Staying Busy For The Lord – Pt. 1

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“Wow!!  It is the middle of May already!”  It is easy for me to think these words as it is hard to believe that I have been in Papua New Guinea for four months now.  This is the longest I have stayed overseas doing mission work since our family left East Africa six years ago.  And I will be in PNG for two more months before I take a break and go home to Canada to be with family and friends.

There is no question that I have been “staying busy” since I landed in Madang in January.  Or as some might say, I have been “staying out of trouble”.  J  I am sure that the people who have been regularly reading my articles here on The Listening Post have noticed that I have slowed down on the number of articles I have written.  For over two years, I was posting three articles a week.  Then by the New Year it went to two articles.  Now I hope to post one new article each week, probably on each Thursday.

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“So what has kept me so busy?” you ask.  Let me tell you about the wonderful things that God has done and is doing in and through my life.  First though, let me remind you and any new readers as to why it is so amazing that I am very active right now in PNG.  The short story is that an illness flared up in my life back in 2008, a genetically inherited disease called Mitochondrial Myopathy, that impacted me to the point of forcing me to use walking poles or arm support crutches to walk around even very short distances, like 100 yards.

My life changed drastically at that point, having just come back from PNG and having to run through the airport to catch my next plane.  But just as dramatically, and in a positive way, I am now walking around our mission office over here in Madang without any difficulties, and have even been able to walk a couple of blocks down to a supply store, without needing to use any support device whatsoever.

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 “So what brought this about?” you ask.  Two important things: the power of God, and the power of prayer.  In July of last year (2012), Jill and I had travelled down to the Maritime Provinces of eastern Canada to speak in three churches and to tell them about the mission work we do each year when we visit PNG for a couple of months.  It was exciting to share with them about the great work that God is doing through the ministry of Bible translation among the people groups of this tropical Pacific island.

When I was finished preaching and ready to leave the pulpit to go sit down in the audience, the pastor or elders of these three churches stopped me and said they wanted to pray for our work and for my health.  (Oh, and by the way, I normally could only stand up to speak for about 25 minutes, but these churches let me speak for almost 40 minutes straight.  And I found I didn’t even need to hold on to the pulpit for support.)

Summerside Sermon

So these church leaders asked me to stay at the front and had Jill come forward so that they could pray for us.  What was so cool was that in each of these churches, they felt very strongly prompted to call all the elders up and to lay hands on us and to specifically ask of God to bring healing into my life.  And guess what?  Within days, I found I was able to walk around a little more than before, and with less and less dependence upon my poles and crutches.  Hallelujah!!  Praise the Lord!!!  J

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Jill and I were certainly overjoyed to see this reversal of my symptoms, which doctors have been telling me would not happen.  But what doctors forget or do not recognize, is that we have the Great Physician on our side, and nothing is impossible for God.  The real question for us last summer was, “So what does God have in store for us, seeing as He is returning good health to Norm after not being able to walk much for four years.”

It was just after this time that I began to have correspondence with some of our mission leaders and those over in Papua New Guinea who were considering who they might recommend to be the various directors for our PNG Branch.  After a period of praying, I wrote and said that perhaps I could help out in the short-term until others were ready for leadership or were back from their time of furlough in the States.

To my surprise, the committee came back and asked me to consider letting my name stand to be nominated for the position of “Director of Language Affairs” (DLA).  Wow!!  What an honor that was, and at first we did not know if we should have me say “Yes”.  It would mean spending much more time in PNG than the three months per year I was doing.  And it would also mean that Jill and I would have some periods of being apart, seeing as Jill is still working as a nurse in a hospital back in Calgary.

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Convinced that this was from God though, we did say “Yes,” to the nomination.  And in less than a week after I came to PNG in January, our Branch held their annual meeting and I was voted in to be their DLA for the next two years.  Woo Hoo!!!  The official date for the transfer of office would not be until May 1st.  But that was not the only thing I would be doing, preparing to become the DLA, which would keep me busy for four months.  Next article I will tell you what one of my exciting tasks is that keeps bringing me back to PNG.

The Eternal Value Of Bible Translation Work

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Consultant checking of translated Scriptures can be tedious work and very exhausting as we look at every word, every phrase and every sentence of every verse, to make sure that it accurately communicates what was written down by the first biblical authors.  For the past three months, I have been checking various books of the Bible for different language groups.  It is exhausting, but also very rewarding.

There are also times when we laugh and when we cry as the message does not communicate, but something else that we did not intend to happen does happen.  A colleague of mine has also just finished a long period of checking a number of New Testament books for her language group.  I hope you enjoy reading the following story.

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“Is he crying?”  I thought to myself as I looked up from writing corrections on our draft of the Gospel of Mark. I confirmed that the man was indeed crying and then the man beside him began crying and wiping his eyes and several of the other guys began wiping their eyes.  By that time, the first man was in the loud crying stage. He came to me, shook hands for a long time and kept saying over and over, “It’s true! It’s true!”

I was so stunned by his response that it took me a few seconds to realize that the verse that had hit him so hard was Mark 13:31, which in Apal translation says, “‘The ground and sky will disappear,’ he said. ‘Given that [but],’ he said. ‘My talk will not disappear,’ he said.”  I assured him that we were working on something of eternal value.  Everything else won’t last, but God’s Word will never disappear. 

Looking at his response, my guess is that he “got it” much better than I did.  This world will end, but God’s Word will never end.  Seeing his positive response to God’s Word in his own language gave me hope and the motivation needed to keep pressing on through the checking of the Gospel of John.  Sometimes I despaired of the translation ever being accurate enough and communicating clearly enough to make it worth printing.

Even after correcting it with a consultant, we were reading through John and I realized that John 11:25 just wouldn’t work because it sounded like the believers who died would stay happily dead forever.  To live eternally is translated as “being good only like that and only like that” and when that was combined with being dead – they were just “good and dead,” i.e., really dead.  Thankfully, that error was relatively easy to correct by adding in that they would rise again and then live eternally.   

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In addition to numerous other bloopers, two of my blooper “albatrosses” resurfaced again after the consultant had already checked and approved the verses.  We had been checking the placement of the sign above Jesus’ head on the cross and I had been a bit dubious when they  had the piece of paper sitting on top of “Jesus” head for a few seconds.  But they had quickly corrected it when I reread the passage. They knew it wasn’t right to put it on top of Jesus’ head. 

I sighed with relief, but something still kept bugging me about it so after the consultant left, I read them the translation of the parallel verse in Mark and one man said, “That is the way it should be in John.  We are missing the piece of wood sticking up behind Jesus’ head in the John translation.  Make it like that!”  So, we revised it and then I asked them one last time about where the angels had sat in the empty tomb.  I knew that we had corrected it so that the angels were no longer sitting on Jesus’ dead body, but there was still something about it that didn’t seem quite right, but I didn’t know what it was.

Finally, one of the guys said, “Well, this says that they sat on the empty spot where Jesus himself had put his own head and the empty spot where Jesus himself had put his own feet.  Did Jesus lie down there on his own after he was dead?”  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  The miracle of the resurrection is one thing, but did we really want the miracle of a dead man putting himself in place in his own tomb?  So, that was quickly revised by simply changing a few endings and then putting third person plural endings on the verbs.    

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Then there is Mark 10:27 in Apal which says, “They did it and Jesus was seeing them and said. ‘Men see and whatever whatever [all kinds of things] are habitually being like a mountain,’ he said. ‘Given that [but], God sees and whatever whatever [all kinds of things] are not habitually being like a mountain,’ he said. That verse has been the one keeping us going.  The checking that needed to be done seemed like a mountain, but now the mountain is gone. 

Thank you for praying with us through the longs months of checking.  As a result, we were able to check 35% of the NT and now 80% of the Apal NT has been consultant checked. Praise God with me.    

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Overcoming Discouragement By Our Faith – Pt. 4

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Previously, I mentioned that from an early age I felt a strong sense that I would be involved in mission work.  (Read it here.)  At the beginning of this series, someone asked me how I dealt with discouragement, realizing that it took me 20 years until I became a Bible translator in PNG.  Putting it that way, it does sound rather discouraging.

And yet I believe that God was working within me to prepare me for all that I would do for Him in the future.  Even bad choice I believe can come around to be important building blocks in our life-long goal of becoming godly.  But you must believe that God is with you, and will not abandon you as you search for the path of life that is best suited for you.

In Deuteronomy 31:6, as Moses was approaching his death, he gave instructions to Joshua who would lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.  Despite the obstacles, the fortified cities and fierce armies to fight, Moses said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

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Let me now reflect on a few decisions that I made when I was 18 and 19.  I had finished one year of studies at University, and even though I pursued some courses which could lead me towards Bible translation work, I was quite discouraged by the extreme humanism that was being taught.  Even though I had won four different scholarships that would have paid for my four years of University, I didn’t have the heart or passion to continue those courses.

Instead, I went after an idea I’d heard in the previous summer.  There is a mission group called “Teen Missions, Int’l” and they accepted youth from 13 to 21 years old, to go to their Florida “Boot Camp” training to learn how to be a teen missionary.  Now that sounded exactly like what I was interested in.

So I applied to go on the team that would help build block houses for a mission down in Brazil, just off of the Amazon River.  WOW!!  What a fabulous experience that was for me.  And when I got back to Florida at the end of the summer, I decided to stay with the mission for four more months to join a young adult “Travel Team” that would visit churches and Bible schools all over the country to promote the mission.

Teen Missions

That summer and fall of 1979, I felt like I was in Heaven on earth.  I got to follow my dream of doing overseas mission work.  I realized that I had just thrown away three years of free tuition at University.  But I decided that following after God and the passion of my heart over-ruled a possibly wise choice to finish a university degree.

At the end of my six-month mission experience the mission leaders approached me and asked if I would be willing to join on staff with them as part of a year-long “Staff Travel Team”.  I immediately jumped at that chance.  There were six others who also accepted this invitation, and after a brief orientation, we toured through much of the United States.  We became Assistant Leaders to teams the next year, and I went to help lead a team of teens to build a mission hospital wing in the interior of Honduras.

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Now all this sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?  But let me share the difficult side of this experience.  It surprised me that I found I was missing home and my family.  I had been going on “adventures” and doing travel around North America on my own for some time already.  But being away from home for another year, and going all the way to Honduras in July/August, and then to Scotland in November, made me feel the distance from home.

What compounded this was the fact that our Travel Team of seven young adults (from age 18 to 24) had a tremendously hard time getting along with each other.  We seemed to argue about things all the time.  I had never dealt well with tense relationships, so I felt even lonelier and cut off from my family and people back home.  I remember crying on the phone and saying I wanted to come home.

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It was at my lowest moments that God reminded me of the things that were most important.  First, He showed me in a variety of ways that He truly loved me and would be with me through this experience, just like He had been with Joshua.  Secondly, He reminded me that what I was doing was very important work for Him, which included what was going on inside of me.  I turned to God more in prayer, and I was building character through a tough time.

God also would remind me of how incredible it was that I was on this Staff Travel Team.  As a Canadian, I had to enter back into America and be allowed by U.S. Customs to stay for six months to be with this team.  But at the airport in Calgary, I was detained for almost an hour and a half answering all kinds of questions to try to prove that I was not coming into the country illegally, or that I would work at a job while there.

One Supervisor, “I wouldn’t let this guy through, but that is up to you.”  The man I talked to flipped through two six-inch Immigration Rules and Policies books to find all the reasons why I shouldn’t go through.  But suddenly an odd expression came over the man’s face, he closed those big books, and then said, “Oh go on, get out of here.”  I literally ran all the way to the airplane and got on just as they were closing the door.  So why was I on that Travel Team?  Because God wanted me there.

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Happy About Serving God Full-time

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This article will probably be shorter than most.  “Why is that?” you might ask.  Putting it simply, God has allowed me the privilege to be so active in the mission work we are doing over here in Papua New Guinea that I find it is getting harder to carve out time for my article writing.  Normally, there would be the next instalment of the Bible study on the Gospel of John right here, instead of this short personal article.

But let me tell you what I have been up to this past week.  It’s really quite exciting when I think about it.  First of all, I am involved with a team of men who speak the Tay language in PNG.  We are checking the translation of James, 1 & 2 Peter into their mother tongue.  I am the consultant who comes along at the end of the translation process (after they do the rough draft, village check and exegetical check of the books), and I listen to an oral back translation of the material and asks lots of questions.  We want to make sure that the translation communicates well and is accurate to the Greek New Testament.

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The second thing that has been keeping me busy for a few weeks now is to sit down with many people here in the PNG Branch of our mission and have meetings with them.  Now that may not sound very exciting, but we talking about BIG ideas in many of these meetings.  We are looking at ways of how we can continue doing Bible translation, Literacy and Scripture Use among over a dozen languages here in PNG.

The second reason that I am in many meetings these days (mostly lunch meetings with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches) is that I will be assuming a position of leadership within our Branch very soon.  At our annual meeting in January, I was elected to become the next Director of Language Affairs (DLA) who oversees all the linguistic projects that we are involved with within the country.  This position will begin officially on May 1st, but I have already begun doing some of the work of this position.

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Finally, one more thing that I am involved with each week, is to hold a Bible study with all the national men who may be in town at the time.  These men put in long hard hours just like all of our missionary translators doing the work of translating the Scriptures into their languages.  But most of them have never had the opportunity to go to any Bible College, and may have very little background on the whole message of the Bible.

So it is my privilege to prepare studies of various biblical topics each week and have a time of learning and sharing with these men.  We read verses from the Tok Pisin Bible (the trade language of PNG) to see what God’s Word says about the topic, and then go around the room to see if people are understanding what Scripture says.  This Wednesday we will conclude a three-week series on “Who is God?” and “What is God like?”  Praise God for these committed workers of God who want to learn more and more about Him.

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So that is what my weeks are looking like right now.  I have a very full plate of activities here in PNG, but I am filled with joy in what I am doing for the Lord.  It was not that long ago that I wondered if I would have the strength and ability to do much for God any more.  But God has been so good to me.  He began last summer to increase my strength and tolerance of being more active.  There is no doubt in my mind that I am doing what I am doing by the grace of God.

