Sunday, June 17, 2018

D.O.N.E. Writing System in Hand and a (Tired) Smile on my Face

by Stacey

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

By God’s grace through much coffee, loud dance music, many late nights, hundreds of neglected emails, and a year’s worth of dreams about tone, we now have a writing system in the Bakoum language!

If I was not convinced that revisions will be necessary, I’d consider getting a tattoo of the Bakoum alphabet - just as an expression of my joy.

Not only do we have a system of writing (with tone markings, I might add), but through Dave’s work we have a solid understanding of how the Bakoum use certain tense markers when telling their stories. This is crucial in translating the Bible.

And not only do we have a system of writing, an understanding of tense in discourse, but we have two COMPLETED theses that can no longer rule over every moment of our lives.

The past five years have been characterized by language learning: first French and then Bakoum. While it is true that we will be learners forever, developing a writing system is our first crucial step in introducing the Bible as an authoritative teacher to this people. All those long sweaty days writing down Bakoum folk-tales while getting bitten by ants have served their purpose. Those days seemed eternal; creating a writing-system seemed impossible, is done (and ready for years of revisions....). The toil, the preparations, the frustrations, all the “why are we doing this?” thoughts are shamed in the face of this great accomplishment. I am hopeful that the worst is behind us and many years of fruitful ministry are to come.

The past five years (4 years on the field, 1 year developing a writing system in the States) have been characterized by battling voices that say that say all the sacrifice and toil is not worth it. Every day has been the constant pull to live for myself, my comfort, my ease, my fun. Every day it has been a battle to say no – I am going to live in faith that it is worth it to continue plodding along in ministry.

And then, as I wrote one of the final chapters of my thesis detailing the writing system, my faith became sight. Twenty-one simple letters, 7 multi-letter combinations, and four tone markings flaunted themselves in front of the silenced voices who were always telling me to quit. How could they dare say, at that moment, that it would’ve been better to have pursued an easier life? What’s funny is that the joy of going back to the Bakoum people with a writing system is such a greater joy than the years I could’ve spent pursuing my own comfort.

It is true that this system of writing needs to be tested, revised, and standardized. I know that there are decades of work and toil awaiting me. And yet, with this impossible task behind me, the other challenges seem less impossible. I choose to look at this milestone and trust that it will energize me to face the taunts of the other impossibilities to come. Instead of waiting for the dedication of the Bible to be excited, I choose to rejoice at every stage.


Our theses!

Do you have a hard time falling asleep at night? No need to for sleep aids when you can read look at diagrams of the tonal behavior of the Kwakum language! Or perhaps you have wondered about how one should mark a rising tone in the Kwakum language? This gnawing question can finally be answered in chapter 8 of my thesis. Maybe you are wondering about the history of French and German colonization among the Bakoum people? Check out chapter 1!


“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord” 
1 Timothy 1:12

Saturday, June 9, 2018

[VIDEO] Letters Behind Your Name, Without Love, Mean Nothing

by Stacey

Dave and I graduated from The Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics both with Masters in Bible translation. We are thrilled to be done and tremendously grateful for this institution that has equipped us well for the task of Bible translation.

And yet in this season of accomplishment and relief, the Lord through his Word reminds us that his calling is higher than just letters behind our names. Paul says that even IF we speak multiple languages, if we speak them with loveless hearts, we are simply obnoxious. "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Cor. 13:1). IF our courage leads us to give away earthy possessions and even die for the sake of the Gospel, but we do it out of duty rather than love, we have accomplished nothing. "I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Cor. 13:3). 

Dave gave an 8 minute speech to his fellow graduates at graduation reminding us that we do not want to be found before King Jesus credentialed, educated, but without love in our hearts.


Here is a transcript of his speech:

I am honored to be able to speak with you all today. I am excited to arrive here, and to be at the end of a long degree program. And I realize that for many of us, though his is an end, it is also a very big beginning. A beginning of a brand new life for some of us, and for others a new role in life, whether that is here in America, Africa, Asia and all over the world. When we first left GIAL to go to the field in 2013, we learned that there is a big shift that happens when you leave the season of school to enter the season of real life. When you are in school your schoolwork is under the scrutiny of your professors. But when step out into the world, your whole life is under scrutiny from the whole world. So you have churches from America that are looking on, and you have nationals in another country that are looking onto your life, and you have governments that have an opinion about what you do. They are looking at your methodology, your theology, your family, and your faith. It all gets questioned and sometimes it gets criticized.

Thinking about this, earlier this year I came across an encouraging quote from former President of the US, Teddy Roosevelt. He said,
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Teddy Roosevelt
I like this quote for us as the graduating class of 2018 for a number of reasons. I like it because I know that I am looking into the faces of the men and the women in the area, marred by dust and sweat and blood. I like it because the truth is, we make mistakes, and we fall short, and we sin against people. But Roosevelt’s words give us an answer back to those criticisms that we hear throughout the years and spurs us to keep going in spite of them.

But I think there is something missing from what Roosevelt said as well. His response at the end of the day to the critic is, “Well, at least I dared.” Which is great and needs to be said. But for you, graduates of GIAL, I am not at all afraid that you will find yourselves among the cold and timid souls. I don’t think that there is a danger that you will ever be anything but courageous.

And it is not surprising that graduates of GIAL would be courageous. We hardly have any other choice. I mean, what other school can you go to where the librarians have killed pythons and endured attacks by gorillas. And as I look at you, and consider your futures, I see lives full of courage. You here are some of the most courageous people I have ever met. And I am not afraid that you will not dare to do great things.

I am also not concerned that you will go out into the world and be anything but academically rigorous. We have trained here under some of the best minds of this generation. And they have taught us to work as hard and as faithfully as they do. I know that I am looking into the eyes of people that have not only braved terrorist attacks, but also passed Advanced Grammar. And you still want to work in Bible translation.

I am not afraid that we will be cowards, nor that we will be fail academically. But I also do not think that it is enough to respond to our critics that we have dared. Or that we have proven ourselves academically.

Paul warns us of a greater danger. He actually tells us that even in daring greatly, we can fail. He said, speaking to the church in Corinth:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
You see as we go out, most of us will give up a lot. And we will struggle to learn new languages. We will write linguistic papers, help document languages of underrepresented people. Many of us will feed the poor, fix broken bodies, and translate God’s Word. And we will know loss, the death of friends and colleagues. And some us will even die for the name of Christ. And to do these things will require of us great courage and skill. But if Paul was here with us today, I think he would remind us that we can do all of those amazing things, but if it is done without love, we have gained nothing. And a claim to have dared greatly will ring empty.

