Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Rich Young Ruler

 Mark 10

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.  You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
As typical twenty first century Westerners, we love to focus on the "rich young ruler", his wealth, his refusal to let go of it, and what that means to us. But to the first century Jewish audience who witnessed this first hand, it had a much deeper meaning. 
It wasn't a serious lesson on the dangers of loving wealth. It was a theology shattering experience. A common belief at the time was that if you were wealthy, then you had found God's favor. You were blessed and almost certainly guaranteed a place in heaven. 
So when Jesus says that it is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom, the disciples were "amazed" and even questioned "If it's not the rich who are blessed, then who are? If the rich can't be saved, then who can?"
Personally, I have a hard time understanding how this belief came to be in the first place. Sure there are some instances in the Bible where God blesses people physically, but He makes very clear that it doesn't always work like that. The book of Job for example is basically saying, "I'm God, and I allow what I allow. I created the Heavens and the Earth and I have understanding that you don't. Trust me when I give. Trust me when I take away." 
But, I guess they simply took a few verses and stories that they liked out of context and ran with it. (sound familiar??) 
Anyway, it doesn't really matter HOW or WHY.  It just matters that that is what they believed. And Jesus just rocked that belief. In the words of some of our PNG brothers and sisters, He "broke their heads open" or "changed their thinking". 
Earlier this week I read Hebrews 10. In verses 32-34 the author talks about the persecution and suffering of the early Jewish converts to Christianity. I didn't miss the fact that they had all their property taken. Once again, rocking this belief that God blesses the faithful financially.
I also didn't miss the fact that their Jewish persecutors were probably feeling validated as they held onto this belief. "See, God must not be happy with these 'Jesus' people. He is taking away everything they own. This must prove that we are right and they are wrong."
And I could be totally wrong, but I imagine those early Christians thinking something like this, "Why God? Why are you doing this thing that validates their unbelief? We still believe you, but don't you want them to as well?" 
I believe this because this is exactly what I thought in a similar situation.  "Why God? Why would you allow these deaths that "prove" to these people that their ancestral beliefs are true?"

Don't you want them to believe, God?
I am faced with this yet again, though, not with the tribal believers, but with some situations with my Western friends.  Plane and helicopter crashes when I have fought very hard this furlough to overcome my fear of flying.
Don't you want me to get back on a plane, God? Don't you want me to be able to continue to go to this place you have called me?
Inexplicable sickness and death that takes people off the field. 
Don't you want this work to be finished, God? There are already so few laborers, why are you taking away the ones who want to be here?

I desperately want God to prove Himself to the doubters. I want Him to prove Himself to the doubter in me.

But I was recently reminded through a sermon of my husband's that Jesus calls us to follow in His footsteps of suffering and death. Jesus calls us to follow in His footsteps of doing the things that don't make any sense to the outside world (sometimes they don't make any sense to the "inside" world of Christianity). He doesn't do things the way we do. He brings glory to Himself in ways that the world never would. 

He perfects us through trials and asks us to have joy in that. (James 1:2-3)

He brings beauty out of ashes, and turns mourning into dancing. (Isaiah 61:3 and Psalm 30:11)

He calls things that are not as though they are. (Romans 4:17)
And the strangest, most inexplicable, most wonderful of all...

He brings life from death. (the entire new testament)

So, though my flesh and my heart may fail in understanding, and even rebel in accepting. His Holy Spirit brings forth His Word in my soul. It bubbles over and covers all my unbelief like a healing balm. It "breaks my head open" and "changes my thinking."

James 1:3-4
 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

So let it grow.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Friends in (literal) Low Places

So we have a lot of friends in low places. Low, as in lower hemisphere. Papua New Guinea.

But we all come back to the Land of Abundance at some point for various reasons. And it is fun, but super weird when we can get together in cleanliness and comfort. Super weird, but super fun.

Our amazing friend, Layne, got married in California on Saturday and we were fortunate enough to be able to go. We wracked up a bunch of credit card points (buying things like plane tickets to and from PNG) over the last 4 years and decided to use them to see our friend on what was obvious to anyone lucky enough to witness this event, the happiest day of his life.

We just felt like we needed to be there for him. When you live the missionary life you are blessed to make deep connections and godly relationships, but those connections are usually for a brief period of time and then you find yourself separated by hundreds or even thousands of miles from those friend- many times for the rest of your lives. And when significant life events happen, you look around and realize all your friends are too global. 

Layne spent three years in Papua New Guinea serving other missionaries...serving us, and we just really wanted to be a part of something we knew he had been praying for, for a really long time.

Here are just a few pictures of Layne in Hewa. He was there so much doing multiple jobs for all of us that he even has a Hewa baby named after him....

Here is Layne setting up our solar/battery system. We would not have power without him!

Here he is covered in inches of sawdust from slabbing lumber in the middle of the jungle for our house.

This is actually for our co-workers house, but he was back again in the middle of the jungle, slabbing more lumbar.

Baby Layne, sitting in his Dad's lap along with my three.

