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Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada • Summer 2010

Pressing On What does it look like when love never fails? Erin Chapman, daughter of Wycliffe Canada missionaries, reflects on her life since the tragic deaths of her brothers and parents.

Wycliffe at Urbana ‘09 Supporting Fellow Cross Bearers


Foreword Summer 2010 • Volume 28 • Number 2 Word Alive, which takes its name from Hebrews 4:12a, is the official publication of Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada. Its mission is to inform, inspire and involve the Christian public as partners in the worldwide Bible translation movement. Editor: Dwayne Janke

Difficult to Write & Read Dwayne Janke

Designer: Laird Salkeld Senior Staff Writer: Doug Lockhart Staff Writers: Janet Seever, Deborah Crough Staff Photographers: Alan Hood, Natasha Schmale Vice President of Communications: Dave Crough Word Alive is published four times annually by Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada, 4316 10 St NE, Calgary, AB T2E 6K3. Copyright 2010 by Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada. Permission to reprint articles and other magazine contents may be obtained by written request to the editor. A donation of $12 annually is suggested to cover the cost of printing and mailing the magazine. (Donate online or use the reply form in this issue.) Printed in Canada by McCallum Printing Group, Edmonton. Member: The Canadian Church Press, Evangelical Press Association. For additional copies: media_resources@wycliffe.ca To contact the editor: editor_wam@wycliffe.ca For address updates: circulation@wycliffe.ca Note to readers: References to “SIL” are occasionally made in Word Alive. SIL is a key partner organization, dedicated to training, language development and research, translation and literacy.

Wycliffe Canada Vision Statement: A world where translated Scriptures lead to transformed lives among people of all languages. Translating Scripture, Transforming Lives Together with partners worldwide, we serve indigenous people through language-related ministries, especially Bible translation and literacy. Our goal is to empower local communities to express God’s love in both Word and deed—for personal, social and spiritual transformation. Wycliffe personnel currently serve globally in more than 1,400 language projects for about 1.9 billion. However, about 2,200 minority language groups still wait for the power of God working through their own languages. Wycliffe invites you to participate in this effort through prayer, service and funding. Canadian Head Office: 4316 10 St NE, Calgary, AB T2E 6K3. Phone: (403) 250-5411 or toll free 1-800-463-1143, 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. mountain time. Fax: (403) 250-2623. Email: info@wycliffe.ca Cover: Having known heartbreaking loss, Erin Chapman chooses to see the bigger picture in the light of a loving God. Photograph by Dave Crough.

In Others’ Words “The shortest road to an understanding of the Bible is the acceptance of the fact that God is speaking in every line.” —Donald Grey Barnhouse (1895-1960), acclaimed pastor, radio preaching pioneer, theologian, Eternity magazine founder/editor.

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he feature articles in this issue of Word Alive were difficult to write. They may also be difficult for you to read. As for the writing, Deborah Crough hit a wall one day as she penned the story about Erin Chapman, daughter of Wycliffe Canada missionaries. Deborah felt she wasn’t doing justice to Erin’s very candid reflections on losing her entire family during their years of service with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Deborah and her photographer husband Dave had known Erin and her parents since Erin was in high school. Though a decade has passed since Erin’s parents died, Deborah found revisiting their story by way of telling Erin’s story emotionally draining. Many days she wrote through tears. I discussed the challenges with Deborah and tried to encourage her in writing about Erin’s intimate struggle with deep, personal loss. Deborah did much better after this “pep-talk,” as she called it. The result is the article that follows. As I wrote about Kevin and Laurel Penner, I felt overwhelmed, dissatisfied, out of gas and lacking in enthusiasm. The Penners are a Wycliffe Canada couple who were serving in a Bible translation project in Mexico when God brought a severely handicapped daughter (Alyssa) into their lives. Like Erin Chapman, they have wrestled with some tough spiritual issues. Nonetheless, they have pressed on with their commitment in spite of what some might consider an insurmountable barrier. Struggling with the article, I emailed communiThe examples of cations department colleagues asking for prayer. fellow sojourners as A few minutes later, five of them were in my office interceding for me. God answered. Within two they persevere with hours, I could feel the wind returning to my editothe Lord through rial sails and I finished the writing in several more days. These two writing struggles left me pondering dark, dark days can their source: was the Enemy displeased with us tellbe encouraging ing God’s people about some of His servants trusting and inspiring to us. Him even in Job-like times? Maybe. These stories may also be difficult for you to read. Being exposed to the painful trials of other believers, including those experienced by folks in the Wycliffe family, can be heart wrenching. Like these sufferers, in bewilderment we ask God the obvious: “Why?!” At the same time, we can be encouraged and inspired by the examples of fellow sojourners as they persevere with the Lord through dark, dark days. This has certainly been the reaction of readers to previous issues of Word Alive that dealt with difficult personal loss and suffering. Intense heartache, deep anguish, motivation-draining disappointment and great sacrifice are plentiful in the Wycliffe family’s global ministry. But sometimes, there is immeasurable value in staring these things straight in the face, and remembering the profoundly important and hopeful words uttered by Christ, to whom we cling: “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b NLT).


6 Contents

Features

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Family Resemblance

What does it look like when love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things? Erin Chapman, daughter of Wycliffe Canada missionaries, reflects on her life since the tragic deaths of first her brothers, then her parents. By Deborah Crough • Photographs by Dave Crough

18 Pressing On

Caring for their severely handicapped daughter puts distance—but not an insurmountable barrier—between a Wycliffe couple and their Mexican Bible translation project. By Dwayne Janke • Photographs by Alan Hood & Natasha Schmale

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Departments

2

Foreword Difficult to Write & Read

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Watchword N  extGen Ministries Represents

By Dwayne Janke

Wycliffe Canada at Urbana ’09

34 Beyond Words Seeing Face to Face 35 Last Word S upporting Fellow Cross Bearers By Don Hekman

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Watchword

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tic minority communities with Scripture. “It is impressive that these students are filled with a mind that cares for the world, and a heart that engages in God’s Kingdom movement!” Many who visited the colourful, interactive booth were serious about getting involved with Wycliffe, through service or prayer for Bibleless people groups.

Wycliffe Canada, Korean Church Sign Partnership Memorandum

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ycliffe Canada and the Calgary Korean Presbyterian Church (CKPC) signed a memorandum of understanding this past November to involve Koreans in Bible translation. “The signing of this agreement with the CKPC is a historic event for Wycliffe Canada in its efforts to engage the Korean Church here in Canada in the Bible translation movement,” said outgoing Wycliffe Canada President Dave Ohlson. He noted that it was the first such agreement with a Korean organization, and specifically a local church. Under the agreement, Wycliffe will offer missions training and ministry opportunities for the 600-member CKPC congregation, guide candidates through Wycliffe’s membership process, and provide primary supervision and processing of funds for members. In turn, CKPC will help recruit spiritually mature individuals with a vision for Bible translation, commission and provide ongoing pastoral care for them, and assist Wycliffe members from their church financially and through prayer. The Korean Diaspora in Canada is several hundred thousand, so there is great potential for Korean involvement in Wycliffe, said ChangSeok Kang, national director of Wycliffe Canada’s Korean Ministries Team. Today, 25 Koreans from Canada are active Wycliffe members, volunteers, or in the process of joining. The Korean Ministries team expects that the numbers will double in the near future. Rev. ChangSun Choi, CKPC senior pastor, accepts a gift from then incoming Wycliffe President Don Hekman.

