Category Archives: missions

Quilts and Calla Lilies: Are We Ever Home?

I made the bed, not our usual mattress on the floor, but an actual bed. Not only did I make the bed, but I used the quilt that my grandma made for my husband and me as a wedding gift six years ago. On our little dinning room table sits a makeshift vase holding Calla Lilies that my daughter picked and brought to me. I love Calla Lillies and almost used them in our wedding when I thought I would not be able to find my first choice of speckled tiger lilies, but that’s another story

            As an MK who has moved over 15 times in my life (by this point I’ve kind of just stopped counting), I never expected or even really dreamed of having my own home. Sure, it would be nice, but that just has never been my reality. So now whenever we get the chance to come to our house in my husband’s village it really leaves me feeling a bit in awe of the whole situation. We have a house—a home, a little haven where we can have people over and just be us.

            I’m in awe because none of this is really even our doing. Years before I was born, Simon’s dad planted a tree for him that we later cut into boards and used as the main structure of our house. Then, the year our son was born, my parents came out for a visit and used some of the money, that my grandfather had left for my mom as an inheritance, to buy even more building supplies. Several of the guys in the village have volunteered their time to physically build our home. A friend from Australia later came and installed an indoor toilet (yay!) Last year another team came and set up a solar shower so now during the day it is actually possible to take a hot shower as long as the sun is out.

Trevor and Allyson standing on the stump of the tree Simon’s dad planted for him which we cut into boards to start building our house in the village.

            It all blows my mind at times. The day we hooked up the lights (we use a generator at night) one of the older men in the village told me he was walking by and looked down and saw the lights of the house lite up. He said it brought tears of joy to his eyes, as our house was the first permanent house that has been built in the small area where my husband’s immediate clan members live. What brings me joy is now seeing a couple of the guys who helped us build our house now starting to build their own permanent homes. 

            Sometimes the most beautiful things in life are not things you worked so hard for yourself, but the things that have graciously happened because of the love of others. As an expat, missionary, MK, nomad (whatever name you want to give it) I truly appreciate the few months out of the year that we are able to spend in our little village home. It is a gift that I do not take lightly. Even thought there is still a lot of painting and tiling work still to be done, in my mind, it is already home- something I never thought I would have. 

Home Sweet Home

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May His Face Shine Upon You

If there is a word that I would NOT use to describe PNG life that word would be comfortable. The capital city especially gets hot this time of year and our tiny tin house feels especially stuffy. Now that’s on a normal day not just on days when the power goes off for hours or running water is shut off  for a whole day.

I was sitting on a backless wooden bench this Sunday sort of attempting to keep my one and a half-year-old from getting completely covered in the dirt at our feet. I was trying not to worry too much about my four- year-old who was off climbing trees and playing in the rubble of the knocked down stone church building which was demolished in the name of development when a road was put in several years back. The church is nowhere near the road, but when all the evicted settlers started moving their possessions onto the church property a sudden decision was made to just bulldoze down the church building as well. Of course there have been talks that the church should be compensated for what happened; but, as of yet, no money has actually been given to rebuild.

So we sit under a makeshift tin roof, moving benches out of the drips if it starts to rain too heavily during the service, and I try not to sit too close to the edge of the structure; or I end up with a sunburn on one side of my face. 

I didn’t catch every word of the sermon between taking care of kids and concentrating on Pidgin, but I agreed with the opening- life is hard. City life can be especially hard. Sometimes you have enough food, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes your boss pays you on time, sometimes he or she doesn’t. Sitting two benches in front of me sat a family who lives at 14 mile and whose permanent house is currently in danger of being demolished, once again, in the name of development. Already this week, the newspaper reported that 400 people were evicted from their homes in that area. 

Life in PNG is not what I would describe as comfortable. In our own little compound there are frequent fights both outside in the street and even within the corrugated metal walls of the living space we share with around 10 other families. These sudden, often violent, outbursts leave me feeling on edge, the strain of feeling that I constantly have to watch the kids’ every move leaves me saying “no” more then “yes’ to their frequent requests to play outside. 

As the Sunday service wrapped up, the message did end with a word of hope. A reminder that in all of our discomforts Christ is our ultimate comforter, a reminder that trails we go through are opportunities to minister to others. The youth closed the service with the beautifully simple song, “The blessing,” A song that has become quite popular during this recent pandemic. I closed my eyes and just let the simple words really soak into my soul.