Just so that we do not mistake courage, or excellence for love, Paul helps define love for us in that same passage. He says,
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
It almost seems silly, doesn’t it? As though we are children that need to be reminded to play nicely. And yet, we do need to hear it, don’t we? Some of us are going into places where people really do not want us to go. We will have battles without, and we will have battles within. I have heard that the number one reason that missionaries come home is conflict with other missionaries. And so, I think we would do well to listen to Paul.

I think that the early church listened to Paul. There was an early Christian author named Tertullian who wrote about the church in those years after Christ’s death. He said that when the Romans talked about the Christians they said, “Look how they love one another and are ready to die for each other.”

Of all of my hopes and dreams for us, the 2018 graduating class of GIAL, the greatest of these dreams is that when the Americans, Cameroonians, or Afghans that we work with remember us, that they will say “Look how they love one another and are ready to die for each other.”

Roosevelt said that the man in the arena, “at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and…at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” I think that if we add loving greatly to our daring greatly, we will find that we cannot fail.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Double-Edged Sword: Theology and Linguistics

by Stacey

I believe that at times Satan tries to convince us that the best way to honor God is to fight with one another. We criticise one another and sometimes pit two doctrines, or two pastors, or two methodologies against each other unnecessarily. In this vein, we have sometimes heard in the missions community a criticism of linguistics/linguistic education OR on the other side, a criticism of theology/theological education. If you know Dave and I at all, you probably know that we have pursued both theology and linguistics. And in doing so, we have discovered that training in linguistics and theology as both advantageous, and even essential, for those pursuing Bible translation. 

The importance of linguistic education
For example, in the language we work in, the sole way to differentiate between the sentence “Jesus rose again” and “Jesus did not rise again” is through the pitch of one’s voice (tone). All the consonants and vowels are the same, but depending on the pitch of one’s voice, the stumbling missionary (me) will either communicate something true or something completely false. 

It's funny because all through Bible college and all through seminary, I was taught how to do faithful exegesis, how to use excellent commentaries, and how to teach the Word in an understandable way. And yet, no one ever taught me how tone can affect meaning in many of the world's languages. I received no counsel to keep the pitch of my voice a bit lower when talking about the resurrection or else spread heresy.

The reason? It’s because the goal of seminary was to teach me to learn Greek and Hebrew, translate it into my mother tongue and then teach it in my mother tongue. Understanding the role of tone in an African language was outside the scope of what the seminary could offer. And that's OK.

The importance of theological education
On the other side of the coin, in Cameroon, I found myself at times teaching three Bible studies in three different languages on the same day. One Bible study was in French with a woman in our village from a different people group. At another study, I would read a children’s Bible in French then translate it in Bakoum for the neighborhood kids. Lastly was the study of the book of Mark with my son who has been known to ask why we would pray for people to be saved if God chooses people to be saved beforehand (thankfully that study was in English).

It was days like these that I would thank the Lord for all the papers that I was asked to write in seminary about this theological position or that. With the French speaker, I could go to the verses that talked about the sufficiency of Scripture and explain why the Bible was so important. With the village children, I could explain to the that we could trust God as a fair judge who doesn’t take bribes. With my son I could draw from all those papers that I wrote on God’s sovereignty in the ends as well as in the means. With all the headache of living overseas and pulling my hair out with other languages, I was thankful for the knowledge of the Scriptures that I had received in seminary.

Can’t have one without the other
Asking a Bible translator to choose between linguistics or theological education is like asking him to choose between his toothpaste and toothbrush. Linguistics education and a solid theological foundation work hand-in-hand to help the translator do his job well. Tone in African languages is outside the realm of theology and the various views of the end times is outside the realm of linguistics. And that’s OK. A person shouldn’t have to choose between their toothbrush and their toothpaste and the missionary shouldn’t have to choose between theological education and knowledge of how non-English/non-Greek and Hebrew languages work.

Schools that get it
Fortunately, there are schools that understand the necessity of equipping the translator in both of these domains:

The Master’s Seminary
This seminary is based out of Los Angeles, California has as its mission “to advance the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping godly men to be pastors and/or trainers of pastors for excellence in Christian ministry.” They have recently broadened their scope to include training men to be pastor-translators. Their director, Dr. Aaron Shryock, writes of the importance of both linguistics and theological training: “Instead of pitting one tradition against another, we should recognize the contribution of both and bring them together at the start of the translator's training. That's what we seek to do at the Tyndale Center.” For more information about this program, you can visit their website here. As a Master’s University alumnus, I am thrilled to see the burden for the Bibleless on this campus.

Southern Seminary and the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics 
Two other schools that have greatly prepared us for our work in Bible translation have been The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY) and the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics (Dallas, TX). These two schools work together to ensure that their students have both a solid theological and linguistics foundation. In fact, they have a dual degree program in missions and Bible translation that results in students receiving both an MDiv from Southern and an MA in linguistics from GIAL. Their website explains that this program is “designed to produce graduates qualified to serve in specialist cross-cultural roles in Bible translation, ethnology, descriptive linguistics, or in other cross-cultural service.”

Another way the Devil likes to sow discord among missionaries and church leaders is to blind us to the beauty of the body of Christ working together. He replaces an awe for this beauty by trying to tie our allegiance to one good thing at the expense of the other. There is no need to roll our eyes at the importance of linguistic study from the pulpit, nor to scowl at theology from the jungle. I appreciate these schools because they see their need for both disciplines. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

How Not to Succeed in the Wrong Things in Missions

by Dave

My fear for you is not that you will fail, but that you will succeed in doing the wrong things.
Dr. Howard Hendricks (to his students)

As we approach missions there are so many different options. Just in Cameroon we know missionaries that work as: doctors, nurses, church planters, educators, agricultural specialists, librarians, linguists, and even a couple that are starting gyms. If you read this blog, you know that Stacey and I are working as Bible translators and most of our time so far has been invested in learning and analyzing the Kwakum language. In all that we do, I know that we, as missionaries, desire to be faithful. But, like Dr. Hendricks says in the quote above, I fear at times that we are succeeding in the wrong things.

When Christ gave us the Great Commission he said that our task was to: "make disciples of of all nations" and then told us how to do that: "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that" he commanded us (Matthew 28:19-20).  Conspicuously absent from this command is medical, agricultural, educational, and other types of aid. So, we must ask ourselves: how should we obey these commands? And further, do "mercy ministries" have a role in this process?

Here are a few thoughts that play a role in how we seek to obey the Great Commission:

1. The primary way that the disciples obeyed the Great Commission was through planting churches.
When the disciples went out to obey Christ, it quickly becomes clear that the Church was going to play a big role in this obedience. Immediately after receiving the Holy Spirit the Lord quickly inspired Peter to preach the Gospel to thousands of people. And immediately after that, thousands were saved. And immediately after that?
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." (Acts 2:42). 
What happened after the first great evangelism campaign was the first great example of the church. The disciples obeyed Christ by gathering the new believers together, by teaching them, having communion, and praying. In short, they planted a church.

