The Notebook (The miracle of Sebastian)

February 6, 2018 marked 32 years since I went to a small village in southern Mexico to learn their Mixtec language and help them translate God’s Word into their mother tongue. A number of years ago I wrote the following so others might know the incredible way God was working in that place. My 12 page book starts out with an intro, then shares this story.  There is also a Spanish version of it. There is an abridged version of Sebastian’s life in one of my first blog entries on this site. (See the August, 2015 archive.)

This is a true story. It is an amazing and inspirational account which tells how God worked in the life of Sebastian so that the Mixtec people might hear His Word in their own language. Sebastian left school during the second grade to take care of the family goats. He was an alcoholic from an early age. He had never seen his language written down, but after he became a Christian, Sebastian read his Spanish Bible over and over to learn more about God and to re-teach himself how to read. Soon thereafter, at the age of sixty, seeing that his wife and others weren’t understanding the Spanish Bible studies, he bought a notebook, invented his own alphabet of this previously unwritten language and began to write.

This account shows just how much God wants people to have His Word in their own language, and so He used this man in such an incredible way. Today the people of this region have the New Testament in their own language in print and audio form. This makes us think of the passage from Acts 2:6-8 y 11b: When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? …We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

God preformed such a miracle in Acts so that this multitude of people from many different places could hear the Good News about Jesus in their own language, and in this way began a movement of God that continues to this day. This is also what happened among the people of this village. God used this man so that these Mixtec people could hear His Word in their mother tongue.

There are still many towns in Mexico and throughout the world where people still do not have the Word of God in their own language. Please consider how God might want to use you to meet this immense and critical need.

The Notebook
Notebook cover
Betty, a public school teacher in Mexico, didn’t know what she was getting herself into. She had been assigned to this small village by the education authorities. It was not her first choice; a three hour dusty bumpy trip from “civilization” in the back of a truck. Ten hours from the city she lived in. Seven hundred people in the village, few who spoke much Spanish. They spoke Mixtec, one of over sixty major indigenous language groups in Mexico. They were dreadfully poor; subsistence farmers somehow growing crops out of the rocky ground, barely enough to feed their families. Their houses had dirt floors and one light bulb. They cooked over an open fire and made their own tortillas. They had given her a small room, also with a dirt floor, next to the school.

DSCN3666Despite their poverty the people were generous. They shared what little they had with her, happy that she had come to teach their children, many who came to school knowing little or no Spanish. She spent as much time teaching them Spanish as she did all the other courses combined.

Everything about living in that village was hard. She had never seen such big fleas. But Betty was not one to give up easily. When first told she had been assigned to this far away place she resisted. But after praying about it, she felt God calling her to go. So despite the hardships she knew she was where God wanted her. This was especially brought home to her as she realized that the people, though devout Catholics, understood almost nothing of the Bible. The priest, who came just once a month, served mass and did other ceremonies related to the church but did not expound on the Bible.


The school

Betty had been preceded by a Christian man who had planted seeds by preaching the Gospel as he went around selling shoes. She started teaching the school children Christian choruses and held a Bible study for the adults. Many people began to attend. They were starved to hear about God’s Word, knowing it was a good thing. However, few understood much of what was being taught since Betty could only explain it in Spanish. There was one man, Emilio, who had traveled around and knew more Spanish than the others. He had become the first believer in the village. She had him translate what she was saying into Mixtec. This was hard for him, not knowing how to say in Mixtec so many of the Biblical concepts she was teaching. He sometimes had to use a mixture of Spanish and Mixtec words, and so this life-changing message was still not getting into the depths of their hearts.

Soon Emilio’s elderly father, Sebastian, began attending the studies and accepted the message of salvation. Here was a man who had drunk himself into oblivion countless times over the years. His drinking buddies were fellow musicians who played at parties. Despite his new confession of faith, Sebastian just could not resist the temptation of playing his fiddle and getting drunk with the others at these parties. But one day Emilio confronted him during a hangover and said if he was really going to follow Jesus, he would have to make a break with the past and sell his instruments. Painfully realizing this was the source of his problems, Sebastian parted with his beloved instruments, and never drank again.