The Lord bless you

And keep you

Make His face shine upon you

And be gracious to you

The Lord turn His

Face toward you

And give you peace

Amen

In the midst of my discomfort I did, I did feel the Lord’s gracious face turned toward me. He is so gracious to me. Tears welled in my eyes for a moment as I realized that He does keep us each and every day and while life in PNG may not be the most comfortable it definitely is blessed in many ways and in the midst of it all God does send His peace.  

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Pressing into the Positives

“I would have missed this,” I thought, as I blinked back tears that were creeping into my eyes. He shared how growing up he was more of a street kid hanging out at the local dump. He wasn’t drawn, he said, to smoking, drinking or chewing beetle nut; but he was pulled into destroying property through graffiti. It almost cost him his life when in the early hours of the morning he was caught by a property owner from Wabag who swung a machete at him with full force. Somehow the long knife turned whipping him instead of cutting into his flesh. “Run for your life,” an observer yelled out, and Sammy ran shaken by the experience, which became a wake up call in his life. Sammy shared his testimony at a prayer breakfast we helped organize for him to raise funds to start his training with YWAM. 

One of our goals when we came to PNG was to help be a support for those interested in doing missions. It has been three years now that we have had the privilege of helping organize a missions week at our local church. Last year our friend George, from Wabag, come and shared his testimony. His story and message touched Sammy’s life to the point that Sammy came forward wanting to dedicate his life to missions. He walked to the front from the side since he was part of the music team. George didn’t see anyone coming forward so he started to say a closing prayer. Standing there awkwardly during the closing prayer Sammy felt himself wondering, “Why did I even walk up here?” But, Simon noticed him come up and pointed him out to George who prayed for him. “A man from Wabag nearly took my life,” Sammy shared, “and then a man from Wabag prayed for me.” 

 What a testimony, one of those only God could have arrange something like this, and yet if everything had gone according to my plan I would have missed that moment one of those rare moments of knowing that, yes, God has us here for a reason. He is using our often weak and broken efforts to advance His kingdom.  

Sammy at his commissioning service

Like it has been for many, 2020 has been a year that hasn’t gone as planned. We were supposed to board a plane for the US on May 25th for a very much looked forward to furlough. We were supposed to fly back just in time for my grandma’s birthday and my newest niece’s birth. We were supposed to be there to celebrate my other niece’s 3rd birthday (I only ever got to hold her the day she was born as we were set to fly back to PNG right after that from our furlough three years ago). We had hoped to celebrate my other niece’s 2nd birthday and to finally get to actually give her an in person hug for the first time. None of those things have happened, and I’ll be honest it has really been a struggle “watching” those events take place from afar. 

Due to cancelled flights and the visa process being indefinitely on hold, 2020 is not a year conducive to making plans or ticking goals off the carefully written list. It seems to be a year when everything I had been counting on got striped away and that vulnerable feeling of—how do I even get through this day? Has been popping up more and more. It seems like half of my expat friends here are either suck wanting to travel but can’t and the other half are stuck because they did travel but now can’t return. 

But, in all the stuckness (is that a word?? It should be the new word for 2020) and all the plans that have been turned upside down, God continues to be faithful. He continues to show us that He has a bigger plan then all the plans we try to make. He continues to show us that there are reasons that we are here this year in PNG even though that wasn’t the original plan. One of our goals with the widows we work with is to buy as many of them as possible a small oven and a sewing machine. As covid-19 has slowly hit PNG, masks in public places have become mandatory. So, we have started to teach several of the ladies how to sew facemasks. With part of the profits that have come in from this project (the majority of the profits go directly to the ladies who make the masks), we have been able to save up and now buy three new sewing machines to give to widows who previously did not have one. The first machine we bought we gave to one of the widows who previously had a machine but after her husband died her in-laws took it. Sadly, we have heard of this happening so often to widows here. After their husband dies sometimes in-laws will take back the house where they lived, vehicles, money in a savings account, and even things like rice cookers. There can be so much injustice, which is one of the reasons we first felt called to work with this often vulnerable group. 

So, yes, this year in many, many ways has been so hard, but I choose to press into the positives letting go of plans and seeing what God has planned. It is not an easy exercise letting go, but there is so much good tangled up with the hard, and I am thankful that God sees and He knows. No pain or disappointment is wasted and I rest in that knowledge.

Christina the second widow we were able to buy a sewing machine for.

