Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Tale of Hockey, Piranhas, and Bacon

Sometimes, I forget what to communicate (always distressing for a person whose livelihood revolves around enabling communication). I forget that what is normal for me might not even cross your mind... (and there's no reason it should, unless I tell you!). So, I’m going to try to paint a picture of what it’s like to go on home assignment (and why I might find it tricky at times to explain it all!)

It all starts when a Girl (that’s me) leaves Warm-Earth Land and somehow traverses across a great and terrible crevasse to arrive in Ice Land.

Ice Land (image public domain)

Ice Land is a very different place from Warm-Earth Land. Ice Land is cold, there is no grass, the animals are different, people drink lots of hot tea, and everyone is engaged in a great and terrible game of hockey. But our Girl learns how to put on hockey pads and grab a stick and attempts to join in. She falls a lot, skidding on the ice, gets scraped up and whacked with sticks, but after a few years, soon, she’s found her niche. She has a team and plays a crucial role in this never-ending hockey game.

You can never let your guard down during the hockey game! (image public domain)

But after a while, it’s time for her to return to Warm-Earth Land. Girl is excited! It’s been years since she was last in the warm sun and felt grass under her feet. As she gets frostbite and pneumonia in Ice Land, she dreams and dreams of the sunshine, the birds, the corn-on-the-cob, the bacon and the sidewalks of Warm-Earth Land. Warm-Earth Land is built up in her mind as Paradise, where she can finally see her family and feel at home again.

Ahhh, but Paradise! It's time to go! (image public domain)

But, in addition to her happy, fuzzy feelings, Girl is nervous. She remembers from the last time she visited Warm-Earth Land after living in Ice Land that it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. She remembers that hard ground can be muddy and have landslides and sinkholes. There can be poison-ivy hidden between the daffodils. And lots of people have never even seen a hockey stick!

But, the dream beckons, and so she presses on. But, she’s still in the middle of the hockey game! THWACK! Whack! She skates and parries and tries to keep up with the flinging puck and dodging body checks from the other team as she considers how she must get to Warm Earth Land...because she must cross The Crevasse of Doom.

The Crevasse is so wide and deep, there’s no bridge. Instead, it’s filled with rushing water, teeming with hordes of Piranhas and Great White Sharks.

Flesh-eating piranhas! (image public domain)

Flames shoot from the surface of the water hundreds of feet in the area—the only way to get across is to zip line through the flames and the snapping jaws until she reaches solid ground on the other side.

zipline through that! (image public domain)

So as Girl skates and whirls and slides and tumbles on the ice, she tries to put on her flame-retardant suit and get together (whack! hit!) some piranha bait and shark-bags (slam! zing! skate!) while attempting to get to the side of the ice rink and send some quick texts to (Whack! Flames!)  her friends over in Warm-Earth Land...with all it’s (hit! piranhas! jaws! puck!) mudslides and it’s bacon.

Watch out! (image public domain)

Unfortunately, sometimes Girl doesn’t always communicate the whole story. Some people only hear about the current hockey game. Some people only hear about the piranhas and flames. Some people hear her excitement about finally reaching Warm-Earth Land and others hear about how much she’s scared of poison-ivy and walking on solid ground again. Some people might not hear from her at all. And Girl often forgets (whack! thwak! sharks! family!) who over in far off Warm-Earth Land hears what and knows what, since everyone else on her hockey team has made this journey before and understands what it’s like to leap from Ice Land (goal! ouch! water! crash! chocolate! hypothermia!) onto that zip line and cross the Crevasse of Doom back to Warm-Earth Land.

And that’s what it’s like, folks. In a few weeks, I’m getting ready to make the transition (or leap on the zip-line of the Crevasse of Doom) from Papua New Guinea back to the US, and I’m a rather conflicted soul. I’m thrilled and terrified and excited and happy and nervous and exhausted and sick and eager and anxious and ready, and I know I’m not sharing all those emotions equally with all of you (and I’m sorry for those get to keep hearing about the number of teeth the Great Whites have!). Please bear with me. Remember I’m playing hockey and counting piranhas and dreaming of sunshine and dreading mosquitoes all at the same time. :)

Not all global workers necessarily follow this story. A big part of how you deal with transition is when you grieve. Are you a pre-griever or a post-griever? I wrote about that year or so ago when I was musing on transition and loss.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

You're pregnant!

The little old woman stared at the white man in shock. He must be a ghost, come back from the grave--after all, he just gave her a prophesy!! She was going to become pregnant!

The white man visiting the remote village for the first time was confused at the great uproar. Hadn't he just said nanterane or hello? Alas, he actually said ne antegahane which essentially means, you're pregnant! Despite the spelling differences, the two words sound very similar when they're said quickly...he just accented the wrong syllable!

Kosseck finished the story, and the whole Kamano-Kafe translation team roared in laughter. "Catherine, you must say nanterane!" they admonished me, grinning. "Don't be like this man!"

Languages are poignant displays of God's amazing creativity. I continuously marvel at how languages can express the same thing in so many different ways! Check out my newsletter for more language tidbits from the Kamano-Kafe, my observations on church holidays, as well as my upcoming travel plans as I head back to the US!

March 2016 Newsletter 

If you would like to have my newsletters sent directly to your inbox, sign up on my Newsletters Page. 

Happy Easter!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig (an FAQ)

As the nursery rhyme says, soon it's time for me to jiggity-jig on homeward! As I hop around the globe, I know it can be confusing to keep track of where I'm going and what I'm doing next--and now it's time for "home assignment!" Here are a few common questions that have recently come up—please feel free to ask more in the comment section.

Ukarumpa (my PNG home), looking down from a mountain (photo by Carl Campbell)
What is "home assignment?" Home assignment is the term that global workers use to refer to the time when they leave their host country ("the field") and return to their home country for a temporary period of time before going back to their host country. When we're among ourselves, we often call it "furlough" but that term can be misleading because businesses and the military use it with a very different meaning.

How long will you be here? I’ll be in the US for about six months; I am leaving at the beginning of May and plan on returning to Papua New Guinea (PNG) at the end of 2016.

What will you be doing in the US? In addition to spending time with family, reconnecting with all of you, re-evaluating my budget, visiting doctors, attempting to rest and recover from a difficult term, and doing necessary paperwork for life overseas, I will continue serving with Wycliffe in the work of Bible translation. This will include speaking and travelling on Wycliffe’s behalf, meeting with as churches and groups to share what God’s been doing, receiving further training, writing articles, and much more! It’s my privilege and honor to continue in ministry—to the people groups of the US!

Isn’t this your vacation? Actually, no. For most global workers, “home assignment” is just as busy as our work in PNG (and for some people, even more so!), and only a portion of that time (just like in a “regular” job) is allotted for vacation. In fact, going from a quiet, slow country with limited choices and minimal sensory input to a high speed, highly populated, high choice, and high sensory input location can be extremely stressful. In addition, in order to reconnect with all of you, I will be travelling quite extensively, as well as trying to accomplish all the tasks that can only happen in the US (such as certain health services or things that require better Internet, etc.).

Will you come to visit my area or church?
I would love to! I plan on spending most of my time in the Midwest, but I will likely be visiting a few other states. Contact me to get your church or group on my schedule.

Do you still need our support of prayer and finances? Most definitely! The transition back to US culture is often a challenge for overseas workers, and a common occasion of spiritual warfare; your prayers are extremely valuable! In addition, your faithful giving remains my primary means of financial support as I deal with the higher expenses of life in the US (everything from doctor visits to vehicle needs to housing expenses).

How else can I help you when you're on home assignment? Last time I returned to the US, I wrote a blog called "Greetings from Mars--or what to do when your missionary returns home." I highly recommend you take a look! Also, occasionally I will have specific needs crop up (for example, I know I'll need to borrow a bicycle at one point), and I'd love your help--keep your eye on my blog, newsletter, and prayer updates for opportunities!

How's your health doing? My health continues to improve slowly (chronic diseases don't tend to have instant recoveries), and it's particularly challenging for me right now when my work and life responsibilities have increased drastically as I get ready to cross oceans. But, I am so grateful for those small victories! Thanks for asking!

Are you excited to come back to the US? Yes, and no. I'm absolutely thrilled to see family and friends and my own culture and various food and activities that we don't have here. But, home assignment can be quite a challenging time; after all, I've spent the majority of the last five years living in a third-world country living a very different life, and transitions are always hard. Keep an eye on my blog and other publications as I process through the transition--I'll do my best to try to take you with me!

What other questions do you have?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

There's an App for that?

Cell phone towers are springing up all around PNG!
photo by Rebekah Drew

“Here, give me the phone. I know what to do!”

My housemate Jessie reached across the table for my ringing mobile phone (or just mobail as we say here). She clicked it on and grinned at me, “Hello, you have reached Goroka Rubbish Removal. For a pick-up of your rubbish, please press 1. For an analysis of rubbish, please press 2, for...” She looked at me. “They hung up!”

We doubled over, laughing until we were crying. And then the phone rang again. Time to try again! “Welcome to the PNG Tax Service. To be audited, please press 1...”
 In Papua New Guinea (PNG), it’s not uncommon  for people to just try calling random numbers and see what happens (or a number that did actually belong to someone isn’t used enough, so it gets re-purposed by the company and sold to someone else...). Sometimes, the caller can become so persistent persistent that you’ll need to block the number, or even more drastically, change your own.
That day, I’d already been called over a dozen times by someone excited to hear the voice of a waitmeri (a white woman), but after Jessie and I answered the phone in every language we knew (ever yell on the phone in Arabic? Alas, my vocabulary has shrunk since I last used it, but never underestimate the power of enthusiasm!), as well as pretending to be multiple distasteful government services, finally the caller gave up!

Decorations at the cell phone tower dedication! (Photo by Hannah Schulz)
Somewhat reliable cell service around Papua New Guinea has been erupting in the last ten years, and every month, more and more towers go up around the country, connecting even the remotest places with the outside world (although you still might need to hike up a mountain and stand on one particular rock while holding your phone above your head to get enough bars to send a text). In 2013, I even had the chance to attend the dedication of a cell phone tower (in Papua New Guinea, we dedicate everything!!) on the island of Djaul, where my housemates have since started working.

It was an enthusiastic dedication!
photo by Rebekah Drew
Smartphones have been making huge inroads in the last few years as companies try to make data plans more and more affordable, and PNG has even been developing its own language of texting! Traditionally, Papua New Guineans have used garamuts and other drums to pass messages over distances. Just imagine how important a phone is to people living on a remote island—it impacts everything from health and safety to travel, business, and now, even new methods of courtship!

Pastors using smartphones to look up Scripture
And translation has to keep up too. In one workshop I was in last year, at least a third of the pastors were using smartphones to look up Scripture passages. In the Kamano-Kafe translation project, we not only have the New Testament available on phone apps that can be shared across bluetooth, but we also have several translated videos, hymns and traditional songs; many other translation programs are doing the same. (Read this story about a boy who was impacted by translation this way!) When people visit our translation centre at Ukarumpa, they are able to access a special network on their phones that lets them find many of the translated resources available in their language. Several savvy people have even been developing cool phone apps that allow the recording of the Scripture to be played while the text is simultaneously highlighted on the phone’s screen—a perfect tool to help with literacy and Scripture use!

Now we’re talking!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Lessons in Terror from a Housedog

Nothing epitomizes fear quite like Buddy in the middle of a rainstorm.

The other day, we had another one of our monster rainstorms—the kind that come every afternoon (and morning...and night...recently we’ve had record rains) and remind me yes, you do live on a tropical island and where suddenly, it seems quite plausible that the entire earth could be flooded by 40 days of rain, and in fact, we really ought to be buying stock in our local ark-building business.

You know, this could be us... (image from
Imagine four drum lines all practicing a different song inside a tiled locker room, and you understand the noise our tin roof makes when the heavens crack open. Add in the cheesy movie effect of lightning striking our neighboring mountain top over and over while thunder echoes like bowling balls slamming back and forth across the valley, and you get the picture.

Some days, he forces himself to move...and hides behind the toilet
photo by Jessie Wright
And it’s absolutely hell on earth for Buddy, our little housedog. At the first whisper of rain, he runs in a panic, trying to hide behind the toilet. But by the time the bowling balls and drum lines appear, he’s given up. Death is imminent. He stands, frozen in terror on our handmade rug. His eyes are glassy. I try to call to him, but it’s no use. He is blind and deaf, shaking uncontrollably like he’s having a seizure. He has seen the Grim Reaper, and it’s time for him to go.

Not unlike me, sometimes.

It’s two months until I return to the US for my home assignment after years of living in Papua New Guinea. And I’m ready to go back. It’s been a tough few years, and I’m tired, battered. I miss family and friends and independence and security and my own culture. I’m tired of sitting with a friend, at a loss for words because her grandchild died suddenly that morning from preventable causes or because the only clinic in this part of the country that has the right equipment to see the bullet lodged in her husband’s skull (from tribal fighting) is on the fritz again or because hooligans raided her garden (their primary food source) and a dog killed all her son’s chickens overnight (his only chance at paying this year’s high school tuition). Yes, I’m ready.

But it’s also been a very good few years, and I’m overjoyed at what the Lord has done in my life and in those around me. I love this place, these people, this work. And at this point...the US is more unknown to me than here.

And so, the thunder crashes, and like my poor little white dog, I can easily find myself frozen, staring at the future and all the worries, both real and imagined, that come with home assignment.

But then I laugh to myself (and cry...because sometimes it’s gotta be both), because—count them!—how many predictions of my so carefully planned last few years have actually come true? Really? Hmm. And so, how much more founded are my fears of the future—that same future that is held in the hands of a God who loves me and has a life for me so much more than I can ask or imagine?

And I’m grateful for these years of goodness and of trauma and of joy and of disease and broken plans, because through them, I’ve learned that God's peace is not so much a happy feeling that replaces all the negative emotions. Instead it's such a big and heavy confidence in His goodness, at being cradled in His arms, that those negative emotions are so muted, they aren't worth focusing on.

When Buddy stands quaking before me, he can’t snap himself out of it. Nor do I expect him to. He’s afraid.

So I do the only thing I can...I pick him up. Only then does he wake from his stupor, burrowing into my lap, as if trying to get under my skin, where his fears can’t reach him, where he’ll finally be