Monday, November 30, 2020

Quote of the Week

"It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching."

- Francis of Assisi

Monday, November 23, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm taking a week off from the blog for the holiday, so new posts will resume on Monday, Nov. 30. If you'd like to follow along with my family and our church in the meantime, you can check out our calls to prayer (short, encouraging videos posted each evening) at Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Our Helper, God, we bless Thy name,
Whose love forever is the same:
Amid ten thousand snares we stand,
Supported by Thy guardian hand;
And see, when we review our ways,
Ten thousand monuments of praise.
Let us not murmur or complain
At what Thy wisdom shall ordain;
Accept our thanks for mercies past,
And be our guide while life shall last.
Preserve us by Thy favor still,
And fit us for Thy sacred will.

- lines derived from No. 536 & 539 of the Augustine Hymn Book, 19th century

Friday, November 20, 2020

A Selection from My Poetry-Prayer Journal


Bless, O Lord, the work I must do this week.

It feels too much for me.

But it is not too much for you.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: the Early Baptists

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  – Matthew 28:19

Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.  – Matthew 22:21b

The Early Baptists: Basic Facts

- The Baptists emerged out of the Puritan movement in England in the early 1600s (and from its offshoot, Congregationalism), with a bit of influence from the Anabaptists of Holland.

- The story of Baptists is not a story of any individual “heroes,” but the story of whole congregations. The first Baptist church was a congregation from England who, because of religious pressure, fled to Holland and adopted believers’ baptism.

From Protestant to Baptist

John Smyth
- Most early Protestant traditions, including
Anglicanism, continued to hold to infant baptism, participation in sacraments as the mark of a true Christian (rather than individual piety), a parish church system (in which everybody in a geographic area was considered to be part of the local church), and authority invested in a church hierarchy. 

- Puritans emerged from mainstream Anglicanism partly by saying that individual piety, not simply participation in the sacraments, is the mark of a true Christian.

- Congregationalists emerged from Puritanism by rejecting the principle of a church hierarchy, instead investing authority in the local church.

- Baptists distinguished themselves from Congregationalists by rejecting the parish system in favor of having a church membership composed only of people who demonstrate the marks of a true Christian life, and also by rejecting infant baptism and arguing for the separation of church and state.

Prominent Early Baptists

- John Smyth, ordained as an Anglican minister, helped lead his Puritan-leaning congregation toward a Baptist position through rigorous study of the Bible. Facing religious pressure in England, they fled to Holland, where they met some Anabaptists and became convinced that infant baptism was improper. Smyth baptized himself, then his whole congregation, in 1609.

- Roger Williams was a minister who emigrated to New England and, in the 1630s, protested against the Congregationalist associations with the state in Massachusetts Bay Colony. He founded the city of Providence, Rhode Island, and built the first Baptist church in North America there. He was also an early advocate for the rights of Native Americans and African slaves.

Roger Williams
Baptist Distinctives

- The Freedom of the Believer – Baptists believe that each individual person is free to choose for themselves what they believe, and that they alone are accountable for that decision. Thus no one else can make the decision for you to be a Christian; only you can do that—hence infants are not to be baptized, only believers mature enough to make the decision for themselves. Believers are also competent to read and interpret Scripture for themselves, and they are not compelled to obey any outside authority on religious matters beyond their own conscience (as informed by the life and practice of their local church).

- The Freedom of the Local Church – Every local church is a full representation of the whole Church, with all the spiritual gifts and authority designated to the whole. Thus the local church has authority to read and interpret Scripture, to manage its own property and ministries, and to organize its own practice of faith. It is not beholden to any church hierarchy above it, though it should maintain voluntary associations with other churches for the purpose of mutual edification and for the pursuit of wider ministries. The church is also free from any interference from the state in its organization, practice, and doctrine.

