Monday, December 30, 2013

2.7 Minutes of Bouncy

“Hang on a moment.”

I was cruising down 35W earlier this month, listening to Amy Grant croon out Christmas music, when suddenly I sat bolt upright.

“Hey!” I shouted to the car in the next lane. “Hey, I’m BOUNCY!!!!!”

Bouncy! Bouncy as in, if I had a snowball in my hand, the nearest person (friend or foe) would have a wet splotch on their back. Bouncy as in calling up friends for spontaneous midnight story walks through the woods when I tell about ghosts and pirates or committing daring capture-the-flag exploits or skipping down a sidewalk just for the heck of it or inviting 25 people over to my house for a full, homemade dinner or masterminding fantastic pranks or climbing the giant elm near my house or jousting on my horse or learning a new skill like racecar driving or fencing (take that, you blackguard!) or maybe even the bongos. I’ve always wanted to play the bongos.

“Hahahaha! I’m BOUNCY!” I boinged up and down in my car seat and turned the radio up and shrieked out IN EXCEEEELSIIIIS DEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOO at the top of my lungs.

And then it ended. 

But for 2.7 minutes, yours truly finally was alive again.

It’s been a long process of healing. I am, of course, referring to my Great Gluten Months of Doom. As you might recall, when I came to the US in August, I was struck by debilitating fatigue, among other things, and generally was barely qualified as one of the living. In mid-October, I was finally diagnosed with gluten-intolerance and removed the nasty protein from my diet. Within 5 days, I saw dramatic changes that gave me hope, and I even started tentatively plunking at the piano with all the grace of a beginner learning Chopsticks.

But, healing from this sort of thing takes months and months, if not years, and so while being at 50% capacity was a lot nicer than 5 or 10%, I didn’t have a lot of hope that I’d get anywhere near interesting anytime soon, much less in 8 weeks. But, since the first part of December, I’m delighted to announce another huge jump forward.

Yay for decorating!
Not only have I pulled out my flute and penny whistle and began learning new, complicated works on the piano (yay for Chopin and Beethoven and Debussy and Bach and Manneheim Steamroller!!), BUT I even did crazy things, including lots of GF baking and completely redecorating my mom’s house for Christmas in two days like a possessed woman. I started writing contemplative thoughts (soon to be marshalled into blog posts for you) and silly thoughts (let’s just say a horror story featuring snowflakes was in my Christmas cards this year) and even began wondering if I have some poetry buried deep inside. I started seeking out horseback riding/training options, began happily hiking through our snowy woods with the dogs (and not collapsing from weakness after 100 feet), and actually voluntarily joined friends for fun activities like caroling and Handel’s Messiah and parties!

But, perhaps the biggest sign of this next stage is that I actually pulled out my pastels and sat down at the easel and painted.

"In Mama's Dress"--Dedua; soft pastel on suedeboard, 2013
Before I ever embarked on my journey with missions and Bible translation, the Lord gave me a great desire to capture His world through art. By 7 years old, I had won my first major art contest, and by 12 I was running my own business. I thought I would pursue it professionally until God called me elsewhere (you can read more about my story here and Hannah comments on it here. You can also visit my art website here). I never intended to walk away from it, but with the busyness of college and the upheaval of my move to Papua New Guinea, I let it slip to the wayside, and except for the rare occasion, I stopped painting or creating art on a regular basis for the past 6 years.

But about two weeks ago, I finally tried again, in a different style and with a different subject matter than I’ve ever done before. It was truly terrifying, I will admit. I think I sat in front of the easel for a full 10 minutes before I dared make that first stroke.

"Amamas na Paitim Han!"--Adzera; soft pastel on suedeboard, 2013
But I did. Twice, in fact.

And for 2.7 minutes, I was bouncy.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

When Moses Comes to Church

Oh no. I dug around in my purse. Despite three trips back and forth to my car through the snowy parking lot, carrying boxes and bags and banners and tablecloths and computer case for my presentation in church that morning, I had forgotten my Bible. Again.

“Here comes the Wycliffe Bible-less translator” I muttered to myself and tugged at my shirt. It still wouldn’t fit right.  No Bible and now a wardrobe malfunction. Great.

But I pasted on a smile, readjusted my nametag which enjoyed stabbing me in the clavicle, took a deep breath, and trotted up the aisle to the pastor’s waiting side. “And now, I would like to introduce you to one of my heroes of the faith!”

I stared at him in shock. Did he just really say that? In front of them??! Into the microphone!!?

Oh no. Oh dear God, oh no. 

But it was too late.

As I clicked through my powerpoint slides and with a growing desperation, shared story after story of the work God is doing in Papua New Guinea and how He continues to proclaim His Gospel and truth and of my gratefulness in the church’s faithful partnership in this ministry, standing by me even in my weakness, and how others can be involved in missions... I watched my words bounce off the congregation’s admiring faces.

After all, it’s not many days that a true Hero comes and speaks. Why, it’s practically like having Hudson Taylor or Billy Graham or Moses sharing this morning!

“Oh, Lord! And let us be like Catherine, the missionary...” another pastor prays fervently, his hands lifted toward the ceiling, while I shrink in my seat, tucking my feet under the pew (bare since I kicked off my shoes). And I wonder if there’s anything else I can do, short of throwing myself off this horrific pedestal in a giant flaming ball of proclamation while waving a sign screaming “GOD USES SINNERS, HALLELUJAH!”

Or maybe I could just go smoke a cigarette in the parking lot.

Because, I know that once again, as I wait by my table after the service, greeting the fluffy white haired ladies and braver children, I will watch the traditional American suburban family, skirt around the edge of the foyer, slipping on their coats, glancing at me out of the corner of their eye.

Missions was for heroes. Missions was for those other people who memorized 700 verses in two days and whose children never wipe their snotty noses on their coat sleeves. Missions was for people who never got crabby, never faked a smile, always dressed beautifully, and never forgot their Bibles when they went to church.

Like that girl.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Bread, Comas, and Lord of the Rings

Gluten.

I had never really given the sticky molecules much thought before. I mean, who would purposely fill their mind with queries about a protein composite that allows dough to become stretchy, when there are so many other interesting things in the world?

Alas, such days of ignorance are now behind me.

When I first entered the US back in mid-August, health wasn’t my biggest concern, though it was definitely Question #1 as I visited with churches and connected with old friends (“did you ever get...<gasp> malaria??  Or cholera???” ).  I mean, I was the girl who thinks hiking mountains for hours is fun, who looks nostalgically on those summers when I regularly threw 24,000 lbs of haybales, and who would decide if my horseback riding lessons were effective based on the level of pain afterward.

But then I came back to the US and things changed. Suddenly was tired. And this wasn’t just a few-hours-low-on-sleep tired, but the kind of tired that makes a month-long coma look like an afternoon nap. I became so weak and exhausted that sitting up in bed was too much work, and I would drag myself from horizontal to horizontal all day...trying to salvage enough energy to go complete a speaking engagement once or twice that week. My thinking became so foggy that I couldn’t put sentences together after 5 pm, driving became dangerous, and my neck and shoulders would seize up in excruciating pain in my attempt to focus. And then, my hair started falling out in quantities like a chemo patient.

Essentially, I looked and felt like the guy on the right:

(That scary guy on the left? You might think his name is Grima but it’s actually Gluten!)
And so it continued for two and a half months, because no one could figure out what was wrong.

“God, why?”  I would cry into a sopping wet pillow, too tired to stumble into the bathroom to find a Kleenex, watching my precious time in the United States slip away as I lay curled up on my bed, unable to interact with my family. All the things I had hoped for and planned to do during my home assignment were now being carved off my list, as I struggled to complete only my bare minimum responsibilities of meeting with churches that I had scheduled months in advance. I felt like an infant—completely helpless and just as frustrated.

Finally, in mid-October, I found a doctor who suggested I eliminate gluten from my diet. Within five days, my transformation was as dramatic as King Theoden from Lord of the Rings (except, I ended up more like Eowyn...because turning into a guy, even a healthy one, is kind of creepy).




Suddenly, I didn’t have to lean against the doorframe in order to let the dogs out onto the porch or put my finger under words when reading like a preschooler to make myself focus. I could talk to my family and sit up for hours at a time. Or...<gasp> I could even walk to the end of my driveway without stopping for a rest!

Gluten, for the uninitiated, is a protein found in many grains, like wheat, barley, and rye (and, thus, its found in tons of food...from soy sauce to taco seasoning to instant hot chocolate mix to some chapsticks). Unfortunately, some people have an extremely difficult time processing these proteins (those who have Celiac disease can’t process them at all, and it can result in significant damage of the digestive system). It’s often a hereditary condition, and symptoms can vary widely—from digestive upset to exhaustion to no initial symptoms at all (like my mom). Because I don’t eat much gluten when I’m in Papua New Guinea (and the wheat is different over there compared to US wheat), my body spent several years going without...and then when I returned earlier this year and encountered the wheat in the US, my latent sensitivity flared up with a vengeance.

What does this mean? Well, I don’t eat gluten for starters—and if I do, even if it’s just a crumb, within two days, I return to my decrepit state (to quote my dad, “Gluten is like sin. Only a little bit is enough to send you into hell...”). Living gluten-free won’t be quite as difficult as you might think in living overseas since I make everything from scratch anyway, and while it’s a rather large learning curve, I’m blessed to be starting here, in the US, where there are great resources and so many supportive people walking down the same path.

Am I at 100% recovered? Not quite yet (we’re sorting out a few other health challenges as well), though the last 6 weeks have seen dramatic improvements for me, which I’m looking forward to sharing with you later.

Although I’ve found it rather ironic that my health took a nose-dive after I left my third world country, such forced rest was not all for naught. Because, while I couldn’t move, I could read. And as I paged through the red-letter adventures of a Hebrew teacher, I began to learn more deeply about another of His names.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:4-5

Over 2,000 years ago, a baby nestled in the straw, and he was to be called Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace

and Adonai Roph'ekha, the Lord who heals you.



Monday, December 2, 2013

Expectations

It certainly hasn’t been what I had expected.

Before I left Papua New Guinea for the United States, I made lists of the foods I wanted to eat (blueberries! bacon!) and the activities I wanted to do (go to an apple orchard, go ice skating). I thought of all the people I wanted to see and the churches I wanted to visit. I listed out the various skills that I wanted to learn and the items I wanted to buy. I planned vacations with my family and dreamed of seeing fall leaves and Christmas concerts.

It wasn’t all rose-colored glasses—I knew home assignment was going to be chock full of its own set of challenges and uncertainty, but I hugged my fellow missionary friends, planned in margin, asked for prayer, and vowed with my family that we would be open about our needs.

All in all, my plans were overflowing with excitement and anticipation and eager expectation of what could be ahead.

And then, it actually happened.

Friends + Giant Bookstores = Lots of Happiness
In some ways, my expectations were surpassed like an Olympic high-jump. Who knew that I would meet so many people who would clasp my hands and tell me, “we pray for you every night” or discover that my friends from years ago would welcome me back with such hospitality and warmth that we could pick up with nary a stutter? I had forgotten the joy in so many little things of my home culture, of community in my church, of beauty in my home, of Christmas lights strung through the neighborhood, of the cold nose of my dog. Home assignment has indeed been beautiful and treasured.

But then, there’s been the other side—the side that has led to an unexpected silence on this blog. The side that speaks of sickness and anxiety and trauma and exhaustion which meant the first three months of home assignment were essentially a tired marathon swimmer splashing about in an attempt to tread water. And, as a result, it meant that I’ve had to let go of many of those exciting plans and expectations originally scribbled on my list, and at times, even consider how I need to change expectations of my future. It’s been hard and frustrating, and I’ve spent more than one occasion sobbing into my pillow, wondering why I even came back at all, if this is what it was going to be like.

No, not like I expected at all.

But, I imagine Mary didn’t expect to be divinely impregnated. Or Israel expect their king to prefer a shaggy donkey as a mount. Or John expect his beloved rabbi would be executed as a traitor.

Or the world expect that He would rise again after three days in the grave.

There are few things that we actually can expect with assurance of fulfillment—but I am thankful that those things are the ones that truly matter. As Charles Wesley puts it:

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.


----------------
If you would like to read more about expectations and see photos from the last three months, check out my November 2013 Newsletter on the Newsletter’s tab. If you would like to be on my newsletter mailing list, please email me.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Through My Eyes--Part 2

The differences between places is incredible. I remember trying to describe “autumn” to a bunch of my Papua New Guinean friends.
The view from my parents' house
“Oh yes, the leaves...they change their skin. The colors turn bright red and orange and yellow—like fire. Yes, red trees! And then, all those leaves, they fall off. And die. And then the trees are just bare sticks...until they grow more leaves.”

They looked at me incredulous and marvelled at the photos. Orange trees? How odd!

To some people, its normal and to others, it is bizarre...but the differences aren’t qualitative. A red tree is no more “tree-like” than a green one and buying vegetables in an open air market versus an air-conditioned grocery store doesn’t settle into some sort of hierarchy of “good” or “bad.” They are just different.

So, here’s Part 2 to finish up my list of 10 things I found to be different in unexpected ways!

6. Red, Orange, and Yellow
Even though I told magical stories about the gorgeous fall colors to my Papua New Guinean (PNG) friends as if it was normal, now that I’m getting to experience it again, I’m struck by the wonder of it all! The woods and outdoors in Minnesota is worlds away from the tropics of PNG, and I’ve been loving it! For example, in Minnesota we have wind, and light-filled forests (rather than struggling beams shut out by the thick tropical rainforest), and the word dusk actually has meaning (in PNG, dark falls within 15 minutes or so of the sun setting...but in Minnesota we can have hours of that glorious grey in-between time).

