Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Rich Young Ruler


 Mark 10


As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.  You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
 
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
 
As typical twenty first century Westerners, we love to focus on the "rich young ruler", his wealth, his refusal to let go of it, and what that means to us. But to the first century Jewish audience who witnessed this first hand, it had a much deeper meaning. 
 
It wasn't a serious lesson on the dangers of loving wealth. It was a theology shattering experience. A common belief at the time was that if you were wealthy, then you had found God's favor. You were blessed and almost certainly guaranteed a place in heaven. 
 
So when Jesus says that it is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom, the disciples were "amazed" and even questioned "If it's not the rich who are blessed, then who are? If the rich can't be saved, then who can?"
 
Personally, I have a hard time understanding how this belief came to be in the first place. Sure there are some instances in the Bible where God blesses people physically, but He makes very clear that it doesn't always work like that. The book of Job for example is basically saying, "I'm God, and I allow what I allow. I created the Heavens and the Earth and I have understanding that you don't. Trust me when I give. Trust me when I take away." 
 
But, I guess they simply took a few verses and stories that they liked out of context and ran with it. (sound familiar??) 
 
Anyway, it doesn't really matter HOW or WHY.  It just matters that that is what they believed. And Jesus just rocked that belief. In the words of some of our PNG brothers and sisters, He "broke their heads open" or "changed their thinking". 
 
Earlier this week I read Hebrews 10. In verses 32-34 the author talks about the persecution and suffering of the early Jewish converts to Christianity. I didn't miss the fact that they had all their property taken. Once again, rocking this belief that God blesses the faithful financially.
 
I also didn't miss the fact that their Jewish persecutors were probably feeling validated as they held onto this belief. "See, God must not be happy with these 'Jesus' people. He is taking away everything they own. This must prove that we are right and they are wrong."
 
And I could be totally wrong, but I imagine those early Christians thinking something like this, "Why God? Why are you doing this thing that validates their unbelief? We still believe you, but don't you want them to as well?" 
 
I believe this because this is exactly what I thought in a similar situation.  "Why God? Why would you allow these deaths that "prove" to these people that their ancestral beliefs are true?"

Don't you want them to believe, God?
 
I am faced with this yet again, though, not with the tribal believers, but with some situations with my Western friends.  Plane and helicopter crashes when I have fought very hard this furlough to overcome my fear of flying.
 
Don't you want me to get back on a plane, God? Don't you want me to be able to continue to go to this place you have called me?
 
Inexplicable sickness and death that takes people off the field. 
Don't you want this work to be finished, God? There are already so few laborers, why are you taking away the ones who want to be here?

I desperately want God to prove Himself to the doubters. I want Him to prove Himself to the doubter in me.

But I was recently reminded through a sermon of my husband's that Jesus calls us to follow in His footsteps of suffering and death. Jesus calls us to follow in His footsteps of doing the things that don't make any sense to the outside world (sometimes they don't make any sense to the "inside" world of Christianity). He doesn't do things the way we do. He brings glory to Himself in ways that the world never would. 

He perfects us through trials and asks us to have joy in that. (James 1:2-3)

He brings beauty out of ashes, and turns mourning into dancing. (Isaiah 61:3 and Psalm 30:11)

He calls things that are not as though they are. (Romans 4:17)
 
And the strangest, most inexplicable, most wonderful of all...

He brings life from death. (the entire new testament)

So, though my flesh and my heart may fail in understanding, and even rebel in accepting. His Holy Spirit brings forth His Word in my soul. It bubbles over and covers all my unbelief like a healing balm. It "breaks my head open" and "changes my thinking."

James 1:3-4
 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

So let it grow.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Friends in (literal) Low Places

So we have a lot of friends in low places. Low, as in lower hemisphere. Papua New Guinea.

But we all come back to the Land of Abundance at some point for various reasons. And it is fun, but super weird when we can get together in cleanliness and comfort. Super weird, but super fun.

Our amazing friend, Layne, got married in California on Saturday and we were fortunate enough to be able to go. We wracked up a bunch of credit card points (buying things like plane tickets to and from PNG) over the last 4 years and decided to use them to see our friend on what was obvious to anyone lucky enough to witness this event, the happiest day of his life.

We just felt like we needed to be there for him. When you live the missionary life you are blessed to make deep connections and godly relationships, but those connections are usually for a brief period of time and then you find yourself separated by hundreds or even thousands of miles from those friend- many times for the rest of your lives. And when significant life events happen, you look around and realize all your friends are too global. 

Layne spent three years in Papua New Guinea serving other missionaries...serving us, and we just really wanted to be a part of something we knew he had been praying for, for a really long time.

