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
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 it happened, I thought it was a fluke. A little kid called me "Grandma" (the Hewa word for Grandma, 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." So basically, I'm everybody's Mom. That is my job.)
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 at!
I try really hard to hide my cringes when I hear a kid loudly announce that "Old 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. OLD and FAT. 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…
Sunday, May 8, 2016
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.