Sunday, June 30, 2013

Wonderful Words of Life

It was turning into a battle of wills. Would I, could I, let this mere machine crush our hard-fought efforts to finalize the Tigaak hymnbook and beat it into a readable format? Would I allow a box of electronics to show it’s mastery over human intellect? Could I dare even consider admitting defeat?

Yes, I decided as I watched the word processing program once again erase hours of work.  Yes, I most definitely can, and I think I’d gladly help it by chucking it all out the window!!

Deep breath. After all, I’m here as the supposed “expert” missionary advisor. And missionary advisors don’t toss computers into the ocean, despite strong feelings to the contrary. My colleague, Hanna, swiveled in her chair to watch me, knowing exactly what I was thinking. I turned back to see if I could salvage the work. Missionary advisors especially don’t toss computers into the ocean when there are witnesses...

Almost done with the corrections!
It was the second day that Hanna and I had spent in the tiny computer office of the Kavieng centre, trying to get the hymnbook formatted and typeset, ready for printing. In the other room, Miskum, one of the Tigaak translators, poured over the pages, checking every double-a and stray comma while Sam worked on the cover illustration.

In in the late 1800s, when the first missionaries arrived on New Ireland, they brought with them their English Methodist hymnbooks, which have since become a treasured staple of the United church. Now, the Tigaak language community of over 10,000 people were eager to be able to sing their treasured songs in their own language. Hymnbooks are not only powerful tools for literacy and language awareness, but they are extremely effective in communicating memorable Scripture, even when the Bible hasn’t been translated yet. As a result, it’s a valuable first step in reaching people with God’s truth.

The final corrections after being checked with the community
The project had been in progress for several years, and dozens of people had worked hard to translate and type in over 200 songs but without a dedicated advisor, the editing and typesetting process had slowed to a crawl. So, when Hanna, and I were asked to help Miskum and Sam finalize the draft for printing, we couldn’t say no.

Except, because so many people had worked on it over the years, using many different computer versions and styles in the program, the whole document had morphed into a massive spider-web of booby-traps that would have even snared Indiana Jones. One wrong key stroke and BANG, the entire thing would reformat itself faster than Harrison Ford could use his infamous whip. And so, Hanna and I slowly pulled at the different threads, and always praying “undo” would succeed, creeping forward at a snail’s pace. You thought missionary life was glamorous? Well, I have some pretty killer Ctl+Z reflexes now...

Nevertheless, we pressed onward, slowly paging through Miskum’s Kuanua hymnbook as we checked numbers and meter counts, the pages covered in notes, so soft and worn from love and use that they felt like fabric. It’s hard to be silent, checking a hymnbook. Even as I typed up words I couldn’t understand, I would recognize the tune, and found myself humming “Rock of Ages” or “The Old Rugged Cross” or “Christ Arose!” As we hummed and sang our way through the editing process, I couldn’t help but meditate on the truths proclaimed through these hymns.

    Sweetly echo the gospel call,
    wonderful words of life;
    offer pardon and peace to all,
    wonderful words of life;
    Jesus, only Savior,
    sanctify forever.

Wonderful Words of Life, Stanza 3

Now the Tigaak can sing the wonderful words of life in their own language!
Their final cover illustration: Here the Holy Spirit is using a shell, the traditional "trumpet" used to proclaim news in the community, to shout the hymns in praise of God!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Where there's smoke...

Well, after three weeks of hanging out in Kavieng, New Ireland, only 2.5 degrees south of the equator, I’m back to the cool mountains of Ukarumpa. I look forward to sharing with you more about my escapades on the island. But, in the meantime, I’d like to share with you this awesome photo that I snapped as we flew over West New Britain.

 That’s not a cloud. That’s smoke. It’s an erupting volcano.

Even just looking at it gives me the shivers! I know for many people in the world, volcanoes erupting is rather mundane. Get up, start the coffee, feed the dog, note the volcano...

But, for me, my visions of volcanoes are forever tainted by a rather vivid and photographic rich early Roman history unit we did in grade school about Mt. Vesuvius and all those pictures of people, curled on their side, buried under ash.... and so, as we fly over, I can’t help but wonder if a plane was hit by volcanic ash....

