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I’m so over being a Proverbs 31 woman

I wouldn’t say training with New Tribes is difficult per se, but I would say it’s heavy. Nate and I and our team will learn a language that no outsider in the history of ______ tribe has ever learned. We’ll use our training to match sounds with symbols, put down their language in written form, teach them how to read it and write it, teach them how to teach others. We’ll share the whole story of the Bible with them for the first time in the history of their heart language. They’ve heard bits and pieces of various religions in a common trade language, but never in their first language. We’ll translate the Bible for them. We’ll train pastors in the truth of the Word. We’ll teach them how to recognize and reject unsound doctrine that comes in the form of the Catholics and Charismatics and the Muslims who try to tickle their ears like Timothy talks about. And eventually, little by little, we’ll tip toe backwards until we’re gone and they’re self sufficient and they don’t need us. They’re developing and preaching sermons in Romans by themselves like total ballers. And they’re discipling others; they’re raising their children in the truth for every generation until Christ comes back!

*I’m saying “we” loosely. I don’t aspire to be a woman pastor over men.

But what if I teach them the wrong things? What if I was too interested in watching Netflix than in my preparation for this and so I’ve missed points in my theology or I’ve not given a sound defense against witchcraft and sorcery and the other things they’ve been involved in for so long? What if I don’t translate parts of Paul’s epistles accurately because I missed the nuances because I was lazy back in America? God will hold me accountable, not because I didn’t pick the best words for translating the crux of the passage and, dang it, Laura, you’re so dumb, but because way back when I consistently threw my time away. And at judgment day, we give account for our time.

There’s a misconception in Christianity that God just wants you to be willing, and that’s all he requires. Not hardly. If you’re going to go out there and represent Christ, you had better know what you’re talking about; otherwise you’ll make a mockery out of Christ because of your ignorance. And that’s happening all over the world right now. One of our teachers at school doesn’t miss an opportunity to remind us of this.

“How will you help them take every thought captive to obey Christ if you don’t truly understand and appreciate what is holding them captive in the first place?”  

“Your Sunday school answers won’t work out there. The fortresses Satan’s built around them over centuries aren’t made of sand. 

BUT the weapons of our warfare are divinely powerful for the destruction of forces.        2 Cor. 10:4

For some reason we love to sit around and ooh and aah at the Proverbs 31 woman, but what we need are more 2 Timothy 2:15 women – “Study to show yourself approved…rightly dividing the word of truth.”

So I guess it’s time to get started.

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God, make my feet beautiful

Before we came here, I thought the reason our training was two years was to teach us the ins and outs of phonetics, grammar and linguistics; how to learn an undocumented language from indigenous people; how to translate and all that jazz. One year in, and I’ve learned that’s the easy part, relatively speaking, and that’s not why we’re here for two years. We’re here for other things.

We’ve spent hours upon hours learning about the nature of animistic religion, and I’ve learned a million new things about the complexity of making disciples in other cultures.

We’ve read and talked about the intricacies of various religions, and practiced thinking through “how would you combat this minute detail to the people powerfully enough to defeat it?” As we hear about all these new gods during class I keep thinking, whoa. This is totally opposite of what God really is like!

If they only knew.

And it never once has been a thing of oh, yeah it’d be nice if God is who you think he is, but he’s actually like this. It has always, ALWAYS been, oh, if you only knew! he is so, SO much better than you believe him to be!

How much we take it for granted that the God who created this world is good. He could have been evil and unfair, and we wouldn’t have been able to do a thing about it.

The following examples are oversimplifications, but they’re common themes in many belief systems –

Tribal societies constantly try to commune with ancestors to help them during times of grief. The people find oneness with them because their ancestors were there once and can understand what the living are going through. Oh, but Jesus, that’s why you came to earth and clothed yourself in flesh! Because you know what it’s like; because when we pray to you, you know what we’re going through. You get it. You’ve been here. We have camaraderie with you.

But who will tell them?

Tribal societies all have a creator God, but he is distant, uninvolved and uncaring. God, you wept for us; you sent your only Son to buy us back. You banished us in paradise, but you spent the entirety of Genesis – Revelation pursuing us. You love us incomprehensibly.

But who will tell them?

