Halt! Who goes there?

This phrase is probably familiar to anyone who has read a book or watched a film in which a person (or group) approaches a sentry. The sentry commands the party to stop and to identify itself verbally before coming closer. If the party asserts that it is “friendly”, then the guard gives the command to “advance and be recognized”. Once the party’s exact identity is verified to the sentry’s satisfaction, they are allowed to proceed.

Moving about on the internet is not so different, is it? Have you needed to enter a user name and password lately? Answer extra questions? Enter a separate code? I’m not even going to wait for you to answer that.

We are frequently asked to identify, authenticate, and verify ourselves in this world of ours. With more than 7.5 billion people estimated to be wandering the globe, it is often important to be certain that people are who they say they are. Confusion, deceit, or fraud can have disastrous consequences.

At work, I am guiding the staff and members of Wycliffe Germany toward the use of stronger forms of authentication for the systems we use. Some of us are caretakers of information about people, places, or situations that needs to be protected. When someone seeks to view an email account or open a file, we want the system to respond, “Halt! Who goes there?” To reduce or eliminate the possibility of unauthorized access, we put safeguards in place such as multi-factor authentication.

I’m not going to drone on and on about this topic. You can recall for yourself how you authenticate yourself and others while traversing the internet or even just answering the door. We do it all the time!

Some of the things we use to prove that we are who we say we are

What fascinates me is how often I come across the themes of identity, verification, and authentication as I read the Bible. Given the particular role I fill within a family of organizations focused on God’s Word, I can’t help but notice! Here are a few of my favorite examples, as reflected in the New Living Translation:

  • In Exodus 4:8, the Lord gives Moses instructions for authenticating the Lord’s commission to him: “‘If they do not believe you and are not convinced by the first miraculous sign, they will be convinced by the second sign.'”
  • In Deuteronomy 18:22, the Lord shares how to identify a prophet: “‘If the prophet speaks in the Lord’s name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the Lord did not give that message.'”
  • In Joshua 9:3-15, the Israelites fail to verify the identity of the Gibeonites, accepting fraudulent evidence: “So the Israelites examined their food, but they did not consult the Lord.”
  • In Judges 6:17, Gideon verifies that it is the Lord commanding him: “‘If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign to prove that it is really the Lord speaking to me.'” The sign freaks him out a bit.
  • In John 5:36, Jesus identifies himself this way: “‘I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me.'”
  • In John 13:35, Jesus tells the disciples, “‘Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.'”
  • In Acts 2:22, Peter reminds the crowds, “‘People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know.'”
  • In James 2:18, the author asserts the authenticity of his faith in this way: “‘I will show you my faith by my good deeds.'”
  • In Revelation 2:17, Jesus promises the following to the faithful: “‘I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.'”

See? The whole thing is woven through with authentication and verification. One could go on and on. When you read, keep an eye out for these themes. I will mention just two more:

  • Matthew 7:20, “‘Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.'”
  • Galatians 5:22-23, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

And those two things give a person a lot of food for thought—pun intended. When you pray, please ask our Father (and Gardener) to produce abundant, excellent fruit in our lives as we serve him through Wycliffe here in Germany. And may he help you yourselves to prove to the world around us just how fruity you are! Wait, that didn’t come out right. May the fruit of your lives prove your identity in Christ to everyone you meet!

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My, how time flies

Next month will mark 25 years since I first became a member of Wycliffe Bible Translators. I was accepted, warts and all, towards the end of the month-long Quest orientation course held at Tahquitz Pines Conference Center in Idyllwild, California. Much has changed since then, and for your sake I will not attempt a list here.

Wycliffe USA was founded almost 80 years ago, to give a little perspective to the timeframe. About 20 years ago, the organization moved its headquarters from California to Florida. The orientation courses moved with it to the new facility in Orlando. It presently has a membership of more than 5,000 people.

Wycliffe Germany was founded close to 60 years ago. It has a membership of about 150 people. Its main offices in Holzhausen were established a few years after its founding, and all of the orientation and initial training programs happen on our center on the hill above the village.

As acknowledgments of the milestone reached in my ministry with Wycliffe, the thoughtful folks on each side of the Atlantic sent me a little something:

As you can see—once you get past one language barrier or the other—they are similar expressions of remembrance and gratitude. Neither group let this one person get lost or forgotten among the crowd of years and faces. Think of it: I serve alongside thousands of people in this effort to transform lives with the message of love and hope from the One who created the universe and everything in it. And Bible translation is just one facet of the work before us. We still need more folks from a wide range of skills and vocations to see our mission through from beginning to end. Wouldn’t you like to be recognized for that in 2045?

