Saturday, September 26, 2015

Missionary Thank You Notes

I decided to follow the lead of Jimmy Fallon and write some of my own thank you notes to a few things that make missionary life great!

Thank you extraneous letters in the English alphabet (I’m looking at you letter c). You make home schooling a nightmare, yet meet the needs of every missionary working on creating an alphabet for an unwritten language. How could we possibly represent all these different vowel sounds without you? In fact, without you, our translations would look more like alien languages and less like a bunch of kindergarteners putting random letters together to tell Bible stories.

Portions of scripture translated into Hewa language. Don't worry, it's supposed to look like that.

Thank you missionary guesthouse kitchens for coming fully equipped with four five- inch skillets, 17 dull peelers, grapefruit spoons, and one 20-gallon pot. Frying four separate individual eggs for breakfast, making gouged vegetable salad for lunch, and enough spaghetti to feed an entire prison (just noodles no sauce) was exactly what I had written down in my weekly meal planner. I also really enjoyed remembering that grapefruit exists since I have never seen one in this country! It is amazing how well you anticipate my needs!

Thank you tropical weather for ruining so many things in my life. My peeled and rusting non-stick cookware, the mold growing in my expensive camera lens, and every now useless electronic that I thought I couldn’t possibly live without are all great reminders that I should only be storing up treasures in heaven. I also now realize why my village neighbors still live in the stone-age. I bet one of their great great-great grandfathers actually invented the iPod but after you quickly destroyed it he realized there would be no market for this device and went back to making whatever he wanted out of sticks and leaves.

Thank you also, flights in small aircraft in tropical weather. You make heaven feel nearer and my prayer life stronger with every flight!

Thank you host culture fashion for making me feel like I “blend in” but actually making me look like I am trying to celebrate Halloween all year long.

Thank you fashion of my home culture for changing so rapidly, no matter how often I come back to you I always look outdated. I love that when walking around in public my family can be easily recognized as missionaries or mistakenly pegged for people who were accidentally locked in a bunker for the last 10 years.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Spirit and Truth

I have had such a hard time writing lately. I told my husband that I think I have writer's block. Although, I don't know if that is a thing only real writers are allowed to say. But basically, I have a thought, open my computer, get ready to type, have a mini panic attack, slam the computer shut because somehow the few words that I actually hammered out fell down to the bottom of the page like ashes and rose as a Phoenix that came out of the computer and tried to eat me.

Is that writer's block? Or is that something that needs therapy?

Anyway, my husband told me to just write and see what happens. He told me to look at pictures and get inspired from the things I see in them. That was actually great advice and apparently he is a genius. (He's been telling me this for years, but it is hard to recognize someone's genius when you are constantly cleaning their toenail clippings off of end tables. He actually hasn't done that in a long time which may be why the veil has been lifted and I can now see him in all his intellectual glory). 

The pictures worked, I think, because everything here in this missionary life is starting to become normal to me. I don't have quite as many feelings about every single thing that I experience during the day like I did in the beginning. And it is hard to come up with words when there are no feelings attached.

But the pictures....

The pictures make feelings. Lots of feelings.

Like this one...

This is the day that Baby Girl's heart stopped beating several times and Susan breathed for her for hours until we all thought it was over, but God decided it wasn't and she became Talitha.

In the picture Susan is actually giving the baby chest compressions while the mother holds her hand over the baby's fontanel.

Hewans believe that the spirit of the baby can very easily slip out of the infant's soft spot causing the baby to die. It sounds crazy but it is actually pretty logical from their perspective. The infant mortality rate has historically been very high (around 85%), more than any other age group. So, what is visibly different about babies that makes them so vulnerable? This little spot on the tops of their heads that after it closes seems to significantly lessen the chances that the baby will die.

If you don't know any different. It makes perfect sense.

This is a great example on why becoming very fluent in your people's belief and culture is crucial in discipleship.  Is this truly an animistic practice or is it just like that time we all thought the world was flat? Understanding must precede teaching.

