Friday, December 2, 2011

I Know You Will Be Disappointed, But ....

Hi all my faithful readers and raving fans! I have some sad news.

I know you will be deeply disappointed but I’m afraid I need to take a short break from blogging during December.

In October and November, I traveled on a six-week, twenty-five-city speaking tour on the US east coast. The day I returned, my wife, Jo, had hip revision surgery. Now, two weeks later, I am traveling to Manado, Indonesia to speak at a retreat for Kartidaya, the national Bible translation agency for Indonesia. It’s over-the-top go, go, go, and I won't be able to do my December blogs justice.

Besides that, I may not even have a good Internet connection while on this trip. I plan to return to Canada about a week before Christmas.

Have a Blessed and Joyous Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

I’ll see you back here early January 2012.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mandate 14, Something Worse than Mindless Bureaucracy

“Push Start,” the airport check in machine ordered. I pushed Start.
“Place your passport on the scanner.” I did so.
“Are you Jack Popjes traveling to Orlando via Houston on United?” I pushed Yes and obeyed a few more commands.
“Baggage fee $65. Insert your credit card.” I inserted my credit card.
“Take your receipt” I took my receipt,
“Take your boarding passes” I took my boarding passes
“Go to Gate C-15” I went to Gate C-15.
Oh, I did see some human hands reach out to attach routing tags to my two checked bags. At least I think they were human.

Did I mind being ordered about by this machine? Not at all! It recognized me as a human being; it met my needs and efficiently got me and my baggage checked in. I was a happy man.

Not so one night some months earlier as I drove through a small town at midnight. I was dead tired after two speaking engagements, and answering questions on missions. I longed to get home and to bed.

As I approached an intersection, the traffic light turned red and I stopped—automatic reflex. I looked to the left and to the right; no movement of any sort in either direction for blocks. No headlights behind me, none in the road ahead. The town was as lifeless as an abandoned movie set.
Why am I, a human being made in the image of Almighty God, waiting for a stupid machine to tell me I can go? Why do I have to sit here for two long minutes before I can drive on and finally crawl into bed?

I resented that mindless machine—dumb, unthinking, uncaring, oblivious of me and my needs—mechanically going through its cycle hour after hour. Its only power was in my conscience, my driving habits, and the fear that somewhere a policeman or a camera might record me violating that red-eyed order to stop and wait.

When it released me at last, I wondered why I felt so angry and resentful. Then it hit me. I had felt the same way during my decades of living in Brazil, probably one of the most heavily bureaucratised countries on earth. I used to take a full week off work to stand in endless lines just to renew a driver’s license.

But what is far worse is when churches unwittingly formulate policies that hinder the Holy Spirit’s leading. I remember a pastor telling me how many doctors, nurses, and Bible school teachers their denomination supported in Africa and Asia. I was much impressed and asked him, “What other ministries do you sponsor?”
“None”, he said, “we focus only on meeting medical needs and providing theological training.”
“But what happens when God equips a young couple in your congregation with the gifts and talents that fit them to meet other needs, like Bible translation? Would you support them financially?”
“Sorry, no we couldn’t. It’s against our rules.”

It was neither the first nor the last time I heard this explanation. It is worse than unthinking machines or mindless bureaucracy.

How could it have been the mind of Christ, the Spirit of Jesus, that inspired those rules? 

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Mandate # 13, Putting Shoes on Prayers

I am currently on a five-week-long, prayer filled, missions speaking tour of twenty-five cities on the US east coast trying to motivate God’s people to get involved in worldwide Bible translation. It is a task that reminds me of the old black backwoods philosopher’s saying, “Dey ain’t nobody kin make nobody do nuddin.”

One reason that I am doing this traveling and speaking is that I believe God is able to move people.

I know this because every night a few people come up to me and say things like this: “Thank you for coming. Tonight I learned things about missions and Bible translation that I never heard in all my years of going to church.” Some go on to tell me they have committed themselves to pray, or to give, or to get personally involved in translating the Word of God into every last language spoken on earth. A few even buy my books.

The other reason I travel and speak to Christians is that in I am doing exactly what Jesus told his disciples to do when they saw the great need of the lost. “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Mat 9:28 (NIV).

Notice that Jesus did not tell His disciples to start harvesting. Instead He told them to focus on the One who could mobilize the needed harvesters.

Jesus in effect told his disciples, “Don’t rush out and start evangelizing the world. Stop and ask God to mobilize His world-wide Church to evangelize the world. Stop and ask God to give His people a passion for the lost so that many will give up their current lifestyles and go.”

Missions starts with the prayer, “Please God, get Your people moving. Mobilize Your Church! You love the whole world. Widen the vision of every pastor from their congregation to the whole world. Expand the vision of every congregation from their own community to the whole world. Move huge numbers of Your people to volunteer for service and to give, not of their excess, but sacrificing to provide the needed financial support.”

