Archive for July, 2014

Narnian braille

Well, we are nearing the final stretch of our laser beam focused language learning that we’ve been doing over the last 10 months or so. It has been extremely difficult to keep the focus, socialize only with Narnians for the most part, and not get involved in any other ministry. 500 concentrated in class hours while in the states (not including 5 years in the Narnian community) followed up by about 1200-1400 hours of concentrated Narnian learning in the last year here is a lot to take in. I think we both still feel like we have far to go, but it is time for us to move to the village and get on with what God has asked us to do. We haven’t crossed the finish line, or even come down the final stretch for that matter. We will be in learning mode for quite some time, but we are definitely approaching a milestone.

As some of you are aware, I began learning Narnian braille a couple weeks ago. Up to that point, I had been illiterate in the language with no real solution on how to read or write. When we lived in the US I had obtained a copy of the Narnian braille alphabet when we took a trip out here to scope things out, but I really didn’t have anyone in the US to verify if what I was learning was correct. So I shelved that until I finally found a blind guy to help me out here in Narnia 2 or 3 weeks ago.

Contrary to what some may think, I really don’t enjoy talking about blind technology, have few blind friends, and that whole part of my life doesn’t get a lot of thought. Since I have been going through all these transitions with sight loss however, and because I have to use the tools as part of the journey, I have written and talked about them a bit over the last couple years. This is another blog where I will alert you to some of the nuances of training I’m receiving and details around Narnian braille. If that sort of thing is interesting to you, read on. If not, go read somebody’s political post on Facebook and click “like” and waste another 5 minutes of your life. No really, you don’t have to keep reading. J

Ok, so first of all it is important to know a bit about English braille. Each letter is composed of a cell of 6 dots. There can be any combination of dots within that cell that represents a letter. For example, top left dot is position 1, middle left, position 2, and bottom left position 3. Right top 4, right middle dot 5, and bottom 6 dot 6. Letter a is dot one, dots 1-2 is the letter b and so on. It isn’t as formulaic as you would think, but it works.

So of course you have 26 combinations for the letters of the alphabet and numbers follow the first 10 letters of the English alphabet. Where everything gets crazy is that English braille has a lot of contractions. 189 to be exact. These are letters representing whole words, letter combinations like ough, ence, ance, and conjunctions like and, but and so on. So that is a lot of dots to figure out. These six celled creatures are then jammed next to one another making it very important that you feel just right and properly to read the words in front of you. I still am a fairly slow braille reader but becoming faster all the time.

I raise all of this because the Narnian alphabet has 36 consonants and 12 vowels. I am now through the braille alphabet in this language and theoretically should be able to read anything if I have the vocabulary in Narnian to do so. Many of the same letters in Narnian are the same in English braille and have made the process to memorize and use the alphabet fairly easy. In fact, I would claim that it is much easier to read Narnian braille after you know English braille compared to sighted folks trying to read through the crazy symbols of the script for the first time. The cool thing is that I will now be able to read Hindi, Bengali (the language of Bangladesh), because Narnian braille uses the same script. Just so you know, the script looks like some crazy crap like this: मप्रभु अमित्तैको छोरा योनासँग बोल्नुभयो। परमप्रभु भन्नुहुन्छ, 2 “निनवे एउटा ठुलो शहर हो, त्यहाँका मानिसहरूले दुष्ट कर्महरू गरिरहेको बिषयमा मैले सुनेकोछु। यसकारण, तिमी त्यो

That is the first couple verses of the book of Jonah by the way – a story I’m working on orally and in written form now too.

And I have to admit that it was a huge blessing in disguise to not know how to read Narnian braille up to this point because in that time I was able to develop a huge base of the language that makes literacy very possible. According to a friend of mine doing the same language approach that I am using, he said it is likely that I know between 6000 and 7000 words at this point. That is a lot to have when you begin reading versus knowing how to say “hello” and then trying to read a sentence. It is much like a first or second grader learning to read who has already learned how to speak their own language.

