with what they personally knew to be true about Wycliffe and SIL. Even the chairman spoke out in favour of SIL. The resolution, however, passed 65 to 59. Brazil’s anthropologists jumped at the chance to cancel the contracts SIL had signed with the government permitting us to work in the indigenous villages.

The First Result
All SIL personnel were expelled from the villages in the forty different language groups where we worked. It was devastating not only for us SIL translators but for the indigenous people among whom we worked. The Canelas cried when we left, and some got angry. But there was nothing we could do. It was a terrible time of distress and confusion for many of us.

We kept up our spirits by reminding each other that God was still in control, He always knows what He is doing, and His love for us and the people groups we served lasts forever. We encouraged each other with promises such as,  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Matthew 5:11)

Brazil’s SIL translators were “in exile” for nearly five years. Then, finally, the Canelas and other indigenous societies won their long battle with the government, insisting that they wanted the translators back. Jo and I returned joyfully to the Canela village, where the Canelas received us in a grand celebration. We took no more furloughs but pressed on until the end. We completed our translation ministry on August 10, 1990.

The Last Result
Now thirty years later, a whole generation of Canelas has grown up reading God’s Word in their own language. Jesus built His Church in the Canela village, and scores of Canela believers have already gone Home to Glory. Yes, they are our great and growing reward in heaven.

So, Whom Do We Trust?

So, Whom Do We Trust?

We’ve all heard about the Boeing 737 Max airliners that were grounded for several years after two planes crashed killing everyone on board. The computer software problem that caused these tragedies has been fixed and the planes have now been cleared to fly again.

When I heard about passengers reluctant to board these planes “just in case” everything did not get fixed properly, a memory popped up in my mind.

The Story
The scene was the airport of Belem, Brazil, and Jo and I and our three daughters, four to seven years old, were about to fly home for a ten-month-long first furlough. We were near the end of a long line of passengers heading for the final passport and ticket check before we were allowed into the departure area. Since we were lined up along a series of windows looking out on the tarmac, I fought the boredom by watching our plane being serviced.

Several mechanics stood on ladders and were taking the cover off one of the engines. They did something inside with tools, then put the engine cover back on, moved the ladders away and signalled to the pilot to start the engine. The normal loud whine, but also lots of smoke and frantic waving by the mechanics for the pilot to shut off the engine. They put their ladders back up, took off the cover and worked some more on the engine. Again, they took down the ladders, signalled the pilot, more smoke and more frantic waving. During the 45 minutes we were in this line up this routine went on several more times.

Finally, since our family were among the last to check in, I saw out the last window, the signal to start the engine, the same smoke as before, but this time no frantic waving, the mechanics shrugged their shoulders, held up the palms of their open hands in the universal gesture meaning, “Who knows what the problem is?” and walked away carrying their ladders. Ten minutes later we crossed the tarmac and boarded the plane, ready to fly 4,500 kilometres from Belem to Miami, over mostly open ocean. No, we did not tell our girls what we had seen. Yes, we did pray for a safe arrival. Did we trust those mechanics? No way! Did we trust God? Yes way!

So, Now What?
That was half a century ago—five decades fill with Bible translation, leadership, recruiting, fund-raising, blogging, and authoring eight books. We also grew older, and we continued to trust God “who is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.” Rom. 8:28 (The Voice).

We continue to trust God in our current COVID situation. We go to stores for essential shopping, and interact with people, all masked and at a distance. We do church through Zoom and interact with our families the same way. But we also continue to meet people who refuse to wear a mask, even though new, more contagious, and virulent strains of the COVID coronavirus are being identified. We do what we need to do, and we are confident that God is still in control, not just of our lives, but of the entire COVID emergency.

I would like to stay alive and mentally alert to write the ninth book, a memoir of the Canela decades. And if that is God’s plan, Jo and I will stay alive, if not, well, that’s His business. We just keep on loving and trusting Him to keep “orchestrating everything to work toward something good and beautiful”.

Christians’ Right Thinking About Money

The last blog post, Christians’ Weird Thinking About Wealth, provoked many interesting comments. One of the most interesting was a friend who shared a testimony with me different from any other remark I had received.

Other friends have told me eye-popping stories of how they could fund major mission projects through the amazing wealth God helped them produce. This time, however, the amazing story came from an unexpected source. He is an ordinary guy, just like you and me, not gifted with the ability to produce great wealth, but with the ability to act increasingly as the manager of God’s money.

The Pseudonym
He was happy for me to share his story with you in this column but wanted to remain anonymous since staying unknown brings a special pleasure and joy to him. So I’ll call him Mac, a fitting name since it reminds Bible readers of the apostle Paul’s description of the Mac-edonians in 2 Cor. 8, MSG.

Fierce troubles came down on the people of those Macedonian churches, pushing them to the very limit. The trial exposed their true colours: They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor. The pressure triggered something unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts. I was there and saw it for myself. They gave offerings of whatever they could—far more than they could afford!—pleading for the privilege of helping out in the relief of poor Christians.”

Mac’s Story
Here’s what Mac wrote, “For years I have been proving the Lord’s faithfulness in providing money for me to give away, even though my income isn’t excessive. One passage of Scripture that has encouraged me is Psalm 81:10 where I saw myself as a money manager, rather than as a consumer.”

In this passage God reminds Israel he brought them out of Egypt and was prepared to bless them abundantly. “Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it,” God promised. When your mouth has been filled, the next thing to do is to chew and swallow, consuming what you have been given. But Mac read it as a manager; when God gave him money, he did not consume it all. Instead, he shared it with other people.

Mac went on to write, “Twenty years ago the Lord gave me a thought I continue to pursue: ‘Why don’t you pray and ask Me for money so you can use it to help build My Kingdom?’

“It has been quite a journey, limited, I’m sure, only by my lack of faith. As I have fearfully stepped forward each year, increasing my commitment to financial stewardship, I now see how the Lord is ‘rebuking the devourer’ {a reference to Mal. 3:11 in which God promises His people that pests will not devour their crops, and in Mac’s case probably keeps his roof from leaking and his car from falling apart} so I can give half my income to Kingdom ministry (home church, summer camps, Bible colleges, missionaries, and the poor.)

“This has become a significant source of joy, particularly during this time of economic challenge. Twenty years ago, I didn’t believe it to be possible, but God’s economics continue to defy human explanation. All Praise to Him alone.”

What About Us?
Since people like Mac tend to obey Jesus’ command to do all their giving in secret, we don’t hear challenging and encouraging stories like this in church, unless they are second hand, like this one.

May God help us all to “open our mouths wide” to his provisions so that we can be outrageously generous to people and ministries in need.

A Remembrance Day Special Feature

This Saturday is November 11, Remembrance Day. It means a lot to our family since we lived in enemy occupied Holland during the 2nd World War. The story in this blog post is chapter 4 of my autobiography. The first 37 chapters are a written for children and will be published in January 2018.

In Hilversum during the bitterly cold winter of 1943—’44 my name was Hansje and this is a remembrance living in fear of the bad enemy soldiers. It would be another 16 months before good Canadian soldiers came to chase away the bad ones.

Chapter 4, Hansje Gathers Firewood

When Hansje was five years old he wished that he was older because he wanted to do things that big people did. His Papa and Mama were always talking about how they needed to find more food because their family was always hungry. And now that it was cold they needed to find more firewood to burn in the heater.

Hansje always kept his eyes open when he wandered around the streets of his neighbourhood to see if he could find something valuable that didn’t belong to anybody. One day he found three nails, a screw, and a long piece of string, so he brought them home to give to his parents. Another day he found an empty bottle.

His Mama and Papa were happy when he brought things like that home because they couldn’t buy nails or string in stores anymore since the stores were empty. Hansje was happy too, because when he brought things home, it made him feel like a grown-up and not just a little kid.

One day, Hansje did something that made his Mama very happy. It was a very cold, and they had only a little bit of wood and coal to burn in their heater to make the house warm and to cook their little bit of food on. But that day, when Hansje came home from playing outside, all his pockets were full of small pieces of firewood, and his arms were so full he had to kick the door until Mama opened it. Wow! She was so glad to see all that firewood! “We’re going to be warm tonight!” she said happily. “Where did you get this firewood?” she asked.

“Oh, I found it on the street,” Hansje said, not looking her in the eye. But that was only partly true. He did pick it up from the street, but he hadn’t really found it. Instead, he had done a very dangerous thing to get it. If his Mama had known how he got all that firewood, she would have made him promise never to do it again.

But she didn’t know, so the next day, Hansje took a cloth sack, folded it up flat and stuck it into his belt. He was only five, almost six years old, but he felt much bigger since he was doing something important for his whole family. He walked down the block to a certain street corner and hid behind a hedge with three other boys. The other boys were six and seven years old and told little Hansje to sit really still while they waited.

They waited until finally, Hansje could hear the rumble of a large truck driving down the street. One enemy soldier was driving, and one was sitting beside him holding his big gun. The back of the truck was full of—you guessed it—small pieces of firewood! And sitting on top of the pile was a prisoner with a chain on his leg. The chain was fastened to the truck, so he couldn’t jump off and run away. He was a good man from the city where Hansje lived. But the enemy soldiers had taken him as a prisoner and made him work for them.

Hansje and his friends scrunched down further into the hedge so the bad soldiers in the cab of the truck wouldn’t see them. His heart was pounding with excitement. He prayed silently that God would help him, although he wondered if God would be okay with helping him do something sneaky.

As the big truck slowly drove by, Hansje and his friends crept out of their hiding-place. They ran right close behind the truck so the bad soldiers in the cab couldn’t see them, not even in the truck mirrors. As soon as the truck began to turn the corner, the prisoner started throwing armloads of firewood off the back of the truck.

The boys picked up every scrap of wood that the prisoner threw off the truck. They could only do it by that corner because the road was so narrow that the driver had to be very careful how he drove and didn’t have time to look in the rear-view mirrors.

What Hansje and those other boys did was, of course, a very dangerous thing to do. What if one of the bad soldiers had looked in the rear-view mirrors and had seen some boys picking up firewood from the street? They would have stopped the truck, jumped out, yelled at the boys, and shot their guns to make them drop the firewood. Also, the prisoner would get into big trouble.

The boys knew this, so as soon as they had stuffed all the firewood into their bags, they quickly ran away home, and the prisoner just sat there looking as if nothing had happened as the truck kept driving away.

When Hansje got home, his Mama was very happy with the bag of wood. That made Hansje happy too, and he felt even more like a grown-up.  Hansje never told his Mama how he got that wood. Good thing too, or she would have been worried.

That night in his bedtime prayer Hansje thanked God for helping him get firewood and he prayed that God would soon sent good soldiers to chase the bad ones away.