Speaking Words Of Praise

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The Plinky Question for this week is:  “Remember that one time on the bus, when…”

Oh yes, I certainly do remember.  My mom and I were going somewhere in town, and seeing as we did not have a car, we naturally caught the local transit bus.  I was the youngest of the four children, so it was not unusual that I was taking the bus alone with mom as my siblings were either in school, or were old enough to be at home alone.  So taking a bus was a part of life, and meeting people on the bus was also a part of life.

Now when we would get on the bus, mom would pay for the ride and walk down the aisle to get us a seat which would leave me to take my time to slowly walk down the aisle and greet people as I went along.  You might think that I am, and was, an extrovert, always greeting people.  But actually, I am an introvert who is, and was, fascinated by people.  And so I would “socialize” while at the same time I would “analyze” all the people I met.

This would take me quite a few minutes.  And on this particular day, since the bus was mostly full in the front, my mom found a place for us on the bench at the back of the bus.  By the time I had finally got to the seat and was about to sit down, the driver had to slam on his brakes for some reason.  Meanwhile, I had pulled my head down a bit in order to sit down, and guess what happened.  The sudden deceleration caused me to fly forward, but since my head was down and I was a small boy, I literally rolled like a bowling ball all the way up the aisle and landed beside a very surprised bus driver.

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Before I continue with this story, I want to interject a thought which I just read from the site “Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life which I get every day:

Nurturing the Fruit of Praise

Posted: 29 Aug 2011 12:00 AM PDT

Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36, NASB).

Praise is reshaping our lips (and our living) around the glory of God. We use our words for everything else. We practice speaking for work, for school, for interacting socially. We must also practice (and that sacrificially) to honor God with our words. The text speaks of the “fruit of lips that confess his name.”

Fruit begins in a blossom; then it takes time to become full-grown and ready for harvest. Fruit doesn’t develop quickly, but over time, given the right conditions—the right soil, the right moisture, the right amount of sunshine, the right amount of care, pruning as needed, just enough fertilizer—all this and more. The fruit of praise must be nurtured and cultivated in the garden of obedience.

–Taken from Power Praying (Hearing Jesus’ Spirit by Praying Jesus’ Prayer) by David Chotka

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Now back to my bus story.  What happened to me certainly caught the attention of everyone on the bus.  After all, it’s not every day that you see a little boy roll down the aisle like a bowling ball.  Everyone was so concerned and worried for me.  But hey, I was just a little boy!  So I quickly bounded to my feet, dusted off my clothes, and went down the bus for the second time and greeted everyone and said hello.

I wish life could have always remained that simple.  And I wish I could have retained that personality of mine of being a “socialite introvert”.  But life suddenly became hard for me once I entered Elementary School, where being “nice” to everyone is not always appreciated.  In fact, for a number of reasons, I became the laughing-stock of the class and was regularly picked on by kids both in my grade and from some who were older than me.

The result of this was that I painfully learned the lesson in life, that it was better to be quiet and not say anything to anyone.  The budding skill I had on the bus to be kind to strangers and say something nice to others was squashed in public school.  By God’s grace though, He came and found me in Grade 7 and I was able to use words of praise and thanks once again as I began my journey with my best friend, Jesus.

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But with regards to people, it took me a lot longer to relearn the skill and the joy that I had begun as a child to reach out to other people and try to bring a smile to their faces.  In fact, even into my middle 30’s I was not as tuned into people as I ought to have been.  And my narrow world of self-centeredness hindered me from really seeing and appreciating people around me.

It wasn’t until we lived in the village in Papua New Guinea for five years that I really learned how to sit down with someone for hours and talk about basically nothing.  But just being willing to sit there and let people talk, I was finally once more maturing my blossom of being others-centered.  And now I find it easy once again to say hello to strangers, and to try to leave them with a smile on their face.  One thing has changed though.  I have no desire to do any encore of rolling down the aisle in front of others.  🙂

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God’s Little Detours – Part 1

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Expect Detours – Part 1

The last two articles in this series on “Hard Road Journey” gave us some hope and showed that we can expect some periods or moments of refreshment, even through the most difficult experiences of life.  I’ve touched a little on the difficulties we experienced when our oldest son went through the 30 moths of chemotherapy for his leukemia, in the article “It’s Not My Fault“.  But when I get to writing more about that period, you will also see that those three years also contained many moments of blessings from God.