I’m going to stop talking now. Enjoy the photos. I’ve got more stories coming!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

"Courage, dear heart": When loss is hope

By the Missionary Sister (taking over briefly while the Translator Sister is on whirlwind travels)

When we were little, Catherine and I had our lives all planned out. The plan was solidified back when I thought 3rd grade was old, and I don’t remember much of it, other than the fact that it involved Catherine eating Sun Chips and drinking chocolate milk all day long while sitting under a shade tree on her farm. What was I doing?
Horse show sisters. I give unhelpful advice about braiding manes.
Taking care of her animals.

Clearly we know who hatched that plan.

Now, 15-some years later, plans have changed. Far from dictating my every move from under her shade tree with her Sun Chips, Catherine lives halfway across the globe in a country I only know from World Map and Wikipedia, and instead of bringing her chocolate milk refills daily, I haven’t seen her in two years.

Two years.

Of course it’s true that it could be longer—Hudson Taylor left for 51 years for China, I’m told—but just because a pain could be worse does not mean the pain you do feel is nothing. To say that is to rob emotion of any feeling, pain of any meaning, because, you say, it could always be more: you’re not happy because you could be happier, you’re not sad because you could be sadder—and what madness is that?

So Catherine breathes out poems and I pour into my journal, and the only reason we do is because of hope; because this sort of grief—when souls are separated—only can occur if the memory of the beauty of what you had is still strong.

We spent many weeks working at Camp Shamineau, giving trail rides in 6 below weather. That's six below, air temperature. Windchill rivaled Antarctica.
C.S. Lewis once said that grief feels much like suspense—the waiting, the reminder always that behind your heart there is something missing—but that that something was beautiful. So the day after she leaves, when I accidentally set an extra place at the table and have to slip it back unnoticed, it is because once, there were four places filled—and that was beautiful.

Or when I try to grasp the exact picture of her face and can’t quite, when I cry for frustration and guilt at my inability to remember the exact nuances of the face of the one who should be most clear to me, and I can’t even see her on Skype because of the slowness of her Internet—for two years, no glimpse of her face—at least it is because I have seen her over so many years in so many thousands of expressions and places and plans and joys, I cannot remember just one.

Minnesota State Fair: The Rivard Day of Sanctioned Gluttony.
And when I walk down the stage at my college graduation and we’ve given away a third ticket for a seat in the audience because because we need only two, and that hurts more than anything, that she wasn’t there—at least it is because I knew she cared, and I knew she wanted to be there with me, and I have a sister who loves me.

And when my life moves on without her, and for most of her furlough I will be living half a country away—I remember the ache of that is because I know what is like to live and work and laugh with her 24/7, with those years one of the happiest times of my life.

Or when I think of her upcoming furlough, but that after that it may be five Christmases before I see her again and I will be closer to 30 than 20, it offers to me that I am not made for time, and someday in eternity, hope will be realized, and the timelessness we search for with every day that passes will come true—just like the stories foretold.

So when a well-meaning person exclaims, “She’s coming back already? Two years has gone by so fast, it seems like she was just here!” I’m not always certain what to say.

Making our Christmas lefse for the last time before she left. I roll, she flips. We're pretty good.
Sometimes I say nothing, thinking instead of Christmases and graduations, Skype and Sun Chips, timeless eternity and six-month furlough, each memory a stab of pain that bleeds hope. And now two years of separation—likely to stretch to five, ten, twenty—that move quickly for some and so slowly for me, but I try not to mourn.

For I wish instead to choose the memories that cause the pain and see the beauty that brings the sadness.

For that is hope.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

12 Reasons Why We're Like Jane Austen Heroines

Drinking tea at a bridal much more Austen can we get?
A little while ago, my roommates and I were watching Becoming Jane (and, of course, in order to get fully into the spirit of things, we followed up with a good ole Jane Austen movie marathon). Upon conclusion of our immersion in all things Austen, we decided that we here in Papua New Guinea are remarkably similar to her feisty Elizabeth’s and sensible Elinor’s. Since I know you are curious, here are twelve reasons why we qualify as Jane Austen heroines.

