Trail’s End

SepikI went to my friend Carl’s memorial service last night.  I’d known him since 1979 when we showed up at SIL in Dallas to take our first semester of linguistics courses.  We took Evie Pike’s grammatical analysis course and studied phonetics under her sister, Eunice.  We studied translation principles and discourse structure, and emerged three years later with MAs in linguistics. We met our future spouses, married them and went off to apply what we’d learned – me to Mozambique and he to Papua New Guinea.

John and I kept in touch with Carl and Jody all our lives.  We rejoiced with them as God miraculously added three beautiful children to their family. We prayed as they endured the relentless heat and humidity of the Sepik River basin to bring God’s Word to the Yade people. We cried with Carl when he lost Jody to cancer several years ago.  And we rejoiced with him as he ventured back to PNG this past May to live among the Yade once again and complete the work he and Jody had begun.

On May 22 I opened my email to find a letter from friends of Carl’s in Papua New Guinea.  Carl had been doing a two-day hike through the jungle to attend a workshop with his translation team when he fell ill.  His Yade friends had carried him to a nearby village, where he died on May 19, surrounded by the people he had served for 34 years.

As I read the email, I was overcome by the sacredness of the moment.  The image in my mind of Carl entering glory surrounded by the Yade believers who loved him is one that will stay with me for a long time.

I don’t know how many years God will give me or John before our journey ends.  But I do know that when that moment comes, I want to be found being about my Father’s business.  All the stresses we have been facing with family, finances and health have tempted me, at least, to say, “We’ve done enough. I’m tired!”  But then John goes to Brazil and is once again embraced by a group of people who desperately long for the Bible in their language – 800,000 Chibi speakers with little Christian witness among them.  And the magic happens again – that joy, that challenge, that heart-breaking calling.  And I’m all in again.  For the long haul.

Thank you for being in with us, until all of us are called Home.

And Carl and Jody, your long hike is over.  Keep cheering us on until we meet again.C and J

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A Translation for the Gypsies

gypsiesIt was a cool day in southern Brazil.  There were 14 of us sitting on the floor, since there was no furniture. One of the gypsies picked up his guitar and began to sing praise songs, first in Portuguese, then in Chibi, his language. That’s when everyone joined in.  The grandmother in the room began to cry, hearing Jesus praised in her own language.

We talked of Bible translation and the translator showed great interest in everything I had to say (even though he knew much of it already – nice guy!) His eyes shone with passion. I gave him my copy of Tradução Biblica and everyone clapped. This wasn’t strange; these people are so generous and welcoming.

We talked of the persecution the gypsies suffer. They buy no furniture because they know that any day they may have to pick up and flee again. We drank strong Brazilian coffee. When they found out that it was my birthday, they sang “Parabens” (“Happy Birthday”) in Portuguese.

Then the family chief came by, a professional gypsy musician. There were lots of discussions about variations in Chibi and Portuguese. Everyone said I speak continental Portuguese and that I spoke it well. (If you have ever been a language learner you know what that means!) I followed most of the conversations, but when they talked fast I got lost.

Three women had sneaked out and came back with a birthday cake and cokes and candles that said “63”. The chief led everyone in another round of “Parabens”; then as we ate he sang praise songs and some traditional gypsy songs. We all got up and danced, gypsy style. I had to bite my cheek to keep from crying from all the extreme hospitality and fervor these people have for Jesus, especially considering that there are churches that are not open to them because of who they are. They know that they are part of a small movement that is going to influence the 800,000+ Calon here (Chibi is the language, Calon is the people.) The Calon in Portugal and Spain have already heard of their project and are waiting for their translation.

When it was time to go everyone stood up and they had a time of preaching, asking me to go first. I choked up and could barely talk, but finally managed to express to them how grateful I was for their openness, accepting me as a brother, celebrating my birthday with me, the musical entertainment, their love for Christ. I couldn’t have had a better birthday.

The next day I flew to the north of the country and met the other translation team. They were just as warm and welcoming. After doing some translation work we went to the beach and ate a very large fried fish, while looking out over the blue waters of the southern Caribbean. Everywhere we went our driver was handing out tracts and telling people about Jesus.

The reason for my trip was to meet these people with whom I will be working for the next few years. They are drafting the Scriptures for the first time in their language, then reviewing, testing, correcting and finally doing a translation of their work back into Portuguese. They will then send it to me to provide a final consultant check. All of this is done almost entirely orally, using Render software.

These are incredible people. Among the 800,000 Calon, only a few hundred are Christians, but they see it as their job to reach this large group, and they see translation as a key strategy to do that. I’m overwhelmed that I get to come alongside them in this effort.

And I’m grateful to you for praying for and generously giving to our ministry, for the part you are now playing in doing this translation for the gypsies. Bless you.

