Jason's Testimony | Pamosu Translation Project

Jason's Testimony

Before Christ

Growing up I was taken to church by my parents every week. I was baptized as a baby in the United Methodist Church. I went to the kid’s Sunday school, did choir, other music, youth group, confirmation. I grew up in the church with all the right activities and preparations. Yet I was dead in my sins. I’d remembered the words I was supposed to say, that actions I was supposed to do, but none of it was real to me. By the grace of God I was never put in a position at school or in my activities to ruin my life(by worldly standards) with drugs, alcohol, pre-marital sex, crime, or anything of that sort. My parents kept me active in sports, music, boy scouts, and just about every manner of activity. I guess there wasn’t time or opportunity to fall into those pits. Looking back, I could have easily fallen prey to any of them. I may not have had pre-marital sex, but I was looking at pornography on the internet. Would I have slept with a girl while in high school if I had the opportunity? Probably. I didn’t fall in with gangs or commit large-scale crime, but I stole sodas from the locker room vending machine because I could fit my arm past the guard underneath the machine. Would I have been willing to commit greater crimes if the opportunity arose and I thought I’d get away with it? Probably. Sure, I didn’t do drugs or drink alcohol, but there was something else that makes me believe if the opportunity had arisen I might have indulged in that as well. When I was in middle school there was a group of kids that would intentionally hyperventilate and then press their palms against their carotid arteries and lean against their hands to cut off oxygen to the brain. It was a rush and gave you a fuzzy feeling until you passed out. You’d come to 5 to 10 seconds later, but though it wasn’t foreign substances in our bodies the motivation and sinful desire was the same. My point is God spared me from the severest worldly consequences of my sinful desires which were the same as those who fell into “greater” sin. The truth is, though I didn’t sleep with a girl, I had plenty of lust in my heart and according to Jesus that makes me a fornicator. My whole point is that though it didn’t look like it on the outside, inside I was as sinful as any person can be, I just didn’t know it and didn’t care about salvation.

Eventually this sin caught up with me in college. My desire driven life had led me to UC Davis where I was hoping to compete on the Track team. I did for the first year, but my hedonism had found an outlet in video games, specifically MMORPGs(Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games). That, along with pornography began to consume my life. I was no longer interested in going to classes, and simply didn’t. I’d developed a habit of doing the least amount of work possible to get by in school, even from high school. In high school it was possible simply because the classes were easy for me. However, in an Engineering program, there is too much information to absorb to be able to tune in for short amounts of time. Anyhow, by my second year in college I was on probation because of my poor grades. I was essentially kicked off the track team for being on probation and eventually the school decided I needed to take a year off from school after which I could try again. I never returned, but it brought me to a crisis point. Where was my life going? What was I going to do? I’d never really given these ideas much thought, they seemed the domain of my parents for the most part. Even if they didn’t mean it to be this way my life had always been organized and directed by my parents and I always just tried to head in the direction I perceived they wanted me to go. That’s what led me to UC Davis and Mechanical Engineering. I had been forging my transcripts so that my parents weren’t even aware of my poor performance and came up with a lame excuse about not wanting to go to UC Davis anymore or do the engineering program. I found myself at Solano Community College. It might not seem like such a low point in life to many people, but I was in the lowest spiritual point in my life, no purpose or direction and no faith.

I took a few more basic classes like philosophy, speech, and another I can’t even remember anymore. It was in the philosophy class that I started to come out of my stupor a bit as I realized most of the people in the class were atheists. I never seemed to care before, but the idea that God didn’t exist was not just wrong, but the people who held it were not the kind of people I wanted to be. Then, in my speech class, there was a girl that I thought was cute. She invited me to a worship group one evening and I went. It was very different to the kind of worship I was used to in the church I grew up in, but what really caught my attention was the passion and sincerity with which the people worshipped. Though the intellectually understanding of it all came much later, for me the pathway to Christ was through this authentic experience of God and His disciples. I committed to being like that and following God the rest of my life. It re-arranged my priorities and things really changed from that point forward. It took a long time, but I eventually was able to overcome my addiction to pornography, and likewise my addiction to MMORPGs came to an end. I still can’t play them, and my wife now helps to keep watch if I ever get into those kinds of games. Another obvious way it affected me was the day I came to Christ I went home and started reading the Bible. I’d never really tried doing that before. I read through it voraciously in about a week. I’ve kept a regular reading schedule ever since.