Tribal societies believe that if you bother the creator god with anything that’s not dire or urgent, you’ll invoke his wrath and he’ll kill you. God, you want to know our smallest cares and our deepest desires; you never get tired of hearing our voices. You long for us to talk to you.

But who will tell them?

Tribal societies teach that women or other marginalized groups are born with an evil spirit. But we are created in the image of God himself. We have honor and worth and dignity. We are beautiful and prized and worth more than our ability to bear children. We have inherent value.

But who will tell them?

How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!

God, make my feet beautiful because right now they’re calloused and ugly.

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How Common Core Helped Prepare Me for Bible Translation

Several weeks ago, New Tribes’ head translation consultant came to teach us a course about communication and identified ten reasons translations fail to communicate. Here’s one of them. And it’s a principle from 6th grade common core that we spent hours harping on –

One of the most overlooked reasons why a translation fails to communicate is the reader misunderstands the purpose of a text. 

OMG Yes.

Reading Information text standard 6.6 “I can determine the author’s purpose in a text and explain how it is conveyed.”

My kids had better be able to say that still with honesty.

Okay. Back to present times.

Of the 7000 languages currently being spoken in the world, only 1300 of those have completed New Testaments, and of those 1300, only a fraction communicate clearly and are consistently used. The rest have long since been thrown away or are never opened.

Everything we say, no matter how small, communicates purpose. Within the first few seconds of listening to someone talk, we’ve already determined their purpose and are interpreting the information we’re hearing in light of that purpose.

As you read these, notice how your mind immediately jumps to purpose:

“A guy walks into a bar…”

“Once upon a time…”

“Sift the flour into a large bowl…”

“Dear heavenly father…”

“When I went to WalMart the other day, I saw this little boy…”

“Could I talk to you about something?…”

We don’t identify the purpose from the definition of each individual word but from our familiarity with cultural signal posts. We know that the purpose of “once upon a time” is not to give the instructions for a recipe but to begin a fairy tale. The words by themselves don’t clue us into the purpose; cultural patterns and past experience do.

Here’s another example:

Before heading out the door for work, a husband calls back to his wife: “Don’t forget; It’s Monday!” What’s the purpose of his statement? Is it a simple statement of fact that it’s Monday? A sarcastic implication that he hates his job? A reminder to put the trash on the curb soon because it’s garbage day? An expression of excitement that it’s pizza night for dinner? The wife knows his purpose because she knows their routines and schedule and her husband’s body language and voice intonation. Being able to correctly understand the intent of the comment “it’s Monday” has nothing to do with her knowing that It’s is a contraction for it is, and Monday is the word for the second day of the week. Because the wife understands the purpose of the comment, she knows what to do with the information.

“The human memory resembles a bank of remembered situations much more than it resembles a dictionary.” 

When purposes of Scripture passages are misunderstood, hearers don’t know what to do with the information. Tragically, this problem plays out all over the world as good Christians with good intentions think that to be fluent in a language is the only prerequisite to translating the Scriptures. Consider how confusing it would be to read Matthew if you didn’t understand the purpose of genealogies; or you couldn’t differentiate between background text, prophecy, hyperbole, narrative, instruction, warnings and condemnations; or If you thought future events were occurring now and parables were to be taken literally. The Bible would be impossible to understand.  

Across cultures, the biggest question in someone’s life is oftentimes, “What’s my purpose here?” The Bible has the clear, soul-satisfying answer to this, but for people to be able to understand their purpose and how that fits into God’s purpose, they first have to be able to figure out what’s the purpose of this sentence? 

Literacy programs are foundational to the clear understanding of the gospel and its ability to be passed down through generations. I’m thankful God led me to study English in college and let me teach for a few years afterward. I’m thankful I got to do something I love, and I’m looking forward to learning a completely undocumented language in the future and combining all my loves: language, literacy and Christ.

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Honor and shame, rape and conversion

To open up our class on honor and shame cultures, the professor told the story of an Asian woman who was being raped in a car by four men when she saw her uncle about to pass by in his vehicle.

