Personal stories from Ian’s life that are included in Gems and available to read and search as stand-alone stories here.
Des Oatridge, Plumber and Accomplished Phonetician
I have had the privilege of knowing Des Oatridge, a New Zealand plumber who was challenged to become a Bible Translator with Wycliffe. Des & Jenny's story has been captured in the book Hidden People. Des was a plumber in Taranaki who attended a meeting one week night to hear a translator sharing his work as a Bible translator. During the course of the evening Des was taken with the thought that he should become involved. Des discovered that he had a hidden gift for this work. He had an incredible ear for sound and language. Des became one of Wycliffe Bible Translators most gifted phoneticians. The task of Bible translation is complicated. Each language in the world has complexity in some feature of the language. It may be hidden in the phonetics or the sounds of the language. It may be hidden in the complicated grammar governing how the language is structured. In order to communicate fullness of meaning, languages need to be complex.
At the beginning of their work with the Binumarien people in Papua New Guinea Des found that God had gifted him for this work by giving him a phonetician's ear to pick up the subtle differences in speech. I remember sitting listening to Des pick up and put together the complexity of an unwritten language in a demonstration of how to go about his work. I was impressed and amazed. God's call came with God's enablement to do the work. Des and Jenny's story is recorded by Lynette Oates in the book “Hidden People: How a Remote New Guinea Culture Was Brought Back from the Brink of Extinction” by a New Zealand plumber. How can it be? Anything is possible when God is in the equation. The Oatridge's story is remarkable. Not only how a people group were saved from extinction, but also how God used the genealogy in Matthew 1 to capture the attention of this people group. Fisherman, plumber; it matters not when God is calling.
You Have to Be Kidding: Me, a Bible Translator?
I have shared our story of how we joined Wycliffe because of God's intervention on June 8th 1981. You can read various aspects of our story amidst the Ian Stories. But I will share now a part of the story I have not yet shared. I was put into the academic stream in high school and expected to learn Latin and French. However the way those languages were taught were so boring. We had to learn the grammar and were expected to memorise vocabulary lists. The thought didn't grab me at all, yet that was the expectation. I 'learned' Latin until the end of Fourth Form when I had no interest in learning it anymore. I continued French until 7th Form because I was told you needed a language unit in your degree. But never once did we have a French conversation among ourselves or better yet with real French speaking people. No, we just learned the grammar, the syntax of French sentences and endless word lists. At the end of 7th Form (Upper Sixth actually) our French teacher took us to a French play at Auckland University. None of us understood anything beyond the odd word here and there. I did not think that I was in any way cut out for languages or linguistics.
At Uni I took Indonesian as my required language unit. But half way through the year the requirement of taking a language paper in your degree was abolished. So I didn't bother with the lectures for the rest of the year. They just did not capture my attention. Needless to say my results in Latin, French and Indonesian were not good. The motivation was not there. But when God touched my button and I stepped out into the world of the Linguistics after His Call I was turned on. I find it all so ironic now given the path I have travelled.
Another branch to the story of Ian and languages is that I realised I really do have a gift for learning languages which has been proved again and again. However when we went to Indonesia and I learned my Indonesian in the East in Ujung Pandang (Makassar), Sulawesi. I learned the Eastern dialect of Indonesian in order to teach at the University. When we went to Jakarta a number of years later I was told I spoke funny Indonesian. I was delighted a number of years later when I took a group of colleagues from Kartidaya to Palu to teach Deeper Bible where I had trained the Jakarta based team to teach the course. But the attendees in Sulawesi, pastors and linguists and others complained they couldn't understand those teaching. "We can't understand you; we want Ian to teach us. Him we understand."
All that to say, I think I understand John as result of my life experience. Yes it may be that John's Greek was not the educated, high-brow Greek of Athens. Yes he was a Hebrew speaker at heart, but had mastered the Greek language which was in fact the language of wider communication. God also had a purpose in the way John had been trained in order to communicate the message God wanted broadcast far and wide.
In The Streets of New York City
Hanging in There Fingers, Knees and Toes
I started thinking about about a time when I was in Sokcho as director of WBTNZ for a conference in this northern city in the mountains of South Korea. It was suggested that we might like to climb up to the Geumganggul Prayer Cave which was at the end of short walk amid the beauty of the forest in the area. It was indeed delightful. Then we arrive below the climb looking up; there were 800+ steps to negotiate to the cave. I was nearing 50 (years not steps) and was not as fit as what I had been as a tournament tennis player. But I wasn't going to be defeated. Sometimes you just have to dig your toes in and go for it which a group of us did. I guts it out to make it up there and finally reached the cave. Oh we took a break of a few minutes now and then but we got there. We took in the view, spent a short time praying and then embarked on the homeward descent. I am sorry I don't have any photos of that time because back then I didn't have a cell phone in my pocket, but I am sure you can Google it. Besides, I am not wanting to impress with the grandeur of the scene, I am focused as was the writer of Hebrews on the homeward stretch to the goal.
