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 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 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.
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]


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.)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In Which Jesus Was Properly Baptized

Here I'm advisor-checking with a group of Tiang
“So,” I asked again, “Who was baptized?”

The group looked at me blankly. “No one.”

“No one?! How could no one have been baptized?” I pointed to our paper. “We just talked about how it was Jesus asking to be baptized by John and not the other way around. What happened after John finally agreed?”

Gillian, the main translator, peered closely at the paper, then burst out laughing. “Nothing happened, because it doesn’t say 'Jesus was baptized.' It only has the conversation before between Jesus and John, and then it says ‘Jesus came out of the water really quickly.’ So, Jesus wasn’t baptized.”

I shook my head. “Well, then, I guess we have to make some changes!”

The group bent close together as they discussed in murmurs the best way to translate the sentence into Tiang. I was working with a group of pastors, Sunday School teachers, and national translators to translate and produce a Sunday School book following the life of Christ. It was a two-week workshop out in New Ireland this past June (see blog post here), and we were nearing the end of the first week, beginning the process of advisor checking (where an advisor works through the text with a group of speakers, making sure it’s clear, accurate, and natural).

The group had started out translating the Bible stories into Tiang, after which another group edited it. Next, they “back-translated” the translated Tiang story into Tok Pisin, the trade language that I know. I then read through the Tok Pisin text to see if there were any potential inaccuracies or mix-ups, which would indicate a problem with the Tiang. I also came up with a series of questions to ask my focus group in order to test if they are able to come up with the right answers from the text (who, what, where, why, how, for what purpose, what next, as a result etc.). Finally, I checked areas of potential translation challenges, like rhetorical questions, double negatives, key terms (words that are loaded with impact, like glory or resurrection) and cultural details (what does a well look like to a Papua New Guinean? why did Judas kiss Jesus?).

If they aren’t able to answer my questions correctly, then we begin to pull at the threads of the story to find out where there might be problems or parts of the text that could be translated more clearly. This part often turns into a mini-Bible story as we discuss the text in depth. For example, in the story of the baptism of Jesus, the original Tiang translator was confused why Jesus would ask John for baptism, and so he assumed he misread the text and translated it as John asking Jesus. When I discovered the mix-up in our advisor checking, it led to a great discussion about the reasons behind Jesus’ baptism and the implications for later.

Here my colleague, Hanna, was working with a group
Similarly, when we checked the story of Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus to the temple to present him to God as their firstborn son and to give the offering for Mary’s purification, they read Mary’s purification as Jesus’ baptism and christening. We had to work together to find a different way of describing the ceremony that would not lead the readers to think He was being baptized as an infant.

Sometimes only one word can make a huge difference such a change in verb agreement  (Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt with a crowd of people instead of secretly in the night) or pronoun (when Jesus was rebuking the disciples and included Himself as if needing correction as well!). As you can imagine, advisor checking can be a lengthy and mentally-taxing process, but extremely fascinating as language, culture, and Scripture work together in a marvellous display of God’s creativity.

The group had finished their edits (Jesus was now getting properly baptized), but I had one more question. “I’m curious—why did Jesus come out of the water really quickly?” My mind was conjuring up images of the Son of God leaping with flailing arms out of the water, as if shocked by the cold or bitten by a fish...

“Well,” they looked at each other, “because that’s what the Bible says.”

“Hmm.” I glanced back at my notes, and then at my computer screen, where I had several New Testament versions, including Greek, opened to the passage. “Here it says, ‘Immediately after Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove.’ Immediately means to happen right away...not necessarily quickly.” Understanding dawned across their faces as they once again scribbled red corrections over the paper.

“So, who was baptized?” I asked one last time.

“Jesus!” they chorused, grinning at me.

“And what happened when He was baptized?”

“Right away, the Holy Spirit came down!”

I closed my notebook and grinned. Jesus had now been baptized—in Tiang!

At the end of the workshop, Solomon stood up at the back of the classroom. “I have never read the Bible so much before! From morning until evening, from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm, we read the Bible. We read it in English. We read it in Tok Pisin. We read it in Tiang. And when I read the Bible in English or Tok Pisin, I get this much.” Solomon spread his thumb and forefinger apart. “But, when I read it in Tiang, then I get this much.” He stretched one arm above his head and the other below his waist. “Em i bikpela tumas long mi!It’s very important to me

Sunday, July 14, 2013

“Greetings From Mars”—or what to do when your missionary returns home

They may not actually be from another solar system—but I know what you’re thinking. They might as well be. Random country names with more syllables and sounds at the back of your throat than you thought possible, displays in the church foyer with giant bugs and pictures of huts made from grass, a missionary at the podium dressed in a long jean skirt, sandals (AND socks!), who uses some expressions that aren’t quite right when clicking through the 800th slide of half-dressed children. And, you better make sure you brought your Bible into church when it’s Missionary Sunday, because I swear I glimpsed a set of angel wings hidden beneath her hair that hasn’t been cut in 10 years...