Following Christ

After coming to Christ I wasn’t so concerned anymore with what career I was going to have. During high school the idea we were sold is that you should do what you’re good at, which has some value to it. At least we shouldn’t be trying to do things we’re horrible at and can’t seem to ever get better at. Nevertheless I would have been great as an engineer or a mathematician, but neither did that work out nor did God lead me in that direction after I started following Him. Afterwards, Christian communities tend to focus a little more on passion driven vocation, do something you’re passionate about. I can understand the value in that, but I also think as a single metric it is lacking as well. A farmer doesn’t have to be passionate about plants and farming to do his job well and take care of his most important duties to God and His family. My point is, I learned that though I shouldn’t be doing things I’m really just not good at(for example I could never be a salesman, I would just be horrible at it no matter how hard I tried), I can still be comfortable and fulfilled even in an occupation I’m not passionately motivated for. So I got a technical degree at ITT Tech for Computer Networking Systems. I figured I’d work in some business or corporate context and make decent money. At the time I didn’t really expect to get married so I figured I’d have minimal costs just for myself and all the extra money I had would go towards ministries like Hope International, or other groups that lift up children and communities in poverty through education and resources. Though I regularly use my knowledge in technology in our translation project, obviously that route never materialized.

Shortly after I finished my Associates degree, the pastor at the church I grew up in approached me on Sunday. He told me God told him that I had a calling to the ministry. He handed me a pamphlet for the United Methodist Seminary and asked me to think about it. Though I still attended this church, from my own studies and experiences I didn’t fully align with the doctrines of the church at large. Of course the most important beliefs were the same, but some of the other practices and teachings that were common were not compatible with my own beliefs. I didn’t feel I couldn’t rightly become a United Methodist minister. Nevertheless I took the claim seriously and spent time praying and thinking about what God might be wanting me to do. I began looking at a few seminaries, Bible colleges, and Christian Universities in California, up the west coast and even in Idaho. I was looking for anything, any sign to give me an anchor for what God wanted me to do. Someone that I knew(I can’t remember who) mentioned to me after hearing of my search that they heard there was a new Christian University somewhere in the Sacramento Area that I might consider. Unfortunately they didn’t have any other information than that, so I didn’t have much to go on. A few days later, my mom mentioned that someone told her about a school fairly nearby that I might go to, but she didn’t know where it was and she had forgotten the name of the school. The same day, I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to go for a bike ride. This was especially strange to me because I’m a runner and if I would have had an urge to go out and just move it would have been by running. The other reason it is strange is I’ve never had a quality bike and as a result I would only ever be able to ride for about 10 miles before my knees would start to hurt. I later discovered that if it was a quality bike this didn’t happen, but I wasn’t a cyclist so I didn’t know. Nevertheless, I went riding and as I was riding my bike out towards Lagoon Valley on the other side of the hills from Vacaville, I ran into an old running competitor of mine. He was running as I pulled alongside and rode my bike next to him. I later realized the reason for God’s urging me to ride a bike. I was out of shape and hadn’t been competing in running for some time, I wouldn’t have met or been able to run along with Him at the time. So God sent me on a bike instead. As we talked, the topic of me searching for a Christian school of some kind led to him mentioning Willliam Jessup University. It was a newly established school in the Rocklin area that had been there for about 4 years, and was previously the San Jose Bible College. After our talk I went home and got on their web site to see if this was where I should go. My mother walked into the room, pointed at the screen, and said, “That’s it, that’s the one.” Ever since coming to Christ I’ve seen too many coincidences to believe in blind chance anymore. I took this as a sign that I should enroll, so I did.