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Sufficient

There is something about a new baby that takes weakness to a whole new level. At least it does for me. Maybe it is the interrupted sleep or the vast amount of energy that nursing takes. Maybe it is the mental tiredness from trying to remember everything from wipes, blankets, water, snacks, diapers, stroller, extra outfit, and changing mat to finally making it out the door just to realize that your phone is still back at the house where you left it charging. Maybe it is the physical tiredness from lugging all that baby stuff around, or the tiredness of the recovery process from the actual birth. All I know is that it is a good thing babies are so mesmerizingly cute (even at 2 a.m.) because, wow, do they have a way of completely sucking up every ounce of energy that you have and then some.

A month before my sweet girl was born I wrote down my New Year’s resolutions which included- enjoy the new baby stage and enjoy the visit with my parents and brother (who crossed oceans to be with us while we welcomed baby number two). I remember thinking, “this will be the easiest New Year’s resolution ever,” haha! A month after my sweet girl was born I remember sitting at the Highlander Hotel sharing a goodbye meal with my family. Tears filled my eyes (I partially blame postpartum hormones) as I reflected on how I had failed to keep the easiest New Years resolution ever.

Allyson’s birth went so smoothly which, after her older brother’s birth (the story I couldn’t write), was my biggest prayer. Breastfeeding, on the other hand, did not go smoothly at all unlike it had with her brother. Just about every article you read about breastfeeding says the same thing- nursing should not be painful. But, just about every new mom you talk to says the same thing; initially nursing is often quite painful. Maybe her latch wasn’t the best. Maybe she had a tongue-tie. I don’t know. All that I know is that by day three it was painful, really painful. I knew that I wanted to continue because I love the convenience and health benefits of breastfeeding. Especially because, for me, living in a country where keeping bottles sterilized is not the easiest and refrigeration is not always a guarantee; breastfeeding gives me the peace of mind that trying to bottle-feed would not. So press on, I thought, things should normalize soon.

It was awful. I have never been someone that deals well with pain and this was a whole other level of pain. I ended up having repeated mastitis, multiple clogged ducts, two of which turned into abscesses (I did not even know that was a thing). At the worst point, I had to stop feeding my daughter on the side that was giving me so much trouble. One of the clogs was so bad that it broke into an open wound, which took two months to heal. (I won’t get into all the gory details, because it was pretty gory).  During the worst of it I was in a rural village with no hot shower, no close access to medical care and then my husband’s cousin passed away which meant a week long house cry and my husband needed to fly to the city to arrange for his cousin’s body to be flown back to the village for burial.

I was in so much pain I couldn’t even hold or hug my three-year-old because he would accidently bump my sore. I was so weak and tired yet still had late night feedings. During the few days that my husband was travelling, at night I kept telling myself, “just make it until 6 a.m.” At 6 a.m. I would go and stand out on the front porch of our house and hand the baby off to the first person who walked by (usually my brother-in-law or my mother-in-law) and go back to bed for an hour or so until someone brought her back to me to feed her again.

I do not think I have ever felt so weak in my life. I remember telling my husband at one point, while we were in the village, that I felt bad that my sister-in-law was coming by every few days to do all of our laundry (hand washed in the nearby river). His response was, “well, you can’t do it.” True statement. It is not easy being weak. As amazing as it is to have people jump in and help, I think it can be hard especially coming from a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” culture to let go and let people help. But, we need each other! I think that is one of the biggest lessons that weakness has to teach.

2 Corinthians 12:9 often came to my mind when I was praying for all the pain to just go away already. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Sometime God does allow for physical thorns to remain in our flesh. Painful, yes, but not without lessons to teach. Our bootstraps get broken. We are not meant to or able to be everything for our children all the time even when we wish that we could. Sometimes we are flat on our backs barely able to move and that is often when the beauty of community shines through the most.

In the midst of the mastitis struggles, I got a message from a friend asking if we had a wash machine. She later raised funds for us to purchase one and let me tell you after four years of hand washing clothes, when you have a baby in cloth diapers and a toddler who is potty training- a wash machine is an incredible gift. In the midst of the mastitis struggles, my amazing niece took care of my toddler so well that in the middle of the night he woke up calling for her not for me. In the midst of my mastitis struggles, my sister-in-law, who had a similar experience with her first born, prayed for me and we bonded on a whole new level. In the midst of my mastitis struggles and having to walk 45 minutes up a mountain just to get to the main road in order to get a ride into town to then drive on some very bumpy roads to get to a clinic I was reminded again just how needed a clinic is my husband’s village.

As healing has now happened, I come away with lessons learned in weakness- community is precious, we need each other, and there is more work to be done. Perhaps the lesson that sticks with me most is that God is there in the worst of it all. He is sufficient especially when we are at our weakest point. He is sufficient and that is enough.