The Early Baptist Movement in Maine: Isaac Case

- Rev. Isaac Case (1761-1852) was a Baptist preacher from Massachusetts who felt called by God to minister in the frontier towns of Maine. He served both as pastor and missionary throughout his career, and his preaching-tours took him all over the coast of Maine. Almost all of his travels were done solely on foot. It is said that more than 300 Baptist churches in Maine can trace their roots to his influence (including many in our own association, such as Brooklin, North Sedgwick, and Blue Hill), and that he personally baptized more than a thousand people. Although mainly concerned with evangelism, he would also try to impress the truth of Baptist doctrine on any Congregationalists he came across; on one occasion he caused an entire Congregational church to switch its affiliation and become Baptist. By the time of his death, he had spent 72 years in active ministry.

“He appeared to enjoy religion. Progress, praise, and love to Christ, and defense of the Gospel, seemed to be the happy elements of his everyday life…His general bearing bespoke the reign of peace within…When he came to Maine, he was a young man, only twenty years old. He gave his time and all his energies to the work of the ministry, without any salary from any quarter. Everywhere, among our churches, his memory is blessed.” – Adam Wilson, writing about Rev. Case

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Photo of the Week

But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me...
Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.

- Micah 7:7-8

Monday, November 16, 2020

Quote of the Week

"If we would exercise a true fortitude, we must do all in the spirit of devotion, be valiant against the corruptions of the world, the lusts of the flesh, and the temptations of the devil. For to be daring and courageous against these enemies is the noblest bravery that a human mind is capable of."

- William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Great God, as seasons disappear,
And changes mark the rolling year;
As time with rapid pinions flies,
May every season make us wise.

- from #547 of the Augustine Hymn Book, 19th century

Friday, November 13, 2020

Africa Memoir: A Top-Secret Dictionary Project

I was sitting in a meeting in a high-ceilinged room, with six expatriate workers gathered around me. Three agencies were represented in that room, and out of the three, only one—the Catholic Language Institute—was operating completely in the open, with the full knowledge of the Islamist government. Another was the one I worked for—an organization which had to hold its secrets tightly, and which I had been forbidden to name aloud in conversations, not even with the use of code words. The third agency was one that I knew well—one of the highest-profile linguistics organizations in the world. I knew that its partner agency, which did Bible translation work, was not a name I could mention there. But I received a bit of a shock, a reminder of just how sensitive my work was, when I dropped the name of the linguistics organization into our conversation, as I spoke of my gratitude for being able to work with them. As soon as its name slipped out of my mouth, the Catholic leader, Father Pierre, stood up and shuffled quickly over to the doors of the room, which had been standing open to the hallway outside. He swung them shut and locked them. I doubt that there were any government spies lingering about the hall, but it was a stark reminder of the risks involved in what we were doing.

~ ~ ~ 

Over my first few days in Sudan, Ernest and Aaron introduced me to the project I would be working on. As it turned out, I was going to be more independent than I had envisioned. Ernest and Aaron were hard at work setting up their medical aid and development agency, and Anne was involved with teaching English in a nearby school, but I would be on my own, doing a project for which I only felt marginally qualified. I was going to put together a bilingual dictionary that English-speakers could use to learn Sudanese Arabic. The only trouble was that I did not know Sudanese Arabic, and yet here I was being asked to write a dictionary for the language. (It’s a dialect different enough from modern standard Arabic to require some extra resources, and the only existing dictionary was an antiquated British one from the colonial days.)

But I did have a few skills I could bring to bear. The focus of my undergraduate degree was in linguistics, and I had been trained by members of the linguistics organization mentioned above—a group which pioneered the production of dictionaries, grammars, literacy resources, and Bible translations all around the world. In terms of practical, on-the-field ethnographic-linguistic research, this organization outpaces all other academic or evangelistic linguistic efforts in the world, and by a wide margin. Much of my work in Sudan would also be done in contact with the small handful of their workers based in Khartoum, all of whom were excited about the prospect of a much-needed Sudanese Arabic dictionary. I was proud to be working alongside them, since my own parents’ missionary work in Brazil had been done with the same organization.