As time went along and his faith grew stronger, Sebastian felt sorry for his wife and others who didn’t understand Spanish. He read his own copy of the Bible over and over to help himself relearn to read Spanish. But his heart burned to be able to help the others. He felt they needed the Bible in Mixtec, not just an off-the-cuff translation like his son was giving them. But what could he do? His Mixtec language did not even have a written alphabet.

palmsebSebastian lived a hard life. He woke early and went to bed late. He made hats and baskets out of palm to earn extra spending money. He worked hard plowing his rocky fields with a team of two steers and a plow he had made himself. He participated in town work, such as helping to build the first village school or fixing up the streets. He had served as a town official several times. He had been working since he was small, having had to drop out of school to take care of the family’s goats beginning at the age of seven.
He had five living children. Five had died in infancy. His diet consisted of tortillas, beans and herbs. Rarely did he ever taste meat unless he went hunting. His evenings were now filled with attending the studies or reading his Bible over and over. Such wonderful things in it that his wife and others were missing. Sebastian prayed to God about what he could do to help them.

One day he went to the store and bought himself a little notebook. Using Spanish letters he began to translate Luke 24, the resurrection story. Such good news! But it was so hard. So many sounds in Mixtec that Spanish didn’t have. So many Biblical concepts that he didn’t know how to say in Mixtec. How could a guy with a second grade education do this?

Sebastian now held a notebook which had several Bible chapters translated into Mixtec. He felt as if it had been the hardest work he had ever done in his life. Harder than plowing through the fields which were practically bedrock. Harder than carrying firewood down the mountain trails back to the village. Harder than spending ten to twelve hours a day making palm hats and baskets. But God had helped him. He had figured a way to write it, at least a way which he could read.
Still he felt inadequate. Who was he to translate God’s Holy Word? What if he had really misunderstood some verses and told the people something wrong. He read in Revelation that those who add to or subtract from the Word are cursed. So even though he took his beloved notebook to the study each time, he never read from it.
But one night was different. Sebastian felt a stirring in his heart. A fire in his soul. He could not sit still any longer. People were falling asleep. Their minds were wandering. Several spoke quietly among themselves. A few just didn’t come anymore. What was the point when they understood so little? So he threw caution to the wind, stood up, and said he had something to share. With trembling hands he opened up his notebook and positioned himself beneath the lone light bulb in the room. Taking a deep breath he began reading. Slowly, haltingly at first. He heard several gasps as they realized he was speaking, that is, reading Mixtec, their heart language.

He continued, gaining strength and confidence as he read on. Looking up he could see several ladies crying. No one was sleeping or nodding off anymore. No more talking quietly to one another. No more getting up and moving around. They were all focused on him and what he was saying. He continued. The light of understanding shone in their eyes. He read on for a long time. These people would never be the same. And neither would he.

preachBetty was not there to rejoice in this amazing fruit of her work for the Lord. After a little over two years, the education officials had decided to transfer her to another place. She had left with a heavy heart, yet content with the fact that she had planted seeds. But she could not have imagined the marvelous things God would do with the seeds she planted.
Time passed and Sebastian’s notebook was filling up. Despite great personal sacrifice he continued to translate more chapters. His basket and hat production went way down. Money was at an all time low. But he would not be stopped. God’s Word was more important. God always provided enough to meet his needs.

He was now reading in almost all of the five services they had each week. Some ladies also came to his house every week to listen to him read. The great barrier of Spanish was being destroyed. God was no longer a “foreigner”, an outsider. He now spoke Mixtec. His Word was going straight to their hearts, instead of in one ear and out the other.
The more Sebastian translated, the harder it was. So many hard concepts! So many things he didn’t understand very well. So hard to write down certain words which didn’t seem to have any of the same letters as the Spanish alphabet. But none of this stopped him for God was helping him. He was a man on a mission.