In His service,

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A Breakthrough Translation Tool for Oral Cultures Being Used in Brazil

chibi_2013_07The Calon people in Brazil are descendants of gypsies who immigrated from Europe beginning in the 16th century to escape the Inquisition.  There are only 300 believers among them, and they live in fear of spirits and superstition.  They isolate themselves from Brazilian society, and refrain from sending their children to school to guard against outside influences. Even their language, Chibi, is to be kept secret, and there is great resistance to writing it down.

Last year a group of Chibi speakers became the first to attend training in how to use Render, a new software tool for doing oral translation developed through a partnership between The Seed Company, Faith Comes By Hearing, and Pioneer Bible Translators.  They have been making great progress since then, working entirely orally, with no written text.

Unfortunately, the translation consultant who has been working with the Chibi team is no longer available, and John has been asked to make a trip to Brazil to meet the team and consider becoming the translation consultant for the project.  He will be gone July 1-7, and would appreciate your prayers as he comes up to speed on a totally new way of doing translation and translation checking.

Click here for a one-minute video on how Render works – it was made in Nigeria and a number of those faces are dear to us!

According to translator Joaquim, “This is the life of Chibi people. Sometimes they’re at peace, but before long they’re in conflict again. There is a lot of fighting.” But he goes on to say that when they hold worship services, the people are calm. They respect God’s Word. And the translators are well received. Joaquim prays Gospel truth will transform this community.

Thank you for following us on our journeys, both spiritual and geographic, and for making a difference in a new people group, on a new continent. You are a huge blessing.

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The gifts we bring

The year was 1987 and it was our first language survey trip ever. Our task was to determine if speakers of the Tharaka language of Kenya could be served by Bible translations from neighboring languages, or if they would need a translation of their own. We had only the day before met Zacchaeus, a seminary-educated speaker of Tharaka in the town of Meru in the hills near Mt. Kenya, and we were about to drive into the dusty dry region the Tharaka people call home.

As we crossed into Tharaka-land, we noticed a man standing in a tree near the road. He waved to us and called out something in Tharaka. Zacchaeus leaned over and shouted over the roar of the Land Rover’s engine: “What he is saying is, ‘Your name is: One Who Brings Something!'”

The man in the tree was right. Over the course of the next few days, it became clear that the Tharaka language was distinct enough to require its own translation of the Bible, and Zacchaeus, who days before meeting us had been praying for God to reveal his purpose for his life, heard the Lord calling him to the task of providing this gift for his people. Today the Tharaka people have the entire New Testament in their language.

Since that day, you have brought this gift to millions of people through your partnership with Wycliffe. Thank you so much for sending us on to Mozambique and, more recently, to Nigeria, where we have been serving as consultants for the past eight years.

This year, due to circumstances beyond our control, I will be unable to travel to Nigeria. Instead, The Seed Company is sending me to Tanzania to provide consultant help for a language there. My first trip is scheduled for the beginning of October, which will give me time to look at all the work they have ready for checking. It will be like coming home to be back in eastern Africa and working once again with a Bantu language. Even though Barb will not be traveling with me, her insights into Bantu discourse structure will be put to good use.

Over the years, in every language I have worked with, I have found that whatever contributions I have made are nothing in comparison with the gifts I have received, valuable beyond measure, from the experience of seeing God speak into the hearts of people for the very first time. That experience also belongs to you, for all the gifts you have brought to people like the Tharaka, over and over again. Thank you – on their behalf, and for all your partnership has meant to our family.

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Spring is coming


cherry blossomsIn my Christmas letter I made reference to the list I had begun of “one thousand gifts I already have,” inspired by Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts.  As Voskamp chronicles the miraculous transformation she experienced through “this dare to write down one thousand things I love.” she affirms how over and over again, “thanksgiving always precedes the miracle.”

I have been giving thanks.  God has opened up sealed parts of my heart. And the miracles are coming.

Hannah has been on methadone since March of last year, requiring daily trips to a clinic a half hour away to get her doses.  It has kept her off heroin, but she has never felt well or whole.  In December Medicaid, which has been financing the methadone treatment, “happened” to decide that she was not eligible for it any more, and cut off her benefits at the end of the month.  She predicted a lot of repercussions from this, but one that none of us saw coming was that her boyfriend of nearly four years decided that this was something he did not want to deal with and left her for an old girlfriend, right after Christmas.  She recently confided to me, “I asked God to get him out of my life, just before my Medicaid was cut.”  God had heard her prayer, and intervened.  She is ready to turn her back on all the choices and associations that have caused her so much pain, and begin a new life.

Look out, world, here comes Derek!  He is asking me to prioritize my time to help “pave the road” for him, but he is definitely not spinning his wheels anymore.  He is looking into getting tested for Aspergers, so he can pursue accommodations to take college courses.  Please pray for the right connections and leads for him.

John‘s planned trips to Nigeria this year are on hold, due to internal problems with our national partner. Pray for Seed Company management and the affected translation projects as they seek the Lord’s direction on how to move forward. In the meantime, John continues to work remotely with the Nzanyi team and may travel to other communities in Nigeria or Uganda.

