Choosing Translations for Bible Study

Anabaptist Perspectives

January 2021

Written by: Marlin Sommers

A preacher should have as much money in his library as in his pickup truck, or so says a pastoral advisor to my church. Those charged to regularly teach the scriptures need good tools for study. So do the rest of us. Not all of us will spend thousands of dollars on commentaries or devote years of our lives to studying the Greek and Hebrew languages in which the scripture was written. But, as Christians, we all must be students of the Word.

Fortunately, the most important tools for Bible Study are inexpensive and easy to obtain, at least for English speakers. The tools I have in mind are the Bible itself, in its multiple translations into our native language. Bible translations can be a confusing subject. There is an alphabet suit of different translations available like the ASV, CEV, ESV, KJV, NAB, NEB, RSV ….and the list goes on! What we should remember is that this represents an embarrassment of riches for English speakers. In this article I focus, not on choosing a bible for primary use like public reading and memorizing, but rather on assembling a small collection of translations for study purposes.

Choosing a set of translations for Bible study

Bible apps make it easy to compare many translations of a given verse. This is helpful, but I still advise getting two or three translations in print. You will become familiar with these select translations, and it will be easier to pore over passages, or to read extensively, with a book in front of you. If you don’t own at least two or three translations in print, what should you purchase to build your library? If you have several translations and want to add a few more, how do you know what translations will best complement your existing collection?

Of all the translations on the market, many fall into families, or natural groupings. You want to aim for a balanced collection by choosing Bibles from various groupings. One family of translations consists of those that derive from King James Version of 1611. This includes the NASB, the ESV, the NKJV, and NRSV as well as the older RSV, RV, and ASV and a host of other minor translations. (Don’t worry, the table below imposes some order on this confusing alphabet soup!) While these translations will vary among themselves, it is helpful to compare them to another translation that is not a derivative of the familiar KJV.

Another grouping of English translations is those done by Evangelical scholars. The ESV, NIV, CSB, NET, NLT and others reflect the biblical scholarship of the modern Evangelical community. On the one hand Evangelicals are generally committed to a high view of scripture and to understanding scripture in line with historic Christian orthodoxy. This makes careful translations by Evangelicals a good choice for studying the Bible. On the other hand, even the most careful translations are inevitably affected by how the translators understand scripture and its teachings. For this reason, we do well to include translations from other branches of the Christian church and other scholarly communities.

The following table marks out four quadrants based on these two ways of grouping bible translations. The top left lists versions which derive from the KJV and have been translated by Evangelical scholars. The top right lists translations derived from the KJV, but not reflecting modern Evangelical scholarship. The bottom left represents other translations done by Evangelical scholars. The bottom right lists some other modern translations. At a minimum you should own at least one translation from each row and at least one from each translation. Ideally your study collection would include one from each quadrant.


This chart shows a few select translations. A little research will let you assign other translations to the appropriate quadrant.

TNotes on the Apocrypha and the Septuagint

You should have a copy of the Apocrypha. Most contemporary Anabaptists don’t consider it part of the Bible, but reading the Apocrypha provides an important background for understanding the New Testament, and you will frequently see it referenced by earlier Christian writers.  Most translations in the right-hand column are available with editions that include the Apocrypha. (Learn more about the Apocrypha in these two episodes from Anabaptist Perspectives.)     

David Bercot – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_n7oHBcWM7I 

Stephen Russell – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2bhjxy0RIk

It is also helpful to have a translation of the Old Testament derived from the Septuagint. Before the time of Christ, the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek. The New Testament, itself of course written in Greek, often quotes the Greek Septuagint. Several English translations of the Septuagint are available and adding one to your tool kit is not a bad idea. (Learn more about the Greek Old Testament in this episode from Anabaptist Perspectives.)

Notes on Translation Issues

One reason to study from multiple translations is so that we don’t blindly follow the quirks of any given translations. Diversity is protection. Nonetheless, a basic understanding of some differences among translations can be helpful. I will offer a few comments here that might stir you to further research.

Gender Language in the Bible: Should translations be “gender-neutral.”

This is a touchy one. Until the last few decades, the English language allowed free use of the “generic masculine.” Pronouns like “he” and “his”, and even the word “man”, could be used to refer to a person of unknown gender. In many cases a phrase like “any man” would mean, not “any adult male,” but simply “any person.”  For better or for worse, the English language has shifted, and we can no longer say “a man” when we mean “a human.” Even using “he” or “him” when a person of either gender could be in view is a real stretch in today’s English. Translations of the last few decades have found various ways to deal with issues of gendered language. In many passages the solutions are quite simple. Other passages bring more complicated issues. For two different ways of dealing with gender issues compare the preface to the ESV with the preface to the NIV. If you take the time to read these prefaces you will also find valuable perspective on how these two translations handle the two issues discussed next.

New Testament Manuscripts

The word “manuscript” means hand copy. Thus, when we talk about Greek manuscripts we are referring to handwritten copies of all or part of the New Testament. Manuscripts date from the days of the early church all the way up to the Reformation era when they were replaced by printed texts of the New Testament. Naturally, hand copied texts incorporate slightly different variations, not only in spelling and punctuation, but also in wording. Many of these variant readings cannot be translated into English and many which can be translated do not affect the sense of the passage. However, some variant readings are more significant and involve whole verses, or in two cases, paragraphs.

Today, the most common printed text of the New Testament is known alternatively as the NA28 or UBS5. This text was compiled by carefully comparing readings from the manuscripts we have, with special emphasis on the oldest manuscripts of the New Testament. Almost all recent bible translations follow the basic pattern of the NA28 when it comes to which variant readings from the manuscripts they choose to follow. The one major exception is the NKJV which attempts to translate the exact manuscript readings which underlie the King James Version of 1611. The NKJV provides extensive notes, that allow readers to compare its textual basis to standard editions of the text of the Greek New Testament.

The Role of Paraphrase

I want to register a concern about translations that rely too much on paraphrases. I don’t have in mind the “functional equivalence” employed to various degrees by all translations, but rather renderings that prioritize what the translator thinks a passage means over precise attention to what it says.

Outright paraphrases like The Message, I regard as more of a commentary than a Bible, but of the translations on the chart above, I would call attention to what I regard as excessive use of paraphrase in the NLT. The approach of the NLT means that the theological beliefs of the translators seem to come through rather clearly. To illustrate, let’s compare two verses in the NIV and NLT.

Ephesians 4:30

NIV: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

NLT: And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

It is not hard to miss the NLT’s emphasis that true Christians cannot, ultimately, fall away from God’s salvation. To do this, the NLT pulls in wording from Ephesians 1:13-14, which is why the NLT reads so differently than other translations in this verse.

2 Peter 1:10

NIV:  Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble,

NLT: So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away.

Again, theology shows through. For the translators of the NLT, confirming our calling and election does not appear to mean taking steps to safeguard ourselves from the real danger of falling away from God, but rather “proving” that we are among the elect (who God would never allow to fall away).Whether or not you agree with the theology reflected in the NLT in these two passages, I am concerned that the wording prejudges interpretation in a way that the NIV and other major translations do not. 

Summing up

What should we take away from these notes on Bible translation? Sorting out the advantages and disadvantages of various versions is tricky. Most of us will naturally end up with one translation for our primary use in reading, memorizing, and teaching. The concerns I raised about paraphrases in the NLT means I can’t recommend that translation for your primary use. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the NLT in your Bible study tool kit; it can definitely be helpful. Just be aware of the issues. Don’t let the NLT (or any other translation) be the only Bible you read.


