Sunday, March 24, 2013

Saddle Up! (In the Rain)

Some people say that has rained nearly every Monday and Wednesday at 4 pm the past month because it’s rainy season and that’s what it does in Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea.

I know better.

It has rained nearly every Monday and Wednesday at 4 pm for the past month because that is when I trek up to the horse paddocks and stand in the arena beneath the clouds like a magnet, just asking for the deluge to break open and soak poor Catherine.

Me: The Equine Version of an Air Traffic Controller...
In other words, I’m a horseback riding instructor in tropical country—that little lauded individual who must tromp through the muddy arena, rain dripping off her hat (and down her back), shivering in her meri blouse, arranging cones and poles and shouting orders at the top of her lungs while all her students trot merrily around the arena, high above the mud, somehow obliviously dodging all the rain drops and toasty warm from the exercise. But perhaps I shouldn’t complain, since from what I hear of a late spring, my counterparts in Minnesota have to perform the same routine…but in the freezing snow. :)

As some of you might remember, from the time I was eight years old until I stepped on the plane to PNG, my life was completely infused with horses, with dreams of Olympic-level prowess. When the Lord tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to follow Him to PNG, letting go of those dreams was akin to self-amputation. But, God has a funny sense of humor, and He has brought horses back to me in a small way through the Pony Club here at Ukarumpa (you can read more about my journey in a blog post here).

Here Mandy helps one of our tinier riders :)
And so, over the past two years, when I’ve been in Ukarumpa and not in a village, I’ve been able to become involved in the Pony Club, utilizing my past-life equine medical, management, and training experience, as well as my favorite—teaching. Every week, around 20 students, from excited eight-year-olds to my fellow colleagues, appear at the horse paddocks for one of the four (or so) weekly classes. Experience ranges widely, from students still trying to figure out which part of the saddle faces forward to those who are eager to learn more about dressage and seeing distances to jumps. And, of course, since the horses are a motley crew who have their own personalities and quirks, Mandy (the other instructor) and I often feel like we’re whirling on a manic carousel ride, with all the horses gone wild! But, despite the chaos, teaching is very rewarding, and so we continue like the postal workers—neither rain nor wind nor bushknives nor mud will stop lessons from going forth!

For many adults, the riding lessons are a valuable break, providing stress release and emotional/mental care from the rigors of life here, as well as an athletic activity (options for exercise can sometimes be hard to come by, especially for women, due to the limitations of this culture). For the children, they promote character development, confidence,  responsibility, teamwork, and communication skills, and for some, the horses help with emotional stability as the kids deal with the many transitions and aches of missionary life.

My lesson kids are learning how to be a part of a drill team!

Since it’s Monday, it’s about time for me to ponder my lesson plans for this afternoon’s equine adventures…and I suppose, since it’s Monday, I should have Lessons 1A and 2A (if it’s sunny), Lessons 1B and 2B (if it’s light raining), Lessons 1C and 2C (if it’s pouring), Lessons 1D and 2D (if it rained earlier but now has stopped and is merely muddy)…

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Crushed Rose, Sunset, and Warm Honey…?

Just a few lipsticks to choose from!
“Tip your chin to the sky.” I studied the young man seated before me. “Okay, that looks even. Close your eyes and don’t breathe.” I swiped the large black brush against my wrist, and then with a quick flick, dusted a fine white finishing powder over his face. “Now, for the final touches…” I turned toward the haphazard collection of brushes, palettes, pencils, and lipsticks. “Your lip color is crushed rose, right?”

His eyebrows furrowed at me in confusion, but I just kept talking to myself. “This part is kind of like paint-by-number…I just need to fill in the lines… There you are, all done.” He pulled off the protective sheet and glanced in the mirror.

“Wow!” he looked at me in astonishment, and I grinned. It’s amazing what a little makeup (including a liberal application of Sunset bronzer) can do to assist the transformation of a teenager into a 40-year old early 1900s newspaper editor!

Our Town production--courtesy of Amy Evers
But Catherine, you ask, I thought you were a Bible translator?