The downward journey was in some ways worse than the climb up. It was without the burning sense in the lungs of sucking in a breath at altitude as we climbed, but on the descent it was the feeling in my fingers, knees and toes as I went down the same number of steps in reverse. I had a suspect knee due to an old tennis injury and I distinctly remember those three parts of my anatomy hurting in the quest to get down again: my fingers, knees and toes. My knees were indeed getting shaky on the descent. I was tired after the climb and my knees began to shake more with each step downward. I found myself summoning fingers on the railing, as well as knees and toes into action to get my body down again without toppling forward on the steep stairs.
Jesus Saw Me Win My Race
My parents owned a Milk Bar Dairy, a local shop open 7 days a week and long hours, so they didn't come to school events or sports days. In primary school on one of the school sports day, I was running and came first in my race. I was disappointed that my parents weren’t there to see me win but a neighbour was there. Years later in a meeting at church for inner healing, the speaker prayed at the end that God would bring to mind something He wanted to heal. I was immediately back running my race on that sports day. It was as clear as being back there at the time. Months went by and one night when I couldn’t sleep, I decided to ask the Lord about that memory. There I was running and I was out front and winning but I needed to see if my neighbour was watching and seeing me coming first. So while I was nearing the finish line I turned to look for my neighbour. But there on the stands was JESUS and HE was cheering me on! Suddenly it didn’t matter that my parents weren’t there. Jesus, the creator of the universe was there watching ME. I mattered to Him! That was such an amazing revelation and put me on cloud 9 for months.
The Problem with My Name Stamp
In June 1984 we produce a Vail Vagaries newsletter with an amusing account of something that had happened. Well we thought it was amusing at the time but others didn't. We had had a delay in our visa's coming through and wondered why. I had taken two books up to some Wycliffe folk who had been in Kalimantan for nine years. We were going to loan them one of the books on Islam in Indonesia and get them to read some selected portions of the New Testament in Indonesian so we could listen to the sentence patterns of the Indonesian language. On showing them both books they said, "You can't take those books into Indonesia with you." I said, "Why not? What's wrong with either book?" Nothing, the problem was my name stamp in the front of the book.
'Matamata' reduplicated like that was the problem. 'Mata' is the Indonesia word for 'eye', the reduplication turns the word into the plural 'eyes' or 'spy'. Putting that image along with my name stamp in our newsletter at a sensitive time was also a problem. Especially with the inference that perhaps we were spies. You can see how names and place names can become a problem in an unexpected way.
The Difference Between Jesus Standing and Jesus Sitting - An Insight in the Night
I have taken some spare moments I have had to work on this Gem despite all my light and momentary afflictions during this week. I have told you about the significance of Jesus sitting in the last Gem but now allow me to contrast it with Jesus standing. Read Gem 1482 to gain a new perspective on the difference between Jesus sitting and Jesus standing. I have been awake in the early hours of today and pondering this Gem and what I had written yesterday after getting my temporary office set up. I suddenly recalled what I had written on the significance of Jesus standing in Acts 7:56. I felt God was reminding me of what I had written in that past Gem. Of course, there is a little hidden gem of Scripture there. Prof Brown frequently reminded us that no word in Scripture is a throw-away. Every word is there for a purpose. This morning I felt Holy Spirit telling me "maintain your peace and poise in the midst of afflictions". When recalling the verse in Acts I thought of the significance of Jesus standing. Was He indeed giving Stephen a standing ovation for his faithfulness at his death? Then I thought of this verse:-
Dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.Phil 4:8
I am beginning to think that Jesus stands and applauds you when you set aside your natural inclination to get upset, frustrated and even angry over your light and momentary afflictions. "Our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!" This morning when I opened up my computer I saw a response from Susan, from the DB 301 Seattle class. She had sent a devotional reading called Kita Harus Tenang Dan Sabar (We Have to be Calm and Patient). I marvel at the chain God used to send that prompt to me in addition to what He had prompted me to think on in the wee small hours. Using a American woman in the midst of an Indonesian church in Seattle to send me that message in the Indonesian language. That message came to Susan completely in Indonesian; she had to Google translate it in order to understand it. She then passed it on to me and her class mates.
Ian and Tania, Can You Use A New Carpet?
I am going to pause the Gems at this point. I will write the next Gem when order is restored. We are about to pack up my study and library and the house in preparation for re-carpeting the house. God has provided us with a new carpet. Our carpet has been down for just short of 20 years and we have wondered about the need to do something about it. But reneged because of the cost of doing so. Tania prayed one night recently and asked the Lord what were we going to do about this carpet. The next day good friends and supporters rang up and said, "Do you guys need a new carpet?" Talk about an instant answer to prayer.
These friends had a disaster when their upstairs water pipe broke when they were away and the water flooded through the whole house. The carpets had to be replaced. But when the carpet was replaced under insurance the carpet they chose was not the one put it, it was a different shade of colour. In the end the insurance covered the replacement carpet as well and so these dear friends were offering this newly installed carpet to us free of charge. The problem was this new carpet had already been cut and installed and then taken up again. So would it work in our place without being patchy?