So I’m a Narnian reader now. It is painfully slow, but it will build over time and get easier. Some interesting things about Narnian braille that I have discovered so far.

1. Words are not separated from many prepositions. For example “in the house” is written as “inhouse” or literally translated as “housein” (gharbitra) in Narnian. It is tricky as you are learning to read to recognize the end of the word and beginning of a preposition like from, in, into, up, below, etc.
2. The first short vowel of Narnian, the short a, is not written in braille. So for example, the conjunction “but” is “tara” in Narnian. That is written simply as tr with no spaces assuming an a in between the t and r and after the br So yeah, that is hard to figure out at times, especially if you have limited vocabulary on the text you are reading.
3. There is a special software where I can take any electronic script of the Narnian language convert it to braille, save it on an SD card, then put it on a very small refreshable braille display. This means in regular terms that most Narnian braille is available to me. An electronic braille display is a very portable machine where a person can store hundreds of braille books.
4. There are several aspirated letters in the Narnian alphabet which are represented by English braille symbols in the Narnian alphabet gh, th, dh, etc. to make things a lot easier since I already have that in my head from English braille.
5. Punctuation in the Narnaian and English braille systems also seems to be working the same.
6. And to make life easier, the long e letter and sound and I sounds/letters are basically the exact opposite in English braille. So when I am reading a Narnian long e, it is written as an English i. Beautiful. Babel . . . you did well boys. Real well.

There is a lot more I could write about the journey so far. All this to say, that reading is power and it certainly does open up the door for many other things as you learn a language. I still need to be spending the majority of my last couple months talking and listening in Narnian, but I am thankful I can take literacy with me to the village as well.

Please feel free to comment or ask further questions if this is your sort of thing. Thanks for walking with us on the journey to laying a foundation here in Narnia.

Prayer Renewal and Dependence on God

Over the last several years I have gained a lot of independence and confidence through training and accomplishments I’ve experienced. As I’ve lost my eyesight, I learned to use all kinds of gadgets to perform my work, travel independently, and read braille. In ministry I’ve helped plant churches, completed theology and intercultural studies degrees from great institutions, seen a community move towards transformation, and done well to make a lot of progress in communicating in the Narnian language.

In the midst of this, I feel that I’ve drifted in the last weeks and months from what is most important. Jesus is the light and life of the world and in Him and through Him all things happen. I think deep in my soul I have depended on my own abilities, hard word, and knowledge while neglecting time in His presence. I am challenged to go back to the throne of grace and sit with Jesus in prayer.

Please pray with me that Janessa and I will stay on our faces before the Lord, not depending on our own strength. If we are fluent in Narnian have all the skills to see a transformed community, but don’t have love we are nothing. . . that love only comes through time in prayer. Without Christ, we literally can do nothing. For that to sink in takes a minute. I’ve been meditating on these verses today, realizing that God’s strength is all I need. Thanks for lifting us up in prayer and I long to discover the closeness and intimacy of God’s presence in a fresh way in the coming days.

Also, if you have any recommended prayer devotionals that you’ve used through IBooks or Kindle, I’d love to dive into them. I need a jolt and fresh start from the King.

Bible Passages on Depending on God’s Strength, Not Our Own

Exodus 15:2
The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

Deuteronomy 4:37
Because he loved your forefathers and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength,

Deuteronomy 6:5
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

Deuteronomy 11:8
Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess,

1 Samuel 30:6
David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the LORD his God.

1 Chronicles 16:11
Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.

Nehemiah 1:10
“They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.

Nehemiah 8:10
Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.

Psalm 20: 7-8
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.

Psalm 27:1
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 28:8
The LORD is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.

Psalm 31:24
Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!

Psalm 46:1
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Psalm 59:16
But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.

Psalm 105:4
Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!

Isaiah 40:28-31
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 41:10
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Jeremiah 17:5
This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD.

Ezekiel 34:16
I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

Daniel 10:18-20
Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. “Do not be afraid, O man highly esteemed,” he said. “Peace! Be strong now; be strong.” When he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Speak, my lord, since you have given me strength.”

Zechariah 4:6
“Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit” says the Lord God Almighty

Habakkuk 3:19
The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.

Luke 10:27
He answered: ” Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. ”

1 Corinthians 1:25
For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Ephesians 1:17-21
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[a] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come

Ephesians 3:14-19
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 6:10
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Philippians 4:13
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Colossians 1:10-12
And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light

1 Thessalonians 3:13
May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

2 Timothy 4:17
But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it

1 Peter 4:11
If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Hitting Plateaus and Reflections on My Running Days

Have you reached a plateau? (Wow, it’s a commercial – maybe I should go into motivational speaking . . . or not). Seriously. A plateau in your professional career? In education? Maybe even in your personal life? I was thinking about progress in language learning since that is all I really do these days. It is pretty common when you hit an intermediate or lower advanced stage of language learning that you feel like you have hit a plateau. I was reminiscing back to my running days and how much improvement new runners tend to make. They may start out running the 5k in 27 minutes and then weekly click off 2 or 3 minutes on their best 5k time. It isn’t uncommon to see a new runner jump from 27 minutes down to about 20 minutes in a short period of time. In language learning you go from having little to no communication skills to becoming a person that native speakers actually want to talk to without walking away in frustration. You make huge strides in those early days and the progress is so noticeable.

When I was a runner, I recall making pretty significant improvements all the way through junior high and high school. I started out running my first 5k as a 6 year old in 25 minutes or so. My age 7 I knocked it down to 22 minutes. Age 9 or 10 and I was at 19 minutes. By age 12 I had a huge leap and ran and 18:18 as a 6th grader. I then started to level off a bit and remained in the 17:30-45 range through 8th grade. Then I busted through again and ran 16:45 as a 9th grader and the summer before my sophomore year ran a 16:17 and won my first 5k adult road race. I raced for 3 more years and the fastest I could ever get was 16:14. From the time I hit 16:17 to 3 years later when I hit that mark again I was able to run that time almost every race when I hit the roads.

I share all that to say that we definitely get to a level that is very difficult to maintain improvement. Though I only improved by 3 seconds on my fastest 5k, I became a better runner over those last 3 years. That first 16:17 was unbelievable as it was 32 seconds faster than I had ever run. By the time I was running low 16s consistently I didn’t think much of it.

I think my language progress is a bit like this right now. I am clearly way farther along than I’ve ever been before. I’m communicating more easily than I ever have in my life in this language. But the days of huge leaps and massive improvements have faded. It reminds me of the days of running in the rain, sweating my butt off on the track all alone, only to see a one or two second improvement over 5km/3.1 miles. Those days and times when you can bust through and feel like you are on top of the world are wonderful. Maybe God allows these things to happen to really encourage us and build our confidence. But after a while, the slow grind is on. I don’t really think I have hit a plateau but I am slowly and steadily going up this mountain of a language, becoming a better communicator.

I guess this can apply to just about anything where we are putting in a lot of work. Tenacity, dedication, and a lot of lonely days on the track (so to speak) are needed. But in the end, we keep steadily climbing towards the goals we have set. For me it is trying to communicate in Narnian so I can socialize with my friends, share my life, and most importantly, give them the Gospel that Christ has so graciously given me.

So there is my motivational speech and reflection on my running days. Keep at it.