A Martian indeed!

But, I’m here to tell you—never fear! You won’t need to pull out your Star Wars Jedi tricks to understand your home-coming missionary. Here are 10 things that you can do to help your missionaries (including me!) out when they come back to their home country.

1. Listen

Always room for one more!
Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the US have very different perspectives on time—and what is rude in one is actually polite in the other. As I shift from the “drop-in-for-tea-spur-of-the-moment-and-stay-for-hours” culture (PNG) to “let’s-make-an-appointment-from-3:17pm-to-3:31 pm” culture (US), I especially appreciate your willingness to simply sit down and listen, giving me the valuable gift of your time. And, of course, I’d love to hear your stories too!

2. Ask specific questions
Imagine if I asked you describe the history of the American economic system in two sentences? Yeah—practically impossible. Similarly, questions like “how was your time in PNG?” or “what is PNG like?” encompass a magnitude of experiences that are tricky to distill into a snappy response appropriate for a church foyer conversation. Let’s strike a deal—you aim for specific questions, I’ll try to keep it short, and if you really want to hear the long answer, let’s go to coffee :)

3. Don’t make me try to choose between PNG and the US
I have laughed in both, cried in both, bled in both, worshipped in both. I have hugged friends and family goodbye in both, I’ve struggled and rejoiced and learned and grieved and seen the good and the bad. My home is now in both of them...and in neither of them. I now live in the margins, no longer fully fitting with either country, and instead I know that someday I will enter my heavenly home where I will truly belong.

4. Don’t put me on a pedestal.

Every time you look at me and say “I could never do that/be like you/go over there,” it makes me ache, because without God’s help and His empowering in my life, I could never do it either. He gives us the strength to do what He has called each of us to do, so please don’t belittle the work He’s doing in your life by trying to lift me to a place that I don’t want or deserve.

Here's a new fruit that I had to learn--starfruit or 5-corner
5. Be forthcoming with information
Instead of following the US pattern where, when you move, you tend to slowly lose contact with your original location, I have attempted to keep both the entire network of US friends and my entire network of PNG friends. Not only that, but when I moved to PNG, I also added an entire different structure to learn—new methods of driving and measuring things and navigating cities and counting money and speaking languages. I’ve met hundreds of people...and believe me, when you add that to my already huge network, in two years that’s lots of babies and anniversaries and new jobs.

So, please don’t be offended when I ask questions that seem obvious or can’t remember your child’s name or where you live or have to check the church’s picture directory while I’m sitting in the parking lot before going inside. Also, if we go to coffee—don’t be afraid to suggest a place to go or things to do. I truly want to reconnect with you—please help me to do so!

6. Take the initiative.
I know it seems odd, reaching out to an almost-Martian, but I really would be honored if you invited me to your Bible study (as a person, not as a missionary...not everything has to revolve around the country I work in) or a game night or your women’s retreat or your pretzel-baking party or rock-climbing or the new yogurt shop in town. While I do have limited time, I also want to get involved, and if you take the initiative, that helps me a lot. I’m doing my best to contact people and take that first step (I’ve started months in advance!), but I’m human and sometimes things and people fall through the cracks. So, if I’ve missed you or your activity or your group, ring me up or shoot me an email!

7. Allow me to serve you
I am so honored and blessed with how much support and care you have given me—please, let me be a part of your lives and let me serve you. Relationships are a two-way street, and I’d love the opportunity to be a blessing to you and your family as well.

Here I am, researching away and trying to stay warm (55 F!)
8. Assist me with US things
As I re-enter the US, I will be dealing with a wide variety of services that I haven’t used in a while (phones! banks! gas stations!), dealing with needs of housing, vehicles, food while travelling, trying to find resources for training/education (any know about veterinary training for lay people? good first-aid courses for off-the-beaten path? self-defense courses?), purchasing items needed in PNG, and much more. If you are interested in helping me out with some tangible needs (accompanying me to do things, doing research for me, loaning items etc.), please contact me.

9. Pray

Your prayers for me and my family during this transition time are greatly appreciated and extremely powerful—don’t underestimate them! And, if you are comfortable, instead of just saying “I’ll pray for you,” have you thought of just stopping a moment and joining me in prayer at that time?

