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.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Old Jessi

I expected to be called fat here. Every white person is called fat here. Even missionary ladies that wear a size zero are called fat here. I get that. 

However, I did not expect to be called OLD. The first time, I thought it was a fluke. A little kid called me "Grandma" (the Hewa word, ironically is "Papa").  That particular time the mom corrected the little bugger and told her to call me "Ma" (In Hewa you call all your mother's sisters "Mom" and your Father's brothers "Dad." Most of the ladies here call me "Sister" so it is culturally appropriate for their kids to call me "Mom.") 

The next time it happened, one of the younger moms actually TOLD her daughter to call me "Papa" or Grandma. The mom herself is probably only about 10 years younger than me. 

Then I started noticing that all kids and even some teenagers were calling me "Yali Jessi" which literally means "Old Jessi." 

This was kinda funny until my body heard them and decided to just lean into that title. Since coming to Hewa, my hair is significantly more gray and my neck is disturbingly more saggy. And worst of all, my hands have all of a sudden decided to develop the bulging deformities of arthritis. 

There is the slight possibility that this is just genetics since my Dad went gray early, and my mom has arthritis, and I won't name names as to where the saggy neck came from - you're welcome Anonymous Genetic Contributor!  But I would really just like to blame innocent little kids for these attacks on my vanity, because it gives me someone to point my crooked finger out. 

I try really hard to hide my cringes when I hear a kid loudly announce that "Yali Jessi is here!" when I approach a friend's house, and simply laugh it off because I am supposed to be all things to all men (and little kids) just like Paul said, right?

Even if it means being called the two things that women from my culture hate the most. Hate so much in fact, that they spend millions of dollars to make sure they are never called either of those names. Paul just doesn't get it. 

But then again, maybe he did. To the Jews he was a Jew, and to the Gentiles a Gentile. I'm sure his thorough upbringing as a Pharisee caused deep hatred for those Gentiles. The Romans especially, who occupied his people's land and defiled it with their idols and controlled those people with sadistic force. But he did it to make God's name known among those Gentiles so they themselves could be called children of God. 

So, I guess I can deal with being called fat and old…

I guess.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mutually Encouraged

After what seems like a million years of training, preparation, and learning, . My husband did his job this week. He taught the Hewa Bible teachers chapters one and two of the book of Titus and then he helped them teach it in church on Saturday and Sunday morning. (Yes, I did write Saturday and Sunday morning. I feel like I need to draw attention to the fact that I teach homeschool every weekday morning and then have church/language learning on the weekends. I want recognition for this- It's why I am drawing attention to it. It is also the reason why don't feel bad for the extraordinary amount of time I spent watching Netflix while on furlough). 

After teaching the lessons to the teachers, John Michael was talking to one of the guys in the group confessing to him how nervous he was to teach. Our co-workers have been with the Hewa for 16 years now, so even though his language capabilities are phenomenal, it is difficult to feel comfortable teaching when he is not at the same level as the other guy. (Our co-workers were moving in with the Hewa as we were graduating high school if that helps give you some perspective).

After hearing John Michael's fears this guy, Fawa, says, "Don't be afraid. You just taught us that God's Talk says not to be afraid to teach and lead if we are young. It is the same with you. You can't be afraid because you are younger than Jonathan and haven't been here as long. I heard your teaching and I heard it well, so stop this rubbish talk of being afraid". 

Not much to say to that except, "Ok." It is pretty amazing when we are discipled by the Hewa people. 

In November when all the violence broke out and the threats were directed at this village and we had to leave, I kept telling my friends how sad and how scared I was to leave them. I was mostly scared that something would happen that would keep us from coming back. Several ladies told me, "Don't worry. This is God's work. It is His decision if you come or go or live here or not. We can't know his thinking but we know His Spirit will go with you, and if He wants, will bring you back."

As hard as it was to leave, it was incredible to hear those words come from my friends. Living with people, growing with them, being disciplers and disciplees, is one of the greatest rewards of this job. It is not us and them. It is us with them. It is not the highly Biblically educated American saviors coming to help the poor savages. We are the Body of Christ united by the Holy Spirit. 

Paul says in Romans 1 that he longs to see the Roman believers so that they can be mutually encouraged by each other's faith. Paul, highly educated in the law, knowing Scripture inside and out, saying he longed to be encouraged by younger believers with pagan backgrounds? What could they say to him that he didn't already know? I have no idea, but I do know that whatever it was, it was encouraging to him. (Maybe it was "Here, have some bacon now that you can").

I know that it was encouraging to my husband (and to me) to hear the words he JUST finished teaching to this young guy, a relatively new believer with an animistic background taught right back to him. Paul and the Romans. John Michael and Fawa. Mutually encouraged by each other's faith. 

God does such weird wonderful things with such weird wonderful people. 

PS- Did I already write about this? I feel like I have already written about this. And since I can't get on the internet* to check if I did I am asking you. Oh well, if I did, then you know how seriously amazing it is because I am talking about it again. 

