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Archive for February, 2015

At the halfway point in India

Technically, I’m not quite halfway since I have 1.5 weeks behind me and 2 weeks in front of me, but it’s close enough. I arrived a week from last Wed and on Thurs began the third Asia Consultant Seminar. There are a potential of 7 translation consultants who could come to this seminar from India and Myanmar, but we had only 4 this year, and one couldn’t come for the last two days because of sickness. However, 2 from the US joined us on the last day.

As usual at our seminars, we discussed current projects, though here in India we focused just on the ones in this country. I did, however, update them on other BI happenings around the world. I also presented my paper, “Literacy in Biblical Times,” and gave the presentation, “Streamlining the Translation Process,” once again (I gave it in Aug to the group there).

Each participant got their turn to present something. The director of BIIS joined us for a few sessions and presented some of his administrative concerns. The senior consultant here interspersed his concerns and questions throughout the other sessions. Our national full-time Indian consultant presented what he has been learning in his PhD courses. Our new consultant from the US reflected on what he has learned during his time since joining the India field in November.

We learned much from one another and have already seen improvements made, thanks in part to the fact that I could address these concerns on Thurs and Fri. I was supposed to begin the Ranglong workshop on Leviticus, but we decided a volunteer should keep working with the translator on improving the spelling conventions of their language. I was relieved for the break! But I stayed plenty busy, improving certain tools, preparing more material for next week’s Ranglong workshop, meeting with consultants, and talking with the Mizo translators about the state of their project.

Meanwhile, the other consultants here are meeting with different language groups. On Friday we had 4 different translation teams here! One is working with the Chakma on their literacy primer. Another worked with the Mizo translators on their spelling conventions. Then on Friday she began linguistics training/learning with the 4th group (Tangkhul Naga) that arrived the night before. As I said above, the volunteer worked with the Ranglong translator.

I like coming to India during this time of year, because I hardly ever sweat. It warms up to the high 80s during the day, but the mornings and evenings are cool and refreshing. I’ve enjoyed going for a morning walk 3x per week, though I still don’t like the gawkers. It’s as if some have never seen a white giant before!

Pray for my health as I’ve had some stomach bug pull me down yesterday and today. I’m already on the mend, though. Pray as I preach in a local church tomorrow and then begin the Ranglong workshop. I’ve been overseas for about 2 weeks, so I’m a little “road weary.” Pray for grace to endure and thrive until the end. I assure you that Satan is quite active during this trip, but our God is more powerful!

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My love story with Oksana

On May 13, 2014, just 3 days before my 42nd birthday, Pastor John Conover of Victory Baptist Church in Reading, PA (one of my supporting churches), sent me an email to let me know about a very special girl in Ukraine named Oksana Novikova. He had met her during his travels to Ukraine, as she was his interpreter, and he quickly became impressed with her. As Oksana’s newly married best friend talked with Pastor Conover in the spring about finding someone for Oksana, Conover thought of me, so he sent that May 13 email.

I was at first resistant to the idea, though I was immediately affected by Oksana’s beautiful face on Facebook and the amazing words that Conover shared. But I was almost convinced I shouldn’t try for a cross-cultural marriage…almost. But as I prayed about it, I realized that I deal with cross-cultural situations all the time, so if anyone should try, it should be me. So, I sent her a friend request on Facebook, which she quickly accepted, and then I sent her a message on June 14, which she very slowly responded to (because she doesn’t like to get set up and also didn’t think she and I made a good match). I sent another email on June 21, and she finally responded a few days earlier. We soon switched over to email, and then we went to Skype in early July.

