Saturday, December 31, 2016

Not Plan B

image from
A cheery voice erupted from the TV above me, startling me out of that glassy-eyed daze that descends after sitting in one too many medical waiting rooms. “I decided that if I was going to die,” the doctor’s recorded voice proclaimed, “It was going to be on my terms. I’d die with good health, not from bad. The power of positive thinking enables my body to be healthy and whole—and if you choose, you can too!”

I blinked. Was he serious? But fire-red brochures pasted on the clinic’s doors echoed the sales pitch: Don’t settle for the life that you have today—accepting it is a form of slavery! You’re entitled to something better. Choose the power of the mind. Choose freedom!
Suffering, our culture says, is something to be eluded, rejected, and if it happens to catch you in the gut like a hard-thrown dodge ball, all the onlookers cluck their tongues in surprise. Duck faster next time! So we eat the latest “superfood” and read books on restoring relationships and try the essential oils and put on our seat belts in our great attempt to delay death and sidestep suffering, but when those bedfellows finally ring at our door, we stare in bewildered shock. Wasn’t I positive enough? Didn’t I deserve something else?

The bridge collapse was a problem. But not a surprise.
But in places like Papua New Guinea, suffering is seen as a matter of course. With few conveniences to provide an illusion of control, ugliness and joy stand visible together. Not a person walks through life unmarked—why waste time on surprise? This is the world we live in—one that is dark and fallen and corrupt, and no power of the mind can gild into entitled wholeness that child’s distress, that blood-soaked country ripped by war, that brain tumor, that man hiding for his life from sorcery, that grieving widow.

Choose freedom, he said. As if challenges and illness snuck up in God’s and my blind spot, and because I didn’t swerve fast enough, think positively enough, I now am living in the slavery of a cosmic Plan B.

But I am already free.

For my trust is not in the script that I think my life should follow, but in the Author Himself. And thus, this is no Plan B.

Dear friends, Peter writes in his first letter, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. God’s ultimate aim isn’t our happiness nor is life an obstacle course to navigate unscathed, but perhaps instead it’s a vehicle that He may choose to use to show Christ in our weakness instead of in our escape from it. And for me, that is freedom, for now suddenly instead of trying to follow Him in spite of my weakness, my weakness is part of how I follow Him.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. (2 Cor. 4:8-10)

And that’s a beautiful Plan A.

We follow a scarred Captain
Should we not have scars?
Under his faultless orders
We follow to the wars.
Lest we forget, Lord, when we meet,
Show us Thy hands and feet.

Amy Carmichael

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Not Weak Enough

James, an excellent carpenter and translator (photo by Amy Evers)
“Sister, the roof on the translation office is leaking.”

I looked across the table at James, one of the Kamano-Kafe translators, and bit my lip in frustration. What was I supposed to do about this? 

He waited patiently as I grappled for an answer. “Umm, okay…yes. How bad is it?” Maybe it was just a small leak.

“It’s pooling on the floor. We need to fix it immediately.

Of course.
Such is life in Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) rainy season.

When Rich and Joyce, the primary advisers to the Kamano-Kafe language group, were getting ready to return to the US for a year-long home assignment, they asked if I’d be willing to take over the administration and translation advising of the program in their absence. It seemed like an ideal fit, since my chronic Lyme disease meant I needed to remain in Ukarumpa (our linguistic centre) instead of in a village, and the Kamano-Kafe translators already came into Ukarumpa every week.
Hard at work at translation! (Photo by Amy Evers)
And so, I found myself, a young, single female (thus holding very low innate status in PNG culture), who could some days barely crawl out of bed, somehow sitting at a table with a team of very experienced, older male pastors and community leaders. And I was not only supposed to provide leadership and guidance (in a culturally-appropriate manner) for the translation project, but also for the enormous complex set of project finances, local language material sales and distribution, the business-as-mission coffee project, the maintenance of the dozen or so computers, and the newly opened trade store, all after only a few hours of orientation. And now, when my brain was fried and my body was crying for rest, I needed to know about fixing roofs. I just can’t do this, Lord!

I turned back to James.

“Well, I guess I will have to put a work-order into our construction department, but…” I sighed, “We’ve recently lost the manager, and they are very overworked, and I’m not sure when they’re going to be able to get here to fix it…I can send it in today, and we’ll see what happens, but I don’t know anything about roofs so…”

James fixing the translation office's roof
“No, no.” James shook his head, “I’ll just fix it. Don’t worry, Sister.” He smiled at me, and the man who worked as a highly sought-after carpenter when he wasn’t serving in translation promptly disappeared out the door.

I’m good at giving God my strengths. After all, since He gave them to me, I expect He has plans for them to further His kingdom. We pick careers that play to our strengths and fill out spiritual gift inventories so we know if we ought to serve in the church nursery or not. We shore up weak walls and strengthen weak muscles. Tok Pisin, the trade language of PNG, doesn’t even have a general word for weak. We just say nogat strong or “not strong.” And when I hand God my weaknesses, it’s so He can transform them into strengths. “Teach me patience, O God.”