That is my prayer, and the prayer of others who have a passion for the lost around the world. Some of us not only pray but we put shoes to our prayers. During these five weeks, for instance, six teams are traveling to 150 cities all across the USA to share our passion with potential harvesters. We go to inform God’s people about Bible translation so the Holy Spirit can lead them into the most foundational ministry any church or missionary can be involved in. Not even the Holy Spirit can lead people into a ministry they know nothing about!

I have spoken at hundreds of special events and in dozens of churches about the need for translating God’s Word into every one of the world’s seven thousand languages. When I mention that Christianity thrives only where the Bible is translated into the language of the local population, my hearers are surprised. When I tell them that the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were the first translators and that only a few of Jesus’ words were preserved in the language in which He spoke them, they are astonished.

And yet, Jesus clearly told His Church to go and evangelize the whole world and disciple all the nations. At the end of time God will be worshiped by people from every tribe, every language, and every nation. How can that happen while there are still 1,800 languages spoken on earth in which not even one verse of Scripture has been translated?

“Great Boss in heaven, please move Your people to get to work in this desperately needy world.”

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mandate 12, From Economics to Theology: How the Canelas Understand the Good News

Over forty years ago, my wife and I with our three pre-school daughters accepted the invitation to live among Brazil’s Canela people in their main village. We planned to learn their culture and language. Our training had prepared us for many things, but even so the Canelas surprised us with their highly effective economic system.

We didn’t expect to see money since it was a four-day round-trip on foot to the nearest store, but thought there would be bartering, exchanging one kind of good for another such as a set of bone tipped arrows for a haunch of deer meat. Instead, we soon learned that the economic system was credit based. Meticulous records were kept, not on paper but in Canela brains. Yes, every Canela remembered a record of debts owed to them and debts they owed to others.

We should not have been so surprised. A barter system depends on people producing things that are different from those others produce. But every Canela family produced exactly the same things as every other Canela family. Every family had hunters, water carriers, basket weavers, woodchoppers, gardeners, and cooks.

What they did not have, however, was an easy way to preserve fresh food. When a hunter returned with a deer, he knew his family could never eat it all before it spoiled. Everyone else knew this too. So other hunters would come and ask for a piece of meat, saying, “When I next kill a deer, I’ll pay you back.” Okay, no problem.

Our culture uses the same credit system when a neighbour runs out of sugar while she is baking a cake and comes to borrow a cup of sugar. The Canela system, however, covered everything, even time and effort. Twenty men would work for days helping one family cut house building poles and constructing the house, knowing the next time any of them needed help in a building project, they could get it from the person they had helped.

So what happens if a hunter incurs a debt he cannot pay because of a crippling accident? No problem. The debt passes on to the hunter’s extended family: a brother or other male relative takes on the debt.

Do this year after year and you have a fully functioning credit based economic system that touches every aspect of life. Although money is now more commonplace, much of the current Canela economic system still is on credit.

We used this cultural practice in our Bible translation to make the Good News clear. In some sense we human beings are in debt to God because of our disobedience to Him (Romans 11:30.) We can’t pay the debt ourselves, nor can any of our extended family since we are all in the same fix. But God had mercy on us and sent Jesus, who called himself The Son of Man meaning “the one who became human like you”.

The Canelas call Jesus Mepahaka, “Our Older Brother”. The sin debt we could not pay passed on to our older brother, Jesus, who paid it with His own life. Our debt is paid, we are free.

Isn’t it great to see how God prepared the Canelas to understand the Good News by imbedding this illustration in their culture? It helps them understand that the God of the Bible is not a foreign God, but one they recognize as their own.

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

MANDATE 11, Don’t Leave them Asking, So What? What Now?

“Welcome to our church, pastor,” the elder said as he shook the hand of the twenty-four year-old, newly graduated pastor. “Preaching is not that hard,” he said encouragingly. “You just sit down and study the Bible passage, then stand up and tell the people what it says.”

That was fifty years ago, and I was that pastor. The advice was excellent since back in those days everyone used the venerable, but difficult to understand, King James Version of the Bible. Explanatory preaching was popular because it was necessary.

The KJV was translated 350 years ago into common English by the very best scholars of the day using a highly respected and accurate Greek text. After centuries of heavy use, however, the English language had changed so much, the Bible sounded archaic and obsolete.

One Sunday I preached from 2 Thessalonians 2:7. “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.” I explained it like this: “Someone is holding back Satan’s evil work on earth. One day God will take that someone away.”