Here are just a few pictures of Layne in Hewa. He was there so much doing multiple jobs for all of us that he even has a Hewa baby named after him....



Here is Layne setting up our solar/battery system. We would not have power without him!



Here he is covered in inches of sawdust from slabbing lumber in the middle of the jungle for our house.

This is actually for our co-workers house, but he was back again in the middle of the jungle, slabbing more lumbar.


Baby Layne, sitting in his Dad's lap along with my three.



And he was there for this moment. The moment when we were physically, emotionally, and financially spent. We had been in the jungle for 3 weeks trying to get our house up as fast as possible. Completely broke. Completely exhausted. And our two year old hurt her arm. We were looking at a $10,000 hurt arm. I actually think Layne took this picture.

(His witness to this event became even more significant to me later when we arrived at the medical clinic after our flight out, unwrapped her arm, and absolutely nothing was wrong with it. It was a horrifying relief. But, As Layne Is My Witness, the child was hurt.) *She was eventually diagnosed with nurse-maid's elbow.


So it was incredible to be a part of something so joyful together. Another significant and ubiquitous servant in Hewa is the third guy you see in this picture, Chad. Chad was there as much as Layne, and these two were a huge blessing to all of us. There are no words for how selfless and hard working they are (I am including that first handsome dude in this pic as well. Don't tell anyone, but he is my favorite. Wink wink)...

John Michael, Layne, and Chad

Yeah...these are the pics I have from the last time they were all three together...

Layne


John Michael

Chad

Oh the difference America makes! But I have to add a link to this video, just to show you that in spite of what is very hard and frustrating, they had great attitudes and a lot of fun...



On top of all that, we got to spend time with some other really great missionaries from PNG as well. It felt like a very strange, very clean, very dry, family reunion. In fact, I am pretty sure it was the first time any of them have seen me not covered in sweat.

But, by far the best moment was this one...seeing our dear friend and co-worker, the happiest he's ever been!


Congratulations, Layne and Jenna! Thanks for letting us be a part of your beautiful day!



Sunday, February 8, 2015

FAWQ

I know it's been a long time since I have posted. For some reason, I just haven't had it in me. There are several reasons for this, but I won't go into them now...

For now I want to talk about witches.  I have had a lot of questions about the recent witch events in Hewa, so I wanted to address some of those FAWQ (frequently askes witch questions).

Most of you were so amazing to keep up with these events and pray for them, so I really wanted to do some better explaining. As most of you know there was a terrible measles outbreak in Hewa over the summer. There were several deaths all over the region which caused 13 women and their children to be accused of being possessed by evil spirits who caused the sicknesses and deaths. Feeling overwhelmed with the urgency of the situation, our co-worker in the tribe reached out for help knowing that we couldn't evacuate all of those involved (and knowing that most of their families wouldn't have allowed it if we could).

With the help of another missionary in the area, they were able to get several local religious leaders and law enforcement officers to come into the village where the threats were being made. There were days of discussions but the main goal was to make it known that murdering these women and children would have serious consequences. During these proceedings the witch who accused the other women and children took back her claim and made a promise to never mark anyone else again. Most of the villagers also made a commitment to stop witch killing.

Here is a link to an article about the proceedings...

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-01-20/png-women-accused-of-witchcraft-freed/6029374?section=world

Now to answer your questions...

1. How do they decide who is a witch and who isn't?

Sometimes it is random, sometimes it involves a personal vendetta, but the general idea is that a woman unknowingly ate human flesh disguised as sweet potato or pig meat and she is now possessed by an evil spirit that craves human flesh. That spirit leaves her body at night and eats the insides of other people causing them to become sick and die. The marked woman has no control over this action and can do nothing to stop it. If she is nursing a child, then the child is automatically a witch as well because it has consumed human flesh through the act of nursing.

2. Will the witch who accused the others be punished?

No. She is actually an accused witch herself. She has survived by marking others. If she keeps her commitment to no longer name others as witches then she will probably eventually be killed.

3. Has this ever happened before? Someone taking back the claim that someone else is a witch? 

I honestly don't know, but I have never heard of it happening. Sometimes a person in a village will accuse someone of being a witch and later a shaman or witchdoctor will come in and say that the accusation was wrong. Typically, though, once the seed is planted in the Hewa minds that someone is a witch no amount of recanting can change that. People who have ever even been in question have to live very cautiously.

4. Will this stop the witch killing in Hewa?

No. These events happened in one specific village in one specific area. It will certainly help. It will definitely buy time for these ladies and probably all the others marked as witches. When sickness and death occur in the villages, the fear and drive to do something to stop those deaths becomes overwhelming.  People (especially parents) will revert to what they have always believed-what they have been taught since birth- when they feel hopeless and powerless in the face of the illness and death of a loved one.

What will truly help the situation is when inevitably another witch murder occurs, for local law enforcement to carry out legal punishment for all those involved.

And of course the only real solution is for the Gospel to be proclaimed in ALL of Hewa and for the Holy Spirit to convict their hearts that this is wrong...but that will take time...time that these women did/do not have. So... as of now we are so very thankful for the help and intervention of our local government and the other church officials who spent the time and money to come in and defend these innocent women and children.

I also wanted to thank all of you for caring and praying for these ladies and their children. Your prayers are felt and greatly appreciated! Please keep praying for all of Hewa and this specific tragic practice.

Susan and I with Tiko and her son Wanapis. Tiko is a marked witch who we evacuated after learned of a plot to kill them both.

This is Tiko and (the boy standing) Wanapis almost two years later with the missionary to the tribe where they were relocated. As you can see they are happy and thriving. She and her husband have even had another precious baby boy. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Open Grave

If you have heard us speak in the last several months, then you have seen this picture of our daughter in the waterfall not too far behind our house in Hewa. We use this to illustrate the animistic beliefs of the Hewa people. The people believe that evil spirits live in waterfalls and are afraid of them. They leave an area with a waterfall undisturbed as they try to evade those spirits when planting gardens and clearing hiking trails.

It is such a huge contradiction to our culture. We are in awe of waterfalls and will pay big money to travel to see them. Even hike through thick rain forest jungles just to get a picture taken while we are standing in one.

Many people are in shock when we tell them that our people are afraid of waterfalls. They can't believe that something that we cherish and love is considered evil to them. And we pity them, that they can't appreciate and enjoy this beautiful creation of God. We shake our heads and criticize the believers that know the truth, but still just don't like to be around this or any waterfall because it makes them uncomfortable.





This picture, however, brings up different feelings for us. In fact this picture probably makes us feel exactly how the Hewa feel about that waterfall. What is it?

It's an open grave.



The Hewa bury their dead in a hole and instead of filling that hole with dirt they put thin planks of scrap wood from the jungle (usually some type of tree bark) over the hole then put dirt over it and build a roof over the grave.

It doesn't take long before the wood planks underneath rot and the whole thing caves in. We would be completely disturbed by this and immediately fix it.

They don't.

It doesn't bother them. They don't get images of zombies crawling out of the grave or ghosts coming to haunt them. They know that the spirit left that body a long time ago and now it is just lying there, harmless, unable to hurt or bother anyone.


I bet they would shake their heads at us for still getting weirded out by an open grave. I bet they would criticize us who know the truth, but still avoid going near this place if at all possible.

As missionaries, we spend a lot of time evaluating our tribal believers. We wondered where they are in their walk and spiritual maturity because that tells us how well we are doing our job and of course, when we will be able to leave. Sometimes we get discouraged when some of our strongest believers won't join us in playing in the waterfall, but think nothing of the fact that we won't sit beside them against the open grave.

But we're all just weak, fallen flesh that is easily influenced by the world and culture around us. Sure we know that nothing is coming out of that grave, but we can't help that feeling it gives us. Just like they know that there is no evil spirit in that waterfall, but they just can't shake that feeling it gives them.

We are all in this world, but not of it together. We both have to decide daily to study God's word to know the truth and choose to believe it no matter what our culture is saying to us or how it is making us feel.

Maybe the open grave is not the best example though. I mean we all know that it is creepy, but I don't think any American over the age of 12 is truly afraid of it. It probably doesn't take much conscious thought and prayer to overcome.

But what about when you hear that someone is cured of cancer? We all give God all the praise and thank Him for that healing process, but in the backs of our minds we wonder if God had anything to do with it. We wonder if the outcome would have been the same without the surgery and the chemo and the radiation. We know that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't and we give God the credit when it does and "trust His will" when it doesn't but we all know the medical science behind it and know that many who don't put God in either scenario have the same results.

Or we hear of some "miraculous" healing in a baby who was previously believed to have some sort of medical issue and want to give God the credit, but in the backs of our minds we wonder if the initial tests were just wrong?

Much more so than zombies, even with the popularity of the Walking Dead, Secular Humanism has hugely influenced our Western thought and culture. Everyday we have to choose to read and study God's Word. Everyday we have to choose to believe His truth and know that in He is in all things even when our culture tells us that He has nothing to do with anything because He doesn't exist.

But He is there. He is there in the tests. He is there in the diagnosis. He is there in all the treatment. He is there when it works. He is there when it doesn't. He is there when no one even acknowledges He is there. 

Everyday we have to renew our minds. To transform our thinking. To choose not to conform to the pattern of thinking of our world and culture. Everyday the Hewa believers have to do the same.  We're in this together. We struggle together and it is our job to mutually encourage each other.

So I was very encouraged by the testimony of one of our Hewa men, Kifeson when he told us how he felt after the two suicides in our village and the choice he made afterward. Jonathan recorded his story...

“I wanted to flee,” Kifeson said to me when I returned from the States. “When Nosem hung himself and then Atipz did the same thing I wanted to run as fast as I could to get away from the evil spirits. I seriously considered going to Yano. But then God’s Spirit said to me, ‘You can go to Yano to teach My words; that would be good. But don’t run to Yano in fear.’ When I heard that I decided I need to stay here in Yifki and not run away in fear like other people were doing.”


You see waterfalls aren't the only places where the Hewa believe that evil spirits live. They also live on flat places...places where you would say... build an airstrip. And if you clear trees and build in those places then the spirits will punish you for it. So of course all of the Hewans in surrounding villages gave our village a big, "I told you so" when we had so many deaths of young people so close together as we were working on the airstrip. And there were people who left the village out of fear.


But as you read above. Kifeson stayed. Not only did he stay, but he decided to build a house right next to the airstrip instead of on one of the higher places in the village. He chose to believe God's truth.

Kifeson's house on the airstrip

Sitting under the house with his daughter.

Lord Jesus, thank you for Kifeson, my brother in Christ. Thank you for the encouragement he is in my life. Thank you that he made the courageous choice to believe your truth when the people and events around him told him not to. Thank you that everyday his worldview is shifting from that of an animistic worldview to a Biblical worldview.  Please God, help me do the same. Help me to view the world through the lens of your truth rather than the one my culture is trying to force me to see through. Thank you God, that your truth is universal. Thank you that You transcend geography, culture, economics, and all the things of this world that could separate and divide your children, and instead unite us in our relationships with Your Son and through Your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Aliens



He's right you know. There are aliens. I am one of them. And so are you. So let's just....nope not gonna do it.

I got a several comments from my fellow missionary friends about the "Third Culture Adults" reference in the last post. It was nice and validating knowing that I wasn't the only one who couldn't just jump back into my culture of origin like nothing in my brain had changed.

I have thought about this... a lot. But never more than when my oldest daughter came home and told me that another child told her she didn't belong here in America, but only belonged in the jungle. After much internal reflection, I realized that physically harming children is wrong and sat down to have a long conversation with my daughter about where she really "belongs".

I explained to her that she actually doesn't truly belong here in America or in the jungle. She truly belongs in heaven with God. That is His design and desire and He sent Jesus to make sure that could be possible for her future.

I told her that no one really belongs here on this earth, our hearts long for something Bigger. Something More. Our hearts long for God, although not everyone recognizes it as that. I mentioned that people try to fit in here, some try really hard by looking a certain way, or having certain material things, but in this ever-changing world you too must constantly change how you look and what you have in order to "belong". That makes me tired.

But Praise God!! He never changes!! And He does the changing in us that makes us belong to Him.

And so when I know that I will never truly fit into my host culture, and I feel like I no longer fit into my culture of origin, I am relieved and filled with joy knowing that I am not really supposed to fit in anyway. I "fit" with Jesus and belong to God. I am a citizen of  Heaven and my true culture is the Kingdom of God.

Until God decides that it is time for me to go home, I am here as an alien, a stranger, a pilgrim, a missionary on this earth.

"They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." -John 17:16

"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ." -Philippians 3:20

"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." -Hebrews 11:13-16

 "I beg you, as those whom I love, to live in this world as strangers and “temporary residents”, to keep clear of the desires of your lower natures, for they are always at war with your souls." -1 Peter 2:11 (Phillips)

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; - See more at: http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Aliens,-Christians-In-The-World#sthash.9HEKVCoO.dpuf
"They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. - See more at: http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Aliens,-Christians-In-The-World#sthash.9HEKVCoO.dpuf
 Or as the NASB puts it...

" Beloved, I urge you as ALIENS and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul." 1 Peter 2:11
"They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. - See more at: http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Aliens,-Christians-In-The-World#sthash.9HEKVCoO.dpuf


All of that is so amazing and so comforting when you feel as though you don't really belong anywhere...

So let's just Praise the Lord!!

(Sorry, even though I resisted writing it above, that song wormed its way into my head like a cranial parasite and I can't get it out. I apologize for the fact that you will be singing "Father Abraham" in your head for the next three days. Does it help to know that I will be singing it with you? No? Again, sorry about that.)
"They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. - See more at: http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Aliens,-Christians-In-The-World#sthash.9HEKVCoO.dpuf