…Pausing so we could contemplate what would happen next, he then continued…

The woman buried her face in her hands as well as she could so her uncle couldn’t see or recognize her. She was more concerned with not bringing shame on her family than in rescue from her attackers. Through that illustration and others, we were introduced to how hard it can be for people living in an honor shame culture to proclaim Christ. It can bring great dishonor and shame to the family, and they’ve been taught their whole lives to avoid these at all costs. If a girl would rather endure gang rape and suffer the humiliation silently her whole life, we can’t expect her to profess Christ unless the gospel can radically change her worldview. The Jesus film and quick fix methods can’t accomplish this. Nobody in honor/shame cultures casually converts to another faith.

In much of the world people would not say cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am,” but cognatus ergo sum, “I belong, therefore I exist.” Because of the emphasis people place on their identity, the missionary must be able to redefine family for the people in light of the family of God Furthermore, he must explain the phenomenon that God adopts us into his family, to which we have allegiance. A Christian must be willing to disavow allegiance to their biological family if they don’t accept the faith and be willing to face the shame that brings on them and their family.

A changed mindset of this magnitude can only be accomplished through the power of the Spirit. In the hours of talking through the content, the professor relayed a story from his time on the field. One month, after he’d spent many years in the people group, a few believers from the tribe wanted to go down river to start telling their people group in a neighboring village what they had learned about the true God. The rapids were raging and showed no signs of letting up. Unwilling to wait any longer, the people pushed their canoes into the water. The missionary reluctantly got in and huddled in the back scared to death, After a few minutes, one of the new tribal believers turned back and said, “Don’t worry. Father will take care of us.” Without a care in the world churning in his soul, this esteemed older village man called God Father.

What a perfect reminder that we’re not doing anything to change the world. God is. May we be faithful when the ambition fades and the desire becomes heavy and sticky in the intense humidity. May we live by what we know is true in those days we don’t feel it. May we stay when we want to come home; when we want our kids to know their grandparents and their cousins. May we grieve and cry for our sacrifice and then get up and wash our faces. May our souls be glad when our hearts are raw, when we hate the people, when we’re so done with not being appreciated. May we stay to hear the word “Father” from blood-bought lips.

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Faith is a gift, and I don’t have it

This past week we took one of those spiritual gift tests, and I wasn’t really surprised by the results, except for when I looked at the category that I scored lowest in: faith. So I was like, well that’s great, a missionary who scores lowest out of like twenty different categories in faith.

I’ll be honest, though, I wasn’t really surprised. I’ve always struggled with my faith. I don’t mean questioning my salvation or the source of my faith; I just don’t have a lot of faith.

Nate and I saved up all our money to come to school at the MTC for two years. We planned well in advance; we were conscientious of our spending. Our savings has the money we need for tuition and all of our other expenses. We have our monthly budget planned out for the next 30 months of our lives. But then I hear people here at the training center say “we don’t know how our family’s going to pay for next semester, but we’re here by faith that God wants us to be here.” Part of me is always split in my judgment. On the one hand I’m thinking, you should have saved up your money like we did and planned better. On the other hand I’m thinking, dang, God, I couldn’t do that. I wouldn’t have come. What’s wrong with me?

Last night we ate dinner with a missionary couple who went to the field with only 5% of their recommended support raised. They talked about staying on the field for 20 + years with nothing. I wouldn’t have gone. No way. I don’t have that kind of faith.

They mentioned a time when they were working here in Missouri at the MTC and a student (with no money) felt strongly impressed to go to the airport, and if he went God would provide his ticket to go overseas. So he went to the airport with crumbs in his pocket, and an hour later he was sitting on a plane.

We talked about George Muller, in his orphanage, how he would set out the breakfast bowls in the morning for his children without any food in the entire house, sit down with the kids to pray and invariably food would show up at the door. My soul rejoiced, but simultaneously thought, God, if I put out the bowls, the food wouldn’t come. What a horrible thought, but I thought it, and I believed it (I still believe it).

Then they went back to the missionary story about the airplane ticket, and they said another missionary later on heard of the story and thought, what a great idea! I’ll just go to the airport too and believe with all my heart God will provide the ticket! An hour later, he wasn’t on a plane, he was back in his car driving home. Yep, that’d be me, the one in the car and not on the airplane. But the missionary couple didn’t look at us and say, this kid just didn’t have enough faith. They smiled and said, “You can’t live by someone else’s faith. You have to live by the faith God has asked of you.”