But what if God wanted to use my weakness…and leave it weak?

I’m good at handing God my strengths.

And yet He says, My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.

A few weeks after the roof incident, James walked up to me. "Sister, the drainage around the office isn't working. I've drawn up plans for how we need to reroute it, I'm bringing a team of guys from my village on Thursday to dig the ditches. I'll be supervising them and providing the materials and tools, and I'll keep track of their time sheets. You just need to sign the receipts."

From that point on, I watched as the team took more and more responsibility for the project…from managing the coffee program to organizing and selling Bibles at a Christmas camp to dealing with a disciplinary issue to maintaining the office and administrating themselves. And me? The longer I worked with them, the sicker and weaker I got. There never was a transformation of weakness into strength. And yet despite the setbacks and shortcomings, the Lord blessed our translation as we worked through Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and part of Joshua.

Before he left, Rich shared with me his desire that the Kamano-Kafe community would take more ownership and responsibility within the project and that we would do less (important in Papua New Guinean culture to increase the acceptance and effectiveness of a translation). “We need to pray God will make it happen,” he said, because our best ideas and efforts weren’t quite making the impact.

I guess we just didn’t know how weak we really had to be.


This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you.  Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.

1 Corinthians 1:25-29

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Tin Man, a Potato, and Hope

This is me today! Pinterest has some of the most 
hilariously funny chronic illness memes!
Now this is ironic…

The fork slips out of my hand again onto the counter. I will my stiff fingers to move, to somehow pick it back up again and then shuffle back to my desk carrying my lunch with unbending knees and elbows. Chronic Lyme disease as well as the side-affects from its treatment causes joints to ache and stiffen painfully, and today the flare-up is worse than it has ever been before.

Of course, on the day when I get to eat a potato… Today is my 12-hour window to try the food after 9 weeks of deprivation to see how my body reacts, and I can’t stop giggling hysterically as I can’t seem to even hold the knife to cut off a glorious tasty piece. Finally, I just stab the whole thing and gnaw off a bite.

Heavenly! And as I chew the blissful food, I stare at my computer screen, pondering how I’m going to stiff-finger type out a blog post to introduce my most recent newsletter and health update. Maybe the topic of “Thanksgiving,” would be appropriate…after all, I’m trying out potato!
Maybe, as we just celebrated the first Sunday of Advent, I should focus on Hope.

Or maybe both—because for me, it is in the confident presence of hope that I can give thanks…and it’s the expression of thanksgiving that allows me to live in that hope.

I have recently been reading an encouraging and challenging book called Be Still My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering edited by Nancy Guthrie. In her introduction, Nancy writes, “Holding on to hope, for us, has not been a vague, sentimental experience. It has been an ongoing choice to believe God’s Word…. I am not holding onto hope in terms of a positive perspective about the future or an innate sense of optimism, but rather holding on to the living person of Jesus Christ” (11).

Six months ago I wandered back to the US from a third world country and found to my surprise, that I had not left turmoil behind. Instead, the world’s eternal ache was groaning here too, shouting and flailing for something, anything, that might allow them to stand in confidence, to look toward the future in hope.

A hope that’s already here—and is more than just a platitude on a greeting card or a carved Christmas sign, but living and breathing and flowing through the moments of our lives until all we need to do is choose.

And so I reach out with two weak and aching hands that can barely grasp a fork and cling to this Man, to rest in the confidence of His promises and bask in their light that makes whether or not I’ll be able to eat a potato again (probably not for a while) fade into the background
Because on those days that my hands stiffen like Tin Man and I can’t hold on anymore, it doesn’t matter. Because He’s hanging onto me.

And so I give thanks.

Check out my most recent newsletter by clicking on this link. If you’d like to receive my newsletters by email (or read archived ones), head over to my Newsletter page and submit your email address there.

Guthrie, Nancy, ed. Be Still, My Soul: Embracing God's Purpose and Provision in Suffering: 25 Classic and Contemporary Readings on the Problem of Pain. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010. Print.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Autumn Cathedral

I wrote the following blog post back in early October, when I was still processing through what it might mean to remain in the US to deal with my health issues. Unfortunately, I was too sick at the time I wrote it to actually post it on here. So here it is now :)

“All people are like grass,
    and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
     but the word of the Lord endures forever.
1 Peter 1:24-25

Image courtesy of Wetcanvas
The sun dips lower until the oak and maple trunks spiderweb like lead came across a forest of stained glass. I sit beneath this everlasting cathedral, until my hands and face are covered in golds, oranges, greens, reds, and I try to hold the moment, like a piece of chocolate on my tongue.

Time passes quickly here in Minnesota. After five years in a country without definite seasons, I find spring, summer, and now autumn slipping past my skin like silk and I can barely catch my breath.
Hurry, hurry, hurry, the breeze whispers through the wind chimes. Winter is coming. This will soon be over. Hurry.

Didn’t I just touch down on this continent—it can’t be time to leave yet, is it?

Originally, I was supposed to head back to Papua New Guinea at beginning of November, but my bags remain unpacked and tickets unpurchased. As a result of my chronic Lyme disease and other co-infections, I will be remaining in the United States for some months until my team of medical professionals has diagnosed, treated, and is confident in my recovery.

