Sunday, December 30, 2012

Stories Without Endings

2012 is coming to a close, and as such, we’ll now be inundated with profound and deep reflections spattering over the internet and coffee shops. Reporters and blogs will stand, hands on their hips, glancing at the months past and naming off the Top Ten of movies, disasters, new recipes, and clothing styles. We’ll discuss the economy and foreign relations; we’ll marvel at our kitchen improvements and how our children have grown. We’ll twitter and facebook and analyze until we can, with a wave of satisfaction, tie up year 2012 with a large sparkly bow, and place it’s neatly boxed accomplishments onto a shelf. 2012, we beam, can now finally have its ‘happily ever after.’

In our western world, we like having endings to our stories—we like knowing the outcome and the results and the relief of reading that final “the end.” We like watching the hero battle through the climax and receive his just reward once the dragon is dead and the princess is rescued. We like seeing the fruit of our labors and counting the last twine-wrapped stack of hay tucked into the loft. We like conclusions and finales and the last termination…we shoot off fireworks and throw parties and create closure.

We like endings to our stories.

But, despite our best attempts, the world does not operate with endings. Time was given a start, but we will live into eternity. The events of people’s lives do not arch with the logic of our story-schema taught in schools, and it is only rarely that we have the chance to see that final period.

I find myself encountering this all the time, and I wonder if it is even further exacerbated by the unfinished stories of the mission field. If you follow this blog at all, then you know that I write, and I write a lot. In fact, if you count up all the other publications and things I write for, the number of words that I peck out in a week on my computer skyrockets into orbit. And, of course, the topic that everyone always wants to hear more and more about are the stories of people here in Papua New Guinea—how they are impacted, how lives are changing, what God is doing in this beautiful land. So, I do my best and interview fellow missionaries and ferret out possibilities and keep my ears open for intriguing quotes…but rarely do I ever discover the outcome. And so, the questions start rolling in: What happened to that woman? Where did those men end up? How has the Bible impacted her life? Did he ever come to Christ?

And I don’t have an answer. People come and go in our lives, and I have the privilege of glimpsing for an instant the story that the Great Author is weaving together that allowed our paths to cross, but it is only a peep, a quick look before the curtain is drawn shut again. Those stories of change and transformation are stories of years and of lifetimes, which means that for now, her story, his story, remain unfinished and our questions linger unanswered.

But, perhaps it is better that way. The unwritten pages leave us in hope and in curiosity to see what our Lord might do next. It is as Aslan explained in The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis when Aravis asked about the fate of a slave that was beaten on her account: “Child,” said the Lion, “I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.”

We live in a world of unfinished stories, and I imagine, if you didn’t know the Author, that would be a very terrifying thing—a nebulous, onward drift into an unknown existence of nothingness. But thankfully, there is one End that we can be certain of, and His coming is one of great joy:

“Look, I am coming soon.... I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Rev 22:12–13)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

On the road again!!

It’s that time again when I look at my yellow legal pad and divide the list into “must complete at all costs” and “will manage to survive if left undone.” It’s when I attempt to empty out my email inbox, make sure my room is cleaned and put away, check the post office one last time, return borrowed items to rightful owners, review my finances to make sure all bills have been paid, finish up the last laundry load, back up my computer, tuck my house keys into a memorable (yet safe!) place, charge up my kindle, camera and phone batteries, count up my medication supplies, and seal all perishables into rat-proof, ant-proof, water-proof plastic containers.

In other words, it’s when I’m getting ready to head out to the village again!

I met some of the Adzera translation team when I went to the Markham in Oct
Tomorrow I’m leaving for two weeks to help staff a church leader’s conference in the Markham Valley. It’s the first conference of its kind in this area where church leaders from nine different languages and representing (we hope!) all the different denominations therein will gather from 7–11 January to discuss Bible translation in Papua New Guinea and how they can become involved in it. More specifically, we are hoping to discuss the possibility of starting a Multilanguage translation project for the languages of the Markham valley which would allow these people groups to work together in order that they might finally have access to translated Scripture. There aren’t very many opportunities for Papua New Guinean church leaders to mingle cross-denominationally, allowing them the chance to bond over their common faith and develop a spirit of unity. So, this event has the potential for far-reaching impact, much greater than just Bible translation!