Alan Hood

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SIL Advocates IL International, Wycliffe’s key partner organization, emphasized the imporfor Local tance of using local languages in learning Languages at a UNESCO conference on adult educa-

tion in Brazil this past December. In co-operation with UNESCO’s Asia-Pacific Program of Education for All (APPEAL) from Bangkok, Thailand, an SIL team from four continents presented a workshop at the CONFINTEA

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Translation Agency Formed in Venezuela

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new organization to promote Bible translation has been formed in Venezuela. It is called SIETE, short for Sirviendo en la Traducción a las Étnia (Serving Ethnic Groups in Translation). SIETE is the initiative of seven people from this South American country who attended the training course for Bible promotion, sponsored by Wycliffe International Americas Area, a year ago in Lima, Peru. SIETE, headed by Lenys Amaya, will work to make Venezuelans aware of the need for translating the Bible globally. SIETE is seeking to become affiliated with Wycliffe International.

VI conference, called “First-language-based adult education and learning.” The workshop highlighted the challenge that the world’s linguistic diversity poses to adult learning and education, especially adult literacy. Presenters, including three SIL consultants, showed how the language issue could be addressed by using the learners’ first language as the basis for lifelong learning. They gave successful examples occurring worldwide.

Shutterstock.com

wo energetic staff from Wycliffe Canada’s NextGen Ministries joined a 40-member international Wycliffe team to promote Bible translation to young people at Urbana 2009. Jessica Dempster, NextGen’s Eastern Canada co-ordinator, and Sarah Barnes, NextGen’s Atlantic representative, met well over 100 Canadians among the 1,000-plus students who visited the Wycliffe booth. More than 16,000 young people attended the five-day December student mission conference in St. Louis, Mo. Dempster (pictured in green T-shirt) was impressed with students sharing where God is leading in their lives. They also wanted to know if their skills could be used in Bible translation and related ministries worldwide. “Over and over again,” says Dempster, “eyes would widen when I would start sharing with them how videography, communications, health, teaching, music and community development all can be used in reducing inequality and poverty, and reaching ethnolinguis-

Julie Green

NextGen Ministries Represents Wycliffe at Urbana ’09


Kande’s Story Fights AIDS in 100+ Languages

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he true-to-life story of an African girl whose parents died of AIDS has now been translated into 115 languages in 15 African countries to help fight the disease. Kande’s Story is an AIDS awareness curriculum developed by personnel with Wycliffe Bible Translators. In the story, 12-year-old Kande and her five siblings grieve the loss of their parents to AIDS as they learn to fend for themselves. Various people in their community, especially local church members, minister to their needs. The story is a springboard to discuss medical facts about HIV and AIDS in culturally sensitive ways. Related Bible study lessons

Climate Change Hard Hitting for Groups Wycliffe Serves

teach about sexual purity, compassion and caring for the sick, providing fresh hope and motivation for people to change behaviour. Translated in areas where Bible translation work involving Wycliffe is already underway—mostly in Africa—the materials are often the first local-language AIDS education resources local communities have had. In Uganda, for example, 60 Bwisi people graduated from an HIV and AIDS training seminar using Kande’s Story. “The Kande book is helping me teach about AIDS,” said one Bwisi man. “It is in my mother tongue and it is heard well by others, unlike materials in English that many cannot understand.”

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entral B.C.’s Chilcotin Genesis people now have Genesis Comes to in their heart language, after the Chilcotin release of the Old Testament book in audio form this past People January.

The five-CD set, packaged with the previously released JESUS Film DVD in Chilcotin, was dedicated at The Chilcotin Log Church near the Anaham Reserve, about 100 km west of Williams Lake, B.C. Approximately 3,500 Chilcotin live in the region. Quindel (pictured below, left) and Marilyn King, of the Northern Canada Evangelical Mission and partnering with Wycliffe Bible Translators, worked as resource people on the project. They had also helped William Myers (pictured below, right), the main Chilcotin translator, on

the Gospel of Mark published in 1993, and the JESUS Film, released in 2003. Numerous Chilcotins assisted in the ycliffe International and its key partner, SIL International, various checking stages of the translacan expect the language groups they work among to be tions. Myers will help if it is decided hit hard by climate change, says an SIL representative to a recent there should be a revision of the Gospel Christian gathering on the topic. of Mark and an audio recording of it. “The communities that SIL and Wycliffe International serve will “Chilcotins from approximately be disproportionately impacted by the consequences of climate 40 years and over are fluent in their change, and indeed many already are,” says Dave Pearson. language,” says Quindel. “Many of the He came to the conclusion after attending a creation stewardship younger people are not using the lanand climate change consultation this past year, sponsored by The guage very much and usually converse Micah Network. It is a group of 300 Christian relief, development in English among themselves, but may and justice organizations from 75 countries. understand a lot of it. Because of this Most of the people groups SIL serves, who are minority trend it is doubtful any more translation language communities within their nations, will compete for projects will be started.” reduced agricultural and water resources, explains Pearson, who While 20 copies of Genesis will be printed initially, audio is the main serves as SIL’s representative to UNESCO. Some groups will format for its distribution, says Quindel. Chilcotins have a very oral culbecome refugees because, as the poor and marginalized, they often ture and society, and stories are an important part of their way of learning. get the last pick of land. Others will come under pressure from incoming refugees for land, food, water, healthcare and education services. Some Probability that any two randomly groups will be pressured to assimilate culturselected people in Papua New Guinea ally and linguistically, after being forced to have different mother tongues disperse and migrate to towns to make their (highest of any country). livelihood. Probability of this in Canada Pearson says Wycliffe and SIL need to (83rd highest). reflect on what they will do in the light of these climate change challenges. PossibiliProbability of this in the U.S.A. (124th). ties might be to develop materials in mother tongue languages that aim to mitigate climate Probability of this in Haiti change, or help language groups understand (lowest in any country). and adapt to it. Courtesy of the Kings

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Word Count

99%

55% 35% 0%

Source: The Word That Kindles; Wycliffe International

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 5


Kevin and Alexa Shideler, Erin Chapman.

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he will always be Erin Chapman. When she married fellow “missionary kid” Kevin Shideler in June of 2003, it was important to Erin to keep her family’s name. “If my parents were still here I don’t know if I would have been so stubborn about it. But because they aren’t here anymore . . . it’s one of my connections that I have with them still.” Her parents, Bob and Ruth Chapman, lost their lives on January 30, 2000, when the Kenya Airways plane they were flying in crashed into the ocean off of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), just moments after takeoff. About two weeks before that, Erin dreamt that they died. “I woke up crying, I was so distraught,” she recalls. From Langley, B.C., where she lived at the time while attending Trinity Western University (TWU), Erin emailed the story of her dream to her parents in Nairobi, Kenya, their base while serving as Africa area directors for Wycliffe’s work on that continent. “I had the most terrible dream that you guys had died,” she wrote. Ruth replied, telling Erin of a recent flight she and Bob had been on, in Cameroon. “The plane ride was extremely turbulent, and I was getting worried. The whole time I sat there and I prayed for you. If anything ever happened [to us] . . . I would be praying for you at that time.” Erin realizes that her parents must have known something was going wrong on their flight the night of the plane crash. “In that moment they were probably praying for me. . . . That’s one of the things that brought me so much comfort.” Erin’s initial anger at the news of the plane crash quickly faded, which she attributes to the outpouring of love, prayers and support from family, friends, even strangers, from around the world. Erin resolved to accept every bit of encouragement offered her, just as her parents modeled when both of Erin’s brothers, Ross and Timothy, passed away within hours of each other from cerebral malaria in 1989 (see sidebar pg. 10). “That’s the way I’ve chosen to adapt. I don’t think I could have overcome those circumstances without everybody’s prayers, without God. “You can’t just say there aren’t going to be struggles,” she admits. “There will be.” But acknowledging this, she still can say, “that’s OK, I’m going to get through it.”

A Time to Heal What does it look like when love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things? Erin Chapman, daughter of Wycliffe Canada missionaries, reflects on her life since the tragic deaths of first her brothers, then her parents. By Deborah Crough • Photographs by Dave Crough

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bout a month after her parents’ deaths, Erin flew with her aunt and uncle to Côte d’Ivoire to see the crash site and speak with Canadian Embassy personnel. Though reluctant to hear the answers, Erin asked them about what was recovered after the accident. Erin admits that when she first heard her parents had been in a plane crash, she experienced “this sickening feeling, that they didn’t know what to do or where to go, and they’re just floating out in this dark water in the night . . . I think the biggest question in my mind was: Were my parents alive when the plane went down. Did they drown?” Erin was relieved to discover, based on the injuries Bob and Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 7


Both Erin and Kevin are—self-admittedly—very sensible, strong personalities, and they work amazingly well together. As Kevin says, “We’re a good team.” A former U.S. Marine Corps, Kevin embodies the Marine Corps motto of Semper Fi: “Always Faithful.”`

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Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca


Ruth had sustained, that they died on impact. “The fact that I knew that they didn’t suffer, and they didn’t drown because of lack of response [by rescuers], gave me a sense of peace.” She then travelled with her aunt and uncle to her parents’ home in Nairobi. “That was probably the darkest time that I’ve ever gone through,” she confides, her voice shaking. “Walking in and seeing their slippers at the front door. . . . They just left with the assumption that they were going to come home.” Erin sorted through her parents’ belongings, deciding what to keep, what to give away. She slept in their sheets. She felt the reality of what had happened sinking in, the evidence of their presence, as well as their absence, all around her. After that, Erin spent five months in Cameroon with a family whose daughters were her close friends when she was growing up. “It felt like I was in a little bit of a sub-reality there; a cozy, special place where I could just not worry about anything.” She did some volunteer work, but mostly, she allowed herself time to recover and heal. “I really didn’t do anything super-purposeful with my time there, but that’s exactly what I needed.” Cameroon still felt like home, the place where people knew her parents, her brothers; the place where she grew up.

It Was Always Kevin: Semper Fi

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atient, capable, kind. Strength under control. Erin’s husband Kevin is a former U.S. marine sergeant who translated his skills and abilities into becoming an ER nurse after his military discharge in 2003. He has also gone from working on fighter jets, attack helicopters, F-18 gear boxes, and Harrier jump jet engines, to the role of husband to Erin, and now, father to Alexa, whom he affectionately calls “Buddy.” Kevin first met Erin when she was in junior high school, and he was starting high school at Rainforest International School (RFIS) in Yaoundé, Cameroon. His family moved to Cameroon so his parents could run the youth hostel, where missionary kids and other international students lived when their parents were working outside the city. During their high school years, Kevin and Erin dated. Erin’s parents could see that Kevin cared for their daughter, and they grew to love him as well. Ruth even confided in Kevin about their impending assignment change to Africa area directors, before it became general knowledge. Such a disclosure was unusual for Ruth, even to another adult, but Kevin noticed that something was “off ” one day, and asked her if she was OK. “She just opened up to Kevin,” Erin relates with pride. “She trusted him. She saw what a good heart he had.” It was with this kind of insight that Ruth communicated a strong feeling she had about Kevin to a friend, who in later years told Erin that her mother thought she would end up marrying Kevin. Erin says her parents “never really approved of any of my boyfriends until Kevin came around, or any of them after. It was always Kevin.” However, when he graduated from RFIS, and was accepted into the U.S. Marine Corps, Kevin and Erin decided they were

“I don’t think

I could have

overcome those

circumstances without

everybody’s prayers,

without God.”

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 9


Courtesy of the Chapman family

Erin, Timothy and Ross Chapman in Cameroon, Christmas, 1988; six months later the boys died from cerebral malaria.

Ross and Timothy: Going Home

In June 1989, more than 10 years before her parents’ plane crashed, killing nearly all on board, Erin Chapman’s older brother Ross and younger brother Timothy passed away within hours of each other from cerebral malaria, the most deadly form of the disease. A few days after the Chapman family arrived in Canada on home assignment from Cameroon, Erin, Ross and Timothy (ages 9, 10 and 5, respectively) became ill and were taken to the doctor. What was initially diagnosed as strep throat was treated with penicillin. Erin recovered. The boys worsened. On their sixth day home, their situation deteriorating, the boys were taken to the emergency ward at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. Timothy’s case seemed the most critical, and he was sent, with Ruth, to nearby McMaster Children’s Hospital. Bob and Erin waited with Ross. Together, she and her father heard the devastating news: “Timothy just died.” A short time later, Ross also passed away. On the very day both her boys died, feeling exhausted and run down, Ruth was diagnosed with hepatitis, and was admitted to hospital. Bob and Erin slept on cots near Ruth, and all three struggled to comprehend their overwhelming loss. Both and Ruth held hands as they fell asleep. As they adjusted to Ross’ and Tim’s deaths, Bob and Ruth were united in their common concern for Erin. “Often she would sense our pain, and come to comfort us with her presence,” Bob later wrote. “Ruth and I believe that God graciously spared our daughter’s life. She had the same exposure as the boys, and fell sick before them. We have thanked God that despite her age she showed an incredible resilience.” Ruth wrote: “ . . . at almost the same time of day our plane had landed in Canada [six days earlier], our sons had another home-going. This time it was just the two of them who travelled, and though we can’t know what the journey was like, we can know they are now in a place Jesus went to prepare, with their heavenly Father, where they are ‘perfectly’ at home. . . . The step of faith God calls us to take is to use all the trust He had grown in us up until this point and to believe fully in the picture of God [that] His Word presents so clearly: a God who loved us enough that He willingly gave His only Son to die for us; a God who has enough power to raise that Son, and all who believe in Him, from death to eternal life.” Bob and Ruth Chapman joined Wycliffe in in 1983, and after attending French language school in Switzerland, arrived in Cameroon in 1985. Bob served as a pilot, technical director and director of the Cameroon branch of SIL, Wycliffe’s key partner organization. Ruth worked as a teacher. For further reading on the lives of this special couple, see In Heavenly Love Abiding, a tribute to God’s goodness and faithfulness in and through their lives. It was written and compiled by Robert Chapman, father of Bob Chapman. To order, call 1-800-463-1143, ext. 283; use the reply form in this issue; or visit <www.wycliffe.ca/store/>.

too young to make a commitment to each other. After he left, they kept in contact, but both he and Erin dated other people. Nevertheless, Kevin found himself comparing other young women to Erin. “Erin was the standard to me, and she never left my mind.” While on deployment off the coast of Japan, Kevin received a Red Cross communication with the news that Bob and Ruth had died. As soon as he heard, he called Erin. “I felt really inadequate,” he remembers. “It was difficult to hear Erin cry, but I couldn’t be there with her.” Erin says that at that point, she wasn’t interested in, or ready to have, a relationship. “When [my parents] first died, you think, ‘this is the only thing I’m going to think about for the rest of my life’. . . . But eventually, you have to focus on the here and now, and give your all to where you are in life.” Whenever he was home on leave, Kevin spent time with Erin, even inviting her to his family reunion in the summer of 2001. That was when their relationship blossomed. “Right before the summer of 2001,” admits Erin, “I started to

“When [my parents]

first died, you think,

‘this is the only

thing I’m going to

think about for the rest of my life.’”


Erin tells her story with a remarkable frankness and openness. This is a rare moment when she is overcome by her emotions, remembering an email conversation she had with her mother, not long before her parents died. After Bob and Ruth passed away, many wanted to interview Erin and tell her story, but it was too soon. Now, 10 years later, she feels ready. “It does seem like a good time, and always good to reflect on, too. I hope that it can touch others.” Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 11


“He would never give

you

a

burden to

bear that

you can’t

overcome.”

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realize, ‘This guy really has it together. He would be really good husband material!’ ” After that, Kevin kicked things into high gear. He contacted Erin’s college roommates to “steal” one of her rings to find out the size. He even asked these girlfriends what style of ring Erin might like. In April 2002, while on leave, Kevin took Erin out to dinner. “I slid down on one knee in the middle of the restaurant and proposed to Erin,” Kevin remembers, and to the sound of applause from the other diners, “she said yes!”

They Met Halfway

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evin’s unit was supposed to return to the U.S. by Christmas 2002, but because of the war in Iraq their tour was extended another six months. As a result, Kevin almost missed their wedding, planned for June 21, 2003. “This wasn’t a hometown wedding,” Kevin points out. “We had people from all over the world coming for this, so it was a stressful time.” “We were thinking Adam (Kevin’s brother) was going to have to stand in for Kevin,” Erin laughs, indicating that Kevin would take his vows over the phone. “A teleconference wedding!” But Kevin did arrive just six days ahead of time. They were married in Hamilton, Ontario, even signing the wedding registry in the church’s ‘Chapman Room’ (dedicated to Bob and Ruth), surrounded by pictures of the Chapman family. “The inclusion of Bob and Ruth in the ceremony,” Kevin explains, “even though they weren’t physically present—but very much on a spiritual-emotional level they definitely were—created that sense of them being there. “Erin came down the aisle on her own, as a symbol that no one can replace her dad,” Kevin relates. “Then I met her halfway,” he recounts, signifying that “I’m a new man coming into her life, being her family.” Erin notes an added benefit of being married to Kevin, namely, “how amazing it is to have a husband that knew my parents. . . . To know that they approved of my husband and they loved my husband.” In June 2010, the couple will celebrate their seventh anniversary.

Alexa: God Provides Joy

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rin and Kevin were expecting their first child in early February 2009. In late January, Erin’s mind on the impending birth, the two went for a long walk in the snow. “Kevin was wearing shoes that had no grip on them, so he was not having fun,” she laughs. But she urged him on, sounding very playfully like her mother: “Come on! Let’s enjoy this! Let’s keep going!” Perhaps in part because of that walk, and almost a week early despite being a first birth, Erin went into labour. The next morning, at 10:30 on January 30, Alexa Ruth Shideler was born—nine years to the day of Erin’s parents’ deaths. “To have such a happy day but such a sad day at the same time,” Erin recounts, “I didn’t know if I wanted it to happen, but you can’t control it.” What she can’t control, Erin chooses to accept in the light of a loving God.


A cherished keepsake for Erin is her father’s wedding ring, recovered after the plane crash. The inscription inside reads “Ruth 1:16.” Part of that verse declares, “Wherever you go, I will go” (NKJV). Bob and Ruth were able to keep that commitment, even in death.

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Though she was born a few days ahead of her due date, Alexa Ruth Shideler arrived right on time—and nine years to the day after Bob and Ruth Chapman died. Having Alexa has given Erin a new perspective on the love of a parent for their child, as well as her own special mother-daughter relationship. In October 1999, Ruth spent a few days with Erin at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C. Among other things, they took several long walks. “She loved going for walks,” Erin remembers. “I’ll treasure that time forever.” It was the last time she saw her mother.

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“In my mind it’s God’s way of reminding me that no matter what you go through, He’s there. . . . It’s just like He’s talking to you, saying, ‘I’m here. I want to provide you with this joy through a time that has been hard for you in the past.’ ” Kevin agrees. “That morning, when I was holding Alexa, and the sun was streaming in the window, it was such a showing of God’s providence—just the whole promise that He will never leave us, He’ll never forsake us.” “Having Alexa,” Erin observes, “has given me renewed vision as to how a parent can love you as much as they do.” She remembers that love and affection she felt from her parents, and she misses it. Though there are many people who love her, none can see her with the perfection a parent sees. “When you stumble, when you make mistakes, they’ll still love you no matter what you do, and they won’t think, Oh that girl is a terrible, selfish, horrible person—they’ll always think you’re the best. “I look at Alexa, and I want to give that to her, because I know how much it meant to me.”

Family Resemblance: The Big Picture

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t times when Erin laughs, or the way she expresses herself, she stops, overcome by the sound of her mother’s voice. Looking at family photos of Bob and Ruth, then Erin and Alexa, the curve of a cheek, a look or a smile illustrates the resemblance between the generations. But even more than physical attributes, Erin embodies the character that her parents modeled. “Having watched their example, I know that through God’s strength, I can do this,” she says. Erin has undergone heartbreaking loss, and yet, remarkably, no trace of sadness overshadows her face, only a cultivated peace and contentment. Like Bob and Ruth, Erin looks beyond the details of the present moment and sees the bigger picture that God is creating. As her father Bob wrote after his sons died: “God is too powerful to be turned aside in His plan for us; God is too wise to make a mistake; And too loving to cause us needless pain.” Erin echoes back: “He would never give you a burden to bear that you can’t overcome.” This is what it looks like when love never fails.

“Having

Alexa has given me

renewed vision as to how a parent can

love you as much as

they do.”

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 15


“Faith, therefore, becomes transferable so that we are influenced by the lives of those who have left us.”

—Robert Chapman (Bob’s father), from In Heavenly Love Abiding.

Erin, Ruth and Bob, in Scotland, summer 1998, after leaving Cameroon, on their way to Canada. Erin keeps this photograph in her living room where she can see it daily.

