How God Prepared me to Trust Him

The Problem
As a Dutch boy, I was proud of being Dutch and our dike-building engineering abilities. By the time I was in Grade Nine in Canada, the Dutch had turned 6,800 square miles (4.5 million acres) of sea-bottom into farmland. Here’s a comparison with Canada: Each homesteader was granted 160 acres of land. The amount reclaimed from the sea by the Dutch would have been enough for 27,200 pioneer families’ homesteads. I should have had plenty of that high self-esteem for which the Dutch are famous. But I didn’t. My classmates often called me Dummy, and I felt that they were right.

I was always the last to be chosen on a sports team. I sucked at carpentry-shop, and was worse in arithmetic. I especially hated being called to the blackboard to solve an arithmetic problem in front of everyone. I always made mistakes, and everyone laughed at me.

I believed in God in a general way. But I had no close relationship with Him. I always felt guilty, either for things I should have done and didn’t do or for something I had done that I shouldn’t have done. So, even when I occasionally prayed that I would feel better about myself, I didn’t expect Him to do much for me. And then, one day, He did.

What I Didn’t Know
I knew all the things I wasn’t good at. But I didn’t realize that God had been preparing me for years to be good at something. He had helped me to develop a valuable skill with words—and I didn’t know it.

Growing up in Holland, I biked to the library every Wednesday to borrow two or three books to read that week. I was twelve years old when we left Holland, and I had probably read 500 books. In the two years in Canada, I read library books in the way fire reads kindling.

The Story
Then came the day in Grade Nine English class when the teacher taught us how to write a letter. I listened with half an ear because I had written lots of letters to friends in Holland, and besides, I had a book open on my lap and was engrossed in a gripping story. The teacher said, “Alright, everyone, take a sheet of paper and write a one-page letter to a friend. You have forty-five minutes.”

I thought of a funny idea for my letter, then looked up from my book. The whole class was scribbling, erasing, thinking, and scribbling some more. I kept reading my book. Suddenly the teacher warned us, “You have twenty minutes to finish.”

I closed my book and wrote a letter to an imaginary friend telling him about my weekend visit to some make-believe cousins who lived on a farm.  I wrote about climbing up the windmill tower. I wrote about chasing pigs that had escaped and about a bull that chased us.

To make the letter unique and easy to read, I quickly drew a little cartoon picture to replace every noun. I filled my whole letter with tiny sketches of fat pigs, flapping chickens, skinny cousins, an angry bull, a windmill, apples, a glass of milk, etc. Then the teacher said, “Time’s up. Hand in your letter.” I signed my letter and took it to her desk.

The Solution
The next day, the teacher said, “I am happy to say that many of you wrote excellent letters. But one of your letters was outstanding. It was one of the most original and best letters anyone has ever turned in during this class. I am putting it up in the school hallway for everyone to read and enjoy. Jack, congratulations on writing the best letter!”

Wow! I hadn’t expected that! What a surprise! It had been so simple, taking only twenty minutes. Even though I stank at many school activities, it was good to know I rocked at writing.  And best of all, nobody ever called me Dummy again.

The Best Lesson
In the last month of Grade Nine, I attended an evangelistic crusade meeting, where I heard that Jesus would forgive all my sins and be my Friend. I gladly accepted this great gift. No more feeling guilty! Yea!

It was then I realized that it was God’s Spirit who had motivated me to read so many books and to love words and that it was He who had given me the idea of using cartoon pictures to make my letter unique. I knew then I could trust Him forever.


Try it, You Might Surprise Yourself!

NOTE: My computer has been down for repairs for two weeks. Although I lost some valuable files, praise God, I’m now back up and running again!

The Vision
At a writer’s conference, I participated in last winter, I saw a fellow author wearing a T-shirt emblazoned as follows: “10,000 Words – One Day!” Is this guy bragging? I wondered, Or is this his goal?

Ten-thousand words is the equivalent of fifteen of my weekly InSights & OutBursts blog posts. That’s a lot of words! For years, I have been keeping track of all my major writing, not just blog posts, but letters, stories, prayers and diary notes. My goal is 1,000 a day, 7,000 a week and 30,000 a month. I usually surpass my monthly goal, except during vacation or when I have trouble with my laptop. (Like just recently!)

The Plan
In June, with a travel-filled summer vacation looming ahead, I was aware of numerous auto-biographical stories rolling around in my head. So, having talked it over with Jo, my partner in everything I do, and with Jesus, the Source of these stories, I committed to meet this 10,000 words goal, not just one day but several days in a row. I had no idea if I could do it. I might run out of stories to write, or get physically or mentally exhausted. I just didn’t know. But I did know it would take intense, uninterrupted concentration, so I made a plan.