Besides a regular column on this blog, Marlin Sommers serves various roles with Anabaptist Perspectives and works with another non-profit. Marlin and his wife are raising four children in Southeast TN. See more of Marlin’s work at www.marlin.work

Keeshon’s Story: A Knock Heard Round The Hood – Part 3

Anabaptist Perspectives

12/20/20

Written by: Keeshon Washington

This story is Part 3 of a 4-part series.

Read Part 1 HERE

Read Part 2 HERE

“God Please Bring My Dad Back!” 

Every day I would come home from school to a continual argument going on. It always had to do with either money or drugs, and the energy and sound coming from my parents often sounded demonic. It wasn’t uncommon for them to direct this energy towards me and I would then be verbally abused as well. If not directly targeted, I would be encouraged to choose sides and agree with one parent over the other. When I refused to do that, they would both be hurt by me and I would feel like trash for not being a better person. I will never doubt that they loved me and ultimately are a reason I survived, but their addictions caused me massive amounts of pain.

One example of this painful lifestyle is the time I saw my brother (Budder) almost die in front of my house. An argument had begun between our house and the neighbor’s, and it became violent enough that soon dozens of friends and family sprawled into the street. I watched as our neighbors brought out weapon after weapon to scare Budder and his friends, but Budder is a stubborn person. It all climaxed when the craziest lady of the group held a butcher knife over my brother’s head and swung it down towards his neck. It felt like time had slowed down, and that I was watching my brother’s life flash before my eyes. My dad grabbed her hand before she was able to bring it all the way down, and I’m thoroughly convinced the swing would have killed my brother. My dad was also on blood thinner, so a  cut to his wrist could have easily been fatal. But this was everyday life; I had become numb to it all. 

One final example of my life growing up is the time when my life personally hung in the balance. This story is jumping a little ahead; it took place just shortly after my conversion.

I was walking home from school when ten men in black hoodies came up behind me. They weren’t middle school aged, so I knew something was wrong. Before I had time to think, one of them clubbed me in the back of the head with a branch, nearly sending me to the ground. I always knew I was hard headed, but this was one time when I wished I would have just fallen to the ground. I assume that this man was attacking me to earn respect from his gang, so me not falling (I was a big guy) was an insult to him. He kicked me in the back of the head, and then all of the others began to stomp me out. A local yelled at them and distracted them enough for me to get away, left with some pretty serious bumps and bruises. It bothered me that I didn’t put up more of a fight. I felt weak and vulnerable like a sheep among wolves. Something inside of me didn’t allow myself to fight evil with evil but I couldn’t help but feel conflicted. There was no fear in my heart, how could I have just allowed them to do that? 

Of course when I got home my brother went out after the men who attacked me. He never found them, but I believed that night that Budder might go kill all of them himself. We didn’t call the police because we knew that would make things worse for us, so I was left to feel bad for myself. 

The following Thursday, I went to my Bible school class. I was teaching that Thursday (yes, as a 13 year old), and one of the students that came was a girl I knew from school. She had been walking home with me the same day I was jumped, but we split at the parking lot where I was attacked. She saw the entire thing and said “Why didn’t you fight back? You pulled a Jesus on them!” 

All of a sudden I realized the purpose of the attack. God had allowed me to be attacked so I could stand strong for Him. He wasn’t testing me in my mind; He was showing me off. From that point on, I wanted to be victorious for Him. I wanted to bring Him glory. The book of Job became very special to me during this time and I felt like I was beginning to relate to Job in many ways. 

I could go on and on, but these stories are meant to be used for redemption. They are being written and will continue to be written about in my other blogs. 

One of the things that constantly depressed me was my dad’s health. Years of drug abuse and bad genetics made him susceptible to just about every organ failure known to man. By the time he passed away, none of his organs were working properly, and even the terrors of cancer came to haunt him later in life. I grew up watching my dad in constant pain, in what felt like an endless amount of problems. It was through this that I learned what empathy was. Without these experiences I would never have learned to love others. I looked at my dad, not in pity, but in compassion. I wanted to help wherever I could, but sadly I was not equipped to help him overcome his vices or the results of those vices. There is a lot I could be ungrateful for in life, but no man has taught me more than my father. I was one of the lucky ones; he wasn’t a great dad, but he was my dad and I had him for the majority of my childhood. 

Things became uncertain when we were in the hospital for the last of his five open heart surgeries. They had each ended unsuccessfully. I was afraid that I might lose my dad, but if he had survived four already, then this one shouldn’t have been a problem. As I was sitting in the waiting room, one of the doctors came to consult us. He told us that the surgery had been unsuccessful, and that when he left they were trying to revive my father. I couldn’t believe what I had heard; I sank into a corner and began to seek out God in the only way I could think of. Hundreds of Bible lessons all came to mind in one moment, and I was overwhelmed by the overwhelming power of God and the history of faithful men. It felt like this was the moment for which I was being prepared for. If there was ever a time to be faithful, it would be now. I told God that if He would save my dad, I would do everything I could to win him for the kingdom. That meant that I too would choose to give my life to God and accept his peace. I realized that if God was really who I was taught He was, then all He said was true as well. This meant that my dad was possibly already on the judgment seat, about to be sent to hell. This broke me. 

I waited in anticipation to see if God had answered my prayer. About 15 minutes later, the doctor came in and confirmed that in a few hours I would be able to see him. He was covered in tubes and wires, but he was alive. I looked at him with one goal in mind. I was determined to go back to the Shenks and commit 100% to being a part of the family of God. I felt that my committing wholly to the family at Tidings of Peace would in turn allow my blood relatives to one day be able to join me. My confidence in God had reached new heights. I could go home and step on crack pipes, be jumped, live in poverty, but God was going to be present the entire way through. This didn’t make life any easier for me, but it made me feel like it was all worth it.  

Things at home only got harder after dad’s surgery. My mom’s selfishness came through in ugly ways now that my dad needed all of the attention in the house. My mom had a habit of making sure her pains and afflictions were at the forefront of our minds. If she felt judged or abused she would make everyone in the house feel like the worst person in the world. Often these feelings were a result of her own addictions and shortcomings, but she was never consolable. At this point in my life I had grown to greatly despise my mom and her condition. If my dad had not suffered in the ways he had, he would have been met with the same energy.

In the months leading up to my baptism many things were thrown at me as potential difficulties I would have to overcome in becoming a Mennonite. My t-shirts would need to go, I would need to change the music I listened to, and I would potentially need to quit playing organized sports. Amazingly, none of these things were obstacles at all. What truly stood in my way were the spiritual aspects of devotion to Christ. Most important was the fact that even though many in the church believed I was redeemed, I was not. I know this to be a fact because up until that point I had not forgiven either of my parents. At the time, I didn’t think I needed to, and it wasn’t until soon after my baptism that I came to realize that this was a critical part of following Christ. In order for me to be forgiven by God, I would need to forgive all others in my life as well. This was not where the focus of my mentors and peers was directed, although it should have been. 

Another challenge was the racial difference between me and the rest of the congregation. I was baptized with another man of color, but we were very different and our cultures didn’t resonate with each other. I navigated this cultural difference alone for much of the time leading up to the baptism, and the Shenks were the only ones that really seemed to think about the problem. That has always been one of the blessings of the Shenks. They never understood why it should be so difficult for someone to infiltrate the Mennonite culture. They recognized that the color of my skin shouldn’t have had an impact on that, but unfortunately, it did. One person (not a member of our congregation) even approached me and explained in detail why it would be inappropriate for me to marry a white woman as it would make for a poor social situation for not just us, but our children. That nearly drove me out of the church. It wasn’t the “man made rules” that bothered me; it was the cultural insensitivities that nearly drew me away from what would become a very good thing. 

