Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Third Conversation is the Hardest

image courtesy of
 Two years ago this month I was back in the US, experiencing the adventure and the challenges of "home assignment." While I anticipated conversations with friends after years away would be difficult, I never guessed that it would actually be the third conversation that would be the most lonely. Although I don't plan on returning to the US until 2016, many of my friends are currently in the midst of this transition around the world.

The Third Conversation is the Hardest
I see your blurry face through the glass, door cracks open, and years
are squashed in our embrace, as dogs and children squall
welcome back! A bowl of snow peas from your new garden, new baby on your hip, new
job, and best friends curl on the couch together between
pieced pillows, shuttling questions like a tennis match.
Tell me all about it!

A few weeks later, an apple orchard reunion—filling our mouths
with Honeycrisp and Beautiful weather, isn’t it?
Did you have a nice holiday? And I tell you about falling off
sidewalks, and forgetting how to use self-checkouts in Walmart,
laughing together, juice running down our cheeks.

A month and 20 minutes until the concert starts, and together, suddenly
silent.  What to say now—the weather
 is still beautiful, your kitchen remodel
is still finished, your child
is still crawling. Conversation springs from shared
life and we are walls built on a common foundation
no longer touching. 

An armrest and countries apart, I rehearse small talk in my mind
searching for that first brick. Maybe
next week, we can talk about the concert?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

I could trust it!

an Audibible!
One afternoon, James, a Kamano-Kafe Bible translator, received a phone call from his cousin, an engineer with a master’s degree who worked at a big gold mining company. A fellow Kamano-Kafe speaker had recently come to visit his cousin and brought with him an Audibible, a hand-held, solar-powered audio player that held all of the translated Kamano-Kafe New Testament along with Genesis.

“Where did you get this?” James’ cousin had asked.

“The team of Kamano-Kafe translators had made it,” the man had responded.

As James’ cousin listened to the Scriptures being spoken in his own language, he was amazed. “I’ve read the English Bible and the Tok Pisin [Papua New Guinea’s trade language] Bible, and I’ve not been able to understand. I wasn’t ever able to comprehend all the meaning.

“But, when I heard the Scripture spoken in my own language, I knew I could trust it. These words, they contained all the meaning of the Bible, and it was in my own language! It touched my heart, and I’m so happy.”

James, who is working with his fellow Kamano-Kafe translators to translate the Old Testament, and his cousin talked for a while longer. “God is doing a good work with this!” the man exclaimed, “It’s good you keep working on this task! I regularly go to church and worship and listen to a sermon in English or Tok Pisin, but when I finally heard it in my own mother tongue, God’s Word touched me deeply. It took its rightful place inside me!”

I originally wrote this article for The PNG Experience (the blog that chronicles translation and language work in Papua New Guinea). Over the next year, I'm planning stepping into the Kamano-Kafe team as translation adviser while the primary advisers are in the US on home assignment. Stay tuned for more Kamano-Kafe stories and videos to introduce you to these remarkable people!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Choose Your Own Adventure--Part 2: Going Somewhere

Remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books that often seemed to involve capture by aliens and untimely deaths if you made the wrong choices? Last week we started our own Missionary Holiday version with Part 1. Once you make it all the way through Part 1, then I invite you to continue on this treacherous path with Part 2! 

Is it time for a shopping trip?
4. After trying the stay-cation for several years, you finally decide it might be worth branching out. You’ve saved up the money and remind yourself that mental health is important. Even Jesus went away up to a mountain to pray! Your vacation activities are simple--either you drive to a town with shopping or fly to a town with snorkeling. First you ponder the driving option.

Three towns are within driving distance (2-6 hours over very rough roads). However, you don’t own a car, so you either need to recruit some friends with vehicles or rent one. If you plan on driving, you need to not only make contingency plans for bridge wash-outs, criminal activity, mudslides, directions, motion-sickness, and fuel, but you also need to make sure you have a man in the car (not a given if you are a single woman).  Once you get to the town, there are a few more decisions to consider, all of which are equally complicated (housing, transport within the town, food, security issues). Do you...