7. People Going Places
Whoa...there are just a lot of people in the US (a lot of white people, to be precise...after sometimes being the only pale person for hundreds of miles around, it’s a little shocking to see so many blonds and brunettes in one place!). And not only are there a lot of people...but they move really quickly, speak really loudly, and sometimes, they have some very creative fashion tastes (with sometimes a whole lotta skin...eek!).

These are People who Go Places and Do Stuff. They don’t sit around and just wait for time to pass them by (the doom of the oncoming winter might have something to do with that)—they are busy, connected individuals who have Agendas and Schedules, and it’s rather intimidating for those of us who have been living in a land that is more like a lazy river than a rushing, tumbling waterfall of rapids.

8. Independence.
Independent. Free. Self-sufficient. Americans love these words. And, I admit, after living so closely connected with people the past couple of years, I’ve been really enjoying getting to use public transportation on my own (or even driving my own car) or safely leaving my house at night or once again allowing my gender to fade into the background compared to the importance of my occupation or my abilities or even my personhood. But, I do find it strange too—after all, people in the US live somewhat separated in their own houses—in rural Papua New Guinea villages, the house is only for sleeping—you generally even cook outside. But here, in the US, in order to visit, you have to ring a friend up and plan days (or sometimes weeks) in advance. There are bigger distances between friends—it’s generally not just a five-minute-walk, and you won’t necessarily see everyone you know at the grocery store, the post office, or Sunday morning service. It can feel somewhat isolating, all this hard-fought independence, for those of us who must live so inter-dependent across the ocean.

9. Church
The first time I wore nice dress pants to church this time in the US, I felt rather scandalous—to think that I wasn’t in a skirt! Then, when the pastor suggested the congregation follow the church on Instagram and post their photos of events on Pinterest, I knew I was in a strange world. Not knowing 2/3 of the songs (and getting caught off guard when I discover that the current All Creatures of Our God and King is not the same as the black-printed hymnal) adds to the rather surreal feeling.

But having solid teaching in my own language is pretty awesome, I must admit. After all, even missionaries need the Bible and encouragement and teaching in their own heart language!

10. And all the rest
Of course, I can’t forget to mention the baby-smooth roads with all their striping and no potholes and the sidewalks and stoplights and stop signs and all the cars (so many cars!) and in a wide variety of styles. But, just as exciting, are the soft, supportive mattresses on the bed and the plush carpeting in the house! Sizes are truly super (portions! capsicum! clothing!) and it’s fun getting to read restaurant menus in English (instead of guessing the Thai or Chinese words) A couple years ago, I went to Australia on a holiday and noted many similar observations that still ring true—you can find that blog post here.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Through My Eyes—Part 1

I couldn’t find any matches.

I had offered to make dinner, just a simple stir-fry, but when it came time for me to light the burner, I was perplexed. No matches? And how did Celsius convert to that other one? How....?

Ha! Welcome to the Land of Strange Convenience! As turned the dial and delighted at the strong, even, plentiful flame (oops! cooked them a little too long...), doused my veggies with spices (a little too much...I forgot that they are more pungent here), forgot to remove their sticker labels (stickers on vegetables? how odd) and then tried to pick them out of the frying pan... and then shouted with joy when I discovered that cling-wrap actually clings (what gloriousness!), I realized that some of the things that I initially marvelled at might also amaze some of you!

This is a two-part series of seeing the US through my eyes, based on a journal I kept during the first couple of weeks I was in the US. Enjoy!

1. Wide Aisles and other Store Stuff
I’ve talked about the lush choice offered in stores before, but it’s so shocking that it bears repeating...and to have wide, well-lit aisles set far back from the door? Well, that just makes the shopping an extra big treat. But, apart from the gargantuan numbers of choices of brands and styles (and then the shelves stocked to bursting with 50 of each option), the other major surprising thing for me has been how sweet everything tastes to me now. Cheerios, yogurt, ketchup, sauces, and other “plain” foods seem like they’ve been frosted in sugar or dunked in syrup.

2. Computers in the Windows and Stuff on the Car Seat
When I first stepped out of the Sydney airport, I gasped in shock when I saw a 5-story building arrogantly display a computer monitor in every (unbarred) window before I realized that such things aren’t as big a concern in the 1st world. Still, old habits die hard, and those first occasions of leaving purchases visible in the backseat of my car (and not needing to knot the bags so stuff didn’t fly out) or walking through the local farmers market without clutching my purse and imitating Jason Bourne were a bit tricky.

3. Sensory overload
Transiting from a high speed culture (like the US) to a slow culture (like PNG) is hard, but moving from a slow culture to a speedy one is like trying to jump on a bullet train. Just trying to keep up is intense! Walk into a store and suddenly your senses are bombarded with background music and beeping machines and flashing TVs and rotating screens and signs shouting GO HERE and RIGHT NOW and words, words, words everywhere!  Not only that, but I can, for the most part, understand everyone around me—and it feels like eavesdropping!

Electronic price tags. Weird.
4. Vents are Open, Windows are Closed
In Papua New Guinea, the barrier separating the inside from the outside is rather thin...and our windows let in air even when they are closed (good ole louvres). Climate-controlled buildings feeling extraordinarily stuffy to me, and all that air conditioning or heating or venting not only feels odd  but is really noisy!

5. RoboWorld
I told you about my smart-phone shock in Australia, but really, when I walk into Kohls and all the price tag signs have been thrown out for electronic screens? And my mom’s car syncs with her phone and the kid is playing with an iPad...When you add in the scary, talking self-checkout machine at Walmart, it’s enough to make a missionary from the jungle think she’s arrived on another planet.

Check back in a few days for Through My Eyes—Part 2!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Extreme Rulebreaking: On Sneezing, Kissing, and Talking with my Eyebrows

It’s easy to forget about the rules that govern everyday life. Oh sure, people like to complain about the rules for traffic flow or the safety regulations at their workplace or the laws that Congress recently passed, but in truth, those are just superficial rules...like frosting that covers a delicious chocolate cake. Whether or not the frosting is buttercream or cream cheese or pink or covered in sparkles, the cake still remains in all its fudgey gloriousness.

If you had some pork, would you cook it like this?
No, I’m talking about the other rules—the deep ones of your culture. The ones that mean we’re not dealing with a cake at all, but, in fact a pie.

...which means, no matter how mouthwatering that fruit might be, if you bite into your piece thinking it’s going to be a cake, your system is going to have a bit of a shock.

The rules have changed...and that includes when a traveler, like myself, shifts from living in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to the United States.