Paul Seger (the director of Biblical Ministries Worldwide) says, “There is no question that the primary aim of missions is to produce followers of Jesus Christ. There is also no question that the vehicle for doing that is the local church” (Seger 2015: 105). This seems to accord with what we see in the New Testament. As Paul went out he evangelized, taught, and then left missionaries to teach and lead these churches (i.e. Timothy - 1 Timothy 1:3 and Titus - Titus 1:5).

One of the clearest passages describing Paul's methodology is Acts 14:21-23:
“When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed."
What we see Paul and the other apostles doing was evangelizing, teaching, and appointing elders in every church. This is the work of a church planter. 

2. Planting churches was not the only way the disciples obeyed the Great Commission.
After describing the great evangelism campaign, and the beginning of the first church, the very next thing that we see the disciples in the book of Acts doing is healing a lame beggar (Acts 3:1-10). This great act of healing led to another great time of evangelism (Acts 3:11-26), which led to a tribunal (Acts 4:1-22), which led to the church gathering to pray and to share (Acts 4:23-37). This led to more evangelism, more arrests, more healing, more prayer. They served widows (Acts 6:1-7), participated in street witnessing and casting out demons (Acts 8:4-8), raised people from the dead (Acts 9:36-43), and all along continued to preach in Christ's name, and suffer for it.

My point is that the ministry of the disciples was not single-faceted. It is not as though they only went out and planted churches. Instead, they participated in mercy ministry: they fed the poor, healed, cast out demons. This is not surprising, being that Christ commanded his disciples to teach new converts to obey all that he had commanded them. These young churches were doing what Christ did.

As missionaries go out, seeking to follow the example of the first missionaries, we should be going out and doing more than just church planting. We should be healing, praying, and feeding. And as we plant churches, we should be encouraging them and equipping the national Christians to do the same.

However, to expect that every single missionary that goes out is a generalist, able to plant a church, translate the Word, care for the medical needs of the community, all the while teaching the new church to do the same is unreasonable. And such an expectation is no doubt the reason that many of our missionary heroes died young. Instead, it makes sense to send out specialists together: send a church planter/discipler, with a translator, with a doctor, etc. You will note, however, that I say to send them out together. In order to this, we must have a point of unity. And I believe that point is the local church:

3. The local church must be central.
If you read through the Book of Acts, you will notice all the activities that I mentioned in the previous section (and probably even more). But you will also notice interspersed all throughout mentions of the church. For instance, it is not just Christians caring for widows in Acts 6, but men who have been set aside by the church. When Paul and Barnabas are sent out from Antioch, they are sent out by the church after this local church fasted and prayed (Acts 13:1-3). In fact, in this passage you will notice that the Holy Spirit told the leaders of that church to send out Paul and Barnabas. What I see in the Book of Acts is a great missionary effort, with many facets, working to care for many different needs of people. But what I see is that it is centered at, organized by, funded by, prayed for by, and staffed by the local church.

Now, our minds probably go to the local church in America when I say that. But do not miss what I am saying here: it is PLANTED churches that are doing all of this. New churches, grown at the hands of the apostles, are central in the efforts in their own neighborhoods and even abroad. Paul did not go out and start Stephen's Memorial Hospital and run it separately. Instead, he worked in and through the newly planted local church. As we send out variously-gifted missionaries, to do various ministries, we must not forget the local church. Without connecting our ministry to the local church (either existing churches or newly planted churches) the effects of our ministry will be ephemeral at best.

I offer one example of how this can work well, from our field in Cameroon. There is a team of people working with the Baka people, not far from where we live. World Team has been sending missionaries to the Baka for over 20 years. Among them have been: doctors, nurses, agriculture specialists, and those who are focused on church planting and discipleship. But it would be wrong to say that only those in the final category are church planters. The reason is because everyone of them has been integral in the planting of the Baka church. Those who minister to medical needs pray with their patients, lead Bible studies, and have spent years forming relationships. Those who taught the Baka to farm did so in teaching them God's Word and accompanying them to church.

And the result has been amazing. The Baka church not far from our house is led by a godly Christian Baka elder. He has proved himself to be discerning, steadfast, sober, wise, and hardworking. And where did he learn that? From the church planters of course. Those that labored to teach him the Bible through stories in his own language. Those that showed him how to teach and explained difficult passages. Those that sat beside him as his wife was dying, ministering to her physical needs and helping him to have the strength to remain faithful. Those that taught him how to farm on his own, not needing to rely on work from other people groups.

The Baka church is still small and they don't yet have God's Word in their language. Yet I have great hope for them, in part because of the years of faithful effort on the part of my co-workers, all of them. And in this ministry I see the results of a team of specialists working together for the cause of seeing the Baka become disciples, in and with the local church. And I pray that God would allow us not only to succeed, but to succeed in the right things.

Seger, Paul. 2015. Senders: How your church can identify, train & deploy missionaries.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Squabbling over Kingdoms of Straw: War and Faithlessness

by Stacey

I’ve been heavy-hearted recently. Heavy hearted for the political unrest occurring in “our” region of the world: Cameroon, Africa. And heavy hearted for the “unrest” among my four second-graders. There are likely grave injustices in Cameroon that have gone unaddressed for years and now the alleged oppressed are lashing out towards the alleged oppressor: the government. Some are expressing concerns peaceably and others are taking this opportunity to burn villages and murder the innocent. Thankfully we do not have any burning or anything of the sort among our children, nor do we have (physical) murder. And yet, there is nonetheless no peace.

As people all over the world deal with the squabbling children and grieve deeply in the face of war, Scripture speaks and answers the question, “Why war?”

Why War?
Selfish ambition.
James 3:16 says, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” I think this verse is a sober call to civil rulers to think long and hard before they redirect tax money into their own bank accounts. I think it should open the eyes of presidents all the way down to beat cops that extortion, favors, and white lies will open Pandora's box to unmanageable people. Where there is selfish ambition mixed with power, there will be a disorderly country.

In the same way, where members of a society are out to “get theirs,” the society will fall apart. Children fighting over a teddy bear will lead to ripping off arms and legs and a teddy bear that neither of them end up wanting. A child rushing to eat the cookie before his brother gets to it means that he won’t even taste it as he smugly gulps it down. Where rulers, where children, where parents, where citizens are looking out for “number one,” God assures them that there will be disorder and a reign of evil. And yet this warning is not heeded, because is it not believed.