Sure the word "spirit" is involved, but the baby does have a spirit or soul. That is a Biblical truth.  We do not believe that a person can prevent the spirit of an infant from leaving it's body, and therefore control life and death. God ordains life and death and only He directs a person's spirit once the flesh is no more.

But for the Hewan, the spirit is just as much a part of the body as the arm or face or lungs or heart. As Susan breathes air into those tiny lungs and pumps blood through her little body with the pressure of two fingers to keep her alive, the mother does her part to keep the spirit in the body, so it can do its function as well.

But while this seems to be a more benign act than say, sacrificing a pig so that external spirits will intercede and save the life of the child, it does display the root of the belief that spirits, all of them, can be controlled or manipulated for the benefit of people. The simple act of the hand on that tiny baby's head says, "I have some control over the spirit of this child." It shows us, the missionaries, the disciplers, that there needs to be a distinction made over the flesh and the spirit. (Many of the more mature believers do already know this, but we still see it a lot with parents and infants, so it is still an issue). Does it mean that anyone who does this is not a true believer? Absolutely not. As people from a Western culture with heavy secular humanism influences, there are probably hundreds of things we do or say everyday that come from a non-Biblical worldview and we don't even realize it. It doesn't mean we aren't saved. It means we need to be taught and to grow and this will be a need we have until we die. This is true of all people everywhere in every cultural context.

The significance for us is simply in investigating and understanding the people. From our perspective seeing this act would simply mean the mother is trying to keep the baby warm or protect that soft spot. If there is no investigation then we would have missed a significant outward behavior of their internal thought process. (Fortunately for us, our co-workers are champions of not only language but also culture study and have been steadily showing us the things as they have learned about Hewa culture over the last 15 years). 

If we simply assume that a behavior has a specific purpose based on our own background then we miss huge opportunities for understanding the cultural context in which we are trying to teach. Without that context the message gets blurred, misunderstood, and often completely rejected.

One of my (favorite) Bible professors* in college used to always say, "The context is the message." Meaning that the Bible must be understood in the context that it was originally written. And is is equally important to understand the context of the opposing culture or worldview in which you are now introducing Biblical truth.

For instance, a person with a secular humanism worldview you would have to start with the truth that there is a spirit world. You don't have to do this with a Hewan. They know the spirit world exists, but need to know Biblical truths about the spirit world and what it means in their daily lives.

And this is applicable no matter where you minister. You have to really know where people are coming from, their background, their thought processes before you can speak deeper truths into their lives. It's why relationships are so important in discipleship and why YOU are so significant to in reaching the people that surround you in life. You have the opportunity to really dig into- just like we do- their worldview. You can hear their stories, know their thoughts and feelings as certain events play out in their lives, and you can really minister to them in deep in meaningful ways.

But just like us, you have to put in the time, energy, and sometimes awkwardness and difficulty it takes to get to know and understand someone. You can't just assume they think like you do.

It is a high calling that God has given to all believers everywhere. Because He wants us all to one day be able to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.

*Big G, I dare not hope that you ever have or ever will read this blog, but if you do, please know that I consider everything I learned from you pure gold and have tried desperately to hold onto everything you taught me even though pregnancy brain and the long sleep-deprived infant years took most of my high-order thinking skills. I'm not even sure I was saved before I took your Teachings of Jesus class. I have also considered getting "the context is the message" tattooed several times. Thank you. That is all.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

You live WHERE?

This picture was taken in town last week. You read that correctly. TOWN. We were on our way back from hanging out at a local pool/restaurant with some friends (Aaron Jex- long time no shout out). And this is what we saw driving down the road next to us.

This is not an everyday occurrence in town, though. This past weekend an event occurred in the town of Goroka where several of the area tribes dress up and do cultural dances and songs. And if you so desire and have 150 Kina, then you can watch. We opted out.

Anyway, whenever we come to town in PNG, no matter what town that is, we speak to nationals about where we're from and where we live now. The conversation almost always goes like this: (I'll spare you the Melanesian Pidgin and go straight to the English translation)

National Person: "Where are you from?"

Us: "America, but we live here now."

National Person: "Where do you live? Here or in another town?"