With all of these problems, I chose to be a part of the church despite all of my hesitancies. I knew that even if I would encounter prejudices in the broader Mennonite church, and even if my home congregation failed to completely empathize with that, I would always have family. The Shenks had become that family. Not only was my home congregation willing to receive me and understand me as much as they could, my parents even came to witness my baptism. At the time I didn’t appreciate it, but looking back I am very grateful for their willingness to be a part of my spiritual growth. They may have not made good choices themselves, but they were willing to let me make good ones. There were many moments of jealousy and unhealthy comparisons after the fact, but for the most part they were supportive of my transformation. The icing on the cake of this whole experience was that I was allowed to keep my Afro, and I was allowed to continue playing football. 

One of the more humorous situations I faced however was when my football world clashed with my church world. Every once in a while, church people would come to pick me up from football practices, so I was somewhat used to being seen by my teammates as “the Mennonite”. I wasn’t really ashamed of this, but I was always suspicious of what crazy things Clayton and our church might do around people who’s respect I had earned. It wasn’t easy living among two very different cultures. This reached its most extreme point when half of my church decided to show up to our first football game of the season. They filed into the field complex shouting my name and trying to get my attention. Inside I felt appreciative and humored, but I knew that I was playing a team sport. I did my best to acknowledge them, without showing too much appreciation for all the attention I was getting. To this day, friends from back in the day will reconnect with me and remind me about this moment in my life. They recall them singing the hallelujah chorus every time we scored a touchdown, high fiving our team as they went to the locker room, and the fight that broke out at the end of the game that got several players suspended. The Mennonites had received just as much culture shock as they were providing for the rest of the people in the stands. 

Three years of living as a Mennonite was tough and brutal, but I believe mutually appreciated by me and most people around me. I began to travel with Austin, telling my personal story at churches across the country. Most of this was a good thing, but there were certainly some issues that would later surface once I took my mask off. I loved to tell my story and later on in life I loved to point to Jesus. My personal pride took a major hit when I suffered an injury that put an end to my football aspirations. I was getting good enough and fit enough that I could have made some serious moves and maybe gone to college on an athletic scholarship. I also maintained positive grade levels and was in a local scholarship program that nearly guaranteed a trip to college. Ruining my shoulder for life let me know that God was much bigger than myself and the Mennonites. I may be able to convince man that I am fit to play football, but God knew where my heart was.

For more practical advice on how we could improve our Anabaptist kids/youth clubs, visit Keeshon’s blog at https://urbanitemusingskw.wordpress.com/. The articles written there are for the purpose of encouraging and informing others working in urban environments.

To be concluded…

Keeshon’s Story: A Knock Heard Round The Hood – Part 2

Anabaptist Perspectives

12/8/20

Written by: Keeshon Washington

This story is Part 2 of a 4-part series. Read Part 1 HERE

Soon after VBS, I was solicited for a weekly program that ran through the year. I remembered enough from the VBS picnic that I didn’t put up a fight, but I still went with a general cynicism toward the whole program. I remember walking into our school gym with a look that would have shot right through you. I was unwilling to enjoy myself, and made that clear to everybody around me. One of my teachers was a man by the name of Dave Mellinger. He had a smile that always looked like he had just pulled a prank on someone or done something mischievous. I knew when I first saw him that he was going to be annoyingly loving. 

His lesson was a rather poor one. I’m still convinced it was one of those situations that nobody planned to teach and so he had to take the bullet. We started off with the usual singing and chants, and then the lesson began. Dave began to ask us if we believed he would give us a new car. Nearly everybody raised their hands to play along, while I sat and scoffed at their stupidity. I knew that this was all a ploy by the teacher, and I wasn’t interested in playing along. For about five minutes this went on and on, with houses, clothes, and electronics all being offered. Slowly less hands were showing, and everyone had lost interest. Then, Dave pulled out a $20 bill and said “Ok, now I promise, I will give this to the first person to raise their hand.” I had enough sense to raise my hand, and nobody else was paying close enough attention to notice. This worked to my advantage as Dave took me out back and handed me the bill. He asked me not to say anything when we went back into the gym, but I wasn’t going to obey him. As soon as we re-entered the gym, I shouted to all who would listen that Christians don’t lie and when they make a promise they wouldn’t break it. Dave (I assume) was both happy and disappointed. Happy I got the point of his lesson, but disappointed I decided to finish it for him. 

From there on my outlook of Christian white people improved. I began to see them as friends and not as enemies. I began to see how they would struggle a lot like I did. They could get mad, and yell, and apologize. I was eventually apologized to more often than I had to apologize. This was one of the major turning points in my life; to see these people who I thought were far greater than myself show me that we were both unqualified for the call that they were trying to teach me. They were actually hypocrites, but that made me respect them even more. They couldn’t live up to the perfection they were teaching, but they were pulling me in to be a part of that journey and I appreciated that. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I was still missing something significant. I was missing Jesus. 

“Who is Jesus?”

A year or two went by and I was still routinely in trouble at Bible school. However, my mischief had a different motivation; I was no longer getting in trouble for waging war against my leaders. I was getting in trouble for protecting them. Whether it was someone making fun of Miss Sarah’s covering, or the way Mr. Shawn dressed, I took offense to those things. I had plenty of criticisms of my own for the Mennonites. I still had a strong distaste in my mouth for the way they approached certain things. But I was going to be the only one making fun of them because they had become an important part of my life. 

This position isn’t an uncommon one in Mennonite youth clubs. There are always a few charming but disorderly kids to keep the group leaders on their toes. This position would still likely have ended in eternal damnation if there had not  been a more aggressive discipleship in my life. This is where Austin came in. 

“Do you want to come to my house for a Bible study?” Austin asked me on one of our Bible school nights. I didn’t know much about Austin, but what I knew fascinated me. He was an extremely “off the wall” kind of guy, there was nothing conventional about him. I knew his older brother better because he was the director of Bible school, and even he was really weird. I can speak about them in this way because, [spoiler alert] they are my brothers today. No matter how captivated I was, there was still a lot that made me hesitate at the thought of joining Austin in an environment that I couldn’t control. I lived a very lonely childhood and had never spent time in another person’s home that wasn’t family. I’m still not sure what captivated me to say yes. It feels like God Himself must have provoked me to join him and the following Tuesday, he was at my front door. 

When I got in his car a lot of bad thoughts came to my head. I had personally seen an abduction take place before, and I knew that people couldn’t be trusted. I felt somewhat secure in the fact that if Austin would try to pull anything on me, I was bigger and stronger than him. I checked the back seat and held my breath for the 8 minute drive to his house. When we arrived I was even more confused. The side of his house read “ANTIQUES” in large letters. Why in the world did Austin live in an antique shop? 

We entered the gate to his yard which is one of the largest yards in the city limits. I remember feeling a bit frustrated at first at how much more of a privileged life he had versus me. That wasn’t the last time that feeling would come over me, but it quickly went away when I entered his house. The first person I saw was his sister Autumn, who was also in my class because we were close in age. I never drew the connection that they were related, but I remember thinking how cool it was that Austin had a sister. I never knew any of my sisters, so I always wondered what that was like. The only problem was that Austin didn’t just have one sister. Before I knew it, Shenks were coming from the ceiling, down the stairs, and under the table. I was overwhelmed by a strong welcome from all seven of his siblings. Where I came from, families with 8 children were common, but they were never all from the same parents. 

