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2017 in Review

I’ve gotten in the habit of reviewing the past year at the beginning of a new year in order to remember God’s powerful working in my life. I did that in my devotional journal, and I want to share some of those highlights here.

  • The biggest highlight of last year was that my wife and I became parents of a cute little boy named Eliyas, born on May 19. Considering that we lost our first child after a month or so of pregnancy, the delivery of a healthy child was especially sweet to us. What joy he’s brought into our lives!

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  • This year I traveled less domestically and more internationally: Eurasia (2x), Ukraine (2x), India (2x), Myanmar, Bangladesh, Singapore, Canada, and Chad.
  • Eliyas’ first international trip was to Quebec in June-July, but his first international trip that required a passport was to Eurasia and Ukraine in Nov-Dec.
  • In Jan-Feb we went to Eurasia for a Metanoia NT workshop and then to Ukraine.
  • In March we visited supporting churches. I lost my voice in IN, so Oksana had to help me more at a missions conference in MD. I got my voice back just in time to go to Myanmar and Singapore.
  • In late March I was in Myanmar for the Asia Consultant Seminar, and I spent two weekends in Singapore, while going to India between the two weekends. I really wanted Oksana to join me for the trip, but it was too close to the delivery date.
  • The rest of April and May was spent getting ready for Eliyas. I led a Haitian Creole OT workshop at the office during the time of his birth.
  • In late June and throughout July we went to Quebec and then down to ME and MD.
  • In August I flew to WV for a Bible Faculty Summit, and then upon returning back home, we had our annual BI events: consultant seminar and retreat.
  • In September we were supposed to go to Charleston, SC, for a meeting, but Hurricane Irma prevented that, so we had a free weekend. We ended up treating my mom to a birthday trip to Shipshewana, IN.
  • In late September I flew to India, and I got to tour the Taj Mahal. Later I flew to Bangladesh to visit a supporting church, and then back to India.
  • In early October I had one of the happiest moments of my life–the dedication of the Inner Seraji NT. What a blessed event to be part of! They received the New Testament for the first time in their language!
  • Later a group of us spent a few days strategizing about how to get more projects and personnel in Asia.
  • In mid-October I got some Paratext training, which would be very useful for the training I would lead in December.
  • In early November we flew as a family for the first time, to Eurasia. After two weeks there we headed to Ukraine, so Eliyas could meet his family and our friends for the first time. He was dedicated there on Nov. 19.
  • After two weeks there I flew by myself to Chad, Africa, where I trained 5 translation teams on computers and Paratext.
  • Some major BI events during the year: a co-worker’s grand-daughter died and their parents didn’t seek medical help to prevent the death, sparking all sorts of legal battles; another co-worker died in August; and I headed up the committee to write a constitution for BI (still ongoing).
  • We started the year at 83% and finished the year at 100%. Praise God!
  • I spoke 41 times in 22 different churches in 7 countries. Only 6 were deputation meetings, and 8 were first-time opportunities.
  • I had a new year’s resolution to read 12 books, but I ended up reading 14:
    • Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, Paul David Tripp
    • Running the Rift, Naomi Benaron
    • Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp
    • The Bible Translator, vol. 67.3
    • The Bible Translator, vol. 68.1
    • The Bible Translator, vol. 68.2
    • Fundamentalism and American Culture, George Marsden
    • Your Family God’s Way, Wayne Mack
    • Fidelity, Douglas Wilson
    • Fatal Illusions, Adam Blumer
    • Tenth Plague, Adam Blumer
    • Men of the Word, Nathan Busenitz, ed
    • New Heart, New Spirit, New Song, Doug Bachorik
    • Les Persécutions au Tchad, Takia Nissi Yondo
  • I also resolved to memorize 12 verses, and I was able to do 13.
  • Another resolution was to witness to 12 people, and God led me to 13.

Praise God for all that He did in my life in 2017! I’m thankful for a sweet, godly, beautiful wife, and a cute, energetic son. God has been so gracious!

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2017.12.28 Prayer Card (2)

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You are invited to the Commissioning Service of Troy & Oksana Manning on January 21, 2018. They will be commissioned as a couple into the Bible Translation ministry with Bibles International, the Bible Society of Baptist Mid-Missions.

The service will be at Grand Valley Baptist Church at 9:30 AM. Lunch will follow the Sunday School hour after the service.

