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Today is Pentecost Sunday… read all about it in Acts chapter 2

A few days ago Wycliffe Canada colleague Jack Popjes posted The story of Pentecost in Two Contrasting Versions. I’m pretty sure he won’t mind me re-posting on Pentecost Sunday…

Why Stories from Different Cultures Are So Similar
I grew up listening to Dutch folktales, read voraciously in English during my early years in Canada, enjoyed Brazilian stories in Portuguese, studied Canela legends, and know all the Middle Eastern Bible stories by heart. I wondered why stories from these five different cultures seem to have similar plots and structure.

An anthropologist, Levi-Strauss, taught me that these timeless stories hang together because they all follow certain rules. Elements in each major tale relate to each other, both in the way they are similar and in the way they contrast. What’s more, one element in each pair is often positive, while the other may be negative, just as health contrasts with disease, and clean contrasts with dirty.

The Moses and Joshua Example
Here, for instance are how the stories of Moses and Joshua are similar: Both were chosen by God. Both led Israel. Both performed miracles. Both accomplished their tasks.

Here are the contrasts: One was old: one was young. One was a shepherd: the other a trained warrior. One led them out of bondage: the other led them into freedom. One was highly educated in Egypt’s royal court: the other was an ignorant slave.

Around the world, all enduring stories are structured similarly because they all reflect the greatest story of them all; the timeless tale of God, His creation, human sin and God’s redemption.

Now The Two Stories of Pentecost
Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks, in Old Testament times was simply a harvest festival. Eventually, this turned into more of a remembrance of the time Moses received the Law on Mt. Sinai. And of course, for the Christian Church, we remember that it was on the first Pentecost after Christ rose from the dead, that God sent the Holy Spirit to the Church.

So, doing a quick study of these two major stories, here, in list form, are some similarities and contrasts:
Jewish Observance of Pentecost: Receiving of the Law.

  1. God’s servant Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Law
  2. This happened 50 days after their escape from Egypt (10 days of travel plus 40 days on Mount Sinai)
  3. Moses found the people feasting and playing before the golden calf
  4. Moses ordered the Levites to draw their swords and execute the idolaters
  5. As a result, 3,000 people lost their lives

Christian Observance of Pentecost: Receiving of the Holy Spirit

  1. God’s Holy Spirit came down from heaven with Power.
  2. This happened 50 days after Jesus rose from the dead (40 days of seeing Jesus alive plus 10 days of waiting in Jerusalem)
  3. The Holy Spirit found the disciples fasting and praying before God
  4. God ordered Peter to use the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and preach to the crowds
  5. As a result, 3,000 people received eternal life.

The apostle Paul may well have had this contrast in mind when he wrote to the Corinthian church, “The letter of the Law kills, but the Spirit gives life” 2 Corinthians 3:6.

Try This Yourself
Pick a pair of characters like king Saul and king David. Or the prophet Jonah and the apostle Paul. Check out the amazing similarities and contrasts in their stories.

Wycliffe Canada colleague Jack Popjes is a prolific story teller. One of his stories inspired me to research which resulted The Irishman’s Prayer and The Irishman Who Prayed

Keep writing the stories, Jack!

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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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Jesus, Light of the World

Jesus, Light of the World

I have just sent this off to Prayerline, the weekly mission prayer news from the Presbyterian Church in Ireland‘s Council of Global Mission. Wycliffe gets an entry every four weeks and this year, I’m delighted that we have the Christmas slot for a week starting 21 December 2016.

Wycliffe’s December contribution for PCI Prayerline

More people than ever before know Jesus’ name in their language this Christmas because of Bible translation. Here is a small sample of the name of Jesus in 3,000 plus languages with some Scripture. Speakers of up to 1,800 languages are still waiting to have the name of Jesus translated for them. #endbiblepoverty

Jezusi (Albanian)

يسوع (Arabic)

Յիսուս (W Armenian)

Езус (Belorusian)

যীশু (Bengali)

耶穌 (Chinese)

Ιησούς (Greek)

Íosa (Irish)

イエス (Japanese)

Иса (Kazakh)

ഈശോ (Malayalam)

Isus (Romanian)

Иисус (Russian)

যীশু (Sylheti)

ܝܫܘܥ (Syriac)

இயேசு (Tamil)

เยซู (Thai)

Ісус (Ukrainian)

Giêsu (Vietnamese)

uJesu (Zulu)

This Christmas Day the Wycliffe UK & Ireland prayer guide asks us to:

  • Thank God for the birth of Jesus. Also thank God that many more people can read about the birth of Jesus through the translated New Testaments that have been launched during the past year.

