Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Songs, Sunday School, and Scripture

Ever since the early church, songs and hymns have been a vital way of teaching people truths about God and Scripture before they could read the Bible. Presenting theology through rhythm and concise, metrical lyrics allow it to be easily memorized and presented in a pleasing, interesting fashion. But, imagine if all the songs that you have ever heard have been in other languages—it no longer matters if the words are or not, since you often can’t accurately understand them!

Just as the Bible itself needs to be translated, so do hymns and songs. The Tigak people of northern New Ireland have been working on translating and revising their hymnbook so that they can worship God through music in their own language. I have just left Ukarumpa to fly to the island of New Ireland where my colleague, Hanna, and I are assisting them with the final steps of revision before typesetting and printing.

Here are the templates for the SS books that the Tiang are translating
Can you imagine a Sunday morning church service without Sunday School lessons for the children? In many communities in Papua New Guinea (PNG), the church doesn’t have access to materials that allow God’s Word to taught in their own languages. The Tiang people of New Ireland have translated one Sunday School book, and now that all the lessons have been finished, they have been begging for several years for linguistic assistance to translate more. After Hanna and I finish the Tigak hymnbook revision, we’re embarking on a two-week workshop with the Tiang, assisting them to create more materials for their Sunday School teachers.

Pray for us as we tackle these two tasks and that the Lord would be glorified in all that we do (especially because many of the logistical details are still filed under the “unknown” category!)

Also, I will do my best to keep you all updated with our work here in Kavieng, but Internet access is often not reliable outside of Ukarumpa. So, I have also written some blog posts ahead of time to keep you entertained over the next three weeks (what do tablecloths, Jane Austen, and babies have to do with PNG? Keep checking back to find out!). See you in mid-June!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Octupled Banana Bread

The banana bread was a staple of the morning tea breaks
Octuple. That must be the word.

I looked at the two tiny mixing bowls, each with a diameter of less than 8 inches. There was no way I could make 8 times the recipe in these tiny containers. I looked around my kitchen in frustration; I was in Wewak, Papua New Guinea, on staff with the Oral Bible Storytelling Course (click to read more about the purpose, the process, and even the songs involved!), and I needed to bake 16 loaves of banana bread, but I had no large mixing bowl in my flat.

Suddenly, my eye fell upon a bucket sitting under my table.

Hmm, it’s certainly large enough. And it’s expendable. It’s a bit unorthodox…but what other choice do I have?

I shrugged and grabbed the bucket. After I washed and bleached it, I proceeded to successfully mix up an octupled recipe of banana bread… in my rubbish bin.

While I was at the course, I had the privilege of meeting Kristina and hearing her amazing testimony about how God was using Oral Bible Storytelling in her life. You can read about her journey in my June Newsletter which you can find on my Newsletter’s tab. You can also find out about some exciting developments about my upcoming trip to New Ireland and my return to the US later this year. If you’d like to receive my newsletters or prayer updates by email, please don’t hesitate to email me.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Behind the Façade

It’s a strange cultural dilemma.

In the US (and in my family in particular), an extremely important skill is To Make a Plan. Excel spreadsheets on your computer, daily planners tucked into your purse, a calendar on your kitchen wall, even grocery lists on your refrigerator…planning for tomorrow is an essential part of life. I’ve been to seminars on planning and organization, and we even had a class on this as part of my freshman university orientation! I know you’ve seen those cute little posters hanging on office walls—“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

But, what happens when you live in a culture where you can plan until your ears turn blue, but it all might still fail within 30 seconds after implementation?

Airline tickets...completed with handwritten corrections :)
On Saturday, I had a meeting to plan for a workshop that will be starting later next week. As I sat there with my co-workers, we soon came to the main conclusion of the meeting—we didn’t know before and we still don’t know now and we won’t know until we get there and it all actually happens. And so, we shook hands and hugged and ate some tasty watermelon, and everyone left the meeting without feeling like there was anything abnormal about it. So what if we don’t know who is going to be there or how many or where we’re going to hold it or what we’re going to truly try to accomplish? That’s not particularly unusual!

