The following is what I shared during the Rolling Hills (Meadowbrook, Ohio) Distinguished Alumni Celebration on April 22, 2023.
Good evening. When Kim said she was going to nominate me for this I was very surprised and humbled, thinking “Are you serious? Then when I was selected, I was even more humbled and overwhelmed. Thank you to the committee, and also to Kim. Looking at the list of some of the previous inductees, seeing the hero veterans and service-folks, educators, medical professionals, amazing athletes (in fact my fellow inductees were star athletes at the school), the sports legends, I said wow. I scored a total of two points in my illustrious sports career. One point for 3rd in the 880 in 8th grade where we tied the meet, and I kicked an extra point in a reserve game my sophomore year, crucial since we won 33-0 instead of 32-0. I may have set a record by being cut from the 7th grade, 8th grade and 12th grade basketball teams.
Coach McGrew gave me a chance to be on the varsity football kick-off team my junior year, though that play was over in five seconds of game time on the other side of the field. But on Monday I was the starting running back and linebacker for the Reserve team. On one of the first plays I went around left end and gained, 3,5,7 yards, but my blocker stopped in front of me, I was tackled from behind, almost broke my ankle and was out for the season.
Kim mentioned I was voted most shy and the most spirited. I was so awkward around girls, my mind just went blank! (I wrote a book about that! A serious comedy, a bit like this talk.) As for “spirited”, I was a big mouth at the games. But I have always thought that most spirited may have had a double meaning because of being “religious”. I had gone to church for as long as I can remember. Before my Senior year I went to that Christian music festival at Asbury, Kentucky, where I made a drastic change from knowing about Jesus to knowing Him personally. Then came the Bible verses on the bulletin board and the invocation and benediction at graduation. I thank my pastor, the late Louise Rogers, who was such a help to me. Of course I cannot fail to mention the influence my Dad had on me. He passed away this past December. He was a man of honesty, integrity and treated people with the upmost fairness, building his businesses by word of mouth alone.
As for my teachers, Kim mentioned Mr. Lyons, my FFA teacher for four years, who was a man of the upmost integrity and also a man of deep faith. Kim also mentioned Mrs. Bryant, my college prep research teacher. I wanted to do a presentation using my lamb on Jesus as the Good shepherd, the lost sheep, Psalm 23, and she agreed. But when I went to the principal’s office to get permission to leave, he refused so she marched down to his office, I could hear them “discussing it”, then she came out and said, “Go get your lamb!”
After graduation I went to Malone College in Canton to study to be a preacher. However during college I found out that at least 3000 languages in the world have no Bible, and basically nothing in their language, and, knowing how important the Bible was to me, thought that was so sad. At that time small Byesville had 12 churches, so maybe I could go overseas where there was great need. But to help people have the Bible in their own language, you had to take graduate classes in linguistics, of which I knew nothing about. However they had a summer session in North Dakota so I went, thinking I could go see some prairie dogs, flunk out there, then maybe go and be a Bible teacher somewhere overseas. Among various classes, we studied how to learn an unwritten language. Here they told us of a colleague who had arrived to a village in a canoe and, wanting to quickly begin learning the language, pointed to the canoe to get their word for that. They said numa. She wrote that down “numa”, canoe. Then she pointed at a tree and again they said numa. Thinking she must be getting the word for wood, she pointed at some grass and they said numa again. Turns out in that culture you point with your chin, and numa meant finger.
By a miracle I passed these classes, and during the third and final semester in Dallas, you have to decide what country you want to go to. Kim mentioned that I had spent 6 weeks in the Philippines so I put that first, then Papua New Guinea where there are at least 800 language groups, the South Pacific (because who doesn’t want to translate on the beach) and Anywhere. They assigned me to Mexico.
Mexico had stopped giving resident visas to foreigners, but Wycliffe thought I could handle that for some reason, so I first went to Mexico on a tourist visa and got permission in 1986, so 37 years ago, for an overnight visit to one small Mixtec village in the state of Oaxaca.
There are over 7000 languages in the world. Mexico has 70 major languages (Nahuatl/Aztec, Mayan, Zapotec) plus their unintelligible variants, over 350 languages in total. One of these major languages, as Kim mentioned, is Mixtec, with its at least 60 variants representing a half a million people.