As you read and hear the familiar Christmas accounts in the Bible this week, ask God how he might want you to be involved in helping the name of Jesus to be translated into new languages and be known by the speakers of those languages.

 

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Jesus had a habit of answering questions with his own rather challenging questions.

But then God has given us a lot of clues about how to live our lives in relationship with him – and in community.

In the Bible, starting with Genesis, where we find the Ten Commandments we find a good starting point…

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.

  2. You shall make no idols.

  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

  4. Keep the Sabbath day holy.

  5. Honor your father and your mother.

  6. You shall not murder.

  7. You shall not commit adultery.

  8. You shall not steal.

  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

  10. You shall not covet.

And then throughout the rest of the Bible!

Which is why Wycliffe Bible Translators exists: to enable all peoples to engage with the Bible in a language which speaks to their heart. It’s how God shows us humans how to live in his creation.

So when the young man got up from his bench, saying goodbye to Jesus… I wonder what he did next?

 

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mission-trip

I have a sort of love / hate relationship with short term mission trips.

Before we joined Wycliffe Bible Translators UK & Ireland in 1988, I had never been on a short term mission trip overseas. But should I count taking a school SU group away for the weekend or several years as a section leader of Newtownbreda CSSM or hosting a home Bible study group? Do they qualify as “short term mission”?

For a number of years I was responsible for summer mission teams for Wycliffe and I think we got it right in that these were definitely not mission tourism but experiencing and contributing to the long term task of ongoing Bible translation projects. An encouraging number of participants later joined Wycliffe long term.

I have blogged on this topic before, but what sparked this one was first my church mission coordination group discussing the possibilities for a group from my church to visit a couple that we support in Kenya and, in the future, another couple en route to Japan. And we’re thinking hard about how we do it. It will not be mission tourism!

And secondly there was Eddie Arthur’s recent blog which has the same title as this post. read on…

Yes, you read that title right. There is no such thing as short-term mission.

We could spend ages arguing about what exactly we mean by mission, but that’s not the point of this piece. Let’s simply look at the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20.

‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

So mission is first and foremost to make disciples. It isn’t about making converts; getting people to raise their hands at the end of an emotional evangelistic talk. It’s about helping people to develop into maturing Christ followers who are living disciplined (the clue is in the word) lives. That is not a short term project, it can’t be done in just a few weeks or even a few months.

If this wasn’t enough, Jesus then tells us that we have to teach the new disciples everything he commanded us. That might take a little time, too.

So mission, by it’s nature, is a long term activity. There are no short cuts.

I particularly like this next paragraph.

However, just because mission itself is long term, this doesn’t mean that there is no place for short term mission workers. What it does mean is that short-term mission work must take place within a long-term framework. Short-term missionaries can bring valuable skills and manpower to bear at critical points in a long project. The key is designing short-term mission projects that support ongoing mission work.                  [Italics mine]

Eddie added a footnote. Well, he would; he works for Global Connections! But I thoroughly agree with his final sentence.

If you are interested in short-term mission, you should take a look at the Global Connections “Short-Term Mission; Code of Best Practice“. I would strongly discourage anyone from going on a short-term trip which does not adhere to these basic principles.

Wycliffe Bible Translators UK & Ireland is looking into new initiatives in this area but in the meantime see what might get you involved.

 

 

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Sometimes we get a sentence back to front and we have difficulty understanding it, never mind the person listening to us or reading our e-mail. Sometimes however, a sentence needs to be translated back to front to enable the readers / hearers of the receptor language to understand.

Translation puzzle

And that’s exactly what my colleague Ed Lauber is saying in his post Put the most important last a week or so ago.

Consider these two sentences:

Why she married him I really don’t know.
I really don’t know why she married him.

The first carries a lot more emotional content than the second. If the person speaking wanted to make clear their complete disagreement with the woman’s choice, the first sentence works better. It puts “why she married him”at the front whereas it would normally come at the end – something grammarians call fronting.

But not all languages use fronting for emphasis. Languages here do the opposite. My boss in Ghana and the Director of the national organization we work for, GILLBT, says that the organization has a three-fold heritage – language development, literacy and Bible translation. On more than one occasion I have heard him mention to other Ghanaians that it is important to put Bible translation last because it is the most important. That’s because in Ghana, the most important words come last. It was the same way in Congo – the most important words came at the end.