Us: "We live in the bush. A place called Hewa in the Enga Province"

National Person- looks horrified then lowers and shakes head side to side: "That is a really bad place. Those people are lawless, violent, and stuck in the old ways."

Us: "It's not that bad." 

We were used to hearing the horror and shock from our Western friends when we told them we were moving to New Guinea, but hearing horror and shock from our New Guinea friends when we told them we were moving to Hewa was a surprise.

It is funny to us now because we are so used to it, and also because our village is the exact opposite of what they describe (thank you Jesus). Everywhere around us is a pretty accurate portrayal of that description, but our place is relatively happy and peaceful.

We also frequently hear about how far out or remote we are. When other missionaries come in they often say, "Wow you guys are really out here." Or something similar. But again, when we heard the same thing from PNG Nationals we kind of did a double take. A few Community Health developers from a national hospital came to do some instructional classes for our people last May and mentioned that all their coworkers were teasing them about coming so deep into the jungle.

Even Les Stroud "Survivorman" when asked to be sent to the most remote place in all of Papua New Guinea was sent to...wait for it...Hewa.  (Please note that if you have seen that episode of his show it is mostly...false...false is a polite way to put it)

Because the Lord has blessed us with an airstrip and an amazing aviation team, and because we joined a work that already had a young church, we don't always feel the remoteness and isolation in those ways. 

Ironically, one of the biggest reminders or eye-openers of our people group's remoteness came from a series of emails from our own mission describing the changing world and how very few untouched and monolingual tribes are left and our need to adjust our strategies for reaching people groups.

But I am sitting in the middle of one of those tribes as I read those emails. Sure there are other religious influences, but not many, and not many people have allowed themselves to be influenced. And we have a few people who speak basic Pidgin (our national language), but probably only a handful that I would consider fluent (and only one person in our village). Yet there are thousands of Hewans scattered all over the Central Mountain Range speaking their own dialect of Hewa (that is totally different from ours and neither we or our people can understand them) and only their dialect. They are constantly asking us for missionaries or to at least come teach them, but no one can. And there is no way that they could understand our translation of the Bible.

So then I realize that our people are really "out there". I am sure there are other missionaries reading this and giving me a big eye roll thinking that I am doing that thing that some missionaries do trying to prove that their work is the ______ (fill in the superlative) in the ______ (fill in the category) but I promise I am not. For us Westerners ALL these places are remote and out there. I thank Jesus everyday that our airstrip is in my front yard and I don't have to canoe down a river to get to it. Sure your people consider that a "road" but to everyone from the modern world...just no. And for those people who have an actual road, I cringe at the tales of your drives back and forth to town. So, I promise I'm not competing. We all have it rough and let's all let out a collective sigh of frustration. SIIGGHHH. There. Moving on...

So the Hewans are very isolated. It is very difficult for them to get anywhere that isn't home. Therefore they have mostly stayed monolingual, and with it being so difficult to get even to the next village, the dialects have developed into distinct languages. And that makes me worry about them. I worry because they are all called "Hewa" and yes, the "Hewa" have heard the Gospel and yes there is a "Hewa" translation in the works. But this translation will only be able to be read by a few hundred of the thousands of people classified as "Hewa." It's like handing a Spanish Bible to the Portuguese and Italians and saying, "You're welcome!" I'm terrified that there are thousands who will be overlooked simply because they bear the name "Hewa." And there is so much pressure and guilt as I post these pretty pictures of "Hewans" in church on this blog and the internet thinks, "Praise the Lord, the Hewans are reached!" while thousands still live in darkness.

Bottom line. These people are remote. Isolated. Monolingual. Animistic. They are still out there and they still need missionaries. We can't learn all the Hewa dialects. We are already a team of missionaries who speak two separate dialects. Did you read that?? We don't speak the same dialect as our own coworkers! It's crazy!

So I'm asking you now. Will you pray? Or better yet...Will you come? We need you. They need you. Sure it is an extreme place with an extreme people. But that also produces extreme change. And it is an extreme privilege and blessing to get to experience it.