Planes, trains, and automobiles

For months, I have told people that I knew what I was going to write next. It’s true. I did know. It is also true that, for months, I put off writing what I knew I would write. Let’s put it down to this dizzying visit of ours to the U.S., shall we? Buckle up and return those trays to their upright positions, and I’ll share what we’ve been up to.

As I indicated back in July, we started our visit at the end of August by flying from Frankfurt to Atlanta. That’s not our normal routine, but we were to pick up a loaner vehicle from a generous church in the South Carolina Lowcountry—classic Southern hospitality boosted by the Holy Spirit, or perhaps the other way around. After visiting friends in the Charleston area, we headed north to Pennsylvania, dropping off our younger son outside of Camp Lejeune so that he could follow later with his brother. (Aww….)

A fitting chariot for our stay. We are supremely grateful for the comfort, which has greatly eased the stress of travel.

On Labor Day weekend, we had a small family reunion with my mother and sisters. After a few weeks of getting reoriented and helping the lad get moving toward life on his own, Katherine and I drove to Duncanville, Texas, for our first church visit (25 September) and meetings with Katherine’s global library colleagues. I also dropped in on my old IT crew.

A pause from driving lessons along the Susquehanna River.

My wife and I parted company at this point. Katherine remained in Texas for a few more days; to help our son further, I flew to Philadelphia and took trains to Lancaster. (Now the title is fully justified!) In that time, Katherine received word of a serious illness in the family, so next she drove to Colorado. I flew out in the first week of October and rejoined her. From there, we drove to St. Joseph, Missouri, for our second church visit (9 October)—and then back to Colorado.

As in this picture, taken in central Kansas, it seemed like there was always another road for us to travel.

From Colorado, we flew to Orlando, Florida, to take part in a week-long seminar at Wycliffe USA called Connections. There, we learned how to transition from crazy lives overseas to crazy lives stateside, and we met some of the people who manage some of the crazy on our behalf (read: finance and healthcare). The time impressed on me that each of us there, like the figures described in Hebrews 11:13-16, is still looking for a place to call home. In the meantime, we wander the earth, hoping for our God to put us to good use.

At Wycliffe USA. The pavement reads, “Declare His glory among the nations.”

We returned to Colorado. After a few more days there, including some with the older lad, I took the car and headed alone to Pennsylvania, leaving Katherine with her family.

After stopping for a day in Missouri, I journeyed straight to our third scheduled church visit (6 November) in Media, Pennsylvania. Then I returned to Lancaster. A few days later, Katherine flew to Harrisburg and was picked up by all three of her guys. We left our two rascals alone long enough to make our fourth church visit in Springfield, Pennsylvania (13 November).

The next week, Katherine and I drove down to Annandale, Virginia, for the fifth church visit in our schedule (20 November). Thankfully, we got a break in our travels for Thanksgiving. (Did you see what I did there?) We also got to spend time again with both of our sons. Such times make for a happy mama … and papa.

In Colorado, it was nice to walk for a change.

Our sixth and final church visit took us back to the D.C. area, in Fairfax, Virginia. We returned to Lancaster, but Katherine has flown to Colorado again, leaving me alone with this keyboard. (She’ll be back. I hope.)

Over all these trips, we’ve seen a lot of faces—the faces of family, friends, and a host of supporting sisters and brothers in Christ. We have also seen a lot of miles, according to the history gathered by my phone. (Yes, I let “them” keep track of me—someone probably should.) It reports that, since we began our journey to the U.S., I have travelled 10,466 miles by plane, 76 miles by train, and 8,118 miles by car. That’s an average of about 167 miles each day. For the past four years, we lived less than one mile from our offices in Germany.

Here are our faces, more or less. We took more pictures at rest than on the road. Huh.

During most of this time, Katherine has also been attending to her study program in Library and Information Science. She loves it, and she’s doing great—as if any other result was possible!—but it has added a layer of intense activity to everything else. Katherine will have a break from these studies until we get back to Germany next month. She’ll be far more settled next semester, but I know that she would appreciate prayers to the Lord our God for sharpness of mind and stamina.