Our first Skype conversation wasn’t very promising to me, because I got a wrong impression of her. But when we Skyped two more times that week, I quickly felt my heart warming up to her. It was amazing how well we got along, though we barely knew each other and had come from such different backgrounds and cultures. I loved her smiles, her joyful spirit, and her love for the Lord, among many other things. I initiated a time of prayer and Bible reading during our conversations, and she absolutely loved that. She had been longing for a spiritual leader in a relationship. Some of our Skype conversations were around 3-4 hours long, which is even more significant when you consider that most of them started at 11:30 PM her time, since I had to wait until after 4:30 PM my time, which is when our BI office closes each day. Once we Skyped for around 3 hours and then messaged through Viber for another 2 hours, meaning she didn’t go to bed until 4:30 AM the next morning!

Though our chemistry on Skype was quite good, I felt it was essential to spend time in person, so I squeezed a trip to Ukraine between two furlough meetings in August. I had 2.5 days to spend with her, and we had an amazing time! It confirmed that she was just as much fun–and even more so–in person as she was on Skype. So, the Skype chats continued, though somewhat secretively, since we didn’t want to let this become public yet for fear of being pressured by too many questions. We wanted instead for the relationship to develop naturally and freely. We entered into an official relationship on August 28, so I’d say things were developing quite well!

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We tried to get a visa for her to visit the USA during Christmas, but that was denied, probably because she’s still single and so has no compelling reason to return to Ukraine in their minds (though she definitely wanted to return back to her home country and ministry). So, we decided I needed to go there, and the Lord confirmed that by providing all the money I needed for that trip only a few days after we made that decision.

It was the most wonderful Christmas I’ve ever had! I saw how important it was for me to see more of her in her own context. I saw how she ministered in her church, encouraged those around her, brought joy to children, etc. Many facets of her wonderful personality became apparent in that context, arousing deep love in my heart for her. I also got to know her friends and family better (I didn’t meet hardly any friends in August, since we were trying to keep things inconspicuous). Thankfully, I was warmly accepted by all. God blessed our time in every way, even when we had a few incidents with the missionary’s vehicle (whoops!). We even got to minister together, as I preached in 3 different churches and she interpreted. By the end of the trip, I confessed my unconditional love to Oksana and already began making plans for getting engaged.

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I had to return to the USA to get the ring, though, but while still in Ukraine, I began connecting with a few of her friends who knew some English and could help me execute my surprise visit on Valentine’s Day weekend. I tried to throw Oksana off by suggesting that I could drop by and visit her on my way to Africa in late Jan or on my way back to the USA in early Feb. Apparently, though, it didn’t work, because she became highly suspicious that it would happen on my way to India in mid-February.

I arrived on February 13 to buy candles, flowers, and sweets, and to decorate a friend’s guesthouse, where the proposal would happen. This friend invited Oksana and others over to help them celebrate their 10-year anniversary, but the wife told Oksana that she had a surprise for her at the guesthouse. That’s where we met up and I proposed. Though she was already anticipating my visit, she didn’t expect that I would decorate the room so romantically. It provided a perfect atmosphere to enjoy our mutual love and to offer our prayers of thanksgiving and dedication to God together.

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I enjoyed my first Valentine’s Day with my new fiancée the following day. We got to spend time with family and friends, were able to encourage a friend in the hospital, took pictures in the park, and enjoyed a delicious dinner at a nice restaurant.

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As is the tradition in Ukraine, we announced the engagement at Oksana’s church the following Sunday morning. Bruce Tuttle, the American missionary for whom Oksana interprets at his Bible college and her “adopted” dad, gave an amusing but also encouraging presentation of the engagement. The youth choir sang a song about 1 Corinthians 13 love during the service and then sang a song directly to us after the engagement about the wonders of love. Then people in the church came and congratulated us, with many also giving flowers.

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It was such a glorious and encouraging weekend! Sadly, though, I had to leave for India Sunday night, so here I am in Dubai on my way east.

Though Oksana and I both wanted to get married in Ukraine so that her family and friends could share in the joy, we came to realize after talking to an immigration lawyer that if we married in Ukraine, we would probably have to live many months apart afterwards as we waited for her Green Card. So, we have applied for a fiancée visa. The lawyer estimates that should take 6-8 months. Once we get the visa, we can set the date for the wedding. Pray for God to prepare our hearts for this significant life transition and that He would speed along the visa process. We truly do long to be together for the rest of our lives!