Preachers had to explain that the word let, which now means allow, used to mean hinder, the direct opposite. Only lawyers still used the archaic term without let or hindrance in the fine print to say nothing is to hold back an action.

English grammar and usage like sentence length had also changed during those centuries. In the KJV Ephesians chapter one has a doctrine-packed 214 word sentence. Some linguists say it is grammatically part of the next sentence which would make it a 269 word sentence! Explanations needed!

The New Living Translation is more readable using a dozen sentences averaging twenty-two words which matches the average length in today’s books and magazines. Now that people can read the Bible in the language they are used to hearing and reading every day, my elder’s advice, so relevant fifty years ago, no longer is.

An old African pastor who used to preach from a Bible in the national language had just received a Bible newly translated into his own indigenous language. After reading several pages, he asked worriedly, “But what am I going to preach? When my congregation reads this Bible translation they will understand it clearly. What is there left for me to explain?”

The answer: Don’t explain but apply the Word of God to today’s culture, and the congregation’s current situation. That’s what preaching is supposed to be.

Today an elder advising a young pastor would say “Preaching is hard. You will need to study the passage, think about the people in the story, or the people for whom this passage was written, and ask yourself, ‘What did God want them to learn, or say, or think, or do? What is the basic, ‘good for all times and occasions’ principle? How does this apply to my congregation and me today, in our church, homes, schools, and workplaces? Is there an attitude, or thought pattern, or habit, or belief that we need to change in ourselves? What could I and our congregation do right now to start changing?’”

A congregation that hears the answers to these questions is not going to walk out of church thinking, as many did fifty years ago, “I now understand that passage clearly, but so what? How do I apply it? What now?”

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mandate #10, Needed:Spinners of Goat Hair

One of my favourite Bible verses is Exodus 35:26, “All the women who were willing and had the skill spun the goat hair.”

Any pastor, church leader or director of a Christian organization will immediately agree that this verse crystallizes a basic Christian theme.  

Hundreds of passages in Exodus give detailed instructions on constructing the tabernacle—that great God-tent the Israelites erected in the wilderness well over 3,000 years ago—most of which refer to God-given skill and personal willingness to serve. Those goat hair spinning women were both “willing and had the skill”. That is a key combination. There is nothing quite so useless as a person who is willing but has no skills, unless it is a skilled person who is not willing to work.

It is God who gives people talents, abilities and skills and those who receive them become proficient in them with constant practice. God wants the equipped people to volunteer their expertise to serve in His work.

I have been looking for and working with skilled volunteers for forty-nine years while active in these ministries: Innisfail Baptist Church, Bible translation in Brazil, Wycliffe Canada, Wycliffe Caribbean, Wycliffe Associates, and Inscribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship.

All Christian churches and organizations run on volunteers. Sure, some have a few paid staff to function as leaders and organizers, but the on-the-ground work is done by skilled volunteers who are willing to get to work.

So, how do you get skilled people involved in a project? The same way that Moses did. He described the great God-tent in heaven he had seen in his mountain top vision. He drummed up excitement among the people to be involved in building a model on earth.

The job of leaders is to cast a great vision, to demonstrate the excitement and satisfaction of those who are already involved and to challenge them to work at something so great it is worth the cost of time, effort, danger, and hard work.

Leaders also need to look for people who have the skills and abilities the project or the organization needs. They need to specify, in detail, what kind of skills are needed, what kind of work needs to be done. Exodus is incredibly detailed!

Then from among those who are skilled leaders need to find people who are willing to volunteer. How do you do that? Simple. Ask them.

Surveyors asked volunteers in a Christian organization. “What moved you to volunteer?” Most of them responded, “Because somebody asked me to get involved.” Then they asked some potential volunteers, “Why did you not get involved?” The response, “Because I wasn’t asked.”

It may not be spinning goat hair, but we all have some skills, talents or abilities with which we can serve God. We need to be willing to use them, not to erect a God-tent in the wilderness, but to build the Kingdom of God in the world.

And leaders, you need to seek out skilled people, knock on their door, and ask. You will find, you will have doors opened and you will receive. Jesus said so.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mandate #9, Lend Me Your Ears

“Brother-in-law, can I borrow your axe?”

“Of course you can. Here it is.”

My wife and I came prepared to be generous to our friends and relatives-by-adoption in the Canela village of Brazil. One day I loaned my only axe to my brother-in-law next door. He happily left to cut down trees to clear his field. He had not yet brought the axe back when, a few week later, we needed to return to the city for a workshop, but we trusted him to look after the it.

Six weeks later when we returned to the village I saw my brother-in-law and reminded him about the axe. “I will need it tomorrow,” I said, “Can you bring it back tonight?”