10. Educate yourself.
Do you know where PNG is located? (Hint: not Africa) One very practical way you can help your missionary is by reading up on the country that he/she works in, noticing when it’s in the news, and following what your missionary has been doing during his/her term (Do you remember what my job is?). Also, it can be very helpful if you read up on missionary care and the process of reentering the home country; there are lots of great resources out there. I’m outlining a few below (and will be blogging more on the reentry topic as well).

Missionary Reentry
Caring for Missionaries on HMA-Furlough
The Emotional Needs of Women on the Field
Caring for People in Missions
Supporting Missions Workers: The Key Role of the Sending Church:
Adopt a Missionary
Coming “Home”  
Serving As Senders (and here’s a chapter from the book on reentry)
The Reentry Team

What other ideas do you have to help your missionary when he/she returns on home assignment? Or, for missionaries, what has been helpful for you?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

From Nothing to Everything: A Story of God's Provision

Mi no save. In Tok Pisin, it’s the equivalent of “I haven’t got a clue,” and it seemed to be our mantra for the New Ireland Sunday School Book Production workshop (remember this post?). We had just finished typesetting the Tigaak hymnbook, and now we were supposed to lead two weeks of workshop producing two Sunday School books following the life of Christ in the Tiang language.
But, we didn’t know a few things.

My colleague, Hanna and I didn’t know precisely where we’d hold the workshop or where we’d be living (which, in turn, meant we didn’t know exactly what sort of cargo to bring—stuff for a village? for a centre?). We didn’t know who would exactly be coming or how many would show up. We didn’t know if we’d have adequate power at the workshop site or if the accommodations would be acceptable or even if there would be enough water or toilet facilities. We didn’t know how we’d manage food or printing supplies. We didn’t even know precisely what our goals were for the workshop or what was even involved in a “Sunday School Book Production” schedule or what angle we’d need to approach it from based on the experience of the participants. We didn’t know if we could work together or live together happily, and we didn’t know which computer programs we were supposed to use or if we could successfully print using a duplo. We didn’t even really have a clue how we were supposed to kick-off the workshop in the first place. The fact was, we were probably better off counting what we did was likely a shorter list!

But, as it turned out, our lack of everything meant God’s provision in everything.

First there was the facility. Hanna and I stayed at the guesthouse in Kavieng, but we were able to use the literacy office in Ligga (6 km south)—which happened to have a tiny apartment as well as dorms available for the participants use, as well as brand new pit toilets for our use!

Then there was the power supply at Ligga. First there was nothing, and then through the networking of our director (and God), there was power (and it remained consistent and reliable the entire time, which was another miracle).

What a lovely classroom--with fans and blackboards!!

Next, there were the participants. Instead of only a few people (or reluctant people)...10 of the most dedicated Sunday School teachers and church leaders along with 4 trained national translators crowded into our tiny classroom, eager to begin the work (and informed us sadly that at least another 20 wanted to come, but there was no room for them in the dingy). All day, every day they bent over the task of translation and editing, determined to see the project through. They were an absolute blessing every step of the way.

The Tiang were an amazing group to work with!

Then there was the food. The participants raised their own money to pay for the dingy fare and food costs—but when they handed their tiny amount to us to go purchase the supplies, it was evident it would be nowhere near enough to feed 14 people for two weeks. But God cares for His people, and before we realized it, a local business owner had donated more than enough supplies for the entire workshop, well over eight times the original amount in our pockets!

And don’t forget the book-making supplies. As Hanna and I purchased the supplies needed for printing and producing the books, another local business owner graciously gave us a significant discount, and went to lengths to help us find everything we needed.

Our lack of knowledge and experience was another issue...but not a problem for God! Hanna and I took it hours (and sometimes minutes) at a time, and between the advisors that came along at just the right time (thank goodness for our digimodems and email!), our combined previous workshop experiences (which happened to complement each other perfectly), and a whole lot of prayer, we found that it wasn’t nearly as overwhelming and daunting as we first anticipated.

Here, Hanna is reviewing the Tiang alphabet
God was there with us in my weakness. Because Hanna only learned at the last minute of the workshop (another blessing; originally I was going to do it on my own!), she had to leave for another engagement at the end of the first week, leaving me to finish it off. Unfortunately, three days after she left, I woke up quite sick and unable to lead the workshop for several days. It was distressing to all of us, because our timetable was quite short. As one of the participants put it, “It looked like we were going to finish the first book, but then Catherine got sick, and I thought—we’re not going to finish the book! So I waited, and then the next day, Catherine was still sick, and I thought, we’re definitely not going to finish the book! But then, the third day, Catherine called and said she was well enough to work, and then I knew, we were going to finish the book.”