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Clothed in Purple

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She picked the project, she picked the style and she picked the color—a soft purple. One of my favorite things about helping facilitate the Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship is seeing how the ladies know what they need so much better then I ever could. For the first sewing project, Rachael, knew exactly what she wanted to teach her fellow widows. They needed to make a uniform, she said, a full-length round-necked meri blouse. Complicated, I thought, for a first time sewing project. I probably would have chosen to make a pillowcase or something like that, but okay. As the name suggests, a meri (Pidgin English for woman) blouse is the common item of clothing that women in Papua New Guinea wear. They can be compared to a long peasant blouse, loose fitting and very much expected to be worn especially during childbearing years. (As if a woman didn’t already feel huge during pregnancy why not wear a small tent). At least the meri blouse cuts down on the cost of maternity clothes as one size gets you through to the end. But, I digress.

Uniforms, or matching meir blouses, are common here for conferences, church groups and things of that nature; so it made sense that Rachael wanted this to be the first sewing project for the ladies. As she picked out a bolt of purple cloth, I had to smile. Purple—the color often associated with royalty during Biblical times. Lydia, who is mentioned in Acts 16:14, made her living from selling this special purple cloth.  During Biblical times the dye used to produce the deep, rich purple color came from a marine mollusk called Murex trunculus. It was not an easy process to extract the color as the shells of these mollusks had to be broken in order to access the milky fluid that was used to make this natural reddish purple dye. It is said that it literally took thousands of mollusks to dye a single yard of fabric. The process was so intense that 1½ grams of pure dye is said to have had a value of more then 10 grams of gold. No wonder purple was considered the color of royalty. The average person would not have been able to afford it.

So, purple, the color of royalty a fitting choice for a group of women who are precious in the sight of their king. Seven meri-blouses were completed during the first sewing class thanks to several seamstresses from church who came and helped the ladies with their first project. Several of the widows had never touched a sewing machine before and there was an abundance of laughter and joking as some touched their foot to the machine’s petal for the first time. Some were hesitant to make their uniform because they did not want to spoil the beautiful material in front of them but with future classes confidence grew, and by the third class the ladies had organized themselves into teams of two or three and were sewing the blouses completely on their own.

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Watching those moments of learning, seeing confidence being gained, hearing the laughter and singing that takes place during those classes is sweet music. These ladies truly are walking along side each other, encouraging each other learning and growing together—what richness, what beauty even more beautiful then that royal color purple.

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She is the Reason

One of the main questions we were asked last year when we went back for our first furlough was, “why widows?” I guess people wanted to know if the need to work with widows was really worth traveling half way across the world and allocating resources towards. A fair question, but to be honest, the question and the frequency that it was asked surprised me. I hadn’t prepared an answer for that question because over the last few years I had seen and heard so many stories of injustice, heartache and need that I didn’t question why God had led us to work with widows in Papua New Guinea. So, I often found myself giving weak answers like, “there are many widows due to short life expectancies in PNG especially among men” and “there is a lack of government (and even church) support systems in place for widows,” all true facts but they fail to truly show the full picture of just how difficult life can be for widows here.

We were away in the village when we received news that the husband of one of the members of our support team had passed away suddenly. It was a shock. She is still young and has been apart of our support team these last three years as we launched the Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship that meets monthly in the capital city.

Her husband died unexpectedly in his sleep, and as terrible of an experience as that must have been her story gets more heartbreaking. Not long after her husband’s death, her in-laws came. They took her car (a car she had paid for with her own money) they took the family laptop, they even took her rice cooker and cooking utensils. They left her simply with her clothes and nothing else. And, as if that was not enough, they even managed to change names on her husband’s bank account and empty that as well. They did not manage to take away her physical house because it is a company house, but I know of cases here in PNG (even among some of the widows we work with) were in-laws went as far as to kick the wife out of her home after the husband passed away. Coming from a western context, it is honestly hard to fathom that these types of things happen but they do! Too many widows here find themselves in very vulnerable situations without the proper law or family support to protect them.