(I hope you’ve figured out by now that this post is not going to be particularly theologically deep or culturally enlightening…)

1. Lots of mud. Everywhere.
“My goodness, did you see her hem? Six inches deep in mud. She looked positively medieval.”
(Caroline Bingley, Pride and Prejudice)
2. Expensive Beef.
Mrs. Dashwood: Surely you're not going to deny us beef as well as sugar.
Elinor Dashwood: There is nothing under 10 pence a pound, Mama. We must economise.
Mrs. Dashwood: Do you want us to starve?
Elinor Dashwood: No. Just not to eat beef.
(Sense and Sensibility— film)

3. Lots of opportunities to get caught in soaking rain.

Margaret: It's going to rain.
Marianne: It is NOT going to rain.
Margaret: You ALWAYS say that and then it ALWAYS does.
(Sense and Sensibility— film)
 (however, we seem to rarely catch our death of cold or twist our ankle and having a charming gentleman ride up on a horse to rescue us)
4. Reading is a key form of entertainment
“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book!" (Caroline Bingley, Pride and Prejudice)

5. Getting home when it’s raining or dark is often dependent upon the generosity of others

"Can I have the carriage?" said Jane.
"No, my dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain; and then you must stay all night." (Pride and Prejudice)

6.  Maintaining the high opinion of impeachable social propriety is essential.
“Unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we may draw from it this useful lesson: that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable — that one false step involves her in endless ruin — that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful — and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex.” (Mary Bennet, Pride and Prejudice)

7.  We walk (almost) everywhere.
“Tell me, do you and your sisters very often walk to Meryton?” asked Mr. Darcy.
“Yes, we often walk to Meryton.” (Elizabeth Bennett, Pride and Prejudice)

8.  Dining with friends for meals and tea happens several times a week.
“We have dined nine times at Rosings, besides drinking tea there twice! How much I shall have to tell!” (Pride and Prejudice)

9.  People like to try to marry us off  :)
Mrs. Jennings was a widow, with an ample jointure. She had only two daughters, both of whom she had lived to see respectably married, and she had now therefore nothing to do but marry all the rest of the world. (Sense and Sensibility)

10. We communicate with family primarily through letter-writing (err, email-writing).
 At length she spoke again. “I have just had a letter from Jane, with such dreadful news. (Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice)

11.  Our clothes are not of the highest fashions
"Do not make yourself uneasy, my dear cousin, about your apparel.  Lady Catherine is far from requiring that elegance of dress in us which becomes herself and her daughter.  I could advise you merely to put on whatever of your clothes is superior to the rest--there is no occasion for anything more.  Lady Catherine will not think the worse of you for being simply dressed.  She likes to have the distinction of rank preserved." (Mr. Collins, Pride and Prejudice)

12.  And last, but not least...
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”  (Pride and Prejudice)

Or, in Ukarumpa-speak, it would be rephrased as “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man who comes to PNG to serve with Bible translation, must be in want of a wife.”  'Nuff said. :)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Between His Shoulders

About Benjamin he said: "Let the beloved of Yahweh rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one Yahweh loves rests between His shoulders."
Deuteronomy 33:12
Their neck strength is amazing!
In Papua New Guinea, the string bilum is the workhorse of life. From tiny purses to gigantic bags carrying heavy loads of kaukau (sweet potato) or firewood, bilums vary in size, shape, material, and patterns (oftentimes the pattern and materials will tell you which part of the country it was made in, or even which people group made it). In addition, making bilums is an important social activity, and very few PNG women would be caught without having a half-finished bilum project with them. Even I’ve been roped into learning this essential skill!

Although we might think it’s unstable, I’ve never seen a bilum fall off a PNG woman’s head; on the contrary, they often balance several bilums at a time, up and down steep mountain paths without a second thought. Little girls begin developing the muscle strength and balance from the moment they start walking—mothers will make tiny bilums for them, and occasionally put rocks or a water bottle inside to start building those neck muscles). Even I’ve developed a preference for it!

Little girls start carrying bilums early!
Although bilums are important in all aspects of PNG life, there’s one type of bilum that every young woman ought to have, and it’s made with extra-special care. It’s the baby bilum.

