Monthly Archives: November 2020

A New Thing

Something very new and exciting is happening at our house! We have a new arrival.

It’s a bird!

It’s a plane!

No, it’s an app!

While Kent and I were cloistered with our kids during months of lockdown last spring, we saw trips and plans blow away like sand. He typically travels to villages where they want to work on their writing system, but we would never want to be part of bringing a remote group Coronavirus. There was no end in sight to the lockdowns, and no guarantees that the pre-COVID world we freely traveled would ever return. We could see that Kent’s alphabet work needed to shift to a certain extent in order to continue. We urgently want to see languages written/recorded before they die out and disappear. We urgently want to see communities have access to important written materials, Scriptures, health manuals, etc.

One afternoon as we were pondering all this, we dreamed up a new thing. What if there was a cell phone app that would allow the rural, local communities to work on their languages without a lot of help and training, and we could consult at least in part, at a distance? We could get a computer program to do much of the work that we would usually do in a workshop setting in a village. We would need something low-bandwidth for Central Africa (where most of the remaining unwritten languages are in this region). We would need something that was easy to use for folks who don’t have computer experience. It would need to handle databases that can archive online. There were several criteria.

We spent a few weeks corresponding with various IT colleagues in our offices around the world, hoping to find that others had already developed something close. There was one program which did part of what we needed, but we soon learned that it would not be supported in the future. There was another more complex program which required extensive training, but sadly it required constant internet access, which does not work in Central Africa. So finally, Kent decided he would just need to learn programming languages and write the program himself.

We named it A to Z and T, as it helps identify the vowels (like A), the consonants (like Z) and the tone system (T) in languages. AZT is a Dictionary Checker, and Orthography Checker and can record and play back audio of each word in the context of phrases (in various tone frames). It has the potential to be able to build alphabet charts or alphabet books. This all used to be done on paper cards sorted into piles. Now the computer does the sorting, but we kept the cards in the logo.

It was amazing to see Kent’s decades of linguistics, phonology and tone research merge with his love of computers, and to see that God wastes nothing. It is ALL useful! Beginning in July, he began to construct the bare bones of the program. Along the way, I consulted on the interface and making it easy to use and easy on the eyes. We have often wished for a way to work together better, but never imagined it would be like this. We spent September and October adding various functions. It is not yet ready for cell phones, but it is working on computers.

And this week Kent is running it with language data for the first time. It could be the birth of a new era in language development. There is a lot of potential yet to come. We are praying that God would use AZT far and wide to accelerate writing systems for unwritten languages throughout Central Africa.


The ‘Arch in the Sky’ is the way the French say ‘rainbow’.

The little prop planes we took over the rainforest in Congo didn’t have instrumentation to fly through clouds and storms without visibility. So often we would get up in the air and then need to fly around isolated thunderstorms. Once we got to see lightning strike the earth from the top down! It was amazing. Another time we flew right up into a huge rainbow. I watched out the little round window to my right as the rainbow suddenly surrounded the entire plane!

I have been pondering circles, see SHALOM post here, and the rainbow is light and water surrounding us in a perfect circle. I used to always think about Noah and God’s promise in Genesis never to destroy the planet with a flood ever again. It made me smile to think of God’s promise every time I spotted the beautiful arches in the sky.

In the book of Revelation, God takes it to the next level. We get a glimpse of what the throne of God looks like and guess what is there?!

“And around the throne was a rainbow…” Rev 4:3

God is Light, in Him there is no darkness at all. And the full spectrum of light includes every color. God is surrounded by a rainbow. I have been thinking a lot about how this sign of promise is not only for us to look at, but it is also a sign for God to look at.

I have always loved color and blending/mixing colors. My childhood bedroom had rainbow plaid wallpaper, rainbow heart bedspread and a rainbow suncatcher (hey – it was cool in the 80s). But now I know the throne room of Almighty God is surrounded by a rainbow, the complete arc-en-ciel. Last month, I had been feeling compelled to paint this full-circle rainbow and kept putting it off. I had other things to do. Other tasks were more urgent. I delayed and delayed. I spent time in prayer one weekend and felt that I should paint it even more urgently. And still I put it off. You’re on thin ice when God asks you to do something and you drag your feet.

I kid you not, 24 hours after the prayer weekend ended (and I still hadn’t painted that rainbow circle), I went to take in laundry off the line and found two of the brightest rainbows in the sky I have EVER seen in my life. All the neighbors came out. Everyone stopped making dinner. We all just marveled and took pictures for at least an hour.

It felt like a clear nudge to me. I painted those circles the next day! They say a wedding ring is a symbol of covenant love because it does not have an ending or beginning. It surrounds. So is the rainbow like that? Like a heaven-sized wedding ring promising relationship? It feels like a hug from God for me to even think about it. Sneak Peek at my painting:

The Light is brightest on the inside. The darkness is on the outside. I will have to write more on this later. So many things in this Light… in these colors.

There are seasons of trial where we could all use a big hug from God, where we could all use a few minutes remembering his promises to his people. This ‘light and water vapor’ – it surrounds us all the time. We just can’t see it with human eyes all the time. It surrounds us. And it surrounds him too. Many many hard days this year, I have stopped to marvel at the spectrum of light that surrounds his throne.

We will be there.

It will be glorious.

And all will have real and complete justice and healing.

I have great hope in the mucky moments here and now because I can look to what is coming.

Hope you can too.


Have you ever studied the Hebrew word ‘shalom’? It is a fascinating study! It means SO much more than the English word ‘peace’. It involves a wholeness, a wellness that surrounds all of the soul. My journey back to painting and the arts began in therapy in 2013. I was finding it difficult to describe my feelings and impressions after life in Congo. My therapist asked, “Could you paint them?” and immediately I rejected the idea. “No, I don’t think so,” I replied.

Oh me of little faith.

Suddenly, 2-3 images in bright color flashed across my mind. I reluctantly agreed to carry the basket of children’s finger paints back to my apartment and see what would come of it. (It has taken a few years to embrace this idea of being called to art. I’m a work in process.) One of those first paintings was of shalom.

We had lived and worked several years in the UN Peacekeeper’s zone in post-war Congo. We were accustomed to a measured level of civil unrest; we knew the sounds of different guns in the distance. But three weeks before we were due to move away, riots over international politics broke out one Tuesday afternoon. Gunfire and RPGs (and fires) raged on for a couple days in town and Anna and I had hunkered down across town with friends. Our friends decided to evacuate, and several of us were hidden under blankets in the back of armed police trucks to reach the airport on the edge of town.

Something in the situation didn’t move me to leave. I wanted to stay. I still had three weeks of packing to do and goodbyes to say. Kent and the boys were still at our house. Anna and I were transferred to the airport to be ‘safe’ behind the barbed wire next to the Bangladeshi UN Peacekeeper camp.

I asked to be brought back into the city – back to our house. Initially, the police refused, saying it wasn’t safe enough. But after a few hours of flights loading up to evacuate, things were calming down in the city and they agreed to take us. We waved goodbye to the dearest of friends and returned to the back of the police truck and under the heavy blankets. I have never doubted that I would be ready to die should He ask it of me. But I had always worried about what would happen to my young children. Anna was only 5.

And under that scratchy, woolen blanket bumping along dirt roads at top speeds, I was surrounded by a peace beyond words. I knew I was going Home. Earthly home, or heavenly home. Home either way. We were both safe under the shadow of his wings either way. [Spoiler alert: We made it back to our earthly home just fine. And just in time for a very memorable family Thanksgiving the next day!]

The image in my mind was of wholeness, of wellness… of shalom. It’s a circle, whole and complete, never-ending. It is soft and gentle like bulletproof memory foam. I think this is what the Psalmist was talking about in Psalm 17:8-9 “Hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who do me violence…” Ruth was hidden under the shelter of wings. Many have described God’s peace as this soft, safe shelter. Complete shalom.

Years later, that feeling of complete safety is a clear memory. I have been pondering circles and circle images ever since. I would post you a picture of my shalom painting, but it is currently in storage in the US. Here is a quick digital sketch.

As a person who has been prone to fear and worry since childhood, it still doesn’t really make ‘sense’ that I had so much peace in that moment. I am not naturally a peaceful person. I could never have drummed up enough myself!

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything,
but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God,
which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

That shalom feeling could not come from me.
It surpassed understanding.

Jesus gave it to me.

He has more than enough for you too.

Today was the Wycliffe World Day of Prayer and our theme was… you guessed it! Shalom. We prayed for shalom over so many conflicts and difficulties around the world.

Do you have a situation where you need shalom?
At school? At the office? In your family? In your country?

Our world seems to need a lot of it in 2020.

Praying shalom for you.