“What?!” he was astonished. “You still remember that axe? After all these months, you still want it back?” That’s when I learned that among the Canelas time erases all negative things: hurt feelings, disagreements, or family quarrels. All the bad feelings are deleted simply by letting time go by. And apparently, that included the borrowing of axes too.

Our culture is so different: When we loan something to a friend, we expect to get it back without having to ask for it. And the item should be in the same, or better, condition as it was when we loaned it.

That’s how our culture operates. Well, with one major exception. We sometimes ask someone to lend us their ears, referring to Mark Anthony’s oration at Julius Caesar’s funeral, which began, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” (Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2, William Shakespeare.)

Mark Anthony wanted his audience to give him their ears, their attention, for a little while. But he had no intention of returning them unchanged. His goal was to transform their thinking, impact their minds, and influence their behaviour.

Every communicator, from musician and artist to speaker and writer, has that same goal. Yes, I too, want to reach through your eyes and ears into your mind and heart. My goal is to modify your thought and actions, hopefully for the better. I try to reach your mind by presenting information, facts and logic. But I also try to reach your heart, your emotions. We tend to change our minds because of our feelings, our emotions, but then confirm the change with reasoning and logic.

Effective speakers and writers don’t just present ideas from their minds to the minds of their audience and readers, they let all their thoughts and words go through their hearts, their own emotions first and then into the hearts of the hearers and readers.

So where’s the emotion part of this column?

The Canela culture has a “time erases everything bad” philosophy. But with God, who lives in eternity, time erases nothing. The passage of time does not delete our sins against God. Instead, Jesus died and shed His blood in order to erase sin against God. Not the flow of time, but the flow of blood, the lifeblood of Jesus, the Son of God.

The Canelas now know the truth. They have had the Word of God in their language for twenty years. They now know that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.”

But what about the thousands of people groups who are still locked in their cultural errors? Who still don’t know about Jesus and His voluntary sacrifice to pay for their sins?

That grabs my emotions. It makes me want to do something. What about you?

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

#8 Psalm 23: Motive to Fire God

“Whoops! There’s no word for it”

Those of you who are fluent in more than one language have no doubt experienced this when you translate from one to the other. The more different the languages, the more often it happens.

As a Bible translator for the Canela people in Brazil I often ran into this problem. Jesus taught, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” John 12:24. Wheat is unknown among the Canela so the language had no word for it. We substituted wheat with rice since they act the same. It was a simple case of using “cultural equivalence instead of lexical equivalence” which is linguist-speak for “if there is no word for the thing, find something like it in the culture.”

It sounds easy. It is not.

Long ago an explorer traveled to the icy shores of the Canadian north. He may have been a Christian because he left behind a translation of the Shepherd’s Psalm (23) in the local indigenous language. It seems, however, that he hadn’t known the language and depended on an interpreter to translate for him. The indigenous people memorized the lines and passed them on to their children. 

A generation or two later a missionary linguist/translator arrived and settled among these people and learned the language. When he began to translate the Bible his language helper told him, “We already have some of God’s Book”, and to prove it recited some verses of the well known and much loved Psalm 23.

The missionary was aghast. Obviously the interpreter had tried to use some cultural equivalents but with disastrous results. Here are the first two verses, with some explanations:

v.1 The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want
The interpreter substituted sheep with wild mountain goats. The closest translation for “herding” was “doing something with animals” which in the case of wild goats was to hunt them. The word “my” carried the meaning “one who works for me.”
The first verse of the Psalm went like this:
God is my goat hunter,
I don’t want him!

The second verse didn’t fare much better.
v.2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters.
The part “he makes me” was interpreted as, “he forces me to do something against my will”. The only green is found on the sides of mountains that face the sun. “To lead” is to pull an animal along by a rope around the neck. The only still water is the sea.
The first two verses therefore went:
God is my goat hunter,
I don’t want him!
For He flings me down on the mountainside,
and drags me down to the sea.

How do translators avoid this kind of disaster? First, they need to understand the meaning of the passage. They also need to know the language and culture. But beyond those two basics, translators need to know the translation principles to obey and the techniques to use. This requires intensive training and continuing study. That’s why I am glad to be working on a project to provide easy Internet access to these essential training materials for workers translating the Bible in over a thousand languages around the world.

Without this training the translator risks turning loving shepherds into abusive goat hunters that deserve to be fired.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

#7, Part Two, What the Recruiter Didn't Tell Me--the Upside

In the previous post I shared some “Unexpected Whoops!” experiences. This time it’s about the “Unexpected Wows!”

While my wife and I were translating Paul’s letters to Timothy, we got stuck at 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” Since we had no single Canela word for the term mediator, we rewrote that whole sentence explaining what Jesus did, but as we read the sentence we weren’t satisfied with it. Our daily prayer was, “Lord, please keep our eyes and ears open to learn the terms we need to translate Your Word.” A few days later He did.