Many missionary families use the bilum as well.

Hung from the rafters in the PNG version of a cool and breathable cradle, a baby bilum is the comfortable home from tiny infants to squirming, still-nursing toddlers. In order to lull their fussy child to sleep, mothers will walk and gently swing the bilum back and forth, not unlike our rocking chairs. Later, if she decides it’s time for her to leave, the mother simply lifts the bilum’s handle to balance on her head and walks gracefully off...all the while, the baby, trusting and content, continues sleeping, resting between her shoulders.

Deuteronomy 33 tells of the promises given to each of Jacob’s sons, and in verse 33 we reach Benjamin: About Benjamin he said: "Let the beloved of Yahweh rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one Yahweh loves rests between His shoulders."

I can’t imagine a more beautiful picture of the care and love of our Heavenly Father than of a child, sleeping in a bilum between his shoulders.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

31 Uses for a Laplap

Ah, the lowly laplap. While you may not initially think of including one in your packing list, I would be remiss to ever wander anywhere in Papua New Guinea without at least one of these stowed in my bag. A laplap is large, wide piece of thin cloth that is in its primary definition, an essential component of a PNG woman’s wardrobe. But, far from being relegated to merely an article of clothing, the laplap is extremely versatile. In fact, over the past several years, I’ve observed at least 31 uses for the laplap—and I’m sure there are plenty more I could add to this list!

(Note: PNG taboos and customs require that although a single laplap could be used for all of these tasks, it most certainly should not be; for example, laplaps used in and around cooking and food preparation must not be used as articles of clothing, etc.)

  1. Baby sling—If you can’t find a bilum (traditional string bag), then you can easily tie up a laplap to either create a quick cradle to hang from the rafters or a sling to hold your infant on your back.
  2. Bathing outfit—Ladies, it’s time for your daily bath—which means going to the river along with a dozen other women and children. Cross your laplap around the front and tie it behind your neck for a modest bathing outfit that still lets you get clean.
  3. Bedsheet—Why bring extra sheets to a village when all you need is a laplap to wrap yourself in?
    Bed sheets, floor sheets, towels, dish cloths--lots of laplaps!
  4. Blanket—If the night gets cool, just throw an extra laplap over your laplap sheet to make a cozy blanket.
  5. Broom—You have been chopping onions for dinner and some of the skins have fallen on the floor. Grab your laplap to sweep up the debris.
  6. Chalkboard duster—Wipe off your chalkboard (or whiteboard) with a laplap duster.
  7. Curtain—Hang a laplap over a window for privacy (want a quick and dirty window treatment? Use clothespins and some plastic string for a 5-min installation.)
  8. Dish cloth—When you make your daily trek to the river, don’t forget your dishes. A laplap makes a perfect dish cloth for both scrubbing and drying.
  9. Door—No door? No problem! Hang up a laplap for a hinge-free door.
  10. Floorcloth or mop—Did the dog track in some mud (or the chicken or the pig or the child)? Never fear! Wet down that laplap and mop it all up!
  11. Floor sheet—Instead of laying your mattress directly on the limbum or bamboo floor, spread a laplap as a thin layer of protection against slivers and dirt.
  12. Fly sheet—Flies are dreaded visitors to every dinner party, spreading disease wherever they land. Militantly guard your food by covering every bowl with laplaps.
    Women wearing laplaps and pots covered in laplaps.
  13. Food basket—With some creative folding, a laplap can easily turn into a basket or bag to carry home that garden produce.
  14. Handkerchief—Paper products are expensive and who carries Kleenex with them? Use a laplap for a handkerchief for both yourself and your children.
  15. Hand towel—Always wash your hands before and after eating...and a laplap can create an instant hand towel.
  16. Mosquito net cover—Once you’ve set up your mosquito net, either hang or drape a laplap over the top; because most roofs are made of natural products (like sago palm leaves or grass), it’s not unusual to have bits of leaves, sticks, or various many-legged creatures fall out of the roof onto your mosquito net. If you hang a laplap above, you can collect the debris and toss it out in the morning.
  17. Muffler—Are you coughing too loudly in the middle of a workshop? Wrap a laplap around your face to muffle the sound.
    The "muffler" has to be the oddest use of a laplap I've seen
  18. Piano or electronics dust cover—Dust and dirt is everywhere in PNG, and it collects in mere hours. Cover up your valuables (like your piano or your computer or printer) with a laplap to extend its life.
  19. Raincoat—PNG is in the tropics, and that means rain. Wear a laplap over your head and shoulders to help shed some of the water.
  20. Room divider—With only one-room houses, it can be hard to create privacy. Hang laplaps to create instant rooms (sound proofing is not included).
  21. Scarf—On those cold mornings in Ukarumpa, wrap a laplap around your neck as a warm scarf.
  22. Sewing material—Laplaps make great bolts of fabric for sewing projects—pillows, rugs, meri blouses, culottes, you name it!
  23. Shawl—Nights can get chilly up in the mountains; wear the laplap as a shawl to keep warm.
  24. Sling—Although no one wants a broken arm, if you do get injured, you can make a fast and easy sling with your handy laplap
  25. Sun shield—Wrap a laplap around your head during the heat of the day, and just like the turbans of the Bedouin, you will find some sun relief. Alternatively, drape it over a bilum where your baby is sleeping to guard him from the ferocious rays.
  26. Tablecloth—Spruce up your dinner table with a lovely laplap tablecloth.
  27. Tent—The hot tropical sun is ready to fry your skin; build a laplap tent to create some instant shade.
  28. Towel—Once you’re done bathing, grab a laplap to dry off.
  29. Trousers Cover-up—Now that trousers are part of women’s clothing, the laplap functions as a cover-up to allow us to wear jeans in public areas while still remaining modestly attired.
  30. Umbrella—If you are trying to keep several people dry, I suggest holding up the corners to make an impromptu umbrella.
  31. Wraparound Skirt—And finally, last (but not least), its traditional use—an article of clothing. PNG women have mastered the ability to wrap it around and knot it such that it remains secure even under the most trying of circumstances. This, however, takes practice, and since practice takes time, I highly recommend the use of a safety pin (or two) until you are certain you have the knack... (And men, don’t forget! If you are from the outer islands, a laplap is an important traditional part of your wardrobe as well!
There you have it—the amazing and humble laplap. To some, it’s just a piece of fabric, to others it serves as the cotton (or, sometimes synthetic) version of a Target catalog!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Word Overcomes Illiteracy

