Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Where's Waldo... or Catherine?

Do you remember those Where's Waldo books? They were a staple source of entertainment when I went to my grandparent's house. My sister, cousins, and I would all crowd around these two-page spreads of crazy environments packed with all sorts of odd looking people and things (including lions escaping from the zoo and eating a tourist...), always searching for the every-smiling Waldo.

It's not quite the picture in my book, but the desperation is the same... :)
I remember one such page had a hedge-maze sprawling over a corner, and in it, there were a dozen little Boy Scouts frantically searching for the way out. One had a periscope, one was trying to dig under the corn, an intrepid scout was shooting off flares, and another was trying to use a search and rescue dog. None were having success.... and one even found a skeleton in the middle.

Right now, if I combined the pathways tunneling through my room (between stacks of clothing, emergency medical supplies, various books, Wycliffe literature, speaking props, and, of course, an assortment of tools) with the piles of email constantly flooding my mail box, an unpredictable work schedule, and the increasing number of speaking engagements/travel through April and May, a Where's Waldo book might be a good illustration for my life.

All of that is to say, I really do have many blog posts I would like to share with you... I just have to climb out of the maze first! Bear with me, send up a few flares, and I'll be glad to see you as I come up for air!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Facebook Page

 It's snowing again. That's not a surprise, I suppose.

But I was hoping for spring. Melting. That sort of thing. After all, the spring equinox was on March 20.

Alas, I took these photos this morning.

But, while we wait for the White Witch to break her hold on winter, you can enjoy warm photos of Papua New Guinea! I now have a Facebook Page dedicated to this journey, and I have recently uploaded photo albums both of the people of PNG and the main linguistic center where I'll be living for part of the time. Enjoy! Visit:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Take Your Breath Away

“The most important thing to remember is always keep breathing.

I eyed the paperwork sandwiched between his hand and the table. My signature was in there, somewhere, committing my life to this man.

He continued his speech, “and this is the hand signal for “shark.” His hand wiggled on top of his head in an impersonation of Jaws. “When you’re scuba diving, you should always be careful when walking on sand, since you could step on a sleeping sting ray. Also, it’s important to remember never to put your hands where you can’t see. Otherwise those moray eels…well…snap! You might not get your hand back.” He laughed.

Eels? I glanced at my sister. We were just going to a local pool…right? Minnesota isn’t known for its open water lakes in March. Thanks to one of those Internet coupons, Hannah and I jumped at the chance to attend an introductory session on scuba diving.

“Ready? Let’s go!”

Despite the dire warnings, 45 minutes later, I found myself in a very benign community swimming pool, sitting 12 feet below the surface of the water and practicing a skill that I haven’t thought much about since I emerged from the womb—breathing.

Although my scenic vista consisted of blue-tiled walls, Papua New Guinea is considered one of the world’s last frontiers for diving and an underwater photographer’s paradise. Thousands of square miles of coral reef are crammed with innumerable fish and other creatures; PNG is considered to have about twice the amount of fish species as compared to the Red Sea, and roughly ten times as many species of corals as compared to the Caribbean. It’s home to the Great Barrier Reef (which stretches down past Australia), which is the planet’s largest coral reef system, with some 3,000 individual reefs over an area of approximately 344,400 square km. It is the biggest single structure made by living creatures and can be seen from outer space. Wreck diving is a common pastime by divers, since PNG hosts an amazing collection of sunken ships, aircraft and submarines from World War 2.

Just take a look at some of these amazing photos (all thanks to I think they’ll take your breath away (whether you have a regulator or not!).

Blue Starfish hanging out in a coral reef

A Flamboyant Cuttlefish shows off for the camera

A Pink Anemonefish crouches among an anemone in PNG

A Spine-Cheek Anenomefish looks like it swam out of The Little Mermaid!
The venomous Lionfish sounds like one of the animals my instructor was warning me about!
I praise the Lord for His beautiful creation in a world that so often goes unnoticed!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Weather Report: Windy

"You have so many unknowns ahead of you!” my friend exclaimed, folding her hands in her lap like a napkin.

“I’ve always had unknowns ahead,” I answered. “Only now I’m finally being honest about it.”