My time at Jessup was some of the best of my life. I made great friends and grew in knowledge and skills to do ministry. When I first got there though, I didn’t know where God was leading me specifically. So I enrolled in classes in most of the ministry disciplines. I took a Cultural Anthropology class for missions, a youth ministry class, Bible & Theology classes, Greek. When I got there I already had several years of college and credits to transfer, so that immediately made me an upperclassman. This posed a small problem as that also meant I needed to have a major declared. So I simply declared as a youth ministry major, thinking that maybe the call to be a pastor was a little different but still essentially correct from my previous pastor. However, after one semester it became clear to me that I wouldn’t be very good at youth ministry and that I really had a knack for and interest in mission work. One of the ironic things to me was my best friend Kyle had originally been a mission major while I was a youth ministry major, but I became the missionary and he went into youth ministry first as a youth pastor and then as a youth camp supervisor. The first year was a doozy of a year for me. I was working more than 40 hours a week at the airport while taking 18 units and on top of that the cross country coach found out about me somehow and recruited me to the team. I also joined the jazz band to play a little music. I am not a 4 hour a night kind of person, but that was my average amount of sleep that year. Yet even this was just another lesson God was teaching me. By the end of that year I was spent and at the end of my rope. My body was starting to fall apart. I don’t know exactly what I would call them, but I would have episodes where suddenly I could feel a rapid change in my body where the energy and vibrancy of the world would just drain away. I wouldn’t say I was anxious or depressed, but felt nothing. It was almost like my body was shutting down, but not my consciousness. After that year I quit my job at the airport. I was able to get some scholarship money for running because I could then dedicate more time to actually training, but it was only about half of my school fees. My parents graciously supported me during this period. Anyhow, what I learned from that year of overworking myself is that like my running, life is a long-distance event. I won’t do anyone any good if I can’t continue running the race. So now I’m much more intentional about maintaining achievable goals and sustainable practices. I graduated with a double major(almost by accident) in Intercultural Studies and Bible & Theology. As part of my degree I spent a summer in Tanzania to work with Hope of the Nations, and even returned the following summer to work with another missionary I had met during the first summer.

Towards Bible Translation

At this time I was again in a period of waiting and didn’t know where to go or what to do next. I owed my parents quite a bit of money and God hadn’t revealed to me what I should do in the long-term. So I got a job in the area with Koinonia Group Homes which helps teenagers with drug and alcohol problems from the juvenile detention system by placing them in homes together to build skills and normal social relationships. Since they’ve never had normal lives and families this process helps them to see what it is like and to reveal and correct their self-destructive behavior. During this time, the church I was involved with in Rocklin was going to put on a missions conference over Christmas break. I was really excited about this because it was an opportunity to meet with representatives of organizations and maybe hear from the Lord about what to do next. I prayed continuously that God would speak to me clearly at this conference. I showed up on the first morning, almost giddy, with my whole weekend scheduled out with the seminars of all the most interesting(to me) places to work. To me, this was just a job fair. I honestly can not remember what any of those seminars or organizations were. Something I did not expect happened. I sat down for the first session, too early by far that the speaker wasn’t even there yet. I was sitting alone in the room bouncing my legs as I normally do, especially when I’m excited. In came an elderly gentleman who zeroed in on me and sat down right next to me. I stopped bouncing my legs because it was a bit awkward how he sat down right next to me. Without introducing himself he turned to me and said, “Have you ever considered Bible Translation?” I just sat there dumbfounded. I don’t remember any of the rest of that conversation. He was a recruiter with Wycliffe Bible Translators, but that first sentence was all I needed to hear. I spent the next month praying about it and looking into it. I found out that a school in British Columbia called the Canada Institute of Linguistics or CanIL trained people to do the work of Bible Translation. So I signed up for their summer courses which would be an introduction to linguistics. I had to at least see if I could do the work first. No matter how excited I might be about it, I have to be able to do it at least to a moderate degree. What I found out that summer was not only did I enjoy the linguistics, but I was good at it. I didn’t realize until then that the analytical thinking required to do linguistics and by extension Bible Translation are the same analytical skills used in Math and Physics that I was so good at in High School. So instead of just taking classes for the summer I stayed in Canada for 2 years to complete a Masters in Linguistics. Funny enough, during this time somehow the director for athletics at Trinity Western University(where CanIL is located and works alongside) found out about me and recruited me to run for their newly established cross country and track teams in their first year.  Since eligibility worked differently in Canada I actually had 2 more years of competition available to me. God provided this for me as a means to pay for school as they gave me a scholarship that covered most of my school fees, I only needed a job to cover living expenses. I worked at a gymnasium where the school competed in volleyball and basketball by cleaning floors and maintaining facilities. Later on I worked as a Teacher’s Assistant and Student Activities Director for CanIL.

