Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Charlie Brown Christmas

We just spent our third Christmas in PNG. 

The first Christmas here was relatively easy. We still lived in town and had internet and were able to Skype with our parents. Of course we missed our families, but at that point our homesickness wasn't overwhelming and we had lots of Western families to celebrate with. 

The second Christmas we were in the tribe and were celebrating in our very own home for the first time in many years. The newness of our life and ministry in Hewa was fun and exciting and helped ward off some of the longing for our families.

This year was a little different. John Michael was stricken with some sort of stomach sickness for two weeks. He has been on three different medicines with very little improvement. Mia had malaria, and Mattie and Mia's mystery rashes had come back (the rashes we previously thought were scabies, but apparently are not actually scabies and can't get rid of completely no matter what we try). On top of all that we are all just worn out. This has definitely been a stressful year. 

Six deaths in our small village, including two suicides. 

A cancer scare.

A five year old with a broken arm that still hasn't healed right. 

Malaria, cellulitis, and we recently found out that our oldest child is allergic to the sun. The Sun. And we live almost as close to it as a human can. 

Yeah, we're tired. And we were having a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit this year. John Michael and I were both a little moody on Tuesday and ended up arguing with each other. We are not big gift givers. We only really give each other gifts if it is something cool and unique…like a soccer scarf from Germany or a personal letter written from Elisabeth Elliot. This year was no different. I wanted my gift from him to be not having to cook on Christmas and he wanted his gift from me to be a nice big traditional Christmas dinner. It is like "The Gift of the Magi" in reverse. 

We woke up yesterday barely speaking, and I begrudgingly started baking. Our kids on the other hand were so excited they couldn't stand it and spent all day crafting gifts for all of us and our coworkers from pretty much nothing. After I pulled the blueberry muffins (this was a special treat because I found frozen blueberries in Goroka when I was out with my foot) that I was preparing for breakfast the next day out of the oven I looked over and saw a huge mess of cut up paper, glue, red string, crayons and markers all over my table. I also heard my three year old singing "Jingo Bewws" and I just had to laugh. Kids have the amazing ability to rapidly melt the Grinch right out of you. Christmas day is the highlight of their existence and their excitement is more contagious than SARS on an airplane.

We spent the rest of the day preparing to have our coworkers over for all the kids to sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus, eat cake and exchange presents. By the time they came over and the house was filled with five kids- seven and under there was nothing that any of us could feel but joy. By the end of the night our Christmas spirit definitely returned when the we recited Luke 2:10-11 as a family and remembered that the day God humbly came to earth as a tiny baby is worth celebrating no matter where we are, who we are with, and what we are given.

This morning we woke up to a cool mountain morning and hearts full of Christmas fun. It ended up being one of our best days as a family. The kids spent the day playing with their new toys. John Michael spent the day telling me that I really didn't have to make a big meal, and I spent the day telling him, no really I want to. I won the "argument" and we ate roast and potatoes, green beans, fresh corn from the garden, biscuits, and leftover cake before he went outside to show "The Nativity Story" movie to the Hewa believers. It has become a tradition that they really enjoy.

Overall, I would say that even though we got off to a rocky start with everything seeming to go wrong- just like Charlie Brown, this ended up being one of our best Christmases yet. And the thought of getting to spend the next one with our families in the States makes it even sweeter. 

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas,
The Tribal Wife

P.S. I am really not doing any cooking next year. A heads up to our families- I will be the one bringing the oversized can of Christmas shaped shortbread cookies with read and green sprinkles to any and all gatherings. God Bless America and its endless supply of previously prepared and processed foods for any occasion!  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Today is my anniversary. I got married on this day nine years ago. John Michael and I woke up today and gave each other high fives for making it this long and then went about our normal routines until…we found out that one of our church leaders was getting married this afternoon! It was very fun and exciting for us to attend a Hewa wedding on our own anniversary. 

When I think about all the preparations that went into our special day nine years ago, and how far in advance we let people know with save-the-dates and invitations, it is comical to hear word-of-mouth in the morning that there will be a wedding later in the afternoon.
Before the Gospel came here there really wasn't a "wedding".  There was just an agreement between two families and a time where the groom's family tied up pigs and clipped money to stakes on some neutral ground and the bride's family came and collected their share of the loot. The bride and groom were no where to be seen. It really wasn't about them anyway. It was simply an exchange of goods. 

Now the people have decided that marital exchanges between believers should be different, so there is not really a focus on the payment, but a focus on bringing the bride into the family line of the husband. But the husband and wife still don't get anywhere near each other because that would just be scandalous. No one talks about the two people getting married and all the preliminary discussions are done in secret to keep from embarrassing everyone with such talk.  At the end of the wedding a female member of the groom's family comes and takes the wife by the hand and leads her to where his family is sitting to symbolize that she is now leaving her family to join his. 

For me, the wedding guest, it meant a lot of garden work. The ladies told me that there would be a mumu (cooking a lot of food in the ground with hot stones) after the ceremony, so I had to quickly get to work to add my gift to the feast. I spent the afternoon in the garden digging out root vegetables, and by the time I had an appropriate amount for a village feast (a huge bag full) I was sweaty and covered in mud. When John Michael came out we laughed about how I dressed for our special day…and how great I smelled too. We carried food up the very muddy trail and came home while it cooked all day in the ground. At about 5:30 in the evening our neighbors came to tell us it was time to go back up the same muddy trail to witness this wedding. 

It was a sweet and fun time for the whole village and at the end we forced the bride and groom to take a picture with us as we explained to them that we thought it was special that they got married on our anniversary (we first had to explain what an anniversary is). They were totally embarrassed but humored us anyway by actually standing next to each other in the picture with us. 

As we walked back down the sloppy trail to our house in the rain with our three kids I couldn't help but smile at where our nine years together has lead us. I quietly thanked the Lord that He put a call and dream in both of our hearts and allowed us to experience such a unique and special life together. And I thanked Him for allowing us to celebrate the day He made as a family by witnessing Him create a new Hewa family. 

I think this has been my favorite anniversary yet.