That night, in 1986, in this small Mixtec village, I met a man named Sebastian, and when he learned I wanted to learn Mixtec to help them make books, including translating the Bible into Mixtec, he was willing to go with me the next day to a large far away tourist city to help me because I could not stay in the village. Sebastian only had a second grade education, leaving school to start living a hard life plowing the rocky fields and making palm baskets, which sold for a little over a dollar a dozen. When he was in his 50’s a school teacher came to the town and started a Bible study. Sebastian had learned some basic Spanish, but his wife and many of the others attending this study did not know any Spanish at all. So he went out, bought a notebook, invented his own alphabet of this previously unwritten language and began translating his favorite passages into Mixtec so people could understand them. He says the first time he read it to the people, they cried. This is the person God led me to that first night in the village, when I had to leave the next day.
After three years of very brief visits and taking relatives of Sebastian to Tucson to learn their language and culture, Mexico began to give study visas which permitted me to actually live in Sebastian’s village. It was during this time in Tucson that I met Judith, who had also prepared to be a linguist/translator. We married and began this adventure together.
Our times in this first village, where we spent 22 years, were filled with the friendliness and hospitality of the people. It was basic living, at first the outhouse was a block down the road, there was an outside spigot for water (though when it rained there was running water inside), we had a dirt floor in our house and there were no phones in the village. We continued working with Sebastian and others in the village, learning this unwritten language, analyzing the grammar, developing the alphabet, making basic literacy books, a primer and going door to door with the new publications.
I am non-musical (even though I sang: Thank God I’m a Country Boy” at a school gong show since I looked a lot like John Denver) so it was a challenge since Mixtec is a tonal language, so ndoꞌo̱ means basket, ndo̱ꞌo means adobe, ndóꞌo̱ means tail, ndoꞌó means you all, ndóꞌo means it is happening, and ndoꞌo mean it will happen. So a tonal language like Chinese.
My wife Judith is the more gifted linguist, and working with Mixtec speakers, compiled a grammar book of the language and later a Mixtec-Spanish dictionary. The New Testament was eventually finished and recorded and there was a celebration of the book in 2008. I am much less shy when talking in Mixtec and can say that my best friends in the world are the Mixtec people I have gotten to know over the years. My love of sports led to playing on the town basketball team, which led to relationships with team members and people in other villages in the area where outsiders are normally not very welcome. (Though young and quick beats tall and slow!) I am actually considered tall there, 5’10 ½’’.
I have been a translation consultant for over 20 years, teaching workshops and helping teams from different languages throughout Mexico with their translations, and in 2009 I was assigned as a consultant in residence for the Ayutla Mixtec language project. As Kim mentioned, over 10,000 Mixtec people live in 36 mountain villages a couple hours from Acapulco, and it is one of the poorest and most monolingual areas in Mexico. Working with two Mixtec coworkers, we made books and the NT was recorded and a celebration was held in 2017. Work continues on the first 39 books of the Bible.
There are still many minority languages in the world without any written material. Many of these groups have been marginalized, including many outsiders saying these languages are not real languages, just a bunch of grunts. One of joys of this work has been to see people valuing their language and culture, of not being ashamed to be Mixtec and to speak the Mixtec language. This is their mother tongue, and it speaks to the heart.
Besides the written publications, both these Mixtec variants now have many materials on the internet and for their cell phones, including Play Store apps and YouTube videos of songs. We also distribute Scripture audio players to the many villages.
Kim suggested I could given so advice, so as for advice I could give, judging ourselves and comparing ourselves to others can be one of the most destructive things we can do. May we have enough confidence so that if people bully us, shame us, say things that “could” offend us, are better athletes than us (you can see I can relate to all of these!), better-looking than us, are more talented than us, make more money than us, have more “fun” than us, may we just let them do their thing while we move forward, improving ourselves where we can, being content and staying true to our values and our convictions.
I was so shy, I was rejected by many sports teams, I felt isolated and at times ignored, but while that was not “fun”, it did not deter me. Most things of worth in life are achieved not by going through the easy way, but via suffering, hard times and disappointments. We need to have people in our lives we respect who will help us in such times. That is so important, having people come along beside us, and the other inductees mentioned special people, including teachers, who helped them along the way.
The values of honesty, being helpful, treating people with respect, were instilled in me by my parents (I am thankful my mom is here with me tonight, and my Dad looking down from heaven). Along with that, my personal guide is the Bible, my relationship with Jesus, my Savior, and my aim is for His teachings to be the foundation of all I do. And if I screw up, I acknowledge it, ask Him for forgiveness and move on.
I thank the Lord for all the people He has placed in my life, from both the US and Mexico, who have helped me so much. With God, no matter whatever crazy things are going on around us or to us, there is a rock, a foundation, a peace that passes all understanding, an eternal hope. The most faithful people of the Bible were the ones who suffered the most. It is almost certain that things are going to get harder and harder and I pray that you take the time and the effort to make sure you have a firm foundation to make it through. Thank you very much and God bless.