A bit of Romance

The following summer is when I met my wife, Brenda. She was coming to get some introductory linguistics because she was intending to do a 2 year internship as an illustrator in the Papua New Guinea branch of SIL. It would be helpful for her to know and understand the specialized language of linguists to work with them. We first met playing Pinochle. I had never played before but I played other card games with my family growing up. She taught a group of us Pinochle. We continued to play cards with a group of people regularly throughout the 10 weeks of classes. We also met regularly while playing Ultimate Frisbee which I was organizing. It wasn’t until the second week of classes she realized that I was also her Teacher’s Assistant in Phonology. Phonology is a class about how the sounds we make during speech effect the sounds around them changing them. It is useful in creating an intuitive written system for a language. It also requires the first bit of understanding about the articulation processes required to make the different sounds we can make during speech. That is why the first week there are no Phonology classes and double classes on Phonetics. So we continued to interact academically and socially for those 10 weeks. There were other factors at play as well. First of all is that there was the problem that we almost never even met. I wasn’t originally going to be there that summer. I hadn’t been offered a TA position so I was going back to California for the summer. At the last minute a TA for another course had to drop out. I couldn’t TA that class, but the only other person who could had been offered the Phonology class. So he switched and I was offered Phonology as a TA. The second is that Brenda also almost never made it to the courses either. She originally had booked a train to Washington and then would head north from there. However, there was a flood that prevented the train from traveling. She found a friend that happened to be heading to that area anyhow and managed to make her way to the courses. Other unusual circumstances presided as well. When I joined the Masters program 4 of us guys from the school found a place to live together in someone’s basement. We had set up some ground rules that would later become relevant. First is that no women over without any of the guys present. We were all accountability partners, as the advent of the internet has made almost all of us young men recovering porn addicts. The second rule was if you brought a woman over to meet the guys that is the only one you’re ever allowed to bring over. The idea was to discourage frivolous romantic relationships. Another circumstance is relevant. One of my roommates, a Jamaican, made a ridiculous vow. Two of our roommates had met their now wives that first summer and were already in the throws of romance. He and I were not however, and I had my doubts it would ever happen by this point. He however, vowed to me that before he got married he would make sure that I found a wife. Despite my pleading that he not make such a ridiculous vow, he was committed to it. This led to a rather desperate situation for him as he was soon in love with his now wife, Jen. The following summer provided new blood and new opportunities for romance, at least from my friend's perspective. He was actively gauging the field so to speak trying to find out what the women thought of me. By the 4th or 5th week of courses Brenda and I, because of our choices of activities had already spent a fair amount of time together, not really as an intention, but as a byproduct of what we enjoyed doing. my friend latched on to this hope immediately. He took to informing Brenda of where I was whenever he saw her, even if I was asleep on a couch in the common room. There was one time when I was playing some Nintendo with a friend in a side room and Brenda noticed us in there and asked if she could play too as she enjoyed some Super Mario. That friend needed to use the bathroom one time and didn’t return for more than 30 minutes as Brenda and I sat there in awkward silence the whole time. Towards the end of the summer there was a school outing to Vancouver to watch fireworks. At the last minute the person organizing the trip couldn’t go, so she asked me to cover for her and organize the students. This meant making sure I was on the early vehicle to Vancouver to scout out