Old Photos and New Life

Memories sit on the shelf of the mind quite often collecting dust and serving little purpose, like old family photos placed in a hall closet and forgotten through most days. There they sit until relatives land in town for a few days or one of the kids is home from college. Then they see the light of day.

I’m pulling a few of those memories from the closet today as I reflect on something that happened thirty-two years ago today (April 11, 1982). It was that Easter Sunday that I surrendered my life, my rights, my past, present, and future to Jesus Christ. I was buried with him in baptism and raised again with him to new life.

Why was that? Why would I have made that decision? How did it really change anything?

Walk to the shelf with me. Let’s pull out one of the photos from years earlier. The photo is shadowy. There is a six year old boy, wearing pajamas. His sallow face is swollen, hair tussled. A small pair of plastic-framed glasses lay on the night stand. He is kneeling under the table, eyes squeezed shut, hands folded. It looks as he could bolt at any moment, running for his life. There is a caption below: “Please God, I don’t want to die.” He had been told a few hours before that he might only have six months to live.

How about this one. Look at this. This photo is of an eight-year-old boy, sitting on the bench seat of a moving truck. He is holding a Orange Crush soda in his hand, his big eyes gazing up at his dad, grinning like a possum eating sweet potato. He gets to ride with Daddy on the first leg of the trip south to a new home. That new home would end up being southeast Kansas. Caption here: “What will life be like there? Will I fit in? Will they like me?”

What’s this? In this photo our little boy is alone, face tear-stained, shaking. Small towns can be cruel. Sometimes older siblings can be too. This photo was “taken” just after he was left at home, everyone else headed out for pizza and fun. Caption here: “Why?” Pause for a moment and consider this one. Lonely, alone, hurting, fearful, sick, desperately looking for . . . acceptance. We place this photo back in the box. How depressing. But wait . . .

Here’s an interesting one. There is our boy sitting in a church pew. The cushions were red, the hymnals that sort of 70’s burgundy that found its way onto Lincoln Continentals, velvet suits, and church hymnals in those days. The crowd is small–must’ve been a Sunday night–definitely. The preacher at the edge of the picture isn’t wearing a tie. Definitely Sunday night. White knuckles. Right there in the center of this photo. Our little boy is white-knuckling the back of the pew in front of him. He has talked to the preacher. He knows about Hell . . . and heaven. He knows about sin and its wages. He knows the price of rejecting God. Yet, the knuckles are white, the boy stationary.

What’s this one? This photo is different than the others. It is effusive, almost glowing. Can photos glow? In this photo the boy is dressed in white. His hair drips, water running down his chin. Is it water or Spirit? His eyes are bright, his face no longer sallow but warm and ruddy and alive. He smiles and feels clean, pure, new, and empowered. It seems like it must be the same boy from the other photos, yet not. There is still fear in this photo, yet it is a holy fear, not one born of dread and death. Oh yes, Easter Sunday. 1982.

That photo was taken 32 years ago today. Death died that day in me and became Life. Dark was dispelled by Light. Lost became found. Rejection was redeemed by the One who had been rejected without cause. Loneliness was removed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit came to make a new home in me.

Aged Todd Portrait Photo

I thank God today that He looked at my sickness, my loneliness, my pain and buried those in the grave. I thank God today that by the power of the resurrection and by His Spirit he raised me to eternal life, lived in Him. I thank God today that he has given me opportunity upon opportunity to put hands and feet on “thank you.”


Day 33: The Birth of Hope

simeon holding Jesus

Simeon was an old man, holding out on death by holding onto a promise that was made to him by none other than God himself. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, ministering and watching. The Holy Spirit was on him and the Kingdom of God was at hand as he took the baby in his arms,

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to you word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.

Anointed and prophesying, Simeon gazed into the realm beyond time and space, seeing in Jesus’ face the eternal. At once he saw baby and salvation. In those baby blue eyes he saw light and revelation for peoples living at odds with God. Raising the child in his hands he saw the glory of Israel. For all eyes to see, there was the child whose coming was prepared in the sight of all peoples: even eastern star gazers and scroll readers, looking for the One born King of the Jews.

Tears soak my beard. This Son is my savior, my king, my light, my hope. This hope was revealed to Gentiles, too–my ancestors were Welsh-Irish, not Jewish. What life would I have had if Jesus’ father hadn’t swept him away to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous wrath? Had Jesus not offered himself in my place, I would have suffered the horror of eternal separation from God.

Wet beard, bleary eyes, full heart, I, like Simeon, can hold this child before you and proclaim that salvation and revelation and light and glory has come!

I have a friend in Papua New Guinea named Ezekiel. He was already in his thirties when I came to know him and he’d been advocating for literacy, Bible translation and awareness since he was a school boy. He actively waits for the day when the word of God will be available in his heart language. “Active waiting” for Ezekiel means plodding day after day, drafting, translating, checking, sharing, preaching, teaching, leading: moving people toward the Bible and moving the Bible toward the people.

A few years back he became exceedingly ill and spent months in the hospital. Though weakened in body, his zest and gusto remain full strength. Though he fights constant pain he continues to work on translation, preparing for the day when we can revise, check, and publish the fruit of his labor.

Imagine the day when, like Simeon in the temple, Ezekiel will be able to hold up the New Testament with wonder in his eyes, and say,

“God’s word was prepared before the eyes of all the people. Within it you will find revelation, light, and glory. Within it you will find hope and consolation.”

You must pray with us that this day will come when our brother will be able to depart in peace, having accomplished the God’s grand purpose of his life.

Prayer and Provision Opportunities
Stay informed and inspired to pray for the Somau Garia translation team by clicking here. If you’d like to partner with Pioneer Bible Translators in sending us out to get our boots on the ground in Papua New Guinea and get moving forward on finishing translation of the Somau Garia New Testament, click here to visit our Donate page where you will find instructions on how to do so.



Day 27: Treasure

Imagine being intimately connected to the most powerful people in your country–people who have the power to give you access to vast wealth, insider deals, government contracts, and protection in dangerous days. Imagine having untold millions at your disposal to put to use to make yourself even more wealthy. Then imagine 1,200 faces: hollow eyes, skin pale and bodies emaciated, pleading with those hollow eyes for mercy and rescue. You can either hoard the wealth and live for yourself or rescue 1,200 people from certain death. This was Oskar Schindler’s dilemma. If you are acquainted with the now famous story of Oskar Schindler (1982 novel Schindler’s Ark1993 movie, Schindler’s List), then you know that Schindler chose the lives of 1,200 Jews over his own life.

Schindler was known as a serial adulterer, an opportunist, a dedicated Nazi who was even a Nazi spy who was jailed in 1938 on charges of spying for the Nazi government; not exactly a paragon of moral uprightness. Yet he chose  to risk his own life to rescue the Jews who worked in his factories. Schindler’s use of treasure ceased to be conspicuous consumption and became conspicuous compassion.

American Christians face a similar dilemma, though I doubt we recognize it as such. We have vast resources and opportunities. We have been given much material wealth to steward and yet we all too often confuse stewardship with ownership. The propaganda organ of the world system, a.k.a. mass media, pushes us to spend and spend and spend on ourselves. Pressured, we flip out our little plastic gods and spend even more. After all, we deserve the best. We quickly become the object of statistics like those reported by

The average US household credit card debt stands at $15,279, the result of a small number of deeply indebted households forcing up the numbers. Based on an analysis of Federal Reserve statistics and other government data, the average household owes  $7,128 on their cards; looking only at indebted households, the average outstanding balance rises to $15,279.

These examples should give the Christian pause for reflection. The Christian should consider:

  • The cumulative effect of continual exposure to the maniacal message given by the world system through mass media
  • The negative impact of being financially enslaved to indebtedness
  • The negative impact that both continual media exposure and enslavement to indebtedness have on our affection for God, his Kingdom, and his priorities for our treasure.

Consider a few passages that relate to these reflections:

  • Be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. (1 Peter 4:7, NIV1984)
  • For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21; Luke 12:34)
  • You are not your own, you were bought at a price. . . (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

How does Schindler’s story or the average American credit card debt relate to missions or Bible translation? Every dollar spent or charged represents an opportunity to choose to be aligned with God’s priorities for our stewardship of resources or to be aligned with the world system’s priorities for our stewardship. James is clear, “Friendship with the world is enmity toward God.” Every time we make this world’s priorities our own by choosing alignment with it, we choose to befriend the world system. Every time we choose to allow God’s priorities to be my priorities for stewardship, we choose to befriend God.

Schindler stared into the eyes of 1,200 Jews and risked everything to rescue them from the gas chambers.

Treasure . . .

Treasure . . .

There are nights when I wake, having dreamed in another language, seeing 4,000 men, women, and children in peril. Without the word of God in their heart language, they face an uncertain eternity. Angela and I are haunted by this vision of a people without access to real treasure, God’s Word, marching into eternity unprepared. This vision is double-edged, though. We are drawn along by the Spirit of God to obedience and pushed along by the possibility of eternal damnation of friends, neighbors, loved ones.

However, we cannot do it alone. Unlike Schindler, we have not amassed vast wealth to spend to rescue them. God has provided the Church, His Body, to resource this rescue, this alignment with the Great Commission in translating the New Testament into the language of their hearts.

Join the Team!
Is God drawing you? To pray? Join the prayer team and stand in the gap for these who need the Bible in their heart language. To provide? Join Pioneer Bible Translators in sending us to the Somau Garia people to complete the translation of the New Testament that we began in 1997.

Grace and Peace, Friends.


Please Pray — December 3, 2013


By now you expect to see a photo, a story, a plea. I’m laying aside all these today in lieu of a call to prayer. Today is Day 12 of 40 days of asking God for 40 new monthly financial partners, 40 new special projects partners, and 40 prayer partners.

Rather than seeing scores of new prayer partners and financial partners, we’d say we’ve seen an increase in spiritual warfare 40 times greater than normal (how does one quantify this sort of thing?) we’ve seen the enemy attack at any and every weak spot we have and we’ve seen a hate-filled, bare-knuckles beating occur. It has been brutal. . . we can’t say that we’ve enjoyed any of it. Once upon a time we might have thought of finding the next boat to Tarsus (and away from Nineveh.)

