The Bedtime Stories
Our twin grandsons were born the year after we returned to Canada from our decades of work in Brazil—the first grandkids. A few years later, since they lived nearby, I was in demand to tell them bedtime stories. At the time, Jo and I were deeply involved in an intensive six years in top-level Wycliffe leadership, serving as CEO (now called President) of Wycliffe Canada. We had literally moved From Mud Hut to Executive Suite. (Hmm, that sounds like a good title for a book of memoirs.)
Eventually, vigorous games, like tag. were added to the bedtime stories. By the time they were ten years old, however, I didn’t play tag with them anymore because, at sixty-plus years old, I could no longer catch them. We also had a six-year-old granddaughter, Savannah, living near us in Canada and four younger granddaughters in California. Oh, and of course Savannah’s baby brother Aidan.
I wondered what life would be like being an active grandpa to eight young grandchildren, who increased in strength and stature every year, whereas I seemed to be going in the other direction. The only thing I could do to entertain them was to tell them stories of my life. I told them tales of growing up in Holland, and I made up bedtime stories on the spot with ideas they gave me. I longed to play more active games with them. Yet, their energy tended to surpass mine, and I ended up dropping out. I wondered how Savannah’s other Grandpa, the one living in Saskatoon, interacted with his grandkids.
A Granddaughter’s Question
Yeah, I was feeling rather gloomy about my Grandpa role. I talked to God, telling him I thought I wasn’t much of a grandpa, but I didn’t get a response. Then, one day, I made a phone call, and everything changed. I called our daughter Cheryl’s home (remember the time when every home still had a landline phone), and little Savannah answered.
“Hi Savannah,” I said, “this is grandpa.”
There was a moment of silence, and then Savannah’s voice came through hesitantly, “Um, are you the grandpa who tells us stories?”
Whoosh! A bright white light of understanding flooded my mind! I saw myself and my future in full clarity.
“Yes, Savannah! I sure am the Grandpa who tells you stories!”
I remember nothing else about that phone conversation. Savannah’s question, however, was God’s answer to my prayer and has guided my actions and ministry goals ever since.
A Wife’s Suggestion
After six years as leader of Wycliffe Canada, Jo and I served as Wycliffe leaders for three years in the Caribbean, living in Trinidad and travelling to Barbados, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. I told stories of missions and Bible translation in hundreds of churches and other meetings. But often, on Sunday afternoons, we were at home for five hours between church services. One day Jo said, “Remember how you used to write a Sunday Afternoon Letter from Dad to our three daughters after they left Brazil? Why don’t you write a Sunday Afternoon Letter from Grandpa to the grandkids?”
Good idea! Jo often gives me good ideas, which I accept gladly and have a powerful and positive impact. So, I started writing story-letters to the eight grandkids each Sunday afternoon and emailing the letters to the three sets of parents. On Monday night, the parents read my story-letter to the grandkids as a bedtime story. During those three years, I wrote scores of made-up stories. The total number of words I wrote in short fiction tales for my grandkids was seven thousand words longer than The Hobbit. Hey, it’s just a page number comparison; it has nothing to do with quality!
A Calling Confirmed
After that three-year assignment to the Caribbean, I was invited to tell true stories of Bible translation to audiences to help them decide to support Wycliffe’s Bible translation work financially. Along with my personal speaking engagements, during those ten years, I told stories to about 750 audiences in 400 cities and nearly twenty countries.
Then, at age 76, I stopped travelling and sat down to write more books of stories. I have published five books of collections of story-based articles on Bible translation and three story-packed memoirs.
I thank God for confirming my calling as a storyteller that day twenty years ago when Savannah asked, “Are you the Grandpa who tells us stories?”