What’s a Namkeli and why would I be interested in an update? Namkeli is a fictitious name for a very real people who live in a dangerously contentious area of western Africa. They are a tribal group almost 200,000 strong who have never had a single verse of scripture in their language. Last September Graceway raised approximately a quarter of a million dollars to crank up Phase One of the Namkeli translation, beginning with Luke/Acts.
Here’s the update: The first two chapters of Luke have been completed and audio recordings are being distributed (many are illiterate). Chapters 3-7 are scheduled to be checked by consultants in March. Drafts of chapters 8-11 are waiting. Momentum is building among 20-30 Namkeli churches. The chief translator is still divided 50/50 between being pastor of a church and translating, and is praying about devoting full time to the translation. A Norwegian mission is interested in coming online and sending a couple to assist. Through this process the resources and accountability have been good.
Our partner in this project is The Seed Company, an offshoot and partner of Wycliffe Bible Translators. Taking the wonderful experience, legacy and knowledge of Wycliffe, TSC utilizes mother tongue speakers as translators, training and equipping them to translate the scriptures into their native language rather than depend on foreign workers to come and spend years learning usually at least two additional languages to even begin translation. By doing this they dramatically cut costs and time and also deliver what is normally a better end product. Instead, foreign translation specialists do the training, supervision,coaching and editing. Great concept!
You might remember that during September we used the book of Jonah to speak of what I called the ultimate injustice issue – that many people hear the word of God repeatedly while millions have never heard it once. Almost 2,000 languages are still waiting to see a single verse of scripture. Meanwhile, with all of our obscene resources in America, we sit on a pile of over 900 different translations of the Bible and portions, obsessing with ministering to ourselves in every way possible. We see an endless proliferation of hip, boutique churches of every size, color, shape, smell and persuasion imaginable. When not obsessing with ministering to ourselves, we argue and divide over things like Calvinism and Reformed theology versus everything else, nuances of spiritual gifts, tweaks of methodology, how we “do church” and which Bible version is the best, while almost half the world’s population sits in darkness. (Go ahead. Ask me what I really think).
Good doctrine and good Bible translations are obviously important. And as Jesus followers we should be committed to doing justice in a world of injustice wherever God grants opportunity. But, what of the almost 2,000 languages that cannot even enter into the discussion because THEY HAVE NO BIBLE – not a single verse!
Graceway is part of the same materialistic, consumer-driven, superficial culture as other Americans. I do not want to pretend that we are better than anyone else and immune from these serious issues. However, I pray that we can move in God’s direction and against the direction of the world system. We can’t do it all and we can’t even do as much as we would like all at once. What we CAN do is take good, solid steps in the right direction one at a time. Thanks, to your giving and prayers, Graceway, last year the New Testament in a tribal language of Mexico was dedicated and is in full loving use. Another Mexican language has been finished and awaiting dedication in the near future. Yet another Mexican language sponsored in part by Graceway is progressing strongly toward completing their Old Testament. We are also partners in working toward the completion of the New Testament in one of the Kurdish languages.
I call the lack of scripture in so many languages the ultimate injustice because without God’s truth all of our valiant efforts to confront all the other injustices from poverty to human trafficking to various forms of oppression are simply not sustainable. We can put forth amazing efforts, but only God’s truth can transform lives from the inside out.
Finally, to call the absence of scripture in so many languages the ultimate injustice does NOT mean that we simply ignore everything else. It also does not mean that we have to struggle to achieve some sort of balance between one and the other. The mandate of scripture is clear. We have the obligation to do both. Period.
Toward this end, I am going to spend the entire month of March on Luke’s depiction of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We will do our best to educate the assembly in the biblical responsibilities involved in learning to love our neighbor well and make everyone aware of some of the wonderful partners we have in our own community to address issues of injustice and need. And, we will roll out some very exciting new initiatives and opportunities that have some pretty astounding potential impact. Pray with me about all this. And, if we would do this, we need all the help we can get. Use your social network to get the word out.