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Outdoor enthusiasts, Kevin and Erin take full advantage of their locale in Langley , B.C.: mountain biking and hiking in summer, snowshoeing in winter, or just going for family walks in the neighbourhood, with their dog Subi. Having settled near longtime Wycliffe friends and more recent university friends, Kevin and Erin spend time maintaining and cultivating their friendships, as they did in Cameroon.

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Caring for their severely handicapped daughter puts distance—but not an insurmountable barrier— between a Wycliffe couple and their Mexican Bible translation project. By Dwayne Janke • Photographs by Alan Hood & Natasha Schmale


yawning Kevin Penner shuffles down the hall of his family’s home to the kitchen for a drink of water. It’s 6 a.m., the usual rising time for the 44-year-old father of this household. As has been his habit since starting to work on the Mixtec [MEES tek] Bible translation project in Mexico seven years ago, Kevin begins his waking hours with a devotional time. He eases back into a recliner, while his wife Laurel and children continue to sleep in the quiet house, and the surrounding small community gradually awakens.

Work with the Mixtec Bible translation team will come a bit later in the office down the hall, if the Mixtec local translators aren’t busy in their fields today. For now, Kevin (above, left) ponders Wayne Jacobsen’s book He Loves Me: Learning to Live in the Father’s Affection. The book’s description asks: “If you find yourself least certain of his [God’s] love in those critical moments when you most need to trust him, there is hope for you.” Daughter Alyssa (above), who awoke earlier, slumbers again in her special chair near her father. But as Kevin turns the pages Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 19


of his book, Alyssa’s breathing becomes noisier and increasingly laboured, changing into a disturbing kind of “gurgle.” Foamy saliva eventually bubbles out between the lips of her open mouth. She whimpers and coughs. Alyssa can’t swallow properly, and if something is not done, she could choke on her own secretions. So, just as a home care relief worker did periodically all night long as the Penner family slept, Kevin switches on a portable suction machine. He takes its suction catheter—a thin flexible tube— and casually, yet lovingly, pushes it into Alyssa’s mouth, nose and throat, causing her to wince in protest. Cleared of saliva after a 10-second suctioning, Alyssa breathes more clearly and drifts off again. Kevin returns to his chair and continues his reading. Until the rest of the family gets out of bed, there are only three immediately noticeable sounds: Alyssa’s recurring deterioration in breathing, Kevin’s repeated use of the suction machine, and the “click, click, click” of a feeding machine as it pumps fluid-based food directly into Alyssa’s stomach through a gastronomy tube. The Penner family certainly did not expect this. This is life here in Three Hills, Alberta, 3,700 km away from their actual Wycliffe field assignment in Mexico. This is juggling 24/7 care of a severely handicapped daughter with a Bible translation project via a satellite Internet connection and occasional visits to faraway south central Mexico. “It’s been quite a rollercoaster,” Kevin says. It is an apt metaphor. During the past four years, the Penner family has been plunged to the lows of Alyssa’s fragile state on the edge of death, and lifted to the heights of relative stability— and back again. But for Kevin, his wife Laurel, and their three other children, this is the situation allotted to them. And they have faithfully pressed on with their life’s work, not understanding what God is doing, but still recognizing His goodness. The Penners’ ministry with Wycliffe started normally enough. After their linguistic training, Kevin and Laurel, from Three Hills and Quadra Island, B.C., respectively, considered several possible locations. They decided to serve in Mexico among the 7,000 speakers of the Northeastern Jamiltepec Mixtec language in the state of Oaxaca [wah HAW kah]. Following Spanish studies and field training, they arrived in a small Mixtec village in January 2003, with their then three young children: Kyle, Gabrielle and Daniela. They spent months building relationships, learning the tonal language, beginning to train the local Mixtec translation team, building their own home. Despite the usual cultural stresses and challenges of village living, everything was on course. By the fall of 2005, translation of God’s Word into Mixtec had started on the Book of Genesis. Also by this time, Laurel was expecting their fourth child. Like Daniela, this baby, the Penners decided, would be delivered in Mexico. There was no reason not to—Laurel enjoyed a completely normal and healthy pregnancy. “When we came out [of the village] for Alyssa to be born . . . ,” says Kevin, “I actually set up the translation team to do some work while I was gone, and then I was going to come back and go over it with them. Little did I know that this would be the pattern from now on, because we never moved back.”

Alyssa was delivered on May 2, 2006, in a Oaxaca City hospital. Aiming for a mutually desired natural birth, hospital staff tried to get the baby to drop into the birth canal. But once there, Alyssa seemed lodged and doctors could not detect her heartbeat. She had to be delivered by C-section. “I knew something was wrong with Alyssa as soon as they got her out,” recalls Kevin. “They just whisked her away.” Laurel was also in trouble. She needed surgery because her uterus and bladder had ruptured during delivery. She did not know until later, after the anesthetic started wearing off, that something was wrong with Alyssa. “Before I really woke up, I could hear Kevin on the phone to someone telling them there was a problem.” That problem was severe hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy— essentially Alyssa had suffered brain damage from a lack of oxygen during birth. Immediately apparent was that she could not breathe properly. A nurse had to use a hand ventilator on her all night until an electrically powered unit could be brought from another city early next morning. The prognosis was not good. Alyssa was transported to Mexico City, arriving in critical condition. Recovering from surgery, Laurel was left behind, and did not get to hold her baby until she was able to fly to Mexico City on May 11. Though off the ventilator by then, Alyssa couldn’t swallow and had to be fed through a tube into her nose and down to her stomach. Her nose and mouth also had to be suctioned regularly. “It was really hard to watch,” says Kevin, though it was a task he and Laurel would eventually learn to do themselves.


Kevin and Laurel Penner share the emotional story of how their family has been plunged to the lows of daughter Alyssa’s fragile state on the edge of death, and lifted to the heights of relative stability—and back again. All the while, they have faithfully pressed on with their life’s work, not understanding what God is doing, but recognizing His goodness nonetheless.

“It’s been quite a rollercoaster.”

Kevin listens to Alyssa’s breathing after suctioning her mouth, nose and throat of secretions that could eventually choke her. Like his wife Laurel, Kevin expected to be living among 7,000 Mixtec people of south central Mexico, focused entirely on using his linguistics training in a Bible translation project for the language group. Instead, he had to care for his severely handicapped daughter in Three Hills, Alberta.

“I knew something was wrong with Alyssa. . . .They just whisked her away.”

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 21


“I was just mad; I didn’t want it to be this way. I didn’t want to be the parent of a disabled person; didn’t want to be tied down.”