Betty helped the people build a church with the support from other churches of her denomination in that region. Her home church then decided to take the little church on as their mission. Ministers were sent out to the church to preach, not realizing that their Spanish would be little understood. Not all of them were receptive to Sebastian and his notebook, and so weeks would go by when he didn’t have a chance to read from it during a service. But this did not stop the four or five older ladies who regularly came to his house to listen to him read it. Most of these ministers didn’t last long in the village. The language barrier and the living conditions sent many of them home disillusioned.

seb-john00One day a Christian linguist from the United States visited the village with the goal of helping the people make books and translate the Bible into their Mixtec language. On his first night in the village God led him to Sebastian and he was overcome with emotion when he found out what was inside that notebook. Sebastian immediately began helping the young linguist learn his language. He also began dictating to him his translations. They began to talk about concepts Sebastian was having a hard time translating and others that he was misunderstanding. As the years went by he and the linguist worked together on the Scriptures. The Gospel of Mark became the first published Scripture ever in that place. Thirteen years after the linguist’s arrival Sebastian held in his hands a draft of the whole New Testament.

But life had been hard on Sebastian, and the liquor of the past had taken its toll. Not long after finishing that draft, he began spitting up blood and the linguist took him to the hospital over an hour’s drive away. The doctors unsuccessfully tried to remove his gall bladder. His children, who had moved to the more modern city where the hospital was, tried to get him to stay there. But Sebastian wouldn’t even think of it. He loved his village and he loved reading from his notebook to the people. So he returned, but one day he suddenly collapsed in a field near his house. He’d apparently had a stroke. He lost consciousness, his liver shut down and he passed on into glory. The linguist, who got to say a few words at his funeral, explained that while the people may have not realized it, a hero had been living among them.

It was Sebastian’s dream for his people to have the Scriptures in their own language. The dream has continued. The whole New Testament was recorded and is available to the people. On March 15, 2008, the published Mixtec New Testament was first made available to them during a joyful celebration event.

Betty, who still makes visits to the village, is pleased. Her Bible study had grown into this. From a seed planted in the elderly man’s heart to a quantum leap as he read from his ragged notebook to the people and now this. She had suffered a lot during those early years. So had Sebastian. But this makes it all worth it. She thanks God. Only He could pull off something like this.


Go to Google Play and search for Mixteco de Tezoatlan for the app which contains the text and audio of the New Testament.

A search of Mixteco de Tezoatlan Cantos on Youtube finds a page of videos of Mixtec songs and Scripture portions.

A search of Tezoatlan Mixtec NT on Youtube finds a video of the New Testament Dedication Celebration.

A wonderful site is called Scripture earth, which has Scripture audio and video for over 1000 languages all over the world. The part of it referencing Tezoatlan is:

Tezoatlán SIL site:

This account is based on talks with Sebastian, Emilio, Betty, her father, people of the village, and living over 20 years in village.



Towards understanding the Trinity in a more Biblical way

Temple Museum01

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Several of the Vacation Bible Schools I went to growing up dealt with that question, and at least one implied it was the egg. People seem to think this is an impossible question to answer, though to me it was always pretty straightforward. When God created the animals, He created a hen and a rooster, and once they got together and did what a hen and a rooster would be expected to do, the hen ended up laying an egg. Despite that, people still use this question when referring to other hard questions about which of two thing existed first and which causes the other.

Another question that is very hard to answer is how can God be three-in-one, the Trinity. In fact, this is such a complicated concept that it caused a major split among believers way back, at least as far as the year 325, when there was a schism between people who believed that Jesus is God and those who did not, and this division still exists today.

