Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The humble, obscure beginning of a world-wide, century-long movement


A worldwide Bible translation movement started quietly in 1917—almost a century ago—when William Cameron Townsend, age 21, left college for a year to sell Spanish Bibles in Guatemala.

To his surprise, however, many Guatemalans couldn’t speak or read Spanish. Those Spanish Bibles were useless for them!

So William Cameron Townsend, “Uncle Cam,” decided to do something about that: It took him 14 years, but he translated Scriptures for Cakchiquel speakers in Guatemala.

And that was the humble, obscure beginning of what we now call Wycliffe Bible Translators, and Wycliffe’s primary strategic partner, SIL, around the world.

My husband and I worked in support roles with SIL, in partnership with Wycliffe, during our three years in South America and our eight years in Africa.

Oh, I could tell you so many stories(!) but for now, I have two special treats for you:

First, I want to tell you about A Thousand Trails, Uncle Cam’s journal from 1917-1919, compiled and edited by Hugh Steven. It’s a rare glimpse into the life of an everyday man who served an exceptional God.

“All of God's people are ordinary people
who have been made extraordinary
by the purpose he has given them.”

Oswald Chambers

Together, God and Uncle Cam accomplished astonishing feats, establishing a world-wide ministry still going strong today: Wycliffe’s mission is to see Bible translation started in every language that needs one by the year 2025.

From the back cover of A Thousand Trails:

This book is about that year, that year that became two, which ultimately became a lifetime of extraordinary service to God and the world’s ethnic peoples. But this is more than a mere chronicle of daily events. It is rather a warm, intimate, often amusing, always deeply human and frequently highly dramatic look into the early life of one of the world’s greatest mission statesmen.”

Second, here’s a fascinating look at historical photos and a brief history of Wycliffe’s beginnings. Click here on History of Wycliffe in Latin America.

Uncle Cam’s life and words have inspired tens of thousands of people to join the Bible translation movement. How about you? Maybe God is nudging you into this ministry.

Uncle Cam showed—modeled—how to do it. Like Edward Paz said recently:

Very few will pursue
What they were put on this earth to do
Until they can, for themselves, view
That it can be done by you.

Check out Edward's blog at

Yes, Uncle Cam and many other Wycliffe and SIL personnel showed us how to do it—they confirmed by their lives and ministries “that it can be done by you.”

Think about it.

Pray about it.

Look into the dozens of ways—hundreds of ways!—ordinary people like you can get involved in Bible translation, from at home or overseas.

Here are important links to get you started:

Wycliffe USA

Wycliffe Canada

Wycliffe UK

Wycliffe Australia

SIL International


The Seed Company

Think about it.

Pray about it. Of the 7,000 languages spoken today, over 2,000 lack Scriptures.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Try to imagine this: No alphabet


It was one of those mind-bending moments—actually a three-part moment.

It happened in college. The first part: Someone told me thousands of language groups in the world have no written form. Thousands of languages have no alphabet.

Think about it: No books, newspapers, or magazines. No love notes, birthday cards, or recipes.

Such people can’t write a letter, or a report, or a story.

They have never seen their names in writing.

I tried to imagine my life without an alphabet, without writing, and the exercise left me rather stunned.

Take Latin America, for example. Until that moment, I thought everyone in Mexico, Central America, and South America spoke Spanish, except in Brazil, where they spoke Portuguese.

Ah, but I was short-sighted, and that was when I experienced the second part of that mind-boggling moment.

Continuing with our Latin America example, people had lived there long before Europeans showed up—the Mayans and Incas, for example, and hundreds of other cultures, each with their own languages.

After Europeans arrived, people in populous areas began to speak Spanish or Portuguese, but thousands of others continued—and still continue today—speaking their indigenous languages in rural or remote areas.

I had not understood that before. Back in my college days, such things were beyond my realm of consciousness.

Think of it: When such people get really sick and travel to a bigger town or city for medical help, everyone there speaks a language foreign to them: Spanish (or Portuguese in Brazil).The indigenous folks can’t communicate with doctors. They can’t fill out forms or read directions on medicine bottles.

