Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Handing Back Your Sword

“What do you think of the United States?”

I shifted the microphone from one hand to another, once again standing before a church congregation in my travels of home assignment as we completed the question-and-answer period,
“I’m sorry; I’m not exactly sure as to what you mean...?”

“You’re a missionary. I want to know what you think when you come from Papua New Guinea and see us and all our stuff.” She spat it out and wrinkled her nose.

My heart sank. Not again. I tried to redirect her, “Oh, you mean those exciting surprises of soft carpet and sidewalks and blueberries...”

“No.” She glared at me and folded her arms. “What are your impressions of the materialism and superficiality of the church and our lives here in the US?” She leaned back in her chair with a small smile, apparently rather thrilled to watch the missionary skewer the fallen American Church with a holy diatribe.

Since, after all, I must despise the US church.

A few months ago, I sat with a group of women, quietly listening to them share their heartaches and struggles, when suddenly one of them turned to me, her voice slicing through all the others. “You must think we are so shallow,” she commented. Shame silenced the other women, and everyone turned to stare at me, then away. Of course Americans are shallow. Everyone knows that.

Image from Google
Time after time again, when people find out I am a missionary in a third-world country, I find myself blocked into a corner, shoved a verbal sword into my hands and demanded to slash into smithereens the culture and church of the United States. “Please,” they spread their hands wide in front of me, “tell us how terrible we are!” as if American Christians find it “holy” or “righteous” to speak disparagingly of their culture, parading it’s weaknesses for all to see in an attempt to showcase humility or pious introspection.

And obviously, since I’m the missionary, I’m the one to do it.

The thing is, I suppose I could. Years away from the country which I called home means that some things are painfully obvious, and I suppose, if I wanted, I could rain indignant sermons of horror down on the heads of my friends and church as they struggle under the addicting weight of the first world.

But as the missionary, I simply can’t.

True, to deny fault or error is wrong. But to deny blessings is just as wrong. And once you spend enough time in a country that was not founded upon a Judeo-Christian worldview, where anger manifests as unstoppable murder, where HIV/AIDS runs rampant, where witchcraft and sorcery and spells and demons hold people in bondage, where food runs scarce, where medicines are often just a wish, then you begin to realize that some places have indeed been privileged with great gifts.

And perhaps, instead of rejecting them, we ought to steward them. For, I’ve never known a loving husband to appreciate slicing, angry criticism of his bride, and I can’t imagine our Lord Jesus valuing the bashing of His Church or the continuous walloping on His creation of American culture either (or any other culture, for that matter).

At least here, there is a mature Church, and she’s trying.

Sure, the US is full of sin. So is Papua New Guinea. It’s why we’re all here, preaching and sharing and proclaiming the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection. But there is also great beauty—beauty that looks different in each country as it reflects another facet of our Lord.

So, please, don’t ask me to impale you with your sword. You have been entrusted with so much! There is a greater Enemy, and I’d rather face him with you, together.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Letters to a New Missionary: Lighting the Fire

Dear New Missionary,

I was sitting at my Wycliffe booth in the foyer of the college auditorium and not paying a lot of attention, probably trying to write a few more thank you notes. It was missions week at your school, but by now most students had scattered to their classes, and I could hear a few musicians warming up in the practice rooms on the other side of the hall. It was quiet.

And then you came. You sat down next to me with your list of questions, and I was amazed at your insight, your eagerness to prepare for this path God had called you.

As we neared the end of our discussion, you glanced back at me, one last question. “Earlier, I listened to the chapel speaker, a missionary, and he spent all this time describing the heartache and pain and suffering and disasters that befallen him and his family. And then he ends his discussion with a huge smile and shouts, “you too should become a missionary!” You shook your head in amazement. “How can he do that?!”

