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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Just Say Yes to Drugs

For those of you who know my dad, you know that growing up, my family didn’t celebrate a lot of holidays. When most people were anticipating a day off work or school, excited to spend time with family, my dad was bemoaning the fact that the mail wouldn’t come and the banks would be closed.  

But I like milestones and celebrations, and so today – thanks to drugs and an intelligent psychiatrist – today I celebrate. Today I celebrate saying yes to a drug 4 months ago that has saved my sanity. Today I mark 4 months without a panic attack and 1 month completely off xanax.  Today I celebrate few tears and a quiet mind.

When I look back to the worst times in my mental health, I don’t always see what God was trying to teach me.  To be honest, I don’t really feel like I learned all that much. And what I did learn doesn’t seem like a fair return of what I went through.  I think sometimes as Christians, when we come to the end of something, our first question we ask is “what was the reason?”  and the mistake we make isn’t in asking the question, it’s in answering the question.  We feel like we have to stamp some sort of answer on it to make it seem worth it.  And we come to some sort of muddled conclusion and say, here’s the reason, because God taught me THIS.  Yet in the back of our mind we’re thinking, but he could have taught me that in a different way.  

But we shouldn’t be so quick to give answers.  We shouldn’t be so afraid to leave things open-ended. It’s not a crisis of faith if you don’t have an answer.  Think about what you did learn and be content to leave it out on the table, unfinished.  God doesn’t always desire an answer because answers are limits, and God is limitless.

Be content with saying, I don’t know why, but I know Who.

And rest in the truth that physical health has nothing to do with spiritual health.

When I’m unwell, it’s because of sin; because Adam was my representative in the Garden of Eden, and he failed.  And so because my representative failed me, I inherited disease and decay as soon as I was formed.  Adam wasn’t the “best” representative.  He didn’t make the same decision that every other human in existence would have made; he was just the chosen representative. And I have to accept the fact that I died that day in the Garden. And because I died that day, I have to live with the consequences of a corrupt world. But as equally unfair as it was that I was condemned that day, how equally unfair is it that Christ became my next representative.  And in him, I was made whole that day he hung on the crude pieces of wood, haphazardly nailed together. How beautifully unfair.  Jesus didn’t heal my soul when I found a drug that worked because my soul was never broken. And if he never healed my body, it wouldn’t matter, because my body doesn’t affect my soul.  No matter how sick my body is or how healthy it is, it has no bearing on the condition of my soul.  Thank God that my soul is always well.  

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Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Xanax and other scary words

I was nineteen years old. I sat alone in the doctor’s office on a chair in the corner with my pulse 120+ and my hands visibly shaking. And all I could say was “I just feel really nervous a lot of time. I can always see my heart beating when I look down at my chest. It doesn’t slow down.”  That was all I could articulate. I couldn’t tell her about the thoughts. I had never told anyone. (Nate was the first person I’d end up telling, on the night we got engaged, actually.) She gave me a prescription for the SSRI Sertraline, the drug that almost killed me.

I was a 140 pound teenager at the time. Within a month I was down to 115. I went days without eating. The panic attacks were intense. I threw up almost every night. I would fall asleep shaking and wake up with my head pounding and my muscles sore. I sat outside near the mailbox late at night that summer writing poems about death.

I stopped the medicine without tapering.  I just couldn’t do it. I never went back to that doctor. I’ve actually never been to an MD since then. I became scared of medicine.

Fast forward five years and I had a similar episode; my worst in a long time. My husband was out of town for the weekend. It was 5 o’clock Saturday morning when I pulled up in my mom’s driveway. I sat on the couch and cried as I finally tried to explain the thoughts. I kept walking around the house, my body sweating, my mind trying to convince myself that I was fine; that the thoughts weren’t real, but oh how they felt real. Every five or so laps around the house I went to the bathroom to throw up or have diarrhea. And I kept thinking, God I CANNOT do this again. My body literally can’t handle this. It’s just going to shut down. I finally fell asleep from exhaustion. I woke up and called Nate and told him the terrible thoughts in my head, and that I wasn’t sure if they were real. In my hysteria, I just couldn’t figure it out. He drove to my parents’ house at 3 am to be with me.

I didn’t go into work on Monday; I needed to recover my sanity. I set up an appointment with a psychologist out of town.  We met, and I told her I didn’t know what was wrong with me, that it just couldn’t be anxiety. I started crying. She told me to just start at the beginning. So I started with elementary school and I cried some more.

I cried for the freckled little girl with long blonde hair and a pink heart backpack who walked to school every day terrified because of the thoughts. I cried for that little girl who didn’t know there were such things as sicknesses in the mind and so went through all those years alone.

I cried for the adolescent girl who missed out on friends and birthday parties because of the thoughts.

I cried for the guilt-laden teenager who agreed with the Baptist preachers that it was a spiritual problem.

I cried because I hadn’t known how to open my mouth and say what was wrong.

I wish tears weren’t clear.

I wish when they fell on something they made words.

The psychologist listened. She put the pieces together and found the patterns. It wasn’t anxiety. It was OCD. She explained there are types of OCD that are completely mental and aren’t evidenced in outward rituals like hand washing and checking locks.  She also told me that talk therapy wasn’t going to help; that I really needed to be on a drug and probably for the rest of my life.  And she helped me come to terms with the fact that drugs are okay. Even long-term drugs; some people need them. You’re not a hero for refusing medicine.

I set up an appointment with a psychiatrist. I told her that I had only ever tried one drug, and I was afraid. She prescribed a different drug in the same class (SSRI) at 25% of the dosage I had taken all those years ago. It didn’t work. I went back and tried another drug. It didn’t work.  I went back again. Ten minutes into our session she was writing another prescription for a different drug but in the same class.

I clenched my teeth and blurted out: “I’m not taking it. It won’t work.”

She crumpled up the paper and started writing another prescription that was slightly different. I told her she didn’t understand what was wrong with my brain. I raised my shaky, shy, voice that I hate so much and just started talking.  I told her I didn’t fit this category she was trying to box me into.  Her eyebrows furrowed as I detailed what was happening to my mind. She started to really listen. She told me what was going on was very unique and very uncommon, but she was pretty sure she knew what would help.  She gave me a drug for reducing intrusive and repetitive thoughts that come with a specific strand of OCD.

It’s been a month. I haven’t had any panic attacks in a month.  The thoughts no longer plague my mind. If they enter my mind, like they do every once in a while, they don’t terrorize me anymore, they just float past like other thoughts.  I started cooking dinner again. I’ve started eating more. I’ve been cutting down on my xanax intake. I’m taking things slowly, and I’m enjoying the current freedom. I keep telling myself that the bad thoughts will come back, and maybe they will. But it’s been a blissful month, and the thoughts can’t reclaim this month.

I just wanted to tell you that I’m not afraid of drugs anymore. I’d rather be addicted to drugs than be addicted to the thoughts. I’m taking a medication that is literally altering my mind, and God is not mad at me for it.

Anxiety, depression, panic – those are lifelong problems that don’t go away. if you really have them they’re not seasonal. You need to do something. Psychologist and psychiatrist are not bad words. You have a problem with your brain. You’re not a failure; your brain is.

Don’t say “I’ve tried everything and nothing works.”   You haven’t.  Something out there will work. It might take a long time. And it might make you sick and it might make your moods totally ridiculous, but just like Thomas Edison, you’re only crossing things off the list that don’t work.

You have to be brave enough to tell the professionals about your demons. You have to.



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