What I find more striking after 25 years is this thought: there are churches and individuals who have been praying for and supporting me during this entire time. That is a significant spiritual and financial investment, one that represents a great deal of confidence in me, in Wycliffe, and in the God we serve. I do not take that faithfulness lightly, and I do not know how to adequately express my gratitude. The Lord my God would do a far better job of it, and so I write: may the Lord our God look with favor on your persistence, devotion, and sacrifice; may he reward you in this life and the next for the trust and faith you have placed in my ministry to him.

As for me, I hope that my heart’s true response after this quarter century is as Jesus described in Luke 17:10: “I am an unworthy servant who has simply done my duty.”

Now I’m going to write as a parent. After nearly 20 years, Katherine and I underwent the agony-joy of seeing our firstborn leave home to begin life on his own. Our son, Jonathan, flew from Frankfurt to Boston at the end of July to begin his adventure and career with the U.S. Marine Corps. After spending two weeks in quarantine in Atlanta, Georgia, he proceeded to MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina, where he is now in the middle of boot camp. If all goes well, he will graduate on 13 November and travel from there to the School of Infantry at Camp Geiger in North Carolina.

Wasn’t his first big trip overseas just yesterday? I’m not sure whether he has more or less hair at the moment, but I am sure that his clothes are better organized.

Parting from my boy was heartbreaking, simply because I so enjoy his presence with us. At the same time, I know that he needs to advance in maturity and responsibility. I trust that the God he and I honor and serve will guide and provide for Jonathan as surely as he has done the same for me. Katherine and I don’t know when we will see him again, given the circumstances of the pandemic and the nature of his vocation. When that day comes, though, you will be hard-pressed to find two happier people on this planet! (Oh, I suppose his brother will be happy, too.)

Thank you for being a part of the 25 years that I’ve spent with Wycliffe. There’s more to come, it seems, so please don’t cease in your support for me, my family, and Wycliffe’s vision for Bible translation. It’s never too late to start, either! If you want to make a beginning, please click the “Join Us” link on the site. Herzlichen Dank!

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The disassembled assembly

Last month, Wycliffe Germany held its annual Mitgliederversammlung (a.k.a. MV), or “member conference”, which is open to the members who find themselves in Germany at the time. The word Versammlung also means “assembly”. Under the present circumstances, most people around the world are stretching their minds to assimilate the ways in which “assembling” now occurs. This year’s MV was no exception; it was the first time in which the members assembled virtually.

Just as “one does not simply walk into Mordor”, one does not simply hold a video conference with dozens of people. A small group of us began planning and testing the technical aspects of the conference a few weeks in advance. We chose to use the Zoom platform—a little ditty that may be familiar to you now. Roles for the meeting were assigned, and we defined the process for approving motions.

My role was to manage the Zoom meeting itself. To prepare, I conducted meetings with myself and my various devices, practicing every step and function. I even objected to some of my own motions. The week before the MV, I hosted practice sessions for members who were unfamiliar with Zoom or who simply wanted to be certain that their device would work well.

On the day of the MV, we started the meeting early to allow time for everyone to join and work out any bugs. The only people in the conference room were the meeting crew, the leadership team, and the members of the executive and advisory boards. Everyone else took part from other conference rooms, apartments on the center, and private homes throughout Germany. For taking the roll and recording votes, I had help from my own lovely assistant, from whom I did not need to keep my distance:

Katherine and I often worked frantically to stay on top of things during the MV.
Photo courtesy of Kai Günther, my boss, who seems to think he can take pictures of his underlings whenever he wants. 😉

The other folks who crewed with us are also lovely people, I might add. In fact, Wycliffe Germany’s full assembly of members, staff, boards, and supporters is an altogether lovely group. We’re especially impressed by the way in which they conduct themselves during these gatherings.

In all, I think we had 106 people attend the conference. As each person or couple connected, the existing participants took note of the newcomers, greeted them, and began chatting. A Zoom full of laughter, smiles, and happy voices was a clear sign that the challenges of the pandemic would not bring this group down.

Most of you reading this didn’t take part in that meeting—or did you? When you pray for us, when you support our ministry financially—you take part in everything that we do. You help us to help them to do what they do—and what they do enables the Gospel and the Kingdom of God to spread and to deepen. Thank you! There’s no virus on earth, now or ever, that’s going to prevent that. May the Lord our God keep you and yours healthy!

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