When their nation holds an election, they can’t read the ballot and can’t write to fill it out.

Then the third whammy hit me: Language groups without anything in writing have no Bibles. Even if they have a church in their remote locales, pastors have no Bibles in the people’s languages. The congregation hears Scripture and sermons in a language they don’t know. (On the right you're looking at a picture of Psalm 23:1 in thousands of languages around the world.)

Let that sink in.
How much of the Bible would you understand—
how much of God would you understand—
how much of God would you personally experience—
if all you knew
came from a Bible in a foreign language,
like Russian or Chinese?

Today, some 2,000 language groups—at least 200 million people—don’t have Scriptures in their own language.

And that's why my husband and I moved to Africa.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Come, I want you to meet Monico


If you want to really appreciate what follows, read part one, The adventure between our car and City Market.

We left off when my husband, Dave, and I were climbing the stairs outside City Market—dodging trash and spittle on sidewalks, holding our breath against urine smells and even worse smells—and pushed inside City Market—and …

And we entered a different world!

We came face to face with an explosion of color and tropical scent: an enormous display of cut flowers—eight or ten feet high and fifteen feet across.

Fragrance filled the air—spicy carnations, seductive tuberoses, fresh mums—a welcome treat after the bad smells outside. Smiling men invited us to buy a bouquet, and we could take home a big arrangement for about three dollars.

Beyond the flowers, we entered yet another world, a world of fruit and vegetables.

Each vendor manned his own wooden stall and arranged his colorful produce in tidy squares, row upon row.

Their displays almost looked like patchwork quilts—squares of red peppers next to squares of broccoli; squares of yellow papayas next to black avocados; squares of eggplants and cabbages, apples and carrots, mangos and red onions, green beans and oranges, tomatoes and pineapples—a treat for the eyes.

According to the local custom, we bought from the same vendor each time. Monico’s stall sat in the middle of a maze of produce stands.

Monico would always spot us coming and he’d grin. “Jambo, Mama! Habari?” (Hello! How are you?)

Mzuri sana, na wewe?” (Very well, and you?)


I would hand Monico my large, soft-sided basket and tell him what I needed and how many kilos I wanted. For example, I’d tell him I needed two kilos of onions (pronounced OWN-ee-ownz), and he picked them out for me.

I’d go through my entire list—beetroots (beets), capsicum (green peppers), cauliflower, and so on. If I needed something he didn’t have, he’d find it for me in another stall.

The occasion involved lots of smiles and pleasantries. Monico always put extra passion fruit into our basket to thank us for our business, and we gave him a few Kenya Shillings as a tip.

Asante!” Dave and I would I call out. “Asante sana!” (Thank you very much!)

Monico answered, “Kwaherini!” (Goodbye, plural.)

Kwaheri!” (Goodbye, singular.)

We’d head toward the car with a heavy basket bulging with fresh produce—it smelled so good! And it cost us the equivalent of less than five dollars. I smile every time I think of it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The adventure between our car and City Market


All I ever wanted was to live a quiet, secure life in a little white house with a picket fence and a rose garden but my husband, Dave, and God had other plans. They ganged up on me and hollered, “Africa!”

And that’s why sometimes I found myself in a car—as a passenger, mind you, not a driver!—at downtown Nairobi intersections surrounded by beggars, thieves, and hawkers. (If you missed Tuesday’s post, click on Driving in Nairobi: from anxiety to adventure.

When we drove into downtown, usually our destination was City Market and, although during the drive Dave and I encountered some anxiety and adventure, that was only the beginning.

Once we parked the car, we braced ourselves because when we opened the car doors, throngs of people (the destitute, disabled, street kids, refugees—and pickpockets) pressed against us and shouted for handouts.

Since this setting wasn’t conducive to carrying or using a camera, I never took snapshots of this, but if you click on this link and look at the first picture, you’ll see where we parked our car—in front of the steps.