We were participating in a festival ceremony during which the Canelas dramatically reenacted an impending battle. At the height of the tension a specially decorated Canela man rushed between the two groups of warriors and with many gestures caused them to lower their weapons and make peace. Wow! A mediator in action! I could hardly wait for my study session with my Canela translation associate the next morning!

I asked him what that decorated peace-making person was called. “Ajpẽnna-mepa-jaxôr-catê,” he said. Hmm, I knew what each of those words meant: “each other-us-hang-person” In other words, “the one who hangs us together.” But what did that mean?

“It’s easy,” our associate said, “You know when you have picked some cobs of corn and you need to let them dry. You tie a string to each of them, then tie the ends of the strings together and hang them from a cross pole in your hut. There they hang as a bundle to swing to and fro as one even though they came from different plants.”

Wow! That’s perfect! This term will even work for the passages that tell of Jesus bringing people together!

What a feeling! The delight of discovery replaced the deskwork drudgery! My sticky, sweaty body was strengthened and refreshed. Instead of feeling that Jo and I were alone, plugging away at an overwhelming task, I again experienced that deep down joy of knowing we were working together with God Himself! Why hadn’t the recruiter told us that these foretastes of heavenly joy— unexpected Wows! — would be part of our missionary work?

Why hadn’t he told us about the incredible excitement we would feel when the first Canela declared himself a Christian? Wow! And what it would be like the first time I heard young men and women pray to their recently found Saviour and thank Him for us, and for our families, and our financial partners? My eyes tear up just writing about it.

And then there was that fierce joy that energized us when Satan caused all sorts of hardships and problems. The energy that flowed through us as we stood against him in the name of Jesus, praying for God to rescue the Canelas from Satan’s grasp. And the joy of working with likeminded colleagues! And the excitement as God built a partnership team to stand with us financially. Wow!

And, and, and, Wow! after Wow! Why didn’t he tell us about the Wows!?

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

#6, What the Recruiter Didn't Tell Me.

Wow, this is cheap! I thought as I started to fill my gas tank. Gasoline at rural stations is usually way more expensive than at the discount stations in town, but at $0.70 a litre this was a bargain.

Then, just as I finished filling the tank, I saw the little note taped to the pump. "Sorry, our old pump will not count beyond 99 cents per litre, so the price will be doubled in the store when you come in to pay." Whoops! At $1.40 per litre ($5.00 a gallon) that was a major unexpected expense.

Seventy-cent gas is not the only thing that looks attractive at first but in the end comes with a nasty surprise. A friend in high school had just enough money to buy a car he desperately wanted. It took all his income to cover the insurance, registration and fuel. Then the transmission went out. Whoops! Unexpected expense.

A young couple bought a house with a monthly mortgage payment that was less than the cost of the rent for their current apartment. They had enough income to cover the taxes, utilities, insurance, and yard and home maintenance. That fall the roof started to leak. Replacing the roof put them into debt for years. Whoops! Unexpected expense.

Missionaries are not exempt from this “Whoops!” scenario. I remember grinding along in low gear, four-wheel drive through sand, mud and thick bush on the last 70 kilometres of trail into the Canela village.

Suddenly a bearing broke and I saw the left rear wheel and axle sticking way out beyond the fender. The truck was loaded with food, supplies, equipment, and work papers. We couldn't leave it sit unguarded to be plundered by local farmers or cowboys that used the trail to walk or ride to their fields. As I left Jo to guard the truck and walked the six hours back to town, I thought, Hmm, they didn't tell me about this when they called for volunteers and I raised my hand at that missionary meeting. An unexpected whoops!

Then there were the times I had to treat two of my family for rabies with the dreaded daily injections into belly fat for thirty days. I'm sure no recruiter ever mentioned rabid dog bites. He mentioned tropical diseases, but I didn’t expect twenty years of regular on and off diarrhoea. The tears shed in mutual longing by parents in the village and their children in the boarding school, or their teenagers in college on another continent: Jo and I didn’t expect it to hurt so terribly.

The bumper sticker on our mini-motorhome reads My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter. To Him these costs of serving Him are not unexpected. Our Boss already knew what lay ahead for the Popjes family when Jo and I raised our hands at that missionary meeting. He knew about the coming mechanical problems, the rabid dogs, the loneliness, and the many trips to the outhouse.

To reach the rest of the world with His Good News, He still looks for raised hands, and for hearts that trust Him to take care of the unexpected costs – even $5.00 a gallon gasoline.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What Happened to Jack's Blog Posts?