We must treasure those good moments and count them as blessings.  That does not negate the fact though that life has thrown us a curve-ball.  We find at those moments that whereas we may have been counting on having a smooth, straight road, instead, we find that we have all of a sudden found ourselves on a major detour and we don’t know what to expect ahead of us.

Now if a detour was simply that, a detour off of the main course we have charted for our lives, then all we need to do is to get back as quickly as we can to the main path of our lives.  But what if that detour happens to come while we are slowly making our way through a difficult period.  Now that can really get us discouraged.

The book we have been following on this series is called “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel“.  Our author, Mark Atteberry, has this to say about detours on page 114:

Few experiences are more disheartening, especially when you’re already growing weary.  Just the thought of a longer road with even more challenges can break your spirit.

I would compare it to the idea of having a major paper cut on your hand, and then just before it heals, you get another paper cut right on top of it.  Yowwee!  The first cut was bad enough, but the second one is even worse and  makes the healing process take that much longer.  Atteberry recognizes the danger of this.  But he advises us to expect detours.  They are a part of life.  And so to help us, he gives us four facts to think about that will help us when we encounter a detour in life.

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1.  Detours Can Trick Us

Probably the most dangerous aspect about a detour in life when we hit one, is that they can trick us into thinking either one of two possible incorrect conclusions.  We may think that we have done something wrong and God is punishing us for our bad behaviors, our “sins”.  Or we might think that God has abandoned us, which really says we believe that God does not care about us.

The first conclusion may have some truth in it seeing as it is also true that there are always consequences to sin.  But to assume automatically that when something goes wrong that it must be because we have done something wrong, is to assume the wrong thing about the character of God.  God is not a vindictive God who sits up there somewhere with a big stick in His hand, just ready to hit us and punish us if we step out of line.  If you believe this, then you have not understood the Good News of His great love which is written all through the pages of the New Testament.

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And as far as the second conclusion goes, the idea that God has abandoned us, I think is often the result of us not waiting long enough to let God move and work out a wonderful solution to our situation.  Or put it another way, I believe that there is always something else going on, and maybe many things going on, that we are not aware of, and so because we cannot see the bigger picture, we start to lose our faith in God.

I think that Atteberry has a very good point when he says on page 116:

Isn’t it interesting how quickly we can go from blaming God to praising Him?  One little fact–one little nugget of truth suddenly revealed–is all it takes to completely transform our feelings and show us how wrong we were to assume the worst.

Don’t let your circumstances fool you into believing the wrong things about God.

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2.  Detours Can Teach Us

It follows then, that if the detours we encounter are not mistakes or punishments from God, that there must be some purpose to them.  It is quite true to say about me that I am an optimist.  And so I embrace a verse like Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  This does not say that all things are good (because bad things do in fact happen), but it does say that God can bring good out of every situation,

The question here is: do you believe this or not?  Actually, I can be even more bold as to say “Do you believe the Bible to be true?  Do you believe God to be a good and loving God as presented by the New Testament passages or not?”  If you say yes to these two questions, then you will have to also believe that God can teach you something very important in life, and often it is through detours that He can teach us the most.

If you are still not sure about all this, then I ask you to go back and read my last two articles about my personal journey in life.  The first one is “Humbled by God” and the second one is “God Restores My Passion For Missions“.  Talk about a major detour.  But also, talk about God’s tender care to teach me something important.

The next two facts about detours will be in two weeks from now.  So stay tuned.

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Faith Comes By Hearing

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What Is Faith – Part 1

Faith!  Do we have it?  Do we understand what it is?  Is this something that once we have it we always have it?  Do we exercise it?  Can we increase it?  Can we lose it?  These are all some very important questions for a Christian to ask.  Therefore, I will do my very best to try to find some answers to these questions.  I pray that the answers I give will not be just academic “head” answers, but life-changing “heart” answers.

The reason why these questions have come to mind to me now is related to my situation with my muscle disease.  It is very hard some days for me to have sufficient energy to be able to get out wherever I live, and to be able to get to a church, to be able to sit for the length of a worship service, to listen to a sermon, and then get home without being totally physically exhausted.

