Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Different Sort of Job Security

“Did you know your job exists because of sin?”

I blinked in surprise, marshalling the wandering bits of my mind to focus on this sudden announcement from my friend. “Say what?”

“The Tower of Babel. If it wasn’t for their sin and the dispersing of languages, you wouldn’t have a job.”

He turned back to his lunch, chasing a stray tomato with his fork. But my mind wasn’t drifting anymore.

John Piper says, “Missions exists because worship does not.”

Translating OT passages into Bontoc (Philippines)
 photograph by Daniel Peckham

It’s easy in our task-oriented, checklist culture to be excited by concrete goals, such as communicating all 31,000+ verses in the Bible in an unwritten language or trying to label every “unreached” people group so we can “accomplish the task.” But such math is not the point. The purpose of Bible translation is not simply to translate the text and leave the manuscript on a shelf.  Rather, it is to bring people into a true worship of God. My job is about people, not words. It’s about eternity, not alphabets.

There are only two things eternal in this earthly world: people and Scripture. Bible translation impacts both, as the Lord knew it would long before the disobedience at the Tower of Babel threw up linguistic barriers.

From the chaos, the Lord brings beauty, and even through the confusion of languages He is glorified. For, in heaven, rather than all speaking one exalted language, Revelation 7:9 proclaims that people from every tribe, nation, and language will stand before the throne praising God: a multitude of voices worshipping the Lord in a multitude of tongues.

My job won’t be needed. And I can’t wait.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Playing with HTML: some improvements

 HTML is like a puzzle. A very dangerous puzzle. Because if I forget to close one tag, then the whole blog goes kaput. But I never take the easy way, and so, I find myself wading through HTML to fix those tiny annoying blips that bother my perfectionist leanings. For a couple hours this afternoon, I tried to fix some issues that have been cropping up. Let me know if you find more!

1) I thought you were able to sign-up to receive updates from this blog by email. I was wrong. So, I have now inserted a section on the left-hand sidebar where you can insert your email address and receive updates. Voila!

2) If you have been using Internet Explorer to view this blog, you have probably noticed the bothersome habit of the posts cutting off the last letter on the right-hand side of the text lines. After much trial and error (because if I did one thing in Explorer, it would mess up Firefox and vice versa), I believe it is fixed. If it is still occurring, please let me know.

3) I cleaned up a bit of the post formatting. Hopefully that will help keep everything a bit more readable.

4) I added my picture on the front. Now you can remember who I am :)

5) I added a link to the sidebar in case you are ever interested in learning more, receiving newsletter updates (or updates that can't be publicly placed on the web), or even partnering with me in prayer or finances. Now you can't tell me it's too hard to find!

6) Are there things that you would like to see changed or added to this blog? Do you have ideas for posts? Questions about anything? Let me know! I'd be happy to address them!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Separating the Light from the Dark

You never knew that Trader Joe's sold exotic chocolate!
This past week, as weather reporters warred over predictions of totals for the weekend snowstorm and I finally figured out how to transfer a Powerpoint presentation to a DVD, chocolate companies were delightedly counting their profits. This past Valentine’s week, American consumers once again went on a chocolate shopping spree that netted over $345 million, making up of 5.1% of chocolate’s annual sales. That’s more than 58 million pounds of chocolate candy boxed in cardboard hearts and pink tinfoil (it's still less than the 90 million pounds sold for Halloween). Statistics according to Neilsen Co.

Although giving gifts of chocolate has remained a steady Valentine’s tradition over the years, I have been unable to discover the connection between this dark candy and the holiday. Nevertheless, even the scientific name for the cocoa tree, Theobroma Cacao, harbors this fascination: translated from the Greek, it means food of the gods.
It even had a beautiful, colorful wrapper! Much better than pink.

Cocoa beans also happen to be one of the major exports of Papua New Guinea, placing it among the leading cocoa-producing countries in the world. The warm and humid climate of PNG is perfect for Trinitario cocoa trees to thrive. Cocoa beans grow inside pods that hang on the trunks of the tree. The pods are harvested manually, and the seeds are fermented 3–9 days. After they have dried, they are put in sacks and shipped overseas to those companies who live for the 14th of February.

As any chocolate lover will tell you, not all chocolates are created equal (Hershey's versus Ghirardelli's, anyone?). The flavor of this sweet treat will vary depending on soil, climate, specific regions, and even types of tree. So what does Papua New Guinean chocolate taste like? Most often, their chocolate is described as “fruity, full-bodied, with subtle undertones of spice and smoke.”

It is strange that something as nasty as coffee and as good as chocolate both come from crushed up beans...
Although that sounds poetic, I had no idea what it meant. So, when a friend of mine surprised me with a gift of chocolate, I was curious to try. According to my family’s expert taste-testing abilities, although this particular chocolate bar was 70% dark, its citrus flavor prevented any bitterness from emerging. It wasn’t terribly sweet, but a tiny piece was enough to gently satisfy a chocolate craving.