Please RSVP to gvbclake@juno.com if you will be able to attend.

(Why the commissioning service now? I began my ministry with Bibles International in 2007 and was commissioned by Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in SC, my former home church, in 2011. But since I got married in 2015 and transferred my church membership to Grand Valley Baptist Church, we need to get commissioned by that church and as a couple.)

To Chad and back

My assignment in early December was to introduce our Chad translators to computers and show them how to use Paratext, a powerful Bible translation program developed by two other Bible societies. We were finally bringing these translators into the 21st century! Why didn’t we do it sooner? Two main reasons: 1) they didn’t have any electricity in their villages, 2) we didn’t have a translation software with a French interface to give them. The first problem was solved by the advent of solar power, and the second problem was solved when Paratext, which now has a French interface, began to be distributed for free. Thus, these translators, who had been using simple electronic keyboards, could now gain access to powerful resources that would improve the quality of their work and reduce the time needed to complete the translation (one of our NT’s has taken 4 years to get it ready for printing, but many of the errors being caught in this last stage could be identified automatically by Paratext).

As I prepared for this assignment, I grew to understand how little the translators knew about computers. I have been exposed to them and have been using them since the 90’s (or even before), but they probably haven’t seen them too much in their lives, nor have they hardly ever used them. I remember working with one team in 2013, using a new computer that our supporting church in Singapore, had provided. The translator moved the mouse as if it were stuck in molasses–very slowly. How could I not only introduce them to computers but also teach them how to use Paratext in only two weeks? And how would I be able to do so in French?

I quickly realized I needed to keep a database of computer terms in French. I ended up collecting 177 terms! In addition, I knew I needed to write a manual so that the translators could refer back to it after I left Chad. At first, I thought I could find something that had already been developed. A co-worker trained translators in Central African Republic, so I thought her material would fit my need. But as I reviewed it, I realized it wasn’t basic enough, and it didn’t fit my style of teaching. Also, it wasn’t as comprehensive as I wanted it to be. I asked a Paratext expert in another organization, who trained a group of us at BI in Paratext in September, and he sent over a set of manuals all translated into French. But as I reviewed that material, I realized it fit their organization’s translation process, but not ours. So, the conclusion was that I needed to write my own manual! That presented quite a burden for me!

But at that point I felt like I hardly knew Paratext well. I had been using it with two different projects, but I was only using the basic tools. Thankfully, a co-worker gave us some training in August, and then in God’s wonderful providence, He connected us to an expert, who lives basically just down the street from BI. We gathered 9-10 of us at the office so he could give us two days of advanced training. I still didn’t know some of the basic tools, but at least I was no longer intimidated by the program. By God’s grace, I put together a 40-page manual in French, with everything checked by a native French speaker (who so wonderfully made himself available to help me throughout the writing process). I also wrote 10 pages of material about basic computer skills. Thank God, He helped my prep time in Ukraine to be quite productive! I was ready to go to Chad!

I arrived in Chad on Nov 30, but Dec 1 was their independence day holiday. The complication there was that I had to register my arrival at the police station, but they were closed that Friday because of the holiday. We tried on Saturday but to no avail. I just had to be content with spending the weekend at the capital, and with the training starting one day late. I actually welcomed the opportunity to rest and to get a little more work done. When I talked on the phone to a co-worker (Anna Beth Wivell), who would help me with the training, it became apparent that I needed to write more material to add to the manual. She had experienced some serious challenges with a team, who had already started using Paratext, so I realized I needed to write material to help the other teams avoid the same challenges (thank God that one team went through these things first and not all 5 teams together!). So, I wrote 5 more pages, and got those checked by my friend in France. I sent it down to Anna Beth, and she got the manuals printed on Monday.

While in the capital that weekend, I got to meet three key individuals, so clearly God had other reasons to keep me up there. I met a language assessment specialist, who can help us find new projects. At church Sunday, I met a linguistics professor, and after church a group of us got to know a medical doctor who has a heart to revive the Tumag situation (this group has stalled in their OT translation work). I also got to preach to almost 700 people at that church, which has three of my former students from my Cameroon days as pastors. I’m also thankful that I got to see a fourth student too, and the son of a fifth student helped me greatly by taking me around to restaurants on his motorcycle (and loaned me his router for my stay in Chad).