A neurologist in Mexico City said it was impossible to tell how handicapped Alyssa would be. Less hopeful was a doctor at the Peter Lougheed Centre hospital in Calgary, where Alyssa and her mother were flown by air ambulance on May 27. (Alberta was chosen because of its immediate provincial health coverage for Alyssa upon arrival.) “She [the doctor] said she was very fragile; she could die any time, and that she wasn’t going to . . . be normal, basically,” recalls Laurel. To get the specialized testing and treatment she needed, Alyssa was transferred to the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, where a team provided the necessary palliative care and grief support. “There was an obvious familiarity with the things that she would be facing,” says Laurel, of the Children’s Hospital staff. “It wasn’t just for Alyssa,” adds Kevin. “It was for us—helping us get through this.” After the specialized care, Alyssa was finally stable enough to go home on June 30, to Three Hills, where the Penners had decided to relocate to be close to Kevin’s family. She was back in hospital three days later. To stop her from vomiting out feeding tubes, she had surgery to put a feeding tube into her stomach through the outside. The bottom of her esophagus was also closed. This tube is also used to administer a cocktail of medications Alyssa needs to, among other things, stop seizures and tremors. She finally came home again on August 28. The Penners learned to cope with and care for Alyssa as the months passed. However, as Alyssa struggled with serious infecLike any loving dad does with his tions and respiratory distress, there were more hospital visits. children from time to time, Kevin Still, the young girl, who had spent a third of her life in hospital tickles Alyssa, evoking a grin from her. Though Alyssa is largely deaf and by the time she was 13 months old, gradually stabilized and blind, the family treats her as much gained weight. as possible like she is a normal kid. Alyssa’s vision and hearing began to improve, she reacted to others with smiles, and even started to work at holding her head up. There seemed to be the possibility that she might gain some The detailed 24/7 care regime that control of her hands. Alyssa requires—including feedings, medicine intake, physiotherapy exercises, etc.—is carefully chronicled in a binder on her bedroom dresser. “This is her little life,” explains Kevin, referring to the many pages of info. “So when we take her in [to see doctors], we take it with us.”

Then, tragically, in November 2007, while Alyssa was in hospital so the Penners could get a few nights of respite, she suffered a high fever, went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing. She was resuscitated and intubated and put on a ventilator, but not before suffering depletion of oxygen to major organs—including her brain again. Her organs began to shut down. Doctors said she had a four per cent chance of survival because all her systems were shutting down. “We called the kids in twice [to say goodbye],” recalls Kevin. As on other occasions when Alyssa had been ventilated, doctors began asking the Penners to consider how long they wanted to keep her breathing artificially. “We cried and prayed,” says Kevin, “and asked for more information—like within how long a time could we expect she could reasonably improve? They said 48 hours, and I’d say, ‘Well, we’re going to wait 48 hours then.’ ” As before, the Penners put out a call for prayer. It spread widely. The Penners conservatively estimate that 3,000-plus


With her three older kids off to school, Laurel grabs a quick breakfast and extends her hand to connect with her daughter, who especially responds to touch. In a few minutes, a government-funded caregiver will look after Alyssa in the Penner home, so Laurel can give some undivided attention to the Mixtec translation project. On this day, she researches the language’s grammar through text analysis on her computer. Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 23


people—in more than a dozen churches and more than 30 other groups (schools, classes, Bible study groups, prayer meetings, etc.), in Canada, the U.S., Qatar, Australia and elsewhere—have prayed for their situation. “We even heard of a group of U.S. soldiers in Iraq that were praying for Alyssa,” says Kevin. “It doesn’t take away everything, but it meant that we were part of the family of God.” Incredibly, Alyssa’s major organs started functioning and she rallied again. She has only been back in the hospital once since. However, all the advances Alyssa had made were lost. “Her EEG [recording of a brain’s electrical activity] was flat, they told us, from the heart failure,” says Laurel. Although Alyssa has continued to gain weight—Kevin teasingly calls her a “big fat pumpkin”— she has very little control of her head or limbs. The Penners believe Alyssa can only tell the difference between light and darkness, since her pupils dilate. And she coos a bit. “We don’t think she can see or hear,” says Kevin. “But we treat her like she does.”

“We don’t think she can see or hear. But we treat her like she does.”

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24 Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca


This happens even while the Penners are being interviewed. “Hey, we’re talking about you!” Kevin says in a kid’s voice as he turns to Alyssa in his lap. “You are just a happy girl today, aren’t ya?” Like any typical dad with his child, Kevin tends to gently roughhouse with Alyssa, who reacts with a slight grin. “She responds to touch,” he says. Thankfully, the Penners, who early on were burning out under the strain, have been able to secure government-funded home care for Alyssa, 20 daytime hours per week and eight hours each night. But even with that kind of assistance, the Penners don’t pretend that their life is easy. “When Laurel grieves, she gets sad. Not that I haven’t shed my share of tears through all of this, but I grieve with anger. I would say hers is a much more noble response,” says Kevin, chuckling. “I was just mad; I didn’t want it to be this way. I didn’t want to be the parent of a disabled person; didn’t want to be tied down. When it happens, you start to think, We are never going to get a break from this. This is not going away. It’s a little hard to take. “But now, we’ve just kind of come to grips with it—that that’s the way life is.” Like Frodo in the Fellowship of the Ring movie (based on the first book in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy), who says, “I wish none of this had ever happened,” Kevin says he finds his perspective re-focused by the words of Gandalf, the sage: “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

The Penners, including Kyle (right), Gabrielle (left of Kyle), Daniela (left foreground and playing soccer), enjoy a card game while Alyssa hangs out in her special chair. The children did remarkably well at adapting to life in Canada after leaving Mexico. They also lovingly interacted with their little sister, even taking Alyssa to their Christian school to show classmates who they were praying for during her many struggles.

(Above) With Alyssa’s pending delivery in 2006, the Penners left their home (white building, on the right) in a Mixtec village, which consists of a few dozen houses and outlying homesteads, to be near obstetric care in the state capital. The Penners were never able to return, having to resettle instead in Canada to care for Alyssa. Aside from periodic visits for intense work sessions, Kevin and Laurel’s only link to the Bible translation team has been through Internet text and voice communications using Skype (below). A satellite dish makes it possible to span the 3,700-km barrier between a Canadian prairie town and a hilly Mexican village, which is displayed on a Google Earth map below.

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 25


As the Penners realized the long-term prognosis for their daughter, they knew their plans for the Mixtec translation project needed to change dramatically—and Kevin didn’t like it. “I was quite angry—really angry,” he admits. However, leaving the Mixtec project entirely never crossed the Penners’ minds. “I don’t think I ever thought it would end,” Kevin says, turning to his wife. “Did you?” “No,” replies Laurel, “I don’t ever remember thinking at all that we would not be able to continue.” But how do you give leadership to a Bible translation project on the other side of a continent? The answer has come largely through training and technology. On a solo trip to Mexico in May 2007, Kevin sat outside the Penners’ village home, listening to music and worshipping God. “I was moved to tears and touched by the glory of God and the thought of His name being lifted up among the Mixtecs and my having a part in it despite my weakness,” Kevin wrote in his family’s newsletter. “I found myself dreaming about a day when there would be churches throughout the area with people bringing their Mixtec Bibles to church, studying them at home and taking them out to read to their neighbours who ask about God’s way.” Given their situation with Alyssa, the Penners realized that their response had to be training Mixtecs to do the Bible translation work, by equipping them with knowledge, skills and vision. Though this was the Penners’ focus before, their new situation forced it to happen quickly.

On a visit to the Mixtecs, Kevin fires up his laptop computer to show pictures of Alyssa to village friends, visibly touched by the images. Mixtec believers have prayed faithfully and fervently, hoping that God would heal the Penners’ daughter.

26 Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca

The Penners sent translation team members, led by Pastor Miguel Quiroz, to linguistic and translation workshop sessions offered by SIL, Wycliffe’s key partner, in Mexico. They gave them computers and training. And one of the Penners’ supporters paid for a $2,000 satellite dish and modem, so they can stay in touch with the Mixtec team via Internet and Skype Internet phone. Kevin demonstrates by logging onto his laptop computer, and interacting a little with Pastor Miguel, who, like the other Bible translators, is sometimes away from his desk for days at a time tending fields of corn, beans and squash. “I can see what he’s working on here,” says Kevin pointing to his laptop. The connection allows Kevin to chat via Skype with the translators about their work visible on screen; clarify issues in the text they are translating; or arrange upcoming activities, such as further training workshops. Kevin can also access their computers, allowing him to fix problems and move draft translations from Mexico to his Three Hills home. “They’ve finished Exodus 24, then,” comments Kevin, as he looks through some documents on Miguel’s computer. “That’s good. I’ll send that one to myself.” Admittedly, the satellite communication can’t totally replace being on site, and there are bugs. For example, sometimes the signal is lost. “The connection has made such a huge difference, so I don’t complain,” says Kevin. “I can do stuff I wouldn’t be able to do without it.”


“The [satellite] connection has made such a huge difference. . . . “I can do stuff I wouldn’t be able to do without it.”

Kevin travels to Mexico about three times a year for intense work sessions with the translation team, but that will be reduced to one while he is busy earning a master’s degree in linguistics through the University of Alberta over the next two years. After arranging several weeks of care for Alyssa, Laurel joined him this past summer, visiting the Mixtecs for the first time in more than three years. In September 2008, with caregivers in place for Alyssa and Daniela in grade 1, Laurel was able to rejoin work on the project on weekdays on while her kids are at school. She is focused on Mixtec literacy efforts, including preparing basic reading materials. She is also helping research Mixtec grammar through text analysis, important for good Bible translation. To that end, on this day she is transcribing a recording of Primo, one of the first among the now-estimated 40 Mixtec believers meeting in two churches in the area, telling a story about suffering from a scorpion sting.

Back among the Mixtecs for the first time since Alyssa was born, Laurel distributed some of her kids’ outgrown clothes and shoes—which remained behind when the Penners left—to village children. This little girl is excited to don some hand-me-down plastic sandals.

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 27


(Above) Pastor Miguel Quiroz, a Bible college-trained head of the 7-person Mixtec translation team, leads prayer for a Mixtec woman while the Penners join in. The Mixtec church has increased to about 40 believers under Pastor Miguel’s leadership and awaits the Scriptures in their language to nourish further growth, among a people where shamans still practise animistic rituals. (Left) The Penners, with Fransisco and Andrés, discuss a Mixtec reading primer, that Laurel developed as part of her literacy promotion efforts. About half of the Mixtec population consists of monolingual speakers of their mother tongue, so God’s Word in Spanish is not very effective. “Where they live, Mixtec is their language,” explains Kevin. “They just don’t need to use Spanish there.”


While the Penners have found ways to advance the Bible translation project and maintain their involvement, they have also grappled with their experience. What have they come away with? Laurel says Alyssa’s situation, paradoxically, has given her a much better understanding of God’s goodness to her family. “I guess I’ve always known that bad things happen. We didn’t go into missions work blindly thinking that there wouldn’t be any sort of opposition. And when you talk to many missionary families, a lot of them have had significant obstacles they’ve had to overcome, and carried on with what they’re doing.” The 40-year-old says she grew up with little suffering or death in her life, so she had always wondered how she would deal with a personal crisis: “Would I be mad at God? How would I think about that? “When this happened [with Alyssa], it became very apparent that God was good, mostly through the other things that were happening alongside of this: the way paperwork and things came together, and the way the finances came in, and the way people really rallied around us and supported us.” Churches sent people to pray for Alyssa, donated a vehicle and helped renovate the Penner home in Three Hills. Initially, the couple’s mothers were instrumental in helping care for Alyssa at home.

“When this happened, it became very apparent that God was good, mostly through the other things that were happening alongside of this. . . .”

Straddling a hammock in the shade on a hot day, Pastor Miguel takes a draft translation of Jonah to a fellow Mixtec speaker to test how well it communicates. He has to juggle working in his fields with his spiritual pursuits, including Bible translation.

“Most people won’t go and do what we are doing— and we’re willing to do it. And then He [God] kind of sidelines us, you know. That doesn’t make much sense to me.”

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 29


Then there was the issue of the two medical air evacuations the Penners needed for Alyssa—one to Mexico City, the other to Canada. They racked up a $24,000 personal bill. This was the amount over and above the $50,000 limit on air evacuation expenses, that is covered by Wycliffe Canada’s medical insurance plan for personnel serving outside of the country. “It was a big thing, and we knew it was More On The Web: As the a lot of money. But when you compare Penners’ story illustrates, health that to the life of a child. . . . ” says care is important for Wycliffe Laurel, her voice breaking. Canada personnel serving in In the midst of their family crisis, the foreign countries. Read about Penners trusted God with the debt. the challenges of providing “Tons of our colleagues in Mexico crucial health coverage, at transferred money into our account, <www.wycliffe.ca/wordalive>. and probably Wycliffe Canada staff, too,” Kevin says. “And then churches sent money; individuals sent money—some relatives.” Within weeks, the bill was paid.

“I can’t give in to these doubts about whether God’s in control. I have to come back and say, ‘Well, there’s something I don’t understand here.’ ”

Kevin admits he is still spiritually and theologically processing what has happened to Alyssa: “It’s run a bit of a course and probably still is. “It was really hard to believe that there could be a purpose— that God was in control and [yet] He just let it happen.” How could the Lord allow missionaries, who had dedicated their lives to serving a Bibleless people group, to be taken out of their assignment location by giving them a severely handicapped daughter? “Most people won’t go and do what we are doing—and we’re willing to do it. And then He [God] kind of sidelines us, you know,” says Kevin candidly. “That doesn’t make much sense to me. “But for me to say God’s not in control of that, then . . . He’s not really in control of anything, is He? And I just can’t make that leap, because I know that He’s changed me for the better, and I know that He changes other people. I can look around the world and I can see that there are things that are good and there are things that are evil. And without God, it’s just random forces. So I can’t give in to these doubts about whether God’s in control. I have to come back and say, ‘Well, there’s something I don’t understand here.’ ” Remembering that God was willing to sacrifice everything for us in Jesus has also been important to Kevin in coming to grips with his family’s situation with Alyssa. “If He hadn’t been willing to enter our pain and suffering personally, I don’t know how I could believe in His perfect love or that there could be a purpose in it all.” If there was a purpose great enough for God to keep from sparing His own Son’s suffering, then Kevin realizes he must trust God’s love despite the circumstances He allows in our lives. There is “an eternal weight of glory” that outweighs all of our suffering (2 Cor. 4:17 ESV). From his office in the Penners’ southern “When God said the righteous live by faith, I guess he really Alberta home, Kevin makes contact with meant that,” concludes Kevin. the Mixtec translation team via satellite. For “We walk by faith, not by sight.” most of the year, he gets no closer physically

30 Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca

to Mexico than the map in front of him. It isn’t ideal, but such separation has prompted the Mixtec team to take more ownership for the Bible in their heart language. “That’s good, that’s great,” says Kevin. “They realize, ‘this is our Bible . . . It’s not Kevin’s Bible.’ ”