Yes, I am. And part of my job the other week included applying theatre makeup to high schoolers preparing for the end-of-term performances of Thornton Wilder’s classic production Our Town. The Ukarumpa International School (UIS) serves over 250 students from preschool to grade 12, and is critical to the work of Bible translation in Papua New Guinea!

UIS students helping out with a Holiday Bible School
Because our school provides high quality education that is equal to (or exceeds!) schools in our home countries and allows our students to enter universities all over the world, they make it possible for families to more easily come and serve in Bible translation—and it’s not just limited to support families living on centre! Language teams are able to take advantage of prepared village programs, homeschooling assistance, and even weekly radio skeds with the Ukarumpa teachers, allowing the kids to keep up with their studies while their parents translate the Scriptures. Many teams would have to leave if it wasn’t for the presence of the school (and I’m grateful since many of my closest friends are teachers!).

The teachers are dedicated to providing outstanding multicultural education that goes far beyond the classroom, pouring into the kids emotional and spiritual lives outside of academia. Many of the Papua New Guinean students have gone on to be leaders and educators in the country. In fact, the entire Ukarumpa calendar revolves around the school, and it is the main hub of our social activities—band and choir concerts, musicals and plays, art shows, talent nights, sports tournaments, the book festival, Carnival, Banquet, spiritual retreats, youth group activities, and many themed dinner fundraisers that act as our restaurant experience :)

The last cast member's makeup for the day!
And, due to my modest experience of community theatre makeup, I’ve been recruited on the occasion for the play’s makeup crew. For five nights the other week, I donned my apron, armed myself with brushes, discussed the use of Warm Honey (it’s a foundation) and pondered how to keep one of the boys from looking like a vampire from Twilight (our original makeup caused him to look extremely pale…). As I chatted with the cast (and realized that I know many of their parents from various committees or conferences), I found myself enjoying interacting with the “non-language” side of Ukarumpa and visit with the various other recruited adults who come from realms that I don’t often frequent  (not being a parent of high schoolers myself, you see…). It was a welcome interlude sandwiched between literacy drawings and translation project meetings, giving me a glimpse into a world that is just as integral in reaching Papua New Guineas with the Scriptures as my own.

Sometimes it just takes a bit of eyeshadow to see it :)

If you’re interested in learning more about the schools in Ukarumpa and how you can be involved, check out this blog post by my friend Wendy! You can also visit the Ukarumpa International School’s Facebook page and read some great stories about teaching MKs!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Meeting the In-laws (Doubled)

I raised my eyebrows at my roommate. “You’re going to have some explaining to do!”

She laughed as she looked down at the various bilums (traditional string bags) hung about her neck, “Yup, my future husband has no idea what he’s getting into…!”

Lucy and Jessie

This past Saturday, Jessie and I were invited to one of our national friends’ houses in a local village. Lucy is a single mom who is employed at Ukarumpa and has become a good friend over the past six months. Now that Jessie is only two weeks away from heading back to the US for a year and a half for a home assignment (some of you may know of this as furlough), Lucy and her family wanted to send her off in style with a traditional mumu (method of cooking food over stones buried in the ground).

Before long, we realized that this was not merely a going-away party. In Papua New Guinean (PNG) culture, it’s not uncommon for unmarried individuals to return to their home communities (if they had spent significant time away) in order to find a mate. When this happens, it is important that when the host community send him or her away, they show that this person is a part of the clan and strengthen family relations, especially in the area of brothers and uncles (who often hold more sway than fathers over familial decision-making). In most areas of PNG, when a woman is married, her new husband and his family must pay a “bride price” to the woman’s family, and specifically to her brothers and uncles (sometimes this occurs at the marriage ceremony, sometimes years later when the first children are born).