We finally got to head south on the bus at 10:30 am on Monday. It was an arduous 16-hour bus ride. The bus is actually pretty comfortable, but spending that many hours bouncing down a deteriorating paved road while listening to Arabic music is not too much fun. Plus, they make only very brief stops, so we end up being hungry most of the trip (not common for Americans but quite common for Chadians).

I got a few hours of sleep that night, and then started into the training at 10 am the next morning. God gave strength to get through the whole day even without taking a nap, but that evening a sickness started setting in. I had very little appetite. By the next day  diarrhea started. I’m not sure if it was the food we ate at the church on Sunday, or what we had at the roadside cafe on Monday, or what I ate with the translators on Tuesday. But something got me! But thankfully, though it made me feel pretty miserable, it didn’t keep me from teaching each day. And since I had already done the prep work before the training, I could just focus on resting each evening (but also preparing a devotional each night for the next day).

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There were 5 teams present–the team’s typist and a the main translator. The BI Chad administrator was also there to learn. The typist, as I said above, was familiar with the electronic keyboard they have been using, so that was helpful. But they weren’t using the French keyboard or the Chadian keyboard (which require special key mappings to go with the English keyboard on the computers). I wish the keyboard was in French! I also wish a co-worker had put the French version of Windows and other software on the computers. Somehow he misunderstood the situation in Chad, so on 4 of the computers, there was only English interfaces and programs. That was an unavoidable complexity that added to the challenge! (Sometime next year, they’ll get French programs to fix this problem.)

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I’m thankful that the translators were ready with great interest! They were eager to enter into the 21st century! They showed no signs of frustration or despair, but they were quite slow in learning the tasks. There were 3 of us (Anna Beth and a translator who’s already been using Paratext) who would have to help each team step by step as I taught new tasks. But it seems that they were picking up on the training–I hope! And we finished in 8 days! They were quite thankful to be able to go home one day early, and I was glad to have one day to write my reports and to get caught up on work before my vacation started on the following Monday.

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The translators are rarely able to gather into one room like that (the last time was in 2012 when they got additional translator training), so I hope the two weeks was an encouraging time for them. I tried to encourage them through the devotions each morning.

While I was there, the Lord also helped me through some administrative challenges involving sensitive personnel issues. I met with the administrative council of BI’s Chad affiliate the Saturday during my stay there, and we successfully worked through 4 challenging issues: redirecting one candidate for translation consultant toward literacy coordinator (a more urgent need), redirecting our considerations away from another man who is not qualified for the literacy coordinator position, thinking through complex issues regarding a second candidate for translation consultant, and charting out end goals for bringing our 5 OT projects to completion. Oh, and I may have found a good solution to our literacy needs in Central African Republic.

What a productive trip I had, even in spite of the sickness! Thankfully, the sickness went away by the second Tuesday, thanks to the help of a fellow missionary and her antibiotics. Praise God for strength, wisdom, and grace throughout the trip!

Back in Ukraine, my wife had her struggles with Eliyas, who doesn’t know how to sleep through the night. Plus, she couldn’t rely on others to help, since they had to work most days. So, she was almost totally occupied with baby duties–but since he brings her (and me) so much joy, she wasn’t struggling terribly. She shared some of her joys with me through texting, and once we were even able to talk on the phone through Skype. But otherwise, we had to limit our communication, since Internet in Chad is so expensive. But I got to see pictures of him, including his sitting on his own for the first time.

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December Prayer Letter

Dear Family and Friends,

For my Marriage and Family counseling course I’m taking, I decided to read Douglas Wilson’s Fidelity. I really appreciate his direct and comprehensive treatment of various sexual issues that men today battle with. In one place he says, “God does not place His children in situations where faithfulness to Him is impossible.” I had to remind myself of that truth while I was single, and still do, even now as a married man, especially when I travel by myself. A good read for any man!

TRAVELING AS A FAMILY AND SOLO

Eliyas’ world travels actually began in July when we took him to Canada; but now he’s been to Eurasia and Ukraine. I estimate he’s had large exposure to six different languages already in his first six months of life. Who knows which ones will come out of his mouth?! We are just thankful that he’s adjusting to every circumstance with wide-eyed curiosity and contentment (for the most part). We are thankful that the Lord enabled Oksana and me to conduct the Metanoia workshop, even though we also had to look after Eliyas’ needs. Continue to PRAY for the Metanoia church as they deal with persecution.

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I had to go to Bangladesh and another Asian country by myself in October. It was a grueling trip of many flights, overnight bus trips, and other discomforts, so it was probably just as well I was solo. I had the privilege of participating in my first dedication, the dedication of the Inner Seraji NT (pictured above). It was one of the happiest moments of my life! PRAY for successful use of these NT’s. After the dedication, a group of us traveled to another location for strategic planning meetings. PRAISE Him for giving us wisdom in those discussions. PRAY for guidance as we carry out our plans.

The Lord really blessed my (solo) trip to Chad in early December as I taught basic computer skills and how to use our Bible translation program, Paratext. With the help of a native French speaker editing my work, I put together 55 pages of material, and then taught through it in eight days. In spite of battling a stomach illness almost the whole time, I was blessed with strength and wisdom from the Lord for each day. PRAY for the translation teams as they begin using computers in their work for the first time. PRAY that it would speed up their work and improve the quality of their translations.

SUPPORT COMPLETE

We praise God that Heritage Baptist in Flemington, NJ, took us on for support, as well as a dear family, helping us to complete our support-raising ministry. Now we can concentrate on the ministry, while also keeping up with our 38 supporting churches and 28 supporting families. PRAY for God’s blessing on our Commissioning Service on January 21 at our home church in Grand Rapids, MI.

GOD IS PROVIDING PEOPLE

At the end of January we hope to finalize the BI constitution, so please PRAY for wisdom.

We had two literacy workers making trips to Africa to cover the literacy workshops there; but one is resigning and the other is really limiting her travel. Thankfully, the Lord seems to be providing in other ways through contacts in Chad. Please PRAY for God to guide. PRAY also as we have a good candidate for translation consultant in Chad. PRAISE the Lord for bringing us a BMM missionary who is willing to help as an adjunct consultant for a project in a creative-access country.  PRAY for my likely research trip there with two co-workers in February.

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As we enjoy our first Christmas as a family and in Ukraine, we hope you will also find great joy in celebrating our Savior’s birth!

For the sake of Christ,

Troy (for the three of us)

 

Eurasia and Ukraine

We completed the workshop on Friday, Nov 17, and then flew to Ukraine the following Saturday. The workshop was not without its challenges, especially with Oksana trying to meet Eliyas’ needs while also doing interpreting for me. Since two families meet us to do the translation work, we had many helpers. We also had many good times as a family (pics below of us at grocery stores [top row] and a cafe [left on second row]), since we were together all day and all night. We are very thankful that Eliyas is flying in the planes well (pic of his first plane ride below [right on second row]) and adjusts happily to each new circumstance we put him in.

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We normally cover only 300 verses in these Metanoia workshops, but I’d like to get us up to doing 80-100 per day. Well, we got up to 321 total, so that’s progress but not quite as much as I wanted. But I am learning much about the language, and the translators are honing their translation skills, so we are hopeful to see continued progress.

While we are stationed in Ukraine, we had a baby dedication for Eliyas at Oksana’s home church last Sunday. It was a joyful time as we dedicated him to the Lord in two languages. It was on his 6-month birthday, so we celebrating by giving him some table food. He really liked it!

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Our family here is really enjoying getting to know him. We are thankful that he can spend 6 weeks straight here.

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At the end of the month, I’m flying alone to Chad, Africa, to train translators on our Bible translation program for two weeks. I’ve been preparing for this ever since we arrived in Ukraine. So far, I’ve collected 160 computer terms in French, which I need to memorize in order to teach well. Pray for God’s wisdom as I prepare. While I’m gone, Oksana will be getting dental work done (at a much lower rate) and in general just enjoying Eliyas with family and friends.

Sometimes I feel like the pressure of ministry responsibilities is well beyond my abilities or resources. At other times, I feel like it’s just smooth sailing. One day this week, I felt stressed to the max, but instead of getting to tackle my to-do list, I had to attend administrative meetings in which we prayed for every BI staff member and talked through various challenges. At the end of the meeting, my heart was at peace, though I hadn’t completed any of my tasks. Why the unexpected change in my heart? I’m coming to realize though the workload may fluctuate, the key is that the Lord gives me the grace to maintain stability and peace in my heart as I respond to the workload. Though I wish I could have 100 hours straight of undistracted time to devote to my to-do list (which is what I estimate what I need to get caught up), I’ll probably never get that, so I have to learn how to accept being burdened down with an endless workload. I can only do what the Lord allows me to do each day, and what remains undone will be there the next day. I must not get stressed out, because that’s a type of anxiety that God forbids us to have. May God give me grace to learn this lesson well!