The offended and the offender alike want “the good life” and yet the Bible says that the way to a full life is not through seeking what is good for oneself, but instead it is by speaking the truth, it is by turning from evil, doing good, and seeking peace (1 Peter 3:10-11). I wonder if this counsel was given and heeded in cabinet meetings across the world how revolutionary it would be. I wonder how different the world would be if there were more political leaders that put aside their selfish ambitions and made it their goal to say what is true, reject evil, and spend their lives pursuing good and peace. I understand that it is almost laughable to say that if we spend our lives not seeking our own good, that we will find the good that we always wanted. And that is why God calls us to take this promise by faith.

God also calls the world to seek a better kingdom. I believe there are reasons to go to war. I believe there are occasions where such an evil may hold back even greater evil. And yet, war should never be to replace the Kingdom that can only be found in Heaven, where God is the perfect ruler. Jesus reminded people to not accumulate houses, cars, and jewels on earth because none of it would last. Instead, he called people to send it all ahead to Heaven where there are no more thieves, no more tax collectors, no more lovers of violence (Matt 6:19-20). He also made the promise that those who live for their own benefit, he will humiliate, but those who humble themselves will be the exalted ones in his Kingdom.

How many wars could be avoided with a fresh vision of the streets of gold promised to those who worship Christ as king? How much deeper would contentment under an unjust government run with an understanding that King Jesus will judge the oppressor? Without this vision, we are left to squabble over houses of straw because that is all we think there is. In the words of CS Lewis:
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. – The Weight of Glory, 26
We are too easily pleased when we settle for being rulers of the little kingdoms we set up for ourselves on earth. They are all temporary and will always disappoint. The little girl who cuts in line because she insists on putting herself first while everyone behind her is despising her is missing out on the nail-scared hands who would’ve taken her from the end of the line and made her first for all to see as they smile in admiration. She is far too easily pleased. And those who kill to either get power or maintain it are forgetting that all power belongs to God and his Son is coming back soon to take what has always been rightfully his.

There is a true and lasting justice coming to those who accept him now as their King. There are riches. There is honor. May this vision lead many to put down their weapons.

Monday, April 2, 2018

God is not Concerned with Our Efficiency

by Dave

Stacey and I got to know a very kind missionary when we first went to Cameroon on a vision trip. He allowed us to stay with him while we were in the capital, spent hours talking to us about his plans, and helped us a lot with our paperwork. As I got to know Shawn I learned that he had some learning disabilities. It took him a bit longer to get through college than average. But he finished. Somewhere along the way he decided to pursue the life of a missionary, leaving behind his family and their family business. It took him a bit longer to raise support than average. But Shawn was persistent, hard working, and he never gave up. And after many years of preparation, and planning, and support raising, and training, the Lord brought Shawn to Cameroon to work as the field administrator. We met him, I think, around a year into his first term and he really was thriving. Life is more challenging in Cameroon, but he rose to the challenge. And then, a few months later, Shawn died of respiratory complications.

Being that you, my reader, probably did not know Shawn, after a brief moment of shock and a little sorrow, what you probably are thinking (at least if you are an American) is: "What a waste! Why in the world would God allow this man to spend YEARS of his life and thousands of dollars of supporters' money to do less than two years of ministry in Cameroon?" There is an underlying concern in these questions that finds its way into a lot of American conversations about missionary work: efficiency. When I hear people in America talking about missions, they are often looking for the most cost-effective, time-effective, efficient way to do missions. This has led some to reject the sending out of Western missionaries altogether. And why? Because there is literally no more expensive way to reach people of other nations than to send an American family. For us to go to live among another culture, we need years of preparation, language learning, etc. We have to figure out how to live in a country in which we have basically no experience. And we often are far more concerned with health and comfort than any other nationality.

So, why would we do it? Why would we send Americans to do the work of missions at all? There are a lot of answers, but here is one: GOD IS NOT CONCERNED WITH EFFICIENCY!

This is a big claim, but I believe I can make a biblical case for it. There are three things I notice in the Great Commission that leads me to this belief:

1. He called us to go
Jesus told us (first his disciples and through them us) to GO. I know, I know, it's a participle. But read HERE if you need some persuasion that he actually was telling us to go. Jesus told the disciples to go to: "Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Jesus told Jews to go to Samaria! The Jews did not have the best relationship with the Samaritans, in fact generally speaking Jews hated Samaritans and Samaritans hated Jews. But Jesus didn't say that they should try to connect with the Samaritan woman and see if they could fund her to reach out to her own people. He told them to go to Samaria. This is not the most efficient strategy, but it was the one that he chose.

But he did not only tell them to go to Samaria...

2. He called us to go to all nations
Jesus actually told us that we should go to all nations. John Piper says the following:
 “God’s call for missions in Scripture cannot be defined in terms of crossing cultures to maximize the total number of individuals saved. Rather, God’s will for missions is that every people group be reached with the testimony of Christ and that a people be called out for his name from all the nations” (Piper 2010: 179).
Piper uses an illustration, for another purpose, of two ships that are sinking. A rescue team comes to the first ship and begins to save people out of the water. In doing so, they look afar and see the other ship sinking and hear the cries of the drowning. Though compassion and love would no doubt cause deep anguish in the hearts of the rescuers, there is no reason for the to stop saving the first ship's passengers to move on to the second. From the perspective of efficiency, they would probably save more if they stayed at the first wreck rather than losing some people while they travelled to the second. In fact, I believe that rescuers are trained to save as many as they can, and would likely stay at the first wreck until they thought it would be more efficient to move onto the second.

But this is not how Jesus called us to minister. From the perspective of efficiency, it makes more sense to work with those whom you are most alike. It makes more sense to minister in your heart language. It makes more sense to stay somewhere where you can fund yourself, rather than having to rely on the funds of other Christians. Simply, it is more efficient to stay than to go. Following the method of using us to spread the message, the most efficient way I can think of is this:
  1. Work and minister in America to Americans.
  2. Bring people both saved and unsaved to America.
  3. Evangelize them, disciple them, send them back to their countries.
But this is not how Jesus called us to minister. He called us to go to all nations. He called us to go to places where they speak other languages. He called us to go to places that we cannot even get to without a few thousand dollars in plane tickets. He called us to go to places where we would die (and many have) unless we took malaria medicine EVERYDAY. And he called us to go not knowing the day of our own death. But don't miss something very important...

3. He called us
The whole method is inefficient. God is all powerful, has no lack of resources, and is all wise. And who did he choose to take the Gospel to the nations? He chose soft meaty creatures that have no protective shell and can die when an insect bites them. He chose people that stop learning language really well at the age of 18. He chose people who can't even get along well enough with one another to stay on the field (the number one reason missionaries leave the field is conflict with other missionaries). He chose me. 

