Am I a bad professor if . . .

Am I a bad professor if I let a student sleep through the last half of class? If you answered no, would your answer change if you knew that I also allowed the rest of the students (their idea, not mine) to quietly exit the class and leave the student to sleep through lunch?

My daughter thought I owed the student a lunch. I disagreed. My initial thought was if a person is paying $250 per credit hour and sleeps through the class, they must need some sleep . . . so, let them sleep. Is that wrong?

In the Presence of Significance

(L to R): Craig Dunning, Lorraine and Leon Dillinger

(L to R): Craig Dunning, Lorraine and Leon Dillinger

Yesterday, I had the rare opportunity to sit with people of significance, Leon and Lorraine Dillinger. Such opportunities are rare in life, because people of true significance are rare treasures. I’m tempted to use the word “greatness” in reference to the Dillingers, but doing so would 1) embarrass them, and 2) risk taking honor away from the Lord whose work in and through them is what tempts me to use the word “greatness.”

In a nutshell: Equipped with an intense love for Jesus paired with an unsurpassed commitment to do the Lord’s will and some medical and Wycliffe translation training,  Leon and Lorraine went to Papua, Indonesia in 1958, and have, for 56 years and counting, given their lives to the Lord’s service among the Dani people. Leon, arrived 9 months before Lorraine, and in addition to preparing an airstrip for future flights in/out of this remote highlands village, he also prepared their “honeymoon cottage,” which was a grass hut. When Lorraine arrived, they married and lived in that grass hut.

The stories they have lived are too numerous to attempt to retell, but a few important ones must be included here: they reduced the Dani language to writing; taught the Dani to read and write (their own language); translated the Bible into Dani; have been part of the establishment of 130+ Dani churches, led by Dani pastors; and established schools and a Bible institute. They also helped improve the Dani people’s health by introducing certain medications and a variety of new vegetables (the sweet potato made up about 85% of the Dani diet when the Dillingers arrived) and protein sources including soy beans, peanuts and a variety of animals for meat.

A fun contextualization story: When they were translating Isaiah 53, they faced a conundrum.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

The Dani had no knowledge of sheep. The only animal of which they were aware were wild pigs. Lorraine said, “We wondered what to do. The Dani had never seen or heard of sheep. We decided that we could use ‘pig’ in place of ‘sheep’ because the Dani understood how pigs can run off; they see that all the time. However, that didn’t solve the problem. Pigs don’t go to the slaughter quietly, which meant we couldn’t use ‘pig’ in place of ‘sheep.'”

What did they do? Realizing only “sheep” or “lamb” could work in that passage, they requested and received from the Dutch government a flock of sheep and began teaching the Dani about the character/personality of sheep so that the passage could make sense to them. (The sheep also served as a source of protein and wool, which was helpful in the cold temperatures of the Papua highlands.)

In addition to speaking in chapel, Leon and Lorraine spoke to our student ministries class. I was impressed at how this couple who has spent over 50 years living among a primitive people could so easily communicate with a group of youth-directors-in-training, who are part of a high-tech, modern world. However, the principles of culture that the Dillingers learned in their work among the Dani are the same principles of culture that today’s student ministry leaders must adapt. I hope at least some of our students realized the privilege they had in hearing from these fountains of wisdom and knowledge yesterday.

leon-dillinger-time-coverIn the Dillingers, I met humble unassuming servants of the Lord. They have the work credentials – even making the cover of Time (Dec/1982) – that many in our culture would flash before others in order to get to the front of the line or gain complimentary goodies. But they don’t use their credentials in those ways. I noted in Leon’s chapel presentation that he didn’t communicate “I did” or “we did,” – even though it would have been perfectly normal in our “it’s about me” culture. Instead, always mindful to give the Lord proper priority, he used phrases like, “the Lord worked it out so that . . .”

Lorraine was equally humble (remember, she has worked side by side with Leon reaching the Dani since 1958): In a private conversation about what can be a controversial topic in mission theory, I pressed her for a clarification about their work as it contrasted to something a recognized missiologist said in a seminar I attended recently, and her answer was simply, “What we found was . . .” Even though she obviously disagreed with the other person’s statement and has a lifetime of credentials to support her position, she didn’t throw him under the bus or speak unkindly toward his work. She simply reiterated what she and Leon had experienced among the Dani. I learned much from their demonstration of humility.

