Overcoming Discouragement By Our Faith – Pt. 1


“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

The Passion For Prayer


“We Believe in Prayer” – Part 2

I hope that those who read this article would have already read the first article in this short series on Prayer. (If you have not, I encourage you to click and read “The Power of Prayer“.) Before we can even begin to talk about having a passion for prayer, we must first believe that God hears our prayers and answers these prayers. Putting it in another way, if we do not believe God exists, or if we do believe He exists but don’t believe prayer accomplishes anything, then we would have nothing to be passionate about.

In some ways, we have another chicken-egg dilemma, the question of what comes first, the chicken or the egg. At least that is how some people seem to operate. The Bible supports the view that “believing is seeing” (see Hebrews 11:6 and also John 20:29). But many people live more on the principle of “seeing is believing”, and when they don’t see God answering a prayer the way they think He should, then they question the practice of prayer and even question God Himself.

So as I continue in this article, I stand on the conviction that God exists, He hears and answers prayer, and praying is not only the normal thing for a Christian to do, but it is quite an exciting activity to do. Now let us dive into this second study on prayer. Again, I am summarizing some of the key points that were shared in a Sunday school teaching session at Crossroads Christian Church in Grand Prairie, Texas.

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OVERVIEW: “This lesson is about the need to develop a true passion for prayer. Prayer is our source, the course of success, the secret to life, our supply and our strength. But an effective, powerful prayer life comes only when it is our priority. Our priorities reveal our passion.” (Taken from the outline handed to us in the Sunday School classroom.)

One of the Key Text passages for our study was Acts 6:1-4. The church in Jerusalem was mightily blessed by God in those early months after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension. They grew rapidly as many thousands came to believe in Christ to be their Savior and Lord. The only problem when any group experiences rapid growth, is whether or not the leadership of that group is organized well enough to manage all of the people. And in Acts 6, it is apparent that some people, the Hellenistic Jews (Jews who grew up outside of Palestine), were not getting their portion of daily food rations.

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When the complaint became known to the Apostles, the leaders of the early church, and proved to be a valid complaint, the leaders had to make some important decisions. Now pause here and ask yourself what you would have done in this situation. I know what I would have been tempted to do. I would have called in the various other leaders, plus the key representatives of the disenfranchised group and we would have probably reorganized the activities and responsibilities that each person had. Then over the coming weeks and months we would convene more meetings to see that everything was running smoothly.

Not so for the Apostles. They did recognize the importance and seriousness of taking good care of all the church members. But they quickly delegated this responsibility to other capable leaders. But for themselves, they stated quite clearly that their two most important tasks before God and on behalf of the people were to preach the Word of God and to pray. It was their strong conviction, their passion, that their true source of personal strength and power in ministry was directly dependent upon the continued practice and commitment to prayer.

What I find interesting and dismaying at the same time, is that many of us profess a personal faith in Christ and also believe in the principle that prayer is important, but few of us actually practice the spiritual discipline of prayer. And I include myself when I write this. We give our mental assent to this truth that prayer is powerful and important. And it’s not that we don’t pray at all, but are we really passionate about praying? As the Lesson Overview puts it, have we made prayer a real priority in our lives?

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In a recent article, “Giant Step For Bible Translation“, I shared the excitement we all felt within our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators, as we dedicated our first permanent home office building. This structure is symbolic of the rapid growth we have experienced in our personnel, going from 182 career missionaries in 2006 to 322 career missionaries right   2011. And the growth is not slowing down. In fact, the goal for the next six-year plan (2013 – 18) is to try to double our mission again to reach the point of having 800 career missionaries.

So what has made the difference? Hard work? Certainly! And an optimistic spirit and better skills in recruitment and retention of missionaries? That also has a part to play. But if you were to ask Greg Pruett, our current President of PBT, he would say, “Prayer is not just A strategy for seeing global mission work accomplished; Prayer is THE strategy.” And not only does Greg live out this principle in his life, he has also proven the truth of this principle in what God is currently doing in and through the ministries of Pioneer Bible Translators.

