Friday, February 28, 2014

Going for Gold: Missions Committee Olympians

image courtesy of Google
“And they’re coming around the last turn! Red is in front but Green is making a rush for the inside! The pace is agonizingly fast, but they keep pushing! Only one jump left and Yellow makes a bold move! BLUE IS DESPERATELY TRYING TO HOLD ON! BUT YELLOW IS CLOSING IN! WAIT, IT’S GREEN...NO IT’S YELLOW!!! GREEN SHOOTS OUT IN FRONT!! IT’S GOLD FOR GREEN!!!!!”

Watching the Winter Olympics in Sochi
is always fun. But sometimes, listening to the commentators get so excited you think they might have a heart attack is nearly as entertaining. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard a few meaningless phrases that repeat over and over and over, whether it’s speed skating, ice hockey, snowboard cross, or even ice dancing...and it’s made me wonder, what if we applied these clich├ęs to other things?

Like, missions committees?

image courtesy of Google
“In order to win at this level, you have to really want it, George, and she does!” (But, you better not want it too much)
Thanks for asking me come to your church and share in your Sunday school/youth group/service/bell choir practice, I appreciate it, and while I can tell you really want five Sundays—30+ other churches probably really want one too.

“He’s really fighting for it!”
Sometimes it’s amazing what a church fights to put into their worship service. It’s like trying to put ski competitors for the Super G, the Giant Slalom, the Half Pipe, and the Ski Cross all on the slopes at the same time! (All those venues also compete for time...while a good luge racer will travel thousands of miles for a 51 sec run, your missionary will appreciate a few more minutes to summarize the last few years.)

“And there it is, Frank; he has such a signature style!”
You have a special emphasis for your ministry/event/class? Great! Let your missionary know where he or she should focus! (Just try not to dictate to the missionary too closely...otherwise both your signatures will soon become an unreadable smudge.)

“He shoots—He scores!”
In order for that shot to actually score, you have to know what you’re aiming at. Help me out and assume I remember nothing about your church (including local road closures, your recent pastoral change, your new missions policies, where the Sunday School room is in the new building...and maybe even what you look like).

Olympic athletes start preparing years ahead of time for major competition. While maybe not years, your missionaries still need time to prepare for sharing with your church. Be kind and give enough warning of changes or additions in your program (Saturday night doesn’t count) so they can nail it too.

 “It’s all about owning the ice.”
We’re going to pretend “owning the ice” is like “owning a communication device” (Got a computer? Phone? Messenger pigeon?) . Olympic athletes and coaches continuously touch base—let’s do that too!

“What a moment! The world will remember that forever!”
Let’s remember forever accurately. Let me know how you are going to introduce me or what things are being published about me, and we can avoid any strange surprises, such as when I once found out I was working in a neighbouring country and not Papua New Guinea :) (this is especially important for creative-access workers).

image courtesy of Google
The gold medal journey requires pushing through great obstacles, recruiting an army of workers (“I’d like to thank my parents and my school and my community and my dog...”), creative ideas for funding (like starring in yogurt commercials), and remaining true to yourself despite enormous odds (and very sparkly costumes). But we can do it, because it's worth it. The torch has been lit. The gauntlet has been thrown.

And it’s time to start training for next time.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

James Herriot meets Dr. Doolittle meets House

“Quick! Quick! Grab him!”

Like two wrestlers in a ring, the goat and I stared at each other across the tire feeder as I slowly crab-stepped left. Just one more step and I’ll have a clear shot...gahOOMPH!  I dove for the goat’s neck and bounced off his shoulder as the giant wether dropped his horns and hurtled through an opening in the shed wall.

“Run!! Run to other side and cut him off!” Dr. Mary, a large animal vet, threw out her arms as she stretched herself across the pen’s opening as a human gate. “If he charges, I don't know if I can hold him!” 

Obviously these are not goats. These are cows. I was rather occupied with the goats and was not taking photos...
I sprinted to the other side of the shed, where the chestnut goat eyed me from the corner, strands of hay falling out of his mouth. “It’s just a quick hoof trim and shot,” I attempted at conversation. “You’re a reasonable goat. Vaccines keep you healthy.”  He swallowed, turned (“NOW!” Mary shrieked!), and we both launched—him back through the opening and me skidding off his rump into the wall.

Gah! I stood up, brushing absently at the snow-manure-hay mix. More bruises for the collection. The goat went back to his lunch, smirking at me, as the rest of the herd watched eagerly from the adjacent pen. Goat: 8, Human: 0. This was obviously not working.

Time for plan C. Well, Mr. Goat, if you want to go through the hole, fine. Then you’ll go through the hole. I grabbed a blanket I had spotted earlier left crumpled in the corner and draped it over the hole (“Maybe he’ll think it’s solid?” “I doubt it—he’s a goat.”). Now if only...I tiptoed back to the snacking goat. “Time to run away, Mr. Goat! Time to go through the hole!”