And so, I wait. And I wonder, as I watch the breeze peel off the birch leaves, the summer-green dreams dying in a blaze of orange fire—does it hurt when they fall to the earth?

Undefined stretches out before me. After years of ferocious solo life and travel, I can no longer live independently, and I attempt, grateful, to slide back into the rhythm of living at my parents’ house. Fatigue dictates new, limited rules for driving. Old hobbies take too much energy. My job, languages, calling waits 8,000 miles across an ocean while I sit, with a tremor, in a country that I don’t quite recognize as mine. After five years, old friends have drifted and coursed new paths like a river delta. And I remember what it is to live in the United States: people tucked into their houses and scheduled out 3 weeks, rather than a 20m walk between hanging ropes of bananas to borrow a cup of sugar. The five stages of grief, of loss, ripple through me, and I take a deep breath through my nose of winter-coming death, of loam and wood rot and wet leaves.

Golden bits of aspen rain to the ground like confetti, as the glint of a fox’s tail disappears into the weeds. On the equator, time passes from green to green. But here, a vibrant glory before death, and the leaves flutter through my fingers, ready to be trampled underfoot, ripped from the tree’s hands.


image courtesy of Wetcanvas
There is the one oak tree behind our veranda who always tries to skip autumn, tries to hang onto his leaves, until they shrivel brown, shattering at the slightest touch. And when winter bears down and the hoar frost weights the sleeping trees, the waiting trees, they bend and sigh with the knowledge of a coming and better spring…but he


And so I kneel on this gilded cathedral mosaic pooling across the ground, gold fit for a King clutched tightly in my fists and

open my hands.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Battle of 5 Armies (or more...)

"How Your Body Works" by Usborne
When I was a kid, we had this biology book produced by Usborne, all about the circulation system. White blood cells were dressed as valiant knights, ferociously defending the townspeople (red blood cells) from the attacking villains (bacteria and viruses and parasites…. which always looked rather like pirates).

Well, if you’ve been following any of my health journey, you know that this past summer, as I’ve been travelling around the Midwest and sharing with churches, groups, and individuals, I’ve been undergoing a battery of tests with multiple doctors to see what is going on and how to best treat it (including my chronic Lyme disease).

Chronic illness is tricky to unearth and complicated to treat. There are so many threads buried deep in the system, intertwined and interacting; there’s no one magic pill that can make it all get better. And recovery, if it happens, takes a minimum of months, if not years. After all, I’ve been sick for years. And I know that’s hard to remember—mine is what is called an “invisible illness.” When you see me, I don’t look sick, and I don’t act sick. Or, at least, that’s my goal (I don’t leave my house otherwise). But it means that (most likely) I really don’t feel any better overall than the last time you kindly asked a month ago (or even 6 months ago).
According to my doctors, at first blush, I’ve got multiple giant armies of various parasites, protozoa, and fungi, running around my body, shouting battle cries and staking their flags as conquering invaders. My immune system, despite some valiant efforts a few years ago, has been utterly overrun and finally waved the white flag. And so it sits miserably by, watching the destructive occupation of foreign marauders who have thrown up giant neon welcome signs to all other pirates, neer-do-wells and villains who want an easy place to make a home.

Argh, come me maties! (image from

Or, to put it another way, I’m essentially a giant ark, carefully harboring all sorts of little critters inside me.
Just replace the cute animals with...well, other things. Image from

Now that we’ve unearthed at least a few of the components, we’re going to start treatment of some of the parasites and fungi. (According to my doctor, we’re going to send in troops to encourage my immune system and try to take out the advance battalions of the invaders, but it will take more work to get at those command centers buried in the bunkers). We need to hit these before we can effectively go after the chronic Lyme disease (and, as you might expect, the destruction of war inside my body will make me feel quite a bit worse before I’m going to hopefully feel better).

At the same time, I’ve also spent the last 4 weeks on a very strict elimination diet—about a dozen vegetables, a few fruits, lamb, fish, beef, and almonds (and then at one point, even the fruits were axed…). This is to hopefully promote gut healing as well as to figure out if any of the foods are contributing to Great War inside of me. As you can imagine, it has created its own share of stressors as food prep and planning takes quite a bit more work, it's pretty tricky to accept food from anywhere except my own kitchen, and my whole system is in some very unpleasant turmoil (some of the occupying forces are extremely unhappy with having their food supply lines interrupted). Not to mention, there’s something about extreme deprivation that suddenly makes me hyper-aware of every billboard, restaurant, Facebook ad, TV commercial, Youtube video, and even short story which references food… which then then leads to those moments where I feel like a saber-tooth tiger suddenly released from being frozen in the ice flows AND I WILL DIE IF I DO NOT HAVE A GIANT PIECE OF CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE.

But I digress. I get to slowly add new foods (oats! Green beans! Chicken!) back in over the next 2 months, and will hopefully be at normal dietary habits by Christmas.

