Category Archives: PNG

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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A Noble Heritage

Being up at 3am sorting through baby clothes was not my plan for the day. I’d rather be in bed, but baby girl seems to have other ideas for the day; which apparently includes an early morning snack and once I’m up—I’m up But, sitting on the couch surrounded by baby clothes; I have to say I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. Grateful that hopefully (in the next week or so) I’ll get to actually hold this tiny new person who is joining our family. Grateful for all the little outfits, diapers, washcloths, blankets, hair ribbons… such an abundance.

I’ve complained a lot this pregnancy.  I’m seriously huge with swollen elephant feet, frequent heartburn and yeah there is the whole not being able to sleep normally thing (good practice I guess for the coming year). But, goodness, it is so amazing to have so many people from all over the world excited with us as we wait (a bit impatiently) for the arrival of this gift that God has blessed our little family with.

We actually had our little girl’s name picked out before we even got engaged—Allyson. For the longest time I’ve longed to name a little girl Allyson. But, I never knew if that dream would materialize. When we were dating, Simon flew out to visit me in Kenya and during the flight over he told me, after he arrived, that he was thinking if we ever had a girl he wanted her name to be Allyson.

My twin sister, Allison Rebecca, passed away when I was just eight. She was named after Alison Joy Sharpe one of my mom’s classmates who was killed at the age of seven along with her family during the Simba Rebellion, which took place in Congo in the 1950s.

The name Allyson means noble. Her middle name Elise (a variant of Elisabeth) means Consecrated to God. My younger sister’s middle name is Elisabeth, so I love that my little girl will be named after both of my sisters.

Allyson’s life verse is Psalms 16:6 “Fair are the places marked out for me; I have a noble heritage.” This is my prayer for you sweet girl. Even at 3am in the morning. May the paths of life that stretch before you be fair and sweet, full of God’s rich blessings. Your heritage is noble, and your little life is already such a blessing to our family.Allyson Elise

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When God answers “Yes” and it Hurts

It was a year ago today that I was enjoying one of the most thoughtful gifts anyone had ever given me. My aunt paid for me to fly across PNG and paid for my registration fee so that I could attend a Thrive Retreat, an amazing retreat designed to encourage and sustain North American women who work around the globe. I almost did not go. It was my first time spending a night (well three nights) away from my son, but my husband graciously encouraged me to go and the time was incredibly refreshing. I had an amazing roommate who also knew what it was like to live in a remote village. The speakers were challenging, the music uplifting and the small group discussions were especially life giving. Just being with other women who understood the joys and challenges of living and working in a country different from your passport country was beyond incredible. In our small group discussions, we were encouraged to honestly share prayer needs or personal struggles. I remember sharing how hard it had been for me to make friends in the expat community.

During my first year in PNG, after spending a good chunk of time in my husband’s village (where I am the only foreigner) I was so excited to attend a conference which was being held on one of the larger missionary bases in PNG. The conference was over the 4thof July weekend, and I was so excited about the possibility of connecting with some fellow Americans around my same age. As the days drew to a close, I found myself surprised at how hard the expat community, in which you have no connections, can be to break into. In PNG, I find that it is easy to get to know someone new. When someone comes into a room they often take the time to personally shake hands and greet each person there. Then there is the Wantok system where if you are travelling and see someone else from PNG or someone carrying a bilum (a string bag from PNG) often there is an instant connection and friendship simply because you are from the same place. This beautiful idea does not exist among Americans. Without having a previous connection or a mutual friend it is rare for two strangers, even from the same place, to strike up a conversation. I felt this deeply as I stood in line at the grocery store on the mission base. I was surrounded by Doritos and other familiar brand names that I had not seen in months. Two Americans around my age laughed and talked loudly in the line in front of me. Everywhere I looked, I saw people who looked similar to me and a lifestyle that felt familiar. But, even though we shared a common space and accent; no one made the effort to even say a simple, hello. No one bothered to ask me where I was from. I went away from that conference with several new PNG friends, but not a single new expat contact. As I shared a bit of this experience with my new small group friends at the conference, (several of whom lived on the very base I had visited) my group leader commented that often, “it takes a friend to be a friend.” Wise words that reminded me that maybe I needed to be more intentional at pursuing friendships with expats and not just expecting them to magically happen or waiting for someone else to always initiate.

Less then two months later, God answered my prayers for an expat friend in a similar stage of life. My heart longed for someone who understood the joys and pains of raising toddlers, someone with whom I could have a conversation with without worrying so much about saying something culturally inappropriate, a friend to pray with and pray for and a friend to share things with. God graciously allowed me to meet Erin. I first met Erin’s husband at a Bible Study that I love but do not often have the chance to attend. When I heard that their family had two boys one just a bit older then my son and the other just a two months old I got excited about the possibility of meeting someone who could relate to late-night feedings and attempting to have a conversation while managing an active toddler.

