You are on page 1of 36

Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada • Summer 2010

Pressing On

What does it look like when love never Wycliffe at


fails? Erin Chapman, daughter of Urbana ‘09
Wycliffe Canada missionaries,
reflects on her life since the tragic Supporting Fellow
deaths of her brothers and parents. Cross Bearers
Foreword
Summer 2010 • Volume 28 • Number 2
Word Alive, which takes its name from Hebrews 4:12a, is the official
publication of Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada. Its mission is to
inform, inspire and involve the Christian public as partners in the
worldwide Bible translation movement. Difficult to Write & Read
Editor: Dwayne Janke Dwayne Janke
Designer: Laird Salkeld

T
Senior Staff Writer: Doug Lockhart
Staff Writers: Janet Seever, Deborah Crough
he feature articles in this issue of Word Alive were difficult to
Staff Photographers: Alan Hood, Natasha Schmale
write. They may also be difficult for you to read.
Vice President of Communications: Dave Crough
As for the writing, Deborah Crough hit a wall one day
Word Alive is published four times annually by Wycliffe Bible Translators as she penned the story about Erin Chapman, daughter of
of Canada, 4316 10 St NE, Calgary, AB T2E 6K3. Copyright 2010 by
Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada. Permission to reprint articles and Wycliffe Canada missionaries. Deborah felt she wasn’t doing justice to
other magazine contents may be obtained by written request to the edi- Erin’s very candid reflections on losing her entire family during their
tor. A donation of $12 annually is suggested to cover the cost of printing years of service with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Deborah and her pho-
and mailing the magazine. (Donate online or use the reply form in this
tographer husband Dave had known Erin and her parents since Erin
issue.) Printed in Canada by McCallum Printing Group, Edmonton.
was in high school. Though a decade has passed since Erin’s parents
Member: The Canadian Church Press, Evangelical Press Association.
died, Deborah found revisiting their story by way of telling Erin’s story
For additional copies: media_resources@wycliffe.ca
emotionally draining. Many days she wrote through tears.
To contact the editor: editor_wam@wycliffe.ca
I discussed the challenges with Deborah and tried to encourage
For address updates: circulation@wycliffe.ca
her in writing about Erin’s intimate struggle with deep, personal loss.
Note to readers: References to “SIL” are occasionally made in Deborah did much better after this “pep-talk,” as she called it. The
Word Alive. SIL is a key partner organization, dedicated to training,
language development and research, translation and literacy. result is the article that follows.
As I wrote about Kevin and Laurel Penner, I felt overwhelmed,
dissatisfied, out of gas and lacking in enthusiasm. The Penners are a
Wycliffe Canada couple who were serving in a Bible translation project
in Mexico when God brought a severely handicapped daughter (Alyssa)
into their lives. Like Erin Chapman, they have wrestled with some
Wycliffe Canada Vision Statement: A world where translated tough spiritual issues. Nonetheless, they have pressed on with their
Scriptures lead to transformed lives among people of all languages.
commitment in spite of what some might consider an insurmountable
Translating Scripture, Transforming Lives barrier.
Together with partners worldwide, we serve indigenous people through
The examples of Struggling with the article, I emailed communi-
language-related ministries, especially Bible translation and literacy.
Our goal is to empower local communities to express God’s love in both cations department colleagues asking for prayer.
Word and deed—for personal, social and spiritual transformation. fellow sojourners as A few minutes later, five of them were in my office
Wycliffe personnel currently serve globally in more than 1,400 language interceding for me. God answered. Within two
projects for about 1.9 billion. However, about 2,200 minority language they persevere with hours, I could feel the wind returning to my edito-
groups still wait for the power of God working through their own lan-
guages. Wycliffe invites you to participate in this effort through prayer, the Lord through rial sails and I finished the writing in several more
service and funding. days.
Canadian Head Office: 4316 10 St NE, Calgary, AB T2E 6K3. Phone: dark, dark days can These two writing struggles left me pondering
(403) 250-5411 or toll free 1-800-463-1143, 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. their source: was the Enemy displeased with us tell-
mountain time. Fax: (403) 250-2623. Email: info@wycliffe.ca be encouraging ing God’s people about some of His servants trusting
Cover: Having known heartbreaking loss, Erin Chapman chooses to see
and inspiring to us. Him even in Job-like times? Maybe.
the bigger picture in the light of a loving God. These stories may also be difficult for you to
Photograph by Dave Crough.
read. Being exposed to the painful trials of other
believers, including those experienced by folks in the Wycliffe family,
can be heart wrenching. Like these sufferers, in bewilderment we ask
God the obvious: “Why?!”
At the same time, we can be encouraged and inspired by the exam-
ples of fellow sojourners as they persevere with the Lord through dark,
dark days. This has certainly been the reaction of readers to previous
issues of Word Alive that dealt with difficult personal loss and suffering.
Intense heartache, deep anguish, motivation-draining disappoint-
In Others’ Words ment and great sacrifice are plentiful in the Wycliffe family’s global
“The shortest road to an understanding ministry. But sometimes, there is immeasurable value in staring these
of the Bible is the acceptance of the things straight in the face, and remembering the profoundly important
and hopeful words uttered by Christ, to whom we cling: “Here on earth
fact that God is speaking in every line.”
you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have
—Donald Grey Barnhouse (1895-1960), overcome the world” (John 16:33b NLT).
acclaimed pastor, radio preaching pioneer,
theologian, Eternity magazine founder/editor.
6
Contents

Features
6 Family Resemblance
What does it look like when love bears all things, believes all
things, hopes all things, endures all things? Erin Chapman,
daughter of Wycliffe Canada missionaries, reflects on her life
since the tragic deaths of first her brothers, then her parents.
By Deborah Crough • Photographs by Dave Crough

18 Pressing On
Caring for their severely handicapped daughter puts
distance—but not an insurmountable barrier—between a
Wycliffe couple and their Mexican Bible translation project.
By Dwayne Janke • Photographs by Alan Hood &
Natasha Schmale

Departments
2 Foreword Difficult to Write & Read

18
By Dwayne Janke

4 Watchword N
 extGen Ministries Represents
Wycliffe Canada at Urbana ’09

34 Beyond Words Seeing Face to Face


35 Last Word S upporting Fellow Cross Bearers
By Don Hekman

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 3


Watchword

NextGen
Ministries
T
wo energetic staff from Wycliffe Canada’s
NextGen Ministries joined a 40-member
international Wycliffe team to promote Bible
Represents translation to young people at Urbana 2009.
Jessica Dempster, NextGen’s Eastern Canada
Wycliffe at co-ordinator, and Sarah Barnes, NextGen’s
Urbana ’09 Atlantic representative, met well over 100 Cana-
dians among the 1,000-plus students who visited
the Wycliffe booth. More than 16,000 young people attended the
five-day December student mission conference in St. Louis, Mo.

Julie Green
Dempster (pictured in green T-shirt) was impressed with stu-
dents sharing where God is leading in their lives. They also wanted tic minority communities with Scripture.
to know if their skills could be used in Bible translation and related “It is impressive that these students are filled with a mind that
ministries worldwide. cares for the world, and a heart that engages in God’s Kingdom
“Over and over again,” says Dempster, “eyes would widen when I movement!”
would start sharing with them how videography, communications, Many who visited the colourful, interactive booth were serious
health, teaching, music and community development all can be about getting involved with Wycliffe, through service or prayer for
used in reducing inequality and poverty, and reaching ethnolinguis- Bibleless people groups.

