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!

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!

“What do you have to show …?”

The full question is “What do you have to show for yourself?” Four months after our return to Germany, I sometimes ask myself this question. If you follow or support our ministry with Wycliffe, you might ask or think the same question.

So far as basic living goes, there are two quick things I would highlight. The first is that we’re still living in a flat on the Wycliffe center. There have been delays in the construction of our future landlords’ new home, so our move into their current one will be delayed until February. It’s not always easy or enjoyable to live without much of our own things, but we’ll be OK. The second is that the boys have settled back into the German education system, with just a few bumps and turns. Ask us sometime about the differences.

At the office, which is a mere 100 meters away, there’s a mix of results and progress. The anticipated switch to VoIP phone service hasn’t happened yet, but I think I’m ready to handle it. The most critical element in my budget request, the replacement of our physical servers, was approved. And I’m making progress preparing myself and our systems for moving our email service to Microsoft Office 365. The new year holds a lot of promise in my ‘realm’!

The area in which I have struggled, both in the results and my emotions about them, is the backup system. To make a long story short and understated, I found that it wasn’t doing what everyone thought it was doing. In rectifying the situation, I had to be patient in waiting between scheduled backups and diligent in pursuing the causes of errors. After weeks of work, I rejoiced at the sight of this summary:

Ah … the thrill of victory!

Perhaps you’ve heard this phrase before: “Enjoy it while it lasts.” Indeed. Software makers have many ways to throw one or more monkey wrenches into the works. One of those ways is to update their software. After updates to both the backup software and Microsoft Windows, here’s what stared me in the face:

Ugh … the agony of defeat.

Perhaps the backup system perceived the approach of Christmas and felt that it needed to reflect the colors of the season. Yes, let’s think of it that way, shall we?

A better vision of red, green, and gold.

Or perhaps it was looking to inspire me. It is often part of my job, I feel, to remind my clients that we live in a broken world. I point out that we work with gizmos that were conceived, designed, and manufactured by broken beings, using materials that are subject to a related brokenness. Sometimes, I have to take doses of my own medicine.

Christmas is behind us now. Or wait—is it before us? Perhaps—just maybe—it remains all around us. The only reason December 25th is at all special is that we are broken beings living in a broken world. We can’t fix ourselves, and we can’t fix the world. The only fix is the transforming power of Jesus of Nazareth … and Bethlehem.

Katherine and I work with Wycliffe to help make that fix available to every language spoken around this broken world. As you and we slide into the new year—as the Germans put it—may we run our lives year-round on the new version of life that Jesus made available. Oh, and don’t keep a backup of the old version. It’s obsolete, not to mention buggy.

Thank you for praying for us! Katherine, Jonathan, Caleb, and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!