From Depression to Joy

I was feeling so depressed and sad early this week; I had to stop what I was working on and switch to working on something else for a while. Here’s what happened:

Intensive Writing Get-Away
For the past nearly three weeks, I have been holed up alone in a friend’s house working ten hours a day, seven days a week on the next book. Although I write only a few thousand words a day, I dictate 25,000 words a day from diaries into a speech-to-text program. The journals were handwritten during our decades of work among the Canela, the subject of the next memoir book.

Memories: Some Pleasant, Others Depressing
As I dictated my way through one notebook after another, I found myself reliving the events of 35 to 40 years ago. Some of those brought back pleasant memories, of progress in research and translation, Canelas learning to read, family holidays, etc. But there were also many years in which we suffered setbacks, blocks, satanic opposition, resulting in strained relationships, depression and spiritual confusion.
When government opposition to Bible translation forced us, and many other translators, to leave the villages where we had served as health workers, teachers, and translators, both Jo and I went into a deep depression.

“God Has Let Me Down”
When we went on furlough, I told my Wycliffe director, “I feel God has let me down. I have nothing to say to churches.” In the first six months in Canada, I turned down more than fifty invitations to speak. I was “done with God,” but fortunately, He was not “done with Jack.” He brought a godly pastor into my life who listened to my outpouring of grief and frustration with God and for many months counselled with me over breakfasts and lunches.

My Wrong View of God
As we talked, we analyzed why I felt the way I did. It turned out that I had a firm conviction that God was in a hurry to save the Canelas and all the rest of the world and that therefore I should be too.

I probably got this “God is in a hurry” concept from my Bible school training in the 1950s, which, driven by the “imminent return of Jesus,” pushed for immediate results-based personal evangelism and foreign missions. I vividly remember a slogan “Each day 100,000 people go into a Christ-less eternity!” on a prominently displayed painting of a crowd of people stampeding over the edge of a precipice into a burning pit of fire. The unspoken question was, “What are you doing about that today?”

So naturally, since we were experiencing the power of the Brazilian government to stop God’s Bible translation work, I couldn’t square that with God’s unlimited power that I read about in the Bible we were translating.

Because Jo and I loved the Canelas and wanted them to meet their Saviour Jesus, we had suffered all sorts of physical hardships and sacrifices, such as the emotional strain of being separated from and out of touch with our young children for months at a time. We read about God’s great love in the Bible, but it seemed to us that He did not care about the Canelas as much as we did.

Rewiring my Theology
It took much study, thought and prayer to rewire my theology to get rid of that unbiblical “God is in a hurry” concept. I learned that this is a humanistic view of world evangelization. It sees God as putting all the responsibility on people to do this massive task. Then, He helps His people to use every resource possible, money, time, education, communication technology, to get the message out to unbelievers as soon as possible. At the same time, His Holy Spirit brings conviction and leads them to make a decision. The underlying idea is that God can’t do the job without us. Not so!

Jo and I finally concluded that the only Person indispensable to the Canela Bible translation program and their salvation was God. Everyone else could be replaced, even Jack and Jo. What’s more, God was in charge of the timeline!

God Reopens the Door
After we had corrected our view and saw God as entirely in charge, being all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving, He opened the door to return for us to work among the Canela. But even then, nothing went smoothly. If anything, the aggravations of sickness, surgeries, mechanical breakdowns, equipment failures, a scattered family, strained relationships and sudden deaths intensified during the final five years.

Keeping the End in View
It was when I was dictating events of those long-ago years; I started feeling depressed again. So I did what Jesus did, “who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross.” As I was reading, I stopped and jumped ahead to dictating the events at the end of our ministry. August 10, 1990, “the greatest day of my life” when we dedicated and distributed the completed Canela Bible to scores of impatiently waiting literate Canelas. That was our greatest joy.

After working through those months for a few hours, I was refreshed and could return to dictating and reliving some of those earlier stressful years.