My question to you and I then is this:  Have we made prayer a priority in our lives?  And how do we know what are the priorities of our lives?  Basically, whatever we spend most of our time and energies upon, and especially whatever we think most about, those things are our priorities.  As for me, I’m not a super prayer person, but I do wake up each morning thanking Him for a new day, and then throughout the day, I often lift up a prayer concerning the events and people who come to mind.  How about you?  Do you have this kind of commitment to be a “People of Prayer”?  I hope you do.

God’s Little Salesman!

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I can still remember my first experience of trying to present something of value to another person and hoping that the person would want what I was offering.  I was very young at the time, probably only about eight or nine years old.  And thankfully I was not alone in this endeavor, as I was out with my older brother at that time and we were doing this together.

Now you are probably asking by this point, “What in the world was Norm doing?”  So I will tell you.  My brother and I were out trying to sell raffle tickets at a bowling lane.  I don’t remember what the prize was, but for about a dollar per ticket, people had a chance to win some nice item and also help the Youth Bowling Association.  You see, all the guys in our family were bowlers – my father, my two brothers and myself.  And selling raffles tickets was one way we raised money for the youth programs and to go on special outings in western Canada.

So there we were, my brother and I, going from lane to lane asking people if they would like to buy a ticket.  On the first time we went out, to my recollection, my brother sold about five tickets after going down the twenty or so lanes of bowlers, while I had sold about five books of tickets totaling about fifty tickets.  This seemed to work so well that we came back a few more nights and found the same thing happen, where I would sell five to ten times as many tickets as my brother.

Now an interesting fact about this story is that there was to be a special award given out to the top youth sellers of these tickets.  The prize was to go on a Greyhound trip to Banff.  So guess what happened?  Yes, you guessed it.  I was one of the top sellers of tickets, if not the number one seller.  But when it was time to turn in all the proceeds and the ticket book sales, it turned out that there was an age restriction for the youth that could go on the trip.  And I was too young.  So my brother was credited with all the sales and got to go on the trip instead of me.  Oh double darn and rats!  : )

But the question was asked later, “Why was Norm able to sell so many tickets, especially after his brother had just gone down the row of lanes and asked the same question to the bowlers, but who had not bought a ticket?”  Well, what can I say.  I was a cute kid.  : )  But I think there was another answer.

As I have been involved in church and mission ministry over the years, many people have commented to me that I have a real passion when I am presenting something that I really believe in.  There is a fire and a deep conviction within me that what I have to offer is something that you would also want to have.

I think that if I had chosen a business vocation, that I could have been a great salesman.  (Anyone want to buy a prime piece of swampland?  No worries about traffic congestion or problems with your neighbors.)  But God has always had something else in mind for me.  I was not to be focusing upon presenting an excellent product to other people, but rather I was to be single-minded in presenting a unique and excellent Person to other people.

Ever since I met Jesus when I was 12 years old, I have whole-heartedly believed in the Person of Jesus and what He has to offer to the world.  Namely, our redemption (paying the price for our sins), and forgiveness of those sins (He has removed them as far as the West is from the East), and our adoption (we have become children of the Living God and heirs to the riches of Heaven).

Now that is something to get excited about.  And whenever I get the chance to share about God’s mission to bring the world back to Himself, I get really fired up with a zeal and a passion that has attracted many people to what I have to say.  For they can tell that this is not just a casual interest in Christ that I have, but a true and living relationship with the Everlasting God.  And that is something worth talking about and offering to the world.

“When I came to you brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.           1 Corinthians 2:1-5

Discover Your Passion

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For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.   Ephesians 2:10

A question that many people may have asked you is, “So what did you do to celebrate the beginning of a new year?”  And I would love to hear what your answer is to that question.  Right now, I would like to share with you a wonderful experience that I was able to have over this past week.

