“A Poor Return on Investment?”


John and I were in Tucson last week for a special staff retreat with The Seed Company, celebrating 25 years since the founding of this affiliate of Wycliffe, and the launching of its 1,500th language project. The four days impacted me more deeply than I expected.  I want to share one story in particular that touched me and reminded me of why we keep on doing this work.

Mart Green is an heir to the Hobby Lobby fortune, and a huge investor in Bible translation through The Seed Company.  He joined us to celebrate our 25th year milestone, and he described an event that was so significant to him that he now divides his life into two periods, BG and AG, “Before Gustav” and “After Gustav”:

“I was really excited.  I had donated $50,000.00 for the printing of the New Testament in a language in Guatemala, and I was on my way there to attend the dedication ceremony.  On the way, I came to find out that there were only 30,000 speakers of that language!  And it got worse:  there were only 1,000 Christians among them.  And worst of all:  only 400 of those believers could read!  I was beginning to really question whether I had invested my money wisely. When I got to the village where a couple  had invested 40 years of their lives into this translation, and heard their stories of death threats and sickness and struggle, I wondered how anyone could spend their lives like that for so little return on their investment.

“Then the day of the dedication came.  The first recipient of the Scriptures in his language was a poor pastor named Gustav.  He was so overcome with emotion that he could not speak.  His shoulders shook with his sobs.  I snapped a photo of Gustav receiving the Scriptures, and you have a copy of that photo on your tables.” [See the photo above. There weren’t many dry eyes in the room at that point.]

“I heard the Lord whisper to me, “Is this a poor return on your investment?” and I was shaken to my core.  Later that night, in my hotel room, I recommitted myself to whatever God wants me to do:  “Lord, I don’t want to be a poor return on your investment.”  I have never been the same.”

John continues to work remotely with the Chibi project in Brazil, and is planning two trips this year to do face-to-face checking.  I met up with colleagues at the retreat who would welcome some linguistic help in the languages they’re working with.  And your investments of prayer and resources make all of it possible. On behalf of more people than we know, thank you so, so much.

Less than 1600 languages to go. Let’s get that number to zero – one Gustav at a time!

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Thank you

Thanksgiving graphic

The Seed Company recently hosted an event called “Pray for Zero”, launching a prayer campaign to unite the global body of Christ toward bringing God’s Word to the 1,671 remaining Bibleless languages.

By the year 2025, ZERO will be reached, one prayer at a time.

While my turkey is cooking, I wanted to take a moment to say thank you to you.  Thank you for walking beside us for many years, in many countries, through many life seasons.  Thank you for your part on that day when there will be ZERO people groups without access to God in the language of their hearts.

When things quiet down today, take a minute to watch this video.  It’s for you.

Imagine Zero

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The Lolo hear His “still, small voice”


11b Evale nohozaga nipevo nohokala na masika. Fiyeda ira nipevo nne nobwanyulaga mwangole eto mabwe kotweyaga vamentoni va NABWIYA, kalaga nga NABWIYA ali munipevoni mule. Mbwenye NABWIYA munipevoni mule kaalimo. Nipevo nne nagavirile, wohozaga indarandara. Mbwenye NABWIYA muindarandarani mule kaalimo. 12 Indarandara ile yagavirile, wohozaga munlo. Mbwenye NABWIYA mmunloni mule kaalimo. Evale munlo ule agavirile, azilege aligi nizu nowongela vati vati, nofwasela. 13 Mwa enne mulombwana Eliya agavwile nizu nne, ohotukulaga kapa yaye liye kunelana koveni waye.

There came of a wind, that one which brought down that mountain, also stones broke in the presence of the LORD. It seemed that the LORD was in the wind there. But the LORD in the wind there he was not. That wind when it passed, came an earthquake. But the LORD in the earthquake he was not. That earthquake when it passed, came fire. But the LORD in the fire there he was not. That fire there when it passed, what there was was a voice which spoke low low, calm. And then the man Elijah, when he heard the voice that one, took the coat his and covered his face. (1 Kings 19:11-13)

Lolo is a very expressive language. We have finished our first week and have completed the verses we were working on in 1st Kings and have started on 2nd Kings. It is a delight to find a translation that is so well done and so thought out. We’ve had some suggestions for how to make it more natural and clear, but not many, and so the work is going quickly. Also Mikael, the consultant-in-training I’m evaluating to become a full consultant, is doing very well. We both have done a lot of work in closely related languages, which gives us a hand-up in understanding the structure of Lolo. Barb is working on a Lolo text to find out how relative clauses work (which could make a big difference in how they are translated.)

It is nice living in a village setting. I’m not living in a thatched hut. We wouldn’t get much work done if we were, but I can see plenty of them from here. The children of the family I live with are out on their adventures with their African friends, since it is Saturday. Matt, my host, has the new gutter up to catch the water and send it to the tank as soon as the rainy season starts (any day). It is getting hotter every day but, except for one day, that hasn’t interfered with our concentration. Please pray for Debbie, my hostess, she has come down with something that is making her miserable. The baby seems to have it too.

I wish you could be here, to meet the friendly Lolo speaking people and Matt and Debbie and see the passion they have to see them get the Scripture. The day is coming when they will be able to read about God being in the “voice, low, low calm.” May you hear that voice this week.

In His service,

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Homeward Bound – to Mozambique!

AirportI’m sitting in the Charlotte airport – missing my family already. Someone said that for international flights now one needs to come three hours early, due to heightened security. I’m not sure what they are talking about. Security was one of the easiest transitions I’ve ever had. That’s okay.

I’m on my way to Mozambique! A homecoming of sorts. I’m travelling to the small town of Derre in Zambézia Province, first time there. I won’t get a chance to go to Beira or Maputo or visit old friends. Sad that I get so close. But then this isn’t really a pleasure trip. We will be checking 1 and 2 Kings in the Lolo language. This is the last exegetical check before publication and is a chance to give the translation one more layer of improvement.  It’s been fun working with the language in preparation for the trip. It’s in the Bantu family and I see a lot of similarities with Sena. This makes it easier to help since I understand the language so much better than when I was working with Chadic languages in Nigeria.

The other purpose of the trip is to evaluate a translation consultant-in-training. This is his third evaluation and if he does well (as I expect him to) then he will be qualified to become a consultant. This is exciting, as the lack of qualified consultants is one of the bottlenecks in getting translations done. The trainee is a long time colleague and friend named Mikael. It’s great to be part of his process.

Barb was recently talking to a long (long) time friend, and was surprised to find out that she was not aware that we are supported via what I call the NPR model (i.e. viewers like you). We have a great team of financial partners who share our passion for seeing Bibleless peoples get the Scripture in their own language. But over the last few years some of our partners have passed away and others have entered retirement, so that we are now below 80% of what Wycliffe requires for us to continue to do this work. I would like to ask you to join us in prayer, as we seek the Father for full funding.

And please pray for the Lolo team over these next couple of weeks as we work to bring the stories Elijah and Elisha to life!  This stuff never gets old for me.

In His service,

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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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