Wycliffe Canada, Korean Church Sign Partnership Memorandum Translation Agency

W ycliffe Canada and the Calgary Korean Presbyterian Church (CKPC) signed a memoran- Formed in Venezuela

A
dum of understanding this past November to involve Koreans in Bible translation.
new organization to promote
“The signing of this agreement with the CKPC is a historic event for Wycliffe Canada in its
Bible translation has been
efforts to engage the Korean Church here in Canada in the Bible translation movement,” said out-
formed in Venezuela. It is called
going Wycliffe Canada President Dave Ohlson. He noted that it was the first such agreement with
SIETE, short for Sirviendo en la
a Korean organization, and specifically a local church.
Traducción a las Étnia (Serving
Under the agreement, Wycliffe will offer missions training and ministry opportunities for the
Ethnic Groups in Translation).
600-member CKPC congregation, guide candidates through Wycliffe’s membership process, and
SIETE is the initiative of seven
provide primary supervision and processing of funds for members. In turn, CKPC will help recruit
people from this South American
spiritually mature individuals with a vision for Bible translation, commission and provide ongoing
country who attended the train-
pastoral care for them, and assist Wycliffe members
ing course for Bible promotion,
from their church financially and through prayer.
sponsored by Wycliffe Interna-
The Korean Diaspora in Canada is several hun-
tional Americas Area, a year ago
dred thousand, so there is great potential for Korean
in Lima, Peru.
involvement in Wycliffe, said ChangSeok Kang,
SIETE, headed by Lenys
national director of Wycliffe Canada’s Korean Minis-
Amaya, will work to make Ven-
tries Team. Today, 25 Koreans from Canada are active
ezuelans aware of the need for
Wycliffe members, volunteers, or in the process of
translating the Bible globally.
joining. The Korean Ministries team expects that the
SIETE is seeking to become affili-
numbers will double in the near future.
ated with Wycliffe International.
Rev. ChangSun Choi, CKPC senior pastor, accepts a gift
from then incoming Wycliffe President Don Hekman.
Alan Hood

for Local
S
SIL Advocates IL International, Wycliffe’s key partner
organization, emphasized the impor-
tance of using local languages in learning
VI conference, called “First-language-based adult education and
learning.”
The workshop highlighted the challenge that the world’s lin-
Languages at a UNESCO conference on adult educa- guistic diversity poses to adult learning and education, especially
tion in Brazil this past December. adult literacy. Presenters, including three SIL consultants, showed
In co-operation with UNESCO’s Asia-Pacific Program of Edu- how the language issue could be addressed by using the learners’
cation for All (APPEAL) from Bangkok, Thailand, an SIL team first language as the basis for lifelong learning. They gave success-
from four continents presented a workshop at the CONFINTEA ful examples occurring worldwide.
Shutterstock.com

4 Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca


Kande’s Story Fights AIDS in 100+ Languages Genesis
C
entral B.C.’s Chilcotin
people now have Genesis

T he true-to-life story of an African girl


whose parents died of AIDS has now
been translated into 115 languages in 15
teach about sexual purity, compassion and
caring for the sick, providing fresh hope and
motivation for people to change behaviour.
Comes to in their heart language, after the
Chilcotin release of the Old Testament
book in audio form this past
African countries to help fight the disease. Translated in areas where Bible translation People January.
Kande’s Story is an AIDS awareness work involving Wycliffe is already under- The five-CD set, packaged with the previously
curriculum developed by personnel with way—mostly in Africa—the materials are released JESUS Film DVD in Chilcotin, was
Wycliffe Bible Translators. In the story, often the first local-language AIDS educa- dedicated at The Chilcotin Log Church near the
12-year-old Kande and her five siblings tion resources local communities have had. Anaham Reserve, about 100 km west of Wil-
grieve the loss of their parents to AIDS as In Uganda, for example, 60 Bwisi people liams Lake, B.C. Approximately 3,500 Chilcotin
they learn to fend for themselves. Various graduated from an HIV and AIDS training live in the region.
people in their community, especially local seminar using Kande’s Story. “The Kande Quindel (pictured below, left) and Marilyn
church members, minister to their needs. book is helping me teach about AIDS,” said King, of the Northern Canada Evangelical Mis-
The story is a springboard to discuss med- one Bwisi man. “It is in my mother tongue sion and partnering with Wycliffe Bible Transla-
ical facts about HIV and AIDS in culturally and it is heard well by others, unlike materi- tors, worked as resource people on the project.
sensitive ways. Related Bible study lessons als in English that many cannot understand.” They had also helped William Myers (pictured
below, right), the main Chilcotin translator, on
Climate Change Hard Hitting the Gospel of Mark published in 1993,
for Groups Wycliffe Serves and the JESUS Film, released in 2003.
Numerous Chilcotins assisted in the

W ycliffe International and its key partner, SIL International, various checking stages of the transla-
can expect the language groups they work among to be tions. Myers will help if it is decided
hit hard by climate change, says an SIL representative to a recent there should be a revision of the Gospel
Christian gathering on the topic. of Mark and an audio recording of it.
“The communities that SIL and Wycliffe International serve will “Chilcotins from approximately
be disproportionately impacted by the consequences of climate 40 years and over are fluent in their
change, and indeed many already are,” says Dave Pearson. language,” says Quindel. “Many of the
He came to the conclusion after attending a creation stewardship younger people are not using the lan-
and climate change consultation this past year, sponsored by The guage very much and usually converse
Micah Network. It is a group of 300 Christian relief, development in English among themselves, but may
and justice organizations from 75 countries. understand a lot of it. Because of this
Courtesy of the Kings

Most of the people groups SIL serves, who are minority trend it is doubtful any more translation
language communities within their nations, will compete for projects will be started.”
reduced agricultural and water resources, explains Pearson, who While 20 copies of Genesis will be printed initially, audio is the main
serves as SIL’s representative to UNESCO. Some groups will format for its distribution, says Quindel. Chilcotins have a very oral cul-
become refugees because, as the poor and marginalized, they often ture and society, and stories are an important part of their way of learning.
get the last pick of land.
Others will come under pressure from
incoming refugees for land, food, water, Word Count
healthcare and education services. Some
Probability that any two randomly
groups will be pressured to assimilate cultur-
ally and linguistically, after being forced to
disperse and migrate to towns to make their
99% selected people in Papua New Guinea
have different mother tongues
(highest of any country).
livelihood.
Pearson says Wycliffe and SIL need to
reflect on what they will do in the light of 55% Probability of this in Canada
(83rd highest).
these climate change challenges. Possibili-
ties might be to develop materials in mother 35% Probability of this in the U.S.A.
(124th).
tongue languages that aim to mitigate climate
change, or help language groups understand
and adapt to it.
0% Probability of this in Haiti
(lowest in any country).
Source: The Word That Kindles; Wycliffe International

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 5


Kevin and Alexa Shideler, Erin Chapman.

6 Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca


S
he will always be Erin Chapman.
When she married fellow “missionary kid” Kevin
Shideler in June of 2003, it was important to Erin to
keep her family’s name.
“If my parents were still here I don’t know if I would have
been so stubborn about it. But because they aren’t here anymore
. . . it’s one of my connections that I have with them still.”
Her parents, Bob and Ruth Chapman, lost their lives on
January 30, 2000, when the Kenya Airways plane they were fly-
ing in crashed into the ocean off of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast),
just moments after takeoff.
About two weeks before that, Erin dreamt that they died.
“I woke up crying, I was so distraught,” she recalls. From
Langley, B.C., where she lived at the time while attending Trinity
Western University (TWU), Erin emailed the story of her dream
to her parents in Nairobi, Kenya, their base while serving as
Africa area directors for Wycliffe’s work on that continent.
“I had the most terrible dream that you guys had died,” she
wrote. Ruth replied, telling Erin of a recent flight she and Bob
had been on, in Cameroon.
“The plane ride was extremely turbulent, and I was getting
worried. The whole time I sat there and I prayed for you. If any-
thing ever happened [to us] . . . I would be praying for you at
that time.”
Erin realizes that her parents must have known something
was going wrong on their flight the night of the plane crash.
“In that moment they were probably praying for me. . . . That’s
one of the things that brought me so much comfort.”
Erin’s initial anger at the news of the plane crash quickly
faded, which she attributes to the outpouring of love, prayers
and support from family, friends, even strangers, from around
the world.
Erin resolved to accept every bit of encouragement offered
her, just as her parents modeled when both of Erin’s brothers,
Ross and Timothy, passed away within hours of each other from
cerebral malaria in 1989 (see sidebar pg. 10).
“That’s the way I’ve chosen to adapt. I don’t think I could have
overcome those circumstances without everybody’s prayers,
without God.
“You can’t just say there aren’t going to be struggles,” she
admits. “There will be.”
But acknowledging this, she still can say, “that’s OK, I’m going
to get through it.”