The sheer intensity of attack is telling. We are on the road to something transformational, foundation shaking, and spiritually significant in heavenly places.

Please pray for us as we endure the challenge before us:

  • Pray that God will cause us to stand in the evil day.
  • Pray that God will give us spiritual wisdom, understanding, and discernment to know how best to overcome in this season of opposition.
  • Pray that God will indeed raise up 40 new mature and wise prayer partners to stand with us in the gap.
  • Pray that He will grant us victory in this intense spiritual battle that is being waged.
  • Thank God for mercies extended already.
  • Thank God for giving us the power to plod through intense opposition.
  • Thank God for what He is already putting together to get us from here to there.
Prayers and Provision
Of course, if you’d like to join the team of intercessors partnering with us in this spiritual battle, click here to drop us an email letting us know of your desire to join the team. If you’d like to add dollars to your prayers and invest in foundation-shaking ministry, click here to visit our Donate page.

Thanks for praying!!!


Day 6 — Faith and Life Off the Grid

Lightning spidering across the sky on a dry season night is mesmerizing. And maddening. The clouds that spawn the lightning hold such promise and deliver so little substance. At least that’s how it seemed in the late 1990’s in Uria Village.

Angela and I sat on the steps of our little house staring at the free light show, praying. We had been rationing our water as we watched the level in the fiberglass tank drop an inch or two each day. The clouds would usually gather in the late afternoon or early evening and spew a lot of lightning. No rain. Without rain we’d be unable to stay in the village for lack of water to drink, cook with, wash, etc. Day after day my attitude sank with the level of the water in the tank. I guess I felt like God owed me something. Pity parties are not useful models for prayer. “Oh God, I’ve come out here to the edge of the world to do this impossible work all because you asked me to. The least you could do would be to fill my tank to overflowing . . .” I’ll spare you the running commentary of whining. You get the picture.

2 x 2,000 gallons

2 x 2,000 gallons

A few weeks of this ritual began to take its toll. My selfish demands were going nowhere. God will not be mocked or manipulated into doing my will. To fully appreciate what I am about to tell you, you have to understand the design of my office. It is 11′ x 11′, has large windows on three sides (airflow), and a corrugated zinc-alum roof with no ceiling to muffle any sound from above. I sat down at my desk, opened my Bible, but didn’t read a thing. Instead, I bowed my head and allow the broken, submitted prayer to flow. “Father, you are God. You brought us here. It’s up to you whether or not we remain in the village or go to town to wait for rain. You do whatever is fitting to You. I’m your servant, not your master.” And as I prayed, it sounded like someone was shooting the roof of my office with BB’s. Slowly at first and then a torrent opened up and a month’s worth of rain came in an hour. The boys ran outside, splashing and dancing jubilantly. I stood in the office door and just stared at the rain, slack-jawed. Angela laughed.

Living life off of the grid is standard fare for most Bible translators. It can be wonderful and terrible but almost always faith-building in some way. When we built our “permanent” house in 2000, we installed two 2,000-gallon fiberglass tanks to catch rain water off of the roof. We had several solar panels mounted on a home-made solar tracker. Inside the house we had an 800-watt inverter that changed the direct-current power of the deep-cycle batteries into alternating current that our laptops, stereo, and other appliances could use. For high-load items like our washing machine and power tools we had a generator like what you buy at your local home-improvement store. Our refrigerator and stove ran off of LP Gas (Propane). Not all of it worked perfectly. LP gas refrigeration is a little dicey and very finicky. Even so, these “conveniences” make the task of Bible translation doable. Why?Solar Panel Example compressed

The simple answer is that without them we would spend all of our time washing clothes in the stream, maintaining subsistence gardens, hunting, fishing, carpentry, etc. The men who work alongside us in the task of Bible translation have large extended families that do extra so that they can give time to ministry. We do not. We have Maytag and Makita, DeWalt and ProWatt and Toshiba–and once upon a time, Nissan. Many of these items will need to be replaced or repaired when we return. Would you like to join us in making this possible?

Would You Join Us?
If so, click here to go to the Donate page where you will find instructions about how to partner with us financially. If you’d like to come alongside us in prayer, click here to drop us an email letting us know of your desire to do so. Between now and the year’s end, we are asking God to connect us with 40 new monthly financial partners, 40 special projects partners, and 40 new intercessors.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Praying 40 Days to Freedom — Day 17

August 27 (Day 17) — Tuesday. Continue to pray for Todd’s trans-Pacific journey today. Pray today that one of the Somau Garia friends who has been praying for and anticipating the Owen family’s return will get the word and be able to get into town to meet with Todd and make arrangements for the trip out to Uria Village. This trip involves buying food and other supplies, riding in the back of a flat bed truck for 40 miles, from the main road into the village for a couple of miles, finding a place to sleep for the week (if the house is greatly damaged—a genuine possibility), and setting up housekeeping for the week. Pray for God’s mercy in making these connections and basically getting it done.