Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Hardest Part

It is early Monday morning. I get up and go to the radio at 8 am to try to talk with someone in Hewa. No one comes up which is a good sign (in the jungle no news is good news). I walk back to the little apartment that has become our temporary home with beads of sweat already collecting on my 8:15 in the morning...every drop of perspiration reminds me that I am not in my village anymore. I am not walking into my home. I am not with my people.

I walk in to see my husband already at the computer working hard to gain the ear of those in the government or police force who will listen to our plea for help. He goes back and forth in conversation with a fellow missionary who is trying to help and our co-worker who is in the States. He tries to get as much background on the people and their histories as he can to give the police the most accurate and detailed report possible. Of course, their lives and stories are just a tightly entangled as the thick jungle canopy they live under. He spends all day sorting out people, relatives, past and present events. We both vent to each other (and anyone else who will listen) about our frustrations with this tragic and twisted situation.

The clock strikes four and the other missionary who has been helping us writes John Michael to tell him that he received a call from a Hewa person in town. This person reports that Wanapi (the murderer) has killed Kalefu, a man from our village. My heart falls all the way down my body, lands on my foot, and therefore cannot get blood to my head or my fingers. My head swoons, my fingers are numb, and my lungs can't seem to breathe with my heart so far away. It is a feeling I know all too well. And because I have had a lot of practice with it, I at least knew what to do this time. I quickly told my heart to get out of my foot and back where it belongs. It made the slow climb back up to my chest and began pumping blood to my brain again allowing me to think rationally.

Stop. Drop. And Roll. 

No that's not right. I wait one more minute, then I actually have the correct rational thoughts:

Stop. Don't Panic. 

This may not be true. You know how things go in the jungle. You hear lots of crazy stories, then find out later they are inaccurate or exaggerated. Wait until you hear from the village on the radio tonight. 

Calm, rational thinking. Unfortunately, my rational thinking also reminds me that every "rumor" we've heard about someone being dead has turned out to be true. But still, this is not confirmed so I will wait to be sad or panic. Radio time is at 6:40 pm. I can wait until then. What time is it now? 4:30 pm.

Never before has two hours and ten minutes seemed so long.

I have to keep busy. I wash a few dishes. The stragglers left over from lunch. I sweep the floor. I check the clock.


I begin dinner prep. I chop onions and green peppers. I saute chicken and make sour cream. Think about Kalefu's two wives and eight children. STOP. Don't go there yet. I check the clock.


I dry and put away the lunch dishes. I wash the dinner prep dishes. I check the clock.


I call my children in from outside, get them bathed, and dressed and feel envious of their innocent and carefree conversation. I smiled and nod over stories of friends, and games, and birds, and weird bugs. I am thankful that God created lovely things for His children to enjoy in such a dark and broken world. I check the clock.


My husband gives up and just goes down to wait the last twenty minutes by the radio "just to make sure I don't miss it." Like his brain would be merciful enough to let him forget. I assemble dinner plates for myself and my children and we sit down to eat. I let one of them pray. I let my heart be thankful for the things they are thankful for and... just for a minute... not question. I check the clock.


I can't believe it!!! Ten minutes late. I run down to the radio as my husband finishes his conversation with Yanis (one of our church leaders). He says that Kalefu is alive and in the village. Yanis is totally confused about this rumor we heard, but assures us that Kalefu is there and the raiders have not come yet.

Relief and joy wash over me and I praise God that for the first time since we moved into Hewa territory death was just a rumor. I make my husband tell me every bit of the conversation. I am thankful beyond any words or explanation. I walk back to the apartment. I don't check the clock anymore, and I only realize it an hour after my kids' normal bedtime (oops). My husband and I put them to bed and I followed soon after.

Even though it ended on a high note, the day has exhausted me, so I climb into bed and contemplate my time in missionary training. I scroll through the memories of my time preparing for this job and remember thinking that my duties, my actual "job" would be the hardest part of this life. You know, the language learning, homeschooling, discipling, teaching, translating, those things. They seemed so hard. And they still are, but they are not the hardest part.

The hardest part is the loving, the caring, the relationships you have with people who struggle everyday to just stay alive. Death is their shadow. Pain is their ever present companion. And being right there beside them through it all is the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life.

There are certainly times I want to give up and go home. No...there are times I want to go back in time and never come in the first place. Because after having seen, heard, felt, tasted, even smelled their existence, I can't shake it from who I am now. Their world, their daily lives, their very souls, have penetrated my being so deep that there is no place that I can run that they will not be with me. And it will be that way from now until the day I die. No matter when or why God removes me from Hewa physically, we will be linked through the Holy Spirit eternally. When they hurt, I will feel it as if it were my own body just as I do now. And when they rejoice, I will rejoice with them whether I am right next to them, holding their hands or if I am 9,000 miles away.

And that is the hardest part. The hardest and most beautiful part.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


As most of you know by now, we are out of the tribe (again) and back in town. This week has been a whirlwind of events that I am still trying to process.

On Friday, two men in leadership positions from our mission came in to give John Michael and I language checks. One of the men brought in his wife, one of his daughters, and a girl who is here in PNG helping them with home school (cough cough, hint hint REAGAN WEBB). They planned on staying for four days so we could do the checks, have a Thanksgiving meal (because we were going to be in the tribe by ourselves during real Thanksgiving) and just have an overall good time. And the guys helped JM get our new house batteries hooked up and about 1,000 other jobs around our house/village that will make all of our lives so much easier.

On Saturday John Michael and I took our tests. John Michael passed completely and is cleared to start helping with translation and teaching in the Hewa language. I ended up on level 7 of 9, so the plan was for them to come back in six months when hopefully (and miraculously) I might be able to finish.

John Michael "winning" his language evaluation!

Sunday, with much to be thankful for, Heidi and I started preparing the Thanksgiving meal while the guys and kids took off to the waterfall.* The guys came back after about 30 minutes because the trail had overgrown and they needed to find a Hewa guy to show them the new trail. Just as they were about to leave again, we heard shouting and wailing....the bad kind... (yelling and shouting across mountains is like their way of texting, so we have had to learn which tones and sounds to worry about and which ones are just passing information). 

I immediately dropped what I was doing and ran out of the house only to see my husband half way to place where the shouting originated. We soon found out that a man was shot in a neighboring village by the same man (along with some accomplices) who killed the last witch, Yamene. We were completely confused and had no idea what was happening or why until a lady named Rosa came crying and running into the village to tell us the story.

Four men came from the village of Fiyawena where the previous witch killings took place, to the village of Pasife (just a few hours hike away from our village) and were on the hunt for anyone in Yamene's family. A man named Apiyan found out and hid Rosa who is Yamene's cousin, and when the killers learned that he did this they shot him in the stomach. So Rosa ran to our village to tell us what happened and to warn her brother, Kalefu, that they were coming for him as well. (Many of you may remember us speaking about Kalefu this past year on furlough). 

We had the basic facts but were totally confused as to the the motive for these attacks. It made no sense for Yamene's killers to be going after her family when, as far as we knew, there had been no retaliation.

Meanwhile, our guests were witnessing all this and decided that we should not remain in the tribe. We agreed as things seemed to grow increasingly more tense and because we felt like our best chance of helping our friends get police support would be from town where we could call or even plead their case in person if need be (Our email is down in the tribe and has been for several weeks, so that is why you haven't heard from us). Because the plane that currently services us is small, all ten of us couldn't fit on one plane, so we planned two trips to get everyone out. The women and children left on Tuesday...because you know...women and children first and all the plane was bringing all the rice that we helped the people purchase for drought relief and JM needed to be there to facilitate the distribution of that.**

In the 24 hours that John Michael was there after we left he was able to get the full story. All this chaos actually started earlier in the weekend when Yamene's family started yelling at Wanapi (the man who shot and killed Yamene) from across a nearby river for killing their sister/daughter/cousin. Wanapi supposedly shot at them three times, and they fired back, killing a teenage boy who was with him. So there were actually TWO murders. Wanapi then gathered his posse and went after anyone in Yamene's family he could find in a blind rage. He, of course, feels like no one should be attacking him because he was only seeking vengeance for the death of his relative, Mifila, when he shot Yamene.

So we are basically breaking out into an all out tribal war because one witch was murdered and appropriate action was not taken. One murder has now turned into three which is what you'd expect to happen when there is no law, order, and justice in place to handle these situations.

We are still kind of in shock over all that has happened, but are so thankful that there was a team of wonderful people in the tribe with us when it all transpired. It was a blessing to get some outside perspective and good Godly advice on how to handle all these things that we have never personally encountered before. I know it was a wonderful blessing to my husband to have their support during these intense circumstances.

During one meeting with the Hewa believers, they asked John Michael,  

"We need your advice. You passed your test, you are one of us now. If they attack us, do we shoot back? What does God's Word say? If we kill them will God be angry with us. Our thinking is little so you tell us what to do."

He did the best he could to steer them towards peace and resolution, even paraphrasing Jim Elliot explaining that the attackers aren't prepared for heaven but they, as believers, are. Then they asked, 
"But what about our wives and kids? If they try to shoot them, should we attack?"

At that point, he threw up his hands and told the guys that they all needed to pray for God's guidance and wisdom answering with, 
"Yes, I passed my test. I can speak your language now, but I am still just a man. With a man's thinking. We need God's thinking for this. It is too big for you and too big for me to have the right answer. Only God has the right answer for all of us."

So they prayed, and we are all continually praying for God's wisdom and guidance, and most of all His peace. We need miraculous peace in this situation that can and will only come from God. 
The family of Apiyan, who have now been drug into this whole mess.
*Obviously, they never made it to the waterfall. We are terrible hosts. Instead of breathtaking sights, we give you murder and chaos. You're welcome. 
**In drought news...we have had rain everyday in the month of November and everyone's gardens are starting to come back to life. It takes sweet potato (the staple food of the Hewa) 4 to 6 months to grow, so they are still needing rice and other foods to help support themselves until the gardens really start producing again. But we are praising the Lord that he provided rain and rice for them in their time of need.

Friday, October 30, 2015


The last five days have felt like Hewa again. Our typical day starts with the surrounding mountains tucked into their fleecy white blankets of cloud and fog. They stay that way until the sun lazily makes its way to the top of our eastern mountain and cooks off those clouds and fog. You can't even think about using any power or having a plane land before 9:30 am. The sun then takes over for the rest of the day, giving us power and everyone enough light and warmth to work. Then late afternoon, the clouds roll back in and bring rain for the evening. This is daily life here. All year long. Sure there are "rainy seasons" and "dry seasons" but that usually means a little more rain than normal or a little less rain than normal. Over the last five days, that pattern has returned giving us the rain that was so desperately needed. We are hoping and praying this pattern lasts.

The typical dry season is nothing like what we have been experiencing. This isn't a dry season, it's a drought. And during this drought the sun comes up bright and strong early in the morning, lasting all day with no clouds in sight. There has been an eery haze covering everything from all the fires burning gardens and jungle all over the country. It's like we are constantly looking through our screened windows even when we are standing out on the wide open airstrip…like there are screens on our eyes.

It took four days, but now on day five, the haze is gone and we can see the crisp clear lines of the jungle again.

So, if you are praying for rain - keep it up! We truly appreciate everyone's emails of prayer and encouragement. We also really appreciate everyone who has asked about donating money to bring in relief in the form of food supplies. Right now, we are trying to figure out a good way for you to do that. So please, hold off on sending funds specifically for drought relief until we figure out the best way for you to do so.

We recently received the unfortunate news that we can no longer get tax deductions for our children if we have foreign earned income (Which according to the IRS, we do. I guess they figure that since most other countries' child labor laws are more lax than those of the U.S. our kids must be working and supporting themselves now). Our income tax for the year has significantly increased because of this. So we are trying to figure out how you all can donate for the drought in a way that does not have to come through our personal income, as we would like to have 100% of your donations go straight to providing food for the Hewa.

The greatest thing you can do for now is pray that the rains continue. We read several news articles that said the drought is supposed to last through December because of "El Niño" but we know that God is bigger than any weather patterns. He created those weather patterns and can do with them as He wishes. If the rains continue as normal, the Hewa will need outside help for just a short time until the gardens start producing again. This is the best case scenario for all of us.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Out of Control

We still haven't had any rain. We could hear thunder coming from other mountains. Taunting us. There isn't even any dew on the ground. I walk our grass airstrip most mornings for exercise and my feet usually get soaked. By the time I come to the house my shoes are squishing out water with every step and I can ring lots of water out of my socks.

This has not happened in weeks.

There are other factors attributed to this drought that are making life hard for the people here (including us). The ground is so dry and cracked that bugs are going into the ground to eat the few sweet potatoes everyone has left. I walked through the dry anemic vines of sweet potato in my own garden yesterday thinking that it is now time for what I planted six moths ago to be harvested. Normally, harvest time for me is very frustrating. The vines are so full, thick, and tangled that it takes longer to find the original mound than it does to actually dig the potato out of the ground. This time it was very easy to see the source of the vine, although harvesting did bring some disappointment. I was able to pull out a couple of decent sized potatoes, but then noticed that I only had small nubs in other places with the obvious nibble marks of an insect's pinchers. It was hard to realize that the same thing is happening to my friends, who don't have frozen veggies to fall back on stored in freezers.

Another unexpected hardship with this drought is fire. I know that sounds dumb, because drought always brings fire problems in the U.S. but I just never considered it here. I tried to burn my trash a few days ago and the flames quickly spread into my garden. Fortunately, we were able to put the fire out pretty quickly. However, a huge part of gardening here for the Hewans includes clearing land and burning it to get ready to plant. People are still doing this in order to be ready to plant as soon as rain comes. Yesterday as one of our friends was burning a garden a good safe distance away from his house, the fire soon got out of control. The flames actually travelled underground through the dried root system, up into the stumps and logs surrounding his house. My husband had to run up there with his chainsaw and cut logs that were literally in flames, so everyone could roll them down into the river and away from his house.

Everyone is getting desperate, and is constantly coming to tell my husband that their gardens are done and in one or two weeks time they will no longer have any food to feed their children. Meanwhile he is doing all he can to plan for and get help. He's writing anyone he thinks will listen and help and we are paying for flights so that our village can buy rice. It's a lot of pressure and frustration for him. Kinda like a doctor trying to save a dying man while his entire family knocks on the door of the operating room to tell that doctor, "Did you know this man is dying? Can you help him please?" And when he tells them the days the plane is coming so they can start gathering money to buy food they ask, "What about our brothers in ________ village? Their gardens are dry too." All we can do is say we're sorry. The plane is small and can only carry so much and we can't afford to pay for a flight for every single Hewa village (there are a lot of them) nor is there an airstrip in most of these villages.

Today he held a pray meeting for all the believers to remind them that they need to put their trust in God, not him, and not the government or other aid relief. He planned to have everyone read and study Matthew 6:25-27, but then realized those verses have not been translated into Hewa yet. So here we are in the middle of the jungle, desperate to help desperate people. Doing what is supposed to be our "real job" in discipling believers in times of trouble rather than just solving all their problems for them, and we can't even share meaningful, life-giving verses to the people.

It was a great reminder, though, that this IS our real job. To get the Word in their hands because we won't be here forever. We may not be here for the next drought, but if we do our jobs correctly then God's Word will be. They won't have us to turn to - only Him, and He is a much better source of help. The ONLY source of true help and comfort.

But…that doesn't mean we sit here and do nothing. We're still doing whatever we can: writing reports, petitioning - begging everyone we can, paying for flights so they can buy rice. They may be missing a lot of God's Word right now, so we must become that Word. The living verses. Showing them that God WILL provide for them, and maybe this time he is providing through some inadequate Americans pleading their case to whoever will listen.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Random Thoughts

Since I have no internet and cannot post my every random thought that I feel like sharing with the world, I thought I would do it here. I have tried to "post by email" through facebook and twitter, but it has never worked. Our email out here is set up in a weird way (too confusing and boring to explain), so I can't set up those things while we are in town and have real internet. So, I'll just do it here.

Here are my random thoughts and the dates I had them:

9/30- We're back in the tribe! Listening to my friends tell me how all our guinea pigs, some of our chickens, and one of our cats died while we were gone. This is a typical "coming back" conversation.

9/30- It's been 30 minutes of listening to village news. I have seven more minutes before my freezer goods become a melted pile of bacteria and wasted money.

10/4- Listening to a Sunday sermon on not eating food sacrificed to idols or spirits. In the literal sense. That's a first.

10/5- My husband just ran off to try to stop a fight over a bride price. Freaked out a little. Will he come home with an arrow in his leg? #missionaryproblems

10/5- No bows and arrows, just rocks and sticks. Fight is over for now. Husband is exhausted but safe. Thank you Jesus!

10/5- The fight in the village today over pigs given in a bride price makes me question how many pigs I would be worth?

10/5- Probably not very many. I am not that great at gardening/cooking/raising pigs.

10/6- I made homemade mayonnaise today and now I feel like I can accomplish anything. Also, this should make me worth at least two more pigs.

10/9- The drought here is getting really bad. I keep hearing this phrase over and over, "My garden is dry. What will I eat?" #worried

10/16- Mia is throwing up. Vomit laundry in the jungle is THE WORST.

10/17- Up all night with a sick kid. The church horn blows at 6 am. #notgoing #badmissionary

10/17- Mia hasn't thrown up since early this morning. Going to bed. Might actually sleep tonight! PTL

10/17- My husband just woke me up to tell me there is a snake in the house, and he needs to me watch the other side of the wall to make sure it doesn't slither in here. Instead, I'm trying to figure out how to purchase international plane tickets at 11:00 at night over a satellite phone.

10/17- The snake is dead. He said it was small and not poisonous. I guess I will stop looking for the gasoline and matches.

10/17- My husband says that even if it were big and/or poisonous, he wouldn't let me burn the house down. #wordsthatleadtodivorce

10/17- Snake is gone. Kids are settled back in bed. Seriously, I WILL sleep tonight.

10/18 (a little after midnight)- Mia threw up in her bed. Another sleepless night and more vomit laundry.

10/18 (a little after midnight)- My husband said he would stay up with Mia tonight, so I could sleep. #wordsthatleadtophysicalaffection #butnottonight

10/18- There is a big village discussion going on about who Lona will marry. It is between two guys...the one with the most pigs will win. Her opinion counts the least.

10/18- Keti cut off a finger in order to marry the man she wanted. I wonder if Lona prefers either of these guys enough to go that far?