Undercover Boss, WA Style

14 Mar

Have you ever seen CBS’ Undercover Boss on Sunday evenings? It’s about corporate CEOs that go undercover and work at various roles within their organization to observe how things REALLY work outside of office headquarters. What they discover often changes their perception of their organization and their employees in a very positive way.

Recently, Bruce Smith, Wycliffe Associates‘ leader, did the same except he went to Nigeria to see first hand how we are accelerating Bible translation through satellite phone installations. Like Undercover Bosses, what he experienced was life changing.

Blog posts are supposed to be short and sweet, immediately catching the reader’s attention. Bruce’s observations are not like that at all. They are lengthy but I encourage you to continue reading to see what I mean. Bruce’s perspective is truly refreshing.

[The Kamwe language is indigenous to Adamawa State, Nigeria. What follows is copied verbatim from an email sent by WA President/CEO Bruce Smith on March 7, 2011. On the field in Nigeria with a CSTF team, Bruce had just finished deploying a “B-TAK” (Bible Translation Acceleration Kit) to provide internet and web connectivity for the Kamwe translation project.]

“It is 4am Monday morning in Nigeria and I’ve already been awake for 1-1/2 hrs. I’ve been telling myself that I need to rest for the day ahead, but my heart is too full to sleep – so I thought I would get up and talk to you.

I wish you were here. Seriously. By the time I finish addressing this message it will be sent to a couple hundred people. But I wish each of you could experience what I am experiencing. Your life would be enriched in ways you have never imagined. I wish that each of you could be here with me. The shared experience would deepen our friendship, and give us a deeper understanding of God together. The good news is that all of this is possible. All we need to do is make a plan together, and then do it.

One of the challenges of these unique experiences is the difficulty of explaining them to people who are not present. You are involved in various ways – perhaps praying for this ministry, perhaps serving in some capacity, perhaps including this ministry in your stewardship. Perhaps you work with me every day, or maybe you only see an email from me once or twice a year when I send a trip report. One of the reasons my heart is overflowing right now is because of thanksgiving for the opportunity to be here today. In some way, large or small, you are a part of enabling me to be here. For that I am profoundly grateful.

I’m just 2 days into a planned 5 day trip to train Nigerian translation teams how to use email and give them technology to connect to the Internet. I suppose that from where you are reading this message that sounds like a simple and perhaps even trivial task. Let me just say now – it is anything but trivial. I have the profound sense that the things we are doing this week are literally changing eternity for these people. Our team of 10 here in Nigeria this week are hoping to connect Nigerian translation teams in 20-25 communities spread throughout this nation. The language communities these teams serve amount to more than 4.3 million people. It is impossible to know the precise impact of enabling these teams to communicate more effectively, but by one estimate each Internet connection could speed the completion of a New Testament translation to these communities by 2 years.

So, by the end of this week 10 volunteers, people just like you, may have just accelerated Bible translation by 50 years.

I can hardly describe how shocking it was for me to type that sentence. It sounds like an exaggeration. It sound like I just made it up to impress someone. It sounds impossible. But it isn’t. It is true. It is real. It is happening – this week, in Nigeria.

We got out of the gate slowly here. For those of you who know me, you can begin to imagine how this made me feel. After a day of team training in Jos on Friday with our volunteers, on Saturday morning we were all anxious to get moving. We awoke early. Had breakfast together at 7am, and then began waiting for our drivers to arrive. I was already concerned because Plan A was for one team to depart at 7am and for the other 4 installation teams to depart at 9am. I felt like John Wayne, “Let’s get moving! We’re burning daylight!” But as 9am became 10, and 10 became 11, two drivers had arrived and teams departed, but the rest of us were waiting less patiently. Take a deep breath (I told myself). Then the Nigerian translation coordinator who is traveling with my team said, “Let’s just take my car. We can’t wait for these drivers.” So, he got his car, and our team of four packed into it – tightly. The trunk was full, even with my highly honed packing skills after years of packing small airplanes. Each of us had things at our sides, at our feet, and some at the back of their heads. We inhaled, slammed the doors, and then our Nigerian translator hit the accelerator. The first story was that our Saturday drive would be 5 hours. By the time it was too dark to continue driving (around 7pm) we had driven 8 hours and were still a long way on the map from our first destination. During midday I checked a thermometer I had along and the temp was 108 degrees F. We briefly tried the car’s air conditioning en route, but the air from the vents felt hotter than the outside air, so we reopened the windows. I could tell a long story about the day’s drive on Saturday, but I want to tell you about Sunday. I could also tell you a long story about our overnight accommodations experience, but I want to tell you about Sunday.

Sunday morning we hit the road at 6:30am, continuing north and east until we reached the village of Mlalala near the Cameroon border. We arrived at 11am. (So, the “5 hour” drive took us 12-1/2 hours. Let me just say, it was not because we were not traveling at a high velocity.) We met with the local translation team (4 people) and several leaders in the local church and community. After inappropriately brief introductions I began training the translation team how to use the satellite Internet modem. While I was doing that my colleague, Deborah, was performing virus scans and installing software on their primary translation computer. Through broken English (some mine, some theirs), through 110 degrees F heat in the direct sunlight (so that the satellite modem could “see” the satellite), stretching power cords and network cords to the limits of their extension, in the swirling wind and dust, without lunch, we worked feverishly (that word has a new meaning to me after yesterday’s heat) to get them connected. When I finally stopped talking, leaned against a shaded wall, and glanced at my watch – it was about 3:30pm. The team had learned a lot. The satellite modem was working perfectly, but their computer was not. After a couple of satellite phone calls (there was no cell signal in Mlalala), Deborah had changed dozens of computer settings and analyzed various problems, exhausting our pool of knowledge without successfully enabling the team’s computer to connect to the Internet. We prayed. We worked. We phoned friends and colleagues. We even tried to phone a network engineer in Orlando (unsuccessfully), but our ideas, energy, and patience were literally exhausted. Hot Cokes were no longer sufficiently nutritious to keep us going. So, we made the decision to leave them one of the netbooks we had brought along. Within a short time Deborah had the netbook configured and working. By 4pm or so I had trained them to use the email software, they had sent me an email, and I received it on my laptop. The smiles nearly (but not quite) eclipsed the sun. We were a day behind schedule, very close to exhaustion, but this team can now communicate instantly to their teammates and consultants instead of making a 25 hour road trip to Jos to have a simple conversation. After a quick inventory to be sure we left them all of the power cords and equipment they needed to work, and to be sure we still had the things we needed to continue our work, we bowed in thankful prayer together, repacked the car, inhaled, closed the doors, and hit the gas. It was 5pm.

At 7pm we arrived at the Kamwe translation project, slightly rehydrated and refueled by granola bars and sour patch kids, and we started training the Kamwe team. This team is five men. I wish I had time to tell you their testimonies. We worked together until 9pm. By God’s grace, everything that went wrong in Mlalala went right in Kamwe. In just 2 hours the Kamwe translation team learned to set up and take down the satellite modem. They did it at least 5 times – once with my direction, and 4 times working together as a team with minimal input from me. Deborah had their computers updated and software installed. By 9pm the Kamwe team had drafted several test emails, attached translation documents, and sent them to my email address and their consultant’s email address, successfully. Their enthusiasm encouraged us, but without lunch or supper our brains were shutting down. I called “time out”, and we reluctantly retired to our overnight accommodations. After an amazing local dinner, our team collapsed within a few seconds of 10pm.

By 2:30am this morning I was ready to start it all over again. But I suppose the rest of the team is asleep, so I’m up talking with you.

So much has happened here, to me, to our team, to the translation teams, for the communities, for God’s honor and glory, that a single email cannot contain. For those of you in Orlando, God willing I will be speaking in WA devotions next Monday morning 3/14. Most of our team will still be here wrapping up installations here in Nigeria, but I hope to be back in Orlando to speak with many of you personally. (Donna – I’ll need every minute.) I’ll try to write more again this week as our journey continues. I’m sure I can’t imagine what God has in store. I know it will, again, be immeasurably more than anything I could ask or imagine. God’s ways are so much higher than mine. I hope you can get a glimpse of His higher ways through this feeble communication. I’m sorry I cannot do a better job of communicating, but the beauty, the impact, the people, the experience are beyond mere words.

You have to come here and meet Aquilla, Samson, Daniel, Mattius, Markus, Barnabus, and James – the Nigerian translators here. I will never read these names in my English language Bible again without my heart beating a little bit faster as I remember the Nigerian translators here.

Next time you see me I will not be the same person you saw last time. God is changing me, but more importantly – He is changing men, women, and children here in Nigeria – for eternity.

One last story, and I promise to stop. Before I got out of bed to talk with you I was thinking about Rev 7:9. I have read this verse, and spoken to groups and individuals about this verse, more times than I can count. It is a picture of what you and I will experience when we stand before God’s throne along with everyone who call Jesus “Lord.” Even though this is a powerful verse, and has truly touched and shaped my heart, I have to admit that it has often been too theoretical and impersonal. As I thought about it at 2:30am this morning instead of faceless strangers, from every tribe and nation, standing next to me in that crowd, I saw Aquilla, Samson, Daniel, Matthius, Markus, Barnabus, James, and Oliver and Tom and Paul from PNG, running toward me as fast as they could, tackling me, embracing me, giving me high-fives, smiling from ear to ear, and praising God LOUDLY. We all started jumping for joy, because we couldn’t contain our excitement. We were singing at the top of our lungs, each in our own languages, praising God, with tears flowing down our faces – just like they are flowing down mine right now as I type. (*misty eyes) Our hearts will be pounding, in unison.

And YOU will be there. I will introduce you to these dear brothers. Someday. Sooner or later. The choice is yours.

Let me know when you’d like to come here, to Nigeria, to meet them.

I can’t wait for the sunrise…


I don’t know about you, but this email encourages me to “keep on keeping on.” Bruce Smith’s “Undercover Boss” experience was a smashing success!

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Posted by on March 14, 2011 in Wycliffe Associates


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