Well, I said this would be a shorter article.  And it is slightly.  But I am just so excited about what God is doing in me and through me to advance His Kingdom work over here in PNG that my fingers just keep flying over the keyboard.  There is so much more to say about all this, but I will need to take the time to make separate articles about these things.  And then you too will be rejoicing along with me at the marvellous things that God is doing to reach the nations with His Word, and transforming their lives.  Stay tuned, there will be more to come.

Praise God

Overcoming Discouragement By Our Faith – Pt. 1

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“I remember you talking about how you knew, at a relatively young age, that you wanted to be a missionary, and that’s what you ended up doing. You had a big dream, a chosen career path early and it came true. What I don’t always think about or remember is what it took for you to get there. You’ve certainly told some stories of life in those years, at the very least I haven’t always connected them.

Would you be willing to share with us some of your story of the difficulties you had on the journey to PNG, the doubts or discouragements that came up in those years? How did you keep “the big picture” in view while being a pastor, a youth leader, a “regular employee”, a student for years in different cities? How did you deal with having that dream interrupted when you came back to Canada?”

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I received an email today that included this portion that I have placed above.  I felt very honored by some compliments given in it.  It has also caused me to look back and reflect on my life and how things have all turned out.  The person who wrote this is very perceptive, in that he knows it has not been an easy road that has brought me this far.

Now I’m wondering how I can adequately answer the questions he has raised.  It’s true that I believed in my heart from a very early age that I would end up doing mission work.  And many people today who know me, probably also have this picture that I have always been on “the missionary track”.

But that would oversimplify the truth.  More precisely, I had the desire to become a Bible translator from the time that I visited a missionary couple in the mountains of Peru when I was just 16 years old.  But it was 20 years later in 1997, when I was 36, that I finally stepped off the plane in Papua New Guinea and I really began my career as a Bible translator.

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This brings us back to the questions that were asked in the email portion at the top.  What happened during those 20 years?  How did I handle ups and downs and discouragements during those years?  Perhaps I should begin by reflecting upon those early thoughts of “I want to become a Bible translator.”

To be really honest, this thought of becoming a Bible translator was just exactly that – a thought.  Now it was a good thought, and just like a little seed that gets planted in the ground and watered over time, it grew to become a life-dream for me.  But that did not really happen for many years.

The primary focus I had when I was a young person, was the thought “I believe that God wants to use me in full-time mission work.”  Now that’s a BIG idea, and also so very broad that it can include most anything I would do, as long as it was ministry work for Him.  I also felt strongly that this ministry work would be cross-cultural in nature and very likely to be outside of North America.

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In the early years of my adult life, I had many thoughts about what my mission life might look like.  I developed a passion for reading everything that I could find about missionary work.  I read the autobiographies of George Muller, the German missionary who founded orphanages in England, and of Hudson Taylor, the man who opened up China to missions, and of William Carey, the father of modern missions who lived in India and other S.E. Asia countries and brought Bible translation to dozens of language groups there.

I also read about modern mission efforts.  For a while there, I was fascinated by the stories of Christians who were persecuted behind the “Iron Curtain”, the Soviet dominated countries of Eastern Europe.  I kept reading the book “God’s Smuggler”, about a man who they called “Brother Andrew”, and how he would smuggle Bibles into the Soviet Union in the trunk of his car.

These ideas captivated me as a young person, and I felt I was ready to give my life for Christ, to serve Him and even to suffer for Him if necessary behind that Iron Curtain.  As I look back now, I smile at my youthful passion that I had back then.  Now, was I wrong about this passion?  Was I supposed to go to Eastern Europe, and then other interests or “cares of life” came along and distracted me?  It’s hard to know now.

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What I can say is that the desire to serve God in full-time work, most likely in overseas cross-cultural settings, was the beacon that burned within my life.  How to flesh that all out was something else altogether.  I will write in my article next week more about what happened in those late teen and early twenties years for me.

So in part, I can answer the question up above, about the “big picture” path of life.  I do believe that there are some basic facts that are true about each one of us and we must discover to see “how God made us”.  From the time I was 12 years old, and pretty much ever since, I have been a traveller by heart and in life itself.  That has made me a good missionary.

What each person must do (that includes you!) is to find out some of the basics of what they enjoy and want to pursue in life.  Are you a “city boy” or a “country girl”?  Do you work well with people, or like to work on your own?  Are you more of a leader, or a good follower?  What motivates you in life?  Answer some of the basics, but make sure you include God in your thought processes.  Because He may have a plan for you that you need to discover yet.  We’ll talk more on this in one week.

Sunset Cross

Serving The Lord In 2012

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Our Work For The Lord

To sum up what I did from January to April of last year, you could say I checked, checked and checked some more.  I had the privilege to work a friend of mine from our sister organization (SIL) on half of their Gospel of John in a Gulf Province language.  The preparation I did for their project came in handy as I then did the Advisor checking of John for the Akukem team in Madang.