We met for the first time at the Bible study Christmas party. My almost two year old had never seen a Christmas tree before. He loved the colored “balls” and with lightening speed managed to throw and break several of the ornaments on the tree in the lobby of where we were meeting before I could get to him. Great first impression, right? But somehow in the midst of sweeping up broken Christmas ornaments and attempting to get toddlers to, “please just eat something.” We managed to exchange numbers and a friendship started to grow.

Now, nearly a year later; I cannot even properly express how much this beautiful friendship has meant to me. Our boys have become best buddies (even though half the time they are fighting with each other). We have laughed together, cried together, prayed for each other and shared so many sweet every day memories. As we’ve celebrated birthdays, enjoyed play dates, and have had many fractured conversations while our boys also bonded; my heart is just so thankful for Erin and what her friendship has meant to me this past year. Erin, and her whole family really, have an incredible gift of hospitality and connecting people. Through her I’ve meet even more incredible friends who have become like family.

And now they are moving. Her husband recently accepted a new job in a different country and, as often happens in the expat community, we got together recently for one more goodbye party. It hurts to see them leaving. Honestly, I’m still probably in a bit of denial about the whole thing; but I know God has great plans for their family as they start this next journey and I’m just so thankful that our paths crossed. We do not know when we will see each other next. Maybe we will have to take a trip to Canada to catch up again if our home assignments ever overlap. But another thing you learn when your life involves a lot of traveling is that friendships, the real ones anyway, continue even over distances of thousands of miles. God brought us together, and I am sure He will allow our paths to cross again in the future.

We have an Irish wall hanging up in our living room that a good friend gave to my husband and me as an engagement present. As people weave in and out of our lives the words serve as a fitting reminder that God goes with us and watches over us wherever our journeys take us.

 

May the road rise to meet you

May the wind be always at your back

May the sun shine warm upon your face

And the rain fall soft upon your fields

And until we meet again

May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.

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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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When it Rains…

“When it rains it pours,” the saying goes. This definitely has been true for us these last several weeks. It started on such a high (yet soggy) note. It rained buckets for days and days and then some more days. Our street flooded, the neighbor’s house flooded, a pair of flip flops I left outside by the door floated away to—I‘m still not sure where, wet laundry hung in the bathroom waiting for the sun to peak out. The outdoor mumu (pig and sweet potatoes roasted in a pit) we had planned to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the widows’ fellowship somehow got underway. Simon pulled our car right up to the front door so we could load all the remaining supplies needed for the celebration into the car without getting utterly drenched.

Trevor was still enjoying his morning nap, so I scooped him up, threw a blanket over his head and off we went. I thought back to the first Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship (WEWF). Trevor was not quite born yet. Now he runs around with the other kids like he owns the place. A lot has changed over the last two years; and as I look back, I am so humbled and thankful that our little family gets to work with such an amazing group of ladies.

The downpour dampened our efforts for an early start. We were an hour late to the venue (still ok by PNG time standards). The ladies had been invited to come help with the baking (if interested), but only Rose managed to brave the rain and come early. So we started: first bread, then muffins, and finally we finished off with some cookies. As we baked we laughed, reminisced and just enjoyed each other’s company.

Rose was one of the first widows we visited when we first came to PNG. After her husband’s death she told us that she had stopped coming to church. She said she felt forgotten when the initial support from people at church slowly faded. Grief—it is just hard and sometimes such a lonely process.

I remember that first visit. I barely spoke any Tok Pisin. We brought a bag of rice and Simon and our good friend from church, Elizabeth, prayed for Rose and her children. Rose’s little guy was just a toddler then. It wasn’t a long visit, but as we baked together Rose brought up again how much that initial visit had meant to her. It ended up being a turning point for her, she said. She started going back to church again realizing that people were there to walk this difficult road with her. She is a faithful attendee of WEWF; and as we celebrated the 2nd Anniversary I couldn’t help but think, “this is why we are here.” It matters. Each lady, each one for their kids matters and getting to walk along side them on their journeys is a privilege.

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Baked Goods for the 2nd Anniversary of the Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship

On the drive home from the celebration, the car started making banging noises—again. Sunday, coming home from church the noises grew even worse. So, back to the mechanic it went. He fixed it only for the car to die again on Wednesday. Now a week and a half later, two new tires, a new fuel pump and a few other things fixed we believe that we’re mobile again. Well, at least for the moment. The reality is that it is an old car and slowly (or not so slowly) dying. We are saving up for a new one, but it is hard to save when money has to continually go towