In 2005, as editor of Word & Deed, I sent an invitation to 75 people to contribute to a volume with stories about how a person’s academic (mainly linguistic) studies had interacted with their personal faith. John was one of the first to respond and his story is called “A linguistic trail: from Peru to Africa.”
John wrote “My linguistics was put to very good use, as the work [in Africa] spread to 20 countries in 20 years. In going to a country for the first time, I would contact and gather information from all sorts of sources—Government officials, university staff and church leaders. Then I would do my own first rough and ready ‘task assessment’. It wasn’t “a full-length portrait but a simple snapshot, sufficient for us to make initial plans which would need to be refined, corrected and expanded later. I couldn’t have done it without my linguistics.”
In our present heady days of the “reinvention of SIL” it is good to reflect on a man who was the apostle of “flexible approaches.” This was in the days when the successful Latin America model was being questioned as adequate or relevant for Africa (or other places). As a neophyte Board member I listened to the debates and arguments and was convinced that John was right, as history has shown him to be.
I remember a devotional by John from Luke 10:4 “Do not take a purse or bag or sandals. Do not greet anyone along the road,” perhaps better understood as in The Message: “Travel light. Comb and toothbrush and no extra luggage. Don’t loiter and make small talk with everyone along the way.” John linked this passage with Luke 22:36: “But now if you have a purse, take it and a bag and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” Two different commands are given by the same leader because the circumstances had changed. John’s conclusion: FLEXIBLE APPROACHES.
John had a good sense of humor. I recall one conference when George Huttar and I were doing our “low lights” by lampooning speakers by quoting them—out of context of course. As I passed John, as chairman, he said lightly to me, “Mercy, mercy!”
John, as EVP, had to help raise funds for the Key Building, which was overspent and under construction. He wrote a letter to the membership (we were in PNG at the time) that was so persuasive and convincing about the role of the building in the future of international academic operations that I was caught up in the moment and actually gave money to the project.
When John spoke he started out softly, but as his convictions became more important, the decibels went up and by the end of the speech he was almost bellowing. You could not ignore John.
Our pastor often says, “What goes around, comes around.” John and I were friends and I learned recently that one of his sons (Paul, who is director of Interserve) and our son Kirk have become good friends as well. Thank God for the heritage we can enjoy because of JBS.