Can you think of a more efficient way to do this? I can. I have always thought it would be amazing if every tree grew with the Gospel written in its wood. You peel off a layer, Gospel in Chinese. Another layer, Gospel in French. Another layer: Bakoum. Every tree, in the whole world. Could you imagine. It would be so wonderfully efficient. But this is not how Jesus called us to minster. He did not send a call out to every tree, or fish, or even angel. Jesus sent us. 

When I look at Shawn's life, I do not see a waste. I do not see a mistake. What I see is beautiful inefficient obedience. I see faithfulness that I envy and a final impact still to be fully known. And I think that if we look at such faithfulness and we think it is a waste, we have a long way to go.

I don't believe that God cares about our efficiency. 

Before you yell at me, I don't think we should be wasteful. I don't think we should spend money and time recklessly. Jesus honored the servant that took the money from his master and increased it five-fold (Matthew 25:14-30). I think it is good to strategize and plan, but never at the cost of obedience. If our strategy and planning and desire for efficiency drive us to ignoring the plain command of God, we need to rethink our priorities. Jesus said to his disciples:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Stacey and I have spent the last 13 years preparing to translate the Bible. We have studied the Bible, linguistics, French, Bakoum, and linguistics again. We are planning to begin the actual translation project in August. We know what book we want to start with (John), we know how we want to translate (faithfully and with much study and prayer), we know where we want to translate, and we know that we could die tomorrow. And if I die tomorrow, I pray you will not wonder why the waste. I pray you will not try to measure my efficiency, wondering if all that money and time could have been better spent. But I pray you will ask: was he faithful? Was he about his father's work? And if the answer is yes, I pray that you will trust God to use my efforts the way he wants, for his glory.

Piper, John. Let the nations be glad, 3rd ed. MI: Baker Academic.
Also, to read more about Shawn's life:

Thursday, March 8, 2018

All Safe and Blessed: A Tribute to a Sister (Not) Lost

by Stacey

Several years ago, a missionary from Burkina Faso came to Eastern Cameroon to tell people about Jesus. He lived in a city called Bertoua and while he was there he met a young lady named Audrey. He shared the Gospel with her and she believed. However, when Audrey shared the Gospel with her mother, Carine, she rejected it. She didn’t believe that Jesus was enough, but instead believed that it was her good works that would make her acceptable before God. Through many prayers and conversations, Audrey won her mother to the Lord. Audrey and Carine then began to worship with the pastor, Roger, and their small church. They found riches in Christ and yet they were facing financial hardship on earth.

As is the custom in our region in Cameroon, when a woman is widowed, the family of her deceased husband comes to reclaim all of “his” possessions. The custom is that all that the husband owned was his, and the wife shared no ownership of his possessions. Therefore, the family has the right to take everything from the wife. Carine had lost her husband and so the family came and took all that she owned, even her clothes, leaving her, her daughter Audrey, and her granddaughter almost destitute.

So the man that led them to Christ hired Carine to do odd jobs around his house. She was incredibly grateful, but then this pastor felt called to go serve in another part of Africa.

Around this time, we showed up in Cameroon and ended up renting a home from Roger. We felt instant community and like-mindedness with him both in our common faith in Christ and in our desire to see Eastern Cameroon come to worship Jesus. He recommended to us that we hire Carine to come help us in our home with meal preparation and cleaning, and so we did. We built her a house in our village and she worked in our home for about two years. It was a good two years for her and a good two years for us.

Carine, you could tell, felt a little uncomfortable coming to work for “les blancs” (white people) but soon Dave’s teasing reassured her that it was HER that we cared about, not the cleanliness of our home. Anytime she dropped something or broke something, Dave would come into the kitchen and teasingly tell her that when she was angry she could come talk to him and didn’t need to throw things on the floor. “Monsieur David!” she would scold him while giggling.

We also teased with her because she would ask me how to do things in our kitchen and after I said, “I don’t know, let me go ask Dave” a few hundred times, she would just roll her eyes and throw up her hands. One time she said, “Madame Amélie (my name over in Africa), if you were married to an African man, he would have the right to divorce you for how you cook!” Then she would throw her head back and laugh.

Not only would she throw up her hands at my domestic incompetence, but she simply could not understand why I would fill up my house with “meat” from the bush and give this “meat” names (the concept of a “pet” is somewhat foreign over there). We had a pet western tree hyrax at one time that would hide behind whatever she was cleaning and scare her to death when she saw him. She would scream out “Madame Amélie!!” He also liked to stand on her feet when she would least expect it. She had to work around my pet bunny and at one time 10 cats. We always joked with her that the pets would drive her to quit. And she would just smile and shake her head and say, “No, no, no.”

To our kids she was auntie as she would pat them on the backs when they threw up in the toilet and whisper prayers under her breath throughout the day when they were in bed sick. She would tell me when my skirts were too short and chase away the neighborhood kids when they were interrupting mine and Dave’s studies.

Although she was 10-15 years older than me, when we hired her, I became a type of adopted mother to her. She would bring me her bleeding granddaughter to bandage and bring over the same granddaughter when she was misbehaving and needed to “have a talking to” from “Monsieur David.” She looked to us to care for her and her family like a daughter would look to her mother.

An unexpected loss
When we left Cameroon, we left Carine in charge of our home and called her every few months to check in with her. The last time we talked, she said she wasn’t feeling well, but we had no idea that would be the last time we would speak to her. I am not sure how she died, but the past few months she had been losing weight and been getting sicker and sicker. Then this morning, we received word that she had passed away. We are in shock.

Losing Carine is like losing a live-in aunt, and yet, we trust that this was her God-ordained time to go home. We grieve with her daughter and granddaughter and grieve that we won’t get to see her again in this life and yet we rejoice that she is with Jesus. I praise God for the missionary that came from Burkina Faso to tell her about Jesus Christ and I praise God that she was in our lives for a time and like our son Kaden said, “We’ll see her again in Heaven.” I praise God that Carine is far far away from the disease, the poverty, the suffering, and the death that was all too common in her life. I praise God that malaria and suffering will be but a faint memory for her and that she is safe and blessed in the arms of Jesus.

And in August, when we return to Cameroon, there will be a big gaping hole without Carine there and yet we pray that there will be many many more in Eastern Cameroon who Christ will claim as his own in the days to come.

Please pray for her daughter Audrey and granddaughter Estrella that she left behind - that the suffering they are walking through would refine Audrey's faith and cause her to yearn for the pleasures of being with God in Heaven more and more.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Gospel and the "Noble Savage"

by Dave

In the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia, there is a great battle between those Narnians who follow Aslan and those Calormenes who follow a god named Tash. Aslan (a great lion, who we first encountered as he created Narnia by singing it into existence) is a thinly veiled image of Christ. Tash is a horrid bird like creature that smells of death, and could symbolize any number of false gods. An ape and a donkey joined together with a tisroc (a leader of the Calormene people) and claim that Aslan and Tash are actually the same god. Of course, in the end there is a great battle and their falsehoods are made manifest. When the Pevensies find themselves at the end of the story in Aslan's country, they are surprised to find Emeth, a Calormene, sitting under a tree.