Last time, we dropped off resources for some of the Adzera schools
It’s exciting to see what the Lord has in store for this event! And, by the number of things that have already gone wrong or threatened to shut the conference down, it’s evident that the Enemy is trying hard to keep it from moving forward. We greatly appreciate your prayers for this event, and when I return after 12 January, I look forward to reporting back to you how the Lord has worked through it all and demonstrated His glory.

(And even though I’m going to be off in the village without internet or email access, don’t forget to keep checking back here! You never know what posts might crop up regarding more entertaining aspects of life in PNG!)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Christmas!

Its Christmas morning, and I sit on the swing of our veranda, looking out over the valley gardens with my dog’s nose pressed into my lap. Clouds swath the valley mountains with meters and meters of tulle until the sky turns gray behind the blooming fields. But in Papua New Guinea, clouds can’t block the sun, and I and the banana leaves turn our faces to its warmth.

How do you celebrate Christmas there? I’m asked, over and over again in curious emails, wanting to compare my PNG life with their own traditions.

It’s different here. Its spring, and trees stand awash in purple flowers while rose vines garland our houses—not a snowflake in sight! In Ukarumpa, we pluck our Christmas tree from our backyards (never mind a true spruce…this papaya tree will do), and sit on a veranda in our sundresses, sipping orange juice at Christmas brunch. We sing out “Happy Christmas!” to those walking by and perhaps grab an inner tube to go float down the Ba’e river. I sing carols in Dutch, Korean, Tok Pisin, Finnish, and English, and have Christmas dinners harking from Germany and Poland. I carry gifts in a bilum (string bag) on my head to the family that invited me for Christmas dinner and watch children unrelated to me by blood happily rip off paper (carefully saved from last year) and marvel at their gifts (which were originally presented to me). I skype with my family, open postage-stamped packages sent months ago, and compare whether Christmas colors are the same across cultures.

It’s the same here. As I sit on our hard-backed benches and watch the last Advent candle flicker into hope, I breathe a prayer of thanks for the church calendar. Although there is a 16 hour difference between here and my frozen home (I look at my watch and try to count back the hours, try to imagine what my family might be doing as night falls on their Christmas eve…), I know that churches around the world have set aside December 25th as a day of remembrance. And so, as we sing and worship and say blessings of peace upon one another, I join in with 2000 years of tradition, celebrating Christmas as part of the international body of Christ. Across the continents, from the hidden bedroom to the overflowing cathedral, voices lift up in song and bow in prayer, together rejoicing in the glorious incredibility that we are not alone.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

It’s because of this sameness that I am able to ponder this difference, learn to treasure it, and look across it with understanding. Because, difference is not always comfortable and distance from familiarity is not necessarily painless. I can’t imagine it was easy for the parents of a young, heavily pregnant girl to let her travel the dusty, arduous journey with her new husband, knowing that it may be years before they would ever see their grandchild. I can’t believe this new mother desired to birth her baby without family nearby, and to do so in a place that was so different from her beloved home. In the same way, it’s not always easy for my family to set one less place for Christmas dinner, or for me to sit on my veranda, face to the east, watching the sun rise from its bed beyond the Pacific Ocean while setting over America.

But they let Mary go, trusting her to the Lord, and she went, knowing that He would keep His promise. And my family has let me go, because of the Man who sprung from that promise, and I have gone, because there are still places in Papua New Guinea where the joy of His coming that we as the church celebrate so fervently and constantly across thousands of miles and years remains unknown.