A few tips from my running days that I’m trying to apply to the language plateau

1. I loved running. Workouts were exhilarating to me. Even more fun was racing. As you work hard learning, love it. Enjoy the journey.
2. I was responsible for my own training. I tried to rarely compare my training to the next guy. If I was doing what I knew I was supposed to do, improvement would come. Sin rears its head everywhere we look and it is so easy to compare yourself to other missionaries, other foreigners, or whoever as you are learning language. Apply that as you wish to your context and your endeavor.
3. I trained when I didn’t feel like it and tried to force myself to rest at least a day a week. Again, if I only tried to improve in this language when I felt like it, I’d be in deep waters.
4. Though I tried not to pay much attention to other runners training, I did have a general sense that no one else was going to out-work me. As a Christ-follower I have to re-define this competitive stuff and let the competitive nature God put inside me drive me to be the hardest worker I can for the glory of God. I am clearly not the most talented language learner in the world . . . but I put my hand to the plow and go for it.
5. I was part of a community. Though I correspond with few of my running buddies still today, we had a very special bond. Hours and hours in our unique community. As I learn language, I’ve done my very best to enter fully into the community and society where I live. I don’t wish I wasn’t speaking Narnian or living somewhere else. The community is essential.
6. I was sold on the idea as a runner that the lifestyle of hard work, entering into the community, sometimes loneliness along the way were simply part and parcel with the task at hand. It was what I was supposed to do. As it seems like I’m in a language rut at times, I remember this is simply what I’m supposed to be doing.
7. As I became a more experienced runner, I realized I wasn’t anything that special. Lots of people were faster. Lots of people were going to beat me. I wasn’t going to be remembered as a track star. When I came to this realization it freed me to simply be myself as a runner and racer. My language ability (as I have already stated) is not great. It works and I know who I am as a communicator. We must become comfortable in our own skin.

We aren’t a discipleship program for struggling Christians. We are sent people, in love with Jesus

As many of you are aware, our team out in narnia has been banging on a lot of doors to try to find workers to serve with us out here. Thus far, we have been very blessed to get quality, and Jesus-centered people referred to us. I have thought a bit on what sorts of people we are looking for and I had a great conversation with a fellow missionary today on the necessity for people full of the Lord, ready to be a slave to Christ.

With the proliferation of social justice mission, entreprenaueralism, and working together with a whole society, the doors are open wide for a lot of different kinds of people to join in mission work. Whereas a church planting exclusive ministry may get a certain kind of worker’s attention, community development from a Christian perspective can sometimes attract people who have very different reasons for engaging lost people on a regular basis. While I don’t want to divide this down the age-old lines of “proclamation vs. demonstration” in terms of our mission, these two activities certainly do attract different sorts of people. Further, it encourages me to keep making crystal clear the demonstration-proclamation blend of community transformation that ITeams is becoming known for.

After our talk on the phone today however, I realize that both more traditional agencies and innovative, edgy ones are experiencing the same problem. Basically, we are sometimes thought to be an opportunity for struggling Christians to get their head on their shoulders and be discipled while they do missions ministry.

So here’s the deal. We are not a disciple-training pilot program. We aren’t Master’s Commission or your local church’s discipleship 1-year initiative. We are missionaries serving in one of the more challenging places on earth. We don’t need skeptics questioning their salvation: we need soldiers ready to go after it. This is not to say for a moment that anyone on our team has their junk together or that we are finished being discipled, but the thing that must bleed out of all of us is a deep, committed love for Jesus and a desire to serve Him with all of our lives. If this isn’t what oozes out of a potential worker, then we really just have to wait for the right people.

My friend said on the phone today, “What if I was a recruiter for the Marines and someone was sent to me who had aspirations of being a Marine. They kind of know how to hold a gun and they are kind of in shape. They’re still not sure if they want to be a Marine or not. Can we send them to you?” We laughed but to a certain degree this is what we are saying when a pastor asks if a struggling Christian can come out and serve with us for 6 or 9 months. Give me a freaking break.

I’m not a mission mobilizer, nor do I get the onslaught of applications that agencies have to sort through. But I have been at this for about 12 years now and I know what is needed in at least being on the right path to become a “sent person”. As we talk with people anxious and crancked up, ready to serve overseas, may we be extremely aware of the need for slaves of Christ. To put it as straight as I can: we are not a replacement program for the local church because the local church did not do its job of making well-rounded, Gospel saturated disciples. We are missionaries who have been sent out from the local church who are desiring that entire communities and individual lives be transformed by Christ.

So there is my 2 cents for the day. We need soldiers, slaves of Christ to join with us in His mission. My prayer is that on both sides of the ocean we can constantly be making disciples that have a fire lit under them to be Christ’s ambassadors to the ends of the earth.

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