I first heard God’s call to missionary service in January 2018. It came by way of another missionary Bible translator who had visited my church, Saint Peter’s Lutheran in Cochrane. This call marked the end of many long years wandering the desert, so to speak. God had released me from my last call six years earlier. And though He was always with me, and I never stopped praying, He pretty much left me to my own devices. And so I sought to build my family’s fortune as a high-tech entrepreneur.
Success in business is measured in dollars. By this measure, I have yet to succeed. By this measure, my wife and I were forced to trust God to provide for our basic needs while we tried to build something that would impact millions of lives and make us rich. To be clear, we were never motivated by greed or money in and of itself. Rather, it was the desire to create something that had never existed before and the recognition that business development and community development are practically the same thing.
In May of 2018, five months after hearing God’s call, I was officially invited to join Wycliffe Bible Translators. This was one of the proudest moments of my life. And even now, I marvel at how God was preparing me for service all those years without providing any specific direction.
Business is about building relationships. You can only be successful if your business has a meaningful impact on people’s lives. Done poorly or with selfish motivations, a business can destroy communities. Done well, a healthy community is grown and sustained.
This is where business and Bible translation align. Bible translation is impossible apart from the relationships built over decades of missionary service. In general, wherever Christians go, life gets better. Even if you don’t believe in Christ, it’s hard to dispute the benefit of Christian living. And I’m not talking about abstaining from drugs and alcohol, or even going to church every Sunday. I’m talking about a community’s recognition of the fact that we are all equal in the eyes of our Creator.
It takes a tremendous amount of work to establish a Christian community in a place where no one has even heard the name Jesus Christ. Often these communities find themselves within the borders of a government hostile to missionaries. Likewise, the people we serve are often native to the region and confined to reservations established by a colonial government. All of the communities we serve are defined by the languages they speak. They usually have anywhere between 5,000 and a quarter million members.
Thanks to the work of Christian missionaries, entire civilizations are elevated by the knowledge that they are children of the most High God. They are as important as their neighbours, and just as loved as the people who oppress them. Of roughly 7,000 living languages, 2,000 haven’t a single verse of Scripture. A good portion of those languages don’t even have an alphabet. They can’t be written down. When a civiliation reaches the point where they want to record their stories, they call upon SIL International.
We provide the basic tools of literacy. Everything from the alphabets, to the keyboards, to the printed materials and phone apps that teach people to read. At SIL International, they call me a Language Software Developer. I help write the tools that assist in translation.
Though SIL and Wycliffe have a long history of being early adopters of new technology, there are still people who remember doing their work with typewriters and paper, sorting their notes in binders and huge collections of shoeboxes. In the early days, taking 40 years to complete an end-to-end translation of the Bible was lightning fast. With the advent of basic word processing and email, a quick translation might now take 10 years (results may vary).
It was in recognition of the obvious fact that computers speed up our work that SIL formed its software division in 1992. To this day, workers from every Bible translation agency in the world use our tools. Computers and software don’t make work easier. They simply allow us to do more work, more efficiently. Interestingly, it was less than one year prior to the formation SIL’s software division that the World Wide Web was made available to general public in August of 1991. 29 years later and it’s hard to imagine life before the Web. It has become integral to the lives of people all around the world, including those people whose languages cannot be written down. Even in developing nations and among minority language groups, the most common computer is the one we carry with us in our pockets everywhere we go. So while our translation software was cutting edge in 1992, it only runs on desktop systems, which makes it impossible for use by the people who benefit the most.
I have been a Web Developer for the entirety of my career. This is because in computing, faster and cheaper always wins. As such, most of our software is now delivered over the World Wide Web. We use it in our browsers like Chrome, Firefox, or Safari. We use it in the applications that we download from Google Play and the App Store. Getting our software over the World Wide Web has many obvious advantages over what we used to do in the olden days… that is, go down to London Drugs and by Microsoft Excel on a CD-ROM. Or maybe drive down to Rogers Video and rent some movies. Typically we don’t do any of that anymore.
Beyond quick delivery of software, there’s another advantage to the World Wide Web that may not be immediately obvious. By themselves, computers can typically only be used by one human operator. When we connect computers and the people operating them all together, we reduce the cost of organization. This has huge implications for translation work that requires the coordinated effort of thousands of people all over the world. 10 years for a Bible translation is fast. We’re making it even faster.
Though we still maintain all our old desktop translation software, we are now moving everything to the Web. My job is to make it so that translation agencies and native speakers can access our growing library of Web applications. My team are facilitating collaboration in Bible translation in a way that has never been achieved before. Here’s where business and Bible translation align once again… the goal is always to impact millions of people. In turn, these people join in our work and impact millions more. But we don’t measure success in dollars. Here the lives impacted can only truly be measured in eternity.
It is a tremendous privilege being allowed to do this work. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. My family didn’t even go to church on Christmas and Easter. I am at least two generations removed from any serious church tradition. Given the little I know about my ancestors, it may be longer than that.