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A partial solution for me, and I emphasize partial, is that I have found a man who has been truly anointed by God to preach the Word of God with boldness and with great clarity.  And in our modern-day of wonderful technology, I have been able to download podcasts of his sermons on to my computer’s hard drive.  And since these sermons are so good, I want to share with you the wonderful insights into Scripture that I have gained by listening to some of his sermons.

This brings us to the topic of this posting, and will continue for many more articles, namely Faith.  Pastor Leon Fontaine, the senior pastor of Springs Church in Canada, has preached a four-part series on “What is Faith?”  But between the insights that he gives into this topic, plus me interjecting some stories and some helpful comments, we may end up with many more than four articles in this journey together on this question.

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Perhaps a good place to start is to highlight a few important verses of Scripture on faith.  Both Christ and Paul had a lot to say about this topic.  I think we should answer two very important questions right at the start: “What is faith?” and “How do we get it?”  Consider these two verses:

Romans 10:17  “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”  (NASB)

Romans 10:9-10  “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;  for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

Romans 10:13  “… for whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

What do we learn from these few verses?  First, there is an important message that we must hear, but not just hear with our ears only.  We must hear this message and let it soak right down into our hearts.  This message is the good news concerning Jesus Christ.  We read about this good news of Jesus in the first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  We read about how Jesus, who was and still is part of the eternal Godhead, came to earth as a man, taught people about the Kingdom of God, and then died on a cross to pay the penalty for the sins of all people, then came back from the dead and returned to God the Father in Heaven.

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The second thing these verses in Romans tell us is that we must believe all of this message in our heart.  Now we are not talking about sentimental emotion when we say “you must believe in your heart”.  No, we are talking about deep down within the core of our very being, we must make an act of our will and accept in the center of our being the absolute truth of this message concerning Christ.

And going one step further, when we truly believe that Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice to  remove us from the guilt and penalty of death that comes to all those who sin, in effect we are bowing in submission to Him, for He bought and paid for our lives with His life.  So not only do we accept Christ as our Savior when we believe in Him, we also accept Him as our Lord.

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That leads us to the final important aspect of these verses, namely that we are to confess (meaning to “speak out”) with our mouths that Jesus is our Lord and Savior.  We are to tell others about what we believe.  We are to testify with our own words that this Gospel message is true.  And the promise given to all who accept, believe in, and confess Christ in their words is that they will be saved.

Now the question someone might ask next is, “Saved from what, or saved to what?”  The best and most obvious part is that we are saved from God’s judgment upon our sins and the consequence of eternal punishment in Hell.  And the flip side to this is that we are then saved toward the joy of eternal forgiveness and to be able to live in God’s presence forever.

But the Greek and Hebrew words for “salvation” are much richer and complex than just seeing the result of our faith in Christ being a distant spiritual reward.  No, the concept of salvation really concerns the whole of a person.  Not only do we gain spiritual blessings when we believe in Jesus, but there are also many blessings that are connected with the physical world of here and now.

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It is important at this point to not get side-tracked on to wrong conclusions, i.e. “When I accept Christ I will automatically get “healthy, wealthy and successful” in all areas of life.  But we must not go the other way and reject the idea that Christ will not bless us financially, or physically, or relationally or in many other aspects of our lives here on earth.

And having said all that, this is just the introduction to the very important biblical topic of “Faith”.  Stay tuned for many more articles that will expand on this life-changing topic.

Following the Lord’s Leading

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August 2011 Mission Update

It has been a while since I gave a complete update on what we are doing.  Many of our friends know some of the pieces of what is happening, but I want to lay out the full picture of our work and family so that you will know how to be praying for us and our ministry work.

Location

Our family is starting to head off in different directions.  I will leave the family members till later, as nothing new has occurred yet.  With regards to me, many of you probably know by now that I am currently in Dallas, Texas, and will be here almost up to Christmas of this year, a four-month period.  I am staying in a dormitory style Guesthouse on the campus of the International Linguistic Center (ILC).

The ILC is host to a number of mission agencies like Wycliffe Bible Translators, The Seed Company (a fund-raising group for overseas translation, literacy and other mission activities), the top-notch linguistic training school, GIAL (Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics), and also the mission group that Jill and I have been a part of since 1995, Pioneer Bible Translators (PBT).