Different? Yes. But not so much as it is the same… in the way that praise of Christians will echo continuously from now until eternity from every language and culture, just as John describes:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb… And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (John 7:10-11)

Now, that's a reason to shout, Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas from all of us--we are delighted to be able to share Christmas with you!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Greeting from Tomorrow

Apparently the world was supposed to end today.

Well, rest assured those of you who live on the other side of the dateline, we still live. And in fact, it’s a very sunny day (perfect for laundry, I might add) and the longest of our year (being our summer solstice).

On that note, I’d like to wish you a happy Christmas from Wycliffe! They’ve prepared the following video to thank you for all your encouragement and support in the work of Bible translation. Click HERE to follow the link.

I hope to have a forthcoming post on our own Christmas festivities, but for now you'll have to be content with the following pictures of my lefse preparations. Yay for Norwegian cooking in Papua New Guinea!

I love lefse!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Across Worlds

Its morning, and I turn on the computer, Facebook, and I am confronted by puzzle pieces, bits of story falling over my computer screen. I try to understand…death, children, school…and I realize there has been a tragedy in my home country.

I click on my email, and my Inbox is filled with bolded letters: ten dead in Goroka, including an infant child. My heart trembles—again! And I file this weekly report with all the others...the terror continues in my new country.

Suitcases overflow around me, memories trying to be packed into weight regulations. Today, my roommate is ‘leaving finish,’ as we say. No return in her future…and as this sister departs, my missionary family shudders under the loss. We must stay.

A skype call quakes to conclusion and the voices of my parents in America fade into static—my grandfather has been rushed to the hospital for severe pneumonia while other tensions threaten to shatter, shear. I close my eyes and imagine faces; this is what it means to go.

A knock on my door, and my national friend and I sit on our front swing as she weeps; two trucks collided on the highway—strawberries and bodies are crushed amid the stones. Her cousin won’t be retuning tomorrow. My tongue tangles over the language and I have no words; we hug.

I reread my friend’s letter, the words echoing the tear stains that ravage her heart. Her cries ache for a chest-squeezing embrace but all that can travel these 8200 miles are words. My dearest friend…

Oh God, how can I mourn across all these worlds?!

Across-the-ocean emails needing answers climb past 70; the literacy office calls me about an unfinished primer, and I hear the laundry buzzer sound. Snow buries my dogs back home (aren’t they cute? the photo captions read, and I agree), and I attempt to plan meals around our garden’s bumper crop of beans. I attend planning meetings for January’s church conference, and stamp thank-you notes for my departing roommate to carry back to the States. I hear of college friends announcing pregnancies, and I ponder Christmas gifts for children in my horseback riding class. What do you think of this political decision in the US? a friend asks, and I try to remember how PNG’s changing policy toward vernacular education impacts our work here. Here, hibiscus bloom in expectancy and my aunt sends photos of her garlanded Christmas tree.

Oh God, how can I navigate across all these worlds?

How did you?

How did you feel as you first opened your eyes, rubbed your tiny hands against the manger, and held those molecules together by your very being? What was it like to stand with Moses and Elijah showered in the radiance of home before you turned to answer Peter’s building request? How did the Lord of the Universe wrap Himself in time, becoming the God-Man—two natures, wholly one? What was it like to converse with your Father about the dance of the stars as your friends’ best intentions collapsed into sleep?

How did you stand, one foot in each world, straddling the chasm, loving both, mourning both, complete in both?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God....The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given… And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

... and they will call him Immanuel (which means, “God is with us”).

I don’t know how. But you did. And we rejoice.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Thrift Store Theatrics

Sori tru, but my camera was in its death throes during this trip

I nod at the security guards and slip into the store, handing my bags to the attendant at the counter, who gravely passes me my collection ticket. Here, harsh tropical sun is exchanged for soft lighting, and my eyes blink back the shadows. I take a deep breath and exhale the chaos of my day—shopping cannot be hurried here, as if I was racing through a cheap fluorescent-lit department store. Instead, each hanger displays a different style of blouse, skirt, trousers, or dress; there are no garish cookie-cutter outfits in this classy boutique! Cashmere rubs against silk, hand-dyed batik drapes against merino wool; cotton, knit, denim, leather—every material and cut a person might want…

…and all found in the hidden second-hand shops in Papua New Guinea!

