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.

 

 

Hello, God?

During Succot prayers, I noticed this father and son team. The son was praying in the more traditional way: prayer shawl in place, prayer book in front, and facing the Western Wall. The father, on the other hand, appeared to be phoning in his prayer.

Shouldn’t it have been the other way around? 

The Downside of Technology

Technology is great. I use it everyday. In fact, I’m using technology now to critique the use of technology. That irony isn’t lost on me, so save the wise cracks. Having said all that, I also think we are terribly short-sighted to not acknowledge there is some downside – trade off, if you will – to our speeding merrily down the technological freeway.

Here’s a case in point: Recently I had the need to duplicate a book that has been out of print for quite some time. I needed this particular book for an assignment I was giving some students, so I had a choice: I could use the old fashioned, labor intensive, data entry method and simply re-type the book in my word processor; or I could do an OCR scan and touch up the formatting.

Which did I choose? Well, . . . I chose both. I started the project the old fashioned way: I was sitting in a semi-comfortable chair with the book propped up on a stand, keyboard at the ready, and pretending they were bifocals, I had my reading glasses perched on my nose in such a way that I could read both both my monitor and the book I was reproducing.

All the physical preparation out of the way, the project was now underway. I read. I mentally processed what I had read. I typed. That was the process. Read. Process. Type. Read. Process. Type. After an hour, I was quite proud of what I had been able to transfer from a dusty old, long out of print book, to a modern technological masterpiece called a MacBook Pro. The long out of print and unavailable book was becoming available for my students. More important, though, was that the process gave me the chance to process the information as I transferred the text from one medium to another. I read and typed; the information was flowing into AND out of my mind.

Admittedly, the process was time consuming. But, my typing was improving on the fly: my speed increased and my mistakes decreased. However, after an hour, I started to think, “This could take a long time. I wonder if I should just scan it and reformat?

In the end, I decided to scan and reformat the remaining pages. No doubt about it, scanning was MUCH faster than trying to type the text!

However, there was something I didn’t consider: by only scanning the documents, I was missing something vital. I wasn’t reading or processing the information as I had done previously. And that meant, that after scanning and reformatting, I would need to go back and read the document. Furthermore, simply going back to read the document wouldn’t provide the opportunity of output, which typing had. An important (for me) step in the process of mentally “owning” this information was lost in the more technology savvy method.

Here’s my conclusion on this unintended experiment: It’s true, I saved some time. But, the amount of time I saved was reduced by having to go back and read the material after it had been scanned and reformatted. It’s also true, that by leaving out, or greatly reducing, the labor step of the process, I paid a price in my ability to better understand and process the information.

In this process, there definitely was a downside. Now, I don’t intend this blog to suggest that I’ll never use OCR again. Neither is it intended to suggest that you should not use OCR or other technologies. What it is intended to do is to encourage you and me to fairly consider the wisest use of technology in our daily lives. Fastest isn’t always best. And old fashioned isn’t always best. Let’s use honest discernment when deciding when to use technology.

Thinkers: Relevance

“As a preacher, I think a lot about relevance. That is, why should anyone listen to what I have to say? Why should anybody care? Relevance is an ambiguous word. It could mean more than one thing. It might mean that a sermon is relevant if it feels to the listeners that it will make a significant difference in their lives. Or it might mean that a sermon is relevant if it will make a significant difference in their lives whether they feel it or not. That second kind of relevance is what guides my sermons. In other words, I want to say things that are really significant for your life whether you know they are or not. My way of doing that is to stay as close as I can to what God says is important in his word, not what we think is important apart God’s word.”

There is so much wealth to mine in this quote, which comes from a sermon John Piper preached on February 10, 2008.

Relevance, or being relevant is another major buzz phrase – equally as big as “out of the box” – in the evangelical world these days. If you don’t think so, Google church relevant. I got a search result of 102,000,000 English pages.

So many preachers are concerned whether or not they are being relevant. But I wonder how many of them have given consideration to what Piper is suggesting: that there are at least two meanings of relevant. If you view yourself as a relevant preacher, what do you mean by that? Do you mean that you Facebook? That you Twitter? That you include video clips or drama to enhance your sermons? Or something else? What exactly do you mean?

For those who didn’t get the distinction in the Piper quote, here it is in a nutshell: Who determines what is relevant to the hearer? The man who invests His week in the study of God’s word and prayer, asking God to speak through him to the people who will be present on a Sunday? OR, the person in the pew that has been shaped by a culture to believe that only things that make him feel good about himself are relevant to his life?

All preachers who wrestle with the issue of “to be or not to be . . . relevant” would do well to consider the distinction between these two meanings of the word relevant, whether they feel it will be relevant for them to do so or not.