On January 2nd, I flew in to Los Angeles, California where I was met by Steve & Linda Whitmer and driven about 40 miles to Fullerton, to the campus of Hope International University.  There I met up with my three other colleagues from Pioneer Bible Translators.  For the next five days, we would introduce ten students from Hope into the principles and foundational materials that are essential for anyone who is interested in the ministry of bringing God’s Word to the Bibleless peoples of the world.

Many of these students have already had a short-term experience in overseas mission ministry.  But for a number of them, Bible translation and its support ministries was relatively new.  As the week went on, you could see the growing interest in the students, and the questions they asked and the interaction of them with all the teachers showed that they were tracking with us very well and were capturing the vision and the passion that we have for this ministry.  (There were still many moments of simply having fun together, whether it was sharing 3 foot pizzas, or posing for a camera shot.)

There were so many important topics that we touched upon, (such as linguistics, anthropology, spiritual disciplines, regional area overviews, literacy, community development, and more), that it is just about impossible for me to sum up the whole experience into a few paragraphs.

Some of the things that I specifically taught to the students were as follows:

Phonetics & Phonology:  was that a velar fricative or a bilabial click sound?  : )

Translation Process:  starting with a rough draft of a translated text, you then check it exegetically to ensure the true meaning is preserved, and follow that with many levels of checking before you can finally publish the material.

Language Learning:  I eat part of a banana and ask in my Nend language, “What am I doing?” and Richard answers in his African language.  I repeat what he said and write down what I hear.  Ta Dah!!  That’s how to learn a language.  What fun we have!

Anthropology:  the best way to understand and change behavior in any culture is to first find out what their worldview is and address beliefs at that level.

Now when I was first asked to come and help teach this week-long missions course, I eagerly accepted the opportunity to teach about Bible translation work.  As many of you know, I have had a passion for mission work and especially the ministry of Bible translation for most of my life.  I had discovered what my passion was at a very early age, and even though there have been some detours and side trails in my life, this passion has always stayed with me.

One of the questions though for me and Jill, was whether or not I would have the physical energy to handle the demands of teaching this course.  Thankfully, we had an excellent team of teachers who would take turns covering material that was presented, according to the strengths and experiences that each person brought with them.  (And by the way, if you are reading this: Nathan, Marsha and Richard, you all did a great job.)

I was also blessed in many other ways which made it possible for me to make it through the week without becoming overwhelmed by fatigue or pain.  Regarding pain, the latest tactic of battling it seems to be working, namely the narcotic patch that I wear that gives me a small release of an opiate drug 24/7 over a seven-day period and then I put on a new patch.  Praise God, my pain has been minimal this week.

The other blessings came from the school and their staff.  I was allowed to stay in a Guest Suite on campus that was quite large and allowed me the ability to get at least one extra nap in each day.  And thanks to Steve & Linda, I was able to literally put my feet up and relax in comfort between sessions when I was not teaching.  They moved a recliner love seat into the room just for me.  : )

So how do I sum up such a great week as this past one.  Well, I believe that the four of us who taught the class came in with a real passion to share our “stories” about what God is doing in the world through the work of Bible translation and its supporting ministries.  And as we taught, and shared our field experiences, we were constantly challenging the students to “Discover Your Passion”.  In other words, we encouraged them to find out what it was that God was calling them to do for the Lord, to find out how God had created them to do His good works in the world.  And maybe, just maybe, working with Pioneer Bible Translators will be what He wants them to do.

As for me, I am on my way back to Canada.  It seems I am always on the go somewhere.  In fact, I will be heading to Papua New Guinea in 19 days from now (with Jill to follow) on a 9 week trip to do the consultant check on multiple books of the New Testament (Hebrews in one language, Eph./Phil./Col./Philemon & Jude in a second language, and finishing up Matthew in a third language.)  I may not move very fast any more, but it seems I am constantly on the move.  It’s because God placed that passion in my heart and I know I must follow where He leads me.  I would appreciate your prayers for the work of the next two months.