“So what happened to Jack’s weekly blog posts?” No doubt many of you are wondering why there were no postings in June. Here’s why:

Starting in the first week of June, I had to paddle my life’s canoe through three weeks of severe white water rapids. On the very day that my 97 year-old Mom celebrated her 74th wedding anniversary, she stumbled and fell, breaking bones and dislocating joints. 
The subsequent surgery to relieve the incessant pain further weakened her and after fifteen days, God took her Home to be with Him. I spent much time sitting by her bedside, seeking to make her comfortable. But even when others took my place, my mind and heart were still there by her side.

The private family burial and memorial gathering brought some closure and calmer waters, but it will take several more weeks before I get everything dried out and properly stowed away so I can resume paddling my canoe down life’s river. (Check out my Facebook page for more information and pictures about my Mom.)

We are also planning a three-week family vacation in San Jose, CA, with our American family during July and August. Seven of us will be traveling down and back in our mini-motor home. As soon as we get back to Canada, I will fly to Ottawa to speak at the closing banquet of the Gideons 100th Anniversary convention.

All this to say that my blog postings will be sporadic during the next seven weeks. I did post one this week on INsights & OUTbursts as part of the Inscribe blog tour. Check it out and leave a comment to have a chance at some great prizes.

Have a great summer!

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Monday, May 23, 2011

THE MANDATE 5, God Goes Before . . . and After

Bible translator’s job: Translate the Bible so God can introduce Himself to people.
God’s job: Prepare the people to accept the introducers.

Forty-three years ago, in the spring of 1968, the Canelas took the second step in accepting us as part of their indigenous society. My wife and I went through the Canela adoption/initiation ceremony that made us members of their families and citizens of Canela society. It involved lots of red ochre paint, plenty of tree-sap glue and white hawk down all over our bodies. Surrounded by crowds of Canelas, we listened to the chief’s long speech; then each of the sub-chiefs and elders made shorter speeches.

We couldn’t understand a word.

I had taken the first step a month earlier when I first met the chief in town. Although he knew only a little Portuguese, he understood that we wanted to live in the village, learn Canela, and help where we could. He pantomimed giving me an injection in my upper arm, and made writing motions. “Yes,” I said, “we will treat sick people and teach you to read and write.”

“You come,” he said.

A few days later, I stood in the centre of the Canela village plaza surrounded by a large group of sombre, silent, serious looking Canela men. I faced a village elder who, leaning on his spear, chanted loudly for long time.

I couldn’t understand a word.

Abruptly he stopped chanting, and shouted loudly, “Prejaka! Prejaka! Prejakaaaa!” at which all those silent men behind me suddenly shouted, “Yuhaaa!”

Major adrenaline rush!

Then they all broke into smiles, grabbed my hands and kept saying “Prejaka, Prejaka, Prejaka.” It finally got it! I had just been given a Canela name—the first step into being accepted into Canela culture.

Jo and I experienced only one naming ceremony, but over the next few decades, we went through the adoption/re-initiation ceremony dozens of times—each time we returned to the village after an extended time away. And eventually we fully understood all those speeches.

“We have adopted you into our village and into our families. You are even more one of us now than when you first came to us. You now speak our language. You invented a way to write our language and taught us to read and write it and count and read numbers. You are training teachers. You make books for us. You help us with medicine. You are family and belong here. Join any festival. Go anywhere in Canela lands. Take pictures of any of us, and of any of our festivals. When outsiders come in just to look at us and our ceremonies and take pictures, we ask them for gifts, but we will never ask you.”

Still true.

A few years ago, after an absence of nineteen years, (forty-one years after the original invitation), we re-visited the village. Yes, once again, glue, feathers, red paint and a wide-open village welcome to our whole family—fifteen of us—including our eight grandchildren.

God arrived in the Canela village before we came to prepare them so they would adopt us and accept us as citizens. He stayed after we left to adopt many Canelas into His Family and accept them as citizens of His Kingdom.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

THE MANDATE 4, The Book of Heaven

David Thompson is well-known in western Canada as the mapmaker who explored that part of North America 200 years ago. What is not as well-known is that, as a devout Christian, he carried his Bible and told stories about Jesus and heaven everywhere he went. 

In 1807, while charting the homelands of the Flathead Salish people who lived in southern Alberta and northern Montana, he found that these people couldn’t get enough of his stories. “Someday, someone will come and bring you the Book of Heaven,” he told them.

In 1832, a whole generation later, the tribe could wait no longer and sent four men on a 5,000 kilometre round trip to St. Louis, Missouri to find the Book and bring it back. Two of the men died before they arrived. The remaining two were received at the fort by General William Clark (Lewis and Clark Expedition) who introduced them to the priest. 