Obligingly, he turned and plunged back through the wall—promptly catching the blanket over his horns and dragging it over his face. Faster than an Olympic downhill racer and with more aerial time than one of those crazy flipping snowboarders, I sailed over the second feeder and tackled the blinded goat, dodging horn and hoof until I had him firmly wedged against the shed wall.

“Okay, Mary.” I panted. “I got him.”

Virginia was gorgeous--and also had one of the largest
  snowfalls since 1912 while I was there...
It was Day 2 of a workshop on large animal veterinary techniques for third world countries, sponsored in part by the Christian Veterinary Mission (CVM), an organization that desires to share the love of Christ through veterinary medicine. In many places in the third world, access to veterinary medicine is limited, if not nonexistent, which can be devastating when a family’s or a village’s livelihood and nutrition depends on the health and longevity of their animals. CVM utilizes long-term veterinary missionaries, short-term vet teams, conferences, trainings like this workshop, and even chapters at local vet schools, to provide basic veterinary procedures and teach proper animal husbandry to people living in third world countries.

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), animals  (such as beef and dairy cattle, goats, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats, horses, and exotics) play a crucial role in the lives of both nationals and missionaries, including  such areas as income, business, food, protection, hunting, agricultural development, cultural status and ceremonies, as well as emotional, physical, and character development. My enjoyment of animal husbandry, thanks to my farm and 4-H background, has allowed me to serve as the primary medical adviser for our local horse herd (read stories about the horses here) among other critters. However, our access to a vet in PNG is quite limited, and while I was on home assignment in the United States, one of my goals was to receive more training so that I could better serve both my fellow missionaries and the villagers.

Waffles was our faithful mascot
And so, earlier this February, I found myself on a small farm in western Virginia suturing cardboard together, pretending Waffles the pug was actually a piglet, learning about dodging unhappy mama cows with giant horns, memorizing zoonotic diseases, floating teeth on a horse skull, and shoving a prolapsed uterus back into a cow (well, shoving a giant air-filled plastic bag back through a piece of leather hanging on the barn wall).

Veterinary medicine in the third world, I decided, was like applying the shot-in-the-dark, observational diagnostic process of the famous TV doctor Gregory House to James Herriot’s experiences, while tossing in some of Dr. Doolittle’s crazy creatures for good measure: challenging puzzles set in rough situations about (sometimes really odd) critters that you can only hope to solve by some prayer and diving in head first.

Kind of like catching a goat.

Check out the CVM website to learn more how you can get involved with their ministry!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

If you give a mouse a cookie (or buy international plane tickets)...

Sometimes buying international plane tickets is easy. One click of the button, show up at the airport, enjoy your free glass of water. Voila! Next country!

And sometimes, despite your best efforts, buying international plane tickets is like having your wisdom teeth removed. Without painkillers. While you’re sitting on a chair spiked full with red-hot nails.

This time was one of those times.

So, the other day, I finally bought my plane tickets back to PNG (36 hours spread over 3 weeks, 4 countries, 8 airports). It looked something like this:

And in order to arrive in the United States, I needed to buy international plane tickets. If you give a mouse a cookie...

You can read more about some of my preparations for departure in my February Newsletter, now posted on the Newsletters page.

These months have gone by fast, and, I’d love to see you before I go! Come hear what God is doing in Bible translation (as well as my hopes for this next term) and join me in prayer at a send-off celebration! (Questions? Don’t hesitate to email me!)

Catherine's Send-Off Celebration
Sunday, March 2, 6:30-8:00 pm
Centennial Evangelical Free Church
14854 Lake Drive, Forest Lake, MN 55025
At the Edge youth building on the south side of the church

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Beyond “Bless the Missionaries”

The three-year-old girl grabbed her mother’s skirt and stared at me standing next to my display table in the church’s foyer. Slowly her hand rose to eye level, until her pointer finger jabbed the air wordlessly, like some big business executive.

What is going on? Who is this family?
I grinned and tried to stall as I searched my memory... “Have you ever seen a giant blue butterfly?”  I reached for the insect display on my table.

The mother looked down at her daughter. “Yes, dear, she’s the missionary.” Then she turned to me, with a small apologetic smile. “She recognizes you from your prayer card. We have it on our fridge and pray for you every night.”

Wow. Now it was my turn to be speechless.

There is very little more encouraging to me than hearing those five precious words: “I am praying for you.” During the past several years, when the day was dark and the battle hard, knowing that people were praying for me, for Bible translation, for Papua New Guinea (PNG), was one of the few things that kept me going. I’ve seen challenges dismantled and strongholds dissolved as a result of sending out prayer request a result of the prayers of warriors like that mother and her toddler.

Although many missionaries send out some sort of regular prayer updates (go here to subscribe to my monthly updates), I know that it can still often be hard to know what to pray for and how. Here’s a grab-bag of twelve tangible reminders (perfect for kids...and for the kid in the rest of us) to help us through the process (thanks to the women of CEFC who helped me put this together!).

