From Depression to Joy

For nearly three weeks, I had been holed up alone in a friend’s house working 10 hours a day, seven days a week on the next book. Although I write only a few thousand words a day, I dictate 25,000 words a day from diaries into a speech-to-text program. The journals were handwritten during our decades of work among the Canela of Brazil, the subject of the next memoir book.

Aerial view of Canela village

As I dictated my way through one notebook after another, I found myself reliving the events of 35 to 40 years ago. Some of those brought back pleasant memories, of progress in research and translation, Canelas learning to read, family holidays, etc. But there were also many years in which we suffered setbacks, blocks and satanic opposition, resulting in strained relationships, depression and spiritual confusion.

When government opposition to Bible translation forced us, and many other expat translators, to leave the villages where we had served as health workers, teachers, and translators, both Jo and I went into a deep depression.

When we returned to Canada on home assignment, I told my Wycliffe director, “I feel God has let me down. I have nothing to say to churches.” I was “done with God,” but fortunately, He was not “done with Jack.” He brought a godly pastor into my life who listened to my outpouring of grief and frustration with God and for many months, counselled with me over breakfasts and lunches.

My Wrong View of God

As we talked, we analyzed why I felt the way I did. It turned out that I had a firm conviction that God was in a hurry to save the Canelas and all the rest of the world and that therefore, I should be too.

I probably got this “God is in a hurry” concept from my Bible school training in the 1950s, which, driven by the “imminent return of Jesus,” pushed for immediate results-based personal evangelism and foreign missions. I vividly remember a slogan: “Each day 100,000 people go into a Christ-less eternity!” The unspoken question was, “What are you doing about that today?”

So naturally, since we were experiencing the power of the Brazilian government to stop God’s Bible translation work, I couldn’t square that with God’s unlimited power that I read about in the Bible we were translating.

Because Jo and I loved the Canelas and wanted them to meet their Saviour Jesus, we had suffered all sorts of physical hardships and sacrifices, such as the emotional strain of being separated from and out of touch with our young children for months at a time. We read about God’s great love in the Bible, but it seemed to us that He did not care about the Canelas as much as we did.

Rewiring my Theology

It took much study, thought and prayer to rewire my theology to get rid of that unbiblical “God is in a hurry” concept. It sees God as putting all the responsibility on people to do this massive task. Then, He helps His people to use every resource possible to get the message out to unbelievers as soon as possible. At the same time, His Holy Spirit brings conviction and leads them to make a decision. The underlying idea is that God can’t do the job without us. Not so!

Jo and I finally concluded that the only Person indispensable to the Canela Bible translation program and their salvation was God. Everyone else could be replaced, even Jack and Jo. What’s more, God was in charge of the timeline!

After we had corrected our view and saw God as entirely in charge, being all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving, He opened the door for us to return to work among the Canela. But even then, nothing went smoothly. If anything, the aggravations of sickness, surgeries, mechanical breakdowns, and other trials intensified during the final five years.

Keeping the End in View

While dictating events of those long-ago years, I started feeling depressed again. So I did what Jesus did, “who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross.” As I was reading, I stopped and jumped ahead to dictating the events at the end of our ministry. Especially August 10, 1990, “the greatest day of my life” when the completed Canela Bible was dedicated and distributed  to scores of impatiently-waiting, literate Canelas. That was our greatest joy.

After dictating the events of those months for a few hours, I was refreshed and could return to dictating and reliving some of those earlier stressful years.


Source: Jan. 29 blog post at

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