The following Monday morning I set up and plugged in our motor home behind the barn on a friend’s farm. No Internet, phone shut off, and several prominently displayed “Do Not Disturb” signs to keep me focused. By 9:00 a.m. I was writing. After a couple of hours, I went for a brisk thirty-minute walk, then wrote again. I kept doing that and by evening, I had logged 10,000 words of first draft, original writing, and had walked five miles. Yippee!

The next day, I did it again! And the next! By Friday, late afternoon, I had written 50,000 words, and walked 25 miles! I felt great, both in body and in mind, satisfied that I had a good first draft start on my next book of God-honouring stories. Also, I was very surprised. I had no idea I could do this. I hope to do this again after summer, I thought, as I drove home with gratitude to Jesus in my heart.

How to Surprise Ourselves
We all know that our enemy, Satan, loves to discourage God’s people from using our talents and native abilities to accomplish things that bring God honour—things we may have done successfully in some small measure, but hesitate to do in a major way. Sometimes he fills our hearts with a false humility, and makes us think, Oh, I could never do a job that big!, blotting out of our minds the Scripture that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

I have leaned on that affirmation numerous times in our decades of ministry. Translating a collection of stories from the life of Jesus is one thing, but to tackle the translation of Romans is quite another.

It’s one thing to lead a Bible study in a small group, home meeting, but quite another to travel to a foreign country, and speak ten times at a deeper-life conference to a large congregation, through interpreters. That is certainly another case of needing to lean strongly on Jesus’ strength. And being surprised at the positive result!

Many of us would happily take a Saturday to help a neighbour or a church member renovate his basement, or fix up his garage. But what about going on a two-week missions trip at our own expense and be part of a construction crew to build a church somewhere on the mission field?

Others of us routinely cook meals for our families and occasional guests. What about leading a team of volunteers to prepare 300 meals for destitute, homeless men and women once a week?

Most of us church-going folk put something into the offering plate each Sunday. But how about committing to give a substantial amount regularly to a special project, becoming partners with a missionary, or helping to get a major missions program started?

To surprise ourselves by accomplishing a great task for God requires commitment, and reliance on God’s Word. May God daily remind us that we really “can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.”
But first of all, we need an inspiring vision—maybe from a T-shirt!

God’s Story about Cheryl: How I Blew it as a Dad

Our youngest daughter, Cheryl, was born with amblyopia, commonly called lazy eye—a condition in children when vision does not develop properly in one eye. When she was two years old, an epidemic of trachoma swept through the Canela village in Brazil where we worked. This is a serious eye disease that, at that time, had blinded six million people worldwide. Most of the Canela and all our family were infected and we worked day and night treating the sufferers with antibiotic ointment.

eye patch CherylWhen we took off Cheryl’s bandages, we saw that our toddler’s lazy eye had turned aside even more. The optometrist prescribed glasses and an eye patch to wear over the good eye to force the lazy eye to work. Each year he wrote stronger prescriptions.

After three years of service in Brazil our director ordered us to go on furlough much earlier than planned. “Your financial support continues to be so low,” he said, “you are borrowing money from other missionaries to buy groceries. Go back home and raise adequate support before you return to Brazil.”

When we arrived in Canada the eye specialist said, “It’s a good thing you brought your daughter in to see me today, her prescription is wrong, her lazy eye needs a different treatment. In another month or two it would have been too late. Her lazy eye would have gone completely blind.”

He prescribed different glasses, as well as a patch, and gradually her eye improved so much that by the time she entered college her vision was near normal.

1-20-P1040389When I finished writing this story, I gave it to Cheryl to read and she exclaimed, “You mean if we hadn’t been so under-supported and poor, you would have stayed for nearly another year, and I would have gone blind in one eye? I never knew that. Dad! This happened 45 years ago, why didn’t you tell me earlier!

Yeah, why didn’t I?

Because I failed in one of the most important duties parents have—to tell their children what God has done for them. All through the Old Testament, God commands His people to remember what He did to benefit them and their families and to tell their children, even to write them down.

Just before singing God’s praise for a long list of things that Hes did on earth for His people, the poet urged his listeners to action, “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord” Psalm 102:18 (NIV).

This incident encouraged me to keep going through my decades of daily journals and find incidents where God answered our prayers, where He protected us, where He arranged amazing co-incidences for our family. I continue to write them up, wanting to leave them as a legacy of God’s actions for our children, grandchildren and beyond.

So, what about you?

How do you remember the God-stories in your family’s life?

How do you pass them on to future generations?

Discouraged? Check This Out.

This is terrible, I thought, I have only three published paper books and one ebook to my credit while these writers have published twice as many, and they’re only half my age!