Jessie with one of her new "nieces"
The bride price helps establish good strong ties between the families (which can mean a difference between life and death in some cases), acknowledge that the woman’s family is losing an important member of their clan and compensate them accordingly, thank the family for raising such a good daughter and pouring resources into her, and finally show that the woman is valued and important.  Bride prices often include pigs, chickens, garden produce, money, and other useful items. As this is Jessie’s first furlough back to the US, Lucy and her family decided they ought to prepare for Jessie’s potential marriage (note—she currently does not have a boyfriend, so this is all purely hypothetical), and, by adopting her into the clan as Lucy’s sister, then the brothers, would be the recipients of the traditional bride price! (They reassured me over and over that when it’s time for my furlough, I needn’t worry—they’d adopt me into the clan too, and then my future husband would also be responsible for my bride price as well.)

So, as per their custom, they prepared an elaborate mumu, which is a traditional Highlands method of cooking that involves digging a hole, heating up a bunch of stones, pouring all the food into the hole, and then covering it over with leaves and potentially more stones, and leaving it to cook overnight. Yum!

Here's the mumu after it's been cooking all night covered with dirt

Then they dig off the dirt and peel off the banana leaves.

Look at all that food! Now it's time to start dividing it out among all the guests!

Then, lots of friends and family in the village were invited and Jessie was instructed to change into a new laplap (wrap skirt) and meri blouse. She was then presented with several bilums (string bags), symbolically from her new parents, brothers, and sisters, as well as various wooden artifacts, including bows and arrows and bamboo flutes.

This may not look like much, but it was bigger than a watermelon!
Then, we were seated with honor in the house and the two of us were given a mound a food bigger than a watermelon—various kaukau and taro (types of tubers, like sweet potato), bananas cooked in bamboo, chicken, pig fat (a treasured delicacy!), sausages, kumu (cooked greens), and some vegetables! Thankfully, our “nieces” and “nephews” were eager to help us with this gargantuan culinary mountain, and we spent several hours visiting with the family and friends. Finally, clouds started to pile up over the horizon’s mountains with threat of the daily afternoon rain, and we soon gathered our things to slide back down a muddy track, wade through a river, scramble through several muddy gardens, and finally return to Ukarumpa before the downpour.

As we stood in our living room, reminiscing over the day, we couldn’t stop chuckling over the induction.  They say meeting the future in-laws for the first time is traumatic enough, but in our case, our poor fianc├ęs will have to do it twice!

Names have been changed.

Can you believe it? All that food was eaten and only banana leaves are left!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Facebook Fairytale

all images courtesy of Google :)
Remember those Choose Your Own Adventure stories? Well, we’re going to play that game now, except I’m going to make all the choices and you will be my hapless victim. Ready?

Once upon a time, you are a lowly carpenter living in a small village at the edge of an Enchanted Wood. Although you are no genius, you have worked hard to polish your skill, and running your hands over pine, oak, ash, and birch gives you great pleasure. You are content and happy to serve your village’s carpentry needs and they respect you greatly for the services you provide. You make enough money to get by, you have a house with a roof that doesn’t leak, and you are your own master. Yes, all is perfect in your world…except one thing. You’re deaf.

It came on in your mid-twenties…the scarlet fever had swept through the town, and although the doctor had stayed awake for three nights, it looted through the streets, killing several children and stealing your precious hearing. In the beginning, the loss was difficult—you could no longer hear the cheerful “good mornings!” of your friends or the business queries from your uncle. The birds chattered in silence, the rain trickled from the sky in quietness and the daily familiar hawking in the marketplace was an eerie hush. When soldiers rumbled through the town square, shouting about an uprising on the southern border, your world contained an anguished peace. But, you are resilient, and soon you opened the doors of your carpentry shop, determined that a loss of hearing wouldn’t be reflected with a loss of skill. The villagers were hesitant at first, but you were their only carpenter, and so, after a week or two, you had customers sitting on your bench once again. No one knew how to talk to you—although you could read and write, only few in the village had those skills, so most used an intermediary or waved their hands expressively. The loss of your previous social life didn’t bother you too much…you retained a few close friends comfortable with silence, and the rest of the time, you poured your matter-of-fact energy into your work.