God Spoke Through People


How I Became a Missionary – Part 1

Many times I have been asked the question, “How do you know God’s will?”  This is so broad of a question it is hard to answer.  And in fact, what people are often asking is, “What would God want me to do with my life?”  The most important decision a person needs to make is to accept Jesus as their personal Saviour and Lord.  The next two most important questions for most people then revolve around, “Who should I marry?” and “What career will I pursue in my life?”

The beginning of my journey to become a Christian was shared in an earlier blog, “For My Tears, Jesus Died.” The interesting and hilarious details of how I chose Jill to be my wife will be in future blog entries.  But the third question regarding the choosing of a career, and in my case a missionary career, I think is a fascinating story and will probably take many blog entries to give you the full story.

On this post, I want to share about how God used people and spoke through people to help guide me on this quest of what I should do with my life.  I’m sure I could name many people who influenced my life, such as my parents, key friends, teachers, pastors, etc.  But as I look back at my life, I can see very clearly how four individuals very specifically impacted me, although they themselves did not know at that time the impact of what they said.

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The first person to impact my life, was a lady from Wycliffe Bible Translators.  I did not know her personally, but she was a member of my church and had been overseas working for Wycliffe.  She was giving a slide presentation on her work, and on the work of Bible translation in general.  I was 14 at the time.  I had been a Christian for only two years.  But when as I watched her presentation, a chord within me resonated, and the germ of an idea, or should I say. the germ of a vision was planted.

The second person, actually couple, were also Bible translators, living in the highlands of Peru and working to get the Scriptures into a Quechua language.  I was 16 at this time, and was also in the Canadian Navy.  (But that story will have to wait for another time.)  I got special permission from our ship’s captain to have a 3 day leave so that I could visit these people who were also supported by my church back in Canada.  During those three days, I became absolutely fascinated with what I saw and heard about Bible translation.  The seed had sprouted and began to take root in my heart.

The third person was also a Bible translator, and I met her at a fundraising banquet for Wycliffe.  I was 18 and she was probably in her 60’s or older.  (My thought at first was, “Oh great, I get stuck next to an old lady!”)  But God spoke through this saint to me.  She told me story after story about Bible translation work, and I was quickly enraptured by her stories.  Then suddenly she asked an odd question.  She said, “Are you very good at math?”  I replied, “Yes, I get 90s and 95s all the time.  I love math.”  Then she replied to me, “Then you would make an excellent Bible translator.”  Wow!  Was this a prophetic word?  And the interest within became a burning desire from that time on.

Now jumping over many years, and without going into details of the many years and places that our wandering lives and various ministries took us, finally in 1993, while living in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (PEI), we got talking to an old college friend of mine.  I had been worn down and beaten through some tough ministry experiences and did not have a drive or a passion left in me.  And this shocked my friend, who then said, “I thought you always wanted to be a missionary!”  And that statement woke me up and rekindled the fire within to pursue a missionary career.

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What value does this story have for you and I today?  First, we all need to realize that God places people in our lives at strategic moments.  And in these moments, God will send us a message, one intended just for you or me.  God wants to speak through these people and help guide us into the things God would have us do.

Secondly, this story tells us that we must keep our spiritual eyes and ears open to be able to catch the messages God is trying to send us.  Are we listening?  Thirdly, we may never realize that we are the ones who might be impacting others with a word of wisdom or the planting of a vision.  So keep on sharing from your heart whatever God lays on your heart and leave it in God’s hand to bless what you say to the benefit of someone else.

But most important of all for me, is the spiritual truth that God often will plant a dream, a vision, a deep yearning for something in our heart, and if we will remain faithful to Him, and be honestly seeking to hear His voice, then these desires of our hearts are in fact also God’s desires and He will in every way strive to see these passions of our hearts come to pass.

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Scripture itself says it this way:

Psalm 20:4    “May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.”

Psalm 37:4     “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

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