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George Cowan 1916 - 2017

George Cowan 1916 – 2017

I got news today that George Cowan died in the early hours of 11 February aged 101.

I never met George but have known him as one of the greats of Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Wycliffe Bible Translators USA published an article celebrating his 100th birthday last February. Here are some extracts…

In 1942, George moved to Mexico where he met and married his wife, Florence. During their time in Mexico, they studied the Mazatec language — one that can be spoken or whistled — and helped translate the New Testament, which was completed in 1961.

But perhaps one of George’s best-known contributions has been as a prayer warrior. His dedication and passion to pray for the Bibleless peoples of the world has been an inspiration to many people over the years.

George once said, “I’ve got more versions of the Bible than I know what to do with. But what about that poor guy out there in a Bibleless group? … He’s got nothing. What should I pray for him? … I can only ask that God give him the same as he’s given me.”

I know him best by the quotation above because many times when I have spoken about Wycliffe and Bible translation, I have shown a very short but very powerful video in which we hear George voicing those words – and with such passion – urging us to pray for the Bibleless peoples of the world..

Family members have suggested that on arrival with his Lord, his wife would had greeted him with the words “Well George, you finally got here!”

And so George Cowan is with the Lord in company with family members and colleagues who have gone before and with Mazatecos with whom he and his wife worked to translate the Mazatec New Testament.

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… among God’s people in God’s world; in the hearts of those who, like me, claim to follow Jesus and too often get it wrong.

The news could make one rather depressed if one identified with…

  • the holder of a valid visa refused entry because of a Presidential Executive Order which may have been unconstitutional and unlawful.
  • someone living in N. Ireland hoping the Executive might have led the country prudently and selflessly rather than selfishly slithering into yet another potentially tribal election.
  • a disoriented refugee family facing rejection and suspicion because they are different from “us”.

In the early hours of Sunday 24 July 2016, someone started several fires inside Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church in Belfast. On Sunday 5 February 2017 – 30 Sundays later – we worshipped God again in our own buildings. Not in the church itself, but in the church hall.

It was a time for rejoicing at having got this far; for thanking local churches and the local primary school for the use of their premises; for continuing a preaching series on prayer; for praying for wisdom in planning the church restoration – but most of all for thanking God and acknowledging that he is in control.

So how is this story about my church’s problems connected with where I started above?

 

Well, because a friend led the prayer of intercession which included these words which touched me:

We are sorry that we are so obviously sinful. We recognise that we are selfish if our well-being is threatened. We see intolerance within us when we hear and see what is unfamiliar and we lack a generosity of spirit and an attitude of hospitality and acceptance.

But Father God, we see that you are good and pure and with you there is full acceptance and generosity and safety.

when-a-foreigner-resides

And my friend’s prayer is so relevant to a story I plan to post in the next few days.

It is based on some news from a Wycliffe Bible Translators UK & Ireland colleague living and working in a West African country where she is so obviously “different”.

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Karl Barth

Karl Barth

I don’t know when or where I first found this prayer, but I think it must have been late 2016.

Perhaps it was on the blog written by Mark Goudy, the “pill dispensing Pharmacist turned Presbyterian pastor”. If so, thanks, Mark!

I know that I downloaded it from somewhere and this afternoon, two weeks into 2017, I found it in my Downloads folder.

Our church home group usually gets together on New Year’s Eve, but this year it didn’t work out. However we are meeting tonight… just two weeks late.

Barth died in 1968 but his words to me have a timeless quality.

Let’s pray.

Karl Barth’s New Year Prayer

O Lord, our Father!
We have gathered here at the turn of the year
because we do not want to be alone but want to be with each other,
and together be united with you.

Our hearts are filled with somber thoughts
as we reflect on our misdeeds of the past year.
And our ears are deafened by the voices of the radio and in the newspapers,
with their numerous predictions for the coming year.
Instead we want to hear your word, your voice, your assurance, your guidance.
We know that you are in our midst,
and are eager to give us all that we need, whether we ask or not.