I’ve had plans take 180 degree turns within an hour (which included massive changes in things like flights, hotels, vehicles and more); I have chatted with happy healthy friends in the morning only to have them medivaced to Australia by the afternoon. Grocery shopping, clothing repair, workshops, weather, transportation, translation issues…it’s to the point that if a plan actually makes it to conclusion with no hitches or hiccups, I look at it in suspicion. All right, what went wrong? (Either that, or the plan was so vague, like “make dinner,” that there was not many ways it could fail…but of course, it still COULD.)

But to be honest, that level of uncertainty and being out of control is like that in the US as well—we just hide it better. We think we have the ability to plan and execute and control the outcome, and we attempt to put in processes and patterns and protocols to make it more likely….but in reality, those only deal hypothetically with the future and we, as created human beings, can only ever live in the present. The now.

In a 3rd world country, that façade is removed, and instead I live in the world of uncertainty as it really is—coloring outside the lines and beyond my control. It’s weird and strange and uncomfortable to live this way, especially as an American who probably has an Excel spreadsheet regulating my internal organs, and especially when I’m still required to submit plans for weeks, months, and years, or when I need to purchase tickets to fly back to the US several months in advance… all the while my experience is screaming at me that all those proposals may fall to pieces at 1:15 tomorrow.

It’s like looking at a complex machine with all the pretty plastic covers taken off, and suddenly, I don’t understand it anymore. That lack of control could be utterly terrifying. And, I think, I would go crazy if it weren’t for one thing…

I may not have any idea if I will make it to my tea appointment this afternoon or if I’ll even have enough gas to cook lunch, much less fly to New Ireland and have a successful workshop next week. But, I have a Heavenly Father who lives not only in the Now but also in the Future and in the Past. He has already orchestrated eternity, which includes the events of my day. And so, I start my mornings by handing the Lord my to-do list and my activities, because, as my devotion reminded me this morning, He’s my King…and who knows what the King has planned for today!

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.
James 4:13-15

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cinderella's Slipper...PNG Version

I know there is supposed to be some sort of elusive but undeniable connection between women and shoes. I just watched the 8th graders put on their first production about Cinderella, and we all know how crucial the right shoes were to her life (even if their glass edges appear to me like machetes aimed at her Achilles tendon). I imagine that for some girls, shoes are a means of expressing personal style and taste, but for me, they’ve always been about function—would they let me stomp through snowbanks without frostbite or demonstrate I can do my job with professionalism (nevermind that it’s at a desk and my feet are hidden from view…)? If so, then check!

Oddly enough, here in Papua New Guinea (PNG), I may have reached an all-time high in the number of pairs of shoes that I own (eight, if you’re curious), and each of them have proven their invaluable worth in playing a specialized role in my work as a Bible translator. Most of these shoes I’ve had to bring from the States because the quality of shoes that I’d purchase here don’t tend to last more than a month (if that!) due to the severe abuse that they receive on a daily basis.

Curious? Well then, let’s tour the closet?

Yup, that's mud caked all over them. These guys are tough.
First, meet the sturdy hiking boots (or, to be more specific, they are portaging boots). These are the gunslingers of my closet (who I imagine would tell marvelous stories of their escapades in tough, gravelly voices). They are the ones who scrabble up rocks, sink into calf-deep mud until no longer visible and charge into rocky rivers without even a second thought, always remaining firmly attached to my feet, despite suction that would rival that terrifying machine in the Princess Bride. They provide the necessary support and stability for when I’m carrying a heavy backpack, but on the flip side, that also means they are hot, heavy, and not quickly removable. So, when I’m no longer backpacking 5 hours through the mountains, I move to my next invaluable pair…

When the terrain isn’t quite as rugged as would require the hiking boots, I pull out my Chacos; these are my go-to footwear in a village setting when I need a pair that can instantly switch from hiking across mountain gardens to shopping in the local town market to climbing into a canoe to going to church to playing volleyball to stopping by for some tea and kaukau at a local house. Oh my Chacos, how I love thee!