...feel like your mind is going to explode and you want to devour an entire batch of chocolate chip cookies because of the stress?
    (Indulge your craving (though you might have to break up the melted-and-rehardened chocolate chips into dusty crumbs with a mallet) and begin to consider flying somewhere instead of driving. See paragraph 5.)

...decide to gather with a bunch of friends and do a whirlwind shopping tour that means you need a week to recover when you come home?
    (Pause for a moment to savor the new food you brought up, and then return to Part 1, paragraph 1, but add in all the work that piled up during the week that you were gone.)

You could be like Susie, waiting for a plane to refuel...
(photo courtesy of  Rebekah Drew)
 5. Five towns are within flying distance. You first will need to catch a flight out of your local airstrip (or you can drive to one of the local driving towns (repeat paragraph 4)). These flights can be quite expensive, and beware connecting flights and short time connections because often your home valley gets fogged in during the mornings and flights delayed. Once you get to the town, you now need to figure out driving transportation (repeat paragraph 4), along with all the complications of housing, food, and security. But, the water is pretty, you finally feel warm, and you see interesting coral. Do you...

...still feel like exploring this option?
(Read paragraph 4 to understand all the driving complications that you have taken upon yourself. If you still find yourself on this answer after reading everything twice, then enjoy your water holiday.)

...wonder if there is another place you could go where you could actually walk around at night and take public transportation without finding a token man to accompany you and where you could maybe do some shopping AND some enjoyable activities?
    (You are not alone! Continue on to paragraph 6.)

6. Suddenly, you find yourself opening up Kayak flight search engine and randomly putting in the names of cities in nearby countries. After you pull yourself off the ceiling when presented with the fares, your mind begins to race through a litany of questions—Which country? Which city? Which time zone? Where will I stay? What do I need to do—shopping? medical appointments? Which place accepts my insurance? Wait, how does the exchange rate work? Where is my credit card anyway? What time of year should I go to get the cheapest rates?  Will I know the language? How will I get around? Do I need a car? What’s my budget? How much luggage allowance can I have?  How many days of travel to get there? Where do flights connect? What do they wear I even have the appropriate clothes? How cold is it?

Your vacation-planning has turned the corner, now rivaling the complexity of a quantum physics manual. Do you...

...consider flying to your home country?
    (Why not go see your family and save much of the planning unknowns? Trek onwards to paragraph 7.)

....decide to tack on your out-of-country vacation with your next departure  for home assignment (a year and a half away) and just stay put this year...(return to Part 1, paragraph 1).

7. You merrily begin to dream about returning to your home country (perhaps the United States)—why not take a full month? After all, it’s so incredibly expensive, that you might as well try to get as much bang for your buck for those thousands you’re spending on the holiday. But, you are worried a bit. You're 17 hours ahead of your hometown, which means you’ll have to cross a lot of time zones...and everyone knows that the jet lag is much worse travelling east. You might even lose a full ten or more days to foggy memory and strange sleep cycles. Add that into the week of travel, and you only have 13 days of holiday.

Subtract at least three days of culture shock, one day dedicated to doctor appointments, and two days to buying lots of things and packing them in luggage or shipping them by sea freight. Don't forget that since your friends and church haven’t seen you in years, you probably will be asked to meet a few for dinner and lunch and coffee and perhaps give a quick testimonial at church and a Bible study--at least two more days.

So now you have five holiday days left to spend with your family, which may or may not emotionally tear you to pieces because before you know it, only moments after you said hello, you are flying across the ocean for a departure of another few years. Do you...

...decide that it’s all worth it—after all, you’ll see family!
    (Congratulations! You’ve had your holiday! Now you’ll need another one when you get back to your work country...)

...shed a tear or two, and move on to a different holiday plan....perhaps somewhere like Australia—cheap flights, same time zone, and speaks English?
    (Don’t worry, you’ll find the perfect holiday someday! You might have to take some time off of work to plan your vacation...but it’s all worth it in the end, right?)

Okay, well, it’s not always this difficult...but let’s just say the truth can be stranger than fiction! As for me, after five months of planning, I finally finalized my holiday plans for 16 days in Australia next month. Yippee! It will be an adventure!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Choose Your Own Adventure--Part 1: The Decision

Remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books that often seemed to involve capture by aliens and untimely deaths if you made the wrong choices? Well, today you can play your own version—by planning a holiday as a missionary! Don’t forget to stay tuned for Part 2 (if you survive that long!).