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The primary reason for me being here on the Dallas campus, for those who don’t know, is because of my health.  The seasons of this last year, from fall through to spring, have been exceptionally cooler than normal.  Definitely this past winter was tough on everyone, but with my muscle disease, it was very brutal on me and the colder it got, the more debilitated I was with the pain of my tightened and stiff muscles.

And so the decision was forming in our minds by April this year to look at where I ought to be living when temperatures start to cool down.  The obvious first step was for me to plan to do more consultant checking in Papua New Guinea (PNG) during the winter, but that still left the fall to consider.  So when I talked with our Dallas office of PBT, they were very pleased that I would volunteer to help out in the fall, but even more so if I would consider coming down mid-summer.  And so I am now here in Dallas.

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Ministry Work

God has been so good to me this year to not only allow me to continue doing ministry work for Him, but God has opened up even more doors of opportunity than I could have ever imagined.  As you all may recall, Jill and I went back to PNG during this last winter.  I was there for nine weeks, the longest overseas trip since 2007, and Jill was able to join me for almost six of those weeks.  She helped me with many of my daily needs, but had plenty of time to help the Branch out as well in various support roles.

My primary role with PBT is to be a Bible translation consultant.  When a team of missionaries and national people (or some projects have just nationals) have completed the translation of a book of the Bible into the vernacular language of the people, and have done a number of their own internal checks on the book, they then call on an outside consultant to do the final check of their translation before the book can be published.

Last winter, we were able to finish Matthew in one language, check Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians in a second language, and then do the checking of Hebrews in a third language.  In 2012, from mid-January through April, the tentative plan is to check two epistles for a member of a group called SIL (the name for Wycliffe field members), then to help one national team of translators get a good workable translation of the Gospel of John roughed out over a six-week period.  And if I stay into April over there, I will work with a third group as a consultant or an adviser.

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Meanwhile, back to my time in Dallas, there is plenty the Lord has given me to do.  The reason the Dallas office of PBT wanted me to come as early as mid-August was so that I would be able to help them by teaching an in-house training program (Intro to Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition) to some of our new missionary recruits.  From now until Christmas I will spend about 15 hours a week doing this.

And back to my primary job of doing translation consultant work, there is a great deal of preparation that I do to get ready to go over to PNG and do the checking of Scriptures.  But there is one more consultant task that PBT has given me.  Namely, there is a project in southeast Asia that has most of their New Testament close to finished, but which still needs the eyes of a consultant to check.  And thankfully, that is something I can do by remote computer file sharing.  So thank you Lord for giving me many areas of ministry to do for You.

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Family Back Home

Finally, news about the family.  Jill has not made a change of her residence or where she works.  But she has made two other significant changes.  She began a full-time line position on her Postpartum Unit at the Calgary hospital on July 1st.  At the same time, she has begun some Master’s online studying that definitely keeps her busy when she is not working.  She will be able to be with me for about 10 days in mid-October, and we are praying about how much time she can take to come over to PNG again in the next winter.

And then the one other member of the family still living at home with Jill, might very soon be packing his bags.  Glen has had his application to the Army accepted.  He has passed the interview and medical exam stage.  He got word that he is on the “Merit List” which is the call-up list.  And so now we just wait for that last phone call, and then he will be off to Army Boot Camp training.

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We ask that you all please keep us in your prayers as we seek to follow the Lord’s leading.  It definitely is exciting the number of things that we are all getting to do, but it does not mean that they will be easy to do.  But we will walk forward by faith, believing that God will give us the strength to do what He has asked us to do.

God Restores My Passion For Missions

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Who Am I?  Part 17

It was during those months of cleaning floors and stairwells on my knees, while I asked God to show me what He wanted me to do with my life, that He used a friend of mine to redirect me.  There had been three significant people in my teens years that had planted and germinated the idea of me becoming a Bible translator.  But it was a college friend of mine who asked me at age 32, “Didn’t you want to be a missionary?” that began the process of me finding my true path and calling in life.  (Read that story here.)