After all, in the beginning, the Lord created chocolate, and he saw that it was good. Then he separated the light from the dark, and it was even better. :-)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Weather Report: Cloudy

Where can I go from your Spirit?
   Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
   if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
   if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
   your right hand will hold me fast. 

Psalm 139:7-10

The dogs had been clamoring all morning for their daily jaunt, four pairs of eyes watching, waiting, until a tangle of leashes, cold noses against my leg, stumble and turn: the door shuts my calendar behind us. And we breathe.

Today our walk is one of rounded edges as the 40 degree weather drops a cloud on my skin, tangling it in the branches of white pine and elm. The wet-dark bark of their trunks carves overcast silhouettes through the fog, erased of color, like a grisaille drawing by a Michelangelo. The vibrancy is at my feet: broken green, spotted gold, and rust poking through the cloven tracks of deer. The snow is translucent, crystallized over oak leaves and mud. It’s a melting snow.

I pull off my scarf and wish for snowshoes, sinking to my knees, socks drenched despite the crackle of Cub Foods plastic lining my boots. I imagine my toes will be wrinkled and stained in pink dye before long. Our speed is slow enough for the old one’s arthritis. Slow enough for pine needles to glisten, drop water on my forehand, eyelashes, and feel my hair curl in the damp. The dogs run loose, beneath the shapeless two-note chickadee and rasp of the cardinal, muted like a piano’s soft pedal, and I can barely hear the testing of snowmobiles from the neighboring Polaris plant.

In the cloud, perspective deepens, and I wonder if the trees could stretch beyond Wyoming, Minnesota, crossing oceans, until they shake hands with another misty forest on the island of New Guinea.

White is exchanged for green, and the gaharu trees swing low under moss in the rare Cloud Forests. Science tells me that only certain tropical latitudes with mountains of specific altitudes near the sea can support the descent of the cloud. Receiving little sunlight, the trees are crooked and stunted, like an old man, his long white beard condensing on the leaves, dripping into the ground. Black-plumed cassowary birds strut through the roots and ferns, watched by the bear-like face of a tree kangaroo, secure in the heights with his long chestnut tail. Today, I flip through pages and meet their home in a book. In six months, a one-way plane ticket.

And I watch my dogs rummage through the emerging leaves near my house, 29152 Hillcrest Drive, 8,000 miles from where the heavens come down and settle in the depths of the forest, on the far side of the sea.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hello Baby!

It’s Valentine’s Day, and the restaurants of America are swathed in red and pink. Roses, ribbon, and lace adorn cards, billboards, and even gas station attendants. Glittering jewelry and chocolate of every kind imaginable are pushed to the front of stores with huge SALE signs trying to attract last-minute panicked shoppers. Some call it the Day of Love. Some call it Single’s Awareness Day.

Either way, one part of Valentine’s Day trumps all others in its garish nastiness.

The Sweethearts.

For 364 days of the year, this candy remains in disintegrating plastic bags in the back of storage facilities reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. There they harden so much that mold can’t even take a hold, and once you manage to crack them with your teeth, losing all benefit of the thousands of dollars in your orthodontics, they taste like chalk. Or concrete dust mashed together with a bit of corn syrup for binder.

Nevertheless, people continue to endorse these cobblestones as candy simply for the endearments typed onto the heart face. Be Mine. Love You. Yes Dear. But in some cultures, knowing what to call your loved one is a bit more challenging than you might first expect.

Aside from the obvious relationships celebrated on Valentine’s Day, kinship relationships (mother, father, husband, wife, child etc.) are extremely important in many cultures, and often, understanding and fitting into the kinship system can be critical in order to develop relationships. For example, in some situations names are completely dependent upon relationships with other people (“wife of X,” “father of Y,” “3rd born daughter” etc.). As you might imagine, this can present challenges when single missionaries enter the culture and they have no “family” to be related to.

Eileen Gasaw tells a story of when she and her translator partner Heather went to live in the Sai village among the Girawa people of Papua New Guinea. As the first white people—and single women at that—they drew a lot of curiosity. “How could your family let you go so far away?” they were asked over and over. After all, girls in Girawa culture stayed with their families until they were married, and then they went to live with their husbands. These two white strangers simply didn’t fit into any imaginable pattern in the villager’s worldview!

After much thought, the women in the village came up with the perfect solution. They gave each of the women HUSBANDS! Immediately, Eileen and Heather became a part of a Girawa family. They had mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunt and uncles as well as in-laws. Now they had names. Now they could relate. Now life made sense.

And the best part of the situation? Their husbands were only 2 years old!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Superbowl Meets the Pacific

Alas, the past two weeks alternately escaped me and attempted to throttle me, and so I apologize for the unforeseen silence. However, a side benefit of the absence means I have many posts swirling around in my head that I’d love to share with you, so stay tuned!


Last Sunday, I watched the Superbowl. Well, most of it anyway… and whether I comprehended what I saw or not is another story. Especially when I typically can’t find the ball until after the play is complete and the announcers kindly draw arrows for us football-challenged people. I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever even watched a full football game via TV, but I keep trying with valiant and heroic effort in an attempt to identify better with the hordes of people who are fascinated by this sport (including my mother).