One day, you realize that you will not have enough rosewood to complete your latest order, an exquisite rocking chair. There had been a miscommunication with the peddler who usually supplied your finer woods (trying to mime a rose was more difficult than you realized), but you have just remembered there   was a trader who sometimes frequented a cottage in the Enchanted Wood. He was usually there at this time of year, so you pack a lunch, your list of measurements, and start off toward the forest. Few villagers ventured into the forest…it was a dangerous place full of strange happenings, but you, as one of the intrepid few, courageously stride onward.

You come to a small river and notice a little old lady in a black cloak attempting to cross the fallen oak which served as a bridge. Being a helpful sort of person, as well as one with good balance, you quickly dart across the bridge, and offer her your hand. You gesture that you’ll help her across the bridge, and she quickly agrees.

As she steps off the log, she breathes a sigh of relief. “Thank you for your kindness!” At your modest nod, she continues, “Such character must be rewarded. What is your wish?” You look away and bite your lip; speaking scares you because you aren’t sure how you sound, but your desire drives you to words. “I’m deaf –I’d like to hear again.”

“Aha!” The little old woman narrows her eyes for a moment, then smiles. “Walk 30 minutes west until you reach a cottonwood tree. You must arrive by 9am—no later! At that time a brisk wind will blow seeds off the cottonwood. Catch them, and you will be able to hear again.”

Your eyes light up in hope and incredulity—was this woman crazy? “But,” she waggles her finger at your nose, “there is no holding onto hearing.”

You open your mouth to thank her, but suddenly, the woman is gone, and it’s just you and the silent river.

Being a curious sort, the next day you set off into the forest, walking 30 minutes west of the river and sure enough, reaching a giant cottonwood just before 9 am. It’s branches are wide and sweeping and the green of its leaves is so intense you feel as though sunglasses would be useful. Your hair ruffles, and suddenly, a great wind attacks the tree, raking through its branches, and sending a shower of seeds whipping through the air. You brace against the gale, and leap to catch the bits of fluff. Hundreds and thousands float past you, but you finally snag a seed… and wait…it’s the voice of your mother! You can hear! At this moment, she’s discussing today’s midday soup with your sister, and apparently it’s too spicy. Elated, you to turn to run back to your village…but the feather-like seed slips out of your clutches and spirals up to the sky, and the silence falls like stone. But you had heard for a moment!

So, you leap forward like a cat, stumbling into the cloud of seeds, finally pouncing on another wisp. This one is a dear friend from childhood…and you can hear him grumbling about all the wedding plans. Wedding? You didn’t know he was planning on getting married… The seed darts from your hand and the deafness returns, but you don’t care anymore. You dance like a maniac, attempting for one then another… there’s your king discussing trade routes, another from a councilor announcing a new holiday. But wait, you’re confused—and you try to ask… but the seed has slipped from your fingers and your question falls silent. Hundreds, thousands fly past you—your keys to hearing love again, and you strain upwards, backwards, but they slip past you tickling your hair and face, moving too fast, too foreign, like a blizzard in midwinter. Your head spins with dizziness and you flail in a frenetic desperation. Please! I want to hear!

You stop a moment, your chest heaving, watching the shower of seeds slow and the wind cease. It’s getting late, and you still need the rosewood to finish the rocking chair, but to turn away is to leave the snippets of life behind you of the people that you love. But you must, and you do. As you walk through the village, the piece of the wood under your arm, you see the baker—he was a good friend once, before the fever, and now you know that he is elated about his son getting high marks at school. But what can you say? You turn toward your house and trudge onward, heart aching, because once you were deaf and content in your ignorance, but now you know the sweetness of voices again.

Will you go to the tree tomorrow? You don’t know. You can’t be both deaf and hearing at the same time.

And that, my friends, is what Facebook can be like for a missionary.

The other week, I was asked to teach a seminar on “Becoming Friends with Facebook”—how to help missionaries navigate this social media tool so that we can better communicate with you all, both to share the amazing work God is doing here in our lives and to be a part of the work He is doing in yours. But, as you can imagine, we have a love-hate relationship with it. It is, of course, an amazing ministry tool that can be used to love, encourage, strengthen, and empower so many people. And, it can also be a terrifying, intimidating, frustrating, obnoxious medium that makes trying to stand with one foot in each world feel like Roman riding when the horses are going at different speeds (as exemplified when the other day it dawned on me that you guys might be having daylight savings time, and I had no idea when it was starting…).