In addition to all of this, I get to work with other medical professionals for both routine visits (dentists and eye doctors) and chronic issues (physical therapists and chiropractors to address chronic pain issues). This means, I’ve been averaging 2-4 medical appointments a week for the last few months.

We'll defeat them together! (Image from
As you may have realized by now, I’m not actually returning to Papua New Guinea in two weeks, like I originally had planned. I need to stick around Minnesota with my team of medical professionals for a few months as we lay siege against these armies and hopefully take back some ground and throw up new fortifications. I’ll be sharing more about what this means, how I’ve been processing through it, and how it may affect all of you as we go forward. Right now, I just want to say thank you once again for all your prayers and encouragement through this challenging time. You are the support network that lets me still stay active with Wcyliffe and in Bible translation during this time (such as this month when I’ve had awesome opportunities sharing with college students about what God’s doing in Bible translation! I look forward to visiting more after the holidays!).

Thursday, August 18, 2016

August Newsletter

It's a beautiful Minnesota summer, and I'm enjoying spending time with family and sharing with many churches and groups the work God is doing in Bible translation in Papua New Guinea. Check out my latest newsletter for an update on the health situation and my plans for the rest of this home assignment!

You can read the newsletter here or go straight to my newsletter page.

I look forward to getting back to blogging soon as my speaking schedule slows down! But, I have a few more opportunities to share, so keep checking back on my speaking schedule page in order to figure out which one works for your schedule.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Speaking Schedule in the US!

I haven't been able to write much on here because, instead, I've been seeing many of you in person! Right now, I'm in the middle of the craziness of travels and speaking for home assignment, and thus for a person with limited spoons like me ("spoon theory" is a lovely explanation of how life works when you have a chronic illness), certain things have to get dropped off...and right now, blogging has been taking a back seat.

I know I don't look sick (makeup, hair products, and decent clothes are miracle workers!), but in fact, right now my life is rather carefully sculpted between speaking engagements and doctor appointments to ensure survival. Hopefully when things slow down, then I can get back to writing more for all of you!

This calendar is also saved as a link on the left side bar, so you can always access it with updated information! If you need directions, more information, or you can't make one of these but still want to get together, send me an email!

Date and Time Host Location
Sunday, June 12, 9 am Nordland Lutheran Church  Paynesville, MN
Sunday, June 26, 9/10:30 am Oakwood Community Church Waconia, MN
Sunday, July 10, 8 am/9:20 am Berean Baptist Church Glencoe, MN
Sunday evening, July 17, 6:30-8 pm Centennial Evangelical Free Church Forest Lake, MN
Sunday, July 24, 9 am Word of Life Lutheran Church Le Sueur, MN
Wednesday eve (dessert night), Aug 3, 6-8 pm home Cologne, MN
Friday evening, Aug 5, 8:00 pm (7:30 meal) New Salem Church Minneapolis, MN
Sunday, Aug 7, 10:30 am New Salem Church Minneapolis, MN
Sunday, Aug 15, 9 am
Glory of Christ Fellowship (followed by a picnic)
Elk River, MN (at the high school: 900 School St NW, Elk River, MN 55330)
Wednesday eve, Aug 17, 6:30 pm South Suburban Evangelical Free Church youth group
Moeller Park, Apple Valley, MN
Sunday, Sept 18 Bethany Lutheran Church West Union, IA
Sunday, Sept 25 South Suburban Evangelical Free Church Apple Valley, MN
Sep-Oct (TBD) University of Northwestern-St. Paul Arden Hills, MN
Sep-Oct (TBD) Crown College St. Bonifacius, MN
October (TBD) Living Rock Church Norwood-Young America, MN
 November (TBD) Rosehill Alliance Church Roseville, MN

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Holidaying with Hobbits

What happens when three friends from Papua New Guinea actually manage to align their schedules so that when one person is flying back from the US and the other two are flying to the US and Canada, they cross paths?

Why, they stop in New Zealand for 10 days together, of course!

You may remember discussion about the challenges of going on holidays in Papua New Guinea back in 2015 (Choose Your Own Adventure Part 1 and Part 2). So when Jessica, Rebekah and I realized we could actually have a real holiday together, we jumped at the chance!

It was an amazing 10 days--it felt like my first true holiday in years, and I was blessed that not only did my energy hold up better than I anticipated, but that I could share life with two such amazing friends. (And I got to see is always better when you get to see penguins!)

Enjoy some photos of the adventures we shared during our whirlwind visit to this gorgeous country.

What's a trip to New Zealand without visiting Hobbiton?

It really is an idyllic place.

Look, I'm a wizard!
photo by Rebekah Drew

Look, I'm a hobbit! (The hobbit holes were built to different scales for various filming needs. Most were only the facades--this was one of the few that you could enter (and it was only a few feet deep!).)

I've always wanted to see the glowworms of New Zealand ever since I watched some geographic show for kids when I was little. It looked like the caves were covered in stars! Alas, we couldn't take photos inside the caves, but here is the cave exit and the boat that we took through the system.