As far as I can remember, I’ve only sat through a live football game once, my first semester of my freshman year at college. I did play a version of football once… but it was the kind that makes super-athletic-ball-coordinated girls cringe and guys just laugh. This “flamingo football” required the gentleman from my brother hall to hop around on one foot while the girls from my hall ran around the field like confused chickens. Two of the guys felt sorry for us and defected to our team (still hopping on one foot), finally resorting to calling out commands like “run to the other side!” and “tackle him!!” so that we would have some direction. The guys still won.

While Americans are fascinated with football, I’ve been learning that Papua New Guineans are entranced by rugby. My first encounter with this sport was watching Matt Damon hurl himself across the silver screen in Invictus.

It did not seem terribly pleasant.

Injuries are not uncommon after a game of rugby...
But rugby is PNG’s unofficial national sport, and Papua New Guineans have a reputation for being the most passionate supporters of the game in the world. The goal of rugby is like the goal of American football—a team of players try to move the ball from one end of the field to the other in order to gain the most number of points. Unlike American football, however, this full contact sport occurs without  protective helmets, no shoulder pads, no white tights... just mud and manliness, I suppose.

One of the more distinctive plays that separates it from American football is the scrum, where the opposing teams lock arms and heads together until they are a moving mat of players skittering back and forth as the ball is kicked out of the huddle by their feet!

Papua New Guinea plays in the Rugby League and is currently ranked 6th in the world. The team is known as the Kumuls, named after PNG’s national bird, the Bird of Paradise, and top players are treated as celebrities. According to the ever-reliable ;) Wikipedia: 
“The team usually plays against the Australian national rugby league team each year in Port Moresby [PNG's capital city]. It is such a popular fixture that thousands of people can't get into the ground once its full, causing people to climb onto the stadium roof or up trees outside the ground in order to see the match. The limited capacity of the stadium for this fixture often sparks riots.”
Maybe I’ll be sticking to my flamingo football :-)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

When a cyclone blocks your shadow...

Today is Groundhog’s Day, and as a result, if Americans are asking any questions about the weather, it’s all focused on the predictions of a little marmot guarded by men in tall hats. Will Punxsutawney Phil see his shadow?  If he does, we have six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t (as was concluded for 2011) …well, we still have six more weeks of winter. After all, six weeks from now is the middle of March, and Minnesota can still get snow in May.

Since snow is inevitable anyway, perhaps Phil should have focused his forecasting powers on the world’s oceans, particularly the cyclone that is currently hammering the northeast coast of Australia. Stronger than Hurricane Katrina and being referred to as the“largest cyclone in the nation’s history,” Tropical Cyclone Yasi spit out winds over 180 mph and was categorized as a Level 5 storm (maximum rating) when it impacted the coast early this morning (Feb 2). As it traveled inland, it was eventually downgraded to a Level 3, but more than 10,000 people remain in evacuation centers. Cairns, a city well-known to SIL personnel especially those serving in PNG, was directly in the path of the storm, but according to reports, it has come through without too much devastation. At this point, there are no known deaths related to Yasi

Although Papua New Guinea was not in the direct path of the storm, it has been hit hard by tropical cyclones in the past. Take a look at this satellite image taken Feb 1. PNG is pretty close!

Image from NASA’s Terra satellite the morning of February 1

In all this talk about Cyclone Yasi, I became curious. What’s the difference between a cyclone, a hurricane, and a typhoon? Although Google gave me a lot of interesting (and contradictory…) answers, theUS National Weather Service Hurricane Center described it this way:

A tropical cyclone (not to be confused with the tornados in the American Midwest), put very simply, is the name for a low-pressure storm with circular wind activity over warm water.

If the maximum speed of the surface winds is less than 39 mph, then it is called a tropical depression. If it is more than 39 mph, then it is called a tropical storm. Once the wind speed exceeds 74 mph, then it is called different things based upon its place of origin:
  • Hurricane: the North Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Pacific Ocean east of the dateline, or the South Pacific Ocean east of 160E
  • Typhoon: the Northwest Pacific Ocean west of the dateline
  • Severe tropical cyclone: the Southwest Pacific Ocean west of 160E or Southeast Indian Ocean east of 90E
  • Severe cyclonic storm: the North Indian Ocean
  • Tropical cyclone: the Southwest Indian Ocean
Under this definition, Yasi is a “severe tropical cyclone.” Storms typically begin receiving names once they hit the level of a tropical storm. Did you know Papua New Guinea has its own names for storms developing in that region? You can find them here:

Whether they are called cyclones, hurricanes, or simply terrifying, these extremely destructive storms impact every facet of life, including Bible translation. In 1994, translation strategies changed significantly in Papua New Guinea after tidal waves from a tropical cyclone wiped out over a third of the Arop people group. As a result, the translators began working with several coastal languages, eventually including 11 different languages in what is called a "cluster project." You can read more about this project and its story here: It's an amazing example of God bringing unforseen opportunities out of  immense difficulties.

I'm glad we have a God more reliable than Punxsutawney Phil and his shadow.