Look at all those bales of clothes, just waiting to be opened!
When we go second-handing (yes, it’s a verb here), it’s not just clothing shopping. If you want to merely go in, buy a shirt, and walk out, then I suggest going to Target (of course, for us that would mean a flight to Cairns, Australia…). No, here it’s a whole sensory experience. And, because most of the prices are extremely low (10 cents USD for a tank top…$3 USD for a name-brand Columbia jacket—if you find one), it is also rather cheap entertainment and an excuse to get off centre (and, it allows us a good opportunity to replenish our clothing supply, which often takes a much severer beating and lasts far less time than clothes back in the States). And so, earlier this month, some of my friends and I piled into a truck and bumped and jolted our way to the second-hand stores of Kainantu. The racks are supplied by bales of clothing sent up from Australia, New Zealand, and Indonesia, so a sharp-eyed shopper can find some truly golden treasures—if she is willing to page through racks unsorted by color, style, or size!

Back in the States, if I was searching for clothes, even in a thrift store (my favourite clothing haunt), an item would immediately be discarded if it was stained, ripped, torn, or 12.5 sizes too big… but here, those same articles have so much more potential. When we are perusing through racks and digging through bins, we’re looking for exotic fabrics (like silk saris), intriguing colors, bold patterns, and mending potential. Because fabric is often hard to find in the right color, material, and quantity that we might want for a sewing project, our first stop is the second-hand clothing store—that dress with the ugly bodice? Well, its skirt will be perfect for making those new living-room pillows!

Examining the purchases
Of course, we’re shopping in a dimly lit, crowded room, where none of the items have been washed or mended and we can’t try anything on, so perhaps the most revealing and thrilling part of the experience is the essential fashion show upon return to Ukarumpa at a fellow shopper’s house. We pile all our plastic bags in a heap and begin pulling out our purchases…and discover some interesting quirks along the way! It's a show of the good, the bad, and the ugly to the extreme! (Such as when I found an adorable black cowl-neck dress...which happens to have a completely open swag back! Not really appropriate for Ukarumpa activities…). Thus, the joys of a second-hand shopping adventure often continue long after the drive has finished—such as when I find myself on the couch, meters of fabric draped across my lap as I sew darts into a gargantuan skirt.

...And that’s part of the experience too :)

What amazing finds have you dug up at a thrift/second-hand store?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Laundry Forcast: Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Rain

Most people think laundry is boring. It’s a dull, benign chore, where the greatest excitement is finding some loose change in jeans’ pockets or having all the socks still match when you pull it from the dryer.

Well, let me dispel such thoughts from your head and introduce you to the thrilling and exhilarating adventure of Ukarumpa laundry (not to be confused with village laundry, which is a whole different and even more stimulating experience)!

Look, it's a sunny morning! But...will it stay that way?
Step 1: Commune with your inner meteorologist. Will it rain today or not? Will your laundry have a chance to dry or will you be madly sprinting out of the house, flinging clothes off the line as rain drops start to spatter your face? To discover this fact, step outside and look at the mountain across the valley. Is it cloudy, especially so you can’t see the peak? Then it might rain. Is it sunny such that you can see the peak? Then it also might rain.

Now that you have established this crucial fact, you can move to Step 2.

Step 2: Squeeze your hand into a pancake and flick the switch hidden behind the refrigerator to turn on the pump that fills the header tank on top of the house. Without a full water tank, you will have no water pressure and thus no clean laundry. Once you hear it start to overflow like Niagara Falls onto the roof, then turn it off. (Some people use river water for their laundry, but we’ve found it stains clothes a grayish yellow even faster than the rainwater; since lack of rain hasn’t been an issue recently, we’ll stick with that for this example.)