Being linguists, we were thrilled to learn more about Maori culture and language. So, in Rotorua, we visited Te Puia where we watched an amazing cultural show, learned about various Maori traditions, and saw a really cool geyser and bubbling mud pools. (There is so much thermal activity in Rotorua, that we even saw steam coming out of sewer grates on city roads!)

photo courtesy of Rebekah Drew
We also went ziplining in Rotorua and learned about the subtropical rainforests of New Zealand. "Hey Catherine, just fall back," they said. "We'll take a picture!" they said.
photo courtesy of Rotorua Canopy Tours
"Hey Catherine! Try flipping upside down," they said. "We'll take a picture!" they said.
Okay. (Apparently I'm very trusting of zipline ropes.)
Photo courtesy of Rebekah Drew
Yay for sheep! New Zealand is famous for it's sheep-farming (and it's merino wool--amazing stuff), so our trip wouldn't have been complete without learning the many different kinds of sheep, the art of shearing, and the many dogs used on sheep stations (including the one that is bred to Never. Stop. Barking. Ever.)

In the middle of the sheep show, I was called up to milk a cow. Not sure where that came from.
photo courtesy of Rebekah Drew
After sheep, we were blessed to meet up with a Papua New Guinean colleague now living in the Auckland area. Then we flew down to the South Island where it is, in a word, gorgeous.

photo courtesy of Rebekah Drew
 And, for some strange reason, we decided to go white water rafting in frigid glacial water. 

Wave at the camera everyone! (Except me. Because I was too petrified to let go after the long safety briefing about what would happen if I fell out. But Rebekah waved, brave woman.)

But, the highlight of my trip was definitely the two-day horse trek through the Queenstown area of the South Island (Lord of the Rings fans...this means we saw or rode through the forest where Boromir was killed, the Misty mountains, the mountains of Morder, and Isengard. It's pretty much all as spectacular as you think it would be.)

I rode Spike, a hardy Appaloosa who had definite opinions about everything.

photo courtesy of Rebekah Drew

photo courtesy of Rebekah Drew
See the rainbow! It was actually deathly windy up there and poor Spike was none too pleased about being asked to pose for a photo.

photo courtesy of Rebekah Drew
The holiday was exactly what I needed--a chance to leave Papua New Guinea well, take some time to enter the first world (and all its strangeness) with fellow global workers who understood my shock when cars stopped for pedestrians, and have some fun before all the work of home assignment descended upon me. (Sometimes, it's a a great relief to be an average person or a tourist, instead of being the Main Speaker and the Primary Attraction, which is often a missionary's experience as they travel around their home country.) Yay for holidays!

And now, on to the next adventure! After all, "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to!"

photo by Rebekah Drew

Thursday, June 2, 2016

20 MORE Super Cool and Odd Things about Life in the First World

Last week I shared 20 things that have stood out to me as I’ve been transitioning back to life in the US for my home assignment after living in Papua New Guinea the last couple of years. But, when I got going, I found I couldn’t stop at 20! So here’s another 20 awesome and bizarre things I’ve noticed about life in the US.
  1. Cross-walks really work! Cars actually stop! (It took us a while to figure this out in New Zealand…we kept waiting for the car to go and it was sitting there at the crosswalk, waiting for us…)
  2. Birds sing continuously here, and they hop around on the ground (and there are squirrels! And chipmunks!)
  3. I have not yet seen a pack of stray dogs or a mama pig and piglets wandering down a road.
  4. Stores are open on the weekends!
  5. Smartphones are glued to 90% of the left hands that I meet.
  6. Because most of the people you’re trying to contact are in your time zone (or within a couple hours), you don’t have to continuously convert to whatever day it might be elsewhere and have strange notations in your planner telling you what narrow window you have to contact them (including staying up super late).
    It's raining, and you can still see all the trees!
  7. Towels are fuzzy and soft after being dried in a DRYER!
  8. Some hotels had us swipe our room cards to make the elevators work then again to make the room lights work. I felt like I was on a spaceship.
  9. Wall outlets don’t need to be turned on.
  10. Mosquitoes are small, speedy and chew through your clothes compared to the slow, dumb Paleolithic-sized mosquito-birds of PNG. BUT no one cares, because they don’t carry malaria or dengue or other crazy things.
  11. Windshield wipers, headlights, and brakes usually work! Cars are clean, not rusted, have all their mirrors, (usually) were made in the last 25 years, and are rarely covered in duct tape!
  12. Cars follow the rules of the road. I mean, it’s pretty cool there are even rules in the first place. But they follow them! And there are no potholes! But there are these things called stoplights. And police cars. And stop signs. And sidewalks.
  13. 70 mph is really really fast.
  14. I can watch Youtube videos, go on Pinterest, stay connected to the internet for lengths of time, and load pictures on all websites!! WaHOO!
  15. 911 exists here. And emergency rooms.
  16. I walked at night and watched lots of other people walk at night, and we all lived! Everyone else seemed to think this was totally legit. (Similarly, we drove at night…!)
  17. There are no bars on windows, people have decorations on their front porches, windows and doors are left open, items are scattered around backyards, and people even leave stuff in the backseat of an unattended car!
  18. Everyone is dressed so…nice.
  19. Vegetables in the supermarket are strange sizes, strange colors, and sometimes, very sadly individually wrapped in plastic. The avocados, in particular, are some of the most pathetic hard little golf balls I’ve seen…
    I love nectarines and peaches, but how odd is it that they have little stickers on them!?!!
  20. Grapes, blueberries, watermelon, nectarines, bacon, steak, corn on the cob, and ice cream are all as good as I had imagined them to be…