To say that there were a number of challenges when we worked on the book of John for this second group would be quite an understatement.  Incomplete back translations, a late start date, uncertainty on who will arrive and work on which team, a potentially serious inter-clan conflict, and a dead hard drive are just a few of the exciting things we had to deal with.  As many would say, “Welcome to PNG.”

The men were very good to work with though once we got down to the business of checking the Scriptures, verse-by-verse-by-verse-by-verse.  You get the idea.  Including a brief break in the middle while I did more clean up work, it took us six long weeks to go through the entire book.  Our minds and bodies were worn out for sure, but our spirits rejoiced when we could say, “It is finished.”  We could pass the book along in pretty good shape for the final consultant check.

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The last consultant project I worked on in April was the book of Daniel for a third language group.  Believe it or not, it felt like a breeze after the long grueling sessions on John.  In fact, we checked all of Daniel in just a week and a half.  There were a number of “ahhhs” and “ohhhs” and widened eyes as we worked through the apocalyptic material, but the translation was good, and we all got a greater appreciation for the power and majesty of God who rules over nations and kingdoms.

Whenever I was doing consultant checking, Jill helped in the office and the publishing department.  She was able to help prepare questions for the E-1 curriculum which will help teachers to prepare lessons for their own vernacular preschool and Grades 1-2 education program.  She also helped with some Paratext coding for one of our completed New Testament projects, and then assisted me when I became fatigued or needed help with daily tasks around the house where we stayed.

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Then it was time to go back home to Canada.  I made the assumption that “home” would be warm when I got back to Calgary at the beginning of May.  Wrong!!  Oh well, it is Canada after all.  Jill and I celebrated our 28th anniversary on May 11th, and we decided that it would be nice to take a car ride out to the mountains, which are just an hour west of Calgary.  We had barely left the city limits when we both exclaimed, “It’s Spring!”  How did we know?  The orange construction pylons were dotted along the highway.

It was so nice to spend the Spring and Summer in Canada, with family and friends.  I stayed pretty close to home in Calgary and decided to pick up a hobby for the summer.  What did I do?  I retaught myself Hebrew after not using it for 19 years.  (There must be something wrong with me don’t you think, as I actually enjoyed reading backwards again in that strange Semitic font.)

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The other main summer activity for both Jill and I was to visit three churches in the Maritimes (two on PEI and one in Halifax) and then one in Calgary.  I would preach at the service hour, with Jill running the Power Point projection.  We would then talk with people after the services and meet in some homes to tell more about the work that we do for PBT-Canada.

At the end of October, I traveled to Dallas where it is warmer and more conducive to doing my translation checking preparation for my 2013 trip to PNG.  During November and December, I finished preparing my questions for Exodus chs. 1-24 as well as Psalms 120-150 for one group who have finished translating the New Testament.

In the middle of my time in Dallas, I was able to take a trip up to Illinois where I visited a number of our supporting churches.  I spoke in three churches and in three small group meetings over a ten day period.  They are all excited to see what God is doing in me (physically) and through us in the work of Bible translation.

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The big achievement for Jill last year was getting the acceptance letter from the Nursing Council in PNG and the Work Permit which provisionally allows her to do some nursing experience in PNG.  We do wonder if this is the beginning of us making a move towards living and working full-time here in PNG, or if we are meant to continue coming over each year for so many months out of each year.  This next trip will show us where this might lead.

I must mention an amazing thing that is occurring for me physically.  Ever since the churches in the Maritimes, and also Oak Park church in Calgary, prayed for me and Jill and for my healing, I have been doing better and better.  I am rarely using my arm crutches now.  I can walk around inside buildings without any assistance, and I am also starting to take short walks outside with only my pole or not even that.  I believe that God is incrementally healing me, and I am very grateful for that.  I believe He is preparing me for what lies ahead in PNG.

Prayer Card no address

Pioneering New Mission Fields – Pt. 2

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[Editor’s Note: The second article of this series was written by the Area Director of Pioneer Bible Translators who oversees the countries of Asia and the Pacific.  As you will read below, some of the countries which are included within this region are some of the most difficult countries for missionaries to enter and be engaged in activities that are overtly Christian in nature.  Despite this, God not only calls us to reach out to the people groups of these countries, but He is also helping us to find legitimate and creative ways to enter into the countries and work among the people.  Read on and you will understand more.]

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Access Strategies

“I am not sure what I expected to see when I drove through the city on my first trip to East Asia, but it wasn’t a Lexus or Louis Vuitton. Yet I saw those trappings of economic prosperity throughout the city, along with modern malls, department stores, and new high-rises. Amazing changes are taking place here as a result of increasing openness to economic development.

