Thursday, January 4, 2018

Quiet Giant

On Wednesday evening, at 7:30 PM, this world said "good bye" to a man who I would like to call a "quiet giant."

Norm Olson was one of the most unobtrusive men in the leadership of Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) but also one who probably had more to do with shaping the organizations direction during the 1960s to 1980s as anyone else.  Most of all for me, his influence in shaping my own career in MAF and ultimately in the mission world, was huge. 

When Anita and I first showed up at MAF's doorsteps in February of 1977, it was Norm Olson who decided right then and there that I should work for him. He proceeded to negotiate with Don Berry, the director of personnel, to alter the rules of becoming an MAF pilot just so that I could join the organization immediately and then later, fly as an MAF pilot. Within a few hours of my first interview, he handed me a piece of paper that had a joint commitment on it that if I worked for his Development Department for four years, and if I completed all my flight ratings, that MAF would accept me as a field pilot - even without an A&P mechanics license. Two weeks later, Anita and I accepted the proposal. 

Have you ever had anyone who believed in you that way so quickly that they were ready to make a major commitment to your personal development?

Those four years stretched into five, and during that entire time, Norm mentored me as a young leader. I learned about time management, about strategic planning, and about ministry effectiveness. Few people I knew where as creative as Norm and he ultimately demanded that same creativity in me. More than once, I went to Norm to ask how to do something and he would simply reply, "We've never done that before, so you'll just need to figure out a way to do it yourself."

By the time those five years were up, I was responsible for all aspects of MAF's Development Department except for the direct mail letters. My group included people like Dennis Whitlock for banquets and Bill Rakozy who helped me launch the first Ministry Partnership department. Norm strongly pressured me to take his place as VP of Development in 1982, but I had just qualified for a field pilot role and was ready to head off to Africa. That was the dream that I needed to accomplish, so I turned Norm's offer down.

Nevertheless, Norm, along with his wife, Cathy, remained special friends throughout the rest of our MAF career and even beyond.

As sad as it is to see a quiet giant like Norm pass from our midst, it is also wonderful to pay tribute to a man who lived his life to the fullest possible extent and though never becoming a big name known by all, finished his life well as a faithful servant of others and of His God. I am proud to be a tiny part of his legacy.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Stewarding Stewardship

Increasingly, I’m finding that the theme of being God’s Faithful Steward to be an incredibly powerful foundation for so many other ministry endeavors. Whether it’s helping a mission aviation program manager think about creative ways to steward the resource of flight service or a national church group to steward their own ability in translating God’s Word, framing everything in terms of being a steward that cultivates what God has given them is truly transformational.

Teaching how fundraising itself is also a ministry
On my most recent trip to South Africa, I was asked to give a number of workshops on how to do fundraising for personal or ministry sustainability. Invariably, people came hoping to learn some “secret formula” or “tricks of the trade” that would give them some quick fundraising success. As one African leader put it unashamedly at the beginning of our session, “I hope you’ll tell me where the money is!” What they were not prepared for was to hear that fundraising should be considered a ministry in its own right and that every potential donor is also on a personal journey of learning to steward their resources. One young woman participant said, “Wow—this means I no longer should view my friends and family as ATM machines from which to get money for my ministry, but as fellow stewards God must work through first before partnering with me to build His kingdom.”

Workshop with associates of OC Africa in Johannesburg,
South Africa
Beyond the area of fundraising, I’ve been so impressed how this stewardship message speaks powerfully to so many other areas of life my African friends grapple with. During the past three years of presenting workshops on this theme, I’ve seen the “lights come on” in the eyes of participants as they come to recognize new ways of thinking about marriage relationships, family dynamics, ministry priorities, leadership style, self-identity, and even consciousness about caring for the African environment. To see what I mean, check out this little video where I captured some of that impact after a workshop in Lagos, Nigeria:

Being a board member of The Steward’s Journey ( and a colleague of Scott Rodin, its founder, has not only been a huge influence in my own journey of becoming God’s faithful steward, but also challenged me with what it means to actually steward stewardship. I’m thrilled with how this critical message, and its subsequent transformational worldview, is impacting, helping, and encouraging so many new friends I’m meeting across the continent of Africa.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bat in the Belfry

This week I’ve been participating at the first tri-annual IFES conference for students in southern Africa. The International Fellowship of Evangelical Students is the global umbrella agency for student ministries such as the wellknown InterVarsity ministry in the United States. In South Africa, it is called the SCO—Student Christian Organization, which officially hosted this event held at a camp and retreat facility about an hour east of Johannesburg.
There, I joined some 300 young people from ten African countries for four packed days of plenary and breakout workshop sessions all designed to inspire greater vision for and involvement in missions. 

I had been asked to give two workshops on the topics of personal support raising and how to become a faithful steward (each presented twice) along with one evening plenary session on how African young people could invest their time and talent to prepare for mission work.

Averaging about twenty attenders per session, I found the students amazingly interested in my workshops of personal support raising and stewardship. To me, this is so encouraging because it indicates a trend away from African ministry leaders just relying on funds from America but instead exploring creative alternatives for generating support from their own continent.

About a third of the way through my evening plenary presentation, a big bat flew into the auditorium and kept flying around and around obviously trapped and confused on how to get out again. At precisely the same time, the PowerPoint projector screen froze up and wouldn’t budge. There I was, standing on stage having lost the attention of my audience and totally stuck on any way to move forward.

For some reason, I really sensed at that moment we were facing some significant spiritual warfare opposition. So I halted the program, called everyone to stand and pray out loud and reclaim the meeting and meeting hall for Christ. For a minute or so, the room was filled with the sound of 300 students fervently praying. When I opened my eyes, I saw the bat aim for a small open door beside the platform and fly straight out and simultaneously, the projector screen was right back where I needed it. Now I REALLY had the attention of everyone and proceeded to complete my presentation without a hitch.

I can’t tell you the number of times students came up to me during the rest of the conference and remarked about this “bat” incident. I don’t know how much of the content of my talk they’ll ever remember, but it is evident that for many, they will not soon forget their first power encounter experience of spiritual warfare.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Paul's Epistle to the Bayote

Hebrews 4:12 says: For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

One of the most powerful experiences I had during this Bible translation time in Guinea-Bissau was witnessing this verse come to life.

My team of Djola-Bayote-Aramme speakers were wrapping up their translation of the sixth chapter of  Galatians when João Manga stopped and exclaimed: “This is amazing! It’s as if the apostle Paul is speaking directly to our Bayote churches right here today!” When I asked him to explain what he meant, this is what I learned:

Translating Galatians into Djola-Bayote-Aramme
Bayote tribal customs continue to run deep in their local culture. One of those is a major animistic ceremony that happens every few years in which young and old men alike must go through the tribal rites of circumcision. Unlike the Old Testament Jewish case, where God had both spiritual identity and health considerations in mind for circumcision, the Bayote see this strictly as a sign of tribal loyalty and, most likely, a means of appeasing the demons and spirits. As a result, Bayote Christians have resisted participating in the ceremony.

Doing so, however, has brought with it significant persecution. Last year, a mob attacked and totally destroyed a brand-new church claiming it was being built as a place to hide boys in order to keep them from the circumcision rites. So, when my friends read in Galatians, Paul’s strong admonition not to follow those who were trying to promote the old legal Jewish regulations of circumcision, but to find salvation in the cross of Christ alone, they said, “This is exactly what our people need to hear today!  Paul says, ‘Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised… they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’” (from Gal 6:12-14) 

Furthermore, they exclaimed that being able to read these words of Paul in their own Bayote language dialect brings not only new relevance to the Bible but will also be a tremendous encouragement to stand up in the face of community opposition.

