Wednesday, February 13, 2019

I could listen to the Ranmo sing for hours.  The melodies are somber. They are not joyless, just serious like some of our old hymns.  They know life can be hard.  They live it every day.  But they know God is a good father and worship despite hardship.

It took four days to get to Indorodoro.  Rain season is not supposed to have started yet.  Our trip began by airplane in the Eastern Highlands.  When we landed at Moorehead the people there told us the pontoon barge (used to float vehicles across the river) was sunk (again), and no vehicles could go that way.  Fifty kilometers of swamp and flooded rivers were between us and the village; rain season is not supposed to be here yet.  So we flew to Bensbach, a few kilometers from the Indonesian border and the western-most river in Papua New Guinea.  The next day we were able to hire a dinghy which took us as far as Weam.  The trip took several hours following the river through flooded marshland as flocks of birds flew up and away from the boat.  Herons and hawks, rare birds of paradise and parrots of all kinds kept their distance as the boat made its way through the marsh.  Several hours of travel on the river and we only passed one village; there is more wildlife out here than people.  It’s hard to discern the difference between the river and flood land but our boat operator knows it better than I know my house in the dark. 

We arrived at Weam, a government airstrip routinely shut down due to lack of maintenance.  The Papua New Guinea Defense Force has a unit stationed there but they’ve not been resupplied or paid in months.  They buy food from the locals and fuel from Indonesia but their cash flow is running low.  After two days in Weam we were able to pay some locals to go to Sota (Indonesia), to buy fuel for the Defense Force Land Cruiser.  It has no brakes and even though they are on their second transmission third gear howls like a banshee.  The front drive shaft and axles have been removed reducing it to two-wheel drive status, but it runs okay as long as it has fuel.  I learned later that truck is only one year old. 

Half way between Weam and Indorodoro we came to a village called Gariam.  At least now we were in the same language dialect as Indorodoro and Jessica could communicate clearly in Ranmo.  In Gariam the creek was flooded to chest deep over the bridge.  The bridge consisted of two logs per tire and we had to feel where they were in the murky water with our feet.  If the truck could not stay on the logs the water depth was over head.  End of the road; time to walk.

Because this village was within Jessica’s translation project the people knew her and were willing to help.  After crossing the flooded creek they loaded our supplies onto the makeshift racks they use on their bicycles and headed for Indorodoro.  The rest of the way was a mix of flooded road and occasional dry.  Though mostly not more than ankle deep the weather shifted from monsoon rain and wind that we could hardly talk over to dead calm sun and steam rising from the road, all within a few hours.  That last stretch took five hours to hike.  We had finally reached Indorodoro where we could begin our village stay.

A baby died the day we arrived.  The baby was only a few hours old.  And the young mother soon followed.  In Ranmo there is a term for a friend that is closer than family.  This young woman was that friend to Jessica.  The conditions that we had to navigate to get here are the same for the locals to get out.  Had they been able to get to Kirua airstrip in time there might have been a chance to at least fly the mother to a mission hospital.  But to carry an unconscious adult through a swamp is difficult and when they came to the first river crossing they had to stop and build a raft out of bamboo.  She died in the jungle only part way there.

The funeral and hauskrai consumes village life for some time afterward.

The people’s grieving tradition involves loud and prolonged wailing.  It goes on for hours over the course of several days and can be heard throughout the entire village.  As family members arrive from distant villages they begin their wailing at the edge of the village and continue for quite some time after reaching the body.

The mourning in this area sometimes takes on a musical temperament.  Rather than voiceless sobs, loved ones sing out the things they miss or activities they used to do with the deceased.  Ruth’s father banged the skulls of cassowary and deer together while bobbing along similar to a traditional dance.  He was crying out “Daughter!  These are the meats I used to prepare for you.  Cassowary and deer I used to feed you.” 

Ruth’s elderly aunt carried a yere on her back, a woven basket full of garden produce.  She sang about how they used to plant and harvest together and that her brother’s daughter would no longer be able to help. 