What a freeing thought. God didn’t ask me to come here with crumbs in my pocket and trust that he’d provide my finances. He asked me to work for three years and put my money in savings and come up with a three year budget. So who’s more godly? Me, because I came with money and a plan, or the family who came not knowing how they’d pay for next semester? Neither of us. We’ve both acted according to the faith that was asked of us. What was asked of me was to turn in a resignation letter at the end of a three year career. And what was asked of them was to sell their house after six months and come to Missouri. We both have responded faithfully.

Faithlessness would have been me saying “God I’m not saving my money. I’m just going to move and have faith you’ll provide the money.”

Faithlessness would have been them saying “God, I’m not moving. I’m just going to stay here and save enough money first.”

I’m not a failure, I just don’t have the gift of faith.

And now I can say with happiness and not guilt, If I set out the bowls every morning, it’s true, the food wouldn’t come. If I went to the airport and waited for a ticket, it’s true, the ticket wouldn’t be there. But it’s not because God loves me less or I believe God less, it’s because he hasn’t asked it of me. To step out in faith is foolishness if you’ve not been asked to do it. What a relief to know I’m not a failure, I just don’t have the gift of faith.

“Have sound judgment as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” – Romans 12:3

“To one there is given through the spirit a message of wisdom, to the other a message of knowledge, to another a gift of faith through the same spirit…all these are the work of one and the same spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” 1 Corinthians 12

Like the father in Mark 9, I can boldly approach the throne, even as a missionary, and in complete openness say –

God, I believe. Help my unbelief.

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I quit my job. So now I can tell you what I really learned about teaching.

Today was my last day teaching after three years in the classroom (to pursue teaching in a different context). Here. This is what I’ve learned.

  1. Pick favorites. Every kid in their life needs the chance to be special to someone.
  2. It is actually really, really hard to discipline a kid you love, but you’ve got to do it. 
  3. You will have least favorites. You will try really hard to like certain kids, but you won’t be able to, and you’ll fight feeling guilty about it for a long time. It’s okay. You won’t bond with everyone.
  4. Every child should not get a clean slate every morning to start over. At times, yes, but not every day. Infractions carry over. They do in life, so they need to in the classroom.
  5. If you can give a child a reason, then give a reason. Your default answer for everything shouldn’t be “because I said so.”  Kids would be a lot less angry at the world if adults explained to them that the things they think are stupid actually have logical reasons behind them.
  6. Hounding a kid and advice-shoving (not advice-giving) have negative effects. Mix advice with space.
  7. Parents will actually screw you over more than their kids.
  8. Your kids won’t ever love that book or that poem or that speech as much as you do. Don’t let that take away from how much you love it.
  9. Don’t annoy your kids by “force bonding” with them. i.e. No child wants their teacher to eat lunch with them.
  10. Tell your kids when they do something stupid.  When your child sticks a fork in a light socket is the time to tell them what they did was retarded. Better to be a retard now than when you’re 40.
  11. Before you say no, listen
  12. Don’t give the “teacher answer.”  Give the right answer.

 

 

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Irresistible Grace

The other day in school we were reviewing prefixes and suffixes in preparation for the EOGs.  

I put up irresistible on my ActivBoard, wanting my kids to think through it like this: ir = not, ible = able to be, irresistible = not able to say no to something.  (That was a nice little English recap from childhood for you.)  Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s irresistible grace. Typically, I always think of irresistible grace in reference to salvation, but I’ve seen it so often in my life since then.  Some of my dearest moments are after that, when Jesus sought me when I wasn’t seeking; when I was indifferent; when I wasn’t digging my feet in and just forcing myself to pray more or want more or do more.  The moments I’ve had the most clarity that my Savior loves me were when he brought me back when I was straying; when I was having a crisis, and he just showed up without being invited, and I had no choice but to cry and whisper thank you; when I was walking in the mundane and he just grabbed my hand and reminded me he wanted to guide me.  It is true in my life that he has sought me out more than I have sought him out. That both humbles me and fills me with so much gratitude.  And for me, that’s the greatest proof of his love: that he won’t let me go.

 

“The Lord directs the steps of the godly.  He delights in every detail of their lives.  Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.” Psalm 37:23-24

 

“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.  

Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it. Seal it for thy courts above.”

 

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