One very unfortunate thing about the way the Trinity was thought about and taught was the lack of focus on the Holy Spirit. Early theologians tried very hard to emphasize that God the Father and Jesus are One, to the point that they didn’t talk much about the Holy Spirit. This was made worse by the fact that in earlier times, icons and paintings were used to illustrate to the masses the events and people of the Bible, and it was not easy to draw or make an image of the Holy Spirit. plus the whole concept of the Spirit (Holy Ghost) tended to be kind of spooky. A very sad note in history is Muhammad, a man from a pagan area who amazingly believed that there was only one God. When he visited some Christian areas, he thought Christians believed in three Gods, and because of the emphasis on Mary in the 600’s, Muhammad thought these three gods were the Father, the Son and Mary!  So he returned to his homeland and became the founder of a new religion which focused on there only being one God.

Over the years, people have tried to explain this complicated idea of the Trinity usually using one of two different comparisons. One has to do with an egg, since it has a shell, a white part and a yellow yolk part. Three parts, one egg. The most common one, though, has to do with water. Water can be liquid, solid (frozen) or steam. So water, being one thing, can take three different forms. There are some things about these two comparisons, especially the water one, which are helpful, but the deeper we think about it, and compare it with what the Bible says, both comparisons leave a lot to be desired.

The Bible itself uses a much more accurate and easy to understand comparison of how to understand the Trinity, and I think it would be better to use this Biblical model when thinking about and talking to others about the nature of God.

Jesus is called the Word of God, the living Word, the Truth. The actual word for the Holy Spirit in Greek is wind or breath. Imagine God the Father as the person speaking, Jesus as the True Word coming forth from Him, and the Holy Spirit as His breath, the life-giving breath coming from God. This imagery is the way the Bible talks about the relation between God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

How can we separate the person from the words they speak and the breath they breathe? Especially when talking about God who, the Bible says over and over, never lies. God is the definition of truth, and so the Word that comes from Him is Truth. There are many verses which teach us about Jesus, The Word, being One with God and the essence of truth. Here are there main ones:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. (John 1:1-4)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

These are verses related to Jesus as the Word and being truth. There are, of course, many other verses which point to Him being One with God, which I will put at the end.

Concerning the Holy Spirit, He is God’s breath and He gives Life.  Here are a few verses, among many, about the Holy Spirit giving life. At the end I will put more verses of His Oneness with God. As already mentioned, the Greek word for Spirit is breath/wind and even though wind/breath is a “neuter” word and grammatically should translated as “it”, the authors in Scripture regularly break this rule and use a personal pronoun.

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” (John 6:63)

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)

(Note: I believe here that “water” refers to natural birth, then “spiritual” birth through the Holy Spirit. We are born naturally, but later we need to be born spiritually, believe in Jesus through the Holy Spirit. There is no context for baptism here, and John’s style is to use contrasts, fleshly birth, spiritual birth, life, death, light, darkness, etc.)

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39)

And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:22-3)

See also Romans 8 sharing about the life-giving work of the Spirit.

When you think or talk about the relation between God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, consider how the Bible itself uses these terms to help us understand the intimate, oneness relationship between the Speaker, His Word and His Breath.

A sample of verses proclaiming Jesus is One with God:

Matt. 1:23: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.

John 5:17-18: “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” Therefore the Jews sought to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.”

John 8:58: Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

John 10:30-33: Jesus answered them, “I and My Father are one.” Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?” The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.”

John 14:9-11: Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

John 20:28: And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

Philp. 2:5-7: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men.”

Col. 2:9: For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.

Heb. 1:8-9: But to the Son He says: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated

lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.”

Rev. 1:8: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

A sample of the many, many verses showing that the Holy Spirit is God. These also show the “person-hood” of the Spirit:

Luke 1:35: The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.”

John 4:24: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

John 15:26: “But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

1 Cor. 2:11: “For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”

Ephesians 4:30: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Heb. 2:4: “God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”

2 Peter 1:21: “For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”