Emeth, explained that he too was surprised to find himself there. He said when he first arrived, he met Aslan and was understandably afraid. But he said, "Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him." But rather than killing him, Aslan "bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, 'Son thou art welcome.'" But Emeth replied:
"'Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash.' He answered, 'Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.' Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, 'Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?' The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, 'It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child?' I said, 'Lord, thou knowest how much I understand.' But I said also (for the truth constrained me), 'Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.' 'Beloved,' said the Glorious One, 'unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.'" Lewis, C. S. The Last Battle: The Chronicles of Narnia (pp. 188-189). 
So, the Calormene was able to enter Aslan's country (i.e. Heaven) because he had been faithful in his worship of Tash. His good deeds (which he did in Tash's name) were counted to him as righteousness because all good deeds belong to Aslan and not Tash. This is of course fiction. It is a story about talking lions, beavers, and British children. This is not the Bible. However, as far as I can tell, this imaginary scene was drawn from the real-world theology of Lewis, which is not an uncommon one. The idea is that there are people among the nations who have never had the chance to truly know Jesus, but they are accepted by God anyway, because of a faithfulness to what they did know. No one uses the term now, but in the past such people have been referred to as "Noble Savages," living without knowledge of Christ, yet also not distant from their Creator.

Lewis is a fantastic writer, and this view is, for a number of reasons, appealing. However, at the end of the day, I believe that it falls short of the biblical teaching. There are three reasons I believe that we should reject this view, based on Scripture:

1. No one is faithful
"There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12)
The Bible is hardly ambiguous when it comes to the state of man apart from God. None of us are good, not even one. None of us understands, we have all turned aside. And the Bible has a word for people who are in this state: worthless.

In the real world, I find this is true on numerous levels. The reality is that no one is by nature faithful to God's system. But beyond this, they are not even faithful to their own system. Let me give you three examples:
  • Let's think about us Christians for a moment. We believe in and love Jesus. Yet, we fall short of the system we have bought into. We still sin, disobeying God and hurting one another. If we, Spirit-indwelt Christians, still fall short of our religions expectations, why would we believe people in any other religious system would do any better?
  • Among the Kwakum, in our village, there is a strong emphasis on generosity and never withholding aid from someone when you can give it. And yet, they find ways to hide money, or dodge friends that might ask for it. And this causes fights and quarrels that often end in violence. 
  • Even among the non-religious, there are still values and standards which are upheld as important. I worked with a man who claimed to be an atheist in America. He was a staunch feminist and believed that women should be held in high esteem (even perhaps higher than a man). And yet, on more than one occasion he told me about how he had fought with his wife, yelling at her and hurting her feelings, which ultimately caused him to feel great shame. 
If we say that the standard for the non-believing is faithfulness to their own system, we find that all have fallen short of that too. Had he existed in the real world, Emeth would have a great problem, and it would not merely be growing up with misunderstanding about God. Like you and me, Emeth would be a sinner, violating not only God's commands, but his own.

2. Good works do not save (especially not works on behalf of another god)
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Of course, this problem is not secret. The Bible lets us know that we are sinners and are therefore distant from God. The truth is, every single person in the world needs to be saved. And God, in his infinite wisdom and grace, has offered to us a path for salvation: grace through faith.

When Emeth is talking to Aslan in the story above, Aslan points to Emeth's works to explain his presence in His country (i.e. Heaven). So, the difference between Emeth and any other Calormene was that Emeth lived for Tash the way he should have for Aslan. He kept his oaths, for instance, which Aslan considered a service to himself. But is this how God sees service offered to other gods? Listen to what God said to the Israelites who were trying to call upon him while still serving idols:
Will you defile yourselves after the manner of your fathers and go whoring after their detestable things? When you present your gifts and offer up your children in fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, declares the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you. (Ezekiel 20:30-31)
Does that sound like Aslan? No! God says that when the Israelites were worshipping another god, they were whoring themselves, going after detestable things. He told them that they defiled themselves. The Bible teaches us that God does not consider acts of service to other gods service to himself. Instead he hates them. Any act that is done in God's name or in the name of any other god, that is not done in faith, is nothing but a "filthy rag" before Him (Isaiah 64:6).

One may respond to this by saying that the Emeths of the world are acting in faith. They are doing righteous deeds on behalf of God, they just do not know his name. Elsewhere, CS Lewis said, "We know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him." But again, we have to ask the question: "Is this what the Bible says?"

3. There is a need for conscious faith in Christ
"And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)
There is much that could be said in regards to the requirements for salvation in the Bible. Clearly there were many people saved in the Old Testament that never knew Jesus' name. However, it is also very clear that there is a shift in the New Testament. There were many mysteries that were elucidated through Christ, and through the teaching of his disciples. The requirement of salvation has always been focused on faith in what God has revealed. Abraham was told that he would have many offspring in Genesis 12. But God did not immediately give him a son. And in Genesis 15, Abraham expresses his angst and confusion, crying out, "O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" (verse 2). But the Lord assures him that he will have a child of his own, and not only that, but as many descendants as there are stars (vv. 3-5). Then in verse 6, Abraham, "believed the LORD and he counted it to him as righteousness." Abraham had faith, not only that God existed, but that he would keep his promises. It seems clear to me that had Abraham continued to believe in God, but did not believe that he would keep his promise for an heir, that it would not have been counted to him as righteousness. Salvation (being counted as righteous) has always come through faith in what God has revealed.

And, amazingly, God has revealed himself fully now, through Jesus Christ. The stakes have been raised and there is now salvation in no one else. One can only be saved through Christ. Christ himself made this plain when he said: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

Of course, some might say this can still happen for those who have never heard of Christ. Lewis implied in the quote above that the Emeths of the world could be in fact saved, and through Christ, they just do not know it. One answer to this is that, again, salvation is through faith, not works. No matter how many good things people do, they can only be saved through faith. But further, the Bible teaches us that it is conscious faith in Christ. One of the clear indications that this is true in the New Testament is found in Romans 10:13-15:
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
The manner in which someone can be saved according to this passage is through calling on the name of the Lord. Paul sets up conditions on that, though. In order to call they must believe. In order to believe they must hear. In order to hear someone has to preach. In order to preach people need to be sent. One cannot be saved, then, unless they hear, believe, and call upon the Lord. Paul was not out teaching a message that the Gentiles were saved, they just didn't know it. Instead, God called Paul to go to the Gentiles and tell them that they should "repent and turn to God" (Acts 26:20).

Those of us Gentiles who are now saved did not need a mere course correction, a revelation of a new name for the God we already worshipped. We needed a life change. We were called out of darkness and into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). We were once dead and now are alive (Ephesians 2:1-10). And we are going out and calling the nations to nothing less.

At the end of the day, the "Noble Savage" perspective has a wrong view of man, a wrong view of salvation, and a wrong view of faith. There is no man who is faithful, not to God's system and not even to his own. And salvation has nothing to do with faithfulness to a system, but instead, salvation comes by faith. And this is not just faith in a god, this is conscious faith in Jesus Christ. Without this message, missions is crazy. Missions is hard, time and resource consuming, discouraging, and dangerous. If the nations are saved without hearing, it is not worth it. But I don't believe that the Bible is vague in this area. And my ONLY hope for the Kwakum, and all the unsaved of the world, is that they would know this Jesus and his salvation. And if their only hope is in hearing, missions is not only worth it, it is necessary.

If you want to read more about this topic, I recommend John Piper's chapter: "The Supremacy of Christ as the Conscious Focus of All Saving Faith" in Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions. There you will find a more thorough discussion (though with decidedly fewer Lewis quotations) of this issue.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Self-Reliance in Parenting and Missions: Reflections from Nevius

by Stacey

The miraculous cannot be brought about through human striving or effort. The sacredness of preaching the Gospel both within the context of missions and of parenting is nothing short of asking God to take a pile of dry bones and make them into an army of committed soldiers.

The Teachings of Missionary to China, John Nevius
John Nevius, born in New York in 1829, was a missionary to China who spoke out against the missions methodologies of his day. At that time, missionaries were employing national Chinese helpers to go out and preach the Gospel in order to reach as many people as possible for Christ.

Nevius objected to this practice because he saw that many of the employed preachers were expressing interest in the ministry position mainly for the consistent income and not as much for the salvation of their fellow man. Further, Nevius was concerned that these paid evangelists were being sent out before they had developed the Christian character that was necessary to go along with the message. This approach produced numbers to be sent back home (X number of people heard the Gospel, X number of people prayed to receive Christ, etc) but, he argued, this approach would not lead to an independent, healthy church.

He therefore encouraged his fellow missionaries to avoid appointing new converts to the positions of leadership and to let all initiative in evangelism be incited by the Spirit in the hearts of the believers. He also exhorted them to faithfully teach “the whole counsel of God” in order to raise up qualified elders (even if it took decades…). He implored them to consider that:

Labor will not guarantee results

A desire to “frantically evangelize” the world and see hard numbers come out of this initiative should not be the goal. Nevius says that the seeds that we sow in this life may not yield results for another 50 years or more: 
It will be nearly fifty years hence to determine with positive certainty what an individual life has or has not accomplished. Only in eternity will every man’s work be fully made manifest of what sort it is. Results of apparently great importance may attract attention and secure general commendation, and yet prove only temporary and illusory. On the other hand, a good book or a word spoken in season, may produce important results, though the world may never be able to trace them to their true source (Nevius, 79).
If there are two missionaries laboring and one is yielding a harvest, and the other is not, that does not necessarily mean that the first missionary is more faithful than the second; nor does it mean that the second missionary’s ministry should be suspect. The Spirit blows where he wishes, and we do not know from where he is coming or to where he is going. He may choose to wait 50 years or more to bring life to the seeds of the Gospel that were sown into hearts.

And if the missionary is tempted to think that the fruit comes from his labors, God may very well humble him.

If we are self-reliant, God may delay the results

Nevius says:
It is so natural for us to feel that with a good knowledge of the language, sincere earnestness and sympathy with the people, together with prudence, common sense, zeal, hard work and perseverance, sooner or later great spiritual results must certainly be accomplished. This is by no means the case. Our labors may combine all the above conditions and yet be fruitless in the conversion of souls.
If we are cherishing a feeling of self-dependence in any form, God will probably humble us before He will use us. We must feel that if anything is accomplished it will be by the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit, and be ready to ascribe all the glory to Him. Otherwise He will probably leave us to ourselves to learn the lesson of our own weakness (Nevius, 81).
With a lack of fruit, the missionary can easily turn inward and wonder what he is doing wrong. With an abundance of fruit, the missionary may be tempted to attribute his success to his fluency in the language and apparent love for the people. And yet, the first missionary may be the one who is most sincere, most pure of heart, most faithful in the eyes of God. It is easy to think that God’s work is like an equation: If I do A,B,C, then E is a certain outcome. Although the Lord uses means, he cannot be bullied into doing what we think he ought just because we’ve been laboring.

The Right Response: Humility
In Missions
Sometimes a decade of labors in support raising, language acquisition, cultural understanding goes before the first time a missionary is able to share the Gospel with someone who has never heard of Christ. Through those years of striving, the hope of people hearing, believing and being saved is what motivates the missionary to keep pressing on.

Then, when the message is finally preached, oftentimes the person’s response is “Naw.”

The missionary thinks to himself, “What!? I have done all this to get you this message and your response is ‘Naw’?!”

It is at this point that the Lord reminds the missionary that even if the message is preached well in an understandable way, it is still HIM who has mercy on whom he has mercy and hardens whom he hardens. Planting and watering the seeds of the Gospel does not guarantee that the Lord will give growth to what is planted. This reality ought to humble us as missionaries to our knees to ask God to do what only he can do: Send his Spirit to make dead men alive.

This call to humility can also be applied in parenting.

In Parenting
John 1:12-13 says, 

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Just as a missionary cannot rely on his own efforts to cause someone to be born again, neither can the Christian parent rely on his own efforts to ensure his child will be saved. The long hours of language learning do not make worshippers and the long hours of conversation, correction, and warnings do not make children love Jesus. It is the Spirit of God who makes children love Jesus.

The other day one of our children was tormenting another child at school and the teacher pulled him aside and said, “You can’t spit in people’s faces and hit them with your lunch box. Why are you doing that?” He looked right at her and said, “Because it is fun.”

It’s hard to admit, but the heart of the unsaved think sin is fun. My son thinks seeing other people angry is enjoyable. Now, I may be able to get him to do his chores, but that deep evil desire in his heart can only be changed by a miracle of God. My will does not change his heart, but instead it is the will of God that can overcome a heart that is dead to him.

A Question
A question for missionaries and a question for parents alike is: In what are we hoping? Are we hoping in our missions methodologies to change a culture? Are we hoping in our nice parenting charts to make our children love what is good? Are we hoping in our polished Gospel presentations in the language to cut people to the heart? Are we trusting in our persuasive arguments to win our children over to our side?

It is true that parenting charts and Gospel presentations (with all the tones exactly right) may be the tool in the hand of God to reach the heart, but ultimately it is not the tool that is doing the work – it is the skillful hand of the surgeon that makes a surgery a success.

God breaks us. He humbles us. He teaches us to not rely on ourselves. And then when he chooses to work through our feeble efforts in parenting and in missions we cannot but ascribe all glory to him. And until that day, we work, we labor, we pray and we say, “For God alone my soul waits in silence” (Psalm 62:1).

Nevius, John. The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches
Tucker, Ruth. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions

Monday, January 29, 2018

"If your God is so smart, why can't he speak our language?" The Life and Legacy of Cameron Townsend

by Stacey
“Understanding Scripture in a language other than the heart language in which we think and experience emotion is like trying to eat soup with a fork. You can get a little taste, but you cannot get nourished.” ― William Cameron Townsend 

William Cameron Townsend, or Cam, was one of the most influential missions leaders in the last two centuries. He founded three organizations: Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), and the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS). These three have the purpose of promoting Bible translation among minority language groups. 
His Life

Cam Townsand was born in 1896 in Southern California and attended a Presbyterian school in  Los Angeles with aspirations to be a minister and go overseas. During Townsend’s sophomore year, the Student Volunteer Movement’s lead visionary, John R. Mott, visited his college and challenged students to give their lives to the evangelization of the world. Cameron met with Mott and joined the Student Volunteer Movement, taking one more concrete step towards a life devoted to the Great Commission.

But, there was a problem. He had previously joined the National Guard in 1917, and was prepared to serve his country in the war. But then someone persuaded him to meet with a missionary on furlough named Stella Zimmerman. When he, and a friend who was with him, told her that they were planning to go out with the National Guard, she said

“You cowards! Going to war where a million other men will go and leaving us women to do the Lord’s work alone! You are needed in Central America!” (Hefley & Hefley, 26).

Cam didn’t like being called a coward and thus decided to obey his SVM commitment and go to the mission field instead of to the battlefield. He put in a request to the National Guard to be allowed to go overseas as a missionary instead of as a soldier. To his surprise, his commander officer heartily agreed to let him go.
The Beginnings

In 1917, Townsend started passing out Bibles in Guatemala among the Cakchiquel Indians. Many of the people he came in contact with had no idea who Jesus was. Whenever he would ask them, they would say “There is no Jesus who lives in our village; maybe he lives in the next village.” One day while he was passing out Bibles, Townsend struck up a conversation with an Indian man about God’s sovereignty and how all the answers to life’s questions can be found in the Bible. The Indian retorted back, “If your God is so smart, why can’t he speak my language?” Cameron had no words.
The question asked by the Indian haunted Townsend. Why wasn’t there a Bible translation in the Caqchikel language? This question tormented him to the point that he resolved to live among them long term so that he could translate the Bible into their language. 

So Cam remained in Central America and spent years pulling his hair trying to understand this difficult language. One day, this discouraged translator was visited by an American archeologist who encouraged him to stop trying to fit the Cakchiquel language into an English-language structure, but instead to simply describe what he was seeing. Cam followed this advice and started to look for patterns within the language. It was organized differently than English was, but it was nonetheless still organized.

This advice set him on a trajectory of learning the language and would eventually lead him to starting a linguistics program to help other future translators do the same. Townsand labored among the Cakchiquels until the New Testament was completed. When that work was finally finished, a fellow missionary sat him down and said, “Now that you’ve finished the New Testament, your work is just beginning…You know their language and their ways. They believe in you. Go back and train more preachers” (Hefley & Hefley, 66).

Townsand, however, did not heed this counsel but instead broke with this mission agency. His heart burned for the many other tribes who were without Scripture at all and so he turned his attentions towards reaching them through mobilization and training efforts rather than settling down in one tribe to plant a church.

In 1934, Townsend started Camp Wycliffe as a training ground for future Bible translators. The camp was on a farm where the trainees could get used to living in places where there was no air conditioning, and no chairs for that matter. The students sat on barrels while learning the art of how to learn and describe unwritten languages.

This particular group of students was praying that they would have the opportunity to serve the various Indian tribes in Mexico. There were two women, Eunice Pike and Florence Hansen who wanted to live in a Mazateco village. One of Cam’s friends disapproved of Cam allowing these two women to be sent out alone into the village because he had heard that there was a lot of killing. Cam respected the opinion of his friend and shared his concerns with the two women. The two women looked at Cam in surprise and said “'Why, don’t you believe God can take care of us?” (Hefley & Hefley, 99). Taken aback, Cam replied, “If you put it that way, go ahead.” And so the two women set out to translate the Bible into the complicated Mazateco language.
His Passion that wouldn't Die

After 50 years of ministry, instead of thinking about retirement, Cam decided to start all over in his translation work in a completely different are of the world: The Soviet Union. So, at 72, he flew to Mosco and started studding Russian for several hours a day and began conferring with linguistics and educators in the area.

However, Townsend was diagnosed with Leukemia in December 1981 and the doctors gave him several blood transfusions to keep him alive. On April 23, 1982 Townsend died peacefully at the age of 85 and yet his passion to see every people have the Word of God in their language lives on in thousands of Bible translators around the world. Even his grave stone located in Waxhaw, North Carolina calls out to the next generation: “‘Dear Ones: by love serve one another. Finish the task. Translate the Scriptures into every language.’ —Uncle Cam.

What we can Learn

There is much that we can learn, from the life of Cam Townsend but one thing that stands out to me is the idea that just as the Lord gives different people different passions within the local church, so he gives different people different passions within the missions world. And just as 1 Corinthians 12 tells us to honor and respect the different functions of the different members of the body of Christ within the local church, so I believe that we are to respect the different functions of the various members of the missions community. 

It can be a temptation within missions to pit various ministries against one another and I think that when we do that we are pitting the hands against feet against eyes. We all have different passions, strengths, and weaknesses but we are all members of the body of Christ who are working together to see Jesus worshipped in every tribe, tongue and nation.
And so, for Dave and I, we would've stayed and planted a church among the people group that Cam decided to leave. But the truth is that we are not Cam Townsend and the fact that he left that village led to a training facility that has equipped hundreds to go out and translate the Bible around the world. We as the feet praise God for him, the eyes, who gave such vision to a remarkable organization. 
And more than that, I pray that one day Cam Townsend could look down from Heaven and see every language community in the world able to see that God does in fact speak their language. 

The details of the life and legacy of Cameron Townsend were taken from:
A manuscript given to me by a friend, Lisa Lageorge, who presented on the life of Cameron Townsend at The Master's University chapel. 
Uncle Cam by James and Marti Hefley