A Time to Heal

What does it look like when love bears all


A bout a month after her parents’ deaths, Erin flew with her
aunt and uncle to Côte d’Ivoire to see the crash site and
speak with Canadian Embassy personnel. Though reluctant to
things, believes all things, hopes all things, hear the answers, Erin asked them about what was recovered
after the accident.
endures all things? Erin Chapman, daughter Erin admits that when she first heard her parents had been in
of Wycliffe Canada missionaries, reflects on a plane crash, she experienced “this sickening feeling, that they
didn’t know what to do or where to go, and they’re just floating
her life since the tragic deaths of first her out in this dark water in the night . . . I think the biggest ques-
tion in my mind was: Were my parents alive when the plane went
brothers, then her parents. down. Did they drown?”
By Deborah Crough • Photographs by Dave Crough Erin was relieved to discover, based on the injuries Bob and

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 7


Both Erin and Kevin are—self-admitted-
ly—very sensible, strong personalities,
and they work amazingly well together.
As Kevin says, “We’re a good team.”
A former U.S. Marine Corps, Kevin
embodies the Marine Corps motto of
Semper Fi: “Always Faithful.”`

8 Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca


“I don’t
Ruth had sustained, that they died on impact.
“The fact that I knew that they didn’t suffer, and they didn’t

think
drown because of lack of response [by rescuers], gave me a sense
of peace.”
She then travelled with her aunt and uncle to her parents’
home in Nairobi.
“That was probably the darkest time that I’ve ever gone

I could
through,” she confides, her voice shaking. “Walking in and see-
ing their slippers at the front door. . . . They just left with the
assumption that they were going to come home.”
Erin sorted through her parents’ belongings, deciding what

have
to keep, what to give away. She slept in their sheets. She felt the
reality of what had happened sinking in, the evidence of their
presence, as well as their absence, all around her.
After that, Erin spent five months in Cameroon with a family
whose daughters were her close friends when she was growing up.

overcome
“It felt like I was in a little bit of a sub-reality there; a cozy,
special place where I could just not worry about anything.” She
did some volunteer work, but mostly, she allowed herself time to
recover and heal.
“I really didn’t do anything super-purposeful with my time

those
there, but that’s exactly what I needed.” Cameroon still felt like
home, the place where people knew her parents, her brothers;
the place where she grew up.

circumstances
It Was Always Kevin: Semper Fi
P atient, capable, kind. Strength under control. Erin’s husband
Kevin is a former U.S. marine sergeant who translated his
skills and abilities into becoming an ER nurse after his military

without
discharge in 2003. He has also gone from working on fighter
jets, attack helicopters, F-18 gear boxes, and Harrier jump jet
engines, to the role of husband to Erin, and now, father to Alexa,
whom he affectionately calls “Buddy.”
Kevin first met Erin when she was in junior high school, and

everybody’s
he was starting high school at Rainforest International School
(RFIS) in Yaoundé, Cameroon. His family moved to Cameroon
so his parents could run the youth hostel, where missionary kids
and other international students lived when their parents were
working outside the city.

prayers,
During their high school years, Kevin and Erin dated. Erin’s
parents could see that Kevin cared for their daughter, and they
grew to love him as well. Ruth even confided in Kevin about
their impending assignment change to Africa area directors,

without
before it became general knowledge. Such a disclosure was
unusual for Ruth, even to another adult, but Kevin noticed that
something was “off ” one day, and asked her if she was OK.
“She just opened up to Kevin,” Erin relates with pride. “She
trusted him. She saw what a good heart he had.”

God.”
It was with this kind of insight that Ruth communicated a
strong feeling she had about Kevin to a friend, who in later years
told Erin that her mother thought she would end up marrying
Kevin. Erin says her parents “never really approved of any of my
boyfriends until Kevin came around, or any of them after. It was
always Kevin.”
However, when he graduated from RFIS, and was accepted
into the U.S. Marine Corps, Kevin and Erin decided they were

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 9


too young to make a commitment to each other. After he left,
they kept in contact, but both he and Erin dated other people.
Nevertheless, Kevin found himself comparing other young
women to Erin.
“Erin was the standard to me, and she never left my mind.”
While on deployment off the coast of Japan, Kevin received a
Red Cross communication with the news that Bob and Ruth had
died. As soon as he heard, he called Erin.
Erin, Timothy and “I felt really inadequate,” he remembers. “It was difficult to
Ross Chapman
hear Erin cry, but I couldn’t be there with her.”
Courtesy of the Chapman family

in Cameroon,
Christmas, 1988; Erin says that at that point, she wasn’t interested in, or ready
six months later to have, a relationship.
the boys died from “When [my parents] first died, you think, ‘this is the only
cerebral malaria.
thing I’m going to think about for the rest of my life’. . . . But
Ross and Timothy: Going Home eventually, you have to focus on the here and now, and give your
In June 1989, more than 10 years before her parents’ plane crashed, killing all to where you are in life.”
nearly all on board, Erin Chapman’s older brother Ross and younger brother Timothy Whenever he was home on leave, Kevin spent time with Erin,
passed away within hours of each other from cerebral malaria, the most deadly even inviting her to his family reunion in the summer of 2001.
form of the disease. That was when their relationship blossomed.
A few days after the Chapman family arrived in Canada on home assignment “Right before the summer of 2001,” admits Erin, “I started to
from Cameroon, Erin, Ross and Timothy (ages 9, 10 and 5, respectively) became
ill and were taken to the doctor. What was initially diagnosed as strep throat was
treated with penicillin. Erin recovered. The boys worsened.
On their sixth day home, their situation deteriorating, the boys were taken to
the emergency ward at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. Timothy’s case
seemed the most critical, and he was sent, with Ruth, to nearby McMaster Children’s

“When [my parents]


Hospital. Bob and Erin waited with Ross. Together, she and her father heard the dev-
astating news: “Timothy just died.” A short time later, Ross also passed away.
On the very day both her boys died, feeling exhausted and run down, Ruth was
diagnosed with hepatitis, and was admitted to hospital. Bob and Erin slept on cots
near Ruth, and all three struggled to comprehend their overwhelming loss. Both

first died, you think,


and Ruth held hands as they fell asleep.
As they adjusted to Ross’ and Tim’s deaths, Bob and Ruth were united in their
common concern for Erin.
“Often she would sense our pain, and come to comfort us with her presence,”