When I’m in Ukarumpa, my gum boots (or mud boots) are my dear friends, valiantly striving to keep my feet dry in trips to market, the post office, or even to church! Sometimes the grass can get quite high (or the puddles quite deep), and thus the two heights become invaluable. I've pushed out many a stuck car in these!

  Because most floors in Ukarumpa are hard (wood, tile, or linoleum—carpet is nearly nonexistant) and because in dry season (starting now) it can easily be in 50-60 degrees F in the mornings, my feet can get really cold. Praise the Lord for fuzzy slippers! In addition, two other pairs of footwear that have brought me many hours of enjoyment are my horseback riding boots (which protect my feet from frisky equines) and my water shoes (which protect my feet from frisky sea urchins).

And finally, my most commonly used set of footwear is my flipflops (or, as they are known here, “thongs,” but that can have strange connotations for American ears…). Rarely does a day go by that I haven’t tromped somewhere in these shoes. Most Papua New Guineans, if they wear shoes at all, wear thongs and are masters at repairing them, or even hiking dozens of miles in broken flipflops held together with bits of string. Of course, not all flipflops are made equal, and after destroying several pairs here, I have finally come across the perfect combination of tread, support, strength and durability! Nevermind that it’s bright turquoise; these flipflops have survived nearly a year—that’s a record!!

Of course, by far the easiest (and my favourite) is what we call lek nating, or merely barefoot. Oftentimes, I find that having those clingy, grippy toes makes scrambling through wet or muddy conditions much easier and safer. Most PNG’ns don’t use shoes at all, and their feet are wide and tough as the hardiest workboot. (But, since I never know what sort of sharp objects are hidden at the bottom of a mud cavern and since I live in the Land of Infection where cuts can harbor bacteria within moments, going barefoot does present its own set of risks.)

And that, my friends, is my shoe closet, with nary a glass slipper in sight. By lunchtime, I can easily have already worn three or more pairs of shoes, based upon my ever-changing job at the time. (Needless to say, matching the shoe to the outfit is quite irrelevant! I don’t know how many times I’ve worn those waterproof gum boots to church.) I wonder how Cinderella’s story would have changed if she wore mud boots to the ball?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Photo Album in my Bilum

Several months ago, I was sitting next to a window in a village house when I should have been sleeping and was talking with God. As I poured out my emotions (and scribbled notes, which later became this poem), He merely listened and waited, wrapping my humanity in His love. After all, He whispered back, Jesus knew separation from His Father as well.

The Photo Album in my Bilum*

Some take their family with them
Seven cups at the table, bug collections and Barbies
Heaped behind the couch; generations wander together
over road, sky, water, hands intertwined
discussing road signs, whispering good night beneath mosquito nets.
But my family travels trapped
In plastic, flattened smiles between the pages
Rattling against thermos and torch, waiting
For pointing introductions: mother, father, sister, cousins, friends.
Two years, and they haven’t aged a day
Like a tabloid promise fighting wrinkles and gray hair.
But waking as Rip Van Winkle is like starring in a horror film, and I stare
out the window, listening to a chorus of amens drift into silence.
Maybe eternity will be like the album, unchanging togetherness
After a life of Skype calls and 1 am emails, but
sometimes, Lord, a reward of a hundred times over
seems a dime-store replacement for

*a bilum is a traditional string bag in Papua New Guinea

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What’s Out Your Window?

Today I thought it would be fun to show some of the views from a few of the windows in my house on a typical Ukarumpa day.

Let’s start with the everything room—the room where we play Christmas carols on the piano, visit with friends on the couch, watch movies on the TV (or computer), host families at the dining table, play card games, pray, laugh cry, cuddle pets…

We are fortunate to have a huge plate glass window opening up to an amazing view! You can see Lone Tree in the distance (once it only had one tree on the peak, but now there are many…but the name hasn’t change), the Training Centre (where we hold classes, conferences, and workshops related to Bible translation), the cow pastures off to the right, and then the gardens of our national coworkers to the left. The little bush-looking thing in the yard to the lower left is actually an avocado tree. It’s a bit of a gray and hazy day today, so the clouds aren’t as spectacular as they often are.