If you’re interested to hear Joao Manga personally share this story, here's a YouTube link to a short video interview I did with him where he explains just how impactful Galatians will be for his people:

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Standing at the MAST

MAST is an acronym for Mobile Assistance Supporting Translation. It’s a revolutionary method of helping bi-lingual speakers translate God’s Word into their native tongue in a relatively short time frame.

The team of national translators I worked with at the MAST event 
Up until recently, the traditional approach to Scripture translation involved a professional linguist who would painstakingly learn a target language and then carefully figure out how to put the original Greek and Hebrew words of the Bible into that language. Unfortunately, this process has often mean an average of twenty to thirty years to complete just the New Testament. And when you add up the total costs of that process, it can easily cost over a million dollars. With thousands of languages in the world still without a Bible, you can imagine how long and expensive it would be to rely solely on this approach for translation.

Then, a couple of years ago, Wycliffe Associates, that historically was strictly the volunteer support organization of the professional Bible translation world, began experimenting with a method used to teach English to national translators as a means of also helping them produce translated Scripture. That experiment is what is now called MAST. It’s based on the following assumptions:
·        Many people in the world are actually bi-lingual and fluent in both their native tongue and another key trade language, like Arabic, Swahili, French, Portuguese, etc.

  • ·        There are roughly fifty of those key languages in the world that provide a gateway to virtually all of the rest of the languages that have never had a Bible.
  • ·        If a good quality Bible were to exist in that gateway language, then people should be able to translate it fairly easily directly into their native tongue, eliminating the need to first become a Greek and Hebrew scholar or a professional linguist.
  • ·        By bringing clusters of native, bi-lingual speakers together for 10 to 14 days and guiding them in a disciplined eight-step process through a facilitator, a significant amount of Scripture can get translated to a first draft quality. Second and third level translation accuracy can then be achieved by subsequent checking involving more speakers from the language community and ultimately, leaders with theological training.
  • ·        By involving enough people and getting them together frequently, it is possible to get an entire New Testament translated in less than a year.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, not everyone is convinced about this methodology. You can easily understand someone who has spent the better part of their ministry life slaving over a particular Bible translation wondering what kind of true quality a one-year New Testament project might have when it has been done by untrained lay-people. Since I’ve been promoting this MAST concept for Wycliffe Associates, I decided I needed to answer that question for myself by actually participating in a MAST event. That is what has taken me to Guinea-Bissau for the past two weeks.

The first chapter of Galatians ever to be printed in the
Djola-Bayote-Aramme language
During this time, I’ve been one of five facilitators for a team of native speakers. My particular team was from the Aramme dialect of Djola-Bayote language group. Together, we learned all about the eight MAST disciplines and then jumped right in tackling the books of Galatians, Titus and Philemon. I’m happy to report that we got all three books done, checked and printed by the last day of our event—the first ever in their language. 

What is my opinion of the process? I have to say I’m impressed. Without question, the eight MAST disciplines are critical to keep folks on track with as accurate a translation process as possible – especially the final step of back translating to be sure the new language preserves the same sense as the Bible used as a source text. Does it produce a perfect translation? Certainly not at the first level draft stage. But, with the subsequent second and third level checking process, I’m more confident than ever that an excellent native translation is possible--one that clearly presents the Truth of God’s Word. And, by using low-cost print-on-demand technology, new, corrected copies of Scripture can quickly and inexpensively replace earlier translated versions.

Most important of all for me, however, was coming away with a sense that although a MAST translation may not have the quality of an ESV or NIV Bible, it is definitely not going to produce such inaccuracies that people reading it would fall into some sort of theological heresy. And, most important of all, MAST is very viable way to start getting Bibles into the hands of the thousands of languages that need them in order to support evangelism, church planting and discipleship. If we’re serious about the urgency of completing the Great Commission, than we need to be equally serious about the urgency of getting to the point where all people on earth can hear God’s Word in their heart language.