And he was there for this moment. The moment when we were physically, emotionally, and financially spent. We had been in the jungle for 3 weeks trying to get our house up as fast as possible. Completely broke. Completely exhausted. And our two year old hurt her arm. We were looking at a $10,000 hurt arm. I actually think Layne took this picture.

(His witness to this event became even more significant to me later when we arrived at the medical clinic after our flight out, unwrapped her arm, and absolutely nothing was wrong with it. It was a horrifying relief. But, As Layne Is My Witness, the child was hurt.) *She was eventually diagnosed with nurse-maid's elbow.

So it was incredible to be a part of something so joyful together. Another significant and ubiquitous servant in Hewa is the third guy you see in this picture, Chad. Chad was there as much as Layne, and these two were a huge blessing to all of us. There are no words for how selfless and hard working they are (I am including that first handsome dude in this pic as well. Don't tell anyone, but he is my favorite. Wink wink)...

John Michael, Layne, and Chad

Yeah...these are the pics I have from the last time they were all three together...


John Michael


Oh the difference America makes! But I have to add a link to this video, just to show you that in spite of what is very hard and frustrating, they had great attitudes and a lot of fun...

On top of all that, we got to spend time with some other really great missionaries from PNG as well. It felt like a very strange, very clean, very dry, family reunion. In fact, I am pretty sure it was the first time any of them have seen me not covered in sweat.

But, by far the best moment was this one...seeing our dear friend and co-worker, the happiest he's ever been!

Congratulations, Layne and Jenna! Thanks for letting us be a part of your beautiful day!

Sunday, February 8, 2015


I know it's been a long time since I have posted. For some reason, I just haven't had it in me. There are several reasons for this, but I won't go into them now...

For now I want to talk about witches.  I have had a lot of questions about the recent witch events in Hewa, so I wanted to address some of those FAWQ (frequently askes witch questions).

Most of you were so amazing to keep up with these events and pray for them, so I really wanted to do some better explaining. As most of you know there was a terrible measles outbreak in Hewa over the summer. There were several deaths all over the region which caused 13 women and their children to be accused of being possessed by evil spirits who caused the sicknesses and deaths. Feeling overwhelmed with the urgency of the situation, our co-worker in the tribe reached out for help knowing that we couldn't evacuate all of those involved (and knowing that most of their families wouldn't have allowed it if we could).

With the help of another missionary in the area, they were able to get several local religious leaders and law enforcement officers to come into the village where the threats were being made. There were days of discussions but the main goal was to make it known that murdering these women and children would have serious consequences. During these proceedings the witch who accused the other women and children took back her claim and made a promise to never mark anyone else again. Most of the villagers also made a commitment to stop witch killing.

Here is a link to an article about the proceedings...

Now to answer your questions...

1. How do they decide who is a witch and who isn't?

Sometimes it is random, sometimes it involves a personal vendetta, but the general idea is that a woman unknowingly ate human flesh disguised as sweet potato or pig meat and she is now possessed by an evil spirit that craves human flesh. That spirit leaves her body at night and eats the insides of other people causing them to become sick and die. The marked woman has no control over this action and can do nothing to stop it. If she is nursing a child, then the child is automatically a witch as well because it has consumed human flesh through the act of nursing.

2. Will the witch who accused the others be punished?

No. She is actually an accused witch herself. She has survived by marking others. If she keeps her commitment to no longer name others as witches then she will probably eventually be killed.

3. Has this ever happened before? Someone taking back the claim that someone else is a witch? 

I honestly don't know, but I have never heard of it happening. Sometimes a person in a village will accuse someone of being a witch and later a shaman or witchdoctor will come in and say that the accusation was wrong. Typically, though, once the seed is planted in the Hewa minds that someone is a witch no amount of recanting can change that. People who have ever even been in question have to live very cautiously.

4. Will this stop the witch killing in Hewa?

No. These events happened in one specific village in one specific area. It will certainly help. It will definitely buy time for these ladies and probably all the others marked as witches. When sickness and death occur in the villages, the fear and drive to do something to stop those deaths becomes overwhelming.  People (especially parents) will revert to what they have always believed-what they have been taught since birth- when they feel hopeless and powerless in the face of the illness and death of a loved one.

What will truly help the situation is when inevitably another witch murder occurs, for local law enforcement to carry out legal punishment for all those involved.

And of course the only real solution is for the Gospel to be proclaimed in ALL of Hewa and for the Holy Spirit to convict their hearts that this is wrong...but that will take time...time that these women did/do not have. So... as of now we are so very thankful for the help and intervention of our local government and the other church officials who spent the time and money to come in and defend these innocent women and children.

I also wanted to thank all of you for caring and praying for these ladies and their children. Your prayers are felt and greatly appreciated! Please keep praying for all of Hewa and this specific tragic practice.

Susan and I with Tiko and her son Wanapis. Tiko is a marked witch who we evacuated after learned of a plot to kill them both.

This is Tiko and (the boy standing) Wanapis almost two years later with the missionary to the tribe where they were relocated. As you can see they are happy and thriving. She and her husband have even had another precious baby boy.