The house smelled and looked like how I imagined a home in the 1800s would look like. It smelled like fresh baked bread, none of the furniture was modern, and they heated the house with firewood. I met his parents and another thought came to mind. “This is the family that always arrives 10 minutes late to Bible school!” I was beginning to piece it all together. I then found out their family was so big that they had to buy an old antique shop and remodel it just to house their family. That explained the large letters on the side of the house. 

What happened next is what I would call the most shaping experience I have ever had with the Mennonites. We sat down for dinner and I wasn’t sure what to think. The table was stretched across the entire room, and there were probably 30 different food items scattered around. Various kinds of jellies, meats, vegetables, seasonings, etc. When I ate dinner at home we had a main dish and possibly one side. We didn’t sit at a table together, and we didn’t talk to each other while we were eating. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I spent an unusual amount of time observing the table itself. It was an expandable table, and several visits later I made them show me how it worked. 

Austin’s father Clayton prayed and then everyone went into motion. They passed everything to the left and I tried my best to keep up. Somehow they were multi-tasking and able to do all of this without missing a beat. By the time all the food was passed around, I hadn’t gotten any food. I was too busy trying to do everything right. While this was far from fine-dining, I was completely lost and amazed. Later in the evening, Austin pulled me into a different room and sat down with me for a Bible study. My fears weren’t all relieved yet, but I was comfortable enough to listen to what he had to say. He used some material from Ray Comfort and tried his best to run through the Gospel with me. I didn’t understand any of it and I felt like I was being run through a program, which I didn’t appreciate all that much. Austin was only 16 and didn’t know how to do this, but it was the thought and time he spent with me that mattered. He handed me a Psalms and Proverbs Bible and encouraged me to read parts of it every night. He closed with prayer, but I noticed something different about the way he prayed. He started the prayer with “Dear Jesus”. I don’t remember if I cut him off right there or not, but I remember those words tensing me up and causing great curiosity. I asked him “Who is Jesus?” He looked at me like I had just asked the golden question. 

Austin told me about Jesus like He was his hero. It was clear to me from the very beginning of our relationship that the number one thing in his life was Jesus. All of a sudden I had sat down with a man who put all of the attention to Christ. We weren’t getting together to talk about Moses; we were getting together to talk about Jesus. I left still not knowing who Jesus was, but the answers Austin gave me that night, and the nights that would follow, planted seeds that would blossom only a year or two later. 

Visits with Austin became the highlight of my week. I began to fabricate reasons to be over there as much as I could. I’m still certain that many times Austin was aware I was lying to try to come visit, but I had good reason to not want to be at home. The atmosphere I was growing up in was causing emotional and physical damage. I was still too young to make my own decisions, so I had to live with the decisions my parents made. Up to this point, the most important thing in the lives of my parents was their addiction to cocaine. It consumed all of their thoughts, and took most of their time. I remember breaking down their door to find out what this substance looked like and to attempt to permanently remove it from our lives. That experience left me with a piece of a crack pipe lodged into my foot and a crying mother wishing she could stop all of the madness for my sake. I was promised dozens of times that they would stop the drugs, but they were never able to accomplish that while I was living with them. 

To be continued…

Keeshon’s Story: A Knock Heard Round the Hood – Part 1

Anabaptist Perspectives

November 29, 2020

Written by: Keeshon Washington

In 1775 British forces were stomping through Massachusetts with their eyes set on seizing weapons stockpiled by the American colonists. On this journey they encountered a small army of minutemen and as it is reported, “somebody fired the first shot.” This led to another small battle later that day that left the British retreating back to their home base. This first shot is famously known as “the shot heard round the world.” It began the Revolutionary War, and eventually led to the freedom that many of us live in today. 

It may be a little unconventional to start a blog series with a history lesson. But what can I say? I’m a teacher in practice and at heart. When I was growing up, I never imagined I would be a history teacher. For me, life was limited to a host of undesirable options, all of which ended with me living in a crime-infested reality that would either get me incarcerated or on a t-shirt (in my home area, we put our dead friends on t-shirts to commemorate them). I was loved by enough people that if I did happen to die, I would become like the many of my friends or cousins that had met the bad end of a gun. I would be grieved over for a week, and then never mentioned again. 

You can imagine my skepticism when a group of white people came into my neighborhood (what we call to this day “the hood”), and preached a message that promised a different path. A path that would avoid spiritual death entirely, and minimize earthly death and its effects. A path that would lead me to live in joy and in endless hope, helping me to forgive anyone who had ever wronged me and have unwavering peace. A path that would help me know the force or entity that had created me in the first place. All of this sounded like a fairy tale that rich white people told kids like me to bring me into compliance. While they lived more reputable lives than myself, I sat and listened to their doctrine. I resented it all, and for a brief part of my life, came to hate God. 

All of this changed at the hand of one man who was directed by God to do something many of us do on a weekly basis. One knock on the front door of my run-down row house started the course that would cause me to fall in love with Jesus, have eternal life, and learn to love others as well. Some call it the butterfly effect, others a spark that catches the flame. I call it the knock heard around the hood. 

“What Do You Want?” 

I met Jonathan at the door with this question on a summer afternoon almost 14 years ago. White people never came to our place with good intentions or purpose. They were either there to sell us something, take something from us, or take us away. So many times I had seen people come in and cut off our electric, our gas, or our cable. I only ever truly cared if I lost my television; there wasn’t anything else to do. I lived a very lonely and reclusive life. 

White people also came when they wanted to solicit for things. There weren’t many Mormons, but Jehovah’s Witnesses would come around regularly. They always walked away as fast as they knocked; very few ever actually wanted to speak with us. So when Jonathan, a tall, lanky Mennonite man was in front of me, I thought of him as the same. I really became disinterested when he began to speak to me about church. He wanted to invite me to a Vacation Bible School that had begun the night before. Church for me had become a cuss word. Not just because of the racial attachments I had given religion, but also because of my experiences at a certain Baptist church the year prior. Every weekend, many buses swept through York and local cities to pick us up for church. This church became a regular part of my life on Sunday mornings. Initially my curiosity was strong, and I was always well behaved and compliant. The candy was an immediate draw, and the noise somehow exhilarated me. This was how you reached city kids, through junk food and noise. 

It was always a snap into reality when we would reach the church and I saw a gym full of 300+ kids. Brother Carl would give a riveting and sometimes gym shaking sermon, and it would always be followed by an altar call. I answered that altar call many times, with hopes that what was being preached to me was true. “If you accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, your life will turn around and you will be prosperous.” We learned about David, Joshua, Moses, and others and were told that if we chose to follow the God they served, we would do things just like them. But whenever I would return home, I saw a hellish existence. I was promised heaven on earth, but experienced the exact opposite. To me, church was the white man’s way of getting together to socialize. When people like me showed up, they would turn their attention to us and shout at us to not be as messed up as we were. There was no appeal to Jesus, no telling of His miracles or His intentions for my life. Just Bible characters and false promises given to a group of vulnerable young people with little to no hope. So church became something I was no longer interested in, and God was a buzz word that caused me a lot of pain. 

Just before I could close the door, dad came to speak with Jonathan. My dad knew that even if we didn’t like these people, they could be cops, and we can’t shut the door on a cop’s face. I left to sit down and disregarded their discussion. Dad came back in and told me I was going to church. I met him with a defiance that I didn’t often have, but dad gave me “the look”. In our culture, that was all it took to know that this wasn’t a battle I wanted to fight. But I didn’t worry too bad though, because I had a plan. 