What my friend helped to do was to stir up the embers in my heart of wanting to serve God, and specifically to do so in a cross-cultural way.  It was another college friend who also was living in Prince Edward Island at the time that wondered if I was going to do something about my love and ability to handle languages, and especially the original languages of the Bible, Greek and Hebrew.

In further discussion with my friend, he suggested that I look into Lincoln Christian Seminary (now called Lincoln Christian University).  He knew that there were excellent teachers of Greek and Hebrew there, and he had heard that they sometimes hired language assistants, and suggested that I look into that.  So after a few phone calls, suddenly things were looking up as I began to enroll in LCS, and there was a tentative offer to let me be a Teaching Assistant in the undergraduate Greek class.

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So once again, Jill and I loaded up the kids (now age 2 and 4) and all of our stuff into a U-Haul and headed down to Illinois.  We had fun tenting with our boys as we made our way through the northeastern States.  And Jill passed a nursing exam while we passed through Vermont which would open the door for her to do nursing while we were in Illinois.

We arrived in the middle of summer and got situated in the married student housing complex.  It was less than a 10 minute walk to get to the Seminary.   The difference between getting there in six minutes versus ten minutes was the choice of whether to go through or around the cornfield.  It certainly was interesting to walk through corn stalks that were taller than you were.  By late Fall though, the harvest was in and you could run straight across the dirt field.

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Within days of arriving in Lincoln, I had made contact with the professors of Greek and Hebrew.  I was very disappointed at first to learn that they had already filled the spot of TA’s for the undergraduate Greek class.  But then they asked if I would be interested to help be a TA in the first year Greek class for the Seminary.  Wow!  I couldn’t believe they would give me that opportunity.  Of course I said yes, and I loved being a tutor for my fellow seminarians.

Then I inquired about the Hebrew courses.  It had been 7 years since I’d taken Beginning Hebrew, so I assumed that I would have to repeat the course.  Well, the professor suggested that I take the three weeks or so that I had before classes started and review my Hebrew and try to pass a proficiency test.  So…rather than playing in the park with my boys, or sun tanning with Jill, I dug into some Hebrew text books.

A few weeks later, I took the proficiency test, and to my amazement, I scored very well and was recommended to take a 2nd year-level Hebrew course.  My fascination with the language grew.  I took the Hebrew Readings course in the Fall, and I was ready for more in the Winter.  But they had no 3rd year-level Hebrew.  So I asked to do a one-on-one study with the professor and we met weekly to go through a giant Hebrew grammar.  (Am I a glutton for punishment, or what?)

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Getting back into biblical languages was not the best thing that happened to me while in seminary in Illinois.  Something else even more life changing happened.  Shortly after we started the Fall courses, I had been talking to some other people on campus about my love for the biblical languages and my passion that I had always had to become a career missionary.

Well one person suggested that I needed to meet a certain faculty member, because this man was known to be a Board member of a mission group that specialized in Bible translation.  And so I did go over and meet this man and he told me that he was part of a group called Pioneer Bible Translators.  He told me how it did much of the same work as Wycliffe Bible Translators, but was associated primarily with the church background I had come from.

He then told me that he would be driving down to Texas in November to sit in on the semi-annual Board meeting and asked if I wanted to come for the drive and meet these people.  Jill and I thought this was a great idea.  I had a wonderful time in Dallas at the international office of PBT, and was so impressed with what I saw and heard.  And when I got back to Jill in Illinois (who had been praying and wondering the whole time I was gone), she asked me, “So….what did you think?”  And my answer was, “Start packing!”

And The Angels Rejoiced

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A “Hevi” Moment Turns Hearts to God

I just recently came across an article that we had written sometime after the first year of our time living in a remote village in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.  The vast majority of Papuans consider themselves to be Christians, based on the fact they had been baptized in infancy, and they were able to confess their sins once a year when a priest came around.

For the rest of each year, the people mostly revert back to their animistic roots.  They are afraid of evil spirits, and would like to find out how they can harness the spiritual forces of all the spirits and spiritual forces that surround them so that they can use these powers to be beneficial for themselves.

So there is a surface veneer of Christianity, while there is a deeper core belief in the power of the animistic forces that surround them every day.  This is the backdrop against an event that happened in our village.  Here is the story….