Step 3: Haul your laundry out onto the porch and unlock the laundry room. As you shift the various loads into the laundry room, you may need to fling yourself after the dog, who wants to eat the cat that lives in the laundry room (remember them?).

See the red light? Watch the red light.
Step 4: Load your laundry, place the appropriate detergent inside…and flick on the outlet. Now wait. Do you see a green light on the power guard? If so, bravo! You can hit ‘START.’ If the light is red, then it means the power is not strong enough. Switch off the outlet and come back in 10 min and try again.

Step 5: Try the power again. Red light? Wait another 10 minutes. Repeat Step 5 until successful (it might take two days).

Step 6: Once you have a green light and your laundry is happily sloshing away, you can return to your other work in the house. The house may shake and groan like a 7.0 earthquake, but never fear! It’s just your friendly washer and the fact your house is built on stilts.

Step 7: Realize that you haven’t heard the washer going for a while and go check on it. The power light is red, and it probably has been red for the last half hour. Congratulations—the power has fluctuated! Switch it off and wait 10 min. Once it’s green, start again. Repeat about 6 more times over the next three hours (for a 50 min cycle).

Step 8: Once the cycle is complete, then stand outside, look at the mountain, and repeat Step 1. Will it rain or not? Should you put your laundry to hang on the covered veranda (where it takes twice as long to dry…but won’t get soaked by a downpour) or on the regular, sun-washed clothesline?

Just wait...the rain will come. You'll see.
Step 9: Haul your laundry out to the clothesline and attempt to pin it up in a way that takes advantage of the wind…and yet still hides all those intimates from roadside view.

Step 10: This step depends on your decision in Step 8. If you put it on the outside clothesline and if it is after 10 am, then, that little pitter-patter of rain drops on the house’s tin roof is like the starting pistol for the Ukarumpa Laundry Dash! How fast can you tear outside and hurl all your semi-dry laundry into the basket and then fling it into the house before the deluge begins? If, however, you decided to put your laundry on the covered veranda clothesline, then you will spend your entire day watching the brilliant sunshine and puffy white clouds floating gently by in a spectacularly blue sky… (Occasionally you can thwart the rain and put your laundry out on the sunny clothesline—your best chance at this is if your friend puts her laundry on her covered clothesline FIRST so the rain is tricked and doesn’t realize you are sneakily doing laundry as well...).

Step 11: Repeat from the beginning for load #2…

And that, my friends, is the Ukarumpa laundry experience—guaranteed to add excitement to your day in all sorts of ways!

Do you have any household chores that seem to have more than their share of excitement?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cross-eyed at Cross-References

Go find a Bible and open it up at random. What do you see? As long as you didn’t pick one of those itsy-bitsy, thinline, miniscule-print, super-portable pocket Bibles, then I highly suspect that along the spine or down at the bottom of the page you will see a cross-reference. Or two. Or three. Or fifty.

Take a good long look at those cross-references. Admire them. Appreciate their tininess of print so that more can fit on a page. Marvel at the intricate specificity of each chapter and verse after chapter and verse. Rejoice at the precision and uniformity of all those periods and semicolons and book abbreviations. Oh yes, these little cross-references deserve your awe and respect….

…and so does the crew of people who painstakingly checked every single one of them!

The checking crew (plus the four involved in translation)!
Last week, I joined nine other detail-oriented people in a checking party for the Keyagana language in Eastern Highlands Province. When Scripture is in the process of being published, it must go through typesetting, which involves all those piddly (but critical!) details of layout, images, page numbers, columns, footnotes, index and more. Once it has all been organized as best as possible on the computer, then it’s time for the human checkers to go through every single formatting detail and make sure it is consistent throughout the entire document—in this case, well over 1800 pages of Scripture! The Keyagana NT had been dedicated back in 1982, and now the translators were ready to publish a New Testament revision along with about 40% of the Old Testament (in portions). We were privileged that several of the translators joined us at the beginning, sharing their story of over 51 years of work among the Keyagana people!