Well true to form when God is in the mix, their rooms were slightly larger than each of our rooms meaning the fit was perfect. Not only was the fit perfect but the colour match is also perfect for both the tiles in our kitchen and the curtains hanging in the lounge and dining room. God, you are amazing. You not only prepared a body for Jesus to sacrifice for us all; you also prepared a body of new carpet which is perfect for our house at the cost of instalment.
This is the Moment Most Would Choose Christ - But I am not Going to!
Isn't that exactly what the writer to the Hebrews is explaining in this passage? There is indeed an indefinite definiteness to when God sets the day for you and me and anyone else He chooses. Don't spurn your day of hearing God's voice. I can think of times when my heart was beating fast and my ears were ringing. My body was advising me that God was speaking to me but to my shame I chose to ignore it and claim that I would respond another day. I imagine that we have all done that. I did it when I had opportunities to accept God a couple of times before August 19th 1973, but I passed them by. I even said to George Curle on Sunday night August 19th 1973, "No George, I am not a faith person. I operate on the facts, not faith." He said, "Ian, everyone is a faith person. God will never give you all the answers. He will always leave you a faith-gap short." I am convinced God brings us to the point of us knowing we have to make a decision. The moment is left hanging for us to decide if we will respond or not. What will you do? This is your moment to choose to follow Jesus. You know it, He knows it, but the issue still remains what will you do?
I can think of many times I have known people or heard of people who have come to the brink of decision only to turn away and say something like that Iranian man I told you about in Gem 1855. Don't leave yourself being almost persuaded and pass the moment by. I know a person we had been talking to over months about Christianity with many late night sessions into the wee small hours. A number of times she seemed close to the point of decision. Then one day she told us she had been sky-diving and her main chute had not opened. She desperately tried to reach her reserve chute but couldn't get to the toggle which was stuck out of reach up her back. She told us. "I thought: this is the moment that most people would become a Christian but I am not going to." At that moment the main chute toggle came into her hand again. She pulled it and her main chute opened on that pull. There are times we can wilfully resist God's moments of decision. We have all done it it to one degree or another but perhaps never that defiantly.
Why Did God Choose The Jews?
I once gave an Iranian man, who challenged me in a God’s Awesome Book seminar in Hamilton NZ, this reason for why God chose the Jews. He told me that I had almost persuaded him about Christianity with what I had said about fulfilled prophecy. But then he said with venom, "But then you said that 'God chose the Jews.' Any God who chooses the Jews I choose to turn my back on." With that comment he pivoted and showed me the back of his neck. I knew I was talking with someone from the Middle East. To turn the nape of the neck to someone is a rude gesture of contempt. Like showing someone another unmentionable body part, it demonstrates the height of contempt. I asked him, "Ah but why did God choose the Jews?"
He said angrily, "I don't know and I don't care.
To which I replied, "He could have chosen the Jews because they were the smartest."
To which he protested vehemently. I continued, "More Jews have won the Nobel Prize in various fields than any other race on earth. But He didn’t. He could have chosen the Jews because they were the best at business. But He didn’t. He could have chosen the Jews for a number of reasons but in Deuteronomy He tells us why he chose the Jews. Because they were the most stubborn." He agreed with that reason.
I figure God chose the most stubborn of people to show how He works with all mankind. We human beings all have a tendency to be stubborn, especially when it comes to relating to God. So God went for the most contrary and told the rest of mankind to watch how He would deal with the Jewish race so we would all understand. Am I any different? No, I can be one stubborn hombre when I choose to be. I am no different. I can't look down on the Jews because of their stubbornness; I am just like them. I figure God chose a hard bunch of stubborn people to show the world how He works with human kind. We can all be stubborn and obstinate when we want to.
When God Squashed Me Into the Carpet
I have known times of God's glory coming upon me and squashing me into the carpet. It happened the first time in my house in Matamata around 1977. I had been wokened by the LORD in the early hours of the morning, about 2.00 am and had the sense that I should go into the lounge and sit in His Presence. I sat for about a half hour talking to the Lord and reading my Bible. As I recall, I read the passage in Exodus 33 about Moses in the Lord's presence and his face glowing. I was worshipping the Lord and then put on the John Michael Talbot album The Lord's Supper. After listening for a while I felt to get on to my knees and bowed down with my face to the carpet. Suddenly I felt like there was a weight came on me pressing me into the carpet. I felt I was pinned to the carpet and couldn't move. It was both scary and glorious at the same time, but left me shaken. When I could finally move, I sat on the floor wondering what to make of it all. I was filled with questions and a little fearful at the strangeness of the experience and so I phoned our Pastor, Dick Hemmings.
Bless his heart, he responded to my call in the wee small hours and came over with Weston Finlay, after which I explained to them what had happened to me. They reassured me that this wasn't as kooky as I thought. That this was one of the ways that God's glory can come upon us. The feeling is like being squashed down or held down by a heavy weight and being unable to move because of the Presence of the LORD. That was the first time I learned that the Hebrew word for 'glory', [kabod] (pronounced kavod) means weight.