All of Ruth’s loved ones had an attribute, a story, a song.  And they were all expressed simultaneously in a cacophony of singing, wailing and sobs.  The coffin was being sawn and hammered together just a few feet away, repurposed from a wooden table.  And the sound was a part of the chaos.  Just behind the house, a few feet in the other direction, they dug the grave, water and soupy mud flowing in as fast as they could scoop it out.  Little boys bailing water, men digging with shovels.  Some threw themselves over the body or coffin or grave.  And the crying continued long into the night.

There are missionaries who claim these practices should be abandoned within communities which claim to be Christian.  They liken it to one who grieves without hope; a pagan ritual.  I disagree.  These traditions show that the deceased is loved, that they are missed and that the person is valued.  They show these things.  As Westerners we only say these things.  The Ranmo could say that our lack of apparent emotion indicates a lack of love for the deceased.  They could claim that our stoicism is indifference to pain or death or suffering.  They could say that if we love the person we should show that we love them and not just say it.  But they don’t say any of those things.  They say, “You are not from here.  Your ways are not like our ways.  You grieve the way you grieve and we grieve the way we grieve.  And that is okay.”

There is much to be learned coming to a place like Indorodoro.  And we are not always the teachers. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Building with my boys has made me a better mom.

Firstly, in writing this I am throwing no shame on any other moms. Just talking about how I feel within my relationship with my boys. Nothing else. M’kay? Moving on.

L and J have reached that age where toys like legos and model airplanes dominate our house. They are super creative, and while they enjoy following directions and building something that is part of a “set” they also love digging around in the bins and building all sorts of wild and frankly impressive creations out of their heads. Everything we have we have acquired used (except for a few that were presents, were built once and then went into the bins.

Admittedly, when I look at the bins, and the scattered bits as they dig and search for that particular piece, I sometimes really wish I could be that pinterest mom with the “Ikea lego storage hacks” and the label maker.

Granted, while I do have a label maker, I get a little slack as the nearest Ikea is over 1,300 miles away….in another country.

They are still young enough that they, in part, need adult help to make certain things, and sometimes I think they just want to spend that time sat on the floor or at the table getting messy with mom or dad.
I will be the first to admit that structural engineering, spatial awareness, print reading…any of that kind of thing, is REALLY not my forte. I am also really bothered when I do something and it doesn’t quite come out as it “should”. And though the current state of my house may attest to a different ethos, I much prefer tidiness and organization makes me calmer.

All these things combined make it quite a challenge for me to participate fully even when the sweet little boy voice says: Mom can you help me with this?

God is teaching me. I am growing through my boys. Despite the discomfort, I am learning it is okay to have legos turn up in every corner of the house, and have half-finished projects lying around in baking trays (the only way I have found to keep the pieces we have gathered together).

Patience, allowing the imperfect to pass because it brings joy, thinking outside the box, and being content with the simple.

We have even had lessons in economics, and in genuine vs fake. We acquired some fake legos, which bore the logo “Lebqu” on the little display plate. They look ALMOST like legos, but the colors are a bit off, and they don’t stick together like they should. We have since watched a couple of really great lego documentaries that explain why this is so.

So, now we use the lebequ as examples of why it is good to buy less of a more expensive product if the quality is better than the cheaper brand. We also talk about how sometimes seems okay, but when it comes under scrutiny, whether it is a person, a job or an item, the genuine article is a better investment. 

It has become a saying in our house. “Remember the Lebqu!”

Blessings of a community which prays

“Pray over them each morning, even if you can just carve out a couple of minutes right before they head out the door. Ask them what they want God to do for them that day, and see how He answers that request during the day.”

Not your average prescription from a doctor in the US. But this is exactly, amongst other things, what was suggested we do for our boys recently.

Liam and Julien are awesome kids who have taken their parents call to missions in stride from our first in-person meeting with our then recruiters (pic of me with Liam) – to give fair dues to the rather unflattering picture of me, if I recall correctly Liam was maybe a month old at this time.
Through the different church nursery practically every Sunday for over a year with lots of strangers…
To the leaving of the familiar, and giving them a peculiar paradigm of home forever starting at 18 months and 2 years old.

Yes, our boys have gone through many, many transitions in their young lives. Not all of them pleasant, many of them hard enough to make even grownups cry.
They have had to say goodbye to friends, knowing they may never see them again. They continue to have to do this – This week,  Liam had to say this kind of good bye to a friend who he calls his “second best friend”, and whose family has been a source of comfort and friendship for all of us.  His “best friend” left a few months ago.