On this night we ask for one thing only:
that you collect our scattered thoughts,
getting rid of the confused and defiant thoughts that may distract us,
and thus enable us to concentrate on your limitless generosity to us.
You were abundantly generous to us last year,
and will be no less generous to us next year, and in every year to come.
Fill us with gratitude to you.

Karl Barth (1886–1968)

 

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How valuable is your Bible in your language? More valuable than the latest iPhone? The latest living room wall sized TV? Your dream car? An exotic holiday?

What about a shiny new spoon? Or a new enamel plate?

Wycliffe Canada colleague Jack Popjes remembers a prayer meeting in a fairly remote part of Brazil many years ago…

I will never forget that girl’s prayer during night class!

We were in the last stages of the Canela translation program. Two dozen young Canela men and women surrounded me, sitting on logs, heads bowed in prayer. We had sung hymns set to Canela indigenous music patterns, and in a few minutes would read and talk about a new draft of the translated Scriptures.

Now, it was time to pray. I heard prayers asking God to heal sick children, for a good crop, and for help to find a lost bush knife.

Then a young mother prayed:

“Great Father in the Sky,” she began. “I want to thank You for sending our brother Prejaka, and our sister Tehtikwyj, to us so long ago when I was just a little girl. They taught us to read our own language. Then they worked with us to translate Your Words into it. Now we can read Your Letter to us. Now we are discovering that You love us very much. Now we can learn how we can live to please you. Please help them to finish the Book soon.”

Canela village where the Popjes worked

Canela village where the Popjes worked

Then came the part that brought tears to my eyes and engraved itself into my memory.

“I also want to thank You for all Prejaka and Tehti’s friends in Canada. Every month their friends send money to them. They know that our brother and sister don’t have a food garden here like we do. They need money to buy food, and their friends in Canada send it to them.

“They don’t send it just because they are their friends. They send it because they are our brothers and sisters. Just as You are our Great Father, You are their Great Father too.

“They could keep the money, and buy nice things for themselves. Maybe they see a new enamel plate, or a shiny spoon, and ask themselves, ’Should I buy this for my family?’ But then, they decide not to buy anything, but to send the money to our brother and sister so they can stay here and help us have Your Word.

“And they sure chose right, because Your Word is so much more valuable than a new spoon, and better than an enamel plate. As a reward, give these friends, our brothers and sisters, lots of healthy children; make their gardens grow well, and keep them from getting sick. Amen.”

Bible translation is going on in 2,267 languages in more than 230 countries as you are reading this:

  • Somewhere, people are reading or hearing the Word of God in their own language for the first time.
  • Somewhere, the Holy Spirit is revealing the Father to someone who has only recently heard about Him.
  • Somewhere, the Holy Spirit is inspiring new believers not just to thank God for His Word, and for those who bring it, but also to ask Him to bless those who send the money which makes it all possible.
  • Somewhere, God is blessing donors to Bible translation and cross-cultural missions who are responding to prayers by new believers such as that young Canela mother.

This story is an encouragement to support Bible translation: if you do, keep doing it. Somewhere, someone may be thanking God for you.

Someone who you will not meet until eternity may be praying God’s blessing on you because, as that young Canela mother said,

“You sure chose right.”

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Once every four weeks, Wycliffe Bible Translators UK & Ireland has the opportunity to submit prayer items for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland weekly Prayerline.

In Prayerline, published today and covering the next 7 days, Wycliffe focussed on some current events in N. Ireland…

On Sunday past our Wycliffe NI Church Engagement team leader Ricky Ferguson was back in his old stomping ground speaking at Fahan Presbyterian Church in Donegal. His topic was “Bible Translation: what’s it all about?” We give thanks for how Ricky was taught and mentored in Fahan as he grew up and for the work he is now doing sharing his passion for Bible translation worldwide.