First, we locked our car and looked over the crowd to hire an askari (guard) to prevent thieves from stealing mirrors, lights, or even the whole car. We promised to pay him five or ten Kenya Shillings, but we didn’t pay until we get back because otherwise he might have taken our money and run.

After hiring an askari, we dealt with beggars. We bought bananas, milk, or bread for the genuinely needy, but sometimes a person got mad because he didn’t want food. He wanted money to buy glue and get high.

We climbed the stairs—dodging trash and spittle on sidewalks, holding our breath against urine smells and even worse smells—and pushed inside City Market—and …

And we entered a different world!

Be sure to come back next time for “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey used to say.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Driving in Nairobi: from anxiety to adventure

Driving in Nairobi included numerous challenges—besides driving down the left side of the road. And besides a quantity and quality of potholes people in America cannot fathom.

When stopped at red lights downtown, various types of people surrounded cars.

Thieves, for example, reached through car windows to snatch earrings, necklaces, or watches. They were so quick a person didn’t realize it was happening until it was too late. Our friend Ruth Chapman, visiting from Cameroon, lost her necklace to such thieves. For that reason, we never wore jewelry downtown.

Other people surrounded cars at intersections, too—crippled people begging for food or money. One man, without legs, “walked” on his fists.

Another had one leg, dwarfed and twisted the wrong direction. He, too, propelled himself on his fists.

Those were the truly needy and deserving. I looked into their pleading eyes and my heart broke for them. I could barely imagine their lifestyles. We gladly gave them money or food.

We also saw those dear, desperate ones trying to make a living by roasting peanuts.

They’d put a handful into a cone made of used paper, stretch out their sooty hands, and beg us to buy their peanuts for one Kenya Shilling per cone—about two cents. We bought from them because we liked to honor their efforts to support themselves, and then we gave the peanuts to people who asked for food.

Other times aggressive hawkers surrounded our car. We had little sympathy for them because they dressed well and sometimes sold stolen goods—watches, jewelry, telephone books, tools, or magazines.

One day a hawker tried to sell a magazine to one of our coworkers. He took a closer look because he hadn’t received that issue of his subscription. He looked at the address label—and saw his own name! That hawker had stolen his magazine and tried to sell it back to him!

Ah, yes, navigating Nairobi was not for the faint of heart. The experience could easily result in anxiety or even mishaps, but in the midst of such scenes, we relied on resources beyond ourselves.

Lloyd Ogilvie, in God’s Best for My Life, reminds us of Jesus’ heartening words to his disciples: “Peace be with you. As my Father has sent me, I also send you” (John 20:21).

Ogilvie writes:

Jesus … took the discouraged disciples
from frenzied fear to fearless courage.…
He lifted them from anxiety to adventure.
That’s what He does for us.… He comes and shows us
that He has a task for us
which is part of His strategy for changing the world.

It is an awesome challenge:
"As the Father sent Me, even so send I you."
That means that we are to be …
continuing the ministry He began.…
The things He did, we are to do.…

This commission gives us a point of reference
when we become uncertain.…
He comes to us and says,
"Let’s get on with it!"

The awesome purpose of the Great Commission
was followed by the promise of an amazing power.
Jesus said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."
That’s the answer to the riddle of our inadequacy.
The Spirit is the inner driving power
of love from within us.
Jesus does not give us tasks to do
greater than the power to do them,
which He provides in the Holy Spirit.
This is our source of courage.…

Let’s get on with it!

Lloyd John Ogilvie, God’s Best for My Life

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A hushed world, a realm of untamed creatures

I shed many tears over moving half a world away from our kids, but God blessed me with adventures and opportunities I never could have imagined.

Let me tell you about one of the most delightful: We lived ten minutes from the main entrance to Nairobi game park (that’s what we call it, but the official name is Nairobi National Park).

The 44 square mile reserve comes right to the edge of Nairobi, the nation’s capital, home to almost three million people.

Along the park’s west and north sides, a fence keeps animals out of the city—for the most part, but an occasional lion or leopard wanders into the Langata or Karen neighborhood to dine on someone’s dog.

The park has no fences along its south side, allowing animals to migrate a couple of times a year.