For example, in the US, sneeze etiquette consists of hand motions (covering my mouth) and stock phrases (“excuse me” and “bless you”). PNG does not—you simply sneeze and life goes on. But, when I am sitting among my American fellows and forget to switch to US rules when I sneeze, I’m apt to get more than a few nasty looks and an extra vehement “bless YOU!”

Then there are the rules for greetings. In PNG, a proper greeting for both men and women is a handshake. In fact, it’s extremely important to shake everyone’s hand when you enter a room or a gathering. However, that’s it. If it’s an emotional greeting, hugs and hand-holding may occur—but always within the same gender; other than a handshake, men and women rarely have any other physical contact. They often sit separately, eat separately, talk separately...even married PNG couples will often barely acknowledge each other outside their own home. (In fact, I can’t even remember the last time in PNG that I saw a missionary couple offer a public display of affection—it’s rather unheard of!)

So, after living for years within this very segregated set of rules, can you imagine my absolute shock and dismay when four days after I leave PNG, I’m greeted with a very traditional Hawaiian HUG AND KISS ON THE CHEEK by a completely unknown young man of a similar age!!? I think a diamond statue would have been more responsive than I was! (At least, thank heavens, I managed to replace my shriek of horror with a stuttered “nice to meet you too!”)

Oh yes. PNG and the US live by some very different rules, my friend.

How about rules for getting drinking water?
Of course there are the rules for walking on sidewalks...which means that I end up doing some strange polka two-step (stay left? or is it right? left....no, right, right, right!!!). And then there are the rules about staring at people—not acceptable in the US (perfectly fine in PNG). Actually, eye-contact is a tricky rule. I’ve held many conversations in PNG staring off into the trees rather than at my partner’s face...eye contact is not particularly necessary, and in some cases (between men and women), strong eye contact is more than a little provocative. (But, not looking at your conversation partner in the US implies rudeness and disinterest. Sigh. Maybe I’ll just wear sunglasses.) The rules are endless... rules for talking (which language? how do you use said language? with whom? when? where?), rules for when it’s appropriate to talk about personal diseases (TMI doesn’t really apply in PNG), rules for clothes that you wear to church (or swimming!), rules for how you pay for purchases (cash? credit? trade? talking self-checkout machine at Walmart?).

There are even rules for eyebrows! In PNG, an upward flick of the eyebrows is a greeting, an acknowledgement, and even an affirmative answer—perfect for talking with your mouth full. In the US, you simply look confused.

I could go on, of course. Do this. Don’t do this. Up and down, back and forth...with all the minute variations that come from generations and upbringings and big city and rural farms and jobs and education and cat people versus dog people. But a missionary adapts, and so I sally forth, with my notes and my observations and my conversations with fellow margin-dwellers who know the craziness of transition between worlds...and not without a little bit of laughter as I watch the sacrosanct be broken...

and watch a game of football chase after a pigskin instead of a black-and-white checkered ball.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Home Assignment Calendar

I used to be really good with planning. You know--Excel spreadsheets, pocket calendars, that whole world. Since living in Papua New Guinea, however, my planning (for events, anyway) has rather disintegrated into a phone call 15 minutes before dinner. "Hey, do you want to come over for a game of hand and foot?"

But, since that doesn't work so well in this land of insane schedules and long commutes and since I really do want to share with you all what God has been doing through Bible translation in Papua New Guinea, I'm back to my long-range planning (sort of). I would love it if I could connect with you at one of these events!



Here is my calendar so far for my next 5 months of home assignment. You can also see a continually updated calendar on the Get Involved page, where I will have the latest events posted.If you would like more details of times and directions or if you have an idea for a speaking event (or would like to host one), please contact me.


Date LocationHostDetails
8 Sep 2013 Minneapolis, MNNew Salem Evangelical Free ChurchMorning church service at 10:30; fellowship at 9:45
15 Sep 2013 Forest Lake, MNCentennial Evangelical Free Church Morning church service at 10:00
15 Sep 2013 Arden Hills, MN
Morris and Wendy Johnson
7-8:30 pm, dessert night
19 Sep 2013 Forest Lake, MNCentennial Evangelical Free Church 7-8:30 pm, dessert night
22 Sep 2013 Arlington, MN
Creekside Alliance Church
Morning church service
22 Sep 2013 Minnetonka, MN
Greg and Mary Pearson
6:30-8 pm, dessert night
24 Sep 2013Minneapolis, MN Antioch Community Church7-8:30 pm, community group
25 Sep 2013Arden Hills, MNNorthwestern University--St PaulHelping staff the Wycliffe booth during missions week; available to meet for lunch
25 Sep 2013Forest Lake, MNCentennial Evangelical Free Church youth group6:30-8:00 pm, youth group
29 Sep 2013Glencoe, MN
Berean Baptist Church
Morning church service
9 Oct 2013 Arden Hills, MNNorthwestern University--St Paul10:30-11 am, breakout chapel
10 Oct 2013 Verndale, MNVerndale Alliance Church women's group7-8:00 pm, women's ministry
13 Oct 2013 Elk River, MNGlory of Christ FellowshipMorning church service and following potluck
23 Oct 2013 Norwood, MNLiving Rock Church youth group7-8:30 pm, youth group
25 Oct 2013 Roseville, MNRosehill Alliance Churchevening sharing for missions conference
27 Oct 2013 Waconia, MNOakwood ChurchMorning church service
9-10 Nov 2013 West Union, IABethany Lutheran ChurchEvening service and Sunday morning service
17 Nov 2013 Hutchinson, MNHutchinson Evangelical Free ChurchMorning church service at 10:00
8 Dec 2013 Le Sueur, MNWord of Life Lutheran Church Morning church service
17-19 Jan 2014 Rosemount, MN South Suburban Evangelical Free ChurchMissions conference speaker; details pending

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Confessions from a Solo Traveler

You know what the greatest challenge flying solo is?

It’s not the ticket agents or hauling luggage through customs or removing shoes in security checkpoints. It’s not navigating the airport signs or standing confused before the electronic listing of departures and arrivals. It’s not even having a seatmate of a complete stranger.

No, the greatest challenge is rather more primal in nature.


The public restroom.

Just think—the lone wanderer returning from years (or even just weeks) overseas wants to pack light and indeed could probably get away with all her clothes and necessities crammed into one computer case (I could...), BUT the urge to bring gifts and food and artifacts and cool things back to her eager friends and family back home means utilizing that luggage allowance to its max.

And that means, with no travelling partner to watch baggage outside by the little drinking fountain, it won’t all fit in one of those teeny-tiny bathroom stalls.

So, the solo nomad has to become strategic. You quickly learn to time your restroom visits either while you are on the plane or before you need to retrieve your suitcase at the whirling baggage claim. Of course, if you managed to go through the 10 hour flight refusing the free drink (which is the ONLY free thing, so you should take advantage of it) and thus are now flirting with dehydration or you happen to have a bladder strength equivalent to a rhinoceros, you might be able to wait through all the lines of security and customs and more checking counters before finding relief... but I wouldn’t recommend it.


Then there are the variations of the bathroom dilemma—trying to order food when hauling all your worldly possessions behind you, needing to load yourself down with your carry-on and purse and jacket and computer case just so you can leave your seat and walk the 20 feet to the gate counter to find out if there is a delay in departure, attempting to look at some items in a store without knocking half the other merchandising off the shelves behind you...

Yes, they all require a certain degree of finesse. But, nothing quite beats navigating the intricacies of the airport ‘loo.

Aren’t you glad you know now? :)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Hawaii: A Land of Beaches, Clothes Dryers, and Sidewalks

Tickets were purchased, packing was started, projects were ending...it was two weeks before I was supposed to leave Papua New Guinea (PNG) and I didn’t have a place to stay when I landed in Hawaii on Tuesday afternoon.

It wasn’t for lack of planning. Months and months in advance, I had set up accommodation plans A and B, but suddenly, both of them fell through only weeks before I was hopping on the plane. Facebook to the rescue! Twenty minutes after my panicked Facebook plea, a college friend had sent me a message—“My boyfriend’s aunt and uncle live in Hawaii and would be glad to take you in. And, she’s an amazing cook”

Did you know Hawaiians cut off their coconuts to keep them from falling on people's heads? Brilliant!
God certainly knew what He was doing with the timing, and I couldn’t have chosen a better place to stay and make some wonderful new friends (thanks Sam and Eva!) during my brief holiday as I trekked across the Pacific. Vacations are extremely hard to come by in PNG (especially as a single). So, when I realized that Hawaii was available as a layover, I wanted to spend a few extra days in this tropical state, knowing that it would help me to begin to make the transition to life in the US in a place that is similar to PNG in many ways (not only was I in the minority as a white girl, but I even found a book on taro in the bookstore!) and yet has all the luxurious conveniences of modern America. And so, my four days in Hawaii was a chance to decompress, play in the ocean, learn about Hawaiian history (visit a palace!), attempt to operate in American culture again, and have a few days of rest after a chaotic several weeks leading up to my departure.

Hawaii was where I first enjoyed authentic Mexican cuisine and indulged in my many American food cravings, began exploring stores (have you ever COUNTED how many kinds of conditioner there are in Kmart?), experienced driving on the right side of the road, marveled at laundry fresh from the dryer (whoa....pretty amazing), sank into lovely carpet, and delighted in really soft towels.

Hawaii was also the place where I fell off the sidewalk.

I had forgotten about sidewalks, you see. And I was attempting to remember how to change my American cell phone from silent to a nice loud, obnoxious ring so I could hear it and remember to answer. And so I stepped to the side (since I can’t yet coordinate walking on the right side of sidewalks with oncoming traffic)...

And I fell off. By some great survival instinct honed deep in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, I managed not to thud on top of the hood of the car parked inches away from my leg and thus set off car alarms and attract more attention to the klutzy missionary than was necessary. But, even such finely tuned skills can’t do much for making falling off a sidewalk look intentional.

Oh well. At least I managed to change my ringtone!

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Day I Ran Away from A Waiter

I was in Sydney, Australia, when I ran away from a waiter at a restaurant.


Early Monday morning I had started my travels of leaving Papua New Guinea and ultimately ending up in Sydney, Australia, where I had a 24-hour layover before my next flight on Tuesday night. So, instead of wasting all those hours in the airport, I had a lovely night’s sleep at a guesthouse run by my Wycliffe Korea colleagues (where I slept on a REAL MATTRESS!! It was glorious!!!), and on Tuesday morning headed down to train station to take me to the famous Sydney Harbor.

It was on the train that I first encountered the Smartphone Phenomenon: every man, woman, and child over the age of 14 was staring transfixed at a little shiny screen glued to his or her left hand, a reverie which would occasionally be broken as he or she swiped an index finger across the surface or chortled while readjusting an earpiece. I felt like I was sitting in a giant elevator. Never have I seen so many people crammed into such a small space and yet so entirely unaware of their neighbors!

After I left the Smartphone Zombies, I needed to cross the road to get to the Harbor, and so joined a group of business people standing at the edge of the street. And kept standing. And standing. Soon I was annoyed. Why are they all waiting? I thought. There were lots of chances for them to cross—why are they still standing there, blocking my path? Let’s go!

And then, suddenly, the light changed, the crosswalk flashed permission, and the whole herd crossed the street. Oops. I had forgotten about crosswalks and Western rules for pedestrians.

Eventually, I found my way to the water, where I spent the rest of the morning on a boat, watching humpback whales cavorting about just beyond the Harbor (it was the time of their migration). It was pretty awesome, albeit extremely chilly, especially for a girl just arrived from the equator (despite my wearing nearly every piece of clothing that I had packed!)

 And so, when I finally docked back at Circular Quay, I was not only hungry, but so cold my teeth were chattering—I am going to get hypothermia if I sit in one of the outdoor restaurants, I decided. “Please, sir,” I asked the information booth guy, “could you tell me where I might find a place to eat indoors?”

“Sure!” He gave me directions down a street and up some stairs. I thanked him and set off merrily, eagerly climbing those steps, opening the door...and staring with horror and not a little terror as I realized the oblivious information guy sent me to a culture-shocked missionary’s worst nightmare: a food court.

Flashing signs! Neon lights! Shouting cashiers, crying children, rattling bags, clacking heels! Red, orange, green! Chinese, Italian, Subs, Pizza! Rushing business people! Briefcases! Cash! Credit Cards! Out of my way! Zillions of choices! Now! Now! Now!

AHHHHHHH! Head pounding, hands shaking, I spun for the nearest door and fled. I was less than 24 hours out of Papua New Guinea, a third-world country where my only fast food option is the town’s lone kai bar where I could get a hunk of chicken and chips (aka French fries) and there was no way I could survive a food court. (Remember the grocery store post from last year?)

Nevertheless, I was still hungry. And so, I started roaming up and down the streets of Sydney looking for sustenance. But, since most of the restaurants had outdoor seating near their entrances, every time I approached a possibility, an eager waiter swooped on top of me and shoved a menu in my hands, delighted with the chance of ensnaring a new customer. Come here! Eat here! Try this! 

AHHH! Unable to handle the pressure, I soon found myself running to the opposite side of the street every time one of those hapless waiters approached. Finally, stressed, exhausted, starving, cold, and close to tears, I finally encountered a restaurant that had no scary waiters waiting to attack, and dove inside. I then had to navigate the five menus they dumped in my lap (I limited myself to the specials...only three choices), convince them that I really did want apple juice to go with my Italian meal (apple juice! such a luxury), and tried to remember how to use my credit card.

But, I survived, warmed up, calmed down, and went on to enjoy the rest of the afternoon wandering through historic shops, visiting a contemporary art museum, watching the sun set at the wharf, and finally trekking back to the airport to continue on my 48-hour Tuesday as I flew to Hawaii (landing in Hawaii before I had left Sydney, thanks to the International Dateline).

But never will I forget the time that I ran away from a waiter.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

An Airport Travelogue

An airport is both nowhere and everywhere, an in-between place where people from all corners of the globe are gathered together like a folded quilt, squashed shoulder-to-shoulder on hard-backed seats to wait, amid goodbyes and hellos and plastic-wrapped deli food. I find them fascinating places, and recently, when I travelled back to the US from Papua New Guinea, I spent plenty of time in eight of them!

Several of our Kodiaks in Ukarumpa waiting for the weather to clear

First, there was Ukarumpa. I’m pretty sure the sun decided to pull the covers over his head that morning, because our 7 am departure was delayed by several hours as we waited for the fog to reveal the mountain tops and the drizzle to dissipate. I chatted with my friends in two languages and wondered what was ahead.

Hanging out at our airstrip :)

Then, I sat in the Port Moresby International Airport which is strange mix of Papua New Guinea and the Western world, with a relaxed, slow, handwritten atmosphere, mixed languages, and the largest number of expatriates that I have ever seen all gathered at the single gate.
 
Port Moresby even had a mini restaurant at the gate!

This was the airport where I received my first introduction to “How to Start a Conversation with a Western Stranger 101.” Apparently, the very Papua New Guinean method, which includes a starting glance at the person and then staring out the window during the bulk of the talking, with only one or two glances back at the recipient (without strong eye contact, of course), results in the other person thinking I’m talking on the phone (which, of course, confused me to no end, because how could he think I was talking on the phone when I obviously wasn’t holding one? Later, I discovered the invention of the earpiece.)

This was also the airport where a fellow passenger thought I must be a nun (due to my work) and my seatmate was eager to share with this disconnected (and trapped...) missionary all the intricacies of American politics in the last two years. Oh boy.

Brisbane was an interesting airport simply because I not only got to spend lots of time in customs (and started listening to my voice automatically change into my Aussie accent until no one knew where I was from), but it was also where I ate lunch...a bacon sandwich. Mmm.

Actually, this picture looks a whole lot less appetizing than it did at the time. Well, hunger does wonders, I guess.

I had a 24-hour layover in Sydney (I’ll blog more about that later), which made for more fun adventures including whale-watching and forgetting how to use a crosswalk, but I think my greatest surprise in the airport was watching the fashions of the world parade past me. Let’s just say that PNG’s skirt and loose-fitting meri blouse (so loose that I could be 9-months pregnant and it would still fit) are a wee bit different from what my Western peers might wear.

He looks as lost as I was at one point...

My flight from Sydney to Honolulu was 10 hours—the longest leg for this trip, and I was more than enthused to depart that plane (though the flight crew did feed me yogurt and chicken and an apple and all sorts of delicacies, to the amusement of my seatmate). Honolulu was a pretty airport and perfect for the linguist once I discovered that every loudspeaker announcement was given in both English and Hawaiian.

Pretty Honolulu in the distance!

San Diego was the only time when I had to move from one gate to another, and thus I didn’t have to collect my luggage and wait in long lines (which also meant that I didn’t get to see much of the airport). It is a lovely city at night, though.

All right, so it's not that attractive. But, flying over the city at night was pretty!

In Orlando, travel between the main terminal to the gates requires boarding a train. It was so cool. I really liked that train. Orlando was also the first city where I felt decently warm—even Hawaii felt more like PNG dry season in the Highlands (our version of winter).

Looky! I'm going back to Minnesota!!

The Minneapolis-St. Paul airport is like a small city. If you didn’t see all these harried looking businessmen hauling their little wheel-y bags and touching their bluetooth ear devices like secret agents and children trotting behind parents with their Disney Princess backpacks, you would think you were in a mall. A mall with moving sidewalks, that is. Which, is also pretty awesome because it makes you feel like you’ve got some kind of superpower or seven-league boots that allows you to take a single step and bound past all those lowly, sluggish Earth People.

Back to Minnesota! YAY!

But the best thing about this airport was three waving, smiling people waiting at the bottom of the escalator before the baggage claim. ;)

Two weeks of traveling over 11,600 miles through 3 countries and, 8 airports. Welcome back, Catherine!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Seeing Green

A kina shell used for money in the past;
image courtesy of the British Museum
I stared at the paper in my hand in disbelief.

“It’s....it’s...” I searched for the best word. “It’s so green!” 

The other people waiting by the cash windows in our Ukarumpa finance office chuckled at my amazement. I slowly fingered the first US money that I’d seen in two years. The texture, the images...and all so green! How would I be able to tell the different bills apart?

In Papua New Guinea, the currency is called kina (PGK). It’s named after the shell money that was used before Westerners introduced bills and coins. In fact, the K1 coin still has a hole in the middle (very convenient for identification by feel, I might add), to represent how the shells were hung on long strings; the longer the string, the higher the value. There are 100 toea to a kina, just like dollars and cents. Currently, the kina to US dollar rate is approximately 2:1, so K10=$5 US.

PNG money is quite beautiful, in my opinion. Not only is there a rainbow of colours, but each bill is engraved with cultural symbols that carry significance in this country. Finally, I find the sizing quite logical: the bigger the coin or bill, the higher the value with none of this weird dime business. :)

The coins are, from the bottom, 5, 10, 20, 50 toea and 1 kina; there is a K100 bill as well, but I don't have one :)

Of course, since the finance office incident a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been slowly becoming reaccustomed to US money and credit cards, but I’m afraid I still look in purse and the first word that comes to mind is...green!


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Where are the cows?

A couple weeks ago, I heard the dogs barking outside my house. When I went out to investigate, to my surprise I saw a whole crowd of people...and in the middle was a friend from the States! Katie was leading a GetGlobal team, and they had just arrived in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to learn more about Bible translation. It was a delight to be able to catch up with Katie and have dinner with the GetGlobal team, where I could answer their questions and hear their stories. It reminded me of my own experience with GetGlobal when I was in college!

GetGlobal is an opportunity for high school and college students to get a taste of Bible translation and the many opportunities where they could eventually become involved. These short-term mission trips can go all over the world, and often include a wide spectrum of activities, including village stays and ministry opportunities. Between my first and second years of college, I joined a GetGlobal team for a three week trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. It was an amazing experience and a great opportunity for me to confirm the call God had placed on my life to move into my current role as a Bible translator.
Of course, if you have read this blog for any length of time, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that I emerged from that trip with a plethora of stories...from my experience learning to make tortillas (which made me worth two cows and therefore eligible for marriage) to my adventure in fainting. But, the one that sticks out the most was when I lost the cows. Enjoy!