Fahan

Fahan Presbyterian with Ricky & Marlene Ferguson middle front

This coming Saturday, Ricky’s wife Marlene is taking a team of five to Union Road Presbyterian Church, Magherafelt who have invited us to put on a primary children’s missionary adventure day. They are expecting at least 100 children from the area to explore the theme “Let Your Light Shine!”  Pray for Marlene, her team, the children and all the local helpers involved.

We are excited in the Belfast office that by the time you are reading this, two new applicants will have been interviewed.  Pray that all will go well and that we will be able to share good news in our next contribution to Prayerline.

Please pray with us and our Presbyterian partners…

To view the whole Prayerline published Wednesday 13 April 2016 with the Wycliffe item at the end Click here to download Word file

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We’re now halfway through and it’s Easter.

Along with many other people here in Ireland, I’ve been taking part in…

100 days of prayer for 100 years of history – a movement of prophetic prayer for healing of the past, honour in the present and hope for the future.

2016 is a year of centenaries – the Battle of the Somme and the Easter Rising. In this moment, we are inviting Christians to unite and prayerfully engage in our nation’s story – to grasp this unique pastoral and prophetic opportunity.

Read more about 100 Days for 100 years here

The Easter weekend readings adapt the Bible to our local context and turn our thoughts to prayer!

Day 49 Good Friday? Mark 15

And Friday is good. Jesus died that we might live. He was made sin for us. Satan was defeated. Death was beaten. Mercy and truth met together. Righteousness and peace kissed. On that Friday, the curtain in the temple was torn in two. On that Friday, tombs were opened and bodies raised. On the cross that Friday, He declared – “It is finished.”

We have our own reason to call this Friday ‘good’. The Belfast Agreement is often known as the Good Friday Agreement. It proved to be a significant stepping stone to peace. It wasn’t perfect, and those on both sides of the conflict have had to accept developments that they had previously declared to be unacceptable. Political tensions and ambiguities have continued to the present day, yet almost everybody agrees that it has changed Northern Ireland for the better.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are possible because of what happened that first Good Friday. And so we pause, we reflect, and we wait in the darkness.

Prayer

They looked upon the One they had pierced and thought that they had won
The Word of God was silenced
The Light of the World was extinguished
The Way was blocked
The Truth questioned
The Life was dead
So great a love
So great a sacrifice
Amen                                                                           Peter Lynas

Day 50 Waiting for Resurrection Isaiah 61

I can’t help but feel we are still living in Easter Saturday here; we know something significant has happened with the transition to politics instead of terror, but we haven’t yet experienced resurrection to something new. We’re still fighting, albeit it is usually now just with words.

The prophet Isaiah, among his various messages, brought one of comfort, including this: ‘They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.’ Every time I drive down Oxford Street, I’m reminded of how this is true for Belfast. As I child, I remember being quickly herded into the bus station and minutes later a bomb destroying buildings around. Today, I see the Waterfront and new modern buildings, a testament to how far we have come.

But Isaiah also talked of deeper issues; broken hearts healed, prisoners freed, comfort for the mourning, justice marking society, joy instead of despair. In that sense, we’re still in between what has happened and what we still long for – it’s still Easter Saturday to an extent and we’re waiting for resurrection.

Prayer

Father, thank You for the hope that Easter brings, for the reminder and promise of resurrection. In this time of waiting, we’re grateful that things are better than they used to be! But we’re not satisfied, and we bring our discontent to You; we long for healing, for comfort, for justice, for real peace that will permeate our country and our relationships.
As we wait, help us to hold fast to the hope for better, not merely to settle for what we have now. Help us to be agents of the resurrection life and hope that we long to see in our day.
Stephen Cave

Day 51 He is risen! John 20

Picture the scene. Jesus’ disciples are in a room three days after His death. The doors are locked and they are riddled with fear.  Imagine their emotions as they contemplate their uncertain futures. After ‘selling out’ to follow the Rabbi Jesus, they believe His dead body now lies limp and lifeless in a tomb.  They are flooded by doubt, consumed by disappointment and apparent failure, which is all compounded by the immediate fear for their lives from the Jewish leaders.

