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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“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, Jonathan, Caleb, 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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