One thing that hasn’t changed after centuries of spiritual oppression is the people’s need for the Gospel. We know of over 300 languages spoken here; the actual number is probably much higher. Most of the people groups speaking these minority languages are both unreached and unengaged– they do not have a church presence, and no outside agencies are bringing them the Gospel. They are among the most spiritually impoverished peoples on earth.”

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“Pioneer Bible Translators is committed to serving people groups like these. This is a challenging task in East Asia, where the government controls many aspects of domestic life, including the ability to travel freely. Expatriates cannot simply move to a remote area and set up housekeeping. They need a reason to be there. Unfortunately, the most believable reason–that we are there to share the Gospel of Jesus–is the very one we cannot use.

Therefore Pioneer Bible Translators is working diligently to develop creative access strategies to engage the unreached peoples of East Asia. These strategies require an entrepreneurial spirit coupled with the ability to analyze needs and opportunities in the community and facilitate business ventures that give us legitimate reasons to establish our presence there. Ethno-tourism, eco-tourism, coffee brokerages, and small-scale manufacturing are among the promising possibilities.”

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“However, for reaching some language communities, creative access strategies such as these will not be enough. Some areas are simply off limits to expatriates. Period. To reach the Bible-less, church-less peoples who lived there, we must find ways to engage them from a distance.

One possibility is to train other East Asians as cross-cultural evangelists and church planters, then send them into those areas. Another involves identifying members of those language groups who live outside their home areas and engaging them in the work of Bible translation.

Yet another possibility is to equip mother-tongue translators to work on-site, bringing them out of their home areas periodically for workshops and training.”

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“Our most important strategy, however, does not require creative access. It involves availing ourselves of the access we already have–access to the very throne of God. If the peoples of East Asia are to be reached, it will be through the prayers of God’s people.

We need to pray fervently and regularly that God will raise up workers to serve here, that He will lead them to find creative strategies that work, that He will grant them favor with government officials, and that He will work through them to bring His Gospel to the unreached.”

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[Editor’s Note: We truly live in exciting times today.  We are literally seeing the Gospel message of Jesus Christ go to the very ends of the earth.  But as the article written above points out, there are still some nooks, crannies and corners where important people groups are situated that have tremendous barriers still to getting traditional missionaries into those areas.  Please be praying along with us that God will show us the way to get the Light of Jesus to shine in these spiritually dark corners.]

Population in this region: 1.3 billion people

Languages in this region: 334

Languages without Bibles: 287

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Used by permission from Pioneer Bible Translator’s monthly publications.  If you would like to receive this quarterly magazine, click on the link here for “The Latest Word ” and subscribe to it.

Cool Computer Programs for Bible Translation

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Technology & Bible Translation

The first really cool peek for me into the emerging technology for Bible translators happened in 1994.  I had seen a little bit of the old program called “Shoebox” where linguists and translators would store their language data and enter their vernacular text which could then be interlinearized to have English gloss words under the vernacular text once you had a good amount of words entered into their dictionary file.

Let me pause here before going on and tell you why this linguistic computer program was called “Shoebox”.  Think back to the time before computers.  (If you can do that easily, you are my age or older, but if this is hard for you, then you are definitely part of the younger generation.)  😛  Now imagine that you have been doing language learning for a few years in a remote part of the world.

What would you do to help you keep your data all organized?  Even to divide words into basic verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs.  Well, the pioneers of Bible translation actually did use the old file card system and would put one word, and its description/definition, on to one card, and then “file” it in long shoeboxes to be retrieved later when needed.  (Some translators would have piles of shoeboxes in their houses full of words and linguistic notes in the early days.)

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Thank goodness for the advent of the computer.  Now we no longer need to put all of our research into old musty shoeboxes.  And we no longer need to fear that our work will all go up in smoke if the house burned down or would get all chewed up, by all the cockroaches in our village houses.  Though we do need to worry about hard drives crashing, and wondering where we put that information in the thousands of files on our hard drive.

But back to where I started.  “Shoebox” was very handy for us to organize our linguistic data and do basic translation work.  In 1994, when I was at a training week of orientation for Pioneer Bible Translators, I was introduced to the neatest, most cool and intuitive linguistic program at that time which was called “Lingua-links”.  It could add words, analyze words, interlinearize words, and so much more with just a click of a button.

When I was able to tell Jill later about this, I summed it up by saying, “That was SO AWESOME!”  Very professional, wouldn’t you say?  I think that is when I knew for sure that I wanted to be a Bible translator, because I would be allowed to buy the best model of computer out there, and make it perform some awesome linguistic feats, and be able to call it “work”.  I was in love!!  😀

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In the past decade, there continues to be great advances made in the area of marrying linguistics together with computer technology.  There were a number of versions of Lingua-links over the years, each being able to do more than the last version.  But the basic ideas remained the same.  And then came along a program called “Paratext”.

