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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.

 

 

The Holy Land’s Underbelly

On Wednesday evenings, my friend Bill and I go to Tel Aviv to teach at the Sudanese church, which is located near the central bus station in south Tel Aviv. This an area that is heavily populated by foreigners – some legal, some illegal.

One Israeli described the demographics like this: “It’s so crowded with foreigners that it’s hard to find an actual Israeli there. And if you do, they are simply passing through going to or from the bus station.” His observations are pretty accurate. After our meeting with the Sudanese men, we generally get a bite to eat at the nearby pedestrian mall. Besides eating, we also wander around trying to strike up conversations with whomever we can; but mostly we are observing, trying to figure out how things work in this island of foreign workers.

Not only is this the foreign workers’ stomping ground, it is also an area with homeless people who have found themselves on the streets due to drug abuse or mental illness. I’m sure there may be some other reasons, but those seem to be the most prominent.

The homeless guys in the photo above, are sleeping in the shooting gallery. That’s where heroin addicts hide in the shadows and inject themselves  (see the video below). The place is littered with filth, all the things associated with homeless drug addicts: human waste, trash, treasures collected from dumpsters, rats, empty lighters, spoons, and old needles and syringes.

At times it’s overwhelming to see the collection of misery that has settled in that area. And, I’m talking about the majority of those in the area, not just the heroin addicts sleeping in their own waste. My heart aches both for the addicts and for those who have made their way to Tel Aviv – however they did that – to work one level above slave conditions (worse in some cases) in an effort to send some money back home, or to seek a better life for themselves.

What’s astounding is the emptiness and collective hopelessness that permeates the area. Pubs of one ethnic variety or another are the gathering places, the anesthesia that dulls the emptiness that is life for so many of these wanderers.

In contrast to this painful scene, are the men who meet us to study God’s word at the Sudanese church a couple streets over. They, too, have tales of hardship to tell, but they aren’t empty or hopeless. The difference? It isn’t in the hardship of their lives verses the hardship of those we painfully observe on the walkway each week, because their lives are equally challenging. The real difference is the hope of the gospel.

I’m encouraged every Wednesday night to sit with these men and see a real example of the hope and contentment the gospel offers; to see the effects of believing in the supremacy of Christ over all other suitors.

Here’s a video of two guys shooting heroin in the shooting gallery last night.

UPDATE: Here’s the same video with brightness and contrast adjustments:

Confidence and Joy in Prayer

Philippians 1:3-11 NIV

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

This short passage answers at least two questions:

1. Why does Paul pray with confidence and joy for the saints at Philippi?

Because “HE who began a good work in [them] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

In other words, when God starts something, he finishes it.

2. For what does Paul pray?

That [their] love may abound more and more in
A. knowledge, and
B. depth of insight.

So that [they] may:
1. be able to discern what is best, and
2. be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, and
3. be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-

To the glory and praise of God.

Paul’s prayer for the saints at Philippi has one goal in mind: the glory and praise to God.

Our Good Works are to His Credit

Ephesians 2:10 NIV

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Good works are:
1. What Christians are to do as the result of Him working in us.
2. Designated for us in advance.

God has prepared certain good works for us to do and His work in us gives us the ability to do them, which means there is no room for boasting on our part.

That we have nothing to boast about isn’t a new idea introduced in this verse. In fact, it is a followup: In the two verses prior to this (2:8-9), we see that our salvation is a merciful gift from God so that we can’t boast. Interestingly, the good works we do, like our salvation, are to His credit. It’s a package deal. God alone gets the credit for our salvation and our good works.

Predestined for the Praise of His Glory

Ephesians 1:11-12 NIV

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

From this passage I see that Christians are predestined:
1. According to a plan, and
2. For the praise of God’s glory.

Predestination is not a reaction; it has a plan and a purpose. That gives me encouragement and comfort.

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