Thursday, May 26, 2016

20 Super Cool and Odd Things about Life in the First World

Like the frog that doesn’t notice he’s boiling in slowly heated water, it’s easy to become immune to the amazing or strange things that surround us all the time. Lucky for me, whenever I swap from one world to another, I get to enjoy observing those little forgotten things over and over again (the rather less enjoyable side is called [reverse] culture stress but I’ll write more about another day.) Now that I’ve been in the US for two weeks (I'm starting my home assignment, after a couple of years in Papua New Guinea), here are a few of the things that have stuck out to me.
And autumn colors! Gorgeous (Queenstown, NZ)
  1. People like to watch the weather on TV and read weather forecasts on the internet and listen to weather people on the radio, and then plan life accordingly. In Papua New Guinea (PNG), we just assume it’s going to rain, and voila! Forecast is done.
  2. The leaves of Minnesota trees are super small. Like dollhouse leaves. How cute.
  3. In PNG, the rainforests are dense, dark environments, where the light struggles through the top canopy and there is so much groundcover and ginormous ferns and other tropical plants that you can’t see much ahead of you, and you need a bush knife to clear the trail. Here, the forests are much more open and spread out, and light radiates through the trees until everything is glowing and magical.
  4. Houses are anchored solidly on the ground and are so tightly sealed that outside sounds are very muted and the air feels processed. However, the house itself is incredibly noisy with dishwasher sounds and water softeners and heaters and fans and other such creative inventions.
  5. Air conditioning is super cold.
  6. We can do laundry in the evening!! (In PNG, it takes hours and hours to do one load of laundry, and with no dryer, you need to start early enough to catch the sun).
  7. There is this household chore called vacuuming. Even the airports are fully carpeted!!
  8. People walk really fast.
  9. People put ice in their water, and they FILL ENTIRE COOLERS with ice when they have a party!!! Whoa!
  10. No one comes to your house uninvited. No one walks by and stares in, no one stops at your gate to bring you 5 bags of lettuce and ask for help with dental fees, no one shows up to ask if they could borrow sugar, a ladder, and would you want to play croquet this afternoon? It’s…weird.
  11. The sun is very weak. I could be out in it and my skin wasn’t frying instantly. Maybe that’s why the same temperature here feels much warmer in PNG.
  12. Thunderstorms are rather pathetic, umbrellas actually keep you dry, and even better, because houses aren’t built with tin roofs, you can actually carry on a conversation when it rains!
  13. We get junk mail! Actually, we get mail at all!!
  14. There is wifi on airplanes and on roads and in cities!
  15. No one stares at you when you walk down a street. They seem to think you look normal and are doing a normal thing.
    I don't attract an audience here!
  16. The sun bizarrely stays light until 9 or 10 pm…and dusk lasts for hours! (PNG is 12 hours of light—from 6am to 6 pm, and it varies about 15-20 min from “summer” to “winter”).
  17. Store aisles are incredibly wide, well lit, and the floors are so clean, you could have a meal on them.
  18. Spices are spicy, and cling wrap clings. I can’t tell you how exciting that is.
  19. Seat belts work. There are seat belts in the first place.
  20. We’re not going to talk about the incredible thing that is a grocery store. Or clothing store. We’re just going to revel in it.
Look at the size of those buildings! And all the modern boats! (Auckland, NZ)
When I started making the list, I found I couldn't stop at 20! So check back next week for yet another 20 bizarre and awesome qualities of first world life.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Beans for Bible Translation!

I am a tea drinker, not a coffee drinker. While I can manage to choke down a cup of java to be social (an important skill for both living in a Papua New Guinean village and for sitting down with American church missions committees), not even spending my college years rooming with a passionate barista convinced my tastebuds to crave this bean-water.

But in mountains of the Papua New Guinea (PNG), coffee growing and production is a vital part of industry, and for the Kamano-Kafe translation team, it’s a critical pillar of support for Bible translation!

In 2010, the Kamano-Kafe translation team faced challenges of rising costs everywhere, including transportation, which meant some members were unable to attend team checking sessions. Rich, their team advisor, started wondering if they could save the money they spent on buying ground coffee for their daily coffee break by processing and roasting the coffee beans themselves.

Many Kamano-Kafe speakers tend small plots of coffee trees next to their other staple crops of kaukau and taro (two kinds of root vegetables). Family members hand pick the bright-red fruit of the coffee trees (called cherries). After the flesh has been removed and the cherries are washed, sorted, and dried on big tarps, they sell the beans (now called parchment) as a source of income for the family.

