Saturday, August 3, 2019

Door Knobs, Dirt Floors, and (Not) Dying in America

Our family went into the tribe in early July. I told myself to post right away so I wouldn't forget anything.  It's now early August and I have forgotten a lot of things, but I think it's better this way so you don't have to read a bunch of rambling nonsense and I can just talk about what stood out the most or what was most important about our trip (<------ ----="" i="">these are things procrastinators say to make themselves feel better.)

Also school starts in two days and I feel like as soon as I dive into the depths of elementary school teaching, I will forget I was ever a tribal missionary and that I ever had a blog to begin with, so I figured if I didn't write this now it would never happen.

Anyway, we went into the tribe and it was cool.

The end.

Just kidding.

As we flew into the Central Mountain range and saw the first glimpse of our village and airstrip, it took me back to the day we flew out as family in October of 2017. I was in a lot of pain. My pancreas was killing me, but I think my heart hurt even worse. I remember wondering if I would ever see these mountains again. I wondered if it was my last flight into this remote jungle. And although a small part of me rejoiced at that (the part that desperately hates flying) most of me was pretty sad and scared. I remember praying that we would get to come back, "even if it's just one more time Lord- just don't let this be the last time." He answered "Yes" on July 2nd and there was much rejoicing. For the girls and I, it was our first time back in a year and a half and we were all so excited to be "home."

First glimpse of our strip from the air.

I know that we don't technically live there anymore and that we will never live there full time again, but that house is ours and after all this time living in other people's houses it will always feel like our home even if we don't get to live in it.

Outside our house

We spent the next nine days cleaning (me), teaching (my husband), and having a lot of jungle fun (all of us). It was incredible to see all our friends again and even kind of nice to see the people that annoy* us. Nostalgia is funny that way.

While cleaning, I found that ants had built nests in the walls. I had to unscrew our plywood walls and baseboard to spray and vacuum out ants and their disgusting baby larvae. Not all babies are cute. Some are horrifying. 

Not living there full time actually had some perks and I had a great time discovering them rather than being depressed about having to live in town. The first and greatest was that for the first time ever. I. WAS. NOT. HOMESCHOOLING.

We have always done school in the tribe no matter the time of the year it was because breaks were reserved for when we had to fly out and didn't want to pay money to fly out all the homeschool books. We were always either trying to get ahead or trying to catch up. There were never any homeschool breaks in the tribe. We didn't do school on Christmas Day. That was our only break.

So for the first time ever both the girls and I had our days free in the tribe. It was incredible. We hiked around and played in the river and visited with friends. I even got to attend all the Bible teaching sessions which has never happened before. E V E R. I felt like a real missionary.

Playing in the river

Visiting friends

And holding babies. All things made possible by not home schooling. Please notice my husband's shadow photobombing as he takes this pic.

One of the other good things about not living there is that most of our crap no longer lives there as well. Which means our house has a lot less stuff in it. Which means that it is not so embarrassing to let our Hewa friends come into our house. Which means we let our Hewa friends come into our house more. (I could spend a long time here explaining to you why we didn't have a lot of people in our house before, but that is a topic for a post in and of itself, so I will just leave you with the imagery of eating a five course steak dinner at the the same table as a person who is and has been starving for years with nothing in front of them).

So we had more people in our house. Doing so led to lots of discoveries like how tricky door knobs can be. One friend of mine had lots of trouble with the doorknob the first time she was in the house. I opened the door for her and told her how it worked and hopefully she realized that it wasn't a trap that the white lady set to cook her in my oven that she could definitely fit into** and eat her. (The story of Hansel and Gretel would make perfect sense to the Hewa people, by the way)  The second time she came in, I assumed that my Doorknobs 101 lesson was enough and that she could successfully exit on her own. This was not the case. She begged me to come work the ridiculous contraption that left her trapped again. John Michael told me to stop and made her do it herself. She was successful. Open a door for a woman and she can leave once. Teach a woman to open a door and she can leave anytime she wants.