And they are both necessary and good. One type is in the classroom; the other type takes place in the context of relationships.
I have taught expository preaching for many years. When I did my PhD, my research revolved around using a workshop method to help experienced Latin American pastors advance in their expository preaching skills. My research and data suggested that such a workshop can indeed offer significant improvement. Fortunately my academic committee agreed and granted me my degree. I’ll never forget a question that one of the committee members asked during the oral defense of my thesis.
“So, now that you have earned your degree are you finished with these workshops, or do you plan to continue them and continue to learn?”
Well, the answer to that question has been to continue similar workshops for many years. Almost yearly we invite a hand-picked group of experienced pastors to a spot somewhere in Latin America to spend a few days honing our preaching skills. This involves each of them preaching a message followed by loving and positive evaluation by myself and the others present in the spirit of learning from each other. We share common needs and weaknesses and almost every suggestion has some application for each of us.
The greatest learning by far, though, is what occurs the rest of the time as we share meals together and just hang out. What a blast!
You know what? This is really the same principle as a small group. It is a safe place among friends where we learn and grow together. Even leaders need small groups! Or should I say especially leaders!
This last week several of us from 6 countries hung out together along the Panama Canal and had a fabulous time! We laughed, shared stories, ate some good food together, shared pain and insecurities and also ministered to each other. Good times!
One of the pastors, a former world class soccer player from Chile, brought me the best souvenirs ever. He informed me that I have a following among some professional Latin American soccer players (thanks to him). Two very high caliber players sent me video/photo greetings and each sent me one of their jerseys. Very cool!!! Here’s some pics below, front and back. If you follow soccer and know who these brothers are, you can pray for them and cheer them on. One is on the current Chilean World Cup Team.
Remember Cheers? You know, the place where everyone knows your name. Well, Cheers really exists and it’s right here in Kansas City.
Many of you know that I love the arts and that Cheryl and I have been subscribers to the Kansas City Symphony for many years. You probably also know that I love to patronize local eating establishments. Going out for dinner followed by a symphony concert is a favorite date night. When the Symphony moved into the new Kauffman Center a couple of years ago we faced the challenge of finding some new places to eat. Typically, we grab a good parking spot and then walk somewhere for dinner.
We found Coda early in the first season about a block and a half south on Broadway. Dan and Annie have worked in some of the finest restaurants in the city. About 5 years ago they teamed with a friend to become owners/operators of Coda, dedicated to great pub food with reasonable prices. Basically Dan and Annie run this little spot by themselves most of the time, Dan does the cooking while Annie tends tables. As small as it is, several nights a week they are a venue for local musicians. We are always there before the music, so I can’t comment on that.
The food and reasonable prices impressed us on the first visit. Something else caught our attention. Have you even dropped into a small neighborhood bar and grill only to have the regulars give you the stare? Or, maybe the service is pretty basic without much of a smile? Well, from the moment we walked through the door of Coda we felt like we belonged. Annie is a never-met-a-stranger type, as personable as she is efficient.
We didn’t return for about two months. When we did, Annie immediately called us both by our first names, knew where we sat the first time and what we ordered. She remembered that Cheryl had recently had a knee replaced and asked how she was doing. We were flabbergasted. This lady simply does not forget anything. We observed as she similarly interacted with other customers. Over the past couple of years we have verified that this is no fluke – she really does remember just about everything.
Wait! There’s more. What happened last night set a new standard.
Symphony season doesn’t last all year and to say we eat at Coda maybe once a month would be a stretch. So, it’s not like we make a huge investment to their bottom line. Keep this in mind.
Last night traffic was horrendous downtown for whatever reason. Getting off the loop and onto Broadway there was no way to turn left for my usual parking spot. So, the plan was to drop Cheryl off and I would double back around, park and hoof it back down to Coda. I couldn’t believe it! It took me almost 20 minutes to go back the block and a half to park. Complicating things was the decent snow we had earlier in the week and that a couple of business owners had not yet cleared their sidewalks. No biggie. I finally made it.
Annie was all over it. Cheryl said she had even gone outside at one point to see if she could see me coming. She asked me about the sidewalks and how I had made it. Knowing that our timing was off a bit, they got our food right out. As I was laying down my credit card, Annie announced that Dan was out front in their car and was driving us to the hall. What!?
Keep in mind this is a two person operation we’re talking about. There’s no backup. Annie wouldn’t hear otherwise. “Look,” she said, “Dan’s out at the curb.”
We felt so awkward. “You’re not the first people we’ve done this for, you know,” was her answer. OK, I believe her.
So, if you’re looking for a south of the loop eating spot, First Fridays, concert or just hanging out, try Coda. Tell Annie that Jeff and Cheryl sent you. She’ll remember. And, she’ll remember you.
For those of you that think someone like me ought to writing about some great ministry insight or biblical truth – I just did. You figure it out.
My daily Bible reading recently took me through the Book of Esther once again. If there was ever a book in the Bible ready-made for movie, drama, TV or whatever, this is it! In fact, the story has been told repeatedly in various media. Most of you know the story of this young Jewish woman who becomes the Queen of Persia.
An orphan raised by her cousin Mordecai, Esther learns that the Jews’ enemy Haman has hatched a heinous plot to exterminate all the Jews in the empire. Mordecai challenges Esther to intercede with the king even though entering his presence unannounced would risk her life. Resolved to enter into the king’s presence, Esther asks for fasting and prayer as she makes her famous declaration, “and if I perish, I perish.” Jumping to the end of the story, Esther becomes one of the most famous Hebrew heroines in history.
What struck me was that Ether did not ask to be a heroine. In his providence God used her. The same can be said of other biblical heroes. Consider great heroes of the faith such as Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Daniel, Elisha and other prophets. The famous Apostle Paul also falls into the category of providentially elected heroes. None of them went to Hero School or took a course on becoming biblical heroes. In every case these great heroes of the faith were common people chosen of God that obeyed in a responsible, wise and strategic manner in spite of their many obvious flaws. Esther had her own flaws, yet God used her to save her people.
Here’s another thought. Seeing that these great heroes were just common people who obeyed God’s call upon their lives, I wonder how many, many individuals through history have been in the same position to be used as heroes of the faith, yet they told God “no.”
Did you miss me Sunday? Tell me you did, even if you didn’t. I’m just a little bit insecure. I have been in Argentina and I am truly thankful to Jon Thompson for filling in for me.
Every three years I have been blessed to be part of a major youth event focused on God’s global purpose. It is called CIMA and these past three times has been held in Cordoba, Argentina. It is very similar to Urbana in the United States, if you know what that is. The leadership team is comprised of Latin Americans and Europeans, primarily German-speakers, due to the influence of founders Thomas and Mechtild Vogelin, a Swiss/German couple. Between 2 and 3 thousand youth have come primarily from the southernmost countries of South America.
I can’t think of anything I would rather do than to hang out with hundreds of young people (primarily college age) and talk about God, the Bible and his global mission. These are some wonderful kids. They tell me that 75% of them have never attended an event like this before and it is fun to watch their reaction. Having been at two previous congresses in 2007 and 2010 it is great to see some who were touched by God then and are faithfully serving him now, many as leaders here and others already in places of service around the world. At the end of the conference, several hundred of them will be leaving for short term service all over the world.
One of the benefits of being a speaker here is meeting other people of outstanding character and ability from all over. I’ve made some wonderful friendships here over the years.
The only little downer has been the weather – blazing hot! This is summer in South America, but the climate in this part of Argentina is Mediterranean-like. It can be hot, but rarely like this. Today it hit 115! Yes, you read that right. And, at the fair ground complex where the event is held, there is no air conditioning. None. As in zero, nada. Believe it or not, I can’t wait to get back to frigid Kansas City.
In the morning I start heading home. I fly from Cordoba to Buenos Aires. There I have to chance airports and wait 12 hours for my flight to Houston. I’ll fly all night Thursday, arriving back in Kansas City Friday. See you Sunday! Ciao!