‘this is the only


Bob later wrote. “Ruth and I believe that God graciously spared our daughter’s life.
She had the same exposure as the boys, and fell sick before them. We have thanked
God that despite her age she showed an incredible resilience.”
Ruth wrote: “ . . . at almost the same time of day our plane had landed in Canada

thing I’m going to


[six days earlier], our sons had another home-going. This time it was just the two
of them who travelled, and though we can’t know what the journey was like, we
can know they are now in a place Jesus went to prepare, with their heavenly Father,

think about for the


where they are ‘perfectly’ at home. . . . The step of faith God calls us to take is to use
all the trust He had grown in us up until this point and to believe fully in the picture
of God [that] His Word presents so clearly: a God who loved us enough that He
willingly gave His only Son to die for us; a God who has enough power to raise that

rest of my life.’”
Son, and all who believe in Him, from death to eternal life.”
Bob and Ruth Chapman joined Wycliffe in in 1983, and after attending French
language school in Switzerland, arrived in Cameroon in 1985. Bob served as a pilot,
technical director and director of the Cameroon branch of
SIL, Wycliffe’s key partner organization. Ruth worked as
a teacher. For further reading on the lives of this special
couple, see In Heavenly Love Abiding, a tribute to God’s
goodness and faithfulness in and through their lives. It was
written and compiled by Robert Chapman, father of Bob
Chapman. To order, call 1-800-463-1143, ext. 283; use the
reply form in this issue; or visit <www.wycliffe.ca/store/>.
Erin tells her story with a remarkable frankness and openness. This is a rare
moment when she is overcome by her emotions, remembering an email
conversation she had with her mother, not long before her parents died. After
Bob and Ruth passed away, many wanted to interview Erin and tell her story,
but it was too soon. Now, 10 years later, she feels ready. “It does seem like a
good time, and always good to reflect on, too. I hope that it can touch others.”

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 11


realize, ‘This guy really has it together. He would be really good
husband material!’ ”
After that, Kevin kicked things into high gear. He contacted
Erin’s college roommates to “steal” one of her rings to find out
the size. He even asked these girlfriends what style of ring Erin
might like.
In April 2002, while on leave, Kevin took Erin out to dinner.
“I slid down on one knee in the middle of the restaurant

“He would
and proposed to Erin,” Kevin remembers, and to the sound of
applause from the other diners, “she said yes!”

They Met Halfway


K evin’s unit was supposed to return to the U.S. by Christmas

never give
2002, but because of the war in Iraq their tour was extend-
ed another six months.
As a result, Kevin almost missed their wedding, planned for
June 21, 2003.
“This wasn’t a hometown wedding,” Kevin points out. “We

you a
had people from all over the world coming for this, so it was a
stressful time.”
“We were thinking Adam (Kevin’s brother) was going to have
to stand in for Kevin,” Erin laughs, indicating that Kevin would
take his vows over the phone. “A teleconference wedding!”

burden to
But Kevin did arrive just six days ahead of time. They were
married in Hamilton, Ontario, even signing the wedding reg-
istry in the church’s ‘Chapman Room’ (dedicated to Bob and
Ruth), surrounded by pictures of the Chapman family.
“The inclusion of Bob and Ruth in the ceremony,” Kevin

bear that
explains, “even though they weren’t physically present—but very
much on a spiritual-emotional level they definitely were—creat-
ed that sense of them being there.
“Erin came down the aisle on her own, as a symbol that no
one can replace her dad,” Kevin relates. “Then I met her half-

you can’t
way,” he recounts, signifying that “I’m a new man coming into
her life, being her family.”
Erin notes an added benefit of being married to Kevin, name-
ly, “how amazing it is to have a husband that knew my parents.
. . . To know that they approved of my husband and they loved

overcome.”
my husband.”
In June 2010, the couple will celebrate their seventh anniversary.

Alexa: God Provides Joy


E rin and Kevin were expecting their first child in early
February 2009. In late January, Erin’s mind on the impend-
ing birth, the two went for a long walk in the snow.
“Kevin was wearing shoes that had no grip on them, so he
was not having fun,” she laughs. But she urged him on, sounding
very playfully like her mother: “Come on! Let’s enjoy this! Let’s
keep going!” Perhaps in part because of that walk, and almost a
week early despite being a first birth, Erin went into labour.
The next morning, at 10:30 on January 30, Alexa Ruth Shideler
was born—nine years to the day of Erin’s parents’ deaths.
“To have such a happy day but such a sad day at the same
time,” Erin recounts, “I didn’t know if I wanted it to happen, but
you can’t control it.”
What she can’t control, Erin chooses to accept in the light of a
loving God.

12 Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca


A cherished keepsake for Erin is her father’s wedding ring, recovered after
the plane crash. The inscription inside reads “Ruth 1:16.” Part of that verse
declares, “Wherever you go, I will go” (NKJV). Bob and Ruth were able to
keep that commitment, even in death.

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 13


Though she was born a few days ahead of her due date, Alexa Ruth
Shideler arrived right on time—and nine years to the day after Bob and
Ruth Chapman died. Having Alexa has given Erin a new perspective on the
love of a parent for their child, as well as her own special mother-daughter
relationship. In October 1999, Ruth spent a few days with Erin at Trinity
Western University in Langley, B.C. Among other things, they took several
long walks. “She loved going for walks,” Erin remembers. “I’ll treasure that
time forever.” It was the last time she saw her mother.

14 Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca


“In my mind it’s God’s way of reminding me that no matter
what you go through, He’s there. . . . It’s just like He’s talking
to you, saying, ‘I’m here. I want to provide you with this joy
through a time that has been hard for you in the past.’ ”

“Having
Kevin agrees. “That morning, when I was holding Alexa, and
the sun was streaming in the window, it was such a showing of
God’s providence—just the whole promise that He will never
leave us, He’ll never forsake us.”
“Having Alexa,” Erin observes, “has given me renewed vision

Alexa has
as to how a parent can love you as much as they do.”
She remembers that love and affection she felt from her par-
ents, and she misses it. Though there are many people who love
her, none can see her with the perfection a parent sees.
“When you stumble, when you make mistakes, they’ll still

given me
love you no matter what you do, and they won’t think, Oh that
girl is a terrible, selfish, horrible person—they’ll always think
you’re the best.
“I look at Alexa, and I want to give that to her, because I know
how much it meant to me.”

renewed vision
Family Resemblance: The Big Picture
A t times when Erin laughs, or the way she expresses herself,
she stops, overcome by the sound of her mother’s voice.
Looking at family photos of Bob and Ruth, then Erin and Alexa,

as to how a
the curve of a cheek, a look or a smile illustrates the resemblance
between the generations.
But even more than physical attributes, Erin embodies the
character that her parents modeled. “Having watched their exam-
ple, I know that through God’s strength, I can do this,” she says.

parent can
Erin has undergone heartbreaking loss, and yet, remarkably,
no trace of sadness overshadows her face, only a cultivated peace
and contentment. Like Bob and Ruth, Erin looks beyond the
details of the present moment and sees the bigger picture that
God is creating.

love you as
As her father Bob wrote after his sons died:
“God is too powerful to be turned aside in His plan for us;
God is too wise to make a mistake;
And too loving to cause us needless pain.”

much as
Erin echoes back: “He would never give you a burden to bear
that you can’t overcome.”
This is what it looks like when love never fails.

they do.”

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 15


“Faith, therefore, becomes transferable so

that we are influenced by the lives of

those who have left us.”

—Robert Chapman (Bob’s father),


from In Heavenly Love Abiding.

Erin, Ruth and Bob, in Scotland, summer


1998, after leaving Cameroon, on their way
to Canada. Erin keeps this photograph in
her living room where she can see it daily.

