On Monday, the day I turned 80 years old, I thought of Moses, another octogenarian who lived until he was 120-year-old. Unless Earth moves into closer, faster orbit around the sun, I doubt I’ll live that long.
I also thought of the event in Holland as a little boy, one-tenth my current age, when I attended the 40th wedding anniversary of my Frisian grandparents, Pake and Beppe. They were by far the oldest people I knew, and I marveled how they could still be alive being in their sixties.
I remember our fortieth wedding anniversary, sixteen years ago. That was the time I traveled for Wycliffe among nine countries in the West Indies, averaging one international flight per week for three months. I was a youngster back then.
Now I am an oldster. So, has anything changed? Yes, during the past decades I have stopped doing some things I should have stopped doing long ago. When surrounded by my Ph.D. colleagues, I no longer feel inferior for being a high school drop-out. It doesn’t bother me that I can’t do algebra and that I can’t remember the names of people I should know. I accept the fact that I’m a word-man, not a number-man, and that I can clearly remember an idea someone told me about, although I don’t remember the person’s name or face.
I have stopped feeling vaguely uneasy when implementing a new idea, or crazy scheme, without asking for permission, but moving ahead until it is successful, or someone in authority says, “Hey, you can’t do that.” Overdoing this practice got me expelled from Bible school for a term and later moved Wycliffe to accept me only as a junior member under two-year probation. I learned from those experiences and made a come-back, graduating from Bible school, and later accepting a leadership position in Wycliffe.
I am unique, and not like other people. I am my own person, and that’s the way God wants me to be, so I accept that. Ever since starting to write my autobiography I can see how God has shaped me into the kind of person I am right now.
I got used to being different while growing up in Holland as the only Protestant boy in a solidly Catholic neighbourhood. In my school, I was the only boy whose family emigrated. In Canada, I was the only boy in school who was trying to learn English and didn’t know any Canadian sports or sports heroes or movies or music the other kids knew.
Later on, I was the only boy in school who worked full-time during the summer vacation. I helped to install the electrical system in the new school during that summer and in the fall attended grade nine there.
Near the end of that school year, our family and some of my friends attended an evangelistic crusade meeting. I was the only one who walked to the front at the invitation and started a new relationship with Jesus. I was the first in my family to attend an evangelical church, the first to be baptized by immersion, and the first to go to Bible school.
God was obviously preparing me for pioneer, never-been-done-before in this tribe, missionary work. When we began our linguistics work among the Canela, we involved more Canelas in the process than any other of our colleagues in Brazil. During some periods we trained as many as seventeen young Canela men to teach others to read, produce literature, type manuscripts and help us to translate. We were also the first to decide not to translate the entire New Testament, but to have a partial Bible, one-third of which was Old Testament.
At eighty Moses had an encounter with God which was so special and holy God told him to take off his shoes and stand barefoot. God then gave Moses a Purpose, to lead His people out of Egypt and to the Promised Land, starting by confronting Pharaoh. He also promised that His Presence would be with him on the journey. So, Moses put on one shoe, symbolizing God’s Purpose, then his other shoe, God’s Presence, and marched, Left – right, Left – right, Purpose – Presence, Purpose – Presence, down to Pharaoh’s palace.
Whether it is forty years, forty months or forty days, I, too, want to march in the Purpose and Presence of God for the rest of my life.