A friend in the house. Not the one who can't use a door knob. This one is a trained midwife. She can deliver babies and open doors.

Like I said earlier, I got to attend all the Bible teaching sessions for the first time ever. That was pretty amazing, even though sitting on a rough hewn log for two hours twice a day made my butt numb (I still can't feel part of my right cheek). I loved being a part of the teaching and actually seeing and hearing firsthand how the people responded. It was pretty great. But before I talk about the response, I want to talk about the tribal church building. A new building went up while we were in America. Made from the disassembled parts of our former co-worker's house. It looks nice and sturdy and will hopefully last them a lot longer than one made out of bush materials. It does still have a dirt floor, however, and that is totally appropriate. Everyday the church filled with animals of all kinds and with them came their various forms of waste. Babies also filled the church and in a place where diapers are non-existent the easiest and best thing for the mothers of those babies is that dirt floor. When baby has an accident in church, mom can just pick it up with some scraps of fabric from her bag, brush some dust over it and no one even blinks. As I watched this take place numerous times, I became very thankful for that dirt floor.

Mom cleaning up after baby. Notice how no one notices.

The purpose of our trip was so my husband could teach 2 Timothy to the Hewa elders and the church. He spent the months while we were in town writing and editing those lessons and then we flew in to teach. This is a new book for the church as it was recently translated and checked by our co-worker and translation consultants. Many of the people don't even have the newest edition of the Hewa Bible that contains this book. Even after almost eight years in this ministry it still boggles my mind that the scripture we often take for granted is new and exciting for these most remote believers. They are the ends of the earth.

Anyway, the teaching went really well, and everyone was very thankful for the work John Michael put in to teach them. One of our elders even came up afterwards and told him, "I'm so glad Jessi didn't die in America, so that you could come teach us this book. We needed to hear it because these are things we still struggle with. I heard this teaching well. Thank you for coming back to teach us."

This made me first laugh, then tear up a little. To Hewans, being really sick equals dying. They saw me really sick. For a long time. They would frequently come to the door early in the mornings during the weeks before we left and say, "I was just coming to check on Jessi to see if she died in the night or if she got better." They have very little context of long term illness. The statement was funny to me because I have never been anywhere close to dying. But according to their experiences, I already had one foot in the grave. This is the sad state of their lives, but it isn't what made me tear up.

My eyes got a blurry for a second because even though I wasn't close to death, I was close to not coming back. With plenty of pain and few answers, our time in America came close to being our permanent lives in America, and we frequently questioned the wisdom of coming back. We also frequently questioned if there was even any reason to come back... if what we were doing was really going to matter to anyone. So that funny little statement did wonders for our hearts. It encouraged us to keep going as long as we can. The Lord knew what we needed to hear just as He knew what the Hewa church needed to hear. This is the beauty and glory of the Body of Christ. The Bride. The Church. No matter the language, or race, or culture, or nationality, we are connected through the Blood and with the Spirit. We are for each other and for His Glory- just as He intended.

He (Jesus) makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. Ephesians 4:16

*I felt the need to put this here because I noticed that too many people have the image in their heads that these "people groups" missionaries are reaching are not actual People. They are all "beautiful" "friends." To be honest, I find this a little patronizing. They are a regular group of people. In a regular group of people you will find some who are smart, some who are dumb, some who are attractive, some who are ugly, nice, funny, weird, annoying, quirky, mean etc. To pretend they are all perfect and that we love them perfectly is a lie. 

** I realize that knowing a person could easily fit into my oven is creepy. I only know that she could easily fit into my oven because it is a big American sized oven and she is a petite woman. It is pretty obvious. I was not actively trying to determine this information for nefarious purposes. 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The -error- Wife

Picture of our former neighbor on JMG's visit back into the tribe

We've been back in Papua New Guinea for three months now.

We have been living on our main mission center so I can be close to our medical clinic where I have to have blood work once a month, and so I can be close to the doctors if my pancreas decides to explode.