*Just a reminder that I do not have internet. I have to send this posts via email, and the email comes through a short wave radio and it only only works about 50% of the time. So, if you have tried to email us and we never wrote you back there is a good chance that we never got your email. There is a SLIGHT chance that we are just jerks and forgot to write you back, but that is only SLIGHT as we are kind of obsessed with email out here since we have no other way to communicate with the outside world.  

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Rat/Gnat Welcome

So coming home has been interesting. Most of you enjoyed the pleasure of my whining and complaining on various social media outlets while we were "displaced" because of the recent murders, and I know you think I must be a such a good missionary* lady to long to be back in her jungle home. 

And I am… NOT. I have decided that unlike Paul, I have NOT learned to be content in every circumstance. In fact, I have a familiar tendency to be discontent for at least the first two weeks in any new circumstance and after that, when I settle into a routine, I do ok and until I am uprooted and have to change again. My mom is reading this and thinking, "You were always like this. You never liked change as a child." It's true. I still don't. 

So by the end of my four months out of my jungle home, I kinda got in a routine and liked it. I didn't really know this until I came back to the home I whined for and didn't have that routine anymore. At first it felt really nice to land on our grass airstrip and greet all our friends and feel that comfortable feeling of "home" and then I opened the door. 

I opened the door to the colony of spiders that had taken up residence in my house all simultaneously turning their heads and millions of eyes my way. I immediately went to war unwrapping everything in my house from the webs the spiders had spun in order to make it feel more homey to them. If they wanted it to feel  more spidery when you walk in the door and less humany then they certainly accomplished that goal. I definitely thought, "Wow, someone with eight legs is certainly responsible for this decor." 

Once all the spiders were evicted I went to work washing every single dish in my kitchen. Have you ever washed every single dish in your kitchen? No? Why would you? You probably live in a nicely sealed house that doesn't immediately get overrun with every kind of insect and vermin imaginable as soon as you walk out the door (and often while you are still in the door). While washing every single dish in my kitchen I discovered that rats decided to chew holes in almost every single piece of tupperware I owned. That made for less dish washing at least, but then I had to burn all that tupperware, and crawl half way inside the cabinet to clean up the confetti of masticated plastic and rat droppings left over from the tupperware eating party. There was a lot of gagging and repeating, "You wanted to be here. You wanted to come back" over and over. 

Then after I unpacked every article of clothing we owned, made the beds, and swept the roach poop out of every corner, I popped the casserole that I made before we flew back (because cooking from scratch after a day of cleaning up spider, roach, and rat poop is less than ideal) into the oven and was thankful for the first time for the tupperware destruction. My oven only smelled vaguely of rat pee. The last time we were gone for a long period (our furlough) the rats took up residence in my oven, and every time I turned it on the aroma of rat pee filled the house and made everyone gag. The tupperware cabinet was a happy alternative to that at least. 

At the end of the day, we all climbed into bed to watch a movie before going to sleep. It was at this point we noticed that dozens of biting gnats or "No Seeums" as we call them out here were flying around the room and biting us. We've rarely had them in the house, so we just brushed it off as a fluke and went to bed. 

Unfortunately, it was not a fluke. The little jerks have been invading my relaxing evenings every night since we got back. All I wanted to do was get in bed, watch old episodes of Project Runway sent to me by another missionary friend, and go to sleep. Instead I spend the evenings counting tiny red dots left by biting gnats and then turning off the lights while the last few stragglers bite at my face. The highest count so far has been 36. 36 bites in the span of 45 minutes. I feel like if they really worked together they could accomplish a bite a minute, but I am not sure if I should expect too much from something with the life span of less than 24 hours. Anyway, just after a week of being home I was tucked under my covers in the fetal position longing for my guesthouse in town with glass louver windows that I could shut and keep all nature out of my bed time routine. I no longer wanted to be back in my jungle home. 

I was Israel looking back at Egypt and thinking, "Sure we were slaves, but at least we had food to eat." And I am like this anytime I change places. Everywhere new is the desert. The last place I was comfortable is always Egypt. Sigh. Humans. The same issues since the beginning of time. The patience of God is incomprehensible. 

But the next morning I woke up, the red spots were gone, and I watched my kids take out everything they forgot they owned and dance around the house like it was Cinderella's castle. Nothing feels better to kids than home. And nothing feels better to Moms than when their kids feel at home. And just like that... the desert becomes the Promised Land. 

*Recently an article came out about my family and I that was picked up by a couple of internet media outlets, and it has made some people really mad and hate us for what we are doing here. Missionaries are apparently the worst. But, I seem to recall being warned about being hated by you know…JESUS, so it's no big deal. We knew the article was coming out and were able to read and approve it ahead of time, and really enjoyed working with the writer and editors of the piece. I really didn't think we would be interesting enough to be picked up by other news outlets though, but I guess people love to hate things, so it did. The beauty of being out here in this remote place with no internet is that I can't read all those ugly comments. Sorry internet haters. I won't be able to feel your wrath for another 4 months and by then I'm sure you will have already moved on to comment aggressively about something else you know absolutely nothing about! Ha ha! Foiled by the remote jungle and its lack of technology!