That is the nature of living in a mission community.
One challenge we have been working through is having two children who are brilliant but have some learning difficulties. We are working through various ideas and aides with the school, with their doctor and on our own. I have a list started of things to look into the next time we are in the US on furlough.

In the meantime, I am continually impressed and encouraged by the others in our community that care for us and our boys. Teachers who pray with us when we have meetings at the school, or sometimes in the store when they see us and ask how things are going. Administrators who e-mail after seeing one of our sons crying after school, to make sure he was okay and ask if there was anything he could do to help. Friends who offer advice, tutoring or just prayers and sympathy.

My Job...

You know those cute fill-in forms kids sometimes get at school around Mother’s Day or Father’s Day? Like this one here.

Notice, that one question somewhere in the middle that says: For work she  _______.
For the last couple of years now, the boys will bring these home as a gift for me for Mother’s Day, and under that question I have gotten various answers: dishes, works on the computer, reads…

Yes, all of those fall under my job description.

I do dishes. Sometimes I do them very grudgingly. Sometimes it is good to stand there and to pray, let my mind wander, laugh at a podcast, all the while not really thinking about the mechanics of what I am doing.

I work on the computer and read. I read for pleasure, always have done. But I also read for my job. I am currently reading through a list of books and articles as part of my training as an anthropology consultant.

I also write up short papers on these books, read online articles, write e-mails, respond to supporters, send out newsletters composed largely by Evan, post updates on our facebook group…many, many things on the computer.

But all this is the in-between. It is my job, and it isn’t. It is the fill-in parts. The part of my job I do when I’m not making food for, cuddling with, tucking in, praying with, building legos, drawing pictures, reading to, hustling out the door, wiping tears, bandaging wounds, laughing with…my kids.

They and the home we live in…along with Evan and making sure he is able to do what God has called him to do…that’s my job.

And I really hope that even though they put down other things for my job, that in the end my boys will be able to say when asked the question, what did you mom do? “She tried her best at being our mom.”

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Grace and Peace

Lately, I have been struggling. Struggling with goodbyes – the see you next in Heaven kind to the see you in a few years/I don’t know when kind – wrestling with understanding God’s Will for my intelligent, creative but academically challenged kids – and finally battling the discrepancy between what my spirit is willing and wants to do, but my body is unable to accomplish. I am still grappling with how to express those experiences into words here….

But in the meantime God has given me a gift of these words of encouragement through the Scriptures.

Our Bible study started the book of Philippians we talked about the first 11 verses of chapter 1. Over an hour on spent on essentially a greeting and opening prayer? Yes. It’s packed. Paul was great at that, his words have punch.

“1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:

2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” – Philippians 1:1-11 (NIV)

At first, I was not really hearing anything. I was feeling sick and tired. I was anxious and sad. Yet, God met me. He used my friends, both old and new, in the study to speak words of encouragement and conviction.

Here’s a bit of what was given to me to ponder and move forward with.

“1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus…”

The letter came from both Paul and Timothy, elder and younger together. Paul had already expressed his confidence in Timothy, continues to endorse him here as co-authoring, and would go on to further 
encourage him  (“12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” – 1 Timothy 4:12 (NIV)) New blood and old hands in the mission field and in Christianity, we should work together – sharpen and encourage.

“2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

The comment was raised last night that very few people we knew spoke in this way to each other anymore; imparting blessings in every day speech. But what if we did? What would fruit? The examples we had in our lives, those who speak blessing on mundane ‘see you later’ partings, those who say ‘Lets pray about that right now’ – rather than the oft-empty platitude of ‘I’ll be praying for you’, were poignant.

When worship – and praying and speaking blessings over others is worship – becomes ritualistic, routine, and mindless – it loses impact, and we forget the most important part, its transforming power; its power to aid us and those around us in becoming more like Christ.

3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

We say it in newsletters, in e-mails, in thank you cards and we meant it. Paul and Timothy had their partners in their pioneering mission work, and we have ours so many generations later.