I look forward to introducing her to America (she’s never been outside Ukraine) and more importantly, to helping her get to know my friends all over the world. As the Lord provides, she will travel with me some. She loves adventure and learning new things, so she will fit into my life quite well! I have no doubt that I will be able to serve the Lord better with her at my side than when I was single. I don’t know all the reasons why the Lord has kept me single this long, but I’m so thankful that my single days are finally numbered and now decreasing! To God be the glory and praise and thanks!

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Joe and I arrived safely back in the USA on Sunday night. Our second week in Côte d’Ivoire went as well as the first. We finished up training with the second language group on Monday and Tuesday and then spent all day driving back to the capital. Our time with the Neao and Kaowlu people in the western central area of Côte d’Ivoire was truly filled with many blessings from the Lord. I had various concerns and questions about what we would find as we evaluated the projects’ needs. I really didn’t know for sure what we would need to do for them during our time with them until after we began the process of asking questions. It was a trip unlike any other for me, because I had to address administrative matters, linguistic issues, and translation needs. I praise God for giving Joe and me wisdom to know how to address each of these. I was thankful that we already had a 6-page document about our translation principles translated into French, so I used that to teach the people as they worked back through their NTs to determine how much revision is needed. Otherwise, I don’t know what I would have done, since our Translator Training Manual hasn’t yet been translated into French.

In the capital God worked out all of our visits such that we were able to gain much valuable information and build good relationships. I was even put in contact with a Christian lady who is doing technical linguistics work on these two languages! Who would have thought that a doctoral student would be working on these two languages, considering the 70 languages in the country! And that she’s a strong believer! Surely, her work will be of much value to us.

I leave tomorrow for India and then possibly Bangladesh. I will be conducting a Consultant Seminar with the consultants there and then leading a Ranglong OT workshop on the book of Leviticus. If the situation in Bangladesh settles down, I’ll fly up there in mid-March to spend time with a church who has given me gifts from time to time. Pray for peace in Bangladesh!

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God has truly been answering prayers during this first week in Côte d’Ivoire! Another co-worker and I made this trip in order to determine the exact needs of two language groups for whom we provided NTs a few decades ago (Neao in 1982 and Kaowlu in 1992). We knew their NT would need to be revised, but we weren’t sure how deep the revision would have to be. We also weren’t sure what amount of literacy help was needed, but we knew that very few had learned how to read, partly because of the two civil wars that have devastated the country during the past few decades. And of course, we wanted to help produce an OT for each language group.

Another complication was that we had to start a relationship with a new association of churches, having had to break our relationship with another group that we tried to start working with last year. After much correspondence, we transitioned to this new group, but we wondered how things would go, considering all the “politics” involved.

Well, the relationship has been blessed of the Lord in every respect! They welcomed us on Monday night with believers on both sides of the road singing as we shook their hands. And the relations have continued to be warm ever since. During the week we’ve been sometimes focusing on one group to find out their specific needs and sometimes including both groups to be efficient in our training. In addition to my co-worker and I training them on how a translation project should be set up, I’ve also had the opportunity to give them some translator training so they can do a revision survey for the rest of the year.

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The people’s excitement about getting the Word of God has been so heart-warming! The testing of their faith during the wars has strengthened them in their convictions.

These projects has also reminded me powerfully how important our work is. Though some missionaries thought decades ago that these languages would die out and that French would be all that’s necessary, the predominant usage of these languages over French today and the very limited understanding of French have proven those missionaries’ prediction as being quite wrong. Praise God we can help the Neao and the Kaowlu in their great need!

We have two more days of training and then we’ll go down to the capital to do more research on resources that will help us with these two and other projects, and also to establish and/or strengthen relationships with key people. We fly home on Saturday.

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