“I Don’t Want to be Loved” 

When the Mennonites came to pick me up, they had a crusty white van full of loud kids. I began to wonder if this was going to be a moderate version of the Baptist church I had attended. I also remember having an intense curiosity as to why they were “Anti Baptists” (Clearly I had misheard “Anabaptist”). I didn’t recognize any difference in the men, but I hadn’t met a Mennonite woman yet. I was “Anti-Baptist” too, but I was also Anti-Mennonite. 

That changed when I entered the church building, and saw a host of kids I knew from school, and several Mennonites. The women had weird cloths on their heads and wore really ugly dresses. I was so confused, but I was too focused on my plan to let any of that phase me. When I was taken into the sanctuary, I began screaming every cuss word I could think of. I didn’t want to be seated because I thought once that happened, I would be stuck. My group leader immediately grabbed me,walked me to the back of the sanctuary, and was about to take me home. But Jonathan was at the back of the sanctuary, and he wouldn’t let me leave. I was so confused that I completely sat down in shock. I didn’t understand why someone would keep me after I had done everything I could to disrespect them. 

I did eventually get kicked out that night anyway, as Jonathan was not able to shadow me the whole night. I had become victorious, but only for 24 hours. The next night, they were back at my house, ready to pick me up again. This process repeated itself all week. I was either getting kicked out or making my group leaders wish I was gone. I was doing everything I could do to make myself unlovable, and I even began to resent the fact that they kept trying. One of the group leaders caught onto this and asked me why I refused to be good every night. He even alluded to the fact that he just wants to love me like God does. I replied, “I don’t want to be loved!” And I meant it. I could see the heartbreak it caused for him, and I’m ashamed to say it caused me some kind of sadistic relief. I was happy that I could win, and that they couldn’t get through to me. 

The turning point didn’t come until the closing picnic. I wasn’t supposed to be picked up, but they did anyway. This was the trend of the week; their desire to be a part of my life transcended the rules and the set expectations. This is also something I try to remember today as a teacher. 

The picnic was a different experience than the rest of the week. For the first time I came with a different energy. I came in almost defeated and even worn out by the love I had been forced to encounter during the week. This opened me up to see my group leaders in a different light, and they capitalized on that. We played so many games, and my chubby body had trouble keeping up with all the fun we were having. I was too distracted in my competitive desires to worry about causing havoc. My outlook had taken a complete turnaround. I left the picnic seeing the Mennonites as people; human beings that were able to share experiences with me. Up until this point I saw them as above me and inaccessible, but now we were holding hands running around in a circle. It is no mistake that when they decided to come down from their perch of authority, they were met with more cooperation. This is yet another thing I always use to balance what is normally a strict learning environment for my students. There needs to be days where we just have fun. 

It would be 2 weeks before I would encounter these people again. I thought their interaction with me was a “flash in the pan”, and that the misery I returned home to was once again my complete reality, just like last time. 

To be continued…

Why New Bible Translations Matter: An Example

Anabaptist Perspectives

Written by: Marlin Sommers

A Christian magazine recently asked readers to comment on why we need new translations of the Bible from time to time. English Bible translations are a subject dear to my heart, and I shared a brief response for that magazine. Here on the blog I would like to give a slightly longer explanation. While I am arguing that it is important to make regular use of a modern English translation of the bible, it should be noted that not all translations are equal. Some modern translations on the market are not well-suited to use as your primary bible because they employ a very loose and interpretive method of translation. But, with that caveat aside, I begin by diving into a fascinating difference between newer and older English translations.

First, compare these two translations of Titus 2:13 which were released less than fifty years apart.

ASV: looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; (1901)

RSV: awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, (NT released 1946)

Does this passage speak of both the Father and of Jesus? Or does it speak of Jesus as our “God and Savior”? Older English translations seem to refer to both the Father and the Son. More recent translations of this passage explicitly call Jesus “our great God.” 

Of course, we don’t need modern translations to know that Jesus is a fully divine person of the Trinity.  But to see the phrase “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” is a glorious affirmation for the Christian, and it is quite jarring for those who deny the deity of Christ. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, have their own translation and do not include that phrase.

The story begins in the late 1700’s with Granville Sharp, an early British abolitionist and man of many interests.  In his day there were many unitarians who denied the Trinity and the deity of Jesus. Sharp endeavored to show that the New Testament affirmed the deity of Christ. One fruit of his study was a list of passages which he believed affirmed the deity of Christ much more explicitly than the current English Bible indicated. Titus 2:13 is a passage where Sharp’s interpretation stood the test of time, although it was not until the 1900’s that his insight was incorporated into our Bibles.

While most of us have no need to personally understand Sharp’s rule,looking at a few details  will help us appreciate his work, and the work of other scholars.Behind the nice, polished Bible translations we read lies a lot of detailed scholarly work.

Sharp’s rule concerns Greek phrases of a very specific form: Article noun1 kai noun2, where both nouns are the same grammatical case. 

For our purposes we can think of this as:

 “The _________________ and ____________”

For the rule to apply, both blanks must be filled in with singular nouns, which refer to persons but are not proper names. Think about it: Granville Sharp had to be a very observant person to pick up on a pattern that detailed!

Now for the upshot: Sharp’s rule says that when those detailed conditions are met, the phrase describes only one person. Thus the passage at the beginning of this post does not concern two persons (the Father and the Son), but one person Jesus, who is our great God and Savior. 

 Sharp’s rule is about biblical Greek, not about English. An English phrase like “the mayor and police chief” would likely refer to two different people. However biblical phrases like “the great God and Savior of us” (Titus 2:13) and “the God of us and Savior” (2 Peter 1:1) mean that the very same person is both God and Savior. 

Again, my point is not to make us all study biblical Greek (as cool as that would be!), but to help us appreciate detailed scholarship.  It took significant insight for Granville Sharp to discover this rule and tremendous work on the part of other scholars to verify it.

So, why do we need new English translations of the scripture from time to time? One reason is to incorporate the work of men like Granville Sharp. We should not need a commentary to learn that Paul referred to Jesus as “our great God and Savior.” That phrase belongs on the pages of our Bibles. 

Today, the King James Version is the traditional translation, but in 1611 it was the new translation, with various others on the market. In a preface, the  translators explained why we need new translations from time to time.  They emphasized that since the scriptures are supremely important, we must use supreme diligence to translate them as well as we can. A scholar should, in their words, “assay whether my talent in the knowledge of the tongues may be profitable in any measure to God’s Church” (§11, 11). This diligence, they say, leads to careful revisions of Bible translations. They give examples from ancient Bible translators and then note that regular books written in foreign languages “have been gone over again and again” by various translators. They conclude that the scriptures are much more worthy of our efforts at translation.

Now, if this cost may be bestowed upon the gourd, which affordeth us a little shade, and which to-day flourisheth but to-morrow is cut down, what may we bestow, nay, what ought we not to bestow, upon the vine, the fruit whereof maketh glad the conscience of man, and the stem whereof abideth forever?  And this is the Word of God, which we translate. (§12, 10-12)

The Bible is important: Study it! The Bible is important and scholars have worked hard to translate it well: take advantage of that and include good modern translations in your bible study!