I was participating in the annual writers’ conference of the Inscribe Christian Writers Fellowship. As I walked by the book tables, it was discouraging to see how unfavourable my output was compared to that of my fellow writers. One young woman had published thirty books. Mind you, they were small, illustrated children’s books, but still—thirty books!

That weekend, I was home clearing up my study when I picked up a book I had published decades ago but had forgotten about. That got me started on a little self-encouragement project. I made a list of all the books I had published while working with the Canela people. Some were illustrated learn-to-read books and had only 45 pages, but hey, they had covers and were professionally published by the Brazilian government. That counts.

23 out of the 37 total books published

23 out of the 37 total books published

It started slowly in the 1970s when I, with Jo’s help, wrote and published four easy reading books in Canela totalling 280 pages. Then production exploded in the 1980s with 23 books totalling 1,273 pages. One was in English on Canela linguistics, the rest in Canela. In the 1990s only two books were published, one a small song book, the other a large partial Bible, a total of 777 pages. In the 2000s, four books totalling 561 pages including the Poke in the Ribs and Kick in the Pants books. Thus far in the 2010s, three books: the Bonk on the Head book, the ebook, A Tickle in the Funny Bone, and the ebook just published this week, The Why and How of Bible Translation: What Every Christian Should Know (but few do, very few).

I was pleased to see a grand total of 37 books with about 3,200 pages and well over 750,000 words. Hmm, that is as much as ten Romance novels or seven John Grisham books.

Oh, and I also wrote over 500 article length blog posts that I didn’t publish in my printed books, as well as scores of articles for magazines

Okay, now I’m encouraged. Especially as I have another ebook in production right now.

Of course, as a Christian I realize all this is nonsense! I am a child of God! That is all I need to remember when I am discouraged for any reason.

I could be lying flat on my back in bed, unable to hear, see, or speak and my heavenly Father would not love me any less than He would if I had written ten million words of God-glorifying stories.

My greatest problem, How can I have my sins forgiven and enjoy a totally new life? has been solved by Jesus’ death in my place and resurrection. Because of what Jesus did for me, I am rightly related to God, and that is all I need to remember.

When Jesus’ disciples returned elated from a productive ministry trip, He adjusted their priorities by saying, “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” Luke 10:20 (NIV).

In that spirit I say, “I am a child of God and He loves me. That’s all I really need. Everything else is details.”

Thoughts on My 75th Birthday

Please excuse last week’s double mail out. Computer problems. It won’t happen again. I hope.

I am publishing this week’s post a few days early to coincide with my birth date, March 19

Thoughts on My 75th Birthday 

It is nice to know that at 75 years old, I have learned pretty well everything. Now if only I could remember any of it . . .

I do remember pondering my age at another occasion. On March 19, 1966 I sat on my bunk at Wycliffe’s jungle survival training base in southern Mexico and wrote the following in my diary: “Jo reminded me after breakfast that today I became 28 years old. Good grief! I’m getting ancient! The life expectancy at birth for men in this area is 33. Only five years to go.”

By the grace of God I lived longer than that. Much longer. Many times, however, my life could have been cut short. I was a passenger in two head-on car collisions that totally wrecked all four cars but from which I emerged with only a few cuts and bruises. I survived three industrial accidents: one a cave-in, one where a car ran over the manhole from which I was emerging, and another involving an unexpected dynamite explosion. A freak accident with a water-loaded 16 foot awning nearly broke my neck. I could have avoided the last one, but I was in a hurry and wasn’t thinking.

So why did God keep me alive? I often wonder about that. He continues to help me make good choices. When the Holy Spirit pointed out my sinfulness and that Jesus would save me if I wanted Him to, God helped me to say Yes! This led directly to giving my whole life over to Him to use in whatever way He thought best. I chose to attend Bible school, where I looked for a life partner who also had dedicated her life to God. God led me to choose Jo and to my great joy, she said, Yes.

After that came raising a family, a wide variety of Christian service experience, missionary training, and nearly 25 years in Brazil as Bible translators for the Canela people. This was followed by a decade of leadership in Wycliffe, and now by a continuing ministry of speaking at events in hundreds of cities around the world, and writing nearly a thousand articles, columns, and stories published on line, in magazines or books.

All this is obviously God’s doing and no credit to me.

I dropped out of high school after repeatedly failing algebra. I was expelled from Bible school for behaviour that was outside of school standards. I failed jungle survival training camp and Wycliffe accepted me into membership only after two years of probation. While Jo got all A’s, my grades were so poor I had to take remedial linguistic courses. For several years, I did not consistently show Jo that I loved her the way I should have. In my forties, after years of severe testing, I lost my faith in God’s power, wisdom and love and was restored only after six months of intensive weekly counseling. Even now, I need to be accountable to another person to keep me living in the way I know I ought to live.

