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I almost dropped out

“I really need to spend my free day catching up on work that’s piled up during the conference.” “Better yet, I need to talk with my family.” “I’ve never biked down a mountain before.” “There’s torrential rain!” All of those excuses crossed my mind before I left the dry comfort of the hotel and throughout the looonnnngggg drive up the mountain in the back of a songthaew in May. It wasn’t long before the rain was joined by a distinct chill. But I was committed, and so I sat shivering on the bench in the bed of this pickup truck weaving its way up to the top of 5500-foot Doi Suthep.

As we neared the top, every time the road forked, we took the narrower option until we finally stopped in thick woods. My doubts flared in the downpour, but it was too late to escape. So I suited up with protective armour on my shins and forearms, and a relatively-worthless poncho over the top. Then I tested the disc brakes on my rented bike, tamping down its nasty tendency to try to send me over the handlebars. The group set off. Good, because it was the only way to stay warm.

Thankfully, we had a chance to get comfortable with our bikes by sticking to a road for the first couple of kilometers. As we left the road, our brilliant idea to wear sunglasses (or even swim goggles!) proved worthless in practice; the mud quickly blocked all visibility. Seeing where you’re going is a high value in mountain biking. But this mud was strangely familiar to me; who knew they had Georgia red clay in Thailand? It brought a perverse comfort to ride in the orange slop.

In no time at all, it was time for our first stop, a tea house clinging to the side of the road. Some good, strong fresh-made Thai coffee was just the thing to take the edge off. I entwined my numbed fingers around my steaming cup, attempting to retrieve feeling and bloodflow. I was partially successful by the time I had to shove my fingers back in my cold, wet cycling gloves.

As we wove down the mountain in terrain that resembled every Vietnam movie I’ve ever seen, I gained confidence in myself and my bike. I came to enjoy the rain, preferring it over the alternative: intense heat and humidity. The trip was peppered with short breaks to let everyone catch up while we treated ourselves to the abundant lychee orchards. I also enjoyed the friendship of this ragtag group of Brits, Poles, Swiss and Americans who occasionally had trouble communicating with each other but could rally around a shared experience.

On the gentler slopes, we had an option to try single track mountain biking. The majority chose the narrow path through the woods while one stout rider chose the “safer” route along the muddy road. When our trails converged, guess who was caked in mud from head to toe? The narrow path made all the difference. As our speed picked up near the base of the mountain, the flinging mud found both my eyes within a five-second timeframe. I was grateful for a good, wide, straight stretch to allow me to cruise to a stop.

The bottom was a real treat. We swam in the lake before enjoying some good Thai food on a floating hut along the shore.

And to think, I almost missed the highlight of my trip to Thailand.

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A long journey

In May, I had the privilege of going to Asia for the first time. I attended Wycliffe’s global conference along with 500 people from 67 nations — a picture of the breadth of the global Bible translation movement. We saw some excellent examples of servant leadership, spiritual authority and unity among a very diverse and divergent collection of opinionated leaders. The highlights for me were the opportunity to meet with 21 Canadian leaders who attended, and the opportunity to play hookey.

Yes, you read that right. I had a chance to get away from the meetings twice to visit with two language projects, one of which is in its twentieth year. In a small urban house, we met a young American named Amber and a remarkable mother-tongue translation couple who have been the one constant on this project. The following is their story.

In the early ’90s, Duang Tip found himself assisting a Bible translation project. While it wasn’t his heart language, it was a more widely-used dialect with similarities to his own. His expatriate mentor noted his ability and suggested he translate the New Testament into his own related language, spoken by about 20,000+ people just in Thailand. Duang Tip knew enough about the translation process to count the cost. He prayed for three months before committing to the challenge.

Duang Tip and Dawk KaewThe project never seemed to go smoothly. For years, the team struggled as each stage in the work took longer than it should. An attempt was made at one point to speed the work with a larger team, but that just added to personal tensions. Finally their language program coordinator made the difficult decision to slim the team down to four. As Amber and her Thai husband Upai worked alongside Duang Tip and Dawk Kaew, the project began to pick up steam. At this date Luke, Acts, Philemon, Titus, 1 & 2 Timothy are completed. Seven books are awaiting consultant checking.  Six books are going through the Team Checking and Community Checking stages. In short, the end of the New Testament project is finally within sight.

So, what’s next? Retirement? Duang Tip can’t imagine that. His people need the Old Testament.

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EyreMail Dec11

[click for full-size, readable pdf]

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[Reposted from thebackrowleader.com because of its relevance to my week in Costa Rica and recent posts.]

Let’s continue mining the leadership development principles found in Acts 6. When the apostles made the decision to remove their fingers from day-to-day program management, who did they turn to? First, they opened the problem to “all the believers,” inviting their input. Second, they went local. The problem was a Greek-speaking versus Hebrew-speaking issue. The apostles were Hebrew-speaking, and when accused of some latent racism, they selected Greek believers to address the problem. They found a local solution. Third, they turned to the next generation. There’s no indication of age, so I don’t want to imply that they handed over responsibility to young leaders, but they clearly handed responsibility to the recipients of the gospel message.