Finishing the book--part 1 of the Life of Jesus
I can only credit the strength of God that allowed me to crawl from bed and help them finish and print the first book of the life of Christ, mostly finish the second book (that one will hopefully be finished later this month), and give a short teacher training before they all had to return to their homes on Djaul Island on the Friday.

And finally, God was with me in my travel to get home to Ukarumpa! Only a few days before my flight was supposed to leave, things fell apart, and some scrambling by my friends and colleagues finally got me back to my house, two days and three airlines later!

And I’m going to run out of space to tell you about God’s provision in the vehicles, the computer programs, the tiny blessings of sunsets and chances to try new foods (like cooking fresh crab), the friendship with Hanna, and much more.

I praise God that when I don’t know things, He does, and He is the one who will ultimately bring His Word to the hands and hearts of Papua New Guineans. As one young woman, Shelley said, “Dispela em i bikpela wok bilong God. Em i no inap lus nating. Yumi mas givim glori na biknem long em!
“This is an important work of God. And thus, it will not be fruitless. You and I must give glory and praise to Him!”

Shelley was a talented editor.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Countdown Begins: A Home Assignment FAQ

This has nothing to do with leaving PNG...
but it's a cool piece of driftwood from New Ireland!
21 days. 3 weeks. 504 hours. A fortnight and a half. 30,240 minutes. It’s the length of time that it takes to form a habit or hatch a chick. And in my case, it is how many days I have left before I leave Papua New Guinea (PNG).

While my time in PNG has sometimes felt like a lifetime and other times like a brief moment, it’s actually been two years, and thus it’s now time for me to return to the US for what missionaries call “furlough” or “home assignment.” On July 29th, I’ll say my goodbyes in PNG and spend two weeks travelling before I ultimately land in Minnesota on August 9th.

Because this is my first home assignment, I know we both have lots of questions! Here are a few common ones—please feel free to ask more in the comment section.

How long will you be here? I’ll be in the US for about six months; I plan on returning to PNG in Jan/Feb 2014.

What will you be doing in the US? In addition to spending time with family, reconnecting with all of you, and doing necessary paperwork to update my visa/work permit, I will continue serving with Wycliffe in the work of Bible translation. This may include speaking and travelling on Wycliffe’s behalf, meeting with as churches and groups to share what God’s been doing, receiving further training, writing articles, and much more! It’s my privilege and honor to continue in ministry—to the people groups of the US!

A lovely sunset from New Ireland

Isn’t this your vacation? Actually, no. For most missionaries, “home assignment” is just as busy as our work in PNG (and for some people, even more so!), and only a portion of that time (just like in a “regular” job) is allotted for vacation. In fact, going from a quiet, slow country with limited choices and minimal sensory input to a high speed, highly populated, high choice, and high sensory input location can be extremely stressful. In addition, in order to reconnect with all of you, I will need to be travelling quite extensively, as well as trying to accomplish all the tasks that can only happen in the US (such as certain health services or things that require better Internet, etc.).

Will you come to visit my area or church?
I would love to! I plan on spending most of my time in Minnesota, but I may be visiting a few other states. Contact me ASAP to get your church or group on my schedule.

Do you still need our support of prayer and finances? Most definitely! The transition back to US culture is often a challenge for overseas workers, and a common occasion of spiritual warfare; your prayers are extremely valuable! In addition, your faithful giving remains my primary means of financial support as I deal with the higher expenses of life in the US (everything from doctor visits to vehicle needs to housing expenses).

Why is it taking you two weeks to go from PNG to MN? Because I’m making lots of stops! On July 29, I fly from Ukarumpa to Sydney, connecting in Port Moresby and Brisbane. I then spend 24 hours in Sydney before I catch my flight to Hawaii, leaving late on July 30. Thanks to the dateline :) I arrive in Hawaii before I left Sydney, and there I plan to have a brief holiday and culture-adjustment period (where I can begin dealing with reverse culture shock, such as when I walk into a large grocery store for the first time, wear jeans, make eye contact with a male in conversation, observe more than two cars etc.) Then, on Saturday, August 3, I fly to Orlando, connecting through San Diego, and spend a week at the Wycliffe headquarters, where they have a program to debrief missionaries after the field assignment and provide services, like health care, counselors, financial advisors, etc. Then I fly back to MN on Friday, August 9!

Will you keep blogging? Of course! I have tons of stories and blogs about life in PNG that I haven’t had a chance to share yet. And besides, don’t you want to follow my amazement and shock as I see snow again or eat sweet corn on the cob...?

What foods do you want to eat in the US? Bacon, blueberries, apples, lunch meat, real ice cream, steak, pizza, peaches, sweet corn on the cob, hamburger, sour cream, real maple syrup, sausage, juice, lasagna, apple pie, nectarines, almonds and walnuts, salad dressings, peas, various cheeses, spinach, anything grilled...

I’m going to be blogging about the oddities of home assignment every Sunday night until I leave—stay tuned for next week’s post on how to help your missionary when he/she returns home.

What other questions do you have?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Joys of Crowbars, Toilet Paper Tubes and Some Sticks

The past several days, I’ve been helping one of my friends destroy her new house. Screwdrivers, saws, crowbars, sledgehammers and a crew of eager teenage boys have resulted in a wonderful cacophony of demolition as we tore out several unnecessary walls to allow the newly-enlarged living room be capable of hosting my friend’s famous “more the merrier” parties.

Starting destruction...hehehe
It has been glorious—not only because the physical labour and quick visual progress is far more satisfying than slowly emptying my Inbox or trying to finalize travel plans for my trip back to the US, but because it signals a gift that is rare and thus extremely precious to a missionary:


In the past 24 months, I have moved at least 24 times (not including simple overnights), often changing climates, teams, diets, sleep patterns, work assignments, houses, beds, and even methods of bathing. While living out of a suitcase has the advantage that I keep my personal possessions to a minimum, it also can be rather exhausting, especially when I go at it alone. So, when this past January, I was finally offered a room of my own without an immediate eviction date, I was ecstatic. And to signal the change from hobo to house-dweller, I began my own decorating transformation in order to create a room that could be a beautiful sanctuary when I returned from the village to Ukarumpa.

But, decorating here is not quite as simple as wandering into your local craft store or ordering some curtains off the internet. Paint prices are astronomical (not to mention the colour in the can has a 50% chance of being different from the colour on the label), furniture must be built by hand, and the bolts of fabric are far from desirable.

Never fear! Desperation is like jet fuel to creativity, especially when there are second hand stores (with beautiful fabric made into ugly dresses and skirts just begging to be torn apart), sticks from the trees in your yard, and a collection of toilet paper tubes!

First, the bed nook:
Thanks to a second-hand store supplying 8 shirts and a duvet cover, I could make coordinating pillows and trim for the bedspread, over which I hung some curtains donated by a friend leaving finish. The blanket is a gift from my aunt—and that delightful wall-hanging is made up entirely of toilet paper tubes!

Window treatment and reading area: On the other side of the room, a few more donated lacy curtains, a skirt, two shirts, and a sheet from the second-hand store, and a brilliant internet pattern that guided me through turning a set of mini-blinds into a Roman shade completed the window treatment. Another second-hand dress and shirt covered the original rocking chair and pillow to match, while I used some decorative paper to spruce up the cabinet. (The other knickknacks and vase were scavenged from various “going finish” sales as people sold their cargo before leaving PNG to return to their home countries.)

Oh, and the valance rod? That's a long stick too.

Mirror and Jewellery Hanger: The mirror was beat-up and ugly, but thanks to some sticks and some twine, I whipped together a quick frame that matched my recently-created wall jewellery hanger. Putting on earrings is the main way that I “dress up” here in PNG—it’s subtle enough that it doesn’t draw attention to itself and different enough from normal, everyday wear that I feel special!


Finally, the rugs: Back in March when I realized that I’d be spending a week sitting in meetings for our biennial conference, I knew that I needed a craft to keep my hands busy—and I needed a rug for my room. Using this clever, no-sew rag rug pattern and strips from about 20 shirts, dresses, and skirts, I tackled this project, which I just finally finished a few days ago!

Here I am, hanging out at Conference with my rug and a dear friend :)
And look at the finished product. Hooray!!!
Although it may seem odd to you that a blog about my decorating triumphs sits next to Bible translation stories, for me, laying that rug down in my room for the first time holds far more significance than merely adding a splash of colour. Similarly, when my friend finally sat down in her new kitchen and began culling through her cutlery (after 10 years of living in group housing, being shuttled from place to place, and hording a motley collection of spoons because she never knew if they next house she moved to would have enough), the moment was rather symbolic. It reminds us that beauty is not frivolous, that constancy is possible, and that this place is a home (my home) rather than merely a hotel.

I even had enough scraps left over to make a mini rug
And if it means that we get to knock down walls with sledgehammers in the process, well, that’s even better!