And after these past two weeks, the Djola-Bayote-Aramme people can do just that!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Return on Investment

It’s not often that you get to see the return on an investment made in a young African leader. However, during these past two weeks here in Guinea-Bissau, I’ve been able to do just that.

Miguel Idibe was someone I was introduced to three years ago by Bruce Smith, president of Wycliffe Associates. Bruce had met Miguel at a conference on Bible translation and recognized him as a young leader needing some special help by someone who could communicate in Portuguese . That introduction started a three year friendship and mentoring relationship in which I’ve had the privilege of helping Miguel establish a registered non-profit Bible translation organization, recruit a board of directors and find some funding to refurbish administrative facilities. Today, the Instituto de Tradução e Alfabetização (ITA) is the primary national entity in Guinea-Bissau initiating, coordinating and monitoring Bible translation.

Stepping out of my typical coach/mentor shoes, I decided to accept an invitation to be a facilitator at an ITA-sponsored Bible translation event. Coordinated by a Wycliffe Associate’s team of assistants from the US and Brazil, this event, called a MAST (Mobile Assistance Supporting Translation,) has gathered four different language translation teams to tackle a range of New Testament and Old Testament books. Since the MAST methodology is quite new (and not without a certain amount of controversy) I will dedicate another blog post just to that.

But, what was really special for me arriving here was seeing the sparkle in Miguel's eyes as he welcomed us and the forty-some national translators on our first evening and then proudly oriented us to his African bush “campus” refurbished from an old inherited WEC missionary compound. For me, it was a chance to see the dream he presented to me three years ago in a Dakar restaurant now transformed into a living reality. 

Like I said above, it’s not always that I get to see the fruit of consulting, emails and actual visits to Africa like I am getting to do this week. Without question, it’s one of those times when it’s clear that that investment has paid off. On top of that, Miguel and ITA are well on their way toward making significant impact in eradicating Bible illiteracy among the twenty-some languages in this tiny but strategic country in West Africa.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Dinner with Justice

Victor Tukura sharing his vision with us and his MSL Board
Having served on a number of boards, I’ve learned that you can usually expect a nice dinner at the conclusion of the meetings either in someone’s home or at a nice restaurant. However, never have I experienced a board dinner at the home of a Supreme Court Justice—until last night!

For the past year my Nigerian friend, Victor Tukura, has been sharing with me a vision for a major project that could significantly ramp up Nigerian involvement and support for global missions. As an extension of the Missions Supporters League (MSL), a ministry he and his wife founded, this project would take his mission to a whole new level of outreach and impact. Recognizing that I couldn’t give Victor all the consulting help he needed for this project, I was able to recruit my Spokane colleague, Scott Rodin, to share in that consulting role. As a result, we’ve just spent the last two days here in Nigeria meeting with the MSL board of directors.

Scott Rodin and me showing off our Nigerian caftans along with Justice Clara,
her husband, Paul, and Victor Tukura
It just happens that the chairperson of the MSL board is none other than a thirteen-year veteran of the Nigerian Supreme Court. On top of that, she’s one of the first ever women to be appointed to that prestigious role in her country. As a full day of board meeting discussions came to an end, we were whisked off to the home of Justice Clara, as she likes to be called. However, before departing our hotel, we were also handed a couple of packages and asked to don official Nigerian caftans for the event. Seated around a huge outdoor table, Scott and I definitely felt like we blended in (sort of) with the forty others invited to the sumptuous buffet dinner.

What a privilege it was to not only get to know Justice Clara personally but also her husband, Paul, who is a renown surgeon at one of the main hospitals in the capital. Their humility, exemplary marriage relationship, and love for God was so evident as we sat together at our end of the long table chatting about everything from presidential elections to our two countries’ Supreme Court value systems.

We’re looking forward to seeing MSL bring a successful completion to this important project they are embarking on. But one thing is for sure, a large part of that success will be a result of board members with impressive credentials and a heart for the advancement of God’s Kingdom.