Thursday, February 16, 2017

Walking Barefoot Down the Mountain

It's Monday at about 9:30 am and I am sitting in the middle of a pile of clothes and shoes and curtains and medicines and toys and books (though not many books- thank you Kindle!) and many other random items that we are trying to take back with us to PNG. My 5th grader approaches me with a math question. Because like a masochistic lunatic, I am simultaneously trying to home school and pack. I gave a quick glance and "hint" and told her to try the problem again.

Five minutes later she comes back, still needing help. I sigh in annoyance and give a slightly longer glance and firmly convince her that she can do it herself if she just tries hard enough.

Five minutes later and I was wrong. This time I lost my "patience" (yes, I know the above display was nothing resembling patience) and fussed at her for needing help. Of course that's not what I said...what I said was some jumble of sharp words about "trying" and "not doing your work" when really I was just fussing because she needed help. And you know...that's kind of  actually is my job as a home school teachermom. Sure... it's also my job to pack and make sure my children and windows aren't naked (go ahead and laugh, but if my windows don't have curtains, then people will actually see my children- and anyone else in the house- naked, so they are important...very important). Anyway...

Yeah, I needed to pack, but not on school time. The problem is there was/is a lot of things I needed to do and they weren't looking like they would fit in the eight day time frame we had left. So after that I finally realized I was being totally unfair to my child, apologized, and helped her with her math problem.

Then I locked myself in the bathroom and cried.

Then I felt better.

 And then I decided that this would was the last day of school until we get back to PNG*! Hooray for home school and making my own schedule! I have been trying so hard this whole furlough to keep us on track school-wise and it hasn't been easy with all the traveling, moving, and doctor appointments. But on Monday I realized that just pushing through in order to "get done" was not really helping my kids and it would be better to just wait for a time when I can give them my undivided  slightly less divided attention...even if that means we don't finish until the end of June.

Home school is one of my biggest areas of struggle. I constantly feel inadequate and overwhelmed. I am never confident that I am making the right decisions.  I am never confident that they are getting an adequate education. I am never confident that I am not actually making my children dumber. I am never confident.

And this lack of confidence frequently sends me into a downward spiral of doubt.

"What am I doing here?"

"Why am I a missionary?"

"I am terrible at all the basic requirements of this job."

"God, why do you have me here?"

"Isn't there someone WAY more qualified at all these things?"

"God, do you have me here? Or is this something I got myself and my family into?"

You see I had very different expectations of what I would look like as a missionary. I grew up reading Elisabeth Elliot and Amy Carmichael and I had grand delusions of being someone at least somewhat resembling those ladies.

Turns out I'm just kind of a housewife whose house happens to be in the middle of the jungle...and not a very good housewife at that. I'm not really a great cook. Or decorator. Or teacher. And I'm not great at plenty of the other aspects of my job either... I don't like packing. Or flying. Or transition.

I did kind of know all of those things going in, but I just had this idea that God would miraculously grant me those skills as soon as my feet made first contact with PNG soil.

I didn't really understand the concept of God using the weak and foolish in His work. I kinda thought, "yeah, I'm weak and foolish, but God is going to make me strong. Make me capable... equip me" with gifts and talents. I didn't realize that I was just going to be the same old me. Introverted and awkward and a mediocre cook and a terrible teacher.* But somehow God was going to make it work.

He takes all of my lack of talents and abilities and somehow makes everything work. People are fed and children are educated... and even more miraculously people come to know Him and grow in their relationships with Him.

He turns my mediocrity into the miraculous. All I have to do is just keep going. Keep doing what He asks even if it doesn't look as good as someone who is particularly gifted in that area. Sometimes He works through incredible talents and sometimes He works through the overwhelmingly mundane.

It reminds me of the time my husband went on a hike with some of the Hewa guys. On the way up the mountain (you either go up or down on hikes around our village- flat ground is scarce) he wore some nice hiking boots that not-so-nicely rubbed huge blisters on the backs of his ankles. There was no way he could get the boots back on his feet for the hike back down so he decided to go barefoot. This is not an easy task. Words like "perilous" and "atrocious" come to mind.

John Michael's feet while walking down the mountain barefoot. He had just pulled a leech off of this blister. That's why it is so bloody.


But he did it. Without falling. It's not something that white people can usually do. And man was he proud. The guys he was with congratulated him, "Now you're one of us!"

I was proud of and for him. And the next day I sat with some of the Hewa ladies telling them all about it. But their reaction was a little different than I expected. One particularly bold and saucy friend told me,"Yeah the ONLY reason he was able to do that was because we prayed for him. We saw that he was about to go down the trail with no shoes and we stopped and prayed that he would make it. God carried him down that mountain, and that is why he didn't die (yes they fully expected him to die from walking barefoot down the mountain). "

And I realize that in everything we accomplish over there and for every day that we simply don't die it is only because God intervenes. He takes our feeble offerings and turns them into something useful. Something eternal.

So when I feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and completely useless in this ministry, I can be confident that as long as I am faithful in my mediocrity then He can turn it into something fruitful. I can walk barefoot down the mountain knowing that He will carry me.



*We decided not to do full school, but are still doing our reading everyday.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Nobody Reads The Bible More Than This Guy*

I was just going through some pictures on my computer and found this one of these Hewa Bibles. Technically, they are "Scripture Portions" because we are not finished with the translation project, but it's just easier for us both if I call them Bibles.


When new books of the Bible are translated we print new "Bibles." They are just what we have translated so far. This is of course kinda pricey, but it's what we are here for and what we raise support for (THANK YOU!!!). We don't just pass out Bibles, though, or they would become trash all over the village, used to start fires, or fights, or basically treated as they have no value. It has to cost the owner a little something in order for it to be taken care of and treasured, so we charge them a very small fee for a first time Bible purchase and if they hand in an "old" Bible, one that is not the most up to date version that we have printed they pay an even smaller cost.

So I have this box of "old" Bibles sitting in the loft in my house. My co-worker said he just burns the old Bibles, but I have yet to get do it for a number of reasons. The number one reason being my long term relationship with procrastination, but also because I just kinda like looking at them up there. I mean, look at those things. All torn up and faded and obviously used. Obviously carried through thick jungle trails, over logs and rivers and up mountainsides. Obviously read. It's a great reminder when my attitude is less than stellar after a long day (or week, or month) of dealing with whatever village shenanigans have popped up.

And then there's this picture...






That's a guy* reading his Bible in the deep dark hours of the jungle night with only a flashlight to read by. It amazes me to see people fall in love with the Word of God, and therefore go to great lengths to read it, however and whenever they can. At this point they only have about 50% of the New Testament and yet, many of them spend more time reading their Bibles than most people who have the whole of scripture...in many different translations...including myself. I am often challenged and encouraged by my Hewa brothers and sisters to spend more time in the word of God. After all, I have lights in my house!! I don't have to worry about arm fatigue from holding a flashlight up for hours!

Anyway, these pictures were just a good reminder before we head back (in about three weeks), and a great encouragement for the days when I wonder if we're really doing anything for the people over there.

Because I know that even though we'll eventually leave for good, and the building we've built will eventually rot into the ground, "The Word of God is living and active..." and will keep going as long there are people still willing to do anything to read it.


*This title is just joke. I'm sure there are people who read the Bible more than this guy. Although he actually does read it a lot.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Magic Words to Appease the Jesus Spirit

One of the hardest events of missionary work is the death of an unbeliever among the people you are trying to reach and disciple. This is particularly difficult when you are in the language learning phase and have yet to be able to share the Gospel with your people, but only becomes somewhat easier after the Gospel has been given to the people in their heart language.

I've been really contemplating a few things after witnessing death over and over in our tribe. We have seen death of believers and non- believers and those we are not too sure about. We had one of those deaths recently. One in the "not too sure category" and while I truly hope she is with Jesus, it has definitely made me think longer and harder about how we are communicating salvation to those in our village.



There are certainly some things about a tribal church that are much clearer and simpler than a Western Church, like when the church building needs a new roof. There are no meetings, committees, budget plans or heated discussions...




Just a group of people gathering the materials needed out of the jungle and assembling a new roof. The End.

Unfortunately, some things are all too familiar. We still deal with those who claim to be believers, who can quote our Chronological teachings from start to finish getting every word correct, but who show no fruit of the Holy Spirit in their daily lives. We have those who can give a clear testimony, saying all the words necessary for the missionary to say, "Well, they know the Gospel," but who stir up drama, dissension, and even lead others away from the truths of Jesus.

I think the better question to ask is not, "Do they know the Gospel message?" but "Do they know Jesus?"

After all, one of the major tools in the animist's tool belt is the use of "magic words." Knowing the right words to use when planting a garden or blessing a newly built house are all key to successfully manipulating the spirits around them to give them what they need to make life work. And the more those words are recited or repeated the more weight they carry and the more likely they are to give you the desire you want. Our co-workers ran into this with some of the new believers in our village who wanted to "practice" reciting the stories from the chronological Bible teaching to them everyday until they got them right. Because of their prior understanding and practices they thought this was the way to know and please Jesus.

We have to be very careful to teach them God's Word with the understanding that these Words are just an avenue that He left to make Himself known to man and make a way for man to know Him better and have relationship with Him. That relationship involves repentance of sin,  the old way of living and thinking, and surrendering to His will even if that includes sickness, death, or persecution.

This is very hard for the animist, who is used to having a measure of perceived control over every detail of their lives. There is always some sort of action you can take to get what you want. Some magic word, or sacrifice, or payment. Even if things don't go your way, then you switch to "revenge" killings or payments, hoping that this will prevent the same thing happening again in the future. To completely surrender to the will of God- no matter what that is or how bad we perceive it to be- and have faith to believe that He is good through is very very hard for the animist whose ultimate goal is control.

But wait... isn't that very very hard for us all? And don't we deal with this same issue in churches all across America? People who can tell you all the stories of the Bible, people who have prayed the magic prayer that gets you into heaven (the sinner's prayer) and who live their lives with no intention of ever surrendering to the will of God?

The more I've learned about animism and the closer I've gotten to those who practice it, the more I see it in my own culture, sadly, even Christian culture...maybe even especially Christian culture. We are constantly looking for hidden secrets in scripture to make God give us what we want- maybe not specific material things, but an overall #blessed life. Remember the Prayer of Jabez? People went crazy over this small scripture referencing one man and his relationship with God and took it completely out of context, trying to use it get something from God. This happens over and over again. People read some obscure text and think it holds all the power to get God to do exactly as we want Him to do. As if He is only all powerful and sovereign because we haven't figured out exactly how to correctly form the words and phrases that will force all the goodness and blessings out of His hands and onto us.

And if that's not animism I don't know what is.

But it's not just Christians. It's humans. And in a secular humanist context we try our best to use science to not only explain everything around us, but to manipulate and control our world through it. We think that because we have "evolved" enough to not need God we are now in control of lives and universe- if we just get all the research and formulas right. Yet somehow in spite of all that research, and all the chemicals, machines, and incredible works of our own hands, humankind is still getting sick, still dying, still forced to face everyday knowing we actually have very little control of the world around.

All of these similarities show how much the core of man's sin nature has stayed the same since the very first sin was committed. After all, it was the the serpents words, "For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God..." that convinced Eve to take the fruit. She saw it was "pleasing to the eye" and that it was "desirable for gaining wisdom." 

Deep down at the core of who we are. We want to be like God. We want control. We want the wisdom and knowledge of God so we can control every aspect of life that effect us... the elements, the animals, our neighbors, even our own bodies. We want to call ALL. THE. SHOTS...from the BBs to the cannons... which is why we seem to be on an unending quest to figure out a way to influence the One who actually does the shooting.

So the question we must ask ourselves as missionaries is do our people know Jesus or do they just know the stories we have translated and taught about Him? Are they trusting in the person of Jesus and His work on the cross or are they trusting in the magic words that we have so neatly typed, printed, and bound together as a book for them ? 

And the question all Christians must ask ourselves is "Do we know Jesus?" Do we have a relationship with Him that calls us to let go of our desire to control and manipulate the world around us and to trust in His will and work in our lives? Or have we believed the same lie as Eve, and just picked a few words off the tree of scripture that look beautiful hanging on our wall and sound just wise enough to get us what we want from God. 

Are we doing just enough to appease the Jesus Spirit to get us into Heaven? Or have we completely surrendered our lives to His will and have an intimate, growing relationship with Him. The person of Jesus.
 

Monday, November 7, 2016

An Expat Life

As tomorrow looms and everyone is wide-eyed with panic, I keep hearing (reading, actually) that all Christians should be reminded that our citizenship is actually in heaven (Philippians 3:20) and that we are aliens and strangers on this earth (1 Peter 2:11) and we should all find comfort in that.

I don't see a lot of people truly finding comfort in that truth. This pretty much happens every election season, but this one seems particularly dramatic and frightening, and no one really knows what to do about it.

I feel like one of the true treasures God has given me in the expat life is getting to experience what it really means to be an alien, a foreigner, an outsider experiencing the life of others from the inside. It is a truly unique and valuable experience on so many levels, but the greatest is being able to see the what the Bible is talking about in these passages. Because we are all really expats no matter where on earth we live.

In the airport on our first move out of the country. The beginning of our expat life.


Paul takes it even further and calls us "ambassadors" (2 Corinthians 5:20) spreading Christ's message of reconciliation. So we are not just expats for no reason. We aren't just hanging out in these foreign places because they are cool and we like the food. We are here for a purpose, to bring a message. For all intents and purposes we are missionaries. Foreign missionaries. Even if you are American living in America.

In my missionary expat life I have lived in two different countries. In my daily life in both places I tried to live as best I could within those countries, being respectful of their customs and traditions without compromising my values or belief systems. I lived under governments that I did not always agree with, but as a guest in the country, respected their authority. If I ever choose not to respect that authority then I would be kicked out of the country and would lose my opportunity to be heard by the people who wanted to listen. In both places our goal has been to seek out people...individuals and small groups to share the message of reconciliation with...the Gospel. We didn't go to the government to reach the people. We didn't try to change the laws of the land in order to change hearts.

So why is that what we try to do in America? Why do we try to legislate people into Heaven? Why do we think that God will judge us by our candidates and not by our hearts?

I think we've been listening to the wrong narrative for too long. The one that says that because America was "founded on God" we were blessed. We forget that our founding Fathers were sinful people who made a lot of mistakes. We forget that not everyone has had a "blessed" American experience. We forget that there have been many MANY wealthy, powerful nations that thrived under pagan rule and leadership. We forget that America is not our home. You and I are foreigners in this country. Hopefully, you and I are foreign missionaries in this or any country we live. And the best missionary strategy of all is through relationships, not through the government legislation.

This was the model of Jesus, himself. He spent time with just basic people. Not the government, not even the religious leaders. Even though that is exactly what they expected...exactly what they wanted from him. They wanted him to BE the government. They wanted Him to restore the nation of Israel so they could live in freedom and not under Roman occupation and oppression. They wanted him to legislate and rule here on earth. They wanted God's laws and precepts to be the ruling authority.

What's wrong with that, right? Isn't that what God would want? Isn't that what He wants now for America? It's hard to imagine that is His chief desire for America when it wasn't His chief desire for Israel...a nation He established. But why? Why wouldn't God want His Son to come to earth and set up His Kingdom here?

Because this is not His home...and it is not ours either if we belong to Him. He let Caesar have what is Caesar's. The earthly things, the temporal. Let those who belong to the earth have it. Let them worry about who will and won't rule and what kind of nations they will establish. This earth is contaminated by sin, so why would Jesus ever set up His Kingdom here?

I'm not saying don't vote. I'm not saying don't vote to best way you can as a Christian. I'm saying don't get so hung up on it. Don't think you that the way to spread the message of reconciliation is in the ballot box. Vote. Give to Caesar what is Caesar's. But then get on with your true calling, your true duty as a Christian. To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Creating a "Christian" government is not our job. If that is what Jesus wanted He would have done that himself. He would have done what everyone wanted him to do in the first place.

One of the greatest benefits of the expat life has been seeing how Christians in other nations function under their respective governments. I've lived in a place where abortion is not only legal, but sometimes legally forced upon women. Women who are Christians. They don't protest, petition the government because they can't. But they do support each other. They pray and fast and hide pregnant friends. Christian doctors induce labor early so that babies can be born to the mothers that want them.

I've also lived in a place where the government doesn't really take care of its people. They leave the poor, defenseless, and oppressed to fend for themselves. But the Christians feed those who are hungry, and offer safe haven to those who need it. The believers are ambassadors in their earthly countries. They are offer something that their governments cannot or will not. They offer the hope and refuge of their true Home.

There were times when I wanted to scream for all their "rights" being violated. I wanted to change things for them. Make their lives easier, more comfortable, more free to share the hope they had in Christ. But then I realized something. Those governments are not stopping the believers. They were not stopping the Gospel. And no matter who wins the election, ours will not either.

But I think we know that, don't we? Haven't we heard how Christianity thrives under persecution? We just don't want persecution and hardship. We want the comfort we've always had. Our motivation is not to further the Gospel...not to spread the message of reconciliation. Our motivation is fear. Fear that God will take away "our country" just as He did with Israel. We read the Old Testament stories and quiver at the thought of the same thing happening to America...to our new Jerusalem. God's new chosen nation. And in our fear we blame the sin of others, not the sin in our own hearts. The real problem is the sin of the baby killers and the homosexuals and if we don't stop their sin, then God will judge us and we'll suffer. We'll lose our freedom and prosperity, and that most alluring and deceptive of all idols- our comfort- and it will be all their fault.

So we try to take the easy way out and rant and rave at the politicians and try to mark a little box to save America rather than doing the hard work of investing in people's lives and showing them through our time, energy, and love that God has reconciled them to Himself through His Son Jesus.

We are just like the disciples in Acts chapter 1 who asked, "Lord are you going to restore the Kingdom to Israel now????" Still not understanding that the Real Kingdom is eternal and not earthly. Jesus died and was resurrected defeating death itself and reconciling us to God through His sacrifice. Yet, they still wanted Him to be the earthly King to deliver them in the here and now. To make their lives a little safer, easier, and more comfortable.

And 2,000 years later we're still doing the same thing. Exiting the ballot box, looking up to heaven, and asking the Lord to restore something to us that was never really ours to begin with. Asking him to shore up the walls of this sand castle forgetting that an Everlasting Kingdom awaits us.

Forgetting that we are just missionary expats. And no matter what happens in our "host country" when our deputation is over we will one day return to our perfect Home.



Doing it again. More kids, more bags, new country.






Monday, October 24, 2016

Update on Us

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**I wrote this as an update letter in my most proper, and official voice. I quietly thought all my sarcasm and weirdness instead of typing out every single ridiculous thing that pops into my head. For you, though, I have added those thoughts in blue.**

It has now been three months since we unexpectedly left PNG to bring John Michael’s mother home and to get some of our medical needs taken care of. (I have finally stopped getting the lump in my throat when I see the parents of friends and co-workers in PNG come and go without almost dying. Also, is it just me or was 2016 The Year of the Parental Visits in PNG? Seriously, there were a lot of parents. Guess how many had traumatic events? Yeah. Just one.) It has been quite a whirlwind of medical appointments, tests, and procedures, but we definitely feel like we are headed in the right direction and will all be well enough to go back to PNG in February 2017. (Probably. Maybe. Knock on Wood and any other animistic thing I can say that won't jinx us or our plans)

(Aaron Jex, please skip the next paragraph)
We were met with some surprises and kinks in our plans after doctor’s visits. After a routine check-up for me, my doctor founds lumps in both breasts that sent me immediately to a mammogram and bilateral ultrasounds. (Why am I even telling you this? I don't really know. It's probably TMI, but at the time it kinda freaked me out, so I just put it in here for dramatic effect.) Thankfully, everything turned out benign, so other than just a really long day, no harm done and I was able to move on with the medical issues that I actually came home for!

Most of you know that I have had strange symptoms for about a year now, including fatigue, low-grade fevers, joint pain, and joint deformities in my hands. (I have a large protrusion on my right thumb. A fellow missionary said it looked like a bunion on my thumb, so obviously we started calling it a "thumbion". I have a thumbion, and some other fat knuckles.) I saw a rheumatologist in September who said I had an autoimmune disease, but at this point the tests are not helping us identify which one. He did start me on some medicine that should help the pain and progression of the disease, but I have unfortunately had some pretty difficult side effects to the medicine. (The medicine drops my blood sugar even though I am eating all the time, so I am now hangry* all the time and fat. It is also giving me very vivid nightmares, which mostly involve planes and cliffs and terrorists. My thumbion doesn't really look that bad to me now.) Right now, there are not really any other options for medications for me, so we are praying through whether or not to just not treat the disease at this time or try to find a way to take the medicine and deal with the side-effects as they come. Please pray with us over this decision, as it has been a little stressful to think about. Right now, most of my symptoms are mild to moderate, and while they keep me from doing a lot of “extra” things, my daily life and function are not really affected too much. I can generally get all I need to do done in a day, just with a little extra pain. The problem is that an autoimmune disease can progress if not treated properly and I don’t know if my future health will be affected by the decision not to treat at this time. (Basically, I would like to keep using my hands and other joints for as long as I possibly can.)

John Michael has been having trouble with sinus infections and headaches for years now, and last furlough was told that he needed sinus surgery to correct this problem. Our busy schedules kept that from happening (he spoke in over 30 different churches last time), but he was really having a hard time with more frequent infections and headaches when we returned to PNG. His sinus surgery became a priority for us this trip, but when he went in to schedule it, the doctor found a mass under his left eye that made him concerned, so he referred him to another doctor for a second opinion. The second doctor looked over his scans and said that the mass was just a cyst, and sent him back to have the original doctor remove the cyst and complete the sinus surgery.  During the surgery the doctor discovered a large bone spur on the underside of his nose, so he removed that as well as what turned out to be a very large cyst in his sinus cavity (the doctor said the size of a large grape) (The doctor actually said a large MUCUS filled cyst the size of a grape. EW). The doctors also advised him to have a suspicious looking mole on his nose removed, so he met with a dermatologist who said it looked fine, but he removed it anyway just to be safe. (He also had an allergic reaction to the antibiotic they put him on and he woke up the day we were supposed to leave for some speaking engagements with a bad rash in a bad place* but benedryl took care of most of, thankfully)

In the midst of all this, my mother discovered that she had to have two major surgeries on her spine (one on her neck and one on her lower back). (Due to the autoimmune disease that I have apparently inherited from her. This is why we are worried about not treating it)  She is single, and my only sister is also a single working mother, so my mom really needed some extra help for these surgeries and their recovery. We are thankful that the Lord allowed us to be here to help meet this need for my mom. The surgeries have to be 6 weeks apart, so the last (and most difficult surgery) will be at the end of December. This will delay our return to PNG by a couple of weeks, but we feel that this is what we really need to do to minister to my mom- without whom I probably would not even be a missionary, much less a Christian (Seriously!)

This will also give us more time to figure out what to do/how to treat my issues as well. (Yes, I have "issues". That is no surprise to anyone. But really, I hope the extra time helps us find some medicine that does not make me feel worse than my actual disease does. Is that too much to ask???)

Thanks so much to all of you who have loved and supported us during this time. They have certainly been needed and felt. We continue to covet your prayers over the rest of our time in the U.S. that things will go smoothly (which would be an actual miracle for us) and we will be able to return to PNG in early February.  As always, we couldn’t do any of this without you and are so thankful that you are part of the Hewa team! 

*hangry= hungry + angry
*his butt. the rash was on his butt.