But we press onward, attempting the balancing act that is characteristic of so many aspects of our lives, appreciating the grace you give us for being both deaf and hearing, and ultimately falling back on the knowledge that prayer is the one language that manages to transcend both.

Disclaimer: I'm not trying to make sweeping generalizations about the feelings and experiences of all missionaries (so if you are a lucky one who hasn't been affected like this, that's great!)...instead, I'm trying to give a taste of the fears, challenges, joys, and other emotions I've seen, experienced, and have been expressed to me, especially with the recent seminar that I taught.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Golden Ticket!

'I think,' he said quietly, 'I think . . . I'll have just one more of those chocolate bars. The
same kind as before, please.'

'Why not?' the fat shopkeeper said, reaching behind him again and taking another
Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight from the shelf. He laid it on the counter.
Charlie picked it up and tore off the wrapper . . . and suddenly . . . from underneath the
wrapper . . . there came a brilliant flash of gold.

Charlie's heart stood still.

'It's a Golden Ticket!' screamed the shopkeeper, leaping about a foot in the air. 'You've got a Golden Ticket! You've found the last Golden Ticket! Hey, would you believe it! Come and look at this, everybody! The kid's found Wonka's last Golden Ticket! There it is! It's right here in his hands!'

….In a few seconds, there was a crowd of about twenty people clustering around Charlie, and many more were pushing their way in from the street. Everybody wanted to get a look at the Golden Ticket and at the lucky finder.

'Where is it?' somebody shouted. 'Hold it up so all of us can see it!'

'There it is, there!' someone else shouted. 'He's holding it in his hands! See the gold

Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Ch. 11)

Ahhh, the hysterical excitement of the Golden Ticket! If I didn’t know better, I think Roald Dahl based this scene from his beloved children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on the Ukarumpa Post Office. After all, the day starts like any other day…just like Charlie, you know of the hopeful possibilities, but the realities of receiving mail from the US when it’s a 4-week minimum trip (and can easily range over 6 months), don’t lend themselves to certainty. But still, as you insert your key into your mailbox and twist it, your breath does catch a little in anticipation…will it be today...? Will I see…is that…could that be…GOLD???!!!!

And it is! It most miraculously is! It’s THE GOLDEN TICKET! Before you know it, crowds of people seem to converge on the previously empty post office, congratulating you and dancing over your shoulder. What did you get?! Who is it from? What does it mean?!! Oh, just look at the (folded, scribbled, yellowed) gold shining!

And what does this amazing ticket say? Well, I think Roald Dahl interprets it quite nicely:

"Greetings to you, the lucky finder of this Golden Ticket, from Mr Willy Wonka! I shake you warmly by the hand! Tremendous things are in store for you! Many wonderful surprises await you

(signed) Willy Wonka
Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (p. 60)

In other words, it means you have received a package!!!!

And so, you skip home (sort of, because you’re lugging a really heavy box across a rocky and hilly centre, along with your groceries and other errands) and shout out to your roommates the glorious news—Come! See, touch, and experience things that have newly arrived on PNG soil!! (Sort of…because it could have been sent three months ago, and the box may have been opened by customs…but so far everything seems securely taped shut.)

Friends + Package = Great Fun!

  And because they are just as excited as you are (packages are communal events, remember, bringing happiness to many people), they come flocking out of the woodwork with delight! Look at the bright colors (not yet washed in river water)! Look at the new movies or books (not yet watched or read 500 times)! Look at the beautiful craft items! Look at the... We oooh and ahhh and hold exciting items up to the light and murmur our amazement as we pull creatively packed items from the nooks and crannies. “Yes,” we nod, “this person knows how to send a package!”

The Princess much more awesome can you get?

Sometimes the things that get us most excited are really the most mundane (or pathetic…). Like pens.Or bandaids. Or a thermos, a computer keyboard cover, drink mixes (or tea!), pencils, tape, Kleenex, deodorant…among other things :) Nothing is discarded, of course—those Ziploc bags used to contain the goodies will now be put to use, and the package box itself will be put to work on our next village trip.

You never know what might be hidden in the packaging...

Library card envelopes...who would have known?
Some items do cause us to scratch our head…but the perplexity is always temporary. Who would have thought that missionaries in Papua New Guinea would have a use for library card envelopes (you know, those envelopes on the inside front cover that hold the little stamped card of due dates)… but low and behold, one afternoon I receive a call from my roommate, a teacher at our Primary School. “Uhh, Catherine, do you still have those library card envelopes? We really need some and we don’t seem to have any…”

Even late Christmas cards from my youth group kids!

Why are packages so exciting? In all actuality, it’s not the contents that pull friends to bend over the couch and marvel at the box (though we greatly appreciate the items too). It’s the knowing that someone on the other side of the world took the time to think of us, to find and touch each of these items, to pack it with care, to carry it to their own post office and fight through customs forms and attendants who think Papua New Guinea is in Africa, and then to pray it safely across the ocean and into our living room. It’s why I love the letters and the photographs and why seeing the handwritten address makes my heart constrict. We can live without the items…but it’s the friendship and the love that they carry that keeps us going and will last far longer than the thrilling book of Suduko puzzles.

Yes, it’s a marvelous thing to find a Golden Ticket…and this last week, I even got to pair it with chocolate! As a recent victim of lactose-intolerance, I was eyeing our refrigerator with distress. For the most part, I can live quite contentedly without dairy products…but it’s hard to give it up when a gigantic, gorgeous, chocolate Oreo cheesecake is sitting regally on the shelf, ready to celebrate my roommate’s birthday. Oh cruel world! Would I have to stand by in the pain of abstinence and watch them consume mouth-watering bite after mouth-watering bite of decadent amazingness?

Would I be able to have a piece? Oh the torture!

The Golden Ticket to the rescue! Thanks to my mom and aunt’s recent package (and a delayed flight for my roommate…sorry Rebekah), I found myself in astonishment clutching lactose pills, which will help my stomach digest cheesecake yumminess!!


Move aside Willy Wonka, we have a birthday to celebrate!

My apologies if your package was not featured photographically in this post. I love and appreciate them all!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Miracles in Small Letters

Flooded rivers caused the survey team to be delayed…and as a result, they began chatting with a man (who happened to be a notorious criminal).

The recording project for the Jesus Film was a gargantuan task…there was no way it could be completed within their three-week window.

The children were dying due to diarrhea… and the mothers could only look on helplessly, not knowing what they could do.

Stories surround us all the time—a cricked eyebrow at the grocery store, a surprise knock on your front door, a bitten lip when the cookies accidentally burned. Most of the time we are too busy to see them—we stare hard at the details in front of us (three bills in the mail, a floor to mop, and a parent-teacher conference to attend) and neglect to see the giant scripted letters flowing over our lives.  C.S. Lewis says that “miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”

One of my many jobs (privileges?) in serving Bible translation in Papua New Guinea is to be a nosy staff writer for our communications department, eagerly ferreting out some of these miracles and sharing them with all of you as written stories. Sometimes they drop into my lap ready to go like a mango crashing to earth—others require me to don a mining helmet and shovel them out amid dirt and roots, wiping them off and carving them until they sparkle.

On this blog, I share some of those stories that relate directly to me, but my stories are just a fraction of those being told about the work God is doing here in Papua New Guinea. If you would like to read more about these diamonds and emeralds (some of which have been polished by yours truly), you can follow this link to the PNG Experience, one of our communications department publications. (And that’s also where you can find out what happened to that survey team, the recording project, and the sick children.) You can also watch some marvellous videos at our Youtube channel here, and if you really want to stay on top of things, you can send us an email and get on our mailing list.

What story are you experiencing today?