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When an unexpected or unhappy event happens in the village it is called a “hevi” (heavy).  During an afternoon meeting we heard “wanpela pikinini em i dai” which translated says, “one little child has died!”  (An important bit of language learning here, the pidgin word “dai” by itself meant to faint or be unconscious.)

John brought his son, Nika, to our PBT house and we had prayer for him. (Names changed for privacy sake.)  John was convinced that the illness was brought on by the workings of black magic.  Jill went to the clinic to ask the doctors their opinion and the word was that Nika had cerebral malaria.  With the amount of seizures he had, they were not very optimistic about the outcome.

The next day, word came that Nika had “dai finis” (died completely).  But John couldn’t find a way to deal with this sudden death of his son.  He was convinced that an old man of our village was a “sanguma man” (sorcerer) and had worked black magic which caused not only the illness but also the death.  When the old man heard the accusation, he fled into the jungle afraid that John would now seek to kill him in return.  But I sent word to the old man to come to see me, and let me talk to him.

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I also sent word out so that many PBT people and friends would pray for both of these families, and for wisdom for all the leadership of the village.  The old man did come back and they all marked Sunday afternoon to have a village meeting.  The local council leaders would come and hear the “evidence” as John would set out to prove that black magic was used to kill his son.

I was invited to attend the meeting.  After listening to all the arguments, I then added my thoughts about how the child had been under our care, was on the mission property (which they considered to be God’s territory) when he had actually died the week earlier, and had also been covered by the prayers of many people.  I presented the thought that the child was in God’s hands before he died and that no force of this world could “cause” the death.

The meeting broke out into a heated argument from both sides.  And even though I tried to help them see what Scripture has to say about the power of God and the power of prayer being more powerful than any spiritual force of this world, John refused to change his opinion about the old man.  This had gone on for a few hours, and no final conclusions were made.  I was quite upset with how things had turned out.

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So all the discussions stopped and since they couldn’t come to an agreement on the case, it would then have to go to the provincial court.  This would not be good for anyone, and our village would be marked as one that has a history of black magic trouble.  The meeting broke up, but then the women began to bring food out for everyone.  (This is the normal way to show hospitality after any kind of meeting.)

I felt emotionally sick about the whole meeting….so I just handed my food to one of the men and said, “I’m too upset to eat,” and I came home.  Now in this culture, it is a major insult to refuse food.  However, it also shows that someone is “bel hevi” (heavy-hearted) when they do not accept the gift of food being offered.

And so I left the meeting, and crossed the shallow stream to go to my house, and I was so upset that I stomped back and forth around my house feeling frustrated at the whole affair.  But about 15 minutes later, two council members came by and said they wanted to talk to me.  I came out and they said, “It’s a miracle!  They’ve shaken hands!”

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Since “shaking hands” is a cultural way of saying that someone has forgiven wrongs done to them by someone else, I was absolutely amazed.  So I asked them to repeat what they had said, thinking that I had missed something in the language.  But both these council members could speak English too, and they said in very plain English, “It’s all settled.  God has brought us a miracle.”

And in a state of disbelief, I asked how this miracle came about.  And one village elder said, “Well, didn’t you say you and many of your PBT friends were praying?”  I said “Yes.”  And he responded, “Well, God answered those prayers.”  And that was good enough for him, and it also was good enough for me.

And just as we were speaking, we heard the sound of singing.  It was a group from the church that had come back from a village hike and they were singing and praising God for their safe return to our village.  The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  It reminded me of Luke 15:10 about the angels rejoicing whenever a sinner repents.  I wish I could have peeked into heaven at that moment.  But I have a sense that yes indeed, the angels were rejoicing that day.

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God’s Great Plan For The Nations

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Bible Translation Steams Ahead

Bible translation is not a new endeavor.  The Old Testament Hebrew Text was translated into Greek in its final form more than 150 years before Christ died, and before the Greek New Testament began to take shape.  The New Testament was translated into some Middle Eastern and North African languages like the Coptic text, the Syriac text and the Ethiopian text starting as early as the second century A.D.

The most famous of the early translations was the Latin Vulgate written by Jerome who was commissioned by Pope Damascus I in 382.  This translation became the standard for the Early and Medieval Church that was to last a millennium.  In fact, it was exactly 1,000 years later that John Wycliffe translated the Bible into vernacular English.  His based his translation though off of the Latin Vulgate.

