Monday, October 24, 2016

Update on Us

**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.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

On This Rock

I know what this picture looks like. Just a guy standing on a big rock. NBD.

But the guy on this rock is actually a HUGE deal. Colossal. Monumental. BIG. FAT. DEAL. 

This is Fawa. He is one of the believers in our village. He's a young married man with a beautiful baby girl who just started toddling around.

His father (now deceased) was an influential witch doctor. When Fawa was a young boy his father told him to never go near this rock, but if he absolutely had to, then he should walk around it slowly with his bow and arrow drawn because the evil spirits inside it will come out and try to eat him.

My husband was on a hike with Fawa and some other believers when Fawa stopped to show them the rock, and told them the strict instructions his father passed down to him . He grinned as he explained the story and then explained to them all how he now knows that was his father's teachings were wrong. That rock is just a rock. Created by God and called good. Ready to cry out their praise to Him if commanded, and there are no malevolent spirits coming out of it to attack him.

But then he did something that amazed everyone there (and everyone who heard the story later). He said, "Hey, I'm going to go across the river and I'm going to stand on top of the rock. You take my picture so that everyone can see that I'm not afraid. I want everyone to know that I follow Jesus' trail and not the old way of thinking."

He then maneuvered through the rapid river, littered with sharp stones, climbed up on this big rock, and flashed that huge grin as his picture was taken.

John Michael and Fawa in front of the rock

I love this story. This testimony of God's truth piercing through generations of entrenched lies from the enemy. But I especially love what it means for Fawa's daughter- this little girl...

Fawa's wife and baby daughter

 This little girl will have a Father who doesn't teach her to be afraid of rocks or waterfalls or birds or any other evil spirits living in the mundane objects in her world. She won't learn to make sacrifices of valuable pigs to spirits who won't help, and she won't learn the magic words that need to be spoken in order to make all aspects of her life favorable. And above all she won't learn that when she loses a loved one, the only way to answer the pain and grief in her heart is to call for the deaths of some other woman or child rumored  to be possessed by an evil spirit.

She will grow up with the glow from a flashlight illuminating God's word as her father reads to his entire household. She will be taught to read and write so she can one day read that Word for herself. She will know that when someone gets sick or hurt she can call out to the God who hears and saves. And she will know that when she loses someone close to her they will either be with their Creator or they won't, but that death is the result of sin and the fall and innocent women and children are not responsible.

She may or may not follow Jesus herself. But she will have a choice. She will hear the Good News... something that her grandfather didn't get to hear... and hopefully, prayerfully, each generation that comes after her from this time forward will get to hear as well.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Where in the World are the Georges?

Several mornings over the past two weeks I wake up in a confused panic wondering, "WHERE AM I?" Until my eyes communicate with my brain and I remember. Oh, yeah. That's right. I'm in________.

At first that blank was filled with Brisbane, Australia. We were in the home of gracious sister in Christ who provided us with shelter in a time of desperate need. Now it is my in-laws' house in Mississippi. That's right. M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I.

A month ago, my husband and I were filled with anxious excitement. Our moms were coming to visit Hewa. It was the first time for both of them (or anyone in our families, friends, or from our "world" in America for that matter) to see and experience our life in Hewa. We were so excited to see them and for our kids to get to spend time with their grandmothers of course, but we were also very excited to have them witness our world. To see, smell, taste, hear, and touch life in our remote village. To have other people validate our experience and would reduce our feelings of isolation by two.

We decided to keep it a surprise from our kids because we had long experienced the disappointment of plans gone wrong and honestly it just seemed too good to be true. The thought of having both of our moms in Hewa with us seemed surreal and neither of us could really believe that it would actually happen.

They arrived in country during some political unrest with talks of airlines strikes and protests. We were on pins and needles as their first flight was cancelled which made their window of getting into the tribe very small. After a lot of nail biting close calls, they made it into the tribe just a few hours after they were originally supposed to, and it was such an amazing blessing. I was never more glad about the decision to make it a surprise to our children than when I was hearing over the short-wave radio that their flight might not make it in, and they may be stuck in the city for 3 of the 10 short days with us. I could handle my own disappointment and heartache, but not my children's at that point.

But they made it, so we spent the next week in the tribe having lots of fun family time and showing them what life is like in a remote jungle village. They met all of our friends, attended a Hewa church service and got to eat their food out of a ground oven or "mumu" just like true Hewans. John Michael even got to take his mom on a hike to the waterfall behind our house. (My mom has some back problems that made hiking dangerous for her, so we decided it was better for her to stay around the village).

The moms in Hewa

Their departing flight out of Papua New Guinea was on a Monday and because there were some scheduling conflicts with our aviation department, we all left the tribe and spent three days together on the missionary base in Goroka. It was during this three day time in town that we discovered that John Michael's mom had some infected cuts on her leg. We gave her some band-aids and a strong antibiotic cream to treat them and told her we needed to keep an eye on them as bacteria in PNG is stronger and more aggressive as it is fed by the constant heat and humidity of the tropical climate.

This particular week on the mission base, there was a visiting doctor offering her services to the missionaries there as both of our doctors were away in America at the time. She came and looked at my mother in law's legs one evening and said that she would start her on antibiotics the next day since they didn't look too bad, but could get bad if not treated properly.

Me with "Dr. Shelley." We are so thankful that the Lord provided this visiting doctor to be here when our regular doctors were gone. He knew our needs long before we did.

The next day was Sunday.  Her legs still didn't really look that bad. They appeared to have small spots of cellulitis but not the huge widespread areas that we had experienced in the past. She was running a fever, though, and that sent off alarm bells in our heads, so JM took her directly to the medical clinic on base to get treated while the kids and I along with my mom went to church. The doctor decided to go ahead and treat her through an IV to get the medicine in her faster since she and my mom were supposed to be getting on a plane back to America the next day.

After several hours her condition deteriorated and we realized that she would not be well enough to fly. John Michael cancelled all her flights and planned on rescheduling them in a couple of days when she was feeling better.

A few hours after that her condition deteriorated more and we were told by the doctor that she had sepsis and was going into septic shock. The medical staff began the process of having her medically evacuated from PNG to Australia since medical treatment in the country was not adequate to take care of such a serious illness. At this point she was pretty stable,  so we weren't really worried, but we knew that she would get the best care in Australia and were happy that she could get there.

I left the medical clinic to go pack bags for her and John Michael and to tell my mom what was happening. After this the timeline gets a little fuzzy for me, because after several hours of running around trying to get little things done that needed to be done with all of this, my mother-in-law was still there and getting worse by the hour. The medical clinic had been in communication with the airline that handles all of our organization's emergency medical evacuations and things were in motion for our pilots to fly her to Port Morseby, the capital of PNG, and meet the medevac plane to fly her the rest of the way to Australia. But at some point, they could no longer get the medevac company on the phone and no one knew why or what to do. This went on for hours. Hours of her conditioning deteriorating with no idea if we would be able to get her out of the country and to the help she needed. Hours that extended deep into the night, resulting in much of the missionary staff on base working, praying, pacing, and wondering with us.

Finally, through the work of our administrative staff we got a plan in motion to take her to the capital city and admit her to the ICU there, and wait until the medevac plane could come and take her to Australia. It was 2 am. The pilots and aviation staff had been sleeping in shifts at the NTMA hangar waiting on the word that she could be evacuated. The flight out was risky, but we are so thankful for the aviation staff and their families who are willing to serve in this way and take these risks that end in saving lives. You can read this amazing testimony from the wife of the pilot who flew my mother in law out that night here.

At 4:10 am, Monday morning, they arrived in Port Moresby and she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit in a hospital there. Although she was in a bigger hospital, the care was still inadequate for her needs and she continued to deteriorate. At 9:00 am the medical emergency plane and staff arrived there and took over her care. They intubated and sedated her but had to wait to for an ICU bed to open up in a hospital in Australia. At 3:00 pm they heard from Mater Public Hospital in Brisbane, Australia. They had a bed open for her and a doctor reviewed her case, gave the emergency medical team orders to switch her antibiotic (one that we could not get in PNG, but the emergency medical staff had) and at 4:00 pm they took off for Brisbane. They landed around 7:00 pm and she was admitted to the hospital. John Michael was able to be with her the entire time and on both flights. The staff at the hospital arranged a meal and shower for him and let him stay the night in the ICU waiting room even though it was not usually their procedure to allow family members to stay the night.

At this point we had been up for 36 hours- John Michael with his mom- and me still in PNG with the girls. Even though I had lots of offers of help with the girls that day so I could nap, I couldn't sleep until I knew my husband and mother in law were in Australia where they needed to be.

John Michael's mom being medically evacuated to Australia

After many ups and downs, she began to improve. After a couple of days they transferred her out of the ICU and into a regular ward. A week later, she was released from the hospital and the girls and I joined John Michael in Australia as we waited for his mom to recover and become strong enough to fly home. We realized early on that she would not be able to fly by herself, so after a lot of praying, thinking, and weighing our options we realized that the best option for our family would be to all fly home with her. John Michael and I both had some medicals needs that needed to be treated in America anyway, and after what we just experienced, we just felt like our family needed time to process and breathe.

After two weeks in Australia, John Michael's mom was recovered enough to endure a long haul flight so we boarded a flight to America and arrived in Mississippi at 4 am on August 8th.

We are currently at his parent's house, but are looking for a place to rent for what we estimate to be about 6 months here in the States. We do plan on getting around to speak to our wonderful supporting churches and friends, but right now we are trying to just get some rest, schedule doctor appointments, and give our kids time to process the shock of this transition. (We had months to prepare them for our last furlough- this time they were just kind of thrown into it).

We are praising the Lord for sparing John Michael's mom's life and for so graciously providing for us throughout this whole experience through the Body of Christ. Honestly, in the darkest moments I felt nothing but desperate terror. I felt no faith, no hope, I was crying out to God not knowing if He was listening. But there was always someone there. Holding my hand, praying out loud, reading scripture, providing the hope and the faith that my soul needed to anchor it to Christ. This is why God wants us to live in relationship. We need each other. We need to be part of One Body because there are moments in this life, in this world of sin and suffering that we won't be able to make it on our own. When the eyes don't work blinded by fear and panic, so the voice speaks truth, and the hands stroke peace, and the arms encircle with comfort.

We experienced God's love through the Body of believers in PNG with our friends, and co-workers and even in Brisbane, Australia where we didn't know anyone. God sent strangers- yet brothers and sisters to help us during our time there. They gave us a place to stay, groceries, warm clothes (it is cold in Brisbane in August and we had come from the tropics), and even blessed our family with some fun outings.

The good news now, is that we are in America. Land of the internet, so we can hopefully communicate more frequently with all of you while we are here. Once again, thank you so much for what has to be thousands of hours of prayers you have lifted up on behalf of our family. As you can see (read) they are never ever in vain.

The church in Brisbane blessed our family with tickets to the Steve Irwin Zoo

Kangaroos are not afraid of wheelchairs :)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Marriage Proposal

A little over 12 years ago I was completing my senior year of college, living in a small one-bedroom apartment off campus. It was an older house that had been divided into a duplex with a little screened in porch attached to the back. My boyfriend at the time decided that little porch needed to be cleaned up and painted to give me a nice place to sit and read or study. I already had a nice place to sit and read and study…an apartment…to myself. It was the first and only time I ever lived alone and after three and a half years of living in tiny dorm rooms with a roommate, to this introvert having an entire apartment (small or not) to myself was luxurious. But this cute guy wanted to "fix up" my porch, so I said, "Sure. It will be so nice to have that porch for a quiet place to study," and let him spend an entire Saturday working on it. 

When the project was complete he called me out to see this nice new space he created for me (which I didn't really care about). I put my best, most appreciative looking smile on and went out to see the results of all his hard work. As he opened the door and let me pass in front of him to inspect the area, I saw "WILL YOU MARRY ME" pained in big red letters across the porch wall. When I turned around fully expecting him to be laughing at the big joke he just played on me, there he was on one knee holding a ring. 

The rest of the story gets a little blurry from here because I was in such shock. I'm pretty sure my brain, if not my entire body (he says, no, my body stayed there in front of him in terrifying silence) floated into space for a few minutes. I'm convinced I saw Mars. It's red right?? But after he said, "I need an answer" I returned to this planet and to my new porch and said "Yes." 

It was terribly romantic and a great proposal story that I love telling to this day. 

Last week, we heard another proposal story that was…well…a different kind of romantic. 

One of the young guys that John Michael frequently works with in developing lessons recently returned from another village where he, another young single guy, and another couple were starting an outreach. They completed the literacy program and were about to start teaching the chronological Bible lessons to the Yano people for the very first time when the all the murders happened and that got put on hold. 

Then last week a man from that village came to tell us that there was going to be a court against our young friend for some inappropriate behavior with a young widow from that area. John Michael, Jonathan, and the church leaders met with him to hear his side of the story and this was his response…

"I didn't do what they say I did, but I did do something very wrong. I threw the peel of my betel nut at her and hit her with it. I did this without talking to her parents first, though. It was very wrong and I am very sorry for what I did."

The church leaders immediately responded with reprimands and advice about how he should respond to the accusations while the two missionaries sat looking confused and wondering if they heard his words correctly. After several minutes of conversation to clarify things, the two men discovered that what our young friend did was actually propose marriage to this girl…by throwing the peel of a nut at her and hitting her with it. How romantic. 

Can you imagine ladies? The moment you feel small but sharp ping on your shoulder, you look around with reluctant hope…could it be? Could you possibly be the recipient of this romantic gesture?  And with your heart pounding you see him there and you can't believe that you could ever be so lucky! It's the greatest, most romantic day of your life…. the man of your dreams has just hit you with a piece of garbage!!! 

There you go, Disney, your next fairy tale romance to make millions off of. You're welcome. 

***Also, any future visitors to Hewa. Please be careful as to how and where you dispose of your refuse. You may go home with more than you bargained for. ***

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Five Years

This month marked five years since we first stepped off the plane into the sweltering heat of Papua New Guinea. Ten minutes after descending the stairs of the plane onto the cracked blacktop of the airstrip parking bay, I heard the haunting sound of wails coming from a large group of people waiting just outside the "terminal" ( just a fence that divides the pavement where the plane parks and where you exit the airport). The body of their loved one was being carried off of the plane along with our luggage. Those piercing sounds of sorrow were some of the very first sounds we heard in our new country. Welcome to PNG.

After a few short months we went to live with a group of remote tribal people for the first time as we learned the ins and outs of tribal missions from a veteran missionary couple. Just a few hours after we arrived into that village, the sound of the death wail, and beating of a drum to let all those in the village know that a death occurred, welcomed us to that new place as well. A 12- year old boy died shortly after our arrival, so our first experience in tribal ministry was that of the mourning and burial process. Nothing makes you feel more awkward and out-of-place than being dropped into the middle of a community's sorrow and angst with no idea of what to do or say. You don't even know anyone's name except for the dead boy's being cried out over and over again by his devastated mother. Welcome to the tribe.

Those two gut-wrenching welcomes definitely set the tone for how the rest of our first term would go- marked by so much death and tragedy. But there was also so much life and learning in that first term. Every event, both good and bad, shaped who we are as individual people and as a family. And though this term has been marked by murder and tribal war, we have been spared the tragedy of watching those close to us die. We have been on the edges of these events, these deaths. And surrounding those times of great loss have been times of great joy. Times of accomplishing huge tasks and celebrating significant milestones in our family and community.

God, in His faithfulness, has never left us alone and His presence is what brought us back after our first furlough and what sustains us each day as we continue to live and grow alongside the Hewa people.

I have certainly learned a lot along the way, and if you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you have read each of those lessons as I experienced them at the time. And I cannot even express how much it has meant to have you do that. Reading all your comments and hearing your prayers for us has helped us feel less alone, less isolated, and has encouraged us to keep going when we felt like we weren't really doing any good or accomplishing anything at all.

For five years you have hung in there with us. Loving and praying for us, and more significantly for a group of people hidden a remote corner of these mountains that you've never even met. On their behalf and on ours, I want to say a huge THANK YOU and I hope and pray you will hang out here with us for however long the Lord has us here. It would sure get lonely without you.