I want to close with an observation. We returned to a country different from the one we left in 2018—and the churches reflected the changes. The situation reminded me of that of the Jewish exiles who returned from Persia to their homeland: they didn’t all go back, rebuilding took a long time, the results weren’t like “the glory days”, and they seemed to be surrounded by foes. Everyone was discouraged. But in a vision, the prophet Zechariah was told:

It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

and then:

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin ….

Zechariah 4:6-10, NLT

Don’t lose courage. Don’t lose hope. Let’s look to the One who can achieve far more than we can on our own. Under His faithful care and yours, Katherine and I will return on yet another plane to Germany, where we will continue our ministry with Wycliffe. We had no fixed home here, and our home there will be different from the ones before. Please pray for our journeys in this world, and we will pray for yours.

A pretty picture from the end of a day, for the end of your reading, because you made it this far.

Another end to waiting, but better

A few months ago, a member of Wycliffe Germany came to me bearing a thick sheaf of paper. She is one of several people around the center who have worked in Tanzania, as Katherine and I once did. However, her work there is ongoing—she serves as a consultant to a cluster of projects in the south of the country. One of the languages in the project is that of the Safwa, who live in the mountains around the city of Mbeya.

In the 2002 Wycliffe publication From Akebu to Zapotec: A Book of Bibleless Peoples, the Safwa people have an entry under, of all things, the letter S. The entry is accompanied by an artist’s rendering of a photo taken during the sociolinguistic survey of the Safwa language in 1998. Katherine and I took part in that survey. We found that the Safwa had a strong sense of identity and preferred their language to Kiswahili in daily use. The Church was present, but its message and ministry was hindered by the use of Kiswahili. Those of us who surveyed the language concluded that the Safwa would surely benefit from Bible translation, but we also felt that such a project would be a long time coming.

Let’s come back now, 24 years later, to that sheaf of paper. What my colleague Andrea presented to me was a draft printout of the New Testament in Kisafwa:

The cover page of the draft New Testament in Kisafwa

My friends, this day was one of the most significant of my entire life. Later that day, I wrote to others that, if I did nothing else worthwhile in my life, the knowledge that these people would receive the Good News in their own language would be enough to content me. Praise God with Katherine and me for the proofing and the publication of this good work!

The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth.

They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry.

It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit.

It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.

Isaiah 55:10-11, New Living Translation

Last month, Wycliffe Germany had its annual member meeting, which gathers together all those who are present in the country for the purposes of enjoying fellowship and conducting business. Yours truly ran the technical components of the main session, freeing others to give their full attention to their friends and to the meeting.

My command center for the Mitgliederversammlung

Next month, Katherine and I will be returning with our younger son to the U.S. for a 4 1/2 month home stay. We will help him settle into life and work, now that he has finished his schooling and a gap-year program. Moreover, we will spend long-missed time with our families, friends, and supporters. Our schedule is still taking form, so if you live in one of the following states and are interested in getting together, please let us know! We’ll arrive in Georgia, pick up a car in South Carolina, and then drive to Pennsylvania. From there, we will spend time in Texas, Missouri, Colorado, and Virginia, before leaving again from Atlanta.

We hope / plan / expect to return to Germany in mid-January. When we come back, we won’t come back to the house we’ve been renting since 2019, but rather to a apartment. An empty nest. When you pray, please ask the Lord our God to bless us with a great home stay, our son with a good start to the next phase of his life, and our ministry with sufficient support in prayer and finances to assure our next term of service. If you want to be part of that, you can join us! None of what we do would be possible without you!

An end to waiting, and guarding against nothing

Once upon a time, we lived in a world in which we could make the desires of our hearts entries in our budget appear before us almost instantly. Then strange things happened in this world, and we were made to wait: resource scarcity, supply chain problems, and sickness conspired to delay nearly everything.

An end to waiting

In January, I finally received equipment that I had ordered more than a year previously. Surely my sigh of relief was heard from one end of the valley to the other. For your amazement and delight, I present to you the before and after photos:

BEFORE: one powerless, noisy switch
AFTER: two powerful, quiet switches

The marvel of it all has surely rendered you speechless, so I invite you to pause in your reading to recover.

Truly, these switches and their capabilities are far less important to you, to me, and to Wycliffe Germany than are the people they serve. These devices connect some dear people who play a vital role in Bible translation:

  • Our prayer coordinator stays in touch with the missionaries of Wycliffe Germany so that we (staff, retirees, and friends) can pray in specific ways for our brothers and sisters out yonder. She also prepares material that is published more broadly in the quarterly magazine.
  • Our public relations staff are responsible for that magazine, the website, and more. They visit churches, they design and staff exhibits for missions and youth conferences, and they create material that describes the work of Wycliffe and the milestones of success in Bible translation.
  • Our personnel staff become the point of contact for people who express an interest in serving with Wycliffe, be it as a short-term helper or a long-term member. They are in regular contact with the men and women who are in that stage between being accepted as a candidate and being sent out to the place where they will serve. The individuals and families in service are also under their care.

The work that these people do involves a veritable flood of communication and collaboration: email messages, phone calls, chats, databases, and a gazillion files. All of that flows through one electronic medium or another. The switches reliably direct those flows of data. When I do my job right, all of it happens in the background, hopefully unnoticed.

Guarding against nothing

I expect that each of us locks the doors and windows in the hope that no one will even try to enter—or that, having examined the window or door, an ill-intentioned person will conclude that it is not worth the effort. Some of my activities over the past few months have focused on the elements of security that we hope never get put to the test:

  • A backup server allows me to restore data if it has been lost. Data can be lost for reasons such as accidental deletion, disk failure, or data corruption. One of the latest threats of loss comes from ransomware, which locks away the data through encryption.
    • With the potential threat of ransomware in mind, I have been fine-tuning our backup scheme to provide the best chance of protection and recovery.
    • The server has aged, and I am researching a new one that will be able to serve Wycliffe for the next several years.
  • Within the next month or two, we will be replacing the traditional locks in our administration building with electronic ones, which simplify access for the right people and confound access for the wrong people.
    • The electronic locks and keys are managed through a system that I organize and oversee. It’s secured on a regular basis by the backup server I just mentioned.
  • Our email system relegates suspicious messages to the spam folder and obviously malevolent ones to quarantine. The idea is, of course, that the recipient will not react inappropriately to the garbage contained in such messages and inadvertently breach the security of their account—or worse.
    • Among the most despicable messages I see languishing (properly) in quarantine are those in which the sender rambles on and on about being “in complete control” of all of the recipient’s accounts and devices. The sender knows all about the recipient’s wicked internet habits. There’s just no hope for them but to pay the (anonymous) sender some amount of cryptocurrency. Otherwise, terrible things will happen. Why, they might even lower the temperature of the freezer and allow the ice cream to melt. It’s nothing personal, of course; the sender needs to make a living like everyone else.
    • Ugh. These messages are designed to instill panic and to provoke a hasty, costly reaction. They are full of nothing but hot air. You know who’s not full of hot air and empty promises? Jesus. I’m not trying to draw an analogy here, but I’m reminded of the encounter described in Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12, and Luke 5:17-26. (Pick your favorite account.) Jesus showed those present that his words were not empty. Personally, I find his words encouraging in my work.

Thanks for reading to the end. I hope that you can see how the work that I do supports and facilitates Bible translation in the places where members of Wycliffe Germany serve. Many of them work in challenging places, which is why I rarely give details. My work has its challenges, too. You face your own challenges in life. If you support our ministry financially, I don’t doubt that you’ve felt challenged on that point as well. Take encouragement in the knowledge that we serve a God who does not issue empty promises—and he has promised to always take care of his people. Katherine and I are thankful to you for generously taking care of us!

And now, I will sign off with something more amazing and delightful than a pair of switches:

As seen from our house on March 17, 2022
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