The supremacy of the Latin Bible was slowly eroding at the end of the 15th century as the fledgling Protestant Reformation began to grow in Europe.  Finally, vernacular translations gained a solid foothold when Martin Luther produced a German translation of the New Testament in 1522, and William Tyndale translated large portions of the Bible into common English.  Both men bypassed the Latin Vulgate and based their translations directly off of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament.  In 1611, King James I commissioned the “official” English Bible, or the King James Version, which is still in use today.

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It has been 2,000 years since Jesus lived, and 400 years now since the King James Bible was translated.  I’m sure there are other great men who contributed in some way in making the Bible available to the average person during those 1,600 years.  And there was some progress made in the next 200 years.  But in many ways, Bible translation did not take any huge leap forward until a 32 year-old man named William Carey stepped foot as a missionary from England on the shores of India.

Carey spent most of the next 40 years in India, and not only did he learn the local Indian language of Bengali, but also the prestigious language of Sanskrit and a number of other languages.  From the beginning of his pastoral ministry there in India, Carey saw the value of translating Scriptures into the vernacular languages of the people.  He truly was a giant among those pioneering missionaries of the early 1800’s.  Consider this quote about his life:

“Despite personal and domestic handicaps of health, he was able, in addition to his usual pastoral and preaching duties, to translate the Scriptures in whole or in part into 37 different languages.  Alone he produced a complete Bible in Sanskrit, Bengali, and Marathi.  In addition to his work as a church planter, he foundedSeramporeCollegefor the training of an indigenous Indian ministry.  He founded the botanical gardens nearCalcutta, which evoked the praise of allAsia.

Carey also wrote Bengali colloquies, which authorities have acknowledged as constituting the basis for modern Bengali prose.  He distinguished himself both as a scholar and as a reformer.  He became professor of Sanskrit and Bengali and played a significant leadership role in the abolition of Suttee, the practice of burning alive Hindu widows upon the pyres of their husbands.”

 (pp 22-24 of Classics of Christian Missions by DuBose)

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All of what I have written so far may be interesting history for us.  And we may feel like these great moments of history in the story of Bible translation are long gone and done.  But that is not true!  We live in truly historic days today.  With the advance of technology and the increase in the information flow, plus some hard on-the-ground field work, we have been able to get a fairly accurate picture of where we stand today in regards to who has and who has not received God’s Word in their own language.

When I ask people the question, “How many languages do you think there are in the world today?” often I get the response of a few hundred to maybe as much as one thousand.  Believe it or not, there are almost 7,000 languages still spoken in the world right now.  That’s a huge number.  Then I would ask people if they had any guesses as to how many of those languages have any Scripture at all in their language.  And again, people are stunned to hear the statistics.

Here is the latest information that we have:

  • Complete Bible  =  457 languages
  • Complete New Testaments  = 1211 languages
  • Portions of the Bible  = 897 languages

That means that 2,565 languages have at least a piece of the Bible in their language.  Of the remaining 4,295 language of the known 6,860 existing languages, there are almost half of these that have some work begun in them.  But according to the 2010 world language statistics, it has been estimated that “340 million people speaking 2078 languages may have a need for Bible translation to begin.”

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Now that is definitely a huge number and still a huge challenge.  But do you know why we live in such a historic time?  The major Bible translation agencies in the world (Wycliffe Bible Translators, Pioneer Bible Translators, Lutheran Bible Translators, New Tribes Mission, United Bible Societies, to name just a few), they have determined that we have within our grasp the potential resources of finances and personnel to get the job done within this or the next generation.

In 1999, Wycliffe Bible Translators adopted a strategy called “Vision 2025“, indicating that they would do all that they could do to see every language group in the world that needs a Bible translation project started to actually see them get started by the year 2025.  Pioneer Bible Translators has also just released its commitment to see our areas of language responsibilities begun by 2030, and Lord willing to have at least a New Testament available by 2050 if possible, but no later than 2060.

These are truly exciting days as we see the possibility of the Good News going out literally to “all the nations” within this next generation.  I am thrilled to be a part of this  grand plan of God.  And no doubt, I will have many more articles to come which expand on all of this.  So stay tuned.

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