Indeed! How can he do that? How can I do it? I wonder so many times, whether it’s trying to scoop up a new food on my spoor or eying the giant spider in the shower stall or trying to find the right words in my limited language skills to share God’s truth or saying goodbye again and again. Of course, we are commanded to it, and quite frankly, I find the whole overseas experience to be plain ole fun.

But that’s not enough.

How can he? Because God has lit a fire in His heart, and to not do it is either to be consumed by the flames or to shiver from trying to escape from them. For when God calls you to it, He enables you for it and gives you deepest joy in it.

And to stand with Him in the heart of the fire, allowing Him to use you despite your shortcomings and your failings to love and reach the people that He died for, well, that’s glorious, because at that moment it’s not about you and what you can do and where you can go and what you left behind. It never was. Because all that pain and agony (which ultimately marks every life walking in this fallen world), while wretched and real and worth every tear, seems to dim before Him and before that fire. And one day, those tears will dry, and you will stand with Him in joy and not just see the fruits of how He used your life, but see Him, the One who molded and sanctified and drew you to Himself in that life.

That’s how he can—or at least, how I can.

And that’s how you can, my friend.

Together, we stared out the windows across the foyer, no more words, and I wondered what you were thinking or if I completely terrified you from ever venturing onto the mission field. Campus was starting to wake again as students slung backpacks over one shoulder and two curly-haired girls chattered in a corner. You too reached down for your bag, then looked up at me, smiled and gave me a slow nod.

And I realized that the fire had been lit in you too.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Living in the Twilight Zone (or knowing the day of your death)

“Another photo?! Come on!” some friends teased one of my overseas colleagues as we sipped cider and laughed in their US apartment living room. “I mean, why do you constantly take so many pictures?!”

He grinned, then shook his head. “Because,” he said softly, “it’s all I can bring back with me.”

If raising support before you go to the mission field is like purgatory, then coming back to your home country for home assignment is like living in the Twilight Zone, knowing the day of your death.

Camp counselors and youth group leaders love the question, “If you knew you’d die tomorrow, what would you change about living your life today?” I had always hoped my answer would be “nothing”—I wanted to live in a way that believed the mundane was important and who saw the holy in the daily and who was willing to spend her last hours washing dishes if that’s what God asked her to do.

But, of course the question was always hypothetical and then, after a few moments of uncomfortable introspection, the kids would jump up for a game of volleyball or four-on-a-couch. No one actually expected to follow through.

Except now, my entire life is demarcated by departure times on plane tickets.

The second night that I spent back with my family in the US after years away in Papua New Guinea, I remember huddling on my bed-that-wasn’t-my-bed and trying to stop the tears from pouring down my face as I realized that I was now one day closer to leaving again.

One day less before I died...or they died. Again.

And, then we return to our field and live until it's time to leave and so we grieve...and arrive back in our home countries....again. And again.

image courtesy of Google
And so we live as if we are dying—not avoiding the mundane (laundry happens whether you like it or not) and yet trying everything, attempting  to redeem every minute, pouring out and filling up and cramming it all in, reveling in the moment, and drinking life like concentrated grape juice. We live knowing when it will end, but the rest of the world continues merrily on, oblivious, and so we take more photos and try to memorize the laughter lines on their faces and hear about their dreams for the next couple of years, and somehow try to make this holiday, this experience precious, because we know that what we absorb now must hold for the those years when we only have blurry skype images and typed emails to form them into people—those years when second, third and fourth babies are born and children become college students and nursing home friends move into eternity and I slide further and further from the world I knew.

And then, time runs out, I make that trip to the airport, and we grieve this new death, where, in the midst of sorrow I rejoice in new life: starting the process over again as I return with delight and wonder to my other spectacular home in Papua New Guinea....

where I then live until the next death.

where I then live through the next death

rejoicing that my Savior, who for thirty-three years ate with friends and drank with sinners and hammered nails with His father and knew, always knew He was walking that long and lonely path that would ultimately deliver Him to a cross and plunge Him into the most horrific separation and loss that could ever exist

and pass through it, victorious.