My first exposure to God’s Word came by way of comic books I found at the bus stop. The stories are all basically the same… sometimes its about this wicked person who rejects God outright. Sometimes they’re about an agnostic who thinks he’s basically a good person. The person central to the story often ends up in hell and only realizes the truth when it’s too late. For the reader, there’s always a verse of Scripture in the old King James language. That was my first exposure to the Word.
It’s funny how God speaks to people. I collected these books at the time because I found them hilariously offensive. Even now I find some of their content a bit cringey. But it was because of this, and because I started seeing the basic truth of the stories show up in places I would never have known otherwise: movies, music, and television. None of which were Christian. Would you believe that movies like the Matrix and Fight Club were instrumental in turning my heart to Christ? No matter which way I turned, God’s truth was calling out to me. I didn’t try to run or turn away. On July 28, 2003 I was parked outside the Tim Hortons across from SAIT where I said Jesus, you can do with me whatever you want from now on. My life is in your hands. It was like taking that pill in the Matrix. My eyes were opened and I could never go back to where I came from.
I think it took me almost two years to complete my first end-to-end reading of the Bible. I know I had finished before I entered seminary in 2005. That was the first call on my life. Since graduating from Ambrose in 2008, I am now on my thirteenth full reading and have lost track of all the various translations I’ve covered. My first and favourite is the New Living Translation. Of the Bibles on my bookshelf, I’ve read the New International Version, the New American Standard Bible, the New Catholic Edition, the New Revised Standard Version, the Hebrew-English Holy Scriptures, and the Old and New King James versions. I’m currently reading the Amplified version on biblegateway.com, which of course, is delivered over the World Wide Web. Though I read it every day, I have not read the Bible on paper for at least seven years. I start in January and read four chapters every day. I finish October 24th, at which point I do another pass of the New Testament, which takes me to December 28. I begin again on New Years Day.
It should come as no surprise, but I love the Bible. This isn’t because I’m some deeply spiritual person. It’s more because the Bible is easily the most scandalous collections of books I’ve ever read. The entertainment value alone is reason enough to read the Bible. If you know the Bible, you’ll hear its stories told in movies, music, and television, just like I did. So many of those stories are lifted right from its pages.
People tend to spiritualize the aspects of the Bible they find uncomfortable. Or they think there’s some hidden meaning that only scholars can understand. Though there is much to be gained through knowing a book’s first audience and its historical context, its message is not found by cracking some secret code. The Bible is written for anyone who can read, but not everyone will understand. This was, in fact, by God’s design.
A week ago I received a text message from my friend, Thomas. He asked if wanted to come to his church and talk about my work as a Bible translator. I said, Heck yeah!, and so here I am. Even before talking to your pastor on the phone, I got to praying… I asked God, what message do you have for the Evangelical Free Church in Coronation, Alberta? His response was immediate and clear. God’s message for you is:
Be still in your hearts.
Speaking in front of a church is serious business. God help me if I don’t deliver His unadulterated message! And so I prayed again… Thank you, God for giving me this opportunity and this responsibility. Please let me hear You. Give me the words and guide my hand. What message will you have me deliver to Coronation? And He said,
Let your hearts be at peace.
This is God’s message to you. I wish it was His message for me. While I love being a Bible translator, and I am privileged to be called, there are some major downsides of which I had not anticipated. The devil hates this work and he will do anything to mess it up. Missionary service is not like a regular job. About four weeks ago I experienced an anxiety I have never known before. For some, such anxiety is a debilitating daily reality. For me, it was the first time I can recall having such an experience. I didn’t really recognize the trouble initially. My heart was racing, my breathing was quick, my mind was scattered, and I didn’t know which way to turn. At first I blamed having too much coffee, but as the day progressed, I knew something was wrong. I have a lot of responsibility and in that moment I realized that there was no way I could handle it all by myself.
So how can I say, be still in your hearts when my own heart knows such turmoil? I posed this question to God and He led me to the Book of Matthew, Chapter 11 verses 25 through 30.
At that time Jesus prayed this prayer: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way! “My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:25-30
Though I didn’t read this passage at the time of my anxiety, through prayer I was quickly reminded of the truth of it. God is sovereign and He asserts His sovereignty in any way that pleases Him. He conceals the truth from those who think they are wise and clever. Perhaps those who believe themselves to be self sufficient.
If you’re one of those who thinks himself wise and clever, what Jesus says next will bring no peace to your heart. It is worth repeating: No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Put another way,
You cannot know God apart from Christ.
This and what follows is largely what quelled that strange anxiety. You may carry a heavy burden. Responsibilities hoisted upon you by work, family, situations beyond control, or even expectations you set for yourself. Jesus doesn’t say he’ll relieve you of your obligations, but he does promise rest and even offers an alternative approach to handling them. Take His yoke. Let Him assign your burdens. He will show you the way forward. Find rest for your soul. Let your heart be at peace.