 “Parchment beans are sorted into three different grades of quality.” Tuas, one of the Kamano-Kafe translators, explained to me, “When you are buying coffee, you take a few beans in your hand and rub off the skin—then you can tell the grade and know the price.”

Next, the parchment beans are run through a huller, which is a machine that removes the parchment skin from the beans, leaving green beans. At first, the Kamano-Kafe team members used a hand-crank huller to hull green beans during their tea breaks and lunch times. Later, Rich spent nearly a year of his Saturdays with lots of help and advice from several auto shop mechanics and electricians rigging up parts from an old washing machine, old blower fans and a junked air conditioning unit, so the huller could be motorized. Fellow Kamano-Kafe translator, James, tapped the side of the machine. “Remember when there was an electrical fire when a motor capacitor blew and there were flames and smoke?” he asked the others, “That was a day!” After that, they called it the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! Eventually, the team acquired a small used huller from Australia, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was retired (“That one will go in our museum,” James joked.)

The home-made huller!
The Australian-made huller

The green beans are then stored in loose woven bags until it’s time to be roasted.

Green beans all ready to be made into delicious (so I've heard) coffee!
At first Rich tried roasting coffee on the stove using various pots and pans (and even a whirly popper, which filled the house with smoke!). The team started selling a few small bags of coffee here and there, hoping they could cover their costs and perhaps help with a few team expenses. But God blessed their efforts and the demand for coffee increased. Rich realized the stove-method wouldn’t cut it, and after lots of internet research and the collaboration of several machinists, he designed from scratch a 3kg coffee roaster.
The 3kg coffee roaster!
In the beginning of learning to roast, there were a few mishaps. Nathan, a translation team member and now an expert in bean roasts, recalled over-roasting a batch of beans, which then caught on fire. “It lit up like kerosene!” he remembered. “The flames suddenly shot toward the roof and smoke filled the building.” In a panic, Nathan threw the flaming batch in the cooling tray outside and watched it crumble into charcoal.

“Without mistakes, we couldn’t improve!” laughed James. James and Nathan, the chief roasters, continue to refine their dark, espresso, light, and medium roasts and experiment with improving flavor. Currently, the sale of two 250g bags of coffee pays for all the stages of translating one verse of the Old Testament into the Kamano-Kafe language. In addition, the coffee beans are purchased from Kamano-Kafe speakers who are facing need and hardship, such as widows and the sick, in order to help their community.

Come to market--buy some freshly roasted beans, and have them ground as you wait!

God continues to bless the sales of coffee to support the Bible Translation project (sold to only local coffee you need to come to PNG for some awesome coffee!), and recently the team purchased a used 5.4 kg roaster, which will allow them to meet the ever growing demand.

I think it’s time for even this tea drinker to sip a cup of coffee!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Day at the Table--Part 2

There is no such thing as a normal day of translation! But, here’s an example (including all real events), of what a day might look like! Don’t forget to read Part 1, posted last week!

Phrase by phrase (photo by Amy Evers)
The morning tea break flies by, and now it’s back to work! We plow through a few more verses in Deuteronomy; these are harder—dealing with topics of lending and interest and material items that aren’t present in Kamano-Kafe culture. My back has a crick in it, and I start getting distracted as the team chatters on and on in a language where I only catch a few words, often with loud yelling and waving hands. But I catch just enough—“Actually, he’s talking to all of Israel here,” I cut into the conversation, “so we need to make everything plural.”

Kosseck studying (photo by Amy Evers)
The table goes silent, then Nathan bursts out with a grin. “Ooo, Brother, she knows what you’re saying! She’s holding your tail now! Watch out!” We all double over in laughter.

The horn blares again, signaling an hour lunch break. As the team fixes their rice and tin meat, I head back to my house for a quick meal and as much horizontal rest as I can between phone calls and people stopping by.

Back to translation! The metal roof has no insulation, and under the intense tropical sun, the little building heats up like an oven. The power flicks on and off, so computers and lights suddenly go black, but the team doesn’t miss a beat. We shift some sentences around (in Kamano-Kafe, the verb comes at the end of the sentence) and adjust a letter or two (Kamano-Kafe uses lots of suffixes to communicate meaning, which means words can be quite long and a single letter can change the entire thing from past to future or from intentional to accidental).

WHACK! “Air strike!” we shout, and Tuas, brandishing the flyswatter like a sword, adds his kill to his tally (The team have a contest to see who can kill the most flies during a year. Computers and people are considered “holy ground” and are off limits...but everything else goes!)

Lots of cultural discussions! (photo by Amy Evers)
“Ah yes, that’s a lot like our culture” Kosseck comments, and all the guys begin to chime in on the taboos surrounding women’s menstruation and childbirth. But soon we’re back to discussing how to keep an army camp clean when you’ve got thousands of men in one place, and my chronic fatigue is making it hard to focus.

Another horn—afternoon tea break! I pray to close the session and my brain mixes all three languages together until I spit out something only mildly coherent.

Smoke filling my brain! (photo by Amy Evers)
“Smoke is filling my brain,” moans Nathan. I think my head is going to catch fire!”

“I should dump some water on your head,” teases James.

“No, then he’ll just be full of steam” retorts Tuas.

We all laugh, and head to the communal office where we flip through ancient National Geographic magazines and tackle some financial paperwork while we sip more coffee. Franky peers over Kosseck’s shoulder at the giant boa constrictor strewn across the photos. “Did I ever tell you the story about the snake...?” and suddenly, he launches into story after story about giant snakes and bats wrestling in the treetops or when eagles dropped a snake carcass on a truck-load of people.

Back to translation, and we open in prayer just as the dark storm clouds break above us and rain pounds the uninsulated metal roof. We can barely hear each other over the deluge, but we shout translation at each other anyway (it’s a good test of language comprehension, I muse to myself). One verse doesn’t need any changes—“Hooray, free verse! Free verse!” we shout!

4:30 pm now, and it’s time to wrap up. We pull down the curtains, close the computers, put up the Bibles. The guys grab their backpacks and head towards home—some walk, some will catch buses. “Lukim yu tumora! (see you tomorrow!)”

 “Yes,” James hollers back, “If I don’t see you in heaven first!”

Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Day at the Table--Part 1

There is no such thing as a normal day of translation! But, here’s an example (including all real events), of what a day might look like! Check back for Part 2 next week!

Franky settles into his "office" (photo by Amy Evers)
Nanterane! Good morning! It’s 8:30 am, and I step into the canteen, a little brown building that triples as trade store, coffee roaster, and translation office. James and Tuas, two of my Kamano-Kafe colleagues are already there, but I hear “Heeeey, we come!” and the rest of the team, Nathan, Kosseck, Korry and Franky spill in after me, everyone shaking hands and slapping backs.  Pastors, elders, fathers, youth leaders—they represent five different denominations coming together.  James begins hooking up computers, and Tuas distributes Bibles. Franky, a mother-tongue consultant, settles into the side room to work on adding his comments to an already team-checked translation.

We slide into our folding chairs.  “Any news or prayer requests?” Tuas just dropped his oldest child off at university in another city. Franky’s wife has been in and out of the hospital for potential breast cancer. Two men died in Kosseck’s village. Nathan has been attending some major denominational meetings. They ask me about world news. “Let’s pray.”

James opens up Paratext (photo by Amy Evers)
On to translation! James, our typest and “driver,” clicks open Paratext, the language software that holds all the translated material, and the passage where we left off last week appears on the external screen for all to see. This year we’ve been working our way through Leviticus and now we’re in Deuteronomy. “We used to do this all on paper!” he grins. “This screen makes it so much easier!

By the time the passage reaches the team check, it has already gone through two drafts. Now Kosseck reads aloud in Kamano-Kafe while Tuas immediately translates into Tok Pisin, the trade language of Papua New Guinea, so that I can understand. I follow along in my Bible—four parallel versions, while glancing at various commentaries on my computer, as well as the Hebrew text and 7 other Bible versions on the main screen.  A good translation is clear (communicates everything without any confusion), accurate (contains all the meaning of the original), and natural (sounds like a native speaker). My job is to listen closely and ask questions to confirm we’re sticking to these principles.

Deep in discussion! (photo by Amy Evers)
Hagi 4ti'a kafufi ka'ma kokampina tamavere'na e'noanagi, kukena tamimo'ene anomo'enena tamagia tagatora huno zonipase oramine. ("For forty years I have led you in the wilderness, clothes of yours haven’t worn out, sandals of yours haven’t worn out on your foot.”)

“Who is speaking?” I ask. “Moses!” the guys chorus back. I glance through my notes and re-read the passage. “Actually, the context indicates this is actually God talking.” We discuss it some more, then add in an extra phrase: Ra Anumzamo'a huno. The Big Lord said.

We continue through the rest of the passage, word by word, verse by verse. Sometimes everything flows smoothly, and sometimes we spend upwards of 15 minutes on one verse, poking at it over and over, restructuring, arguing, linking it to previous verses and trying to bridge three different dialects. We discuss spelling issues, I explain difficult English words, and we reword English passives (e.g. "the law was passed") to a more natural active construction in Kamano-Kafe ("the Israelites passed the law").

“Wait, let’s check,” says Kosseck in Tok Pisin, “What does worn out mean? Does it mean just torn or completely torn off and falling off the body? Does it mean you force and tear it or does it happen naturally?” We change a few more words around and re-read the verse a few more times in Kamano-Kafe. Okay, one more time to rekreo (translate it into Tok Pisin again so I’m able to confirm the changes).

We open and close every session with prayer.
Suddenly it’s 10 am, and the Ukarumpa linguistic centre horn blares. We pray to close the session, then stretch, shift in our hard metal chairs. It’s tea break! The men head off to the Highlands office to drink coffee and chat with another language team who are recording word lists. I take advantage of our 15 minutes to run to the other side of centre and tackle various errands for the team, including the post office, finance office, and our computer repair services for Franky’s computer.


We’ve only reached 10am (and I didn’t tell you about everything that happened before I made it to the office, including an 80 year old man with only four teeth who needed to see the dentist showing up spontaneously at my house! Check back next week for the rest of the day!