The Ram, the Lion and the Lamb

Merry Christmas - animated bannerThis is our first Christmas in Ghana. I am celebrating by adding something uniquely Ghanaian.

Ghana has a rich history, culture and beliefs. Long before explorers and missionaries arrived, the Akan people of Ghana developed a rich set of symbols to explain their beliefs. One of them is this stylized representation of rams horns, called “Dwennimmen

Dwennimmen - Rams horns

Akan symbol Dwennimmen, representing rams' horns

A ram will fight fiercely with a predator or another ram. So it is associated with strength, which is why the ram’s horns are found on Dodge Ram trucks. But it also submits quietly to slaughter. In the Dwennimmen symbol, the Akan people captured these opposite qualities of the ram: meekness and strength. It was a reminder to those who are strong to exercise their strength in humility.

At Christmas, we celebrate the all-powerful God coming down and being born as a baby. He was born with animals into a family of modest means. Talk about being meek and being strong!

When Jesus was accused by Pilot, he did not try to defend himself, just like the prediction about Jesus in Isaiah:

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. (Isaiah 53:7 ESV)

Again, great strength exercised in great meekness, just like the Akan symbol Dwennimmen.

Another animal used to symbolize Jesus is the Lion. He is called “the lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5). The lion, of course, represents strength and courage The praise chorus “How Great Is Our God“, celebrates the unexpected juxtaposition with the words

Christmas animation - mixedThe Godhead three in one
Father, Spirit, Son
Lion and the Lamb
Lion and the Lamb

When Jesus said that his kingdom is not “of this world”, his meek approach to power must be one of the things he meant. Through simple grassroots action, such as Bible translation, that kingdom is expanding around the world. There is a power in the Gospel even when to this world it seems timid or meek, just as it did the first Christmas.

People associate all kinds of symbols with Christmas: snow, sleighs, Santa, reindeer, trees, wreaths, stars, angels, wise men, shepherds, a stable, a manger, even tin soldiers and more. This Christmas I am adding a Ghanaian symbol to my repertoire – ” Dwennimmen” or rams’ horns.

May you have a blessed Christmas.

Manger banner

More irrelevant rejoicing

Anopheles mosquito

Anopheles mosquito. Photo: James Gathany (CDC)

It has never been done. There has NEVER been a vaccine against a parasite, any parasite. On the other hand, making a vaccine against a virus is difficult, but at least the general process is known. The researchers working on a vaccine against the malaria parasite are climbing one big hill. A few weeks ago, I blogged about a very promising research trial of a malaria vaccine. Now, researchers taking a different track have had very promising laboratory results.

Malaria causes many more deaths worldwide than HIV/AIDS. Each year 225 million people contract malaria and 781,000 die. Most of the deaths are among  young children and 90% of the deaths happen in Africa.Most families in people groups without the Scriptures in Africa will have lost at least one child, niece, or nephew to malaria. National Bible translators lose days of work each year treating their children for malaria.  Working among the bibleless peoples of Africa, one cannot avoid the constant and sometimes deadly impact of the disease. We hare here to give people the Scriptures in their heart language, but we cannot ignore the other difficulties they face.

The Gates Foundation is funding malaria research, including the successful research trial. I admire Bill Gates, not because of his success at Microsoft, but because of what he is doing with the Gates Foundation.  My admiration is not simply that he giving away is money, but how he is doing that. He is targeting high priority items, such as malaria, which only very rarely get mentioned on the front pages. It is possible to give money in a way that creates a “name” for oneself. Instead, Gates seems to be doing it more in the spirit of Jesus words:

When you do good deeds, don’t try to show off. If you do, you won’t get a reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to the poor, don’t blow a loud horn. That’s what show-offs do in the meeting places and on the street corners, because they are always looking for praise. I can assure you that they already have their reward.  When you give to the poor, don’t let anyone know about it. Then your gift will be given in secret. Your Father knows what is done in secret, and he will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4 CEV)

You might not have a lot of money or expertise to throw into the fight against malaria, but you can do things that will be good for them – and for you! Give a sacrifice of praise for the progress being made. Pray for all the needs of the peoples still without God’s Word in their heart languages.

Fight narcissism. Be happy about something that does not help you or anyone you know. Pray for something that cannot help you or anyone you know.

Wrong kind of kid in school

Demolished school

Demolished school

I walk by several times a week, and one day it was demolished! And the rubble was just left piled everywhere. A short section of wall was still standing. On it was the painted primary school decorations and teaching tools, now showing incongruously for all to see.

There has to be a story behind a scene like this, so I asked. The man who ran the school had built it on someone else’s land.  The when he refused to vacate, the land owner took him to court. The court issued a judgment in favor of the land owner and ordered the school closed. But the man running the school ignored the court order and kept the school open. Negotiations failed. So, one day when the school was not in session, the land owner brought a bulldozer and the police, and they knocked down the buildings.