Our lovely view from the "everything" room
Now, off to the kitchen! Just the other day I had a plethora of cucumbers, avocados, and some chicken…so I made cucumber-avocado-chicken soup! Despite its rather florescent green color, it actually was pretty tasty  This shows more gardens (this picture is taken just to the left of the “everything” room window). These are “louvered” windows, meaning the glass is mounted in narrow, horizontal plates that can rotate closed (when it’s chilly out), or fold inward, to let the breezes in.
As I stand at the counter mixing up the day's bread, this is what I see

Let’s go to the office/sewing room/craft room/dehydrating room/library/room with the light bulb that requires climbing on a chair and tapping it in order for it to turn on… here’s where I type many of these blog posts, work on literacy projects, or try to figure out how to repair the strange skirt that I bought in Kainantu. Because we have more valuable/expensive items kept in this room, we have both arc mesh and bars across the windows for security’s sake. But, even with the extra metal, the view of the surrounding mountains is still refreshing!

Often the storms approach over those mountains and I know to run and get my laundry off the line!

And finally, here’s the window from my bedroom, looking out the opposite side of the house from the kitchen. That’s our neighbor’s house, a grapefruit tree, a lemon tree, and our garden off to the left while you can see the edge of our clothesline to the right. The benches off to the left surround a place to build a fire and grill. Yum!

That grapefruit tree is really prolific; too bad they are quite sour, and despite trying, I haven't become a fan yet
What's out your window?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Birds in Church

A story from my experience at a literacy workshop in Saidor, PNG last year (read more here).

... not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it….So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.
Matthew 10:29, 31

Black-backed birds darted above me, hopping between rafters like trapeze artists, chattering with their mouths full, flitting past a mural of a frozen Holy Spirit trying to perch on Jesus’ shoulder.  It was Sunday morning, and they were building their nests in church.

I uncrossed my ankles, twisting my neck toward the window as I tried to peel my muscles from the hardwood backless benches without elbowing the girl nearly pressed into my side. Stretching in a crowded church is like playing Tetris. I glanced across the aisle. At least, it’s that way on the women’s side. The men’s benches were flecked with only few boys and old men.

It was August 2012, and I was on staff at a 5-week literacy course for rural teachers of the Rai Coast of Madang province, which was known for its 20+ vibrant languages (none with translated Scriptures) and low education levels (see blog posts here and here). No pastor here, I peered around the congregation. And no Bibles either—except mine.

One of the elderly men, barefoot and long-sleeved, creaked to his feet and shuffled to the front of the church. “Christianity is like banking,” he announced, using Tok Pisin, PNG’s vague and unwieldy trade language. “Doing good deeds puts money in the bank. Doing bad deeds is withdrawing from your account.” My leg was numb, asleep, and I ground my heel into the floor—wake up! “Christianity is good news!” His voice grew louder, as if desperate for volume to communicate Truth when the Scriptures were incomprehensible—“When the end comes, you better have a positive balance if you want to go to heaven!” His fist smashed into the pulpit like a door slamming shut.

What?! Fire shot up my leg as feeling returned in explosive fireworks, and I gasped, sucked air between gritted teeth. The echo shattered through the rafters, scattering the birds, but the woman in front of me just nodded and a mange-bitten dog beneath the bench slapped his tail.

“Stand up and let us pray.” I couldn’t move. Together, he and the women around me, eyes downcast, whispered petitions of help and protection, but I only looked up—above his murmuring head was hung a wooden crucifix, a dying man’s arms spread in a payment that we could never make. He is weeping.

So am I.

Suddenly, with one voice, the flock of church birds begin to chirp, sing, cry in a growing crescendo until  they are screeching, screaming, shouting with the enthusiasm of a revival tent meeting, and I can no longer hear the man at the pulpit. Amidst the din, the women whisper amen and I watch them, one by one, rise, turn, and walk toward the door and lift yet another burden to their shoulders. Just try harder today. Do better. That’s what God wants.