So with a flask (thermos) or water bottle in hand, camera, film, and a roll of toilet tissue, we’d hop in the car. After paying about $4 to enter the park, we’d pull into a hushed world, a wide-open world, a realm in which untamed creatures reignedgiraffe, lion, zebra, topi, gazelle.

And warthog, baboon, eland, Cape buffalo.

And impala, rhino, cheetah, hippo, monkey.

And birds, 500 species of birds.

I never imagined I’d fall so in love with Africa’s open spaces and wildlife.

I have much to tell you, but for today, here are scenes that always made us marvel: a view of Africa’s animals with a backdrop of Nairobi’s neighborhoods and sky scrapers.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Giraffe: “Perhaps proof of the existence of God”

“Oh yes, your Excellency,” said the showman,
“God sees the Giraffes.
While they have been running about
and have played in Africa,
God has been watching them
and has taken a pleasure in their demeanor.
He has made them to please him.
It is in the Bible, your Excellency,”
said the showman.
“God so loved the Giraffe that He created them.
God has Himself invented the square
as well as the circle,
surely your Excellency cannot deny that,
He has seen the squares on their skin
and everything else about them.
The wild animals, your Excellency,
are perhaps proof of the existence of God....”

Karen Blixen

Monday, June 6, 2011

“I hope God doesn’t make me go to Africa!”


The other day I spotted the following blog title in my Google Reader:


“I hope God doesn’t make me go to Africa!”

You know me—I had to click over to read what Lori Loomis wrote—especially since her words puzzled me: I know Lori loves Africa and travels there a couple times a year.

When her blog popped open, was I ever surprised to see a map of Africa I’d created! A couple paragraphs down, I was surprised again: Lori referred her readers to my recent blog post, Holy Stretch Marks

Come to find out, in her blog title Lori was quoting other people, people who say things like this about Africa:

"It's a world away.”

“It's primitive.”

“It's complete sacrifice and depravity."

"How can you stand it?"

And they ask Lori about coping with—snakes!

Lori, with gracious perspective and wisdom, recognizes the root of such statements: fear.

Fear of the unknown, fear of discomfort, fear of danger.

Here’s Lori’s response:

Africa does seem like a world away. (That's why I love traveling there. My daily life/routine/schedule fades away and I get a fresh perspective on EVERYTHING.)

Some parts of Africa are primitive. That's part of the adventure. And if you're prepared for it, it's actually lots of fun! (It really makes one appreciate the comforts that we take for granted here in America.)

I don't think that it is complete sacrifice and depravity. I've discovered something about my Kenyan friends—they are RICH in the important things like a love for God, a commitment to truth, and so much more.

When it comes to snakes, I've only seen one while in Africa—and it was dead. Oh, the snakes are there. (But they're everywhere we live, too!)

"How can I stand it?" (If you were with me at this moment, you'd hear me laughing hysterically!) Sometimes I miss Kenya so badly that I can't hardly stand being away. Unexplainable? Probably.

The challenge for today—allow God to help you and I break the walls of fear in our lives and realize the joy of FREEDOM!

Thanks, Lori, for imparting your insights.

Thanks for offering your gentle invitation to discover this:

Holy stretch marks expand our lives—develop, blossom, enrich, deepen, enhance—our lives more than we can imagine.

God can do anything, you know—
far more than you could ever imagine
or guess or request in your wildest dreams!
He does it not by pushing us around
but by working within us,
his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
Ephesians 3:20, The Message

Click to read Holy Stretch Marks. May you find perspective and blessing there.

Click to read Lori’s I hope God doesn’t make me go to Africa! May God give you courage to turn your back on fear and to take a brave leap of faith. Prepare yourself to receive blessings!

Friday, June 3, 2011

You could join the first Finishers Vision Trip to Africa!


I’m so excited about this invitation from Don Parrott, CEO of The Finishers Project: You could join him on The Finishers’ first Vision Trip to Africa.

Welcome, Don! 

Have you ever thought, “What would it really be like to take that big step of faith; to pull up roots here and go try to make a difference in some part of the world?”