16 Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca


Outdoor enthusiasts, Kevin and Erin take full advantage of their locale
in Langley , B.C.: mountain biking and hiking in summer, snowshoeing
in winter, or just going for family walks in the neighbourhood, with their
dog Subi. Having settled near longtime Wycliffe friends and more recent
university friends, Kevin and Erin spend time maintaining and cultivating
their friendships, as they did in Cameroon.
Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 17
Caring for their severely
handicapped daughter
puts distance—but not an
insurmountable barrier—
between a Wycliffe couple
and their Mexican Bible
translation project.
By Dwayne Janke • Photographs by Alan Hood & Natasha Schmale
yawning Kevin Penner shuffles down the hall of his Work with the Mixtec Bible translation team will come a bit
family’s home to the kitchen for a drink of water. It’s 6 later in the office down the hall, if the Mixtec local translators
a.m., the usual rising time for the 44-year-old father of aren’t busy in their fields today.
this household. For now, Kevin (above, left) ponders Wayne Jacobsen’s book
As has been his habit since starting to work on the He Loves Me: Learning to Live in the Father’s Affection. The
Mixtec [MEES tek] Bible translation project in Mexico seven book’s description asks: “If you find yourself least certain of his
years ago, Kevin begins his waking hours with a devotional time. [God’s] love in those critical moments when you most need to
He eases back into a recliner, while his wife Laurel and children trust him, there is hope for you.”
continue to sleep in the quiet house, and the surrounding small Daughter Alyssa (above), who awoke earlier, slumbers again
community gradually awakens. in her special chair near her father. But as Kevin turns the pages
Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 19
of his book, Alyssa’s breathing becomes noisier and increasingly
laboured, changing into a disturbing kind of “gurgle.”
Foamy saliva eventually bubbles out between the lips of her
open mouth. She whimpers and coughs. Alyssa can’t swallow
properly, and if something is not done, she could choke on her
own secretions.
So, just as a home care relief worker did periodically all night
long as the Penner family slept, Kevin switches on a portable suc-
tion machine. He takes its suction catheter—a thin flexible tube—
and casually, yet lovingly, pushes it into Alyssa’s mouth, nose and
throat, causing her to wince in protest. Cleared of saliva after a
10-second suctioning, Alyssa breathes more clearly and drifts off
again. Kevin returns to his chair and continues his reading.
Until the rest of the family gets out of bed, there are only three
immediately noticeable sounds: Alyssa’s recurring deterioration
in breathing, Kevin’s repeated use of the suction machine, and the
“click, click, click” of a feeding machine as it pumps fluid-based
food directly into Alyssa’s stomach through a gastronomy tube.

The Penner family certainly did not expect this. This is


life here in Three Hills, Alberta, 3,700 km away from their actual
Wycliffe field assignment in Mexico. This is juggling 24/7 care of
a severely handicapped daughter with a Bible translation project
via a satellite Internet connection and occasional visits to far-
away south central Mexico.
“It’s been quite a rollercoaster,” Kevin says.
It is an apt metaphor. During the past four years, the Penner
family has been plunged to the lows of Alyssa’s fragile state on
the edge of death, and lifted to the heights of relative stability—
and back again. Alyssa was delivered on May 2, 2006, in a Oaxaca
But for Kevin, his wife Laurel, and their three other children, City hospital. Aiming for a mutually desired natural
this is the situation allotted to them. And they have faithfully birth, hospital staff tried to get the baby to drop into the birth
pressed on with their life’s work, not understanding what God is canal. But once there, Alyssa seemed lodged and doctors could
doing, but still recognizing His goodness. not detect her heartbeat. She had to be delivered by C-section.
The Penners’ ministry with Wycliffe started normally enough. “I knew something was wrong with Alyssa as soon as they got
After their linguistic training, Kevin and Laurel, from Three her out,” recalls Kevin. “They just whisked her away.”
Hills and Quadra Island, B.C., respectively, considered several Laurel was also in trouble. She needed surgery because her
possible locations. They decided to serve in Mexico among the uterus and bladder had ruptured during delivery. She did not
7,000 speakers of the Northeastern Jamiltepec Mixtec language know until later, after the anesthetic started wearing off, that
in the state of Oaxaca [wah HAW kah]. something was wrong with Alyssa. “Before I really woke up, I
Following Spanish studies and field training, they arrived in a could hear Kevin on the phone to someone telling them there
small Mixtec village in January 2003, with their then three young was a problem.”
children: Kyle, Gabrielle and Daniela. They spent months build- That problem was severe hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy—
ing relationships, learning the tonal language, beginning to train essentially Alyssa had suffered brain damage from a lack of oxy-
the local Mixtec translation team, building their own home. gen during birth. Immediately apparent was that she could not
Despite the usual cultural stresses and challenges of village liv- breathe properly. A nurse had to use a hand ventilator on her all
ing, everything was on course. By the fall of 2005, translation of night until an electrically powered unit could be brought from
God’s Word into Mixtec had started on the Book of Genesis. another city early next morning.
Also by this time, Laurel was expecting their fourth child. The prognosis was not good. Alyssa was transported to
Like Daniela, this baby, the Penners decided, would be delivered Mexico City, arriving in critical condition. Recovering from
in Mexico. There was no reason not to—Laurel enjoyed a com- surgery, Laurel was left behind, and did not get to hold her baby
pletely normal and healthy pregnancy. until she was able to fly to Mexico City on May 11.
“When we came out [of the village] for Alyssa to be born . . . ,” Though off the ventilator by then, Alyssa couldn’t swallow
says Kevin, “I actually set up the translation team to do some and had to be fed through a tube into her nose and down to her
work while I was gone, and then I was going to come back and stomach. Her nose and mouth also had to be suctioned regularly.
go over it with them. Little did I know that this would be the “It was really hard to watch,” says Kevin, though it was a task
pattern from now on, because we never moved back.” he and Laurel would eventually learn to do themselves.
Kevin and Laurel Penner share the
emotional story of how their family
has been plunged to the lows of
daughter Alyssa’s fragile state on
the edge of death, and lifted to the
heights of relative stability—and
back again. All the while, they have
faithfully pressed on with their life’s
work, not understanding what God
is doing, but recognizing His good-
ness nonetheless.

“It’s been
quite a
rollercoaster.”

Kevin listens to Alyssa’s breathing


after suctioning her mouth, nose
and throat of secretions that could
eventually choke her. Like his wife
Laurel, Kevin expected to be living
among 7,000 Mixtec people of south
central Mexico, focused entirely on
using his linguistics training in a Bible
translation project for the language
group. Instead, he had to care for his
severely handicapped daughter in
Three Hills, Alberta.

“I knew
something was
wrong with
Alyssa. . . .They
just whisked
her away.”

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 21


A neurologist in Mexico City said it was impossible to
tell how handicapped Alyssa would be. Less hopeful
was a doctor at the Peter Lougheed Centre hospital in Calgary,
where Alyssa and her mother were flown by air ambulance on
May 27. (Alberta was chosen because of its immediate provincial
health coverage for Alyssa upon arrival.)
“She [the doctor] said she was very fragile; she could die any
time, and that she wasn’t going to . . . be normal, basically,”
recalls Laurel.
To get the specialized testing and treatment she needed,
Alyssa was transferred to the Alberta Children’s Hospital in
Calgary, where a team provided the necessary palliative care and
grief support.
“There was an obvious familiarity with the things that she
would be facing,” says Laurel, of the Children’s Hospital staff.
“It wasn’t just for Alyssa,” adds Kevin. “It was for us—helping
us get through this.”
After the specialized care, Alyssa was finally stable enough
to go home on June 30, to Three Hills, where the Penners had
decided to relocate to be close to Kevin’s family. She was back in
hospital three days later. To stop her from vomiting out feeding
tubes, she had surgery to put a feeding tube into her stomach
through the outside. The bottom of her esophagus was also
closed. This tube is also used to administer a cocktail of medi-
cations Alyssa needs to, among other things, stop seizures and
tremors. She finally came home again on August 28.
The Penners learned to cope with and care for Alyssa as the
months passed. However, as Alyssa struggled with serious infec-
Like any loving dad does with his
tions and respiratory distress, there were more hospital visits.
“I was just mad; children from time to time, Kevin
tickles Alyssa, evoking a grin from Still, the young girl, who had spent a third of her life in hospital