When I first heard about Paratext, I thought that it was just another program that was doing pretty much the same things I was already doing.  I was wrong.  It did still have much (and even more) of the computing power of the old programs.  One common feature with modern linguistic programs is the ability to open a large number of windows within the main window.  Here, let me show you what I mean:

Paratext Windows (800x450)

 Going from top left down and then middle top to bottom and right side top to bottom, I have these windows to work with just in this one program:
  1. My Hebrew text in which I can add notes.
  2. The Hebrew/English interlinear text.  I can add rows within this to give me the lemmas, the transliteration, and the parsing of the Hebrew words.  All of these are hyperlinked to one or more Hebrew Lexicon and Dictionary.
  3. A text comparison of a variety of English versions.
  4. A Key Term rendering window which will grab specialized biblical terms and show you the equivalent vernacular term which will add up over time to become your “Key Term List”
  5. A rendering tool based off of algorithms of the Greek and English text and looking into the vernacular text to produce a computer generated guessing and interlinearization of the vernacular to English.
  6. The “Back Translation” of the vernacular text.  We want a reverse translation from the translated local language back into a fairly literal English version of their text.  I use this the most to judge if something is missing, added or wrong in their translation.
  7. Peeking out at the top right is the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon.
  8. The NIV larger window box.
  9. Finally, the actual vernacular translation that I am checking.

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What was really exciting though about Paratext was that you did not just work on this project by yourself in your local village any more.  Of course you want to save to your local hard drive as you go along.  But Paratext is part of the global work of United Bible Societies and many other linguistic organizations who share their project information and their translations with others around the world.

So when you do an “Internet Server” back up of your work, it sends the data to the Paratext server on the other side of the world, and can be made accessible to anyone else who has been approved to work on the translation.  So we have literally gone from doing local translation projects to doing global translation projects.

There is so much more I’d like to tell you about this, but that will have to wait until the next article.  I hope that some of you who have read this have found this very interesting.  And who knows, maybe you’ll fall in love with what I am showing you, just like I did so many years ago with the joining of technology and linguistics.

Scripture Impact On National Translators

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Bible Translation Ministers to the Lives of Those Who Do The Translation

One of the things that I have noticed over the years as I have been involved in doing Bible translation, and now as I check the translations that others do, is that sometimes we get so focused in on the task of doing translation that we forget to watch for and expect the translation to have a real impact on the lives of those who are doing and checking the translation.

It is very easy as they say, “to lose sight of the forest for the trees”.  In other words, we can be so caught up in making sure each sentence of the translation clearly and accurately expresses the same meaning as the original Greek or Hebrew sentences of the Bible that we can fail to stop or even slow down to let that meaning speak to our hearts and deepen our relationship with God.

    

It’s like the Martha/Mary story we learn from Luke 10:38-42.  When Jesus came to the house of these two sisters, Martha was intently focused on getting all the preparations ready and just right to host Jesus at their supper table and actually got upset that Mary was quite content to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to His teachings.  When Martha complained, Jesus said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it.”  (The Message)

I was reminded of the importance of keeping our spiritual eyes open to see what God is doing in us and in the lives of those with whom we work on these Bible translation projects when I read the excerpt below written by a good friend of ours who has been doing translation work for over 15 years in the Solomon Islands.  I pray you will also be encouraged and challenged by the powerful workings of God’s Word in the lives of people as you read his story.

                                

In our last letter, I mentioned some ‘bumps in the road’ that we were experiencing. It has been good to see how God has worked in these situations over the last few months.

I wrote that Jiro, the man doing the computer work for the translation, had recently lost his 19 year old son due to an illness. So when I arrived in the Solomon Islands in early March it was great to see that he was already there and he made it clear that he is still committed to working on the translation.

I was surprised to see how well he was doing and I found it quite humbling to hear him say how he accepted the loss of his son as something that God allowed to happen. I was also grateful that Jofi, who had injured his leg in the middle of last year, was well enough to come so that we had our full team as we worked together for two weeks reviewing the gospel of Mark.

    

We spent a good deal of our time discussing the meanings of different words. There are two main dialects in the language and it is important to choose words for the translation that will be understood by everyone. After listening to some sections being read out loud it was great to hear the men comment about how satisfying it was to hear the Scriptures in their own language.

They said it will make it easy for preachers because after people hear the Scriptures in their mother-tongue language they will understand and won’t need to have it all explained like they do when English versions are used in churches. When we finished reviewing Mark, we printed out fifty trial editions.

The men have taken those back to their communities and will read them to people and hopefully get feedback that we can use in further revisions. Jiro is currently working on Luke and Matthew and we hope to check these when I make my next trip in late August.

    

 Just before I was heading to bed one evening, I saw Somaka, a member of the translation team for the other language group which is closely related to the one we are working in, sitting at a table in the lounge area writing in a notebook. I remembered that I had a message I needed to give him so I went over to talk to him.