Sources:

Wallace, Daniel. “Sharp Redivivus? – A Reexamination of the Granville Sharp Rule” June 30, 2004. https://bible.org/article/sharp-redivivus-reexamination-granville-sharp-rule accessed 5/29/2020

The Translators to the Reader (Preface to the King James Version) https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Bible_(King_James)/Preface

“Granville Sharp.” Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granville_Sharp accessed 5/29/2020

  1. This rendering is quite consistent from the mid-twentieth century onward. The RSV and NRSV offer a footnote suggesting the older rendering as a possibility, but most versions do not.
  2. I checked the online edition of the New World Translation hosted at www.jw.org on 5/25/2020.

10/11/20

When Good Men Do Nothing

When Good Men Do Nothing

Anabaptist Perspectives

Written by: Chester Weaver

For over a thousand years good men did nothing. Maybe that is not quite saying it right. For over a thousand years good men could do no good publicly and prosper with the good. Their good prospered in non-public ways, in ways forgotten to history. Some men in all ages have found ways to do good, but their good has been lost to public sight. Only the Heavenly records will tell the private stories.

For you see, when good men do good, most people hate them for it. Think about Jesus Christ Himself. He could exercise Himself in public ministry for only 3 ½ years until the Jews had Him removed. Then He went down in Jewish history as a Pretender. The Romans who actually did the killing forgot Him. Josephus and a few others remembered snatches of Him, Josephus himself wondering if the man Jesus should even be called a man. Otherwise, history went silent.

Except for the people who did good. The good men we know as the Disciples became even better men after the Spirit came upon them. And so did quite a few others. We know the entire group as Believers, followers of the Way. These men continued to do good in every place they found themselves. And eventually they wrote the original story of the Good Man we know as Jesus Christ. We read four of those stories today in the four Gospels.

More good men joined the Way and we now have the history of the Early Church in the Book of Acts and beyond.

Unfortunately, the Way became too easy, so easy that entire groups of people joined en masse, bringing their badness with them. The Goodness and Badness were married to become the State Church for over one thousand years. That is the official story, the story we read. What we do not read (because it has been lost to written record) are the forgotten stories of men and women who did good wherever and whenever they could in common everyday ways. Who knows how many people did this? Multitudes most likely, numbers we will never know this side of Eternity.

Some names have been publicly remembered for good. People such as Benedict of Nursia, Catherine of Sienna, St. Francis of Assisi, and Peter Waldo, to name a few. We remember the public men such as John Wycliffe and John Hus. The latter two names took great risks with their good, Hus eventually paying for his risk with his life. The numerous Waldensians generously paid for their risks as well. The great fact to remember however was the light they kept alive, the candles they kept burning in the darkness. The lights were noticed; the lights encouraged many other lights to spring into existence.

And then, when Martin Luther came along, good men found a champion holding a large flaming torch. And he was not alone; men like Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin held their own flaming torches aloft. But alas the pressures of darkness dimmed those torches to shine only into a continuation of the State Church darkness. And then other good men were really put to the test. Would they as good men do what they needed to do with their calling?

Thus we have the story of good men doing what good men always do, insisting on Good regardless of the cost, and the Anabaptist movement was born. The good these men insisted upon was attacked by both kinds of state churches, Roman Catholic and Protestant. 

The story of how that good survived in a number of separate geographical locations is quite interesting to read. Imagine having a meeting of more than fifty leaders who gave each other the assignments to fan out through the darkness with their tiny lights, knowing the likely results of doing so! Imagine the character, courage, and wisdom of Michael Sattler! Such courage of these men, actually doing good, multiplied their tiny flames into a multitude of other tiny flames each lighting separate pockets of darkness in the locales where they lived and worked. Think of Pilgram Marpeck, inspired by the good which he personally witnessed, providing written encouragement while suffering the ravages of the storming darkness around himself. Think of Jacob Hutter who cared, cared so much that his good was soon squashed.

The stories of good men doing something five hundred years ago is quite inspiring and encouraging. The stories of good men doing something while being hidden in the darkness of the previous thousand years stirs courage in our own hearts today. We too, live in deepening darkness. We too, have a tiny light. We too, are presented with an opportunity to do something with the light that we have.

We need not seek fame and large-scale good which will be written in tomorrow’s history books. Every one of us lives amid the darkness of our own neighborhoods. Some of us live geographically close to pockets of deep, deep darkness. What happens when good men do nothing? The darkness simply deepens. What happens when good men carry a tiny candle flame into the darkness? A little bit of light penetrates that darkness. That tiny bit of light is HOPE to those chained to the darkness.

We must boldly walk into the darkness where we live, carrying aloft our tiny flame. This is the way good men do something. They do not set out to do great things. They are simply obedient to the call at their doorstep and God takes it from there. What will God do with tiny candle flames today? I do not know. I do know that the tiny candle flames penetrating the darkness five hundred years ago did break the powers of darkness to the point that we today enjoy freedoms guaranteed by law. The good men who did something five hundred years ago never lived to see the result of their good, the light of complete separation of church and state. What might God do yet with the tiny flames of men and women who insist upon proactively doing good in our world today? Plenty of darkness exists.

Sept. 1, 2020

My Ethics, Your Ethics, and the Dilemma Between

Anabaptist Perspectives, Uncategorized

Written by: Roseanne Bauman

Part 3

Most adults who have achieved a certain level of maturity have a well-developed set of cultural values and a preferred decision-making ethic, whether or not they are aware of those paradigms within themselves. I am no different. As a Christian professor at a secular community college I am comfortable with my established worldview. However, my current class of nursing students, who are foreign trained professionals from many countries around the world, are helping me reevaluate my paradigm. 

In a class on ethics I used as an example the timeworn question, “What would you do if someone asked you, as the nurse, to baptize their baby?” The scenario is that the baby is imminently dying and the parents are afraid the priest won’t arrive on time to baptize it, and the baby will not go to heaven, so they ask the nurse to baptize it quickly. Nurses are encouraged to assist people to carry out their religious rituals where possible. During the discussion, one of the students mentioned that they couldn’t really answer the question because they had no idea what baptism was! OK! Back up the bus! I have made an assumption out of my cultural background that everyone would understand this scenario. I am challenged daily to think about examples that can be used when the group’s cultural backgrounds are so varied.

You should have seen how shell-shocked these poor people looked after our class on spirituality, death, grief, and laws around consent and refusal to treat. In one two-hour span we wandered around religion, faith, death, questioning God, suicide, brain death, organ donation, what to do with a body after death, declarations of incapacity, powers of attorney, and DNRs. I think I have removed any doubt in their minds that Canadians are heathen! Oh, how I’d love to have time to hear all their perspectives on these things! Really, which option demonstrates care for a family member best? To tell them the truth about their medical condition, or to shield them from the truth and let their family make decisions? I vote for the most astute student who said, “If Canadians are so concerned about autonomy in decision-making, I would think they would at least keep their Powers of Attorney up to date!” The idea about family coming to view a body before it is removed to the funeral home just didn’t sit for some of them. The doozy of the day for me was “What is the difference between a spirit and a soul?” It would take considerable time to explore even a frame of reference that could be used to begin answering that one!

One of the differences in cultural values we teachers battle with all the time is working with students from more collectivist cultures.  What do we do when a concern for the group and cooperative achievement are more important than the competition and individual achievement our educational system is built on? It is easy for me with my cultural value system to say students who share work are cheating. I can even quote scripture to support my position ethically. However, this group challenges me to ask, is scripture not just as supportive of an ethic of putting the welfare of others ahead of individual achievement? Is my way really the high road?