My brother has always been quite the movie buff. For years he has worked on the movie lots in Los Angeles. For the past few years he has worked for Sony Pictures. It’s to our delight that when he visits us over the Christmas holidays he often regales us with movies he thinks we should see. Since we go to an average of one of two movies a year, he could throw just about anything at us and hit the bull’s eye. But, what he chooses for us is almost always something that we would never have seen anyway.
The guy is amazing! Once I was so proud that I had seen a film produced in Iraq by Kurds. I thought he would be amazed that I saw something he obviously would not have seen. Wrong! He named the producer/director and listed his other works. Seriously, the knowledge runs deep. He’s my lifeline if I’m ever on Who Want’s to be a Millionaire.
Of the several films he left us this year, one in particular left me with my mouth open – a documentary called Searching for Sugar Man. Sugar Man is the title track from an obscure album released in 1972 by Sixto Rodriguez. Rodriguez was singing in bars his native Detroit back in the late 60’s and early 70’s when he was discovered by some powerful and influential figures in the music industry. To this day some of them speak in almost reverential terms about Rodriguez and his talent. Two albums of his material were recorded by the same forces that launched others to stardom. For whatever reason, the albums never took off. I was a radio DJ in that same time period. I never heard of the guy. Obscure album indeed!
Rodriguez as born to working class Mexican immigrants and learned to play on the family guitar. He started performing his own stuff in dark inner city bars, sometimes with his back to the audience. No one seemed to know much about him except they thought he worked construction to stay alive. Some speculated he might be homeless.
His music flows from the very beginning of the documentary and immediately hooks me. I’m telling you Rodriguez is some sort of synergistic combination of Carlos Santana and Bob Dylan. And the lyrics? Oh my! Strong. After all the years, they are as fresh as KristyKreme when the neon “Hot Now” sign is on. At times he sounds like a prophet.
What happened to Rodriguez? He is still doing construction and renovation, living in the same house he has lived in for 40 years in downtown Detroit and still playing guitar, just not professionally.
Here’s the kicker and the reason for the documentary. According to legend, an American girl visited South Africa in the days of Apartheid and brought with her a Sugar Man album that she shared with her friends. As we say, it went viral. In those days foreign artists could not play in South Africa and vice versa. Despite the government’s attempt to censor Rodriguez’s music, it became a major inspiration and influence for an emerging generation of Afrikaans youth who learned that music can topple even powerful cultures. Interviews with some of the biggest musical influences in South Africa during those tumultuous years reveal that Rodriguez had a profound effect on them and they, in turn, had transformational influence on South Africa. Over the years Rodriguez’s two albums sold hold by the hundreds of thousands.
Outside of South Africa, nobody knew, including Rodriguez.
Over the years the mystique grew. Unlike other American rock stars, no one knew anything about Rodriguez. They only knew that he had met a horrible and untimely death. One version had him dousing himself with gasoline and setting himself on fire. Another had him blowing his brains out during an ill-received concert. Tragic, that.
A combination of serendipitous events in the late 90’s led a couple of South Africans to once-and-for-all answer the question of how Rodriguez died. One of them has borne the nickname “Sugar” for his entire adult life because of his devotion to the music of Rodriguez. It’s a truly fascinating and uplifting story of how these men discovered that Rodriguez was alive and well. They even organized a victory tour of South Africa for him 30 years after the fact. You’ve gotta see it to believe it.
Incidentally, though not mentioned in the documentary that focused purely on Rodriguez’s influence in South Africa, he was also somewhat popular in Australia. He did know that and even did a couple of tours there some years ago.
Here’s the deal. A man named Rodriguez was a rock star in another country and had no idea. This is a story with a fairy tale aspect, but it is totally true.
I wonder how many people you and I influence and yet we never know. Do you think it’s better that we don’t? Have you ever had a Rodriguez-like influence? What was it like? Do you have any regrets one way or the other?