I was given the use of two computers—the old office computer at the Catholic Language Institute, and a used desktop unit that Ernest was able to procure for me to use at home. With these, my job was to plug in a computer program that I had brought with me into the country—a basic dictionary-maker called Shoebox, which had been used by linguists and ethnographers all over the world. Then I had to figure out how to make the program run, learning Unicode computing along the way so I could manage the input of Arabic characters. Beyond the computer tasks, I was to compile wordlists from a broad circle of Sudanese contacts and expatriate workers, and then input the data, careful keystroke by careful keystroke, into the growing dictionary database.

The main characters in this work, beyond my own team, included two British Bible translators, who had spent many years in the southern parts of the country, and two workers at the Catholic Language Institute—Father Pierre, a stooped, graying old priest who exuded a sense of patient pleasure everywhere he went, and Lucia, a Dutch woman who taught Arabic classes to other expats. Most of my work revolved around the Catholic Language Institute of Khartoum, a maroon building just a stone’s throw from the Saudi embassy in Amarat, across the main road from my home area of Diems. I got used to walking back and forth between the two suburbs, making my commute by foot every day (about half an hour’s walk). It involved crossing the wildly-weaving traffic of the main thoroughfare, which was sometimes a hair-raising experience (I only almost died once), but on the whole it was a pleasant stroll. Dressed in the normal clothes of daily life—sandals, slacks, and a button-up shirt with the cuffs rolled back—I walked back and forth across the sandy streets, stopping every now and then to practice my greetings with the fuul merchants along the way.

It was there at the institute—affectionately called CLIK—that our meeting to launch the dictionary project took place. Ernest and Aaron were there, as were the two British missionaries, along with Father Pierre and Lucia. We talked a bit about word lists (they had some 2000 pieces of linguistics data already assembled for me to input), about whether to use American or British English in parallel with Sudanese Arabic, and about who else I should contact for more information. And as I was talking in that meeting, I happened to mention the name of the linguistics organization, unaware that saying it out loud would be a problem. But I felt chastened when Father Pierre popped up, rushed over, and locked the doors.

In one sense, the work I was going to do looked kind of boring—manually inputting thousands of items of linguistic data into a computer program. There certainly wasn’t anything illegal in producing this dictionary, which would likely end up being as much use to the Sudanese government as to missionaries. But in another sense, it suddenly took on shades of excitement and intrigue. I was going to spend the next few months conducting meetings with workers whose affiliations were closely-guarded, and whose patient, stalwart work for the good of Sudan was something that had to be done in the shadows. I might be walking in the bright sunlight from Diems to Amarat every day, but the work that I did was something that could not yet be spoken in the open air.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: William Bradford & the Pilgrims

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”  – John 15:14-17

William Bradford & the Pilgrims: Basic Facts

- William Bradford (1590-1657) was one of the original settlers of Plymouth Plantation, having crossed from England in 1620 on the Mayflower, and he became the colony’s governor for over thirty years. His record of the colony’s early years, Of Plymouth Plantation, has become a classic of early American literature. It was under his leadership that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, and he regularly declared additional “days of thanksgiving” throughout the life of the colony. 

- Bradford, like the rest of the Mayflower pilgrims, was a “separatist”—a small branch of the Puritan movement which thought it was better to separate completely from the Church of England than to try to purify it from within. They were thus viewed as more radical than the later Puritan settlers of Massachusetts Bay Colony.

- In drafting the Mayflower Compact before leaving ship, this small church family became the first group of European settlers in America to declare themselves a self-governing body.


1602 – Young William Bradford, 12 years old, starts to attend the church meetings of a strict Puritan group near his home. He is befriended by William Brewster, one of the congregants.

1603 – King James I takes the throne of England after the death of Queen Elizabeth. Contrary to the Puritans’ hopes, not only does he refuse to push through any new reforms of the Church of England, he declares that he will deal harshly with its radical critics. This could mean fines, imprisonment, or even death for dissenters.

1607 – Under the threat of government persecution, the little church begins to meet secretly in Scrooby Manor, the home of William Brewster, led by Pastor John Robinson. After being caught, fined, and imprisoned, they decide to look for a way to leave England.

1608 – After several mishaps, including having an English sea captain betray them to the authorities, they finally manage to book passage to Holland. 18-year-old Bradford goes along.

1609 – The Scrooby congregation settles in the Dutch town of Leiden, though most are forced to do menial jobs in poor conditions. Bradford has to live in an area known as “Stink Alley.”

1613 – Bradford, now having gained an inheritance from his family, marries Dorothy May in a civil ceremony (not in a religious ceremony, because “church weddings” aren’t in the Bible).

1617 – The Bradfords have their first child, John. But the Scrooby congregation is now considering leaving Holland, distressed that their young people are growing up Dutch instead of English, and surrounded by the worldly temptations of the tolerant 17th-century Dutch society.

1620 – They make arrangements to settle the northern part of Virginia Colony, and hire two ships to take them. One, the Speedwell, has to turn back, so all 130 passengers have to cram together in the 100-foot Mayflower for a two-month journey over rough seas. The Bradfords have to leave their three-year-old son behind in Holland. They make landfall in November, but don’t come to their final spot at Plymouth until December of 1620. Realizing that they were well north of their chartered location, they drafted their own Mayflower Compact as a political constitution. Dorothy Bradford dies while William is away on an exploratory scouting mission.

– About half of the group does not survive the winter, including the first governor. Bradford, now thirty-one, is elected to replace him. It is only after making a treaty with the nearby Wampanoag tribe, and gaining their assistance in planting and fishing, that the colony begins to thrive. This partnership leads to the first Thanksgiving, though the actual event was a good deal different from romanticized later notions of the feast.

1620s and beyond – The Plymouth colony faces a number of ongoing challenges: violence from tribes opposed to the Wampanoags, disrespect from the new Puritan settlers at Massachusetts Bay, the settlement of non-religious Englishmen in their midst, and a growing rebellion among the younger generation against the values of their parents.

Quotes from William Bradford

“All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.”

“But though this had been a night of much hardship and danger, God gave them a morning of comfort and refreshment, as He usually doth to His children.”

“It was to the astonishment of many and almost to the wonder of the world, that from so small a beginning such great things should ensue - as in due time was manifested; and that there should be resting place for so many of the Lord's people here, when so sharp a scourge had come upon their own nation. But it was the Lord's doing, and it ought to be marvelous in our eyes.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Photo of the Week


Hear what God the Lord hath spoken,
"O my people, faint and few,
Comfortless, afflicted, broken,
Fair abodes I build for you.
Thorns of heartfelt tribulation
Shall no more perplex your ways:
You shall name your walls 'Salvation,'
And your gates shall all be 'Praise.'
Ye no more your suns descending,
Waning moons no more shall see;
But your griefs forever ending,
Find eternal noon in me:
God shall rise, and shining o'er ye,
Change to day the gloom of night;
He, the Lord, shall be your glory,
God your everlasting light."

- William Cowper, "The Future Peace and Glory of the Church," (vv.1, 3), Olney Hymns

Monday, November 09, 2020

Quote of the Week

Some wisdom from the ancient Stoic philosophers, on how to deal with unfair criticism:

"Does another do me wrong? Let him look to it. The disposition was his and the activity was his."      - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5:25

"If you learn that someone is speaking ill of you, don't try to defend yourself against the rumors; respond instead with, 'Yes, and he doesn't know the half of it, because he could have said much more!'"     - Epictetus, Enchiridion 33:9

"Remember from now on whenever something tends to make you unhappy, draw on this principle: 'This is no misfortune; but bearing with it bravely is a blessing.'"     - Epictetus, Fragment 28b