Monday, May 26, 2014


“Thanks for the meal, Catherine!” My friends leaned back from the table in satisfaction, and I grinned. It was early on in my home assignment this past August to the United States from my work in Papua New Guinea (PNG), and I was glad to finally be hosting friends again.

“You’re most welcome!” I jumped up to clear some of the dishes, then turned back to my friends. “Now, what would you like to drink? I have green tea, black tea, chai, milo, coffee (it’s even from PNG!)...”

No one answered. One lifted his hand to shade his eyes from the noonday sun and blinked, confused. “Something to...drink?”

My hand froze on its way to the hot drink cupboard as I realized my blunder. Hot drinks are not for hot afternoons.

“Or not!” I smiled brightly. “Shall we go sit outside to visit?”

Although some might argue that the US produces many tea-happy individuals, its preoccupation with tea in comparison to other countries is like a dripping faucet held next to Niagara Falls. Here in PNG, tea (or any other hot drink) is sipped at breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, mid-morning, mid-afternoon, evening, night, and every time you stop by someone’s house, even if only to drop off the scale you borrowed the week before. In Ukarumpa, our linguistic centre, we even sound a bell every 10 am and 3 pm to remind everyone to stop and observe the sacred 15 minute tea break. Our store dedicates nearly half an aisle (a tremendous space!) to boxes of tea and coffee (“I’m turning into a coffee snob,” one of my friends sighed the other day, “No more Folgers. Only PNG coffee for me!”), and many people fill the nooks and crannies of their suitcase with tea bags. Nearly every house has an electric water kettle (I didn't even know what one was before coming here!), and the temperature outside is never an issue—as long as the water in the cup is hotter than the water outside, life is good.

Since I’ve returned to PNG, tea has also taken on another meaning...this time as an acronym for Translators Exploring Allocations. In April, when my colleague, Hanna, and I returned and realized what a daunting task it would be to narrow down the 300 remaining language groups in Papua New Guinea asking for Bible translations to the one that we would serve (called an allocation), we decided that a support group was necessary. A week later, we gathered all the other linguists and translators searching for a language group and began praying together; TEA-time was born. Since then, we’ve been meeting several times a week to drink tea and hear from various directors and leaders to share about their areas so we might see what God would lay on our hearts. It’s been a tremendous encouragement to me (especially when my injured shoulder continues to prevent me from serving in village workshops) and exciting to watch how God is working through these humble gatherings.

Perhaps you’d care to join me for tea?