A Child’s Perspective

What Immanuel says we are doing and are not doing


When we talk to the boys about the move to Asia, we have been trying to talk about concrete things so that they will understand. Many of you have heard that this led to Immanuel thinking we were moving to a zoo. (We had talked a lot about elephants.) On our recent trip to Pennsylvania, we found another potentially messy misunderstanding in a conversation between Immanuel and his grandpa.

Iman: A big airplane

Grandpa: How long do you stay on the airplane?

Iman: Um, a very long time.

Grandpa: Do you sleep on the airplane?

Iman: No, we just….

Grandpa: Do you eat on the airplane?

Iman: Yeah

Grandpa: Do you go potty on the airplane?

Iman: Nope!

Grandpa: OOPS!


William Cameron Townsend

Jose Jimenez Borja, who was assistant to the Peruvian Minister of Education when Wycliffe started work in Peru, tells this story, in 1970, about Cameron Townsend (pictured here).

clip_image002[12]“I remember the day Mr. Townsend came into my office in 1945. He presented the most ridiculous plan I had ever heard. He wanted to go into the jungle with a group of linguists. They were going to learn the languages of the people, form alphabets, teach the people how to read, and translate the Bible into those languages. He wanted my blessing on this impossible project. Our conversation went like this:

Mr. Townsend, who is going to do all this work? It will be done by trained linguists – young men and women with college degrees who are willing to spend their lives among the indigenous peoples.

This is a difficult task. How many are willing to go? None yet. But when I go back to the U.S. and challenge them, many will volunteer.

The jungle is impossible. How will you get those people out to the villages? I plan to use airplanes to land on the rivers and airstrips that can be cleared in the jungle.

How many planes do you have? None, but when I share the need, God will give us enough planes.

Who will fly these planes? Hundreds of young people, seasoned pilots and mechanics will volunteer.clip_image002[10]

How many pilots and mechanics do you now have? None, but God will send them along.

There is much disease in the jungle. How will you stay healthy? We’ll have clinics staffed by doctors and nurses.

How many doctors and nurses do you have? None, but God will supply them.

Who will finance all this, the U.S. government, a wealthy foundation? No, I’ll go home and tell the people of the United States about this plan. God will supply. All the workers will raise their own support.

At this I stared at the strange man and told him, ‘When all that comes to pass, come back to me and I will bless you.’ He got up, gave me a big hug and said, ‘I’ll be back soon.’

When Mr. Townsend walked out the door, I turned to my secretary and said, ‘Alla va el gringo mas loco que jamas he visto.’ (There goes the craziest gringo I’ve ever seen in my life.) A few months later, Mr. Townsend was back. He was ready to start! Now, 25 years later, all he dreamed has happened, plus much more. Only God could do such a mighty thing.”

-The extended story from our august 2012 newsletter

Language Faux Pa

A little while ago I was on Skype with a deaf man from Uganda and we were trying to communicate with sign language. I know a little American Sign Language and he knows a smattering of different languages having worked with several different teams from countries all over Africa. I assumed we would have some difficulties in communicating but I decided that if this is what I am going to be doing for the rest of my life (working with the Deaf in various sign languages) that I might as well start now and jump head first! So we were communicating fairly well considering my limited ability to communicate. I was nervous and was moving quicker then Skype could keep up with for video, so it was hard for him to see me sometimes. I also was trying to use a language that I have had limited practice with however when my son Jude woke up I brought him downstairs and continued the conversation.

His first question when I got back was whether Jude was African. A reasonable question to ask  and I told him Jude was from the USA. He was wondering about the difference in appearance between me and my son and asked if my wife was the “same” as Jude. Again I said that he was not but that he was… and that is when I forgot the sign for “adopted.” It was too long since I used it and I couldn’t quite remember it. Hesitantly I signed to him what I thought was the sign for adopt. He looked at me like I was a little crazy and asked me again if that was what I said. I agreed and repeated it thinking he did not see what I signed. He then finger spelled to me what the sign I used meant: to steal.

I was a little shocked that I had accidentally told him I had stolen my son Jude! oops! I tried to clear it up and finger spelled to him a-d-o-p-t-i-o-n.

A little later I talked with a friend who has worked with this man and related the story to her. She was very amused because not only did use the wrong sign, but the sign I used literally means “to kidnap.” She told me that several months later when she saw him again his first question to her was if  I had really stolen Jude or not. I do not know if he will ever invite me to his home now or not. But I learned a lot!

So now I know that making up signs based on a vague memory is not usually a good idea and can communicate the wrong thing! No wonder cross-cultural communication can end up with so much confusion.

Why Sign Language Translation work?

As a young teen I remember my family inviting people into our home to tell of their experiences overseas. I was struck by their stories and knew I wanted to devote my life to cross-cultural work. It was clear to me that I was not going to live the typical American life from an early age and planned my life around it. I went to college and  majored in intercultural studies and continued to pursue opportunities whenever they presented themselves so I would be trained. I felt after college a specific call to wait until I gained more experience before applying to any organizations. So I waited and eventually started dating a wonderful women.

This woman, now my wife Rachel, was really clear. She was going to do missions and God had made her specifically for linguistic translation work. But I was perplexed. Who would devote their entire life to ministering in one place with one people for 30 years of their life?! I was hesitant to sign up for such a call. It didn’t feel right to me. So while we were dating, then engaged we struggled with this seeming inconsistency in our vision. I knew I was to do cross cultural work, but not sure what. She was convinced it was translation for minority language groups. We knew God had called us together and were convinced he would straighten out our calling in His time. And he did.

In late 2008, we decided to pursue Rachel’s dream and see if it would be a good fit for us both. I didn’t know what I would end up doing, but I figured we should talk about it. We ended up going to a summer of training in 2009 at the University of North Dakota to see if it was a good fit. During that summer my whole outlook changed. I went trusting my wife knew something I didn’t about our future. I left having felt God’s specific call towards Sign Language Translation. It was a pivotal moment in our lives and we start ordering our steps to work with the Deaf. We started learning American Sign Language and started figuring out how we could get the training we needed. We were frustrated because the job God provided us kept us from pursuing the education we would need to work with Sign Language communities around the world! We basically would have to quit Rachel’s job in order for us to move forward. However, early this spring we started pursuing Wycliffe again because we would be quitting Rachel’s job and very quickly it went from needing 2-3 more years to get on the field too being asked to speed up the process because they wanted us in southeast Asia by January 2013.

When God speaks He makes a way, in His timing, and with His provision!