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