To that you may say, I’ve been obedient. I did what I was told. God abandoned me and now I’m suffering the consequences. If that’s you, you’re in good company. Go to the start of the Matthew 11:
When Jesus had finished giving these instructions to his twelve disciples, he went out to teach and preach in towns throughout the region. John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” Matthew 11:1-3:
If anyone had reason for inner turmoil, it would be John the Baptist. His arrest was first mentioned in Matthew 4:12, seven chapters before he sent his disciples to question Jesus. Depending on who you ask, some say John was expressing his doubts about Jesus. Others say he was doing this for the benefit of his followers so that they would forget about John and follow Jesus instead. There may be some truth in both viewpoints. Though John had immediately recognized Jesus as the Messiah and had even performed His baptism, he now found himself in jail. Why couldn’t the Messiah save him now?
Unlike Jesus, John wasn’t arrested because of his preaching and teaching. It was because of a local ruler named Herod Antipas. King Herod had paid a visit to his brother in Rome and seduced his brother’s wife. He then came home to Galilee, divorced his own wife, and married his sister-in-law. A scandalous book. John was in jail because he publicly rebuked a despotic ruler. We don’t know for sure, but given John’s stature as a prophet, he was probably just relaying God’s message. And given what Jesus Christ said about John, we know that He was pleased with his life and ministry.
“I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is! And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it. For before John came, all the prophets and the law of Moses looked forward to this present time. And if you are willing to accept what I say, he is Elijah, the one the prophets said would come. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand! Matthew 11:11-15.
I doubt I could pick a favourite prophet, but if forced to choose, Elijah would be a top candidate. He brought drought, raised the dead, called down holy fire from heaven, and slaughtered more false prophets than any ordinary man could stomach. Though at the forefront of an unparalled ministry that brought an entire kingdom to its knees, even Elijah had his own struggles with hardship and fear. Having rebuked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel so powerfully, he was suddenly gripped with fear and fled into the wilderness where he prayed:
“I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.” 1 Kings 19:4
From there the angel of God gave him food and water and sent him on a 40 day journey to Mount Sinai where he camped in a cave. One of God’s greatest prophets had no peace in his heart. Finally, God himself came to him and asked “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19. To which he replied,
“I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
God’s message to you is Be still in your hearts. Imagine if he told the same thing to Elijah and John the Baptist. Empty words, perhaps, but that’s not what God told them. To Elijah, who was hiding in a cave and feeling terribly sorry for himself, God said “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord”. And so God passed by, and with him he brought a strong wind powerful enough to tear the mountain apart. And then an earthquake. And then a fire. Elijah stood outside the cave and each time these powerful forces swept by, God was not in their midst. Then finally, there was a low whisper and God asked him again… “What are you doing here, Elijah?” To which, once again, Elijah gave his same lament: I did what you told me to do, and now I’m being hunted!
We can be sure that God heard Elijah’s despair, though He doesn’t acknowledge it. He simply gives Elijah new marching orders, which Elijah dutifully carries out. He commissions a new prophet and embarks on some new adventures before being swept up into heaven on chariots of fire (2 Kings 2).
Elijah and John the Baptist had a lot in common. They both offended the rulers of the day. They both spent considerable time in the wilderness. They both even dressed the same, wearing leather belts and garments made of hair (Matthew 3:4, 2 Kings 1:8). There is an immediate and obvious difference, however. While Elijah avoided death by being carried up to heaven, John was decapitated because of a foolish pledge made by a lecherous, adulterous king, after being aroused by dance performed by his step daughter. There’s at least one other difference as well. It’s in how God responds to each man’s turmoil. In Elijah’s case, God simply tells him to get back to work. In contrast, Jesus tells John’s disciples:
“Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen - the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” And he added, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.” Matthew. 11:4-6
To paraphrase, Judge me by my works. This is incredible because Jesus is the only human who could possibly be judged this way. Jesus then, addressing John through his disciples, adds what might be a warning… And by the John, it’s not for you to set expectations of the Messiah.
No matter the tumultuous state of your heart, I suspect none of us are called to carry any burden close to that of Elijah or John the Baptist. They are both great prophets, and in Jesus’ own words, John is the greatest. Nonetheless, he only knew half the story.
We have the whole story. We have a collection of books spanning centuries, written in many different genres, with each genre shaping the message therein. But in the broadest terms, the Bible is a record of testimony. Hence, the Old and New Testaments. Imagine being called into court and giving your testimony. That’s the Bible. It testifies to God’s work, just as I testify to God’s work in my own life. Is my testimony credible? Is the testimony of the billions of Christians worldwide credible? Is the Bible credible? Read it and judge for yourself.
And so I repeat God’s message for you, Be still in your hearts. Let your hearts be at peace. You cannot fail with God right there beside you! I testify to this. As a missionary, I have no choice but to accept it, because I cannot carry the burden all by myself. My mission is impossible unless God gives me what I need.
For those of us here today, who have never seen a miracle, have never heard God’s voice, who don’t even believe that God walked amongst us and died for our sins, who maybe don’t believe in any god at all. You still know the whole story.
For those of us here today who regularly witness miracles, hear God’s voice, who worship the God who walked amongst us and said I know your suffering, I know you didn’t ask for anything of this, I know you’re hurt and angry, do with Me what you will, I forgive you. You know the whole story.
Whatever your story, look to the cross. Jesus loves you. Let your heart be still. May your story be told in eternity.