As I was leaving, he called me back and said, “I have been sitting here writing down all the things I’m thankful to God for. Can I tell you about them?” So I sat down and Somaka explained to me that in the few years that he has been involved in translation work, he has been learning what it really means to be a Christian.

    

He told me how he had come to realize that all people sin, but because of Jesus’ love for us, no sin was too bad for Him to forgive. He also explained that he had come to understand that he didn’t have to try and do things so that God would accept him. As he talked, it struck me that even though Somaka has attended church for most of his life, it is only now that he is interacting with God’s Word in his own language that he is understanding the basics of the Christian life.

I am always thankful for these reminders that God uses translations in people’s heart language to bring them closer to Him.

Practical Training For New Missionaries

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Weird Wiring & Medical Mishaps

One thing that Pioneer Bible Translators (PBT) is keen on is providing good training for new missionaries so that they are ready when they get to the mission field.  Sometimes we know where we are going, and sometimes we don’t know where we will end up.  But even if we think we know what to expect, the one thing I have learned as a missionary is to “expect the unexpected”.

In my last article about PBT, I shared about the vision of PBT to reach the regions of the world that have the most “Extreme Spiritual Poverty”.  (Read that article here.)  Part of the training that I was involved with last week at our annual training and recruitment week was in the area of “Language Learning and Linguistics”.  But our new PBT missionaries do not just get linguistic training for the field, they also get a number of very practical hands-on training.

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Let me share with you all here some comments from a student who took these practical courses, and then some words from a couple who help to teach these classes.  First of all, one of our new women missionaries who took these courses back in 2010 had this to say:

One of the training classes I took was Primary Health Care which teaches you how to take care of yourself when medical care is not available.  This will come in handy in the villages of Africa.  I learned that if you smell like stale beer but have not been drinking you could have bubonic plague.  If you smell like fresh baked bread, you might have enteric fever.  Some of the other case studies I did diagnosed diseases like HIV/AIDS, yellow fever, cholera and even rabies.  

We learned how to deliver babies including a breech.  Although I learned how to suture a wound you should make a quick note to self that you really don’t want me to stitch you up.  Before that great class I had taken a few others including a Bush Mechanics class.  In that class I learned to wire from solar panels through batteries and a converter to electrical outlets and a light bulb that actually lit up!  These classes were great fun and will be very useful in the near future.

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As you can see, this young woman was really preparing herself for just about anything that might happen while she will be on the mission field, from doing medical care for herself and others, to doing major renovations and repairs to any house she will be living in.  Thankfully for us, Jill was a nurse (who also took an intensive “Medical Mission” crash course), and I had had some experiences in building projects when I worked for a summer mission ministry called “Teen Missions, Intl.”

Now that we have had a word from the student, let’s hear a word from two of our trainers, a married couple who have a passion to train new missionaries.  Steve has had lots of practical handyman jobs and so he helped with the “Bush Mechanics” workshop, and Becky, who is a registered nurse, helped to teach the “Medical Missionary Intensive” course.  This is what they said after the courses were finished in 2010:

I (Steve) enjoyed helping teach the Bush Mechanics class to 13 recruits. The Bush Mechanics Course is four days in length and many skills are taught such as electrical wiring, small engine repair, designing and maintaining solar systems, making a solar oven and then experimenting with cooking in the solar ovens, lantern operation and maintenance, plumbing, soldering, and designing a bush kitchen.

I (Becky) want to thank the other two RNs and the ARNP person, plus one more volunteer who for helping us with the 9 day Primary Health Care Course (PHC) June 29 – July 7th. We had a great group of 13 students. It was fun to observe them gain confidence as they learned to give injections, role play emergencies, suture, apply splints, and become so familiar with the Village Health Manual that they could take a list of symptoms, find the probable diagnosis, and then come up with a treatment plan.

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I think that perhaps the teachers are more confident in the students, than the students are confident in themselves.  But for the most part, all of us are confident that these budding new missionaries will do well once they get over to their field of service.  I’m sure they will find themselves in some awkward and difficult spots, but with at least this minimal training, plus some help from fellow missionaries, will help them to succeed well on their first term over there.

I know that I quickly had to learn to be a plumber (with pipes of slightly different diameters), and a carpenter (working in wood that bent nails), and an electrician (yes, I have a current when I touch the ends of the bare wires and I see sparks fly.)  J  And even though Jill had her Canadian nursing license, it was illegal for her to practice direct medicine, so we did some “back door” medicine and helped as we were able to.

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So some of us PBT people do have some of these basic skills, but they are mostly for potential emergencies.  And so like our woman missionary above who went to East Africa and told a teacher of 90 students who live away from home to be at school, but also who work to take care of their daily needs, with regards to helping out she told her, “the only thing I could do for them was to share the gospel.”  Then the head mistress of the school very sweetly smiled and gently touched my arm and said “don’t you understand?  That is all we really need.”  YES!  Jesus is the answer for the world today.

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