Recently, I sat in for part of a workshop on the translation of the book of Romans. A translation consultant was giving instructions to translators from five languages. One piece of advice he gave concerned the following verse:

Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves (Romans 14:22)

He asked the translators to think about how to translate this verse, specifically where they would put the word “blessed”. They indicated that they would put it at the end, something like:

The one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves; he is blessed

Why? Because the important bit needs to come at the end in the languages here. The consultant warned them not to weaken the verse or make the translation awkward by keeping the word “blessed” at the front. He mentioned that the same thing applies when translating the beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
(and so on) (Matthew 5:2-12)

Blessed with emphasis are the first words in English. In the languages of Ivory Coast, the last words are the ones so blessed.

Seems like having the last word last is important!

Could you find linguistic puzzles like this interesting? Have a look here.

Or what about a wee taster First Steps at venues throughout the UK. The N. Ireland one will be 25 February 2017 at Ballyhenry Presbyterian Church – and someone has signed up already!!!

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“Selfish, unscrupulous and on the run from his brother whom he’d twice robbed, Jacob was not an ideal candidate for a special visitation from God and his heavenly companions – and yet that’s what happened!”  Fran Beckett SU WordLive 18 July 2016

As I read the passage from Genesis 28, I was struck by Jacob’s words when he awoke from his stairway to heaven dream encounter with God: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” I even added the words to my phone calendar for the next week. Too often I live my life and do my work with inadequate awareness that wherever I am and whatever I’m doing – God is in this place and in this situation. God has been encouraging me in spite of all my inadequacies.

First Steps
First Steps with Wycliffe
I get a buzz seeing people excited about bringing God’s word to others, how God leads them step by step. From January to July this year, we had five brilliant sixth formers from Coleraine, Ballymena, Limavady, Belfast and Newtownards on work experience with us.Three of them came to our First Steps day in February joining others exploring possibilities with Wycliffe. You can read about their reactions by going to www.nornirn.wordpress.com and search for “work experience”
Silhouettes with 2
As I write, Two Week Stint is happening in the South of France with four university students from N. Ireland attending. Three of them have been to First Steps and two did work experience some years ago. One of them, Caitlin, recently sent me this message:“It’s great. We just had 3 days of linguistics, which was fascinating, and now we’ve started on literacy. And it’s so pretty around here! So I’m having a great time.”

For all these whether still at school or at university or in work, we pray that God will guide them step by step in their walk with him.

Taking a Bigger Step
Our November newsletter had a picture of five silhouettes on a map in the office which reminded us to pray daily for new recruits. Two of those silhouettes now have faces as Rachel and Elaine were accepted as members in training with Wycliffe Bible Translators for overseas assignments in linguistics and Scripture use. Please continue to pray for the remaining three silhouettes to become faces.

Family Steps
On 28 February, my mother was admitted to hospital. She was quite ill for a time and is now in a nursing home needing full time care. My father has moderate dementia and has been in a residential home since late June. It has been a tough time for us and for my younger brother Alan. As I look back, I can say with Jacob, surely God has been in all these situations: in hospitals and care homes; with doctors, nurses, social workers and care workers; and some very civil civil servants.
Meanwhile Cathy and Doug have sold a flat in Aberdeen and are looking forward to moving into the first house of their own in September, while Stephen, Rachel and Ellie are expecting the patter of tiny steps, also in September.

Serious Step for John and Ruth
We plan to retire from Wycliffe Bible Translators at the end of 2016. We were accepted as members in July 1988, taught at Vavoua International School in Cöte d’Ivoire from 1989-1997 and have been in various roles with Wycliffe Bible Translators UK & Ireland ever since. I am delighted to have worked with a great team in The Mount since June 2015 and look forward to hearing how God will use Ricky and Marlene Ferguson in leading a new team and building new relationships with individuals and churches.
We will be in touch again before the end of the year. As always we give thanks to God for all of you reading this – for your interest, generous support and prayers.

Next Steps in 2017..?
Who knows – surely the Lord will be in that place too!

Coming up soon…

Big events this summer
Look out for Wycliffe at New Horizon Coleraine 6-12 Aug 2016 and Bangor Worldwide 19-27 Aug 2016

Guest Bible Scholar training
Belfast 22-26 Aug 2016
Love the Bible? Think everyone should have it in their own language? You could help from home – contact Nev at nmccormack@wycliffe.org.uk

Kairos @ Belfast Bible College
Course in World Mission 12-16 Sep 2016 John is one of the teaching team
See Belfast Bible College website

Wycliffe:Live 2016

Wycliffe Live 16 a5poster#2

 

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