But above me and the crucifix, the birds rejoice in their own language, wings dark against the stained glass, pink, blue, green, gold louvers now cracked and broken, giving forbidden entrance to a flock of sparrows. They don’t worry about falling here.

I watch, one by one, the slumped backs of the women leaving the sanctuary, holding children, touching holy water to forehead, shoulders, the faithful trying to heed His call, deaf to His unintelligible words: how much more valuable are you...

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Step-by-Step Storytelling

For me, storytelling can be a lot like yawning. It’s really easy to start—but woe to the one who tries to stop! Sure, I can capture just about anyone’s attention with a thrilling start (who could forget those epic stories about a dragon started bouncing like a jackrabbit across the hills with a sack on his back or a British ghost who was a pyromaniac or the mysterious water monster living beneath my college’s island…), but ending them? Well, that’s something else.

Sometimes when we talk about Oral Bible Storytelling, I think the image in our heads is similar to my haphazard version, but in fact, the storytelling process taught in the Oral Bible Storytelling course held this past April in Wewak, Papua New Guinea (PNG) was as different from the above scenario as an Easi-Bake oven is from a Master Chef’s kitchen. (See more stories about the OBS course here and here)

For the first half of the course, each morning the 30 participants from 7 languages gathered in the haus win (open shelter), clutching their recorders and leaning forward with eager grins, excited to begin. Several of the participants had been chosen to begin training as future instructors of the course, and so, paired with an experienced staff member, they would lead the day’s activities, beginning by dramatically telling one of the stories of Moses and the Exodus. Because there were seven languages present, all the instruction and initial storytelling was done in Tok Pisin, PNG’s main trade language.

At the conclusion of the story, the participants would toss up their hands, chattering animatedly about what surprised them, pleased them, or even made them angry. Slowly they would tease out the themes of the text and potential application for their audience. Throughout the morning, the facilitator would retell the story multiple times, guiding the class in analyzing characters and setting, determining the story’s outline and climax, and (in contrast to my method), figuring out appropriate ways to start and end the story (including what background might be necessary for their audience). Occasionally, when perplexed by a historical or theological issue, the whole class would rotate in their seats to stare at us, the expat mentors sitting in the back, and pepper us with questions—what size was the burning bush? Was the Red Sea really red? Is there any deeper significance in removing shoes on holy ground? How many Pharoah’s were there? How far away was Mt. Sinai from Midian?

After the morning break of tea, coffee, and banana cake, the participants dove into the next challenge—committing the story to memory, first in Tok Pisin and later in tokples (local language). They used a variety of aids and games, from acting out the story to trading sentences with each table, to drawing out a picture/symbolic outline, to working in teams and echoing each other back and forth.

After lunch, each language group split off to begin crafting the story in their own tokples. Earlier, they had recorded the story in Tok Pisin, so now, they would play the recording and while listening to it, one person would simultaneously translate the phrases into tokples, which was captured on a second recorder. Once this first draft was completed, the rest of the team would listen and relisten to the story’s recording, discussing changes and slowly modifying it until all were satisfied. Then they practiced telling this story until it was firmly committed to memory.

Hear the bell—it’s afternoon tea, now! After the break, the whole group would once again gather together to discuss both challenging concepts that they encountered in their translation, such as rhetorical questions or sarcasm, and difficult words that don’t have easy equivalents in their languages and cultures—such as tar, basket, Israel, Hebrew, Levi, calendar, yeast, sheep, trough, holy, offering, chariot, sea or even expressing 14 days (when they only have a numbering system that counts up to 10). Often the teams would be working on their drafts late into the night, polishing and refining the language until it was just right.

The last stage of storytelling course was the check and recording—after one team member recorded their final version of the story in tokples, another team member would listen to the recording and translate (either orally or written) it back into Tok Pisin. Then, our linguistic consultant, Elois, would examine the Tok Pisin version and ask many probing questions to make sure that concepts were being communicated correctly and none of the important elements of Scripture were being left out or altered. After the team made the necessary changes, they made a final recording for archiving purposes… and then started the process over again for the next story!

And that, my friends, is nothing to yawn at!