Then like a scene from a sci-fi movie, Jesus shows up! He is right there in the room with them. But how? The doors are locked! Scholars disagree as to whether Jesus actually walked through the walls or not but one thing we can definitely surmise is that walls can’t keep Jesus out.  I wonder if in this act, Jesus was telling us something about what the resurrection would mean for us, for all of creation. Still carrying the scars of the cross, Jesus in His physical post-resurrection body steps through the walls to show us that it truly is finished – everything, absolutely everything the curse of sin sought to destroy of God’s good creation has been dealt with in Christ’s own body and even death, the final enemy, has been conquered! As Paul a few decades later would declare, ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God.’  Every wall closing in around us can be smashed by the wrecking ball of the love of God. A love so strong that is raises the dead.

The walls that have separated us from one another can also come crashing down.  Jesus’ all-conquering love carries the power to destroy our divisions and pride, making us one.  As He declared to those startled disciples, having appeared in the Upper Room, who He came and stood beside on resurrection Sunday ‘Peace be with you.’

Prayer

Father, thank You that walls can’t keep Jesus out, yet we recognise that we can keep them up.
Help us to follow Jesus’ example of self-sacrificial love, to deny ourselves, say YES to Your ways and allow Your love to flood our hearts.
May that love overflow to our neighbours, even our enemies.                 Alain Emerson
Good Friday has passed; we have waited through Saturday; we rejoice today that Christ is risen!
Hallelujah!
Peace be with you.

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No, it’s not a Sixties pop group.

Simeon

Simeon by Rembrandt

It’s my final blog in the Simeon Series.

Earlier this month, I was booked to speak at Drumglass Parish Bible Study at St Elizabeth’s Moygashel. I checked out their website and found this.

On 8th December we have the first of our visiting speakers when John Hamilton of Wycliffe Bible Translators will be telling us of the work of the mission that he works for. John has always been an entertaining and provocative speaker, and we look forward to hearing him again. Please come and join us if you are free. The offertory will be given to him for his work.

Three thoughts sprung to mind: 1. Always good as a speaker to get unexpected encouragement 2. Hope they weren’t disappointed and 3. The offering cheque arrived in the office and very generous it was too!

But why am I twittering on about Drumglass Parish? Well, the thoughts and stories contained in the Simeon Series were tried out on the good folks of Drumglass – and I thank them for their attention and some great questions afterwards.

And so to Simeon and The Five Silhouettes: you see recently I too have been identifying with Simeon, a man who had to wait.

The Five Silhouettes

The Five Silhouettes

Let me explain… the last time someone from Ireland north or south applied to become a Wycliffe member was in the autumn of 2012. For 3 years no one was asking about joining Wycliffe. Why not, I thought. Were my colleagues and I not doing the right things, saying the right things, speaking in the right churches, putting the right message on social media or in our local publications?

On 1 June 2015 we moved to a new office. We put a map of the world on the wall with photos of all our Irish members. Then we had an idea. We all thought of it at the same time. Why not start praying every day for new members? How many should we pray for?

We sensed that God had prompted us to decide on five – the five silhouettes! And guess what? In October we had two people asking to start the application process. We were delighted! We’re praying them – three more to join them!

So… me and Simeon..? Five years is not that long compared to the Kimyal man, the Ndali man, not to mention Bai Laurent the Kouya man who hasn’t appeared in this series – but it’s still very exciting when we see God answering our prayers.

Are you reading this in Ireland? Could you be silhouette 3, 4 or 5? Contact us at Wycliffe Bible Translators UK and Ireland. Are you elsewhere in the world? Find your local Wycliffe organisation on Wycliffe Global Alliance website. You can be part of Bible translation helping to relieve Bible Poverty so that there will be no more Simeons out there.

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So why does Wycliffe Bible Translators hold a worldwide Day of Prayer on 11 November every year? Why do offices and projects suspend their work to pray?