Today, the wind came. On the prairie, the wind doesn't come and go. It simply is, rubbing against itself, a shrieking whistle that bends the corn and folds the leaves into funnels when it deigns to touch earth. Farmers brace, squint-eyed, against air scraped from the wings of a kestrel, streaking past the clouds, unhindered for miles. When I was young, I would walk to the end of our driveway, unzip my jacket, and hold the edges of fabric out like wings, leaning forward until only the wind supported me. Growing up, I never needed a compass. When the faucet froze, I knew the wind came from the south, and the dairy barn’s door only slammed shut in a north wind. Snow from South Dakota drifted in my yard, filling the ditches until driving became a matter of trust and thin orange markers. Straight lines are the demarcations of the prairie—the horizon from the corn, the highways and field roads: the roadmap of the wind.

This is our 1/4 mile driveway looking due east before we got a snowblower for the tractor; those orange sticks are 4ft driveway markers. The vertical one is simply resting on top of the snow.

But here, in the north woods of Minnesota, I watch the aspens buckle and billow, giving shape to the air, as a distant applause seems to swell and lapse with approval. The pines lift their arms like a farmwife shaking her apron, while patches of brown oak clutch together in a stubborn death. I can hear the tolling of the windchimes beneath my window as the stragglers fall, twisting and shuddering as if on a roller coaster at Valley Fair.  My hair pulls across my face, knots. I don’t know the direction of the wind.

The license plates of Minnesota trumpet its 10,000 lakes, but these reservoirs cluster north of the prairie. Roads along the compass find trouble when they run into immovable bodies of water; survival necessitates an obedient curve. Detour ahead; and an orange sign maneuvers cars through the maze. Perhaps the wind follows suite. For, I move north and no longer drive in straight lines.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Apology Not Accepted

An elderly woman walked up to me after the service. “Here,” she took my hand and pressed it, leaving a folded green slip behind, like a last leaf before winter. “I’m sorry,” she shook her curls softly, “I’m sorry that’s all I can give.”



I shifted at my desk, and gave in to my curiosity. Yes, Inbox (1). Clicking on the email, I realize that God had just called another partner into Bible translation. But then, the third paragraph down: “I’m sorry that I can’t give more at this time…”


I’m sorry. An apology is perhaps the most common accompaniment I receive with a financial gift, and yet, my heart aches every time I read it. Although it is often written as an expression of support for Bible translation, and I value greatly the heart behind it, it misses the point.

I remember standing in our farm kitchen, flour on my face and hair pulled into a stubborn ponytail, mixing up chocolate chip cookies with all the youthful seriousness of first independence. But measuring cups are different sizes, and when my hand trembled under the weight of a mounded half-cup, I re-checked the recipe. It only called for ½ teaspoon of salt.

Size and value are not cousins, and the Rose Window of Notre Dame is not made from one large sheet of colored glass. When giving is brought before the Lord in a dialogue, then the amount is perfect and precise. Just as puzzle pieces fit together or my computer whirrs in minute efficiency, there is no hierarchy of value. Obedience is not added by a cashier.

Left: American penny. Right: Roman "widow's mite"
A card comes in the mail. I slit the envelope: $10 stretches from the folds. The message curves gently, “it’s all I can give… I’m sorry,” and I can see the widow writing by the window of her apartment, or is she slipping into the temple, placing two copper coins where others have put their treasure?

Too small?

So is the period.


“Catherine.” I glanced up from my packing, a tool belt in one hand and a white board in the other—props from the evening’s presentation. I could see the youth leader coming towards me, skirting chairs and carpetball, her hands cupped. “The youth would like to give you their offering." She glanced down at the one-dollar bills and quarters, dimes and nickels. “It’s not much…”

I quickly reached forward, grasping her hand. How could I make her understand?

Thank you. Thank you.

Two pennies fell from my hand onto the table. Do you see that? Jesus had asked his disciples.

No apology this time.

Monday, March 7, 2011


"There's something for you." The dogs and I tracked my mom's voice into the office as she pulled a large white envelope from the bottom of the mail pile. "You have a package."

A package! I receive packages so rarely that I felt a bit sacrilegious opening the envelope, but there my name was, in large, well-formed letters, and with an expectant audience of four dogs and a mother, I didn't hesitate. As the shroud of paper fell off, I pulled out a book--a New Testament. At first, I didn't understand. Why me...? A small card fell to the side. "Dear Catherine," it read, "I was given this New Testament, and I thought you might find use for it in your ministry..." Her scripted handwriting wove a blessing of thoughtfulness through the card, and I was humbled by her generosity.

I slipped the Bible's cardboard cover to the side, ran my hands over the brown leather, the pages still stiff and uncracked. A fresh translation! it exclaimed. Copyright 2010... so new that the Old Testament is still in progress!