I didn’t want it to be her. Though Alyssa is largely deaf and by the time she was 13 months old, gradually stabilized and

this way. I didn’t


blind, the family treats her as much gained weight.
as possible like she is a normal kid.
Alyssa’s vision and hearing began to improve, she reacted to

want to be the others with smiles, and even started to work at holding her head

parent of a disabled The detailed 24/7 care regime that


up. There seemed to be the possibility that she might gain some
control of her hands.
person; didn’t want Alyssa requires—including feedings,
medicine intake, physiotherapy exer-

to be tied down.” cises, etc.—is carefully chronicled in a


binder on her bedroom dresser. “This
is her little life,” explains Kevin, refer-
Then, tragically, in November 2007, while Alyssa
was in hospital so the Penners could get a few
nights of respite, she suffered a high fever, went
ring to the many pages of info. “So
when we take her in [to see doctors], into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing. She was resuscitated
we take it with us.” and intubated and put on a ventilator, but not before suffering
depletion of oxygen to major organs—including her brain again.
Her organs began to shut down.
Doctors said she had a four per cent chance of survival
because all her systems were shutting down. “We called the kids
in twice [to say goodbye],” recalls Kevin.
As on other occasions when Alyssa had been ventilated, doc-
tors began asking the Penners to consider how long they wanted
to keep her breathing artificially.
“We cried and prayed,” says Kevin, “and asked for more infor-
mation—like within how long a time could we expect she could
reasonably improve? They said 48 hours, and I’d say, ‘Well, we’re
going to wait 48 hours then.’ ”
As before, the Penners put out a call for prayer. It spread
widely. The Penners conservatively estimate that 3,000-plus
With her three older kids off to school, Laurel grabs a
quick breakfast and extends her hand to connect with
her daughter, who especially responds to touch. In a
few minutes, a government-funded caregiver will look
after Alyssa in the Penner home, so Laurel can give
some undivided attention to the Mixtec translation
project. On this day, she researches the language’s
grammar through text analysis on her computer.

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 23


“We
don’t
people—in more than a dozen churches and more than 30 other
groups (schools, classes, Bible study groups, prayer meetings, think
etc.), in Canada, the U.S., Qatar, Australia and elsewhere—have she
prayed for their situation.
can
“We even heard of a group of U.S. soldiers in Iraq that were
praying for Alyssa,” says Kevin. “It doesn’t take away everything, see or
but it meant that we were part of the family of God.” hear.
Incredibly, Alyssa’s major organs started functioning and she
But
rallied again. She has only been back in the hospital once since.
However, all the advances Alyssa had made were lost. we
“Her EEG [recording of a brain’s electrical activity] was flat, treat
they told us, from the heart failure,” says Laurel.
her
Although Alyssa has continued to gain weight—Kevin like
teasingly calls her a “big fat pumpkin”— she has very little she
control of her head or limbs. The Penners believe Alyssa can
only tell the difference between light and darkness, since her does.”
pupils dilate. And she coos a bit.
“We don’t think she can see or hear,” says Kevin. “But we treat
her like she does.”

Aliquisim delendiam iriure magnis-


cil eummy nulla alit lut irilit nos aci
tat. Perciduis el dolortio dit aliquis
nulput ipit autat. Ut doloreetum et,
quissi bla at amet la con ver alit lor
adio eugait aci et dolore.

Aliquisim delendiam iriure magnis-


cil eummy nulla alit lut irilit nos aci
tat. Perciduis el dolortio dit aliquis
nulput ipit autat. Ut doloreetum et,
quissi bla at amet la con ver alit lor
adio eugait aci et dolore.

24 Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca


(Above) With Alyssa’s pending delivery in 2006, the Penners left their home
This happens even while the Penners are being interviewed.
(white building, on the right) in a Mixtec village, which consists of a few dozen
“Hey, we’re talking about you!” Kevin says in a kid’s voice as houses and outlying homesteads, to be near obstetric care in the state capital.
he turns to Alyssa in his lap. “You are just a happy girl today, The Penners were never able to return, having to resettle instead in Canada to
aren’t ya?” care for Alyssa. Aside from periodic visits for intense work sessions, Kevin and
Laurel’s only link to the Bible translation team has been through Internet text
Like any typical dad with his child, Kevin tends to gently
and voice communications using Skype (below). A satellite dish makes it pos-
roughhouse with Alyssa, who reacts with a slight grin. “She sible to span the 3,700-km barrier between a Canadian prairie town and a hilly
responds to touch,” he says. Mexican village, which is displayed on a Google Earth map below.
Thankfully, the Penners, who early on were burning out under
the strain, have been able to secure government-funded home
care for Alyssa, 20 daytime hours per week and eight hours each
night. But even with that kind of assistance, the Penners don’t
pretend that their life is easy.
“When Laurel grieves, she gets sad. Not that I haven’t shed my
share of tears through all of this, but I grieve with anger. I would
say hers is a much more noble response,” says Kevin, chuckling.
“I was just mad; I didn’t want it to be this way. I didn’t want to
be the parent of a disabled person; didn’t want to be tied down.
When it happens, you start to think, We are never going to get a
break from this. This is not going away. It’s a little hard to take.
“But now, we’ve just kind of come to grips with it—that that’s
the way life is.”
Like Frodo in the Fellowship of the Ring movie (based on the
first book in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy), who says, “I
wish none of this had ever happened,” Kevin says he finds his per-
spective re-focused by the words of Gandalf, the sage: “So do all
who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All
we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

The Penners, including Kyle (right), Gabrielle (left of


Kyle), Daniela (left foreground and playing soccer),
enjoy a card game while Alyssa hangs out in her special
chair. The children did remarkably well at adapting to
life in Canada after leaving Mexico. They also lovingly
interacted with their little sister, even taking Alyssa to
their Christian school to show classmates who they Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 25
were praying for during her many struggles.
As the Penners realized the long-term prognosis for their The Penners sent translation team members, led by Pastor
daughter, they knew their plans for the Mixtec translation Miguel Quiroz, to linguistic and translation workshop sessions
project needed to change dramatically—and Kevin didn’t like it. offered by SIL, Wycliffe’s key partner, in Mexico. They gave them
“I was quite angry—really angry,” he admits. computers and training. And one of the Penners’ supporters paid
However, leaving the Mixtec project entirely never crossed the for a $2,000 satellite dish and modem, so they can stay in touch
Penners’ minds. with the Mixtec team via Internet and Skype Internet phone.
“I don’t think I ever thought it would end,” Kevin says, turn- Kevin demonstrates by logging onto his laptop computer, and
ing to his wife. “Did you?” interacting a little with Pastor Miguel, who, like the other Bible
“No,” replies Laurel, “I don’t ever remember thinking at all translators, is sometimes away from his desk for days at a time
that we would not be able to continue.” tending fields of corn, beans and squash.
But how do you give leadership to a Bible translation project “I can see what he’s working on here,” says Kevin pointing to
on the other side of a continent? The answer has come largely his laptop.
through training and technology.
On a solo trip to Mexico in May 2007, Kevin sat outside the The connection allows Kevin to chat via Skype with the
Penners’ village home, listening to music and worshipping God. translators about their work visible on screen;
“I was moved to tears and touched by the glory of God and clarify issues in the text they are translating; or arrange upcom-
the thought of His name being lifted up among the Mixtecs ing activities, such as further training workshops. Kevin can also
and my having a part in it despite my weakness,” Kevin wrote access their computers, allowing him to fix problems and move
in his family’s newsletter. “I found myself dreaming about a day draft translations from Mexico to his Three Hills home.
when there would be churches throughout the area with people “They’ve finished Exodus 24, then,” comments Kevin, as he
bringing their Mixtec Bibles to church, studying them at home looks through some documents on Miguel’s computer. “That’s
and taking them out to read to their neighbours who ask about good. I’ll send that one to myself.”
God’s way.” Admittedly, the satellite communication can’t totally replace
Given their situation with Alyssa, the Penners realized that being on site, and there are bugs. For example, sometimes the
their response had to be training Mixtecs to do the Bible transla- signal is lost.
tion work, by equipping them with knowledge, skills and vision. “The connection has made such a huge difference, so I don’t
Though this was the Penners’ focus before, their new situation complain,” says Kevin. “I can do stuff I wouldn’t be able to do
forced it to happen quickly. without it.”

On a visit to the Mixtecs, Kevin fires


up his laptop computer to show
pictures of Alyssa to village friends,
visibly touched by the images. Mixtec
believers have prayed faithfully and
fervently, hoping that God would
heal the Penners’ daughter.

26 Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca


Back among the Mixtecs for the first time
Kevin travels to Mexico about three times a year for intense since Alyssa was born, Laurel distributed
work sessions with the translation team, but that will be reduced some of her kids’ outgrown clothes and
to one while he is busy earning a master’s degree in linguistics shoes—which remained behind when the
through the University of Alberta over the next two years. After Penners left—to village children. This little

“The [satellite]
girl is excited to don some hand-me-down
arranging several weeks of care for Alyssa, Laurel joined him plastic sandals.

connection
this past summer, visiting the Mixtecs for the first time in more
than three years.

has made In September 2008, with caregivers in place for Alyssa and

such a huge Daniela in grade 1, Laurel was able to rejoin work on the project
on weekdays on while her kids are at school. She is focused on
difference. . . . Mixtec literacy efforts, including preparing basic reading materials.

“I can do stuff She is also helping research Mixtec grammar through text anal-
ysis, important for good Bible translation. To that end, on this day
I wouldn’t she is transcribing a recording of Primo, one of the first among

be able to do the now-estimated 40 Mixtec believers meeting in two churches

without it.”
in the area, telling a story about suffering from a scorpion sting.

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 27


(Above) Pastor Miguel Quiroz, a Bible
college-trained head of the 7-per-
son Mixtec translation team, leads
prayer for a Mixtec woman while the
Penners join in. The Mixtec church
has increased to about 40 believers
under Pastor Miguel’s leadership
and awaits the Scriptures in their
language to nourish further growth,
among a people where shamans still
practise animistic rituals. (Left) The
Penners, with Fransisco and Andrés,
discuss a Mixtec reading primer,
that Laurel developed as part of her
literacy promotion efforts. About half
of the Mixtec population consists of
monolingual speakers of their mother
tongue, so God’s Word in Spanish is
not very effective. “Where they live,
Mixtec is their language,” explains
Kevin. “They just don’t need to use
Spanish there.”
“Most people
won’t go and
While the Penners have found ways to advance the Bible
translation project and maintain their involvement, do what we
they have also grappled with their experience. What have they
are doing—
come away with?
and we’re
willing to do
Laurel says Alyssa’s situation, paradoxically, has given her a
much better understanding of God’s goodness to her family.
“I guess I’ve always known that bad things happen. We didn’t
it. And then
go into missions work blindly thinking that there wouldn’t be
any sort of opposition. And when you talk to many missionary He [God] kind
families, a lot of them have had significant obstacles they’ve had
of sidelines us,
to overcome, and carried on with what they’re doing.”
The 40-year-old says she grew up with little suffering or death you know.
in her life, so she had always wondered how she would deal with
That doesn’t
a personal crisis: “Would I be mad at God? How would I think
make much
about that?
“When this happened [with Alyssa], it became very apparent
that God was good, mostly through the other things that were
sense to me.”
happening alongside of this: the way paperwork and things
came together, and the way the finances came in, and the way
people really rallied around us and supported us.”
Churches sent people to pray for Alyssa, donated a vehicle and
helped renovate the Penner home in Three Hills. Initially, the cou-
ple’s mothers were instrumental in helping care for Alyssa at home.

“When this
happened,
it became
very apparent
that God was
good, mostly
through the
other things
that were
happening Straddling a hammock in the shade on a hot

alongside day, Pastor Miguel takes a draft translation

of this. . . .”
of Jonah to a fellow Mixtec speaker to test
how well it communicates. He has to juggle
working in his fields with his spiritual pursuits,
Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 29
including Bible translation.
Then there was the issue of the two medical air evacuations
the Penners needed for Alyssa—one to Mexico City, the other
to Canada. They racked up a $24,000 personal bill. This was
the amount over and above the $50,000 limit on air evacuation
expenses, that is covered by Wycliffe Canada’s medical insurance
plan for personnel serving outside of the country.
“It was a big thing, and we knew it was
More On The Web: As the a lot of money. But when you compare
Penners’ story illustrates, health that to the life of a child. . . . ” says
care is important for Wycliffe Laurel, her voice breaking.
Canada personnel serving in
In the midst of their family crisis, the
foreign countries. Read about
the challenges of providing
Penners trusted God with the debt.
“Tons of our colleagues in Mexico
crucial health coverage, at
<www.wycliffe.ca/wordalive>. transferred money into our account,
“I can’t give
and probably Wycliffe Canada staff,
too,” Kevin says. “And then churches sent money; individuals in to these
sent money—some relatives.” doubts
Within weeks, the bill was paid.
about
Kevin admits he is still spiritually and theologically whether
processing what has happened to Alyssa: “It’s run a bit
God’s in
of a course and probably still is.
“It was really hard to believe that there could be a purpose— control. I
that God was in control and [yet] He just let it happen.”
have to
How could the Lord allow missionaries, who had dedicated
come back
and say,
their lives to serving a Bibleless people group, to be taken out of
their assignment location by giving them a severely handicapped
daughter?
‘Well,
“Most people won’t go and do what we are doing—and we’re
willing to do it. And then He [God] kind of sidelines us, you there’s
know,” says Kevin candidly. “That doesn’t make much sense to me.
something
“But for me to say God’s not in control of that, then . . . He’s
not really in control of anything, is He? And I just can’t make I don’t
that leap, because I know that He’s changed me for the better, understand
and I know that He changes other people. I can look around the
world and I can see that there are things that are good and there
are things that are evil. And without God, it’s just random forces.
here.’ ”
So I can’t give in to these doubts about whether God’s in control.
I have to come back and say, ‘Well, there’s something I don’t
understand here.’ ”
Remembering that God was willing to sacrifice everything for
us in Jesus has also been important to Kevin in coming to grips
with his family’s situation with Alyssa.
“If He hadn’t been willing to enter our pain and suffering per-
sonally, I don’t know how I could believe in His perfect love or
that there could be a purpose in it all.”
If there was a purpose great enough for God to keep from
sparing His own Son’s suffering, then Kevin realizes he must
trust God’s love despite the circumstances He allows in our lives.
There is “an eternal weight of glory” that outweighs all of our
suffering (2 Cor. 4:17 ESV).
“When God said the righteous live by faith, I guess he really From his office in the Penners’ southern
Alberta home, Kevin makes contact with
meant that,” concludes Kevin. the Mixtec translation team via satellite. For
“We walk by faith, not by sight.” most of the year, he gets no closer physically
to Mexico than the map in front of him. It
isn’t ideal, but such separation has prompted
the Mixtec team to take more ownership
for the Bible in their heart language. “That’s
good, that’s great,” says Kevin. “They realize,
30 Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca
‘this is our Bible . . . It’s not Kevin’s Bible.’ ”
In Deep, L
Epilogue ate in January, shortly after the previous story was written, Alyssa
Penner was taken to hospital in Three Hills, Alberta, with difficulty
(Above) Family and church friends
join Rev. Ed Berk (extreme right) in
the laying on of hands and praying
breathing. She was suffering from pneumonia. for the Penner family, at Alyssa’s

Refreshing Alyssa died on January 30, three months short of her fourth birthday.
Her passing left the Penner family sorrowful, but not without hope
graveside service. (Opposite page)
During her short earthly life, Alyssa

Drafts for Alyssa.