When it comes to working with widows, James 1:27 states, ”Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this, to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” So, if you ever need a reason to work with widows, there is a clear one. As a couple, we felt God leading us to work with widows during a prayer trip to Mombasa, Kenya while volunteering with YWAM. Simon had recently graduated from Bible college. I had finished an amazing but hard season of working at a children’s home in Kenya. We had recently gotten engaged and were looking forward to our upcoming wedding. We both knew that we wanted to continue to do mission work as a couple, something we had both been doing individually before we met. But the question was- where and with whom? We didn’t want to just go for the sake of going. We wanted to go with purpose and with God’s guidance and blessing. It was during our time in Mombasa that Simon received news that Yasameng’s son had passed away leaving two young children ages two and four. Yasameng lives in the village where Simon grew up. She lost her husband when her son and daughter were only two and four. Now that sad history was repeating itself again. You can read more of their story here. One of the first projects God put on our hearts was to help finish building a permanent house for Yasameng, her daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. This project is almost finished now. During our time in the village a few months ago, Yasameng shared with me that when she is out working in her garden she often looks up at that nearly completed house, amazed and reminded that even in the midst of hard circumstances, God does care and people all over the world care as well. She said that she is strengthened daily by this knowledge.

That is why we are here in PNG, to simply be a channel of love and support to these precious women and their children. The problems can often seem daunting but when faced together, especially as the body of Christ, there is new strength. As the Psalmist says in Psalm 121 “My help comes from the Lord.” It is our prayer to be apart of that, helping in whatever ways we are able.

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Yasameng standing on the porch of her nearly completed home.

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Beneath the Wrinkles and the Dirt

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 9.01.47 AMI chose peanuts—twisted up, knobby raw peanuts right from the highlands soil, still attached to their stems, with dirt clinging to every crevice of their wrinkled skin. We flew back early for the retreat. The flight went as well as a solo flight with a two-year can go. It had been a long day, well a long week, OK a long five weeks of village living full of the typical emotional highs and lows. But, we made it.

The assignment was for each retreat participant to bring an item that represented where she was in life at that moment maybe spiritually or emotionally—an object to help give the group a snapshot of what you were carrying with you to the retreat. My mind was blank. My thoughts went back to a similar type of icebreaker assignment in college that had seemed so easy. I had my pens to represent my love for writing and my little stuffed elephant made from colorful African cloth to represent my time growing up as a missionary kid. Now, life felt too scattered. Yes, I am a tired mom. Yes, I am carrying burdens and hurts that many missionaries face. Yes, my life is often in transition. What one object comes close to showing all the facets?

I thought about bringing the boarding pass from the latest flight. Oops, already threw that away and took the trash out to the road. When you travel as much as our family does you stop saving boarding passes for scrapbooks. Then I thought—peanuts. Yes, that is me right now—dirty (it takes a few good showers to really get all that village dirt washed off). Raw—emotionally from seeing so many problems spiritually and even physically that I don’t have the strength or knowledge to “fix.” (I got to bandage a bush knife wound this trip and if you know me at all you know that is waaaaaay out of my comfort zone).

I often feel knotted up and tangled like that bunch of peanuts, but peanuts also represent another aspect of “me.” They reflect how the same thing can be so different in so many countries. Peanuts here in Papua New Guinea are often eaten as a snack and usually sold still on their steams tied up in a little tangled bundle of four or five peanut clusters. Sometimes they are lightly roasted in the fire (sill in their shells), but often they are eaten raw.

Where I grew up in Congo, peanuts were also a popular snack; but they were shelled, roasted and salted. I still remember the plies of bright red peanuts sold along the side of the road. They were sold by the can (an empty tomato paste can) and so yummy; still by far my favorite way to eat peanuts.

And, of course, we love our peanuts in the US as well with our staple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and snacking on cleanly shelled and packaged roasted peanuts.

As this past weekend’s retreat came to a close, we were encouraged to reflect back on our found object and see if we saw it in a different light. I was surprised and encouraged to find that I did.

The peanut is a humble legume for sure, but this time I was able to look past the dirt and crack open that protective shell just a bit to consider the heart. It is a versatile and nutritious substance. It takes time and patience to crack the shells and get to the “meat” of the plant, but it is worth it. There is more to the knobby, twisted peanut then first meets the eye and living a sometimes complicated life I relate to that so much. Underneath the dirt, and rawness of reality I do feel so blessed to be here in PNG. Is it challenging? Yes, but it is also a rich experience if you are willing to take the time to crack open the different elements that make up life here.

On a side note, I highly recommend the Velvet Ashes retreat to anyone involved in cross-cultural work: deep, refreshing, honest and challenging. I am coming away from a challenging season emotionally and am blessed to leave the time of retreat soaked in gentle truths and covered in a sense of fresh joy knowing that God does sustain, and He can use each one of us even in humble or desolate seasons.

“Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile.”

-Mark 6:31

If you had to pick an object to represent where you are in life right now what would your object be?

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