Have you wondered, “What could I do? Where could I go? How would I even get started?”

If so, this trip is for you!

In our effort to connect an increasing number of mid-life adults with global impact opportunities for God, we at Finishers Project realize that for some, "seeing is believing." Therefore, we are pleased to launch our very first Vision Trip.

Join us this October for an unparalleled opportunity to personally observe how other "Finishers" are using their skills and passions to advance the Kingdom of God.

This is your opportunity...

You will meet face-to-face with people who have done the “finishers” thing by leaving their careers in this country to invest their lives in Kingdom work in order to make a difference. We will see the ministries they are involved with...have time to sit and talk with ask questions of them and the people they are serving.

You’ll be able to ask your questions: “What was the whole process like? Are you really making a difference...what is it like to live here?”

We all want to make a significant difference with our lives. We are not always sure what that should look like.

Overseas living and ministry may or may not be what God has for you. This trip is one way to seriously consider your next steps.

It is a low-cost, short-time venture to help clarify what type of role God may have for you in the future, and it is a statement of faith indicating your desire to seek God’s direction.

Click here for Finishers Vision trip to Africa information and sign-up!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A tight grip on money


In Kenya, a large segment of the population lives in poorer conditions than most Americans can imagine, and those desperate throngs yearn to find employment. If we don’t offer them a job, they hope and pray we’ll help them some other way.

In the Kenyans’ eyes, all white people are wealthy—and we are, compared to them, though living on a missionary’s income makes us look poor compared to our friends and family back home.

The way Africans see human relationships is this: If we have money but don’t share it with them, we’re greedy—one of the worst sins a person can commit. 

The way we North Americans see our money is this: It belongs to us and we can spend it as we wish, mostly on ourselves, and let’s be honest: We’re offended when people ask for our money—when they ask us to hire them, or to buy what they’re selling, or to give them a hand-out.

However, 1 John 3:17–18 says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? … Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

We Americans nod in agreement with the philosophy of those words and perhaps we give money to causes we deem worthy, but we don’t look at those Bible verses the way Africans do. They observe them in a more literal way than we do, and I suspect God intended for us Westerners to do so, too.

Recently a friend recommended African Friends and Money Matters, by David Marantz. Here is the product description:

"This book, African Friends and Money Matters, grew out of frustrations that Westerners experience when they travel and work in Africa. Africans have just as many frustrations relating to the Westerners in their midst. Each uses and manages money and other resources in very different ways, and these differences create many misunderstandings and frictions."

How true! I wish I’d had this book when I first moved to Africa.

Our orientation staff covered this topic well but as hard as my husband and I tried, we could never quite grasp the culture clash between North Americans and Africans on money matters.

I want to point out something important in the product description: “Africans have just as many frustrations relating to the Westerners in their midst.” Because of that, I extend my humble thanks to our African friends and colleagues for extending grace and patience to us Westerners in the midst of our many blunders.

David Mays, in blogging about African Friends and Money Matters, explained, “Most of Africa is made up of collective societies wherein people rely on one another for security rather than on themselves or their government. The cultural pressures are so strong that breaking the expectations makes one an outsider, the worst possible outcome in a collectivist society.”

Mays then listed some of Marantz’s points. Here are a few:

The financial need that occurs first has first claim on the available resources.

Resources are to be used, not hoarded.

If something is not being actively used, it is considered to be "available."

Being involved financially and materially with friends and relatives is a very important element of social interaction.

Africans assist their friends who are in financial need as a form of investment for those future times when they themselves might have needs. This arrangement constitutes a virtual banking or savings system.

A network of friends is a network of resources.

If you have not lived in a foreign culture, reading the above concepts probably left you disoriented. When people move to another culture, these types of issues can lead to culture stress and sometimes even culture shock.

Like I wrote recently, missionaries need to be flexible! They need to stretch, and believe me: I could almost feel God etching spiritual stretch marks across my being—blessed stretch marks.

Looking back now, I see that God got us and our African colleagues through such situations with heaps of grace in every direction, and now the memories make me smile.