You might even feel like you have a cuscus on your head!
(photo courtesy of Rebekah Drew)
1. Your computer’s low battery light blinks, startling you out of your headache-induced stupor. Despite your living on a tropical island in the South Pacific, it’s been frigidly cold for the last few weeks and your uninsulated house has turned your fingers and toes into ice. You’re trying to understand the complex financial situation of the dozens of accounts that make up your translation project as well as problem-solve for your translators (in multiple languages—and who ever learns those words right off the bat?) the bugs in their translation program, when you hear the pitter-patter of rain on the metal roof. Bolting outside to try to salvage the laundry (which you’ve been trying to dry for a week), you sigh as you notice that all your reds and your greens are slowly becoming indistinguishable (thanks to river water) and your underwear has been stretched and ripped beyond recognition. As you lug your laundry basket into the house, you feel that weird cough rising in your throat (who knows what illness you might be fighting?) and you realize that you forgot to go to market this morning, and now your fridge is nearly empty. The power has been out for a few hours, but you do find some old bananas and dust off the fruit flies as you look around your home.

“Hmmm,” you mutter. “I need a vacation.” Do you...

...brush off the nagging thought? Holiday? Who needs a holiday? Missionaries don’t need holidays! I’m just fine!
    (If so, you’re not unlike most missionaries. Please repeat paragraph 1.)

...collapse into tears because you are so burnt out that planning a holiday is the most overwhelming task you’ve ever heard of in this universe?
    (If so, again, welcome to the club. Please repeat paragraph 1.)

...briefly wonder if it might be a possibility in this lifetime.
    (Congratulations! Continue on to paragraph 2.)

2. Over your supper of Maggi noodles and rice you found on a bottom cupboard, you tentatively bring up the topic with your (spouse/housemates). “Ah, a holiday!” one person sighs in ecstacy, “I went on a holiday once! But it’s just so expensive!” Your other friend looks up at you, “Do you know when you want to go? After all, there is that workshop next month and school doesn’t let out until July and who would take over your team’s translation needs? We better look at the next three year plan and coordinate this.”

As you sip your water, you feel your eyes glazing over. Quickly, before you go comatose, do you...

....forget the whole idea. After all, there’s a whole lot of work to be done here, and there really is no one else who can take your place, except for maybe Mary, and she’s busy with other important work and if she took over your spot for a few weeks, then who will take hers? Maybe next year someone will be here, and you can leave.
    (You’re in good company, my friend! Please return to paragraph 1.)

...begin hyperventilating about the expense. Money?! Of course holidays take money! I completely forgot about money! I don’t have any money! And what will my supporters think if I spend their money on a holiday! After all, the last time I put photos on Facebook of our family at the beach, we got some critical emails from a person commenting on the “[supposedly] poor, suffering missionary” and misappropriation of funds!
    (But, you have great resolve and faith—after all, God takes care of sparrows, and they don’t plan vacations! Decide you will consider a stay-cation. Continue on to paragraph 3.)

3. Staying in your home sounds like a cheap alternative—why pay for a bed, food, and roof when you have one right here? Also, no one would actually have to take over your job...maybe if you just spend one day a week in the office, you can push the other things off or delegate. After all, you could be emailed the notes for the department meeting and then read them in the evenings and answer a few more aren’t technically working, because it’s not happening during “work hours,” right? You keep it up for a few days, before the first medevac crisis hits and then your pet gets ill and then your translators need some money to buy a cell phone and then you offer to fill in as the community librarian for a few days. “Isn’t it good I stayed home?” you smirk to yourself, “Look at all this work I’m doing!”

Suddenly, as you run from one meeting to another, while still trying to do laundry that won’t dry and finish the shopping and make the yogurt and fix the blinking security light and chase down the escaping dog and help out your village friends with school fees, you realize...this probably isn’t a holiday. Do you...

...think, this is pretty close to a holiday?
    (So do we all, kemosabe, so do we all. Return to paragraph 1.)

...realize that you might want to think about leaving home.
    (Stay tuned for Part 2.)