The role of the faithful who were established in one place to gather support and prayers were clearly an integral part of the burgeoning work in the early Church. That role has not diminished. For us, it is not empty sentiment to say “thank you” no matter how many times we say it. We could not be here without our partners.

Those who financially support the mission as well as those who pray for us (and as it was brought up last night – those we are surrounded with in our community here), hold us up, keep our feet moving forward in faith, directing our eyes to stay fixed on God.

As it was pointed out in our study, it is meant as a two way street. We get prayed for, but we should be praying to. As the verses continue…

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”

Like Paul, I carry our partners in my heart, and whatever my circumstances I should be praying for each one of them, not just when we hear of a need, just as they pray for us. In doing so, the pain of separation lessens, the worries about my kids lessens, the physical trials of my broken world body diminishes. And God is glorified through me. The “good work” begun in all of us continues to refine “…until the day of Christ…” It is a complex process, on one side of things we are lifted up and become stronger. On the other side, we become less so that He is that is in us is more manifest through the bright spots of us following in those footsteps set before us.

Let us pray continually that all – especially those individuals brought to our minds – including those on our minds because of a conflict with them – that their“…love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that [they] may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”
Please pray with me that I don’t hinder the process in my own life and that I continue to seek God’s guidance in this crucial area of growth.

In closing, grace and peace be with you today as you go forth into the future.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Grateful list

Here is another installment of things I am grateful for…

1. The boys’ school:
Here in Ukarumpa our boys attend our center’s school. It is a mix of families with many ethnicities and backgrounds joining together for a common purpose. To support the spread of God’s word into every tongue and promote His love for everyone and His desire to see them grow and thrive.
The school provides amazing academic help but also there is a lot of fun and learning…
Ice cream class reward...can you spot Julien? Hint he's in green
(photo credit goes to Laura Young (his teacher) and Anita McCarthy for taking the photo

A few months ago we had book fair, which culminated in the book parade which has the kids dress up as a character from a book. Last year Liam was a Buckingham Palace Guardsman and Julien was Paddington Bear. This year Liam is Geronimo Stilton and Julien is Chiro from the picture book Nightsong. This is always fun for our family as we love reading and crafting.

Geronimo Stilton
 Most importantly, the school instills lessons about how to be children of God into each day.

2. Our Jeep. God blessed us with miracle after miracle in getting our car here this term. I enjoy being able to give others a lift, remembering our first term of not having a car.

Often we get several inches of rain in a few hours. With gravel roads, no sidewalks and several hundred feet change in elevation from our house to the rest of center we are reminded of God’s provision for us every time we get in the car…especially when it is raining.

Even when it’s not raining, getting around and especially being able to take trips off our center has been made more possible by owning our own vehicle
 Going to village church

 Highlands Highway
picture of the bridge which we took the river ford to avoid. The guy posing in the picture is standing right in front of the hole in the bridge that we couldn't drive over. On the way back it was patched.

Here are some videos of driving to a village church, and down to the coast for vacation and a shopping trip. There are major repairs happening on the Highlands Highway but for now we are grateful to have four-wheel drive.

3. The diversity of God’s creation. In flying down to Madang for my Thrive retreat a few months ago I got to sit in the co-pilot seat for the first time. I also got the birds eye view of the landscape going from the Eastern Highlands where we live, down to the “nambis” (the beach/coast). I was able to converse with the pilot Mike, husband of a friend who was also attending the retreat (Mike flew three plane-loads that day) about the beauty of PNG. It again made my heart cry and prompted me to pray for the people and the land we passed over that God’s word would touch them and they would grow to know Him and His will for their lives in powerful ways.

4. Unity amongst diversity. I love to marvel at our worship times here, especially during a service when there is scripture and song presented in many languages. It shows me a tiny glimpse of what Heaven is going to be like. But we also get to have some of that experience in our home too, with celebration of holidays particularly. American holidays like Thanksgiving and Fourth of July, and also Christmas here is a bit different than in the US, but we are lucky to have a great community of friends who are like family to celebrate with.