"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"

And so, with death in sight, I choose to live in the knowledge that is hope—that such sorrow is temporary, that such loss is brief, and that one day I will be met at the gates of eternity by my Savior, and He will wipe away those tears and whisper, “welcome home.”

Saturday, January 11, 2014

When Catherine Wields a Machete

Nothing is quite so effective as a machete in keeping your audience’s attention.

Secretly, it’s probably my favourite part of my presentation while here on home assignment—that moment when I announce to the group of 70 junior and senior high students that I will crack open a coconut.

And I will use a machete.

A what???!!  I pull the blade from its sheath (I always feel like Aragorn when that happens) and a collective gasp goes up from the group. Bored high school guys goofing off in the back suddenly jump to their feet in shock, and even the leaders’ eyes grow wide. Girls in the front row cower backward in delighted fear as I let the giant knife roll casually in my hand, glinting under the florescent lights

 “And this is pretty small and light compared to the kind we use in Papua New Guinea (PNG).” I say with a shrug. No big deal....except that inside I'm like "THIS IS SO AWESOME!!!"

Climb a tree and retrieve the coconut!
Of course, the whole point is the coconut. In Papua New Guinea, coconuts are an amazing staple of life. Young men and boys tie ropes around their feet and scramble up trees 60-100 feet tall to toss these remarkable fruits (yes, technically a fruit) to earth. Young coconuts (called kulau) are delicious drinks and old coconuts (called drai) are valued for their creamy white coconut meat which is shredded up into bits used to make coconut milk.

I'm drinking a tasty kulau--yum!

But first you have to get the drai open. After you’ve used a stake to pull off the outer layer of husk, then the simplest method is to take the back of a bush knife’s blade (hence the machete) and whack it evenly all around the coconut’s equator. If you are accurate in your whacking and the coconut isn’t too ancient, it should easily split in half.

Getting ready to make coconut milk.
Then, to shred up the coconut, you sit on a tool called a sigarap (a rounded serrated blade mounted on a tiny sawhorse) and scrape out the white meat. Next, you pour water over the shredded pieces and squeeze them until the water becomes milk white. Strain out the shredded coconut and repeat with more water...this creates the coconut milk. Now you can add it to your boiling pot of kaukau (sweet potatoes) and greens. Yum!

It all works so easily in PNG, so I thought, why not try it here in the US?

Except, Minnesota doesn’t grow coconuts.

Apparently, according to the Cub Foods and Walmart grocery aisles, Minnesota imports them from Puerto Rico (I bet the shipment came in a year or two ago). When I first went hunting for the coconut, I walked past the display four times...because surely, those tiny, lopsided, shriveled oversized walnuts, couldn’t be coconuts?!

But they were.  And so I gamely purchased two and went to my first evening presentation at my home church, where the first coconut promptly shattered in a gory rancid mess and second didn’t fare much better. It was enough to classify the whole thing as an epic fail.

Except, there was the machete. And who could give that up?

And thus began my quest to find non-rancid coconuts to hack open in front of unsuspecting audiences. Ending score?

Rancid coconuts: 6
Catherine: 4

But at least I still got to wield a machete!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

One Word

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” –Mark Twain

The other Sunday, we were challenged to encapsulate 2013 in one or two words. At the time I said unexpected. Certainly this entire past year never seemed to follow any of my expectations, from my goals in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to my involvement in activities like the Pony Club to random workshops to what awaited me when I returned home to the United States.

I mean, just take a look at my one-word synopsis of the months below!

2013 was kicked off deep in the Markham valley where we held the first Scripture conference aimed at 9 languages and over a dozen church denominations. Eyes were opened, visions were cast, and we were soaked with lots and lots of rain.

Not only was I creating illustrations for several literacy primers, but I also was ripping apart 20+ thrift store shirts and sticks to decorate my room, developing lesson plans for my horseback riding students, and attempting to instill healthier self-care patterns for life.