So far so good on that last one.

Overall, my health has been stable and that has been really encouraging. I've figured out how to manage the pancreatitis with my diet which is pretty nice, although not very fun.

I am on some pretty rough medicine for my autoimmune disease, and that is also not very fun. It is working really well, it just has some annoying side effects that knock me on my hind-end for a couple of days each week. I take the medicine on Friday nights so that I can still home school my kids (no we are not out for summer yet), and take care of my family during the week. But it does make me one of the few people in the world who dreads the coming of the weekend.

There are lots of new and different medicines that I could try if we were in America, surely there is one out there that will work for me without any crazy side effects, but while we are in PNG I only have this one option that I just have to tough out.

But like I said, it's only really bad a couple days a week and the rest of the time I get to enjoy pain-free joints, so it's worth it (I guess. Maybe. I don't know. It's Sunday and it doesn't feel very worth it today. I should have written this post on a Wednesday.)

Anyway, to be completely honest, we've gone through an adjustment period being back in PNG, but NOT back in our home in the tribe. I've felt so weird living on the mission center, and asked myself (and Jesus) "What are we even doing here?" about one million times.

John Michael has had to adjust to writing lessons without much help or feedback from Hewa friends which is so critical to the lesson writing process. He's done a lot of comprehension checking over the phone with one of his helpers who is living in another village so he can attend school. We are so thankful that this village has cell service, so he can do this work with at least some feedback.

JMG comprehension checking lessons in 2 Timothy over the phone at dinner time.
Anyway, it's been an adjustment. I mean I am no longer a "tribal wife" It felt weird to post here because of it. I've gone through all sorts of ideas as to what I should do with this blog as I have processed this big shift in our lives. Should I even write here anymore? Should I change the name? Should I just leave it up as a journal of our first eight years in PNG? Should I delete it? Am I just being dramatic?

I've pretty much landed on the last one. It just took me a while to get here. But here I am. Posting away and ignoring the title because
A. Who cares?
B. I've been told that no one reads blogs anymore anyway.

So if no one reads blogs anymore then surely no one will notice that this blog called "The Tribal Wife" is written by a lady who doesn't technically live in a tribe anymore. (Although mission base living shares some shocking similarities to tribal living, but I won't list them here because unlike my tribal neighbors, my missionary neighbors have the internet and can read what I write on this blog. JUST KIDDING *sort of* Lapilo friends and neighbors!!)

JMG did get to take a trip into Hewa by himself in April just to check on things and reconnect with the church there. It was a really good time for him, and we all plan to go in as a family in July. He will teach the lessons he's been writing to the church leaders there so that they can then teach the whole body of believers. Now that we have elders and deacons our goal is to put more and more of the responsibilities of the church into their hands. It is a pretty exciting time for the Hewa church as they become more mature and independent even if it means we don't get to spend as much time with them as we'd like.

Sigh. One of the problems of trying to plant a "thriving church" is that if you succeed in your goal then they won't actually need you anymore. It's a bittersweet thing to be successful in missions.

My house in the tribe is still standing. Doesn't it look like it misses me?

Just hanging out with some kids.

However, there are plenty of other things that need to be done on the mission field. Which brings me to my next bit of news.  One of my biggest concerns in coming back here was what I was actually going to do with myself while my husband worked on lessons and my kids went to school. I felt like I might go a little stir crazy without a job on the center, but was concerned that I wasn't actually qualified to DO anything. My jobs before "missionary" were high school Spanish teacher and before that part-time youth minister. That's it. And believe it or not, they already have a high school Spanish teacher at the mission school here. So, yeah, my options looked pretty limited. But the principal of the school seemed to think that my high school teaching experience would transfer to elementary school where they were in desperate (obviously) need of teachers. That and the fact that I have been teaching my own kids for most of their elementary careers. So all that to say, next year I will be teaching several different subjects in 4th and 5th grades. I'm both nervous and excited about it. Thankfully there are lots of teachers here to help me with the 14,000 questions I am sure to have. I almost called the principal last week to tell her I changed my mind after going on Pinterest to just "look up some fun ideas real quick." N E V E R A G A I N. I forgot that Pinterest is where you go when you really want to feel inferior and increase your self loathing by 1,000 percent. It is NOT where you go when you are starting something new and already feel a little intimidated. I remembered that I have lots of real life help from really nice teachers all around me, and there is no need to let the internet's "help" turn me into a human turtle hiding in my shell made of blankets and eating my own hair.