Epilogue In Deep, L Refreshing Drafts

ate in January, shortly after the previous story was written, Alyssa Penner was taken to hospital in Three Hills, Alberta, with difficulty breathing. She was suffering from pneumonia. Alyssa died on January 30, three months short of her fourth birthday. Her passing left the Penner family sorrowful, but not without hope for Alyssa. “Her struggle is over. The pain is gone,” said Kevin in an email informing friends and family of Alyssa’s passing. “Her breaths [in heaven] come in deep, refreshing drafts . . . but most of all, she’s filled with joy in the presence of her Saviour.” Hundreds of family members, church friends, caregivers and others filled Mt. Olive Evangelical Free Church in Three Hills to celebrate Alyssa’s life—“a life,” said Pastor Rod Masterton, “that has taught many about love and grace and faithfulness.” The memorial service’s message was given by Rev. Ed Berk, from Kelowna Christian Centre. It became Kevin and Laurel Penner’s sending church after they worked in the church’s K-12 school as teachers, to pay off student debt before heading to Mexico. Berk commended the Penners for their steadfast faith and trust in God through Alyssa’s struggles, saying the couple are living examples of those the Apostle Peter referred to in 1 Peter 8: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. . . .” (NIV).

(Above) Family and church friends join Rev. Ed Berk (extreme right) in the laying on of hands and praying for the Penner family, at Alyssa’s graveside service. (Opposite page) During her short earthly life, Alyssa was comforted by the caresses of her parents’ hands. Now, the Penners take comfort in knowing she is lovingly held in her Heavenly Father’s embrace.


“Kevin and Laurel have never physically seen Jesus, that I’m aware of,” the pastor said. “Yet they are among these people that the Bible writes about that love Him regardless of what they have physically seen. Their love and faith in Jesus Christ was strong enough that . . . given the opportunity to reject Him— and they didn’t—they actually threw themselves into the hands of their God, despite being weary of various trials. They maintained their faith.” And Berk stressed that God knew exactly what He was doing in sending Alyssa to the Penner family. “God looked for a place, looked for a family, that would look after His gift— His child. He gave you the responsibility,” he said. “You nurtured her, you cared for her, you interceded for her. You helped her. You kissed her. And I believe today that Alyssa stands before the throne of God . . . with gratitude in her heart for the family that she was given. I believe that she is grateful before the throne of God and thanking Him for all the people that invested in her life.” While the Penner family has hopes to one day return to Mexico, for now they continue in their service with Wycliffe by providing remote support to the Mixtec translation team and by occasional visits to Mexico. Kevin has also been encouraged by his field supervisers to continue the graduate studies in linguistics that he began at the University of Alberta this past fall.

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 33


Beyond Words

File photo

Seeing Face to Face

Bob and Ruth Chapman, with Ross, Erin and baby Timothy in 1983, before leaving Canada to ultimately serve with Wycliffe in Africa. Seventeen years later, after losing her parents and brothers, Erin alone survives (see story, pg. 6). In this photograph, most of the family focuses off camera, having a different perspective than Erin. The same is true now. Erin’s parents and brothers witness in eternity what we must accept by faith. Like Erin, we can say, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12a NIV).

34 Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca


Last Word Supporting Fellow Cross Bearers By Don Hekman

Through both incidents, what stands out is how our churches and family and supporting constituency stood by us. They too knew what it was like to deal with abrupt changes of plans due to death, depression or crippling illness. They embraced us with love, understanding, supporting gifts and concrete assistance. We didn’t hear a hint of any churches or individuals dropping their financial support of our ministry in Bible translation because we could no longer live overseas. Thankfully, there was no talk of changing their church’s policy about which missionaries to support, such as, “we now support only those who work in the 10/40 window.” No, our partners just expressed solid, compassionate, prayerful understanding that we still contributed with the same energy and vision to the work of God’s Kingdom, through the agency we were always part of: Wycliffe Bible Translators. My challenge to you is to do the same if, and when, Wycliffe workers you know suffer turmoil or upheaval affecting their lives and

Dave Harder

W

e all live through those riveting events in life where we remember exactly where we were standing when we heard the news: the time of day, the feel of the setting, who told us, and our immediate reaction. They are events like the assassination of President Kennedy and the two jets smashing into the Twin Towers. My collection of personally memorable events includes first hearing the news of the death of the two Chapman boys, and 10 1/2 years later, the death of their parents, Bob and Ruth—leaving daughter Erin as the lone survivor of the family (see story, pg. 6). Our lives were personOur churches and ally enriched to have counted Bob and Ruth as family and supporting friends, as they were to many others. Countless constituency . . . embraced times since those tragic us with love, understanding, days, we have thought of Erin and the journey God supporting gifts, and was leading her through. And we prayed that God concrete assistance. would surround her with close friendships, a strong community, protective angels and the comforting Spirit to sustain her on her pilgrimage. Nearly every one of my Wycliffe colleagues has suffered one of life’s serious traumas, in the same way that each of you readers has suffered difficulties and losses. Life’s bruises and amputations are no respecter of persons, whether we serve God in a mud hut, a bungalow in suburbia, or in a palace. Our family suffered one of those painful losses. Our 18-month-old daughter suddenly died within six months of us beginning language learning at our assignment as linguist-translators among the Montagnais people in northeastern Quebec. Fifteen years later, “predictable” life made another about-face, because of an additional family crisis. We had to abandon our overseas Wycliffe assignment as director of the newly started work in Chad, Africa, and take up residence again in Canada.

service. The crosses Erin Chapman, and Kevin and Laurel Penner (see story, pg. 18) and others bear are in one sense unique, but in another sense representative of many of us. Whatever happens, let’s stand together and support each other whole-heartedly in our calling and ministries. It’s not only the least we can do, it’s life-giving for us and for the recipients of our love. Don Hekman is president of Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada.

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 35


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hat do chopping coconuts and riding a bicycle on a busy road have to with Bible translation? Plenty—when it’s a Vision Volunteer Work Trip for young adults, offered by Wycliffe Canada’s NextGen Ministries. Come and join us on one of our overseas excursions to experience and participate in Wycliffe field work! Hacking coconuts and clinging to a bicycle are only part of it. If you are considering cross-cultural service, these short-term trips are geared to expose you to a variety of areas of ministry. You will be able to make some educated, spiritual decisions about further involvement in global missions. You will experience Bible translation, mother tongue and multilingual education, vibrant local culture and language study, church engagement, vernacular media and Scripture use ministries. And assist in local community projects—all in 2-3 weeks!   Apply today to join us for a Vision Trip overseas! For more information, email <jessica_dempster@wycliffe.ca>.

Planned Giving is Wise Stewardship

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ycliffe Bible Translators can help you reach your financial goals—and provide God’s Word to Bibleless people groups. How? Through one of many types of planned giving. We would be happy to provide you and your advisers with

information to help you in your planned giving. Visit <www.wycliffe.ca/involved> and click “Planned Giving.” Or, contact our development department by phone at 1-800-463-1143, or email: giftplanning@wycliffe.ca


Word Alive Magazine - Summer 2010