At the annual 4th of July party food traditions come from all over -- sugar cane next to the American flag cake
For Thanksgiving this last year we gave thanks for God’s provision with having not only Americans but also Romanians, Canadians, AND Americans who spent their growing up in the Philippines and other locations as MK’s, and naturalized Americans…so we have a lot of food and perspective that may not be “traditional” but it’s also awesome and truly what the spirit of Thanksgiving is about.
The lead-up to Christmas is always different here. One year the boys made cookies with an “auntie”, one year we spent Christmas Eve at an Old Testament dedication. Christmas day we sometimes have a brunch with friends…but always spend the afternoon at a potluck at the home of our dear friends the Albrights in a tradition that started for us in 2012, the first Christmas we spent in PNG.

All these things I am able to enjoy are because of the generosity you all who join with us and partner with the ministry and allow us to continue to live and work here…Thank you.

Sunday, February 25, 2018


I just came into possession of a book called “If Teacups Could Talk: sharing a cup of kindness with treasured friends” by Emilie Barnes

As I leafed through, admiring the beautiful illustrations by Sandy Lynam Clough, reading bits here and there, many memories were brought to mind.

As a little girl I enjoyed playing tea party. I still have my dolls china tea set in storage in America. It is white with pink and blue flowers. As I grew older many more fond memories and attachments to people came via tea. Curling up with a steaming mug and a good book is still one of my favorite activities.

From the time I was in about 5th grade through college, I attended an annual “Christmas tea” hosted by a friend’s mother. It is such a delightful event, and she is such a gracious hostess; in order to accommodate the women and girls who attend, there are tables set through-out the house and three sittings! I was so very pleased to be able to attend for the first time in several years when were in America on furlough in 2015.

The first present Evan ever bought me was a mug, a boxed selection of quality teas and a fuzzy blanket. On a visit to Evan’s brother in Seattle, he took us to a tea shop where we were served several cups of throat-scalding, but very good, tea out of jars and drawers and given a lesson in which tea gave what flavors and properties to the drinker. 

One of the presents I brought back from my trip to Russia was a traditional glass and metal tea cup for my father. He and I share a love for tea.

A search for replacement Tupperware popsicle molds on ebay ended with me in possession of some lovely cups which I enjoy using:

I came across one seller who also was selling a beautiful set of blue and white tea cups produced by Staffordshire engravings. The thing that caught my eye was that the birds on the cups are birds of paradise, the national bird of Papua New Guinea. The price was reasonable, but in calculating how much it would take to ship to PNG, plus the molds I decided I couldn’t buy them. In communicating with the seller about shipping for the molds (I was having her mail them to my mom who would ship them on), I complimented her on the cups and told her we were missionaries in PNG where the birds on them are found in many varieties. She quickly replied that she wanted to send them to me as a blessing and asked for an address. A couple of months later I was a very proud owner, and indeed blessed by the kindness of a stranger.

I have been able to continue a tea-loving legacy in my boys…though they are only allowed mostly herbal teas like chamomile at the moment; Liam in particular has been drawn to the ritual of tea drinking and “tea time”. Those blue and white cups I told you about? They are his favorite to drink out of.

One of his favorite things to do while visiting his grandparents (my parents) was prepare a tray with tea and toast to bring to Granddad in bed in the morning. Last school year, in social studies, they learned about the UK, and at the end of the unit, Liam took great pride in carefully dressing for their special “real UK tea party” served and explained by women in our community from the UK. His hospitable nature is drawn to the social care of teatime.

Here in PNG, where spending time on developing relationships is of paramount importance, it makes sense that “tea-break” is still an observed time of the day. 10 AM and 3 PM every workday. In many cultures, to eat and drink with someone is a profound step in acceptance. Jesus uses this ritual many times as an object lesson in showing God’s love to others.

I have heard many people comment that they hear the best stories and grow closer to their co-workers over their tea-breaks. In our multi-cultural environment, where the number one reason for missionaries leaving the field is inter-personal conflict, I hope the tea-breaks never stop.
When I am having a tough time, or just want to visit, going and having a cup of tea with a friend…even if she tidies up her kitchen while we sip and chat, is refreshing and comforting. In the evening, when Evan sets the kettle boiling and asks if I would like a cup, I feel the warm glow of love and companionship from that one question.

So, raise your cups (even if they contain something other than tea) in salute to this special pastime and maybe even throw a special party and create some memories when International Tea Day rolls around on December 15th.