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!

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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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“Prepared in mind and resources”

Animis opibusque parati” So reads the inscription around the shield on one side of the Great Seal of the State of South Carolina. This phrase came to my mind lately as I thought about my responsibilities and activities during the changes that have come to the way we live and work.

The phrase is familiar to me because much of the state’s seal appears on the class rings of graduates of The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, which I attended. I can call up the information quickly because I possess one of these rings and was required as a so-called “knob” to memorize the features and symbolism of The Ring to their finest details. But that’s not important right now.

Even as proposals were made to restrict the movement and interaction of people in the hopes of curtailing the spread of the nasty little bug, I began running through a mental checklist to gauge our preparedness for the increase in remote work and communication. If you look back at some of what I have written, you will see that a several topics have to do with resources necessary for working in this fashion:

  • VPN services: a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection creates a secure tunnel through the internet from where you are to the network where you want to be. In Fall 2018, I moved Wycliffe Germany to a new VPN system that is stable and easy to use. When more of our staff began working from home, all we needed to do was purchase additional licenses.
  • Cloud services: instead of resources being concentrated on one or a few servers inside the business network, they are distributed securely on multiple servers on the internet. Early last year, I changed the email for @wycliff.de and @karimu.de from a local server to Microsoft Office 365. Accessing email from anywhere is not a problem for my colleagues.
  • Meetings: we can’t gather in large groups, and even small numbers of people need to be cautious. Part of the Microsoft 365 system includes the chat and collaboration capabilities offered by Microsoft Teams. You can think of Teams as Skype on steroids. More of our folks are using Teams than before the restrictions; even Microsoft has commented officially on increased worldwide usage.
  • Communications: not long after we arrived for our second term in Germany, I upgraded the phone system. Once of the features of this system is the ability to use one’s business extension from an app installed on a smartphone or computer. No one needs to use their private landline or mobile number when working outside of the office.
Top: old router. Middle: new router, with 3 internet connections, each with happy, green lights. Bottom: phone system.

With the reduced number of people physically present in the office, and with the Karimu conference center closed for the time being, I have been able to make changes and upgrades sooner than I had anticipated. Remember the failures I wrote about in March to integrate our phone lines into a new router? Well, the slowdown in work on the center allowed me the freedom to concentrate on the problem and make a breakthrough. Just in time for increased usage, our phone system is operating exactly as it should be!

With all these resources in place, I was able to put together instructions for using each of them and send people off with their own laptops or borrowed ones. I continue to go to the office each day to monitor the systems and to be ready to help folks no matter where they are. Our next big challenge will be conducting the annual member meeting next month, but I think we’ll be ready.

Bottom left: “Brunwella”, our Meeting Owl with 360° camera. She enables a few occupationally-distanced colleagues to meet onsite with remote others.

So as I look at how the present situation has affected my work, I am thankful to the God we serve that he has prepared me for this time and has given me success in areas that make a difference to my colleagues and, in turn, to those still waiting to have God’s Word in their language. Not one of us is thankful for the virus, but the faithful can be thankful to the God who changes us and who prepares us to bear difficult events and circumstances in this life. We have an advantage, you know, because we know how the story ends.

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Jesus, to his disciples, as recorded in John 16:33, NLT

The other side of South Carolina’s seal bears another inscription: “Dum spiro spero”. It means, “While I breathe, I hope.” Below this phrase appears the word for hope itself, Spes. Such a saying is not a bad thing to keep in mind during the present trial.

In other aspects of life, Katherine, the boys, and I are experiencing and enduring much of the same things you are. The effects are perhaps less, since we live in a fairly rural area and there is a lower infection rate. What has not lessened, but rather increased, is our thankfulness for the faithfulness of the people who continue to pray for us and give to our ministry with Wycliffe. Nothing has stopped the spread of the Good News in the past, and this virus will not do so now. Thank you for helping Wycliffe keep spreading the good news of hope in Jesus!

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