Here I am, checking page header after page header after...
In order to make the work go smoothly, we divided out each book into a separate stack on the tables, and then assigned each person to look for one specific thing. For example, my first task was to examine the page headers—making sure they fell on the correct side of the page (left or right), included the right information, punctuated correctly, right size font… and so on. Thus, I flipped through every page in their Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, trying to snag any errors in the page headers…and in the process watched familiar Bible stories turn under my hands, now, finally accessible to a dearly-beloved people group in their heart language. What an honor!

Checking cross-references...and still smiling!
But, the project soon stretched into an all day affair, primarily due to the vast numbers of cross-references inundating every page. Speaking of which, have you ever noticed how many are in the Gospels? Or in Psalms? Or Revelation?! It is a testament to the authenticity and amazing miracle of divine inspiration that page after page of Scripture continually links to other passages throughout the Bible…but I will admit, as my eyes watered and my neck stiffened into a permanent crick while counting through each period, I began to wonder if it was really quite necessary to have so many examples of connection? I mean, some of these numbers are astronomical! Not that I’d want to give the Lord of the Universe editing advice or anything, but you know…wouldn’t just a couple per page (or one per verse) get the message across just fine? ;)

But, until He decides to make me Supreme Editor in Chief of Efficient Checking, I will happily check His cross-references…even if I become slightly cross-eyed in the process!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Black Saturday

The day comes only once a year. Once a year a crowd of eager shoppers lines up outside the gate, breaking into cheers and chants when the store manager accidentally pokes his head out the door. Once a year, cars pull into the store parking lot on a Saturday with anticipation of actually shopping on a weekend. Once a year children flock to the toy section, squealing with the delight at the never-before-seen possibilities. What is this once-a-year spectacular event, you ask?

Once a year comes the Ukarumpa Store Christmas Sale! (And this year, our Black Saturday fell immediately after your Black Friday…or kind of simultaneously, because of the time difference.)

This year, my roommate Melissa, my friend Jude, and I trekked to the Store, camera in hand, ready to document and laugh at the tongue-in-cheek craziness of Ukarumpa’s Black Saturday. After all, where else will you get such entertainment on a weekend morning?

Like all good shoppers, we arrived before it opened:

We bickered with fellow people standing in line

And we even demonstrated our fervor by attempting the fence!

Soon the doors opened, and with a cry of delight, the crowd surged forward, ooing and awing at the sparkly tinsel and peppy holiday music that assailed our senses (more than making up for the store’s closure the day before!).

In the back warehouse, Santa-capped employees had worked hard to arrange the vast treasures that had recently arrived from overseas shipments. This sale is the one time a year that more “fancy” items, such as certain electronics or household decorating items arrive in our store. And thus, there was the wall-clock table, the art supplies table, the pile of decorative pillows and various towels, and even a wall of electronics. We had kitchen supplies and some jars of Christmas mince, new light fixtures, a collection of candles, and even some gardening tools!

The kids, of course, raced for the back loading dock, where there was a stuffed animal table, a ball table, and even a model airplane collection!

When the items were initially purchased in Australia or the US, cost was a careful consideration…but sometimes duty, customs, and shipping charges can bump the numbers up into stratospheric price tags. I find the outrageous prices part of the entertainment, such as K96 (about $48 USD) for the set of five oval highlighters, each no larger than my thumb, the K129 (about $65 USD) wall clock, or the K500 (about $250 USD) coffee maker!

After my friends and I had finished perusing the diverse selection of goodies, we each made our purchases (one item each…we were quite prolific, as you can tell!), and then, like any other shopper out on the town, settled down for some post-shopping tea.

We even got a glimpse of Santa!

And that was how Black Saturday kicked off our Christmas Holidays!