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Agriculture and animals are an integral part of life of a Oaxacan village, so when Andrea, the daughter of my host family,  asked if my teammate Lauren and I wanted to help her grandmother Francisca take the family’s goats, burros and cows to the campo, or fields, we quickly agreed.  What Andrea neglected to mention was the shepherdess aspect of this job, and I began to be unsure of what I had gotten myself into when I saw her and her cousin packing far more provisions than needed for a ten-minute walk.  Undaunted, however, I gathered my skirt around my legs and began to help drive the twenty goats (chiv), two burros and two cows (ngo’on) through the mud.

Thus began a six-hour trek through the mountains of Mexico in what ended up being a constant pouring rain. We scrambled over rocks, pushed through thickets, forded rain-swollen rivers, chased after straying chiv and hollered “cha’a!” when the burros dove for grass.  All went well, until about three hours into our trek when I first heard, “Pa njo ngo’on?”  We had lost our cows.  In the mountains of Oaxaca, the valleys descend sharply, slicing like a knife through the landscape, and are filled with thick vegetation, perfect for hungry ngo’on.  While we attempted to keep the goats and burros gathered on high ground, the seventy-year old grandmother immediately charged into the underbrush, searching for her wayward cows. 

As I stood there on that mountain, water dripping off my hat and down my back, watching clouds rolling across the sky, I found myself thinking of the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew 18.  The shepherd immediately leaves his ninety-nine sheep in search of the one which was lost, rejoicing all the more when it was found.  Thos verses never meant so much to me as they did an hour and a half later when I saw the grandmother drive those cows over the hill – I don’t think I have been happier to see a cow in my life! 

That image of the tiny bent woman, with her tarp over her shoulders and her wide-brimmed hat searching for those cows without hesitation through the pouring rain, is a vivid illustration for me of the Father’s care, both in my own life and how He has searched after these villages hidden among the mountains of Oaxaca.

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Interested in going on a GetGlobal trip? Check out the Wycliffe website for more details. There are also longer, 6-8 week trips for older college students, called Discovery trips, which allow for an even more in depth experience of the many many facets of translation. We’d love to have you join us!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

You know you are leaving for home assignment when...

You know you are leaving for home assignment when...

  • You panic about leaving all your village medicines behind...and then realize that if you do become sick/feverish/bleeding to death, whatever country you happen to be in will have an accessible doctor. And medicine.
  • You look up how many grams of ground coffee are needed to make a cup... so you know how much you should bring home.
  • You decide a bilum (string bag) will be your purse since it can expand...
  • You maximize your 3 pieces of clothing for 6 climates, 3 countries, and 4 cultures...
  • All your clothes and toiletries can fit in a 2L bag...but you are maxing out the weight allotments for baggage due to gifts.
  • You have your artifacts organized in the suitcase so that customs can look at it all without destroying the packing job.
  • You bring half-used fridge items as hostess gifts to your pre-departure dinners.
  • Your paperwork folder includes currency, visas, and travel info for (at least) three countries.
  • You research food in the airports so you can hit all the restaurants you’ve been missing.
  • Your phone numbers/contact information are organized by time zone.
    lots of mail...
  • You have mail being dropped off at your door...and it’s not for you (87 items and counting).
  • You pack all the essentials in your carry-on so when your luggage gets lost for two weeks while crossing the Pacific Ocean, you can still brush your teeth.
  • You wonder if the model bow and arrows you are bringing back is included under the airline weapons restrictions.
  • You defrost the freezer and find exciting food in the back that you forgot (in between washing your sheets, cleaning the house, dropping off keys and any number of sundry details).
  • You take deworming medicine before you go...
  • You run around centre closing up mailboxes and financial paperwork and retrieving passport and visa and store runs and other offices...and then you run around the next day doing everything you forgot the day before.
  • You find someone to babysit your PNG phone because if you leave it too long without adding minutes, the company will take back the number and give it to someone else.
  • You lose the ability to perform basic functions...like signing your name, filling out a simple form, or adding 9+15.
  • You have charts to make sure your baggage fits the limits in both kilos and pounds.
  • You wake up to find new emails about your departure of PNG, your arrivals (and departures) in each of your stops, your time in the US, and then your departure back to PNG...
  • You pack the things that you don’t want to bring back...and add to your list for when you reach The Land of Stores (like underwear...).
  • You try to squeeze in time with lots of people, knowing that some of your goodbyes will not turn into hellos until heaven.
  • You take your camera everywhere, trying to remember to photograph light switches and other oddities that will be useful illustrations in your speaking Powerpoints.
  • You look forward to getting on the plane because then there is nothing more you can do about the list!
Have you noticed other indicators in your family as you have prepared for home assignment? (Obviously, since I don't have kids, I'm missing a rather large chunk of many family's preparations!)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

His Promise and My Departure

Two years ago, I was sitting on a plane, staring out the smudged oval window as if my life depended on it. Just don’t look at the person next to you, and you’ll be fine, I ordered myself. I fixated on the airport workers scurrying about in their bright orange vests and bit my lip, praying that my red eyes didn’t reveal that only a little while earlier I had been sobbing in a bathroom stall and dabbing tears with toilet paper, the final release after I left my family on the other side of airport security. But, as I gripped the armrests and tried to regulate my breathing, a gentle whisper brushed against my mind, wrapping itself around my frantic thoughts.

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Never. A promise. His promise. My hands relaxed into my lap, and I felt the panic disappear, until just the ache of change and letting go settled to the back of my head. Never.

The plane taxied down the runway, taking me 8,000 miles to Papua New Guinea where I would cling to that promise over the next several years as I have served as a linguist and translator with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Tears and joy, love and hate, mountaintops and despair, sickness and health, grief and new birth, anguish and relief...it has all been there. And so has His promise.

Departing Ukarumpa in a Kodiak
And now, here I am again, tears and all. By the time you read this, I’ll be sitting in a plane (facing the other direction, this time), and once again the words of my Abba are rippling through my thoughts. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

So much has happened—far more than I know or understand at this time (or perhaps ever will).  And once again, I have no idea what is ahead, whether during my time in the US or when I return to my work in PNG... but, right now, I’m okay with that.

Because, even though there is so much I might want to know and do and be and change... it isn’t what is really important, nor is it even necessary.

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

A promise from our Holy, Infinite, Almighty Creator. A promise from our Father.

It’s enough.
 
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I’m not certain how much Internet access I have as I head back to the US, but I’ll do my best to keep you updated on my travels (don't forget my Facebook page for quick updates!). In the meantime, check back for more posts and stories about life in PNG. Here’s what I’ll be doing over the next two weeks:

Mon. July 29—fly from Ukarumpa through Port Moresby and Brisbane, landing in Sydney, AU
Tues. July 30—fly from Sydney, AU to Honolulu, HI (I arrive in Hawaii before I leave Sydney, thanks to the International Dateline!). I am spending some time in Hawaii as a mini holiday and chance to rest after the chaos of getting ready to leave.
Sat. Aug 3—fly from Honolulu through San Diego to Orlando, FL (landing on Sun, Aug 4), where I will spend a week at the Wycliffe headquarters in a debrief for returning missionaries
Fri. Aug 9—fly from Orlando to Minneapolis and have a joyous reunion with my family!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Join the Crowd!