“Her struggle is over. The pain is gone,” said Kevin in an email inform-
was comforted by the caresses
of her parents’ hands. Now, the
Penners take comfort in knowing
ing friends and family of Alyssa’s passing. “Her breaths [in heaven] come she is lovingly held in her Heavenly
Father’s embrace.
in deep, refreshing drafts . . . but most of all, she’s filled with joy in the
presence of her Saviour.”
Hundreds of family members, church friends, caregivers and others
filled Mt. Olive Evangelical Free Church in Three Hills to celebrate Alyssa’s
life—“a life,” said Pastor Rod Masterton, “that has taught many about
love and grace and faithfulness.”
The memorial service’s message was given by Rev. Ed Berk, from
Kelowna Christian Centre. It became Kevin and Laurel Penner’s sending
church after they worked in the church’s K-12 school as teachers, to pay
off student debt before heading to Mexico.
Berk commended the Penners for their steadfast faith and trust in
God through Alyssa’s struggles, saying the couple are living examples of
those the Apostle Peter referred to in 1 Peter 8: “Though you have not
seen him, you love him. . . .” (NIV).
“Kevin and Laurel have never physically seen Jesus, that I’m aware of,” the
pastor said. “Yet they are among these people that the Bible writes about that
love Him regardless of what they have physically seen. Their love and faith in
Jesus Christ was strong enough that . . . given the opportunity to reject Him—
and they didn’t—they actually threw themselves into the hands of their God,
despite being weary of various trials. They maintained their faith.”
And Berk stressed that God knew exactly what He was doing in sending
Alyssa to the Penner family.
“God looked for a place, looked for a family, that would look after His gift—
His child. He gave you the responsibility,” he said.
“You nurtured her, you cared for her, you interceded for her. You helped her.
You kissed her. And I believe today that Alyssa stands before the throne of God
. . . with gratitude in her heart for the family that she was given. I believe that
she is grateful before the throne of God and thanking Him for all the people
that invested in her life.”
While the Penner family has hopes to one day return to Mexico, for now they
continue in their service with Wycliffe by providing remote support to the Mixtec
translation team and by occasional visits to Mexico. Kevin has also been encour-
aged by his field supervisers to continue the graduate studies in linguistics that
he began at the University of Alberta this past fall.

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 33


Beyond Words

Seeing Face to Face

File photo

Bob and Ruth Chapman, with Ross, Erin and baby


Timothy in 1983, before leaving Canada to ultimately
serve with Wycliffe in Africa. Seventeen years later,
after losing her parents and brothers, Erin alone
survives (see story, pg. 6). In this photograph, most
of the family focuses off camera, having a different
perspective than Erin. The same is true now. Erin’s
parents and brothers witness in eternity what we
must accept by faith. Like Erin, we can say, “Now we
see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall
see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12a NIV).

34 Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca


Last Word

Supporting Fellow Cross Bearers


By Don Hekman

W
e all live through those rivet- Through both incidents, what stands out is
ing events in life where we how our churches and family and supporting
remember exactly where we constituency stood by us. They too knew what
were standing when we heard it was like to deal with abrupt changes of plans
the news: the time of day, the feel of the setting, due to death, depression or crippling illness.
who told us, and our immediate reaction. They They embraced us with love, understanding,
are events like the assassination of President supporting gifts and concrete assistance.
Kennedy and the two jets smashing into the We didn’t hear a hint of any churches or indi-
Twin Towers. viduals dropping their financial support of our
My collection of personally memorable ministry in Bible translation because we could
events includes first hearing the news of the no longer live overseas. Thankfully, there was
death of the two Chapman boys, and 10 1/2 no talk of changing their church’s policy about
years later, the death of their parents, Bob and which missionaries to support, such as, “we
Ruth—leaving daughter Erin as the lone survi- now support only those who work in the 10/40
vor of the family (see story, pg. 6). window.” No, our partners just expressed solid,
Our lives were person- compassionate, prayerful understanding that
Our churches and ally enriched to have we still contributed with the same energy and
counted Bob and Ruth as vision to the work of God’s Kingdom, through
family and supporting friends, as they were to the agency we were always part of: Wycliffe
many others. Countless Bible Translators.
constituency . . . embraced times since those tragic My challenge to you is to do the same if,
us with love, understanding, days, we have thought of and when, Wycliffe workers you know suffer
Erin and the journey God turmoil or upheaval affecting their lives and
supporting gifts, and was leading her through.
And we prayed that God
concrete assistance. would surround her with
close friendships, a strong
community, protective angels and the comfort-
ing Spirit to sustain her on her pilgrimage.
Nearly every one of my Wycliffe colleagues
has suffered one of life’s serious traumas, in the
same way that each of you readers has suffered
difficulties and losses. Life’s bruises and ampu-
Dave Harder

tations are no respecter of persons, whether we


serve God in a mud hut, a bungalow in subur- service. The crosses Erin Chapman, and Kevin
bia, or in a palace. and Laurel Penner (see story, pg. 18) and oth-
Our family suffered one of those painful loss- ers bear are in one sense unique, but in another
es. Our 18-month-old daughter suddenly died sense representative of many of us.
within six months of us beginning language Whatever happens, let’s stand together and
learning at our assignment as linguist-transla- support each other whole-heartedly in our call-
tors among the Montagnais people in north- ing and ministries. It’s not only the least we can
eastern Quebec. Fifteen years later, “predict- do, it’s life-giving for us and for the recipients of
able” life made another about-face, because of our love.
an additional family crisis. We had to abandon
Don Hekman is president of Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada.
our overseas Wycliffe assignment as director
of the newly started work in Chad, Africa, and
take up residence again in Canada.

Word Alive • Summer 2010 • wycliffe.ca 35


RETURN UNDELIVERABLE ITEMS TO WYCLIFFE CANADA CIRCULATION
4316 10 ST NE
CALGARY AB T2E 6K3
Deliver to:

PM 40062756

W
hat do chopping coconuts
and riding a bicycle on a
busy road have to with Bible
translation? Plenty—when it’s a Vision
Volunteer Work Trip for young adults,
offered by Wycliffe Canada’s NextGen
Ministries. Come and join us on one of
our overseas excursions to experience
and participate in Wycliffe field work!

Hacking coconuts and clinging to a


bicycle are only part of it. If you are
considering cross-cultural service,
these short-term trips are geared to
expose you to a variety of areas of
ministry. You will be able to make
some educated, spiritual decisions
about further involvement in global
missions. You will experience Bible
translation, mother tongue and
multilingual education, vibrant local
culture and language study, church
engagement, vernacular media and
Scripture use ministries. And assist in
local community projects—all in 2-3
weeks!  

Apply today to join us for a Vision


Trip overseas!

For more information, email


<jessica_dempster@wycliffe.ca>.

Planned Giving is
Wise Stewardship
W ycliffe Bible Translators can help you reach
your financial goals—and provide God’s
Word to Bibleless people groups. How? Through
information to help you in your planned giving.
Visit <www.wycliffe.ca/involved> and click
“Planned Giving.” Or, contact our development
one of many types of planned giving. We would department by phone at 1-800-463-1143, or
be happy to provide you and your advisers with email: giftplanning@wycliffe.ca