So there it is. No longer a tribal wife. A teacher again. But "Teacher Wife" sounds weird, so I think I'm just going to leave the title alone if that's ok?

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Everybody's Trash

In my last post, I said that I could write an entire post on just this quote alone...

"God will take care of you because you are doing His Work." 

I've heard this SO MANY TIMES and have had numerous conversations with other missionaries over the years who have heard the same thing, (I've also had numerous conversations with people just after my last post about this).

Sadly, I have heard (and seen on Facebook) people actually accusing missionaries who go through times of suffering with health issues of having too little faith. Or, that they need to repent of their unbelief in order to be healed. This has never been personally said to me, because God is faithful and He will not let me be tempted beyond what I can bear. I could not "bear" hearing this without arguing that this person would need to repent of habitually taking scripture out of context and condemning people with heretical nonsense. All glory to the WISE God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen.*

Just like in the last post, I know people are just trying to be encouraging. And they probably really believe it, because in their hearts they really feel like we "deserve" to be taken care of. They appreciate what we do, sometimes to the point of putting us on a pedestal. And what goes on a pedestal? A statue of some great person who did a great thing. They usually use the very best image of that person to form his or her likeness into that statue. They don't usually choose an image of them old or crippled or missing limbs or covered in some sort of boils or pox. So as they imagine the missionaries on the pedestals they can't possibly have debilitating diseases or crippling deformities. Therefore, God has to protect the missionary in order to protect the perfect image in the mind of the believer.

I feel like this idea is just a product of the prosperity gospel that is becoming more and more prevalent in our culture today. God blesses those who have enough faith or who "claim" whatever it is they want in His name. And who has more faith than the missionaries? The people going into the scary, remote, disease infested, crime ridden places to proclaim the Gospel? So if this belief does not hold up for the missionaries, the so-called most faithful, then the whole system falls apart.

But that's exactly what needs to happen. This whole belief system needs to fall apart. The lie that being a believer brings you health, wealth, and prosperity as long as you "claim" and "believe."

I recently read these words that Paul (the very first missionary) wrote to the Corinthian church about the people "Doing God's Work"

"I sometimes think God has put us apostles on display, like prisoners of war at the end of a victor's parade, condemned to die." 1 Corinthians 4:9

An image of the infamous Bataan Death March during WWII where most were paraded to their deaths

This is just one image that Paul uses to describe what it is like to "do God's work."

Not pretty or comfortable. Nothing I'd want to "claim" for myself.

He goes on to say in verse 11-

"Even now we go hungry and thirsty, and we don't have enough clothes to keep warm. We are often beaten and have no home."

Definitely not full of health and wealth. 

And in verse 13-

"We are treated like the world's GARBAGE, like EVERYBODY'S TRASH- right up to the present moment."

Nothing about prosperity. Just garbage.

These are just a few of the numerous verses that promise us trials, suffering, and persecution for doing God's work. If we want to "cling to God's promises" we can't just cling to the promises we like. We can't feel the peace and comfort of the rainbow without remembering the horror of the flood.

Peter reminds us "not to be surprised at the FIERY trials you are going through as if something strange were happening to you." 

So the difficulties in our lives- 

A. Should not surprise us
B. Will be "fiery" not just minor annoyances
C. Are not a strange thing happening to us that we need to figure out the reason for or how to fix (i.e. repent of, rebuke, have more faith in)
Peter says that instead of trying to figure out what we did wrong and how to fix it, we should "be very glad- for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world."                                

