Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Gallavanting to Gulf

From left: Inga, Rebekah, Hanna, Susie, and myself
Today, I, along with my friends, Rebekah, Susie, and Hanna, are leaving for Gulf Province for three weeks. We’ll be assisting Robbie and Debbie Petterson, a New Zealand couple who is currently the primary translation team in the entire province, in translation, literacy, and teacher-training among a variety of languages. We’re hoping to continue to strengthen our relationships with each other as a team and explore whether this is an area where we can serve long-term. With over 20 languages needing translation, the need is great, especially as education levels are low, the churches are few, and transportation is difficult (primarily by river). We plan on visiting around 10 villages (depending on the weather), starting and finishing at the home base in Kapuna, where there is a local hospital (check out their website!). We appreciate your prayers as we start on this new adventure!

We're heading down to Gulf Province! (map by Rebekah Drew)

 (And don’t forget to keep checking out this blog, as I’ve got more stories and photos to share with you about the last few months.)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Color of Hope

7 degrees below the equator, and I’m shivering on our porch swing, steam swirling from my chai as I breathe in the heat and spice. 13* Celsius and the German Shepherd mix, Destiny, is curled up on her carpet square behind me, fur sticking out like our aloe-vera plants. Buddy, the lapdog, is forcing himself on my lap, tucking himself between the mug and my sweatshirt, his nose pressed between the pages of my devotional. July 27—hope amid trials.

Neither dog sleeps; their eyes flick upward at me until the white sclera glistens, waiting for me to close the book and pick up their bowls. Breakfast after God, I tell them, and we try to sit in holiness, soaking up whatever bits of warmth are found in dry season in the mountains of Papua New Guinea.

Its dawn, but there’s light without the sun, still pottering somewhere behind the mountains. My back aches, and I try to sit a little taller, tilt my neck in an experimental stretch...is it a good back day? A week ago, a debilitating back spasm triggered by a gluten-poisoning, left me helpless in bed for three days, breathing through pain that I was sure must resemble childbirth, and gave me a new morning question. It’s been a year since I’ve started the routine, grading my days based on the level of fatigue, gluten-poisoning and pain. Only seven weeks of that year received a score that would equal normal. Yesterday was pretty good, I reflect, relatively speaking. Only a few problems in the shoulder-department. But I’m out of ibuprofen today, and I can’t pick up my new order until tomorrow and now my housemate is sick while another, I hugged for the last time on Friday, waving her off at the airstrip on her way to China, and the dogs keep climbing the fence to reappear at the store, begging for scraps, and I haven’t even started packing for our village trip in three days.

Anne Lamott recalls in her book Travelling Mercies that she was once told, that when lots of things start going wrong all at once, it is to protect something big and lovely that is trying to get itself born. If the number of things that have tumbled to earth in the last few weeks are any gauge, then this is going to be one large squalling child.

I’m here to read, to receive strength for the day like a Good Christian, but I stare at the valley instead, mist flowing down Lone Tree Mountain and filling the valley like a great beard. Willie wagtails chirp and smack their tails, and the desperation bird, as I call him, sings his panicked song, up and up and up and...?  We’re all waiting.

And then, suddenly, like when the front door opens and in tumbles your sister with her backpack and tales of travelling months or when the curtain rises and the orchestra swells with that first breath, the sun stretches, stands up and looks over the valley, and we’re all washed in gold.

Glitter and wealth drip off banana leaves and the drooping pine in front of my house, while the crimson tanget and taro leaves and faivpela mun grass shudder and bend under the flood of heavy light. It pools at my feet, and even the dogs raise their heads like heavenly statues, watching as a woman, bilum on her head, two boys trailing behind, patters down a street paved in gold, on their way to church.

Clouds in writhe in color like a cathedral’s ceiling, as the mist fades upward, and the world grows younger.

And I almost forget that ache in my spine and the list of things to do before leaving and the stresses of relationship and conflict and escaping dogs and unmade meals.... I sit on that porch swing, golden warmth on my face, and I don’t shiver anymore.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Until We Meet Again (observations on grief)

Another friend left this morning. She was “going finish” as we say here, mixing our English and our Tok Pisin (the Papua New Guinea  (PNG) trade language) to indicate that God has not called her to come back to PNG (at this time, anyway).
Waiting at our airstrip on a foggy morning

Finish. Her house is empty, her cat adopted by a new family, and her critical role here is waiting to be filled by a new global worker coming in a few weeks.

Over the last four Sundays, we’ve watched our church services go from overflowing as the Ukarumpa community members gathered together to honor our friends and coworkers who have served from a few weeks to 30 years in this country....and then, as the Kodiaks dropped one by one at the International Airport in Port Moresby, those packed benches trickled to empty. June is traditionally a month of tears—seniors graduate from the secondary school, workshops end, and so families pack up, chapters close, and we hug each other goodbye under the shelter at our airstrip. They are going finish....and today, we are staying.

We’ve all done it—shake firm hands, promising we’ll stay in touch through Facebook! and take one last photo for the album. We lift off from our passport country, touch down in our field country, then back again, as each one tears a bit more at the heart, a fresh bit of grief as another person leaves, or stays.

When I went back to the US on my first home assignment in August 2013, I was introduced to the concept of pre-grievers and post-grievers, but I lost the article until only a few weeks ago. (Now that I found it, I encourage you to read it yourself!)

The article suggests that there are two significant grieving patterns that people fall into—they either tend to grieve before the event, or they spend their grieve after it has occurred. When I was first leaving for my assignment in Papua New Guinea, my sister would announce every event dramatically—“This is our last time we’ll be buying ice cream at this store together” or “This is the second to last time we’ll be having dinner together”—and it about drove me mad. Why in the world was she borrowing tomorrow’s sadness and poisoning today? I, a classic post-griever, was at odds with my pre-grieving sister.

As the article expresses, both grieving styles have their strengths—pre-grievers can say goodbye to people and places while still present, and then, after the event move on to the next phase. Post-grievers, on the other hand, aren’t encumbered by emotion building up to the event and are able to focus and accomplish what needs to be done. On the flip side, it means that pre-grievers spend their last days in sadness before the transition and may be riding on an emotional merry-go-round, while post-grievers can be viewed as cold and uncaring...and then when they finally break down, they are in the new situation, potentially surrounded by people who aren’t familiar with the old.

Here on the mission field, both pre-grievers and post-grievers must become some sort of professional grievers as hundreds of people continuously come and go in our lives. As such, I’ve found such discussions helpful to understand a bit more about myself and others as we face yet another send-off, another finish, and we all try to cope in the best way possible, some in tears, some with smiles, but all with that certain hope.

"Goodbye," and we hug, "but only until we meet again."