I’ve given up trying to define it. Some might try to call us the “singles group”—but the multiple married couples who are core members of our activities might take offense at their vows being looked on so lightly. You could try the “young adult group”… but when our members include ages from every decade from the 20s up to those who start to get special discounts, young better refer to “young at heart.” Some have attempted the “singles and newly marrieds”—but when some reach a decade of marriage and others bring their babies to the game nights, does that still qualify as “newly?”

It’s rather inexplicable, and so those of us who are in it have stopped trying. Instead, we just refer to it as the Crowd.

Hanging out at the Italian Dinner last year
Game nights, worship nights, movie nights, prayer nights, pretzel-making nights—the Crowd is a loose gathering of friends who enjoy creating a social life in the Ukarumpa community, from intense hand-and-foot tournaments to New Year’s costume parties to wallpaper-stripping-gatherings. We help each other pack boxes, provide meals when members come and go, give rides to evening activities on centre, go on vacation together in Lae, and celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas. When the rest of Ukarumpa couples go on a date to the Mexican or Valentine’s Dinner hosted by the teens, the Crowd reserves a table for 20, and we all hang out together in a group full of laughter and fun. We’re mechanics and accountants and managers and translators and school teachers. We’re from all over the world and we all have crazy stories of how God has impacted our lives, and we are all passionate about what He is doing in Papua New Guinea through Bible translation.

We are simply the Crowd.

See all the bags? That's stuff to be auctioned off!
And, one of the Crowd traditions is to have an auction. It’s not your normal auction—there is no money exchanged and there is no long bidding battle or a fast-paced auctioneer. Instead, it’s the chance for a Crowd member leaving Ukarumpa (either for furlough/home assignment or more permanently) to easily get rid of stuff...and for other Crowd members to acquire some treasures (clothes, shoes, dishes, extra sunscreen, music, books, pillows...)! The process is simple. The departing Crowd member holds up a desired item for all to see—and the first person to twitch a finger or show interest gets it thrown at him or her!

Due to our close proximity to Indonesia,
 we have lots access to lots of Indian clothing
After all the items have been chucked at people, then the group has the privilege of praying for the departing person and saying their goodbyes. It’s an opportunity for closure and cementing the sense of family that many of us have left behind. This past Saturday, I had my auction, which happened to be combined with a potluck Indian dinner, complete with a collection of brilliant saris and punjabis. It was a delightful evening and a huge blessing to me. They are truly a wonderful group of people.


Yes, it’s certainly quite a privilege, I’ve found, to be a part of the Crowd.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

On Becoming Hexagon

Only seven days left. The very thought of it makes me shiver—in excitement, in anticipation, in (some) fear...and in the realization that I have a whole lot to get done this week (including packing that suitcase and making sure it meets the weight restrictions...). It’s hard to believe two years ago, I was in a similar countdown, wondering what God had in store for me as I stepped into the crazy world that I have since learned to call home.

Sometimes, this world is a little hard to describe. For example, the other day, my friends and I were hanging out, playing games and eating tasty food, and before we knew it the topic of strange diseases had come up (not too uncommon in our conversations here in PNG). One thing led to another, and soon we were swapping war stories on appendicitis (not that I have any personal experience, mind you). Now, one of the odd things about the appendix here (aside from not knowing what it is supposed to do), is that if you ever happen to have surgery on that area of your body, the doctors will automatically remove your appendix, whether or not you have appendicitis. The logic is, if you are showing appendicitis symptoms but happen to have a scar in that area, the doctor will assume that your appendix has been removed and look for other causes.

“But,” one of my friends reasoned, “I don’t really want my appendix removed for no reason. What if it does something important? What if, instead, you had a message tattooed on your side stating you still had your appendix?”

“That’s possible,” another agreed, “but it would need to have the message tattooed in every major language you encountered, just to be safe.”

“So, we’d need to have it tattooed in Tok Pisin.” [the trade language in PNG]

“Right.”

Another woman laughed. “So, it would say something like: “Insait long bodi bilong mi, mi gat wanpela liklik samting ol saveman i no klia em i mekim wanem samting. Tasol, sampela taim, em i kisim bagarap na ol mas rausim hariap o mi bai indai. Tasol, taim ol dokta katim mi pinis long dispela hap, ol no rausim em yet. Olsem na, dispela liklik samting em i stap yet.”

The room erupted in laughter, and I couldn’t stop until I felt tears running down my face. “It’s a PARAGRAH!”

[Translation: Inside my body I have a little something that all smart doctors have no idea what it does. But sometimes, it gets sick and the doctors must get rid of it quickly or I will die. But, when the doctors cut me in this area before, they didn’t take it out. Thus, this little thing is still in there.]

Finally, after we quieted down, one of my friends turned to me. “You know, you aren’t going to have these kinds of conversations in America....”

Hehe, probably not.

One of the oddest (and perhaps most beautiful) thing about crossing from one culture into another is the changes that occur—and not just in conversation topics! When everything surrounding you alters—new status, income, house, job, food, climate, friends, family, holidays, accents, vehicles, shopping, values, risks, hobbies, sleep, illnesses, patterns—you alter as well, and often in much deeper ways than you initially imagine or realized. The changes reach down, past the surface level of clothing choices and food habits, until they begin to impact those core beliefs, values, identity, purpose, hopes, and dreams. It impacts the way you think and react and even interact with God, such that you no longer truly fit into your home culture...or your host culture. You may match in skin color or height or foot size or accent...but the changes within are akin to having surgery.

Let me try to explain.

Let’s meet Ms. Square-Head who lives in Square Land with all her Square buddies.


One day, she decides to go be a missionary to Round Land where everyone has round heads! At first, it was very challenging. Nothing Ms. Square-Head could do seemed right and the methods of the Round Heads were completely foreign.


But, the longer that Ms. Square Head lived in Round Land, she found herself learning and adapting.

Her sharp edges that once proclaimed her loudly as an outsider were being sanded down.


Soon, Ms. Square Head was no longer technically square. She wasn’t really Round either. She was a Hexagon-Head.


Although she would never become fully Round, neither could she ever return to being fully Square. She now lived in the middle, a polygon in the margins, experiencing and understanding both, but no longer able to fully claim either.

While jokes about appendicitis don’t quite reflect those deep value changes ;) it did remind me that I have also undergone a sanding process in the past several years. And so, I appreciate your patience as I return to the US somewhat Hexagon and learn to navigate life again in the land of the Squares.


(A cool resource that you might find interesting is “Am I Still Me?” from Heartstream Resources.)