Another thing I find challenging is communicating with students who are working from a whole different set of communication rules and power structure expectations than I am. When a student says to me, “Do you know who I am? I could purchase your entire college if I wished to!” am I to understand that the proper response is to grant the student the desired grade or credential based on wealth and position? Or what about students who understand an assigned grade as the first offer in a bartering process? I am no good at bartering grades! And what about the remainder of the class who don’t know they should barter? I have an ethic about treating all students as equally as possible! Or what about a student who begins with flattery and ends with begging and prostration on the ground before me to obligate me to give them what they want since they have so honored me? Relationships ought to trump some arbitrary rule about a passing grade after all! Isn’t God’s economy all about loving people? Oh, where is the well-developed “one-size-fits-all” paradigm I thought I had now?

As I navigate this world that is opening my ethnocentric eyes a bit, I still refer to God’s Word to help me decide what is right or wrong, but I am a little quicker to assess whether or not my initial responses are perhaps purely culture bound. I am a little more open to considering where my views originate and to let that inform my interactions. And I am happy to discuss what is going on when I am confused. I want to see what I can learn.

Aug. 16, 2020

Who Is My Neighbor?

Who Is My Neighbor?

Anabaptist Perspectives

Written by: Roseanne Bauman

I teach a nursing class made up of nurses, midwives, and doctors who were trained in  Egypt, Nepal, Romania, Korea, the Philippines, India, Columbia, Sudan, China, Taiwan, Nigeria, Ukraine, Russia, Bangladesh, Iraq, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, and Iran. They speak 30 languages other than English among them. They vary in years of experience from 1 to 20. Some have immigrant status and others are international students. Some have not worked in healthcare for many years.

I am a believer in grabbing hold of and maximizing teachable moments. If a question is asked, helping someone find the answer will be the most prime teaching opportunity you’ll ever get. Someone is wondering, listening, and paying attention. It works vastly more effectively than the teacher asking the questions. However, it doesn’t take a class long to figure out their teacher works on this principle and they begin to maximize the opportunity to ask questions! Particularly when they are isolated in a new language and culture. As a result, we have vigorous discussions about many things. What is a washcloth and what is its purpose? Do Canadians use alcohol to prevent pressure sores? What about water beds for patients in hospital?  Why doesn’t Canada sell antibiotics over the counter the way many countries do? Why aren’t you ordering an eosinophil sedimentation rate with a white blood count to check for infection? Why would anyone put more than one sheet on a bed? Are the energy boosters at the 24-hour convenience store for the elderly to help increase their energy levels? What is the difference between white and red meat? Is a person with no religion a free spirit? And those are just the medical and nursing questions! I agonize over how to re-socialize these people into Canadian culture and yet honor their vast experience and unique reality. How do you teach someone the “right way” to do a thing in Canada without suggesting what they did before was the “wrong way”? What sort of arrogance proposes that my way is more “advanced” than theirs?

This week the class went to a long term care facility to begin their “hands on” practice. I asked them what their impression was and most said it was very strange, this concept of putting all your elderly in one place. They feel so sad for them that there isn’t more family involvement. When encouraged to think about possible advantages to the system, someone thought it’s a very good idea for those whose families neglect them! It seems that the nursing home concept is generally a shocking idea for cultures who value family and elders and count it a privilege to care for them in their own homes. Here’s another puzzler, have any of you considered how bizarre it is to allow overfed sassy felines to live in the nursing home when they would do nicely for the stew pot? We must look so insane to these people sometimes!

As my students begin to venture out into the “real world” of Canadian healthcare, I face new challenges as the “buffer zone” too. Imagine that you are elderly, have a little difficulty seeing and hearing, and need assistance with your most personal body functions. Then, without your consent or knowledge, some stranger you can’t understand at all comes and clumsily attempts to help you. How disconcerting is that? In your own home no less! Now imagine that you are a staff member trying to help this new Canadian learn how things are done, but it’s so difficult to communicate! Now imagine that you are new, scared, feeling demoted and devalued (because you were a respected professional in your own country) and you can’t even get someone washed and dressed before they say “Get out! I don’t want you! I can’t understand you!” And last of all imagine that you are the teacher and it’s your job to keep everyone happy so that students can be successful in their learning and so that the nursing home will accept students in the future (otherwise your boss will be unhappy). We are not racist, we say, but we prefer to associate as little as possible in our personal lives with those who are not like us. It takes too much effort to try to understand them and work with them.

What was my biggest challenge this week? A meeting I called with a student and two personal support workers (PSWs) at the nursing home to try to clarify an issue. Obviously, there was an issue. The PSWs were quite upset, the student was quite upset, and in leading the conversation I discovered that clearly each party considered the other to be in the wrong. Both sides insisted they had communicated well with the other side, but there was no follow through. Sigh! I talked about the difficulties of communication with accents and so on, but I was in a bit of a bind. What, after all, is a person to do when she needs to advocate for a student who may be experiencing racial discrimination while she harbors doubts in her own heart about that student’s performance? This distinguished gentleman, who bows to me sometimes, was deeply hurt at them tattling to me instead of speaking to him. Can’t say as I blame him! In the staff’s defense, they probably didn’t even catch what he was saying when he told them that; his accent is so hard to decipher. Jesus taught us in the parable of the good Samaritan that loving our neighbors means showing mercy to those around us who are in need. Our neighbors are any and all persons who cross our path. It gets tougher when our neighbors are on opposite sides of a conflict! We ended up leaving the work issue basically unresolved since we couldn’t untangle it sufficiently, and instead focused on making a specific plan for the next class that I hope everyone understood clearly. I pray for the love, patience, and endurance to continue working with my multicultural neighborhood. It’s messy, it’s bumpy, and usually there is no road map, but the Lord loves us all and will help us love each other.

Aug. 9, 2020

From Every Nation, Tribe, and Language

From Every Nation, Tribe, and Language

Anabaptist Perspectives

Written by: Roseanne Bauman

Part 1

I am a nursing professor at a community college in Canada. Currently I am privileged to teach a class for foreign trained medical professionals whose credentials are not recognized in Canada. This nursing class fast tracks them into the Canadian healthcare system so that they can begin working in the field and networking their way to where they wish to go. Let me introduce you. There are 25 students. 12 are nurses or midwives, and 13 are doctors. We have 18 countries of training represented, with no more than three students from any one country. Does this qualify as diversity?

I asked them today, just for fun, what languages they speak, and wrote them on the board. I thought I was familiar with a few of the major languages in the world. I guess it depends on how you define “major”. This group of 25 persons speaks 30 languages among them! No wonder I don’t hear many non-English conversations going on at break time. There isn’t a whole lot of overlap in languages. When the name of a country is the root word for the name of the language, I can sort of spell it, and some like Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, Urdu, etc. I’ve previously encountered, but they were helping me spell out names of languages I have already forgotten! The trouble with them spelling for me is that I can’t decipher b from d, p, t, or v in their accents. They were intrigued by the fact that my first language was not English either. You know how you feel when you’ve just had a telephone conversation with someone you can barely understand at all because of their accent? Multiply that by 25 or so persons with at least a dozen varieties of such accents who talk all the time, and you will know why I come home very tired every day after work! I find myself being stretched in every way. My internal thesaurus grows daily as I run through lists of synonyms attempting to locate the one English word familiar to the student, in order to translate the concept they are having difficulty with. My ability to guess the meaning of an entire sentence based on the two or three words I understand is growing, as is my awareness of culture-specific words. I had quite a time trying to describe jello to someone who wasn’t familiar with the substance, let alone its name!