1. Travel—toy plane

Our Kodiaks in PNG don't quite look like that...
Travel can be challenging—but so can all the decision-making up to that departure! Lost luggage, narrow connections, visas, customs, time zones, delays, bureaucracy, overnights, poor airstrips...whether an international flight or a hike across the river, pray for wisdom and clear guidance, protection and provision, and open doors for the many permissions needed. 
2. Health—Band-aid

Poor sanitation, contaminated food/water, and lack of proper medical facilities/supplies means that health care can be challenge around the world. However, instead of praying that we never get sick (God works powerfully through illness), pray that we will have enough health capacity to do what God has called us to do. Pray that we would be wise in stewarding our health and for wisdom as we deal with unknown illnesses or conditions.

3. Protection—critter

One day, there will be eternal peace, but until that time, violence, whether it is lashing out directly at the Gospel or a cultural mandate or a breakdown of society, is a cry to know the truth of the Prince of Peace, and how will they know, if we do not bring it to them? Instead of praying that we wouldn’t suffer, pray that we’ll glorify God through our suffering. Pray that He will turn hearts toward Himself, give us boldness in times of danger, and when trauma arises, help us to know Christ and show Christ more through it.

4. Cultural Adaptation—spoon

Cross-cultural life is stressful—new languages, new foods, new climates, new governments, new ways to cross the street and brush your teeth and say hello and make your bed! (And then you get to do it all over again when you return to your home country!) Cultural adaptation takes years; pray that we’ll give ourselves grace and patience, that we’ll learn quickly, that we’ll show others love, and we’ll rejoice in the differences as marks of God’s creativity. 

5. Financescoin

Many missionaries live on support, meaning their monthly income is dependent upon the faithful giving of partners back home. Although this can be inconsistent and uncertain (budgeting is tricky when your month’s income may swing $1000 in either direction...), after several years of living in this way, I can confidently say that the Lord is always faithful and my needs have always been met, sometimes in miraculous and unexpected ways.  Pray not only that God would raise up financial partners to serve alongside us in ministry in this way, but hten pray for wisdom for the missionaries as we steward these gifts faithfully.

6. Language—Scrabble letter

The language you speak in your home is what we call your "heart" language—it's the one that impacts you most deeply, carries the most weight and meaning, and often is the language of deep emotion or passion. And thus, learning that language is crucial to relationship building and sharing Christ. But, language learning is difficult, takes years, and can be discouraging at times. Pray for grace and perseverance in language learning and for good language helpers! Pray also for the 2000 or so languages left in the world without access to translated Scripture.

7. Restcotton ball

When the need is great, the workers are few, and if those few are anything like the typical American missionary, “rest” falls to the bottom of the to-do list and “margin” is one of the overlooked practices...a pattern which can easily lead toward burnout and overload. Privacy is often limited and vacations can be very expensive or difficult to take within the country of work. Pray that missionaries would see Sabbath as a priority, and for creative ways of peace and relaxation to refresh tired and lonely workers.

8. Strength/Perseverancerock
Missionary life is hard. It’s glorious, rewarding, wonderful, exciting, thrilling, and hard. Very hard. From continually being faced with overwhelming need to loneliness to future uncertainty to the challenges of everyday life (like laundry and cleaning the windows), sometimes it’s difficult to simply take the next step. Pray as Paul did: “We also pray that you will be strengthened with His glorious power so that you will have all the patience and endurance you need. May you be filled with joy.”  (Col 1:11, NLT).

9. Fruit of the Spirit—fruit snacks

While some people think of missionaries as superhuman, they are simply sinners saved by grace, being refined by the Spirit, and following their Lord. We appreciate your prayers for our spiritual development for our prayer times and Scripture study and journey as we grow to know the Lord more and more. We desire to be fruitful in ministry by first developing the fruit of the Spirit and walking in holiness.

10. Relationships—heart sticker

Missionary life is all about relationships—both on the field (husband or wife, parents, children, colleagues, friends, nationals) as well as back in our home countries (partners, families who stay behind). Missionary life is also all about transition—and constantly grieving the end of many relationships and the challenge of building new ones. Pray for the strength of these relationships (which face the same types of challenges yours do), comfort in the time of grief, and for friends to share the burdens.
11. Spiritual Warfare—sword

Scripture tells us that while we are on the winning side, we continue to struggle in a fierce battle against spiritual enemies (Eph 6:12). In PNG, witchcraft, sorcery, spells and curses are commonplace and as real as the computer you’re using to read this blog post. Things go unexplainably wrong all the time. Pray the armor of God over us and pray against spiritual warfare especially in transitions (like to and from home assignment), and beginnings and endings of events/projects.

12. Boldness and Open Doors—fire sauce
Open doors can’t be taken for granted...and sometimes they look nothing like we expect (Col 4:2-3). Pray that the Lord would open doors, that we would recognize them, and then charge forward boldly! Missionaries are regular people who fear pain and rejection as much as anyone else. When faced with opposition, we need God’s strength to help us stand firm. Language and culture barriers can also hinder boldness—pray for effective communication skills (Eph 6:19)!