Missionaries generally represent a narrow subsection of their culture, requiring a remarkable blend of independence, determination, stubbornness against great odds, and a firm grip on their ideals in order to succeed. Fill up an entire conference room for several weeks with several hundred of these individuals from 20+ different countries and cultures and ask them to make decisions; when they end in unity, well, that’s remarkable too.
You know what is also unexpected? Coffin shops. They are everywhere in PNG, and many of the coffins have windows, surrounded by sparkly boas.

In our Oral Bible Storytelling workshop, I heard stories and edited stories and sang stories and dramatized stories and even told stories about making lots of banana bread and how it was 95 degrees in my bedroom. At 10 pm.

In between preparing for my next workshop, I spent this month enjoying being a part of the precious missionary community in PNG (and the horses!), as well as saying several goodbyes.  This was also the month that my friend and I kept trying to get our motorbike to work and only received lots of bruises down our leg for our efforts.

Another workshop, this one for both a hymnbook revision and Sunday School Book production—and since Hanna and I only had a tentative grasp on what we were doing, we spent the month in eager anticipation—what would happen next? What new plans did the Lord have for us? We also had much mouthwatering anticipation as we attempted to cook our first mammoth ocean crab.

I love checklists. I even add completed things to my checklist so I can cross them off. And this month certainly had its fill of checklists—moving from one country to another is no simple task!

Another unexpected PNG photo: entire store aisles dedicated to oil. They might not have lots of variety, but you won't ever run out of oil!

This month was filled with embraces—embraces of goodbye as I left PNG, embraces of heartfelt welcome as I returned to the US, and even embraces that were rather unexpectedly full of reverse culture shock!

During this month, I began to realize that I was going to need to surrender many of my desires for this home assignment and allow myself a greater measure of grace as I attacked a very busy speaking schedule in the midst of unexpected health and emotional challenges.


My theme song this month was “Stayin’ Alive” as I fought against my gluten-induced exhaustion to finish up my intense speaking schedule and attempted to enjoy life in the US with friends and family. Also, this song has the perfect tempo for regulating CPR compressions (thanks to my wilderness first aid class).

November —Awakening
Healing was the focus of this month, from kicking it off with a prayer retreat to the many doctor appointments each week to being reintroduced to the joy of music. I started down the road of recovery and was grateful for the many people who graciously walked beside me.

This month celebrated a roller coaster of deep joy and painful challenges, expectations that were both surpassed and never met, and always filled with the intense glorious beauty of relationships with family and friends. It was a month to be human and rejoice in the continuous excitement of redemption by a coming Savior.


Yes, unexpected is a good summary of what happened.

But confidence is what I had and grasp is what I did.

Because daughter is who I am

And Yahweh is who He is.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Calvin and Hobbes take a Survey

Every so often I like to go on Google Analytics--the cool little statistic finder that accompanies this blog. I am always amazed at what I find!

First post: Dec 15, 2010
Number of Posts Published: 214 (I don't even want to know how many words I've typed).
Number of PageViews: 99,700
Most Popular Post: "Greetings from Mars"--or what to do when your missionary returns home (about 1700 hits)
Most Commented Post: For Better or For Worse... or For Real? (15 comments)
Biggest Source: Google with 6300 hits (though the top words that result in clicking on it are "where's waldo" which is strange)
Countries of Readership: US (71,800 hits) followed by lovely people from Switzerland, Australia, Canada, UK, Singapore, Russia, Sweden, Germany, and Papua New Guinea


Since it's 2014, I would like to know how I can improve my blogging habits to become a better communicator with you, my lovely readership. So, I've created a brief survey via SurveyMonkey. Would you spare a minute or two of your time to give me some feedback (though perhaps not quite like Calvin and Hobbes)? I'd greatly appreciate it!

Click here to take survey

You aren't like this when you take my survey, are you? (image courtesy of Google)