a spot for us and keep things organized. I went to the sign up sheet to find Brenda’s name on that early vehicle already there. This was awkward because by that time the tension between us had grown to a point where it was impossible to ignore and had to be dealt with one way or another. The last week, Brenda drew a picture about me and wrote a letter on the back just expressing what she admired about me. She sat near my cubicle to give it to me and just when she was about to give up and throw it away I walked in and she gave it to me and hurriedly exited. I was left with a choice to make. I either needed to commit to a relationship with Brenda or cut her loose. It would not be fair or good to keep us in this state of unknowing. So I thought and prayed and decided to come up with a Gideon type test. It came down to the last day of exams, largely because I didn’t want the status of our relationship to negatively impact her exams. I decided that I would talk to her after she submitted her Phonology exam, which was the last one. I had decided that I would have only two opportunities at most to talk. As she got up to turn in her exam, I also stood up to follow her out into the hallway to talk. At that moment another student raised their hand. They had a question. By the time I finished helping them, she was gone. I exited into the hallway and ran outside to see if I could catch her, but she was nowhere to be found. Dejected, I prayed silently, “Lord, I guess you don’t want this to happen. But if by any chance you do, you’ll have to provide me an opportunity, because my plans have fallen through.” I returned to the classroom and as the students slowly one by one finished the number came down to about 3. We were in a dual classroom, that is to say there was a collapsible wall between two classrooms to make it into one and we used the entire space for the exam. With only 3 students left the professor asked me to close the dividing wall so that another class could use the space for a going away party or sorts. The way the dividing wall worked after I had finished I was on the other side of the wall and needed to exit the classroom to go back around to the exam. As I walked toward the door, Brenda walked in, first to the going away party. I flipped a U-turn and simply said to Brenda, “If it was alright with you, I’d like to get to know you better.” She simply said, “I’d like that.” We decided after her party we’d go for a walk and talk about it and I quickly left for fear of passing out. We made sure we could stay in touch. Though the purpose wasn’t entirely clear to Brenda at first, after our first few long-distance conversation and letters I made it outright and clear that the purpose was to seek after marriage together. The rest is another story, but we got married less than a year later, to my friend's relief.

Working with the Pamosu

After we got married, Brenda and I had already decided we would join Wycliffe and put in our application. Though they normally prefer couples to be married for a few years before accepting them, we were allowed to join. It took us about 3 years between trying to hold down jobs and raising support for the ministry we were going to be involved in. We had our first two children before we ever left for Papua New Guinea. How we decided upon PNG is we simply sent an e-mail to the branches in PNG and Tanzania because those were places we both already had some ideas about. The PNG branch got back t us within 24 hours and by the time the other branch responded we’d already committed to PNG.  When we got to PNG, we went through our orientation and started thinking about what language projects to either join or start. We were recommended 3 locations and the one among the Pamosu seemed most appealing to us for its location in the mountains and the fact that their need was high with a vibrant language and work that hard started but had to be stopped due to medical issues of the previous team. We visited and met the people and it really came down to there was no reason to say no. Like the Samaritan who rescued the Jew in the parable because he was there and could help him, the Pamosu people were asking for the Bible and we were there to be able to do it. Now that we’ve spent time among the Pamosu we’ve grown friendships and care about these people and earnestly desire to give them a usable translation of God’s Word.