Well, first of all, prayer is and should be part of our work every working day. In the Belfast office, usually fuelled by a cup of coffee and perhaps a Seasons Restaurant scone, we pray every morning at 11am for our Irish colleagues  around the world.

Secondly on 11 November, we remember answered prayer way back in the beginnings of what developed into what Wycliffe has become today.

On November 11, 1933, Wycliffe founders, Cameron Townsend and L.L. Legters, crossed the border from the U.S. into Mexico because God answered prayer. It was a major step forward for Bible translation and also the beginning of what eventually became Wycliffe, now more than 100 Wycliffe Global Alliance organization.       Source Wycliffe Global Alliance

However, for various logistical reasons, Wycliffe UK & Ireland held our annual prayer event on 12 November this year and in Belfast we began by declaring together:

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We were a smallish group which included Belfast office staff, a couple of translation consultants (there would have been more but there were working in Zambia and Mali), four Guest Bible Scholars, a Presbyterian minister from the church of two of our members,  our Irish Personnel Coordinator and one year old Emily Ferguson who participated enthusiastically.

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We watched videos, we prayed, we shared ideas and experiences, we prayed several times more, we had coffee and scones – we identified with colleagues worldwide involved in helping individuals and language groups encounter God’s word and applying it in a wide variety of ways including writing Scripture songs, HIV-Aids education, multi-lingual education, trauma counselling and much more.

Here are some more images from yesterday including the last one which would have been an excellent way to end except that I forgot about it 😦

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hands

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Monday 1 June 2015 was a significant day for Wycliffe Bible Translators in N. Ireland.

After almost 14 years in our office on Beersbridge Road, Belfast, we moved downtown. Well, a little bit closer to the centre of Belfast. We are in two adjoining rooms in The Mount Business and Conference Centre not too far from Belfast Central Station.

https://i0.wp.com/www.the-mount.co.uk/images/contact_mount.jpg

Our address is: The Mount Business Centre,  2 Woodstock Link, Belfast  BT6 8DD and our  phone number is 028 9073 5854.

Here is an extract from my latest newsletter…

NI Team
On the same day Ricky Ferguson started as Leader of the Church Engagement Team in N. Ireland. Ricky brings youth, enthusiasm and his passion for Bible translation. He also has the advantage of being married to Marlene!

Also on 1 June, Alfred Thompson started working with the Wycliffe UK Communications Team based with us in The Mount. Completing the NI team are Kenny Woodrow (Uganda / Tanzania Branch communications) and our invaluable long term volunteer Bill Bailie.

I really like working in this team. Not only is there coffee and yummy scones from Seasons Restaurant downstairs, but we have regular team meetings, daily prayer together and we get to bounce ideas and banter off each other.

What about me?
These changes mean I have fewer responsibilities and renewed enthusiasm as I work a three day week as part of Ricky’s team. I hope that I can help him in his new role. I continue to be involved with the Kairos World Mission Course at Belfast Bible College and to be our contact with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. As a team, we want to build partnerships with all denominations and with new churches. We pray that God will call more people from Ireland to join Wycliffe.

A new office, new colleagues… all good stuff. But the task remains the same. As the front page of our Wycliffe UK website currently says…

Wycliffe Bible Translators believe that the Bible is the best way for people to come to know and understand who God is. Our vision is that by working with churches, organisations and individuals from around the world all people will have access to God’s word in a language that they truly understand.

Worldwide, 180 million people speaking 1,860 languages need Bible translation to begin, because they do not have access to the story of God’s love for his people – the story of the Bible – in the language that they understand the best. Of the 6,901 languages in the world today, only 531 have a complete Bible.

And there’s also a wee video from one of our partner organisations to watch…

Inspired? See where you might fit in? Contact us at our new office at The Mount to find out more.

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Remember this? And this one about prayers written by children  in Bible Sunday at my church

Well it was picked up by colleagues at Wycliffe Bible Translators USA and posted on their Facebook page on 10 December.

For more ways that you – and your children – can pray, see here.

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