Eliyas’ passport and visa are in hand. His luggage just arrived. He’s just about ready to fly! But are we ready to take a baby over the Atlantic? Only by God’s grace! Pray for grace and strength to endure long flights and jetlag with our little bugaboo (as I like to call him sometimes).

Pray also for greater success with the workshop. We typically cover only 300 verses in each workshop, but that means the project will take over 40 years. Pray we can cover more this time! Pray also for Eliyas to behave well so that Oksana is not distracted as she translates into Russian for me. We also hope to tie up a lingering orthography issue, so pray for wisdom in that. Pray too that we’d be an encouragement to this team, who lives in a country where persecution of Christians is a regular experience.

After the workshop, we finally get to do long-overdue introductions of Eliyas to his Ukrainian family. They’ve already started dreaming about being able to hold him. It’s going to be such a joyous reunion. Below is a picture we took when the fall weather was so beautiful, just before the crummy, cold weather started.

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We sang these words this morning at my home church in the song “As the Deer,” and I sang those words with believers on the other side of the world in a different language just two weeks ago. In both cases, I got choked up as I sang those words, because I could reflect on how God had been my strength and shield during my travels. God truly gave me strength throughout the trip, even though I had many disturbances to my sleep (traveling through the night on four different occasions, waking up early for flights, and sleeping in less than comfortable situations many other nights), and He protected me from evil (from terrorists, traffic, bad roads, religious extremists, etc.). He was also my family’s shield, though they seemed to face many attacks from Satan. My wife said she didn’t get a single good night of sleep while I was gone (but she’s already had 2 since I came back on Thursday).

My greatest joy on the trip was dedicating the Inner Seraji NT. The translator and his wife began working among the Inner Seraji people in 1990. He married a woman, who also helped with the translation work, a few years later. They had to leave the area because of health issues and the need for more training, but returned in the early 2000’s and began translation work in 2005. Twelve years later, the NT was completed and ready for dedication, and God gave me the privilege of preaching at the dedication on October 4 and praying for God’s blessing as people begin using it. The service was 3.5 hours long, but I enjoyed every minute of it. There were many tears as we recounted God’s goodness through the years. There were around 450 people present, 100 of whom were unbelievers. When the translator and a few other missionaries arrived in that area called “the valley of the gods,” there were no believers. Now there are 5 churches and another Bible study. There are estimated to be around 750 believers, which is slightly over 1% of this language’s population. I look forward to seeing how this number will multiply greatly now that they have good access to God’s Word in their own language.

On this trip, I also got to thank a church in Bangladesh for their faithful support of us since 2009. In Bangladesh, you have to have a police escort with armed policemen accompanying your travels through the country, because terrorists are targeting all foreigners. The situation was rather tense for me to see armed policemen in a pickup truck just in front of our vehicle. Thank God for keeping away any problems! I probably faced more danger when I rode on the back of a motorcycle with a friend in Dhaka to visit a nearby prayer meeting, but thankfully, that trip was quite short. Dhaka seems to be the rickshaw capital of the world, as they share the bumpy roads with other vehicles of all shapes and sizes. This capital city teems with around 18 million people, so it’s one of the largest cities I’ve ever visited. As you can imagine, the traffic is absolutely awful in this underdeveloped city. But one positive thing I can definitely say about the country: I didn’t see a single immodest girl the whole time I was there. Apparently, the Muslim religion at least has that positive influence on the people.

The third major portion of my trip was to gather with around 10 co-workers in BI in another location in Asia to do strategic planning about how to get more projects and personnel in that part of the world. I invited two cross-cultural translators (one from the Inner Seraji project) from within BI to join us for the discussions; their presence among us was profitable both for them and for us. We spent 2.5 days discussing research strategies and ways to connect with Bible college graduates to target Bible-less language groups. We still have a long ways to go in this strategic initiative, but I’m thankful for the significant strides we took during these planning meetings. I look forward to seeing how God will continue to bless these efforts.

When I arrived on Thursday, I had exactly three weeks to prepare for our departure to Eurasia, Ukraine, and Chad. Pray for our preparations during these busy 3 weeks. Pray also for the annual Harvest Dinner on Thursday, in which we will highlight our 3 newest projects in Myanmar.