Hearing that my wife and I had translated much of the Bible into a Brazilian indigenous language, a man asked me, “What was the first thing you translated?” He was astonished when I answered, “The story of the gingerbread man.”
He was astonished when I answered, “The story of the gingerbread man.”
“I can’t believe it.” he exclaimed. “You’re missionary Bible translators! Why waste time translating a kids’ fairy tale?”
I explained to him that we were just learning to translate and that this story, with its small vocabulary and large amount of repetition, was easier to translate than a Scripture passage. “Even so, I expect to make mistakes,” I added, “and I’d rather make errors in a children’s story than in a scripture passage.”
Translating children’s fairy stories was the small beginning that led to an accurately translated 750-page Bible. When we returned to Canada, every Canela home had a Bible and at least one person in each home could read it, having learned to read using the orthography and educational materials we had developed. The Church continues to grow from the seed of the Word and many Canelas now live without fear of evil spirits.
While learning to translate by starting with a fairy tale, I also learned the truth of the adage, “Something is better than nothing.” The Bible is replete with examples of this fact. Jesus solved the problem of feeding 5,000 men and their families by starting with one boy’s lunch of five small loaves and two small fish. It wasn’t much, but He started with something. (John 6)
The prophet Elisha started with a tiny flask of olive oil, but this oil expanded miraculously to fill every available container in the neighbourhood. There was so much olive oil it not only paid off a huge debt; there was enough left to buy food for three people throughout an extended time of famine. (2 Kings 4: 1-7)
When Almighty God appeared to Moses and told him he would lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses was filled with doubt. So God asked him, “What is that in your hand?”
“A staff,” Moses replied. (Exodus 4:1-3) That simple wooden walking stick brought plagues on Egypt, split the waters of the Red Sea, brought water out of a rock, and was the focal point of prayer that gave victory in battle. Yes, it also erased Moses’ doubt.
As a pastor, before going to Brazil, I did a tiny thing. I asked the editor of the town’s weekly newspaper if he wanted a religion column. He said, “Yes.” I invited other pastors to contribute as well. We then formed a ministerial association that had a positive impact on the town.
In Brazil I wrote little stories about our life among the Canela for our quarterly newsletters. These stories formed the basis of 20 years of weekly blog posts, 3 printed books and 2 e-books as well as a speaking career touching 400 cities in 20 countries.
What are the issues you are facing as a writer? Complete a novel? Find a publisher? Learn indie publishing? Find time to write? Deal with constant distractions?
Ask God for help. He may ask you, “What is that in your hand?” Something small, relatively insignificant? Doesn’t matter. Use it to make a small beginning and trust God to expand it to meet needs, solve problems, increase faith, and bless His people.
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10 NLT).
Jack Popjes started writing stories for their missionary newsletters during the decades he and his wife were Bible translators in Brazil. For the past 20 years, he has blogged weekly on missions, church, Christian spirituality, and Bible translation. His current blog is INsights & OUTbursts. He has print published three books and e-published two books of story based articles—all selected from his blogs. His storytelling ability makes him a popular speaker. firstname.lastname@example.org