I continue to be available to help translation teams with grammar/discourse questions as needs arise, and I am also working on getting healthy after the stresses of these past few years – getting counseling and setting healthy boundaries for myself.  We are also working with a Partnership Development coach – thank you for continuing to pray with us for 100% funding.

Yes, this has been a difficult season.  Thanks for walking through it with us.  I want to share a song that has been a theme song for me:  Cherry Blossoms, by Andy Squyres, a local artist here in Charlotte.  Click on the link above for the video, and be encouraged:  Spring is coming!

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One thousand gifts

family 2016

This Christmas season, this season of lists, I am starting a new one – a list of one thousand things I love, one thousand gifts I already have.  I want you to know that you are one of those gifts – to me, to our family, to the work we get to do, also a gift I never take for granted.

Because of you, the N team in Nigeria has two new gifts.  They not only completed the book of Acts this summer while John was there, but the gospel of John as well.  Because of you, every member of my family is growing, changing, and maturing.  Because of you, we will be enjoying Christmas gifts around the tree.

May the Lord give you eyes to see the beauty that you might otherwise miss in this busy, holy time of year, and new hope for a fresh start in 2017.

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Pressing on…


” …revealed to us by his Spirit.”
1 Corinthians 2:10

Last Sunday night, Michael and I were settling in to read a book together before bed, and our current favorite, his “Twinkle Book”, was nowhere to be found. (It’s a devotional called My Grandma and Me, with a number of songs in it to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”.)  I tried to substitute another book (being ready for bed myself), but he insisted that nothing else would do.  So, in desperation, I took his hand and together we asked Jesus to help us find the Twinkle Book.  Immediately I felt we should look under the bed (again) and sure enough, way back in the corner, we found it.

Michael was impressed (so was I!) and he asked how God told me to look there.  This led to a discussion of how we can listen for His voice and respond to it whenever we need His help.  So he didn’t stop there.  He said, “There’s something else I miss – going to the beach.”  I told him our car was still not working and that we should pray together for Granddad to figure out how to fix it.  We held hands again and asked for the car to work so we could go to the beach this summer.

During the time John was in Nigeria, our old Ford Contour had died, the Subaru we had gotten for Derek developed a leak in the head gasket, and the moped Hannah had been using to get to the methadone clinic started acting up.  I purchased a 1998 Passat, but on the way to the airport to pick John up, it refused to start in a Walmart parking lot, and we both had to be retrieved by a friend.  Our mechanic had worked on it for a morning with no success, and John had been doing research and tearing it apart for a week with the same result.  But the day after Michael prayed, he found the solution! and we have a working vehicle again.

I didn’t have much to show for the past several months on my latest report to my Seed Company supervisor:

  1. Sent out three email updates, and added five posts to my blog.
  2. Prepared income tax documents for the family.
  3. Worked through the changes in Wycliffe’s financial policies and updated our Ministry Budget.
  4. Did some work on the Hona text.
  5. Started going to NarAnon meetings again (support group for the families of addicts).
  6. Provided continuity, love and structure to grandson, Michael.
  7. Sent John off to Nigeria during the month of May, and spent most of the month in the car driving Hannah to her daily methadone clinic, court-ordered rehab classes and court dates.
  8. Handled the sale of our car when it died, and the purchase of a replacement.
  9. Considered quitting The Seed Company and going to work full time, and in the end thought better of it.

But it did list the following items for which I am very thankful:

  1. Derek continues to thrive. He helped me in many ways while John was gone, providing practical and emotional support. He is almost ready to get his driver’s license, and is looking at job possibilities.
  2. Michael is a daily source of joy. He is growing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
  3. The medication I am taking as part of a clinical trial to treat polycystic kidney disease continues to keep my creatinine numbers steady, and John has not had problems with kidney stones for a while now. His energy levels are better too (although still recovering from his time in Nigeria).
  4. John had a very successful time with the N team in May, in spite of coming down with malaria in the midst of the checking.
  5. Hannah and boyfriend Joe are both now on methadone, and are rebuilding their lives.
  6. Working a twelve-step program with a sponsor at NarAnon is helping me regain my balance and take control of my life again.

I concluded:

John’s malaria and my trouble with three cars and a cantankerous moped while he was away have made me aware once again that doing the work we do places us squarely in the midst of a spiritual battle.  It’s not surprising that the enemy would try to tempt me to quit and go back to the workplace, with the lure of steady income, cars that run, and alleviation of the guilt I feel for being unable to work on my assignment.  There are even two full-time openings at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for writers…  But I have recommitted myself to this work and all the challenges it brings with it.

My supervisor’s response to my report could have been, “Go ahead and take that job at BGEA!”  But instead, she wrote:

“I just admire and appreciate your brave spirit and that you keep pressing on with your commitment. Praying for you that you can just keep right in the middle of the Lord’s plan for you and be at peace.” 

I pray the same for you today – may you be at peace in whatever circumstances you are facing.  Thank you for pressing on, along with me, with your commitment to the Bibleless people of the world.

In the middle of the Lord’s plan,

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