That’s the mark of a movement: those who bring a new idea or message and hand it off to the recipients of that message to take it where they didn’t imagine it could go. We’re experiencing that within Wycliffe. There’s a movement exploding in many parts of the world, carrying forth Bible translation in ways and to places our founders never dreamed of. For instance, I just spent a few days with leaders of 25 non-Wycliffe organizations birthed in Central and South America who are just as passionate about advancing Bible translation in their countries and from their areas of the world as we are. We’re joining together in an alliance to figure this new world out together. It’s a world where language groups are setting up their own Facebook pages, beginning work before we ever get there and becoming evangelists to neighbouring people groups.

Here’s the ugly side, though: the one who can most easily suppress a movement is the original messenger. We westerners do this all the time. To give us the benefit of the doubt, most oppression by a majority is unintentional. We simply don’t realize where we shut down innovation, fail to hand over ownership or fail to see potential. A friend of mine calls it “institutional racism.” In older organizations, it can be a historical colonial viewpoint that has long been eradicated in the obvious places but has become institutionalized in policies, procedures and practices that have never been challenged. It’s time for some audits of the deep, dark corners of the organization.

Since this blog is about leaders, let’s not let ourselves off the hook. Let’s make it personal. Have you audited the deep, dark corners of your own core beliefs for inconsistencies in what you say and practice in terms of holding onto authority or ownership? I remember reading a passage in Sherwood Lingenfelter’s Cross Cultural Leadership about a missionary who had to return to the United States. He successfully found and prepared a national worker to assume responsibilities for preaching in the local church while he was gone. By the time he returned, this local pastor was thriving in his role over a growing church. What a tremendous success! That’s our dream, right? Imagine what happened next. This missionary thanked his brother and took over preaching responsibilities again. I wanted to throw the book down! I wanted to throw some stones!

Until I realized I probably do the same thing all the time. I take back a role I empowered my kids to do, because it’s part of my identity. I delegate an assignment to a subordinate and begin meddling again without thinking. How often have I done that? I couldn’t tell you, but I’ll bet my subordinates and the minorities who have worked with me could tell me… if I created a setting where they could speak openly. I won’t be throwing any stones.

In response, here’s a better way: Let’s lay hands on “the next generation, pray for them and posture ourselves behind them. Let’s lay aside our feeble visions for the capacity of the next generation and allow God’s vision for them to prevail. He may well have a movement in mind.

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We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

You’ve probably heard that quote before. It came to mind today as I listened to many of my colleagues from all over Central and South America. The fact is that everything we deal with today has historical roots. That’s both a good thing and a challenge. For instance, colonialism has impacted my Latin brothers and sisters in immeasurable ways. Many of the attendees at this meeting are dealing with pain, anger, fear and frustration resulting from colonial attitudes, and many of the examples they shared are more recent than I would like to think. But it also occurred to me that these meetings wouldn’t have been possible if not for languages of wider communication, like Spanish and English. I’m not saying that “trade languages” justify the many sins of our fathers, but God has a history of bringing about great good from a broken world and broken people.

Here are some thoughts I heard in the last few days:

  • Indigenous people in one country were told in the past that they didn’t have the education or skills to do Bible translation. They have taken up that challenge and accomplished a lot of good in a short amount of time.
  • A Latina told us her country had a similar experience. Her response: “Latin Americans were told we’re only there to receive. We don’t want to receive; we want to give.” However, she acknowledged that many in her country still have feelings that they’re not capable of certain tasks.
  • A leader of an indigenous Bible translation organization gave encouragement to his Western colleagues with these words, “One of the great privileges for anyone is to lose your job because you’ve equipped someone to replace you.”

Wycliffe certainly can’t point any fingers; we don’t have clean hands ourselves. I’m not pointing fingers either, as I find paternalistic attitudes so easy to slip into. But it was refreshing this week to hear such incredible candor. The fact that these lideres could speak openly and honestly without fear of repercussions is a great starting point. There were a lot of bright spots as well. We are giving significant support to the rising Bible translation movement, represented by 108 partner organizations in the Americas who are working to transform people through Bible translation and language-related ministries.

We laughed, we cried, we prayed and we planned together. I’m leaving these meetings with a few ideas for fresh partnerships.

Our half day of prayer closed with prayer in 10 different languages

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Translation devices

As I sit around tables with fellow leaders of Bible translation organizations from Chile, Mexico, Bolivia, Paraguay, Panama, and a host of other countries in the Americas, I feel deficient. I so wish I was bilingual. I suspect that my nine years in Orlando was my shot at learning Spanish. If I’m going to learn another language now, it probably needs to be French. I have to say my four years of German study has not been all that helpful to me in my Wycliffe career.

Instead, in meetings like these, I have to rely on technology. For instance, my iTranslate app helps me with terminology. Today, when my colleagues began discussing a projecto integral, this helpful app explained to me that they were talking about a “whole wheat project.” I’m glad I caught that. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought they were referring to comprehensive projects.

So I tried Siri, my virtual iPhone assistant. “Do you speak Spanish?” I asked her. She responded with a mysterious, “I’m sorry, Roy, but I can’t find locations in Costa Rica.” I’ll take that as a no. Bet she doesn’t speak French either.

Then there’s this miracle device, the Pocket Translator 2000. I put on my earbuds, and suddenly everyone speaks English. Such a simple device, but such a powerful tool. With it, I can communicate with my brothers and sisters as if there’s no language barrier. I admit I’m getting quite attached to this pocket translator and the little gremlins who labour in the background to cross linguistic boundaries.

I wonder why they haven’t figured out how to make this technology work at breaktimes and when bargaining with street vendors. Maybe I’ll need the Pocket Translator 4S for that one.

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