In progress? The words seemed to trip over themselves. To date, the Bible has nearly 500 English versions. Complete versions.

There are only about 500 languages with complete Bibles worldwide.

In March 2010, as the "fresh" English New Testament in my hands was being printed, the Kimyal people  received their New Testament as well. For the first time.

I encourage you to take six minutes and watch the following video as these people receive the Word of God. It is filmed in Papua, Indonesia (the other side of the island from Papua New Guinea; the proximity results in many cultural and environmental similarities).

The Kimyal People Receive the New Testament from UFM Worldwide on Vimeo.

A week ago, I had the privilege of having dinner with the son of the woman who worked closely with these people. You can read more about her story here.

As I watch the Kimyal unwrap their precious package for the first time, I can see out of the corner of my eye my theology bookshelf and the new "fresh" Bible, standing without ceremony among several of its 500 cousins. I know my reaction is one born of a history of familiarity and of red-letter abbreviations gorging CBD catalogs.

And I wonder about the reaction of those who are still waiting.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Now I know my ABCs!

Is Mc- filed before Ma- or after? You probably don’t think about this on a regular basis, but I do! As a receptionist, I can often be found filing client records (or finding them!), digging through hundreds of folders packed into our twenty-eight drawers, each neatly labeled A-B or O-Pe or Wi-Z. Before I started working in the clinic, I thought I knew my alphabet song pretty well, but now a need for efficiency has burned the English alphabet into my brain as never before! 
But what is an alphabet, actually? A little while ago we talked about scripts (see:, and you’ll remember that scripts are simply the form in which the writing system is communicated. How the sounds of spoken language are communicated through the script is a different concept—and it’s the one that causes preschoolers to sing the alphabet song and me to file records so the other receptionists can find them again!

Curious yet? Let’s go on a tour of writing systems!

Abjads (consonant alphabets)

In this abjad, Hebrew is written both with and without vowels

In an abjad, the individual letters represent consonants. Although it seems foreign to English speakers, indicating vowels is not necessary for readability; however, vowels are sometimes indicated by consonant letters or diacritics (those little marks that look like apostrophes or accents).

Phonemic Alphabets
Korean hangeul was invented in 1444, but didn't find acceptence until later
Say alphabet, and this is the system that typically jumps to mind, where letters represent both consonants and vowels. Although in English one letter can stand for different sounds (card vs. city), in Czech, each letter or combination of letters represents only one sound. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) operates similarly to Czech, but it’s so fascinating, that this system deserves a post all to itself. Stay tuned!


Abugida (syllabic alphabets or alphasyllabaries)

Burmese is a beautiful example of an abugida!
This system bridges the former and latter systems by a non-exclusive focus on syllables. Syllables are built up of consonants, each of which has an inherent vowel, e.g. ka, ga). The inherent vowel can be changed or muted by those friendly diacritic marks, and sometimes even indicated separately by a distinct symbol.

The writing system for Cherokee was created in 1819 and used today!
Here, each syllable (made up of a consonant plus a vowel or just a vowel) is represented by a different symbol (or a modification of a symbol).


Semanto-phonetic (logophonetic, morphophonemic, logographic, or logosyllabic)

Egyptian Hieroglyphics (top) and Chinese characters (bottom)
The symbols in these systems represent both sound and meaning, which often results in a large number of symbols (some have no upper limit, such as Chinese!). The symbols can represent individual sounds, words (logograms), abstract ideas (ideograms), or concrete things (pictograms), or even a combination of the above. 

All of these details become important in Bible translation as linguists try to form a writing system that is acceptable and useful to the language group.

So, is Mc- or Ma- first? If our cabinets truly followed the English phonemic alphabet, then all those Scottish-sounding names should be filed after Ma-. But, they aren’t. And that’s an alphabet song I never learned.

All images taken from where you should visit to see more cool writing systems! 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March Newsletter is Out!

Linguists start young...
I was a very talkative little child. I was notorious for asking questions, especially the names of itemswhether I already knew them or not. My mom remembers one particularly trying time at the doctor’s office when I sat on the table and pointed at everything I saw, inquiring “Zat? Zat? Zat?” very enthusiastically.

(As a budding linguist, I'd already figured out that “what’s that?” will phonologically contract into the much more palatable and efficient "Zat?")

This theme of questions continues in my March newsletter, just sent out today. If you didn't receive one and would like to, please send me an email at