The two emissaries, however, were disappointed when no one could give them the Book of Heaven. Just before they started on their return journey, the town put on a farewell feast complete with many speeches. At the end of the feast, one of the Salish envoys gave a speech that had far reaching consequences.

"We came to you over the trail of many moons from the land of the setting sun beyond the great mountains ... we came with an eye partly open for our people who sit in darkness; we go back with our eyes closed.

"We made our way to you with strong arms through many enemies and strange lands, that we might carry back much to them. We go back with our arms empty ... Our people sent us to get the white man's Book of Heaven ... You took us where they worship the Great Spirit with candles, but the Book was not there. You showed us images of the good spirits and pictures of the good land beyond, but the Book was not among them to tell us the way.

"We are going back the long, sad trail to our people of the dark land. You make our feet heavy with gifts, and our moccasins will grow old and our arms tire in carrying them, yet the Book is not among them. When we tell our people in the big council, that we did not bring the Book, no word will be spoken by our elders or our young men. One by one they will go out in silence. Our people will die in darkness ... they will have no white man's Book to make the way plain. I have no more words."

As news of this speech spread among Christians in England and the north-eastern US, missionaries and Bible translators began to penetrate the west. The Bible was translated into Cree 25 year later, but it would be many generations before the Flathead-Salish finally received the Book of Heaven in their own language.

Currently 6,860 languages are spoken by the world’s 6.9 billion people. An estimated 341 million people speak 2,078 languages in which not even one line of the Bible has ever been translated. Like the Flathead-Salish people of 200 years ago, they wait, and wait. 

Translating the Book of Heaven into these 2,078 languages is not a peripheral option—it is the most foundational task left for the Christian Church to accomplish.

©  2011 Jack D Popjes
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Monday, April 25, 2011

THE MANDATE 3, Tears at Easter

This past Good Friday not only focused my mind on Jesus’ suffering and reconciling death, it also stirred an emotion laden memory. Easter Sunday not only reminded me of Christ’s victorious resurrection, it generated a deep longing—a longing paired with a decade old recollection. 

Waking from my doze in the economy section on a Singapore to London night flight, I struggled out of my seat, stumbled to the rear exit door stretching my cramped leg muscles, and leaned forward to peer down through the porthole. Ten kilometers below, the blackness of the Bay of Bengal contrasted with the specks of light along the shore of India.

Soon faint patches of light appeared below—dozens of hamlets, villages, and small towns. No car headlights streaming along freeways, no lit up cloverleaf intersections, no colored neon lights or blazing mall parking lots which typify the North American night scene, just hundreds of faint blobs of light clear to the horizon.

For half an hour I stood there, transfixed, as I watched hundreds of kilometers of Indian carpet unrolling underneath me, an endless dark pattern blotched with wisps of white and faint splotches of light.

Tears began to flow down my cheeks as I realized that these lights represented over a billion people—hundreds of millions illiterate—people loved by God, who knew nothing of Jesus’ reconciling sacrifice, who had no idea He conquered death. I prayed, “Oh Jesus, please use me to bring your Word to people like this. I don’t care how long it takes or how much it costs. Whatever it takes, do it. Use me, please.”

This weekend my eyes again stung with tears as I thought of the unimaginably large numbers of people all over the world, billions of them, who still have not had the chance to choose to follow Jesus, the Saviour who died for them.

Billions of people, loved by God, but trapped in traditional and secular world religions with little hope of ever hearing God’s message of love for them. How I long for the day when the good news of God’s love has been translated into the world’s last 2,000 languages—340 million people who still cannot read, or hear read to them, a single sentence of God’s Word in the language they know best.

Good Friday and Easter Sunday mean nothing to them. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mandate 2, Emotion, Power, and Language

I was relaxed and comfortable in the cool, breezy dining room, looking forward to some excellent food and more great conversation. I sat with my family around the laden table with our hosts, a German family who, like us, served as missionaries in Brazil. As we chatted, my friend leaned back in his chair and called down the hall to his teenage daughter still working in the kitchen.

Elsa! Wir sind bereit. Kommt schnell! “Elsa! We’re ready. Come quickly!”

As I heard the loud voice, the urgent tone, and the last word, Schnell, a shock of fear shot through my system and I felt the icy hand of panic clench my insides.

Terror traveled from my childhood through thirty-five years of time and from Holland through eight thousand kilometres of space to jab fear into my heart once again.

I was seven years old, walking home from school with a classmate. As we took a shortcut past a warehouse, we noticed the door was partly open, so naturally we peered in. Suddenly a German soldier carrying his machine gun ran out of a guard shack behind us shouting, Achtung! Verschwinden Sie! Schnell! “Hey! Get away! Quick!” I had heard those words before, sometimes followed by shots . . . and screams.

