Thursday, October 29, 2015

Banana Leaf Bible

A rope of bananas
Would you associate the Bible with bananas?

 The other day, I was sitting with the Kamano-Kafe men before we began team checking, and Pastor Tuas began telling the rest of us about the recent adult literacy graduation he attended. Read more about his story about the Bible and bananas in my newsletter!

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Peace Like a River

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since armed robbers broke into my house while I was home alone.
I didn’t write about the incident a year ago because it was only 10 days before I was supposed to leave on a nearly month-long village trip. When suddenly you’re filing police reports and attempting to replace stolen items and meeting with counselors and reassuring family (in addition to planning workshop lessons and packing and making month’s supply of granola...), well, blogging is kind of low on the priority list.

I’ve tried quite a few times to write about it in the year since then, but each attempt always seemed to fall short—they turned out too graphic or too lighthearted or too serious or too blase or even, too holy.

So I’ve just skipped it, just like I skip talking about most of what we might consider dangerous situations that I encounter here, because I fear misinterpretation, responses blown out of proportion, and that you may take on burdens that may not be yours to bear (after all, when God gives us trials, He enables us to bear them with His strength, and this was my trial, not necessarily yours). Without having enough beautiful, God-ordained, glory-filled experiences in this country to glow white in your memory, the presence of darkness could be overwhelming. (And since major events stick in our memory, you might start to think this sort of thing is normal and forget the vast majority of life here is made up of (relatively) uneventful days of laundry and cooking and dishes and translation.)

But whether or not I know how to write eloquently about it, the break-in was real. The scars I bear are real. The battle that you and I are both warring against a crafty Enemy is very real. And so, if I do not write, how are you to know how to pray?

 So instead, let me merely say I was home alone, watching a TV episode, and two masked men broke into the house, waving knives. There was a fight that included physical contact and my throwing a ridiculously heavy rosewood chair across the room into an attacker (adrenaline is an amazing thing); eventually, I escaped out of the house and down the road to the safety of some neighbors. I walked away with only scrapes and bruises; the robbers took my housemate’s computer and a few other things, but all things considered, the damage was minimal, and for that we praise God.

I also praise God for those days after—for the support and love that poured out from my prayer team, from the missionary community here, and my Papua New Guinean friends. I also praise Him for His peace. The night of the break-in, after our security team had left and all was quiet, I lay awake, the attack vividly playing over and over in my mind. But, instead of debilitating fear, I found myself sinking deeply into this most heavy, tangible peace that I’ve ever known. You are not alone. I love you. I am here whispered over and over and over into my heart. As I lay in those Arms, I saw again one image in particular—the rolling, panic-striken eyes of the younger robber peeking just above his mask. He was just a boy utterly terrified, trying to shush me and his fear into silence. And I found myself crying on his behalf, praying desperately, not from hurt or anger or fear, but from a deep wracking pity. For on this terrible night, I was the one wrapped in peace—and he was not.

The year since that night has not been all sunshine and roses for me—I’ve had to grieve and forgive and choose to trust again and claim that promise of peace over and over. But that’s why we’re here, is it not?  That’s why we choose to stay in the midst of trials and hardships, when the unexplainable happens and everything wants to scream retreat! Because we have been offered life, given peace when we never deserved it...and that boy, he doesn’t know Him yet.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

How beautiful are the feet that bring good news...and donuts!

Lani and her sister-in-law hiked up mountains like these!
“My sister-in-law wanted to take the bus, but I said, ‘No, we have strong legs! We can walk!’ So we slung our bags onto our backs, and we hiked over those mountains.”

Lani couldn’t stop smiling as she told about selling audio recordings of the Kamano-Kafe New Testament, worship songs, and translated Biblical videos, which were loaded onto SD cards for cell phones and Audibibles (solar-powered players).

“We went straight to the market to sell the items. Because we were new, everyone wondered who we were and what we were doing. Once they saw the materials, many of the older men and women told us, ‘It is very good that you have come and brought these things. We desperately need them. We want to hear the talk of God in our own language.’

Many of the older women can't read--but they can listen to 
  audio recordings and hear God's Word!
Without friends or family in the village, neither woman had a place to stay, but God provided. “I’m very happy about this work you are doing,” a woman called out to them. “Please, come eat and sleep at my house tonight.”

As Lani and her sister-in-law hiked from village to village, they encouraged everyone they encountered to meet them at the local market, and sold a great deal. “My husband is a translator,” explained Lani, “and I want to help him in this work. [The translators] work hard translating the Word of God, but [they] can’t distribute it...So it’s my work to sell it as part of the Kamano-Kafe team.”

Now Lani and her sister-in-law have many requests from villages to come sell the audio recordings. When she’s not travelling, Lani heads to the road near her home, selling her homemade donuts next to the translated materials. “The donuts are a great way to draw in customers!” she laughed. “Before I go, I ask God to send at least one person to buy His Word...and He helps me, and I always sell a few...and so many people who can’t read or write get to hear God’s Word in their own language.”

Lani is the wife of one of the translators, whom I have the privilege of working with every week. Her joy as she told her story was absolutely infectious! 

I originally wrote this article for the The PNG Experience (our publication site for translation in Papua New Guinea).

*names changed for security

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Streams in the (Rainforest) Desert

This is what our hills should look like.
It rained briefly today. After months of drought, this tropical island is finally dripping again, diamonds falling off the pine tree needles. The world is rinsed, washing off the months of smoke and ash and dust from mountains charred black by villages, who hope water might want to condense on the rising smoke. Within moments, the hillsides are greening in excitement, but the gardens still wait. It’s not enough, this brief shower—it dampens the topsoil, but can’t heal the cracks that spiderweb across the earth, can’t soften the ground that traps the muna beetle from hatching.