For much of the workshop, Susan, a Kwomtari speaker, sat unobtrusively at her table, often resting her chin on her hands as she listened to the and here.) I had the privilege of serving on staff during the course and meeting Susan firsthand.

One of 30 participants from seven languages, Susan was attending the third of four workshops on Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS), a course that teaches Papua New Guineans how to memorize and retell Bible stories in a dramatic manner. (See more stories about that course

Photo of Susan by Gary Abbas
Quiet and humble, Susan rarely spoke in discussions, and so when she shyly walked to the front of the room, everyone grew silent. She stared at the ground for a moment, and then, breaking into huge grin, Susan dove headfirst into the story of Moses fleeing Egypt. Waving her hands and darting around the room, this tiny woman became a fierce Moses attacking an Egyptian, scolding Hebrews, cowering shepherds, and Jethro’s daughters. As she finished the story, the room roared with laughter and applause; Susan beamed in delight—being illiterate no longer meant she couldn’t share God’s Word.

As a pastor’s wife with a deep faith, Susan’s inability to read has long been a great frustration to her, preventing her from leading well her women’s fellowship group or even telling Bible stories to her children. After she attended her first OBS workshop, Susan eagerly began sharing stories, but the other women in the fellowship became angry, accusing Susan of arrogance and not accepting their authority as literate members.

But, a chance to clarify OBS came when Susan was asked to share a Bible story for the opening devotional for a regional women’s meeting. “How many of you can read?” 150 women were asked. Only a dozen raised their hands. “OBS helps you learn Bible stories and share them with your families—without needing to read.” Excited, the women listened spellbound as Susan proclaimed Truth in their own language. No longer did Susan face opposition from the fellowship; instead, they were excited about receiving God’s Word through OBS into their own lives!