Chocolate-Coffee Icecream Cake. Now Everyone's Favorite

Chocolate-Coffee Icecream Cake. Now Everyone’s Favorite

So what’s next? The average age at which my parents and grandparents died was just short of 90. So, if I follow in their genetic footsteps, and my guardian angel does not retire, I may still have another 15 years left on this earth. Currently my goals for these final years are to unreservedly love “the wife of my youth,” our wonderful daughters, our incredible grandchildren and all our extended family. This, of course, means being together with them often.

I have been working for years on a more long-term project—writing and organizing a legacy of diaries, memories, stories, photographs, slides and videos. These record not only our family history, but the God-stories—the times when God moved in our families, preserving, guiding, healing, answering prayer, and in many ways showing that He is alive and actively at work.

As long as I am physically and mentally capable, I want to keep on giving story-filled speeches and writing story-based articles. I cannot think of any retirement activity that would be more satisfying than this.

75 = 21+54I do have one question. What are the legal privileges of turning 75? You know, at 16 you can drive, at 17 join the army, at 18 drink alcohol, vote and get married, (hopefully not in that order). At 60, 65 and 70 pensions and RIFFs kick in, but the only thing that happened at 75 is that my travel medical insurance expired. Where’s the benefit in that?

But How Do You Know If These Bible Translations Are Accurate?

Although I didn’t know what to expect at my first writer’s conference, I was surprised, pleased, and the first in line when a professional editor offered to critique our manuscripts. I gave her a tear sheet of a 2,500 word article I had written and which a magazine had published the month before.

“Every paragraph of your article throbbed with passion which made it publishable,” she told me the next day, “but here’s how you could have improved it,” and handed it back covered with red scribbles.

Every Writer Needs an Editor, Every Translator Needs a Checker

As we sat together at lunch to go through the manuscript line by line, I mined the corrections and picked her brain, meticulously writing down every comment in my note book. When we finished I told her, “When I saw all those corrections I thought I had made hundreds of errors. But I hadn’t. I just made half a dozen errors hundreds of times.”

It was a most satisfying and productive lunch. I learned so much and I told her so. She enjoyed it too, saying, “I was afraid you might get defensive and argue with me over every correction, but you are lapping this up which makes it fun. If you keep that attitude you will improve and become a good writer.”

The experience of having my writing thoroughly checked and corrected by a professional editor prepared my wife and me for plunging into translating the Bible into Canela where we leaned heavily on translation consultants to help us check, not just every line, but every phrase and word of the translation.

The Bible Translator

Every translator’s theology, beliefs, orthodoxy, and Christian life are thoroughly checked before he is ever assigned to translate. But even so, can Bible translators push their own theological agenda, ride their doctrinal hobbyhorses, and translate passages to reflect their own biased opinions? Yes, they can! That is why trained translation consultants check every part of the translation to make sure that it is completely accurate, with nothing inserted or left out.

People often ask, “But how can translation checkers do this when they don’t know the language of the translation they are checking?

Answer: Through back translation into the language of the consultant.

There are three ways for the translator to produce this back translation. Two easy ways—which are worthless—and one hard way—which is useful.

The Two Easy Ways

For example, the second part of Revelation 11:1, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.” is a very simple command.

One easy way is to simply translate idiomatically into fluent English, like this: “Go, measure God’s temple and altar and count the worshippers.” This is useless to the consultant since it gives him no idea how concepts like temple, altar and worship are expressed in the target language.

The other easy way to back translate is to simply do it word for word, like this example from the Canela language of Brazil:

“Attention, stand, go and with it, something-smoke-sweet-burning-thing that and our-inclusive-Father-about-they-themselves-into-their-ear-thing-house, with measure and they our-inclusive-Father-like-people those count.” This is practically unintelligible, and also of no use to the consultant.

The One Right Way

The third, and more difficult way, is like walking on a slippery rail fence: lean too far to one side and the translation falls into being too idiomatic, too far to the other and it falls into literalism. Staying on the fence, produces something a bit more useful like this:

“Listen, stand up and go and measure the thing for burning stuff to make sweet smelling smoke, and measure the house of the place where they meditate on Our Father, and count those people who love Our Father.”

This back translation gives the consultant some idea of the term for altar, temple, worship and God. Every verse of Scripture is backtranslated and checked in this way. By the way, currently over 500 Wycliffe personnel serve as trained translation checkers and consultants to thousands of Bible translators all over the world.

But one more important question remains. How can a consultant find out if a passage is properly understood by the indigenous readers? This requires the translator and the consultant to be joined by an intelligent, fluent speaker of the target language, one who has never read or heard the Bible passage being checked. This part of the checking process often produces startling, sometimes hilarious insights. Some examples coming next week.