So long ago. So far away. So many changes. I was now an adult, a husband, a father, a missionary. And this German missionary was no occupying enemy soldier—he was my friend, my colleague and a brother in Jesus.

What then triggered this vivid, emotion laden memory? Language. A specific language. The same language which had first impacted me emotionally. Had he called down that hallway in English, “Quick!!” or in Portuguese, “Rapido!!” I would not have reacted so emotionally.

Much of the power of language is in the emotion it evokes in the hearer. No wonder God used language to communicate His emotion laden Love letter to people. No wonder He uses thousands of languages to penetrate billions of human minds . . .  and hearts. No wonder He calls hundreds of thousands of His people to work together to bring His Word to every language on earth.

Currently God’s message is being translated into fifteen hundred languages. But two-thousand languages still await workers, and prayer partners, and finances.

The Church needs to listen to the urgency in His voice and get at it! Quickly! Rapido! Rapidement! Awjarê! Szybko! Snabbt! Raskt! Gyorsan! Brzo! Schnell!

To Bring Him Glory,

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Mandate 1, God, Prayer, or Coincidence?

In 1983, a group of 40,000 Sudanese people called the Tira were listed on the Bibleless Peoples Prayer Project as not having even a single word of the Bible translated into their language. Today, twenty-eight years later, many Tira are Christians and read the Bible in their own language.

Here’s what happened: 
  • In November of 1983, David and Ray, two American students signed up to pray for the Tira with the Bibleless Peoples Prayer Project.  
  • In May of 1986, Jerry and Jan promised to pray for this group.  
  • In March 1990, Jane and Margeanne committed themselves to pray.

In August 1990, a report came to the Prayer Project organizers that a young Tira man, Avajani, was studying linguistics and Bible translation techniques. The organizers wrote to encourage him with the news that three teams were praying for his people group. They gave the names and the dates when they began to pray. Avajani’s response was astonishing!

  • Avajani told them he became a Christian in November 1983, the month David and Ray began to pray.  
  • He was accepted for theological studies in May 1986, when Jerry and Jan started to pray. He heard about courses in Bible translation and was accepted as a student in March 1990, when Jane and Margeanne started to pray.  
  • A number of portions of the Bible were published during 1999-2001.

An atheist reading this sort of astonishing coincidence might well mutter to himself, “Hmm, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think that God was involved.”

God is definitely at work on planet Earth, and He invites us to join Him. He moves some to pray, and some to do hands on service. He wants every person to hear about Him in the language they know best.

Here are some links to help us join God in His work:



Friday, April 1, 2011

Brief Introduction to Jack's New Column, The Mandate.

Welcome to The Mandate! (Mandate son of Look)

This is the column where I will focus strongly on cross-cultural missions, Bible translation around the world, cultural anthropology, basic literacy in societies that have been illiterate for generations, and the beauty and intricacy of human language. 

In short, these columns will be like those I wrote in The Look when I was telling stories from our 22 years of living and working among the Canela people of Brazil. I will be writing about the biblical basis of cross-cultural missions, about how important it is that believers are mobilized to go to every part of the world and share the Good News with those who are not yet believers. 

The definition of “mandate” is “an official command or instruction from an authority” and obviously refers to what we know as “The Great Commission” from Jesus to evangelize the world and disciple the nations.

This columns, or posts will be shorter than The Look was, no more than half the length. They will be easier to read, absorb and put into practice. Although they are shorter, I expect their impact will be the same. 

So, what about all those neat stories from my personal life, and those incisive insights into current events that were not focused on missions? I will continue to write, bringing a biblical perspective to these things too, but not in The Mandate. I am starting another blog, where I will post about family life, marriage, education, history, current events, etc. 

It too will be shorter than The Look, but will make an impact. It won't be focused on missions but I fully expect there to be a missions flavour. 

I thought of calling it INsights and OUTflows, you know, the idea of reading, remembering or experiencing something that leads to a biblical insight which then flows from my mind into yours. But knowing me, I thought I would instead call it, INsights and OUTbursts. I think you will know why! 

I will, of course, continue to write stories and anecdotes. As a “doddering old dotard,” I have more anecdotes and stories than ever. I must be in my anecdotage.

Please go to the top of the column and click on Follow in the upper left part of your screen. You can all click on Share to send it to others. Or go to the side bar on the right and click on Subscribe, or Follow by e-mail. Eventually I will stop sending out this column directly to your email Inbox and instead rely on you signing up and getting it automatically. 

Let me know what you think of this new effort at communication. What you like, what you don't like, what your recommend. This development is still a work in progress.

By the way, remember that you can hold down the Control button on your keyboard and then roll the Scroll wheel on you mouse to increase or decrease the size of the font. Make it the size you like.


Jack "TheWordMan"