Although they no longer live full time among the Dani, their work has not stopped. They continue to visit the Dani regularly, and Leon is working on a set of Bible commentaries in the Dani language. I hope that their complete story (or as much as is possible) can be captured in a book. The historical record of the modern mission movement will have a significant gap if it isn’t.



Preemptive Love: A Book Review

premptiveloveDisclosures: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I am also happy to say that Jeremy is a friend. I once drove 144 miles, one way, to have coffee with him in Lubbock, Texas. Finally, our family has financially supported both the Courtney family and the medical efforts of The Preemptive Love Coalition. Following, is the review I recorded at

Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time is a spell-binding, can’t-put-down book for the following reasons:

1. It focuses on something that every heart longs for: Love. The Courtneys and their crew give us a candid view of taking risks to love others. Yes, their efforts in a dangerous place that may be inaccessible to most, but their story illustrates and gives hope to those who wonder what it means to love others – even in less hostile environments. Even if I can’t go there and love like they do, can I love here like they do there? Yes! That’s one encouraging message from this book: We can practice preemptive love wherever we are!

2. It is candid. As expected, the author highlights the family’s and the organization’s victories as he weaves this spell-binding narrative. BUT, he doesn’t stop there; he also provides the reader with an insider’s view of the struggles and failures of family and organization as they learn to “love first, ask questions later.”

3. It is hopeful. In a world that is clearly broken, the Preemptive Love Coalition gives us hope that Jesus’ love and loving like Jesus can make a real difference. The stories Courtney tells of pain and suffering, of distrust and betrayal, of racism and hatred bring tears of brokenness and sorrow. BUT the stories also bring tears of hope and joy as they reveal how living and loving like Jesus brings comfort to the hurting, alleviates suffering, builds trust, extends forgiveness, and embraces the other and does good for them.

4. It is well written. Jeremy is a great story teller who helps the reader feel the sweltering summer heat, taste the sweet tea, smell the cigarette smoke that hovers over the negotiations for permission to help and partners to pay, grieve the death of a child, and feel the fear and anxiety of parents whose kids are without medical hope in a country devastated by war and politics and ethnic/religious divisions. I cried. I smiled. I praised God for helping PLC make a difference. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to those who simply want a good read, to those who want to see what love in action looks like, to those who are interested in the Middle East, to those who are interested in intercultural relations, and to those who want to see transparency, honesty, and hope.

Abu Sa’ad

This is Abu Sa’ad. We recently met in the Old City of Jerusalem. He initiated our meeting by doing a few things that no one has ever done to me in the Old City: First, as I was chimping the photos I had just shot, he stuck his head over my shoulder to see what I was looking at. He seemed to appreciate the shots (which may appear here at some point in the future), and gave me an open door to speak.

I tried to use some of my newly acquired Arabic, which went pretty well. I told him that I was learning Arabic and he was happy to engage in small talk with me. Mostly he told me about himself like where and when he was born: His identity card says he was born in 1926, though he insists it was really 1925. He also showed me his business card and made a little more small talk before moving along.

When he was about 25 yards from me, it dawned on me that he was going the same way I was going, and that I might be able to get up ahead and snipe a shot of him. So I gathered my things and tried to get ahead of him.

However, I attracted his attention as I tried to pass him in the narrow alley, and he started to talk to me again. Then he did the second thing that has never happened to me in the Old City: He asked me if I wanted to take his picture. In elementary Arabic, I clarified if he had just asked if I wanted to take his picture. I had understood him correctly, and happily said yes. He struck a pose and waited patiently as I made a few adjustments and openly took the shots I had hoped to snipe.

After I took the photos, we continued to walk together for about 5 minutes. As we talked, he revisited the year of his birth with me, even showing me his identity card to verbally correct the date that was shown there. I asked him where he was going and found out that he prays at Al Aqsa Mosque every day. I asked how many times he prays there each day, but his answer was long and drawn out and not understood by me. We talked about the prayer beads he was carrying, but I didn’t really understand what he said about them either. I did the best I could, but didn’t understand much of what was said. However, I did enjoy seeing that the new words I was using were understood by my new friend.

I hope that as my language skills improve, I’ll see Abu Sa’ad again. I’m sure he is filled with interesting stories, and I want to understand some of them.

Arabic: Langauge, Coffee, and Culture

I dropped my daughter off at school at 07:30, ninety minutes before my Arabic class was scheduled to start. I say, “scheduled to start” because we have yet to start on time, or even close to time. Never mind, we usually go over at the end, so I guess I’m getting all I paid for.

I enjoy wandering around the Old City for lots of reasons, but one of them is that I get a chance to use my Arabic as I’m gaining it, little by little.

This time, I was in the Old City earlier than usual and found myself in the company of a friendly man. I told him that I was studying Arabic and he was all too happy to speak (much too fast) to me in Arabic.

The conversation started fairly normally: “Where are you from?” he asked. “Jebal Abu Gneim,” I said, offering the Arabic name of my “settlement.” In my thinking, that’s a little olive branch toward those who might be offended that I live in an area that is considered by many to be stolen land. We were both surprised to discover that we are neighbors: he from Um Tuba, I from Har Homa (Jebal Abu Gneim). Two villages sitting next to each other, one Arab, the other Jewish. One considered native, the other considered a settlement. However, he didn’t seem worked up about where I live. In fact, he was impressed that I know of his village, Um Tuba.

After about 90 seconds of nothing about where we both live, he wanted to know where I’m really from. So, I told him Texas. “Oh, Bush!!!” he gushed. Then, he went into a long discourse, mixing Arabic, Hebrew, and English, according to his assessment of what I was understanding. “Bush has a gold brain, but a black heart” he said with conviction and the assumption that I would understand what that meant. I didn’t. And I just stared back at him with what I thought was the “I have no idea what that means” look. (Unfortunately, it wasn’t until AFTER our conversation that I asked how to say, “I don’t understand” in Arabic.)

I did have an idea that my new friend wasn’t being complementary about President Bush, but I wasn’t certain how badly he thought of the former President. After a few moments of dead time gazing at each other, he said it again, but with less Arabic and more – can I say this? – Hebrew. In this part of the Old City, most men seem to be able to speak Hebrew, but they want to do it in whispers, so that others don’t hear them. I’m totally fine if they speak to me in English, but they tell me (in a whisper, of course) that they are more confident in their Hebrew than their English.

Anyway, he began to use the story of Cain and Abel from the Quran to explain what he meant. Because I didn’t catch “Cain and Abel” in Arabic, he offered them to me in Hebrew, so it took him longer than he had hoped it would to get me on track. “Cain who killed his brother Abel,” he clarified, “also had a gold brain and black heart.” And with that, his assessment of President Bush was finished.

I’m not sure if he felt the freedom to share his assessment of President Bush because we are neighbors, or because I’m learning his language, or simply because I was willing to listen.

I suppose it is open to a variety of interpretations as to exactly what he meant. But, I didn’t pursue it because long ago, I stopped being defensive of the President of the United States, whoever may be President. I don’t see much, if any value in going down that road. I do want to understand better what people mean, and find that Arab men that are older than me often use word pictures that they think will clearly communicate to me, but actually only puzzle me.

After the “gold and black” thing, he insisted we have coffee. Now, I don’t drink coffee. Let me say that again, but more clearly: I DON’T DRINK COFFEE. More than once, I’ve explained to people, “I’m not being modest by saying no; I REALLY don’t like coffee. I don’t like the taste, and it usually burns my tongue.” Well, no matter: out came the thick coffee in the thimble size cups. I went ahead and accepted it since I didn’t really have a choice at that point. I held it for a moment and then took the smallest micro-sip possible, valiantly fought off the natural reaction toward severe bitter tastes, and swallowed the unbelievably rancid brew. After that, I just held the cup in my hand with NO intention whatsoever that it would come near my mouth again. He was happy to see that I enjoyed his coffee, which is to say that I must have had better control of my facial gestures than I thought possible. 

He needed to get going, so he bid me a “mah-salami” (“see you later”), but didn’t get away before I had him write his name out for me. I hope to wander over to his village on a Saturday or Sunday to visit. But, I’ll make sure it is time for tea, not coffee.

It seems to me that there are three major currencies among Arab men: coffee, cigarettes, and politics. Unfortunately, I don’t care for any of the three. However, I’m hopeful that my Arabic studies combined with Arab hospitality will give me some good in-roads into this community.

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