Marking papers has to be about my least favorite part of teaching, but in this group, it is an adventure. Did you all know that churches are profitless organizations? Someone describes an organization as profitless and I am left to wonder just how I would even begin to explain why it is  nonprofit instead of profitless! Also, how does one explain that certain words they hear used in common language are unacceptable in professional papers? Swearing means making a solemn promise; cursing means calling bad things down on someone; what do I call these “bad words” so they can understand? And do I list examples? After a time of reading papers written by persons with so many languages of origin, my neck has had a workout along with my brain! You remember those kaleidoscope toys where you turn it just a bit and you get a whole new design? Well sometimes I read and reread and correct grammar and reread again trying to understand what I am looking at. And sometimes I turn my head just a bit or shake it to try to rearrange my thoughts to what I am seeing. Are you laughing? Admit it, you have opened your mouth when feeding babies to try to get them to open their mouths! That’s just as profitless as turning my head in an effort to read papers! First prize for creative writing goes to the lady from South Korea who has correctly spelled English words in nearly correctly structured English sentences – and I still can’t figure out what she is saying most times! I am learning to think creatively and use lots of imagination.

This group inspires me as I see them lay aside patriotism, ethnocentrism, culture, politics, religion, and even sometimes historic values, in order to all learn how to be nurses in Canada. Yes, my students represent opposing sides in political battles, most of the major world religions, possibly different castes, and for sure various places in the age-old hierarchy of nurses and doctors, but at the moment, they are unified in their anxiety about midterm exams coming right up! I am very pleased with how they mingle and work together across genders, races, etc. It’s probably largely due to having no one like themselves in the class, but it’s nice to see. If only we in God’s global family could be so unified in kingdom work! 

As I hear personal stories bit by bit from these people I am saddened by what some of them have experienced to bring them to my country and  what some of them are faced with in this “developed multicultural country”. I find myself pondering why I make choices the way I do. Am I being influenced by Canadian culture, healthcare culture, professional culture, Mennonite culture, Swiss-German heritage, Christian values, or is there something that is unique to me? Just how many ways are there to view a thing anyhow? I have never before shared so much of my own experience in a transcultural lifestyle as I do now to help these students get a sense of how to have your own set of values which may be counter to the prevailing culture, and yet function within that culture.

On the matter of common sense, or reason, or intuition, or whatever, I am becoming an humbler person and learning that even those sorts of things are often very highly personal and culture-bound. I realize at times when I am promoting a perfectly sensible idea that I may well be the only person in the room who thinks that idea has any merit!
I am celebrating the opportunity to work with this very unique and very gifted group of people who demonstrate such courage to be learners in a new environment. I pray for humility to learn from them and to show Christ’s love in my dealings with them. And I dream about this verse in Revelation 7:9 “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” 

Aug 1, 2020

“But You Will Just Die”

Anabaptist Perspectives

Written by: Marlin Sommers

Since I did not live on campus, I spent time between classes in the Grove City College commuter student lounge.  One day my friend Brenda was speaking of her dislike for the military. She was responding to some callous young men. I started to push this conversation just a little bit. Brenda protested that, even if war is necessary, killing is certainly something to sadden one, not for one to glory in. Many of the young men took a brutally callous approach, and Brenda was pushed on the implications of her aversion to violence. What if someone is attempting to rape or kill you? She stood firm. It is not right to kill; besides, she would be in a better condition to die than the attacker. 

The reactions were interesting. Some dismissed her as sissy, out of touch with the reality of enemies. Others argued that God respects life, so we must be willing to protect innocent life by taking the life of the aggressor. Another friend, Michelle, took this position, arguing that one who tries to take the life of another forfeits his own right to live. In general, the reaction to Brenda was decidedly consequentialist; possible bad consequences supposedly showed that Brenda was wrong. “We need to protect ourselves, don’t we?” “Wouldn’t your life do more good in the world, if you survive, than the life of the guy who is trying to kill you?” “He is probably a jerk anyway.” I was quite taken aback by the blatant use of such reasoning at this Christian school.  

Brenda was not against hindering the attacker from his purposes, but she insisted that she must not kill him. Michelle tried to talk some sense into her. “But you will just die,” she said. I broke in, quoting Jesus, “He who would save his life will lose it.” Michelle pounced on this: “that’s a misinterpretation, it’s talking about spiritual life, not literal physical life.  Misuse of scripture, Marlin.”

Of course, I should sometimes save my literal, physical life. If a train is coming down the track, I had better get off, and usually I should steer clear of people who intend to shoot me. But there are some things that I, as a follower of Jesus, cannot do to save my life. Some things I must avoid, even if it means I “will just die,” and killing people is one such thing.

Later Michelle told me that she thinks the context of Jesus’ words about saving or losing one’s life is talking about spiritual life. Perhaps we misunderstood each other’s points. I don’t know. At any rate, context is the place to turn. In Luke 9 we see Peter confess that Jesus is God’s Christ, the Messiah. Immediately thereafter, Jesus begins emphasizing the suffering that will go with being the Messiah. He will not only suffer but also be rejected by the religious leaders and killed, though he will be raised from the dead. The same pattern of suffering, but ultimately being rescued, will apply to his disciples.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)

To lose one’s life for Jesus’ sake is to take up the cross and identify with Jesus even in his suffering and rejection. One must not try to save his life by downplaying his connection to Jesus or backpedaling from what Jesus said. Jesus lost his life in the full literal sense, as do some of his disciples. Disciples will share the cross and human rejection with Jesus. They will also imitate the costly love of Jesus. 

A little further on in Luke we see Jesus warning the crowds: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-27) Hate for one’s children, or for one’s life does not, of course, mean animosity or a lack of affection toward them. Rather, it is the settled disposition that neither wife nor life will keep one from making disciples’ choices.

We must circle back to the original question. Is killing in self-defense the kind of saving one’s life that Jesus warned against? If it is inconsistent with the way of Jesus, then it is an anti-Christian attempt to save one’s own life. On the other hand, if it is consistent with the way of Jesus, then I was indeed misusing scripture.

What does the way of the Master say about violence? Jesus’s life and death are the paradigm. Jesus refuses to be the violent Messiah that many wanted.  Jesus anticipates his own suffering. He puts down Peter’s sword and does not call twelve legions of angels to his aid. Finally, at the cross Jesus prays for God to forgive those who killed him. The disciple Stephen prays similar words when he is executed by stoning. 

Injunctions to not resist an evil person, to settle lawsuits against us on generous terms, to overcome evil with good, and so forth, fall into pattern as part of a cross-shaped life in imitation of Christ. Peter explicitly says that Christ’s example of submitting to the cross shows us how to deal patiently with beatings and harsh treatment (1 Peter 2:19-23).

The classic objection to this view of cross-bearing and enemy love is that such nonresistance is naïve and irresponsible. Don’t we need violence to restrain evil? Don’t we rest in peace because violent men man the trenches? Is this not mere idealism unsuited for real life and encounters with real evil? These concerns have weight and they animated that conversation at Grove City College.

But, if the ethic of the cross were only for spiritual matters like securing our atonement, and not for our life in this world, why did Jesus emphasize the need to count the cost of discipleship and renounce all? Many in the room thought they could draw a definitive conclusion from the possibility of “just dying.” Their conclusion looks anything but obvious once we grasp the self-giving love of Jesus. Jesus was raised from the dead, and we will be as well. The disciple will not wish to save his life at the cost of his assailant’s life. 

July 3, 2020