Pastoral Address, Wycliffe Canada
Sarah and I recently travelled to Calgary to the join folks at Wycliffe Canada for a special event. We were invited by our friends, Jon and Debbie, as Jon was being installed as the new President of Wycliffe Canada, an organization doing literacy work and Bible translation globally. We were encouraged and humbled by our time there, speaking with such passionate, dedicated people – some committing themselves for thirty to fifty years in order to translate the Bible into the heart-language of various people groups. The following is the pastoral address I was asked to bring to commission both Jon, and Wycliffe’s new season.
Flattery can be dangerous but let me just say that you are truly inspiring, even intimidating company. Though all mission work is vital, Scriptural translation is a special work in which the rest is utterly dependent when establishing Christian communities. What do people have if they don’t have the living message in the middle of their shared lives – in Norther Manitoba, in Cameroon, in the places we can’t speak of publicly? You don’t need me to tell you that Wycliffe’s efforts are staggeringly important in the life of Jesus’ Church globally.
In 1 Thessalonians Paul writes, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” John, not Jon ImBeau, but the other John, John Wycliffe (not sure whether that name is a prerequisite for the presidency) wrote in his pastoral treaties, “There are two things that fall to the office of the shepherd: holiness of life and sound teaching”. Some of those shepherds sit among us tonight, people giving everything in near and far-flung places to ensure sound Biblical teaching is made possible through translation efforts and embodying the message through their personal holiness. So, for all those among us who have served Wycliffe’s mission in a variety of ways – let me begin by saying, thank you. Thank you for your sacrifice, your passion, your patience, your refusal to let your gifts lay dormant but to humbly serve. Thank you for modeling Jesus, so people can not only read about him, but see him through your character and commitment. I know a few of your stories. Thank you does not suffice, but I say it, nonetheless.
I’m here to commend Jon to you, and to commend Wycliffe’s shared mission overall. To that end let me tell you a story.
Just last month my dear friend Doug went to be with Jesus. He was sixty-eight, died of cancer, and was one of the best pastors I’ve come across. He was also one of the best Christians I’ve ever come across, which says something of his character, because we’ve all met pastors who don’t seem very Christian, and sometimes they’re staring back at us in the mirror. I knew Doug for twenty-five years and worked closely with him for ten. He was humble, integral, charitable, joyful, easily one of my denomination’s most respected pastors, for all the right reasons. But it wasn’t always that way. As a young man Doug had known and followed Jesus, but then walked away for many years. He worked in business and broadcasting, before finally coming back to faith, and then followed a call to pastoral vocation. Ask anyone who knew him as pastor, from disillusioned young adults, to recently bereaved mothers, to folks getting married or having kids, to weary global workers, or burnt out business people – through his personal holiness, his character, Doug pointed people to Jesus. I remember the day a well-known Biblical scholar turned up at our church and got to know Doug over time. The scholar remarked that for all his decades of learning, in Doug he’d met a brother who seemed to really know Jesus.
But as I said, Doug wasn’t trained for ministry in the conventional ways. He didn’t go to Bible college or seminary, but for the courses required to obtain credentials, and he didn’t know a lick of Greek or Hebrew. Doug was, however, very familiar with the Bible. He prayed and read daily, using the simple tools available to him. He trusted Scripture deeply, as the Holy Spirit applied it to his life and ministry. I’m not telling you all this to make a case that pastors needn’t train, or that the Bible needn’t be rigorously studied. Nor am I telling you Doug’s story to puff him up, because he would have been rather uncomfortable with that. I’m telling you this story because of what I know Doug had on hand as he followed Jesus in his calling: he had friends and mentors who showed him the way, he had a deep life of prayer, and he had a Bible in his language.
The Bible in our tongue. We should never forget the sheer power of putting the word of God into the hands of the brothers and sisters trying to follow as best they can. We should never underestimate the potential of passionate people whom Jesus has earmarked for his work in the world. With a life of prayer, with support and discipleship, and with a Bible their hands, these people can set the world on fire.
You know better than I do just how many other Doug’s are out there. How many need only the Bible in their language and some support to do what Jesus is asking of them. Wycliffe is equipping many more Dougs, people who are ready to follow and serve, should they have what they need in hand. That’s why Wycliffe’s work excites me. It excites me because I’ve seen the Bible come alive in the life of one man and spread to thousands. And that was just one life. Imagine all the others already at work today, and all those called for tomorrow.
In speaking with Jon ImBeau I’ve come to see that the role of President at Wycliffe is also in part to be a kind of shepherd. And I can say of Jon that the marks of true shepherding are also on him: holiness of life and sound teaching. I’m convinced that humility is the indelible mark of holiness, and I’ve witnessed first-hand a sincere humility in Jon. When he had no reason to care, based on office or responsibility, he’s been a good shepherd to me over the years. And I believe that if he’s been a kind and diligent shepherd before, he’ll continue now, should he stay fixed on Jesus. I can also speak to Jon’s sound teaching. He has a wonderful way of sharing Scripture with clarity and creativity, always with just the right trick up his sleeve to lodge a passage into your heart and mind. Most importantly, Jon has a deep love and reverence for Jesus, and by extension Jesus’ word.
I’m sure Jon and Deb are humbled by this assignment, and no doubt a little intimidated too. But when Jon shared he was stepping into this role, it made perfect sense to me. His passion for both the Bible and Global Work (or more importantly Global peoples) aligns him wonderfully with Wycliffe. I’ll stop spitting pleasantries now, because I can tell he’s about to throw his shoe at me. The last thing Jon and Deb are looking for is excessive praise.
I’ll end with this. We know Wycliffe is in good hands given the incredible supporters and team already at work, and I think you’ll find in Jon someone who will serve humbly alongside you in your mission. Jon, let your life be a book to the people, serving in holiness and with sound teaching.
Wycliffe Canada board members, staff, missionaries, donors, family and friends – may your eternal work be blessed. May you go humbly and boldly, and as one Wycliffe scholar puts it, “point to the Eternal Word from the words written in the Bible… so that the Eternal Word might be heard in multiple ways.” Please, keep putting the Bible in our hands.