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The Show Must Go On! “Where My Backup Singers?”

“The show must go on!” may have never been better illustrated than by Patti LaBelle at the 1996 Christmas Tree Lighting in Washington, DC as seen in the video below.

Watch the video, then continue reading.

Throughout the song she brought attention to the problems by mentioning them, rolling her eyes and making faces, humming rather than signing, and complaining. But, … She. Kept. Going.

Question: Was it better for Ms. LaBelle to continue on even though she didn’t have her backup singers, didn’t know the song, and had the wrong cue cards? Or, should she have taken a moment to get organized?

A couple questions should guide us to an answer.

1. What did she intend to accomplish?
2. Did she, in fact, accomplish her goal by continuing on with the show?

Although I don’t know Ms. LaBelle’s goal for that performance, I can’t imagine that the product was anywhere near what she had hoped. Thus, it seams reasonable to conclude that she might have benefited by taking a moment to reorganize. Of course for public presenters – whether in song or spoken word – it is embarrassing to stop when things don’t go as planned. That’s understandable. But, could stopping for a moment to better organize be more embarrassing than the outcome of Ms. LaBelle’s performance? There is a reason it’s on YouTube.

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.



Words: Be careful how and when you use them

In his book You Bring the Bagels, I’ll Bring the Gospel, Barry Rubin says, “It’s important to understand that whereas a word may mean one thing to you, it will often convey a different meaning to someone else” (p. 93). In this, Rubin provides an important caution for those who work cross-culturally.

One morning while picking up people for our worship service, we picked up a man who, prior to the collapse, had fled the Soviet Union for the relative freedom offered in Israel. He was an unbeliever and this was his first visit to our congregation. Since we didn’t know him, we began the customary “get to know you” conversation, which was very enlightening and pleasant. However, things changed quickly and dramatically when the driver concluded that portion of our conversation with words he had probably said one thousand times before . . . back home in the United States.

“It’s good to have you.”

I happened to be looking over my shoulder into the backseat where our guest was sitting and the look that came across his face was startling. Upon hearing those words, his countenance immediately changed to one of fear. The implications of those words – “It’s good to have you.” – would be difficult to understand for those who had grown up in the 1940’s United States and had never been inside the borders of the old Soviet Union.

Our guest’s response is still fresh in my mind some twenty years later: “Not only do you not have me, you will never have me.” In that event, I learned an important lesson about the challenge of saying things cross-culturally and about apologizing when I inadvertently offend.

Have you ever had one of those “oops” moments? Share it in the comments.

Tragic and Ironic: Israel Expands Abortion in 2014

This article from Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper ends the year on a downer for me.

Beginning in 2014, Israel will fund all abortions for women 20-33. While such news isn’t surprising for me, it is certainly heartbreaking and tragic. The “progressive” attitude of Israelis toward abortion is ironic in at least four ways:

1. The expansion of abortion in Israel contradicts a very famous Jewish dictum sourced from the Talmud:

“Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he has destroyed a whole world. And whoever saves a life it is considered as if he saved a whole world. ” – Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:8 (37a)

Adam was created alone, some suggest, to demonstrate the value and potential of a single human life.

According to the article, because of the new rule “another 6,300 additional women are expected to have state-funded abortions next year.” Therefore, in Talmudic terms, the expansion of abortion in Israel will destroy the whole world an estimated 6,300 additional times in 2014.

2. The expansion of abortion in Israel contradicts the Israeli mantra “never again.” One outcome of the holocaust in which some 6,000,000 Jews were murdered is a social/national/military commitment “never again” to allow others to come close to destroying the Jewish people. Yet, Israeli Jews are doing it to themselves.

If this number of additional abortions weren’t bad enough, state health officials say “they hope to make eligibility for state funding universal in the future.”

3. The expansion of abortion in Israel contradicts the demographic concerns of Israeli Jews. It is common knowledge that many Israeli Jews are concerned about the low Jewish birth rate as it compares to a relatively higher Arab birth rate in Israel because of the democratic nature of the government of Israel. In other words, if Jews continue to kill their children in increasing numbers before they are born, the Arab population will continue to inch forward as a result of a higher birth rate, and theoretically could surpass the number of Israeli Jews. And thus, endanger the existence of the only Jewish state in the world.

4. The expansion of abortion in Israel contradicts the Jewish principle of Tikun Olam (“repairing the world”), which is appropriately credited as a motivating factor for the many positive contributions of Jews to the betterment of the world (see Michael Ordman’s Good News From Israel for examples).

Of these additional 6,300 children who are expected to be killed through abortion in 2014, how many would have become educators? Scientists? Doctors? Good neighbors? I wonder how many children those 6,300 children would have had, and among that generation, how many would have been educators, scientists, doctors, and good neighbors? Of course that 2nd unborn generation would also have had children. How many is impossible to know, but I wonder how many of them would have contributed to Tikun Olam. That question can be extrapolated out endlessly as is explained in point 1 above . . . saving a life equals saving the world.

To this point, I have only considered those babies that are expected to be killed in 2014. What about those killed through abortion in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, . . . and their generations of descendents?

This decision may appear to some to be both generous and an expansion of women’s rights and protections. However, a quick scratch of the surface reveals that it is only fool’s gold.

Texas Wisdom Says, . . .

. . . “trust but verify.” So did President Ronald Reagan.

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