Of course, OF COURSE the Bible is also full of good promises. Full of God's unfailing love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. There are also promises of blessings. Of Good and Perfect gifts. It's not all doom and gloom until we get to Heaven and I don't want it to seem like that is all I am "claiming" here. I've just noticed an alarming trend toward our current Christian culture's idea that if something is difficult, or harmful, or just not super fun then it is not from God.

The truth is that the life of Christian service is a strange combination of joy and suffering walking hand in hand. It is the exact opposite of what the prosperity gospel proclaims. Through suffering Christ will be made known to the world. Not necessarily through specials gifts and blessings and miracles (although there are sure to be some of those along the way). A few of the best verses to explain this phenomenon are in 2 Corinthians 4:8-1.

"We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.   Through SUFFERING, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies...

Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies."
So please, PLEASE, stop telling people in ministry (especially missionaries) that God will take care of them or heal them or make everything perfect in their lives all the time because they work for Him. That is just simply unbiblical. If you want to encourage missionaries (or all believers) simply tell them that you love them and you are praying for them. You can absolutely pray for their perfect healing and for miracles and blessings. Those prayers are definitely appreciated and are even answered sometimes. Just also remember that you can encourage people when those prayers are not answered in that way. You can pray for strength, endurance, and a strong testimony of faith through those fiery trials. And if you just can't figure out what to say, you can minister to them by maybe showing up with a hug and a smile and a cup of coffee and maybe a chocolate cake.**

Because even though we are the world's trash, we are the Lord's treasure. 

*Disclaimer: this pic of me hanging out and cooking dinner in a Hewa house has nothing to do with this post. I've found that if I don't post a tribally picture in these posts, no one clicks on them. I am admitting that this pic is click bait.
 **Romans 16:27
**unless the person has pancreatitis then leave the chocolate cake at home

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Ghost at the Door

We are rapidly approaching our departure for PNG. I'm still not telling the internet what day we are leaving. I will tell you that we are now counting down days, not weeks or months, D A Y S. 

Because we love to leave these kinds of things to the last minute and because we honestly weren't 100% sure we'd be returning until the last minute, we just sent out prayer cards to our friends, family, and supporters. Here is a picture of what we mailed out... 

But this is what we probably should have sent out...

Just in case you didn't know. That is a pancreas. And I feel like this is probably a truthful representation of the personality of my pancreas. It likes lots of attention and loves to be the star of the show. And whether or not we get to stay in the country and continue our ministry all depends on this temperamental organ that loves the spotlight, so needless to say, I'm a little nervous about our return. I'm just praying, hoping, begging, that we don't get there and immediately have to turn around and come home.

I've told many people this and I just keep hearing that I need to "have faith" or that "Jesus will heal you" or that "God will take care of you because you are doing His work*." I know all these phrases are meant to be encouraging. That people want me to feel like they are rooting for me, and I truly do appreciate it.


None of those things are an actual guarantee. I mean if everything will work out because we are doing "His work" why did I even get pancreatitis in the first place? Why have we been kept out of the work for so long? And I have "had faith" every single time we have gone to PNG, that the Lord would keep us there to finish the task He gave us.

It's not that I don't "have faith." I have faith that no matter what happens He will be there to comfort us, guide us, and provide for us. I have faith that He will give us the strength to get through whatever it is we will face when we get over there. Whether it is staying and finishing on the projected timeline, or whether it is immediately turning around and coming back home.

It's just that I don't want to go through the hassle, heartache, and financial burden of the turning around and immediately coming back home.

So why go back?

This is a question I get a lot too. If I know that having to turn around and immediately come back home is a possibility and a possibility that I absolutely dread, then why risk it?

