My wife Jo and I are revising, before we publish, our memoir covering 24 years of ministry in Brazil and what God did through us. Our God-given mission goal was to translate a large part of the Bible into the yet unwritten Canela language, spoken by thousands of people in Brazil.
Filled With God’s Energy
We would never have attempted this huge mission goal without trusting in the truth of God’s promise: “Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13, The Message).
I Know How to Make a Mess
I knew that unless God filled me with His energy and ability, and worked through me, I would make a mess of it. Here’s why:
- I dropped out of high school because I could not understand algebra. I failed Grade 10 math twice and gave up. I left high school without the accreditation to study at the university level.
- I was expelled from Bible school for one semester after my first year for breaking more rules than any other student in the history of the school.
- All throughout our linguistic training I barely made passing grades.
- The Jungle Survival Training staff suffered under my joking criticism and said, “Wycliffe will not accept you as a member until you have proved yourself worthy during a two-year probation period.”
But God . . .
God filled me with the confidence to practise speaking Portuguese and Canela when we were learning both languages, despite being mocked for making mistakes and laughed at by my hearers.
God not only made Jo much more intelligent than me—she quickly grasped details in linguistics and translation—but also far more relational. He gave her infinite patience to teach Canelas to read. He filled Jo with wisdom to grasp the complicated Canela kinship structure.
God made that 24-year period from 1966 to 1990 momentous in the history of Bible translation. Our memoir is packed with illustrations of God arranging incredible coincidences—decisions in travel, choosing Canela co-workers, keeping us from danger, etc. I call them God-incidences.
God motivated us to build a Canela dictionary by writing words on slips of paper and filing them in shoeboxes. God moved a computer technician to join the Brazil team and he built very early word-processing computers. Year by year we got better computers.
God energized Jo and me to find, train and employ more indigenous men and women as co-translators, typists, literacy, and Bible teachers than any other translation team we knew. God even gave us a Canela artist to produce indigenous illustrations for the Bible.
God made the Canela Bible book unique by leading us to include both Old and New Testament books. As a result, one-third of the published Bible would be Old Testament, and the rest New Testament. This would be the first Partial Bible published in one volume by a Wycliffe translator in Brazil.
With God so mightily at work throughout the world, no wonder Satan counterattacked. Ten years after God began to work through us among the Canela, the book At Play in the Fields of the Lord was published in Portuguese in Brazil. The story slanderously portrayed missionaries who worked with Brazil’s indigenous peoples.
Anti-Wycliffe demonstrations were held in front of the Wycliffe international office in Santa Ana, Calif. In some South American countries, bombs were thrown at homes where Wycliffe workers lived, and one translator was kidnapped and murdered. Brazil expelled all Bible translation-oriented teams from the indigenous areas, and Jo and I felt we were exiled for more than five years.
God Still in Control
God opened the doors for me to speak in Brazilian Bible schools, challenging students to become involved in Bible translation among their country’s indigenous populations. God led His people in Brazil to start a Brazilian Bible translation organization.
When God’s time came, He moved government authorities to allow translators to return to the villages and Jo and I returned to complete the translation. We encountered a village with an even greater enthusiasm for studying the Bible books. Canela young people overwhelmed us with demands that we teach them the Bible. God empowered us during eight years of intensive work with the Canela.
God gave Canelas a love for dance, singing and performing short plays and skits to teach and reinforce cultural behaviour. God led us to teach Canela young people to act out Bible stories on the public plaza for everyone to see and learn.
God also moved an ethnomusicologist to choose to study the complicated Canela musical system, and God led him and me to work together to compose several dozen Scripture-based songs using the appropriate Canela musical style for each type of song. The Canela loved singing these new songs.
God Made History Worth Celebrating in 1990
God made history in Brazil when in 1990 the 750-page Canela Partial Bible was the first Bible to be edited, formatted, and printed out page by page, camera-ready, as I checked and approved each page. God produced another first when a Wycliffe-trained, Brazilian printer published the Bible books right there in Brasilia.
God then motivated translators, working in parts of Asia and Africa, to produce similar Partial Bibles. We gladly sent them our list of Old Testament portions and advice on what parts of the New Testament to leave out to keep within the 750-page book limit set by the funding Bible societies. In the meantime, God led us to organize a huge village-wide event to celebrate the publishing and distribution of God’s Word in the Canela language.
Only God could have accomplished such marvelous work, despite working with a person who was at first rejected for good reasons.