Today, the clouds pile into our harbor, scraping their hulls on the mountaintops, and we hear their cargo tear loose in thunder and capsize upon us. Where do you come from, you treasure ships of the sky? How did you sail past the Pacific, cheating El Nino, who hordes our rains in his windstricken hands?

Drink eight glasses of water a day,
and so in our home countries we journey to our fridge or pop open a bottle (from crystal-sparkling springs in the Alps). But here, trustworthy water—water without typhoid or cholera—is gathered daily from ever-flowing springs or ever-pouring rain trickling into water tanks, metal drums, clay pots, tarps and cupped leaves. (Wells are too contaminated by the plethora of outhouses and roaming pigs.) Rules guard its cleanliness—upriver for drinking water, downstream for places to wash clothes, dishes, men, and women. Sanitation is the rush of water into the Pacific.
Here is a photo of the same hill now.

But here, in this 5-month drought—the last of this magnitude over 40 years ago—springs shrink to a trickle and no cloud-ships come and dock in this valley. Mamas walk further and further to fill their pots. Some become desperate and slosh their bottles full with stagnant, untrusted sources and hope for the best—for in the village there is no money for bleach, fancy bucket filtration, or those magic drops you buy at REI for your camping weekend.

Just boil your water, strain out the grime. Drink—and suddenly dry clouds mean more than just waterless. Precious gardens have withered in the heat or destroyed by the frost, and the greenlife has drained from seedlings supposed to provide the next harvest. Now breakfast, lunch, and dinner must be usually earned by selling surplus produce at the market or perhaps mowing lawns or landscaping houses (but dead grass and flowers don’t need tending). Schools close (money for fees goes to buy food). Jobs are let go. Prices rise. Water levels at the dam drop, and electricity flickers.

And so those of us who have an income (which means, a responsibility to employ others who don’t), struggle to help our friends in acceptable ways, buying their crafts and their chickens, finding extra jobs. Employment in this country is far more than a financial contract but an agreement for the employer to step deep into the lives of his or her employees, from education to marriages to grief to dying gardens. Together, we conserve every precious drop—cooking water into dishwater, dishwater into gardens. And together, we look up at the sky and pray.

I will make streams in the desert and waters in the wilderness. Oh Lord, even the deserts of a tropical rainforest?

Right now should be rainy season, which means heavy downpours almost daily. This is the same hillside pictured above, almost a year ago, after some heavy rains (at the fenceline, the height of the pouring water is above my head).
To read more about this incredible drought that is expected to last into next year, check out this article from the UNDP in Papua New Guinea and a video from Australian Broadcasting News.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

If My Life Was Recorded Like the TV Show "24"

The clock in the TV show counts down the seconds...
A while back, my house was watching the TV show 24. It’s an action adventure show starring federal agents who are always trying to avert major disasters reputed to hit Los Angeles (remind me never to live there). The show’s quirk is that each hour-long episode is supposed to be in “real time” and so the entire season of 24 episodes is only 24 hours.  It’s a fast-paced show, where a clock continually ticks down the seconds and minutes left in the hour (which is filled with car chases, explosions and our intrepid heroes who never get stuck in traffic, never eat, never drink, never sleep, and never go to the bathroom).

One day, Rebekah, Jessie and I were discussing what if our lives were made into the show 24. I recall one particularly stimulating day a couple of years ago when I was concluding a workshop on the Rai Coast.

Waiting at the airstrip...
Episode 1: 6 am
Get up and get dressed. Eat some granola. Pack up last minute stuff.

Episode 2: 7 am
Walk to airstrip hauling luggage. Expected departure is at 7:30 am.

Episode 3: 8 am
Wait at airstrip. No sign of plane.

Episode 4: 9 am
Wait at airstrip.

Episode 5: 10 am
Wait at airstrip. 

Episode 6: 11 am
Wait at airstrip.

Episode 7: 12 pm
Wait at airstrip. Eat snack.
Hooray! It arrived!

You get the picture. The plane didn’t arrive until 1 pm (unavoidable delays), where it then took the first load of passengers to their village, while my team and I waited until about 4 pm, when we finallly boarded, flew back to Ukarumpa, got home, ate a quick supper, and was in bed by 9 pm.

Contrast this with my recent trip to Australia, where everyone not only wore watches and carried smart phones with alarms, but planned events down to the minute, packing more things into the day than I would have put into my entire week in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Efficiency, productivity, speed were key. People talked fast, walked fast, zipping from one thing to another, eating meals on the go, with barely a pause. Navigating the streams of racing passengers swarming over the Flinders Train Station in downtown Melbourne was definitely not a feat for the faint-hearted (I barely made it out alive!).

I’ve joked with my family that their one day in the US is equal to my one week in PNG at our centre (which in turn is equal to about one month in a village setting).  I don’t respond to your email in a week? Well, just pretend one day passed for me (also, similarly, our shortest measure of time that is really worthwhile is the day. Seconds, minutes, and hours just don’t have a lot of purpose...)

More waiting for the airstrip...
Life moves slowly here because it both takes longer anyway (remember my 42 steps to a dinner party?) and because PNG culture shows respect and value by spending as long as necessary with the person or event at hand (even if the person showed up at your door unannounced while you are walking out to go to a meeting). On the other hand, in Western culture, respect is demonstrated by the value you place on the next upcoming event or person you are planning to meet, so in the proposed situation, you’d be expected to respect the time of person you were meeting for the appointment and would not be late.

Both time orientations have their merits, of course, but the transition from one to another is always a bit of a shock, especially when I come from a place where an entire TV series could be spent waiting at an airstrip...