The answer is pretty simple. We risk it because He told us to. He told us to go back. He told us to go back with no guarantee that we will get to stay. But we told Him a long time ago that we would do whatever He said and go wherever He wanted, and we were so young and naive and zealous that we didn't think to put any asterisks or loopholes on that promise. I mean, honestly, if I could have foreseen all that would happen I probably would have said something like, "Lord, I will go be a missionary and serve you wherever you send me, as long as you provide me with a guarantee that we won't be bounced around a lot and have a lot of chaos and upheaval and health issues. I don't mind isolation, or weird food, or ax murderers, but I really don't handle transition well. So keep the transitions to a minimum and I'll go wherever you send me." Looking back, it was pretty dumb of me (and frankly very anti-American) to not include a fine print on my contract with God.

I mean... I'm so glad that I didn't do that... you know... for my spiritual growth and maturity and humility... and everything else God has brought with all this "things not going my way" business. But sometimes my flesh just wants everything to be easy more than it wants to be "mature."

Just being honest.

I do remind myself when the things continually refuse to go my way, that in the end I really do want the Lord to grow me and conform me to His image no matter how much I whine about it. And thankfully He knows that is truthfully what my heart wants most and ignores my grumbles that indicate otherwise.

But because of all this I have been thinking a lot about why we, as a body of believers, feel like we have to encourage people with the best possible outcome. Why we can't say, "You know God may never heal you. He may make you fly back and forth from PNG to America one MILLION times, but whatever He does or allows, He won't leave you alone in it. And He won't waste it. So, yeah, everything might happen exactly OPPOSITE of the plan, or opposite of what you want the plan to be, but no matter what, God is faithful." Why can't we speak these words of truth into each others' lives? I know similar phrases get spoken a lot after the fact. After everything goes wrong, this is what we usually hear, and they do help to encourage us. But I feel like they would be just as encouraging beforehand, because I wouldn't feel like such a horrible Christian, much less missionary, when I doubt every word proclaimed to me that guarantees a positive outcome. When I hear these words too often, I feel like I'm seriously lacking in the faith department and that maybe everyone else is better at belief than me (and maybe all these people should be getting on that plane in my place).

But when you personally see and face trials and difficulty, sometimes it's hard to have faith to expect good outcomes. And what do you know???  The Word of God has some perfect examples of His people responding exactly in this way.

Acts chapter 12 is a great one. Peter is put in prison by Herod and many of the believers were at home praying for his release. An angel comes to miraculously lead Peter out of prison. So, he goes on to a house where the believers were gathered and praying for him, the house of Mary, mother of John Mark, according to Acts 12: 12. The servant who went to the gate to let this visitor in didn't even open it. She ran back to tell the others that she recognized Peter's voice. The others didn't believe her and said it must be his "angel," or in other words, his ghost.

I've heard this story preached many times about how we should pray and BELIEVE. And look at these dumb early Christians who refused to see the answer to the prayers they were praying right in front of them.

But I never heard anyone preach on the first verses of the chapter. The verses that explain that James...the brother of John... the disciple... was arrested then executed by Herod, executed by the sword is what scripture describes.  And it was such a big hit with the Jews that Herod had Peter arrested in order to execute him as well. These same believers also more than likely witnessed the stoning of Stephen. They watched people throw rocks at him until he died. I have no doubt they prayed just as fervently for Stephen and for James as they did for Peter. I'm sure it was easier to believe that the same thing happened to Peter rather than believe that the angel delivered him. Because in our tiny human understanding we immediately think, "Why save Peter and NOT Stephen or James?"

But that is a whole other blog post. 

My point here is to say that once you see the prayer NOT answered in the way you were asking... once you see the people you love and are praying for executed... once you see the hard and horrific things happen in spite of all your faith and prayers, it becomes harder and harder to accept the miracle. It's not that you've lost your faith in God to DO the miracle. It's just that you think He is only allowing the difficult things and the suffering right now for whatever reason and you just have to get through it.

That's where we've been for a long time I think. I don't know if we even realized it until recently when we had a pretty big miracle come knocking at our door and we responded pretty much exactly like Mary's household. We were actually terrified of this GOOD thing the Lord delivered right into our hands, like it was a ghost coming to warn us of impending doom.

It's messed up I know. And we felt pretty guilty about the way we responded to this incredible thing the Lord had done for us. Thankfully, we got some help and encouragement throughout the process, but I think more than anything this story in Acts helped me realize that I wasn't alone in my reaction or lack of faith. It helped me realize that there are a lot of trials and suffering in the Christian life, but God is faithful to give us the miraculous as well. He will give extravagantly even when we are expecting nothing but the sword or the stones.

So, as I look at my pancreas prayer card, and tremble with fear that things will not go our way wonder as we return to PNG, I will remember that sometimes God does do the miraculous. Sometimes He answers our prayers in exactly the way we want Him to. Sometimes it is Peter at the door and not just his ghost.

But I will also remember that He has been with us through all the trials and sufferings and has given us the grace and strength to get through it each time. So even if everything does go to crap** we will be ok. He will make it ok.

*I could write an entire post about this phrase alone and all the examples in the Bible that are the exact opposite of this. In fact, I might write that one tomorrow. Or possibly next year. You never know. It keeps things exciting between us.

**I will not apologize for using the word crap. I am not Beth Moore.*** If I wrote a million Bible Studies and was the Queen of Lifeway then I would probably apologize, but since I know that most of you that read this blog are ok with me using the word crap, and the rest of you are gracious and forgiving, I will just use it. Thanks. 

***None of this is a slam on Beth Moore or meant to be derogatory toward her or Lifeway. I've done most of her Bible studies and have loved them and learned a lot. I have also been to Lifeway**** and overpaid for many a Bible and other spiritual paraphernalia.

****This of course was before Amazon was invented. I haven't stepped foot inside a Lifeway since I bought my Amazon Prime membership and I'm not even sorry about it. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Itching to Go Back

Hey, remember when I wrote that we were going back to PNG in early January? Well, it's the middle of January and we are still in Mississippi.

I'm getting pretty sick of writing out our plans for the internet to read just to have to turn around and tell the internet that I lied. But maybe the internet is used to it by now.

If you are shocked by our change of plans then you probably haven't been reading this blog very long.

I went to my rheumatologist in December and he said that we needed to stay until at least February so he could get me on the right medicine for my autoimmune issues and wanted to monitor my pancreatitis on whatever medicine we tried.

So after I had a major meltdown, we agreed with the doctor and started the new medication. It was going so well that we went ahead and booked tickets for a time that I am not going to write on this post because I'm done writing our plans on this blog. All you need to know is that we bought tickets to go back to PNG for a date sometime in the near future.

The day after the charges showed up on my credit card, I broke out in a crazy rash that turned out to be psoriasis which the new medicine is supposed to prevent me from getting. At this point, a rash is the least of my medical problems, so I doubt that will do anything to change our plans at this point.

I have to admit that this year in America has made me reflect more than ever about our lives as missionaries. There were times I honestly felt like we wouldn't be able to return. There were times when I honestly felt like I didn't want to return. There are still times when I am honestly scared to death to return. And there were times when I was scared to death that we wouldn't be able to return.

The not being able to return is actually just as scary as the returning with health problems. People seemed to think not returning was the simple solution. You're sick, so you don't go back. Problem solved. But it is so much more complicated than that when it means an entire life/job/country/culture change...when you've been preparing your entire adult life for one thing and then all of a sudden that thing looks like it will be ripped out from under you. 

I remember over the summer I was having a particularly hard time dealing with significant pain from some stents that were placed in my pancreatic and bile ducts. It was the third procedure I'd been through and felt very discouraged that nothing was helping, and was terrified that this meant we would not be able to return to PNG. I was in line at Walmart in North Carolina when a couple in front of me started talking to me about something I can't even remember now. What I do remember is that the man used language so colorful that I fully expected a pot of gold to land at my feet at the end of each sentence. I never said anything to him about it, but when his wife asked where I was from (I told them earlier I was visiting my mom and sister) I answered that I was a missionary in Papua New Guinea. The husband turned white and started apologizing for his $#@*&! language, but I just laughed and told him it was ok.

Ask any missionary/pastor/person in ministry- this is a very common occurrence. Strangers who strike up conversations with us and speak without restraint usually act as if a trap door will open at any second and send them straight to Hell as soon as they learn what we do. They usually apologize profusely and then tell us about their great-uncle who once was a deacon's best friend and how they waited to get past the First Baptist Church's parking lot before they threw their cigarette butt out the window. Let me just clear the air right now...I have been cursed around and cursed at many times and have never seen or operated a trap door to Hell. So relax, foul language lovers, the missionaries are not the secret language police lying in wait to damn your soul for all eternity.

Anyway, after that conversation, I went to my car to cry about the fact that I might not get to be a missionary any longer and will no longer get to scare people who curse around me with my trap door to Hell  show grace to people who use foul language in my presence. I know it was a stupid thing to cry about, but my stomach was hurting and I was buying a bunch of junk food for my kids that I couldn't even eat, and I might have been hormonal, but there's now way to know because I had a partial hysterectomy five years ago.

But I can assure you that there have been A LOT of conversations between Jesus and myself on this subject (the subject of us going back, not curse words or trap doors to Hell), and I feel pretty confident that He wants us to return.

If He doesn't then He wants us to live homeless and jobless in America.

He has provided us with renewed visas to PNG, plane tickets to get there, and a green light from my doctor in PNG (the one I trust the most with this decision), so off we go.

Our tiny area of existence. Literally carved out of the jungle in the middle of nowhere.

Yes, I'm going back with some health problems. I'm going back with a broken pancreas, a broken immune system, and an itchy rash. But I'm going back. I honestly don't know what this term will look like for us. I know our lives and ministries will work differently than they have in the past. And our goals will be different than before. My biggest goal this time is to just stay in the country for 12 consecutive months. I mean we can't get any Bible teaching or discipleship done if we are not in the country. So, I'd say it is a pretty legitimate goal.

Because of my health situation the last couple of years and because of other events that have taken place in our time in Hewa, John Michael and I have seriously struggled with questions like, "What are we accomplishing in PNG? Are we really contributing anything worthwhile? Is there even any point in us being there?"  And while there are moments we can look back on and see where God was working in and through our time there, we know that ultimately our return has to do with obedience alone. He calls us to go, so we go, even if we have no idea what life will look like when we get there.

 I will admit that rather than going back fully rested and rejuvenated from furlough, we are going back with weariness and trepidation. That's probably not what you want to hear from your missionary, but it's the truth. I feel like we are in a low point in our ministry, but I was recently reminded through a good friend and mentor that God is the author of our story and every good story has highs and lows, unexpected challenges and joyous victories. Our story is no different. In fact, the pivotal point of the Gospel itself is the low point. Jesus comes to earth as the promised Savior, Messiah, but instead of being put on a throne, He is crucified on a cross. There is no lower point than that. But the result of that low point-the Risen Savior who defeats sin and conquers deaths creates the greatest story ever told.

For the first time I'm going back with no expectations, with no grand notions of how things should play out, or look like. I have no idea what God can/will/wants to do with this broken body in a country where it is very hard to live without good health. But maybe for the first time ever, I'm going back the way He wants me to, completely and utterly dependent on Him to even be able to stay in the country much less accomplish a really low point, with all my plans and pride dead and buried. Now all I have to do is stay in the story to see what He will resurrect and redeem.

This Elisabeth Elliot quote gives me comfort as I struggle with these low points in our story-

No matter what we face, the feelings of fruitlessness or futility, the perplexities of my health issues, or the pain we feel when the story doesn't go as we think it should, Jesus wants to and will fill us with His joy. With His life. We traded our lives for His a long time ago knowing that suffering and death were a part of His story. But most importantly we know that His story (and therefore ours) ends in resurrection and new life, complete joy and perfect peace.