Kid (goat) in demolished school

Kid (goat) in demolished school

However, there are still kids in this school, just the other kind.

I never thought much about the kinds of systems and organizations a country needs. This story is about weak systems in Ghana that regulate land. Without those systems, real estate agents are self-appointed and some of them are crooks who will not hesitate to sell you a piece of land, or a building, that belongs to someone else. It happens all the time.

I suspect that the man who “owned” the school thought that he owned the land, only to find out that his title was junk. At first glance the situation was surprising and humorous. On another, it is a tragedy.  On yet another, it is a story of a country where land used to belong to everyone and its use was regulated by the chief, but which has been and still is moving to a different system and there are lots of bumps along that road. It makes me glad to have grown up in a place with pretty good systems for such things, and it gives me empathy for the Ghanaians trying to buy a piece of land.

Something remembered

Today is the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. In addition to remembering those who died and their families, we also need to remember what has happened since. Infused with Biblical values, American Christians reached out to Japan after the war, going there as missionaries and setting up orphanages.

You really should read the story “From Bombs to Something more Powerful“. It is only four pages, and it is very dramatic.

But there are many, many more stories like it even if they are not as dramatic. God remembers all of them even if we do not. God will also remember those who prayed for and supported missionaries to Japan. In eternity, those stories will be celebrated and have memorials built to them.

Singing in Sign Language

Singing in Sign Language

This week I am featuring a very special guest blogger – my wife, Dayle. Enjoy.

I was thinking, “I better turn off my phone ringer.” Then I remembered that I was attending a worship service for the Deaf. Who would it bother? Cool. Then Ed phoned me  and my first reaction was to quick answer to stop the ringing. Then I relaxed. Sound is not where it’s all happening here.

Leading deaf worship

Emmanuel Acheampong, main translator, leading the worship team

I was at the a dedication of the first ever portions of Scripture translated into Ghana Sign Language done by DOOR (Deaf Opportunity OutReach; a Wycliffe Affiliate). People were starting to gather to begin the program.

Deaf Youth Choir

Deaf school choir signing a lively song.

How can someone sing without sound?  Vibration, movement, heart, mind and some elbow room are where it’s at! The singing reminded me of cheer leading. The cheering was for Jesus. “Who are you going to live for?”  “Je-sus, Je-sus!”  “Who are you going to look to?” “Je-sus, Je-sus!” “Who are you going to serve?” “Je-sus, Je-sus!” The drums play the beat and everyone feeling the vibration can keep right in step with the songs, moving left and right when appropriate, clapping or signing. The Deaf school choirs were very impressive with their choreography combined with the sign language.


Drummer - an indispensable accompaniment to Deaf worship, everyone feels the vibrations and keep the same rhythm

When you were a kid at church, did you dislike bowing your head and closing your eyes to pray? You don’t have to if you are deaf. Everyone LOOKS. While the person who is signing is praying, he is not necessarily closing his eyes. He is looking up. I love the sign for “amen”. Hold your left palm out in front of you facing up. Hit it with your right hand formed into a fist, on the little finger side of the fist. It feels like a solid, “AMEN”.

During the service there were a few fussy babies, not disturbing anyone but their moms. It was the few little ones who got away from their parents and began entertaining the masses out in front, who were able to distract from the program! And they could dance! They were met with laughter, understanding and even some appreciation.

Holding up DVDs and storyboards

Deaf translation team holding up DVDs and storyboards of the translation

Signing is so logical and many of the signs happen around the part of the upper torso where the process of the meaning happens. Thinking is up at the forehead. Feeling, owning, love, happiness, sorry, are all at the heart area. The mouth gets eating, sweet, talking and so forth. One of my favorites is “funny”, which is signed around the nose and the eyes are squinted!  Even though I had practiced for 3 days to read some sign language, it was impossible to keep up watching the Deaf communicating with each other. Their hands are very nimble and flexible and they “speed read”!The more I participate in sign language, the more the latent linguist in me comes to life and questions begin multiplying like snow gathering on a snow ball rolling down a snowy hill. It is like Christmas morning with a new item that must be assembled and has hundreds of pieces and you can’t wait to use it once it is built. The sign language translation was distributed on DVD (with a person signing it) and on “storyboards” which are books with drawing of the signs.

Communicating in sign language takes out lots of words we would use, putting whole thoughts into one sign. More can be said in a hurry. There is so much to learn about all the implications of Sign Language Bible translation. My heart is completely crushed when I think that it is only now, today, that Deaf  people are seeing Scripture in their heart language for the first time. Chagrin and deep sorrow. How did they have to wait so long? Then it switches to ecstatic anticipation of what God is going to do with His Word to the Deaf ones. A whole new world has opened up to them and they are now hearing God speak their language. They will be sending missionaries to minister around the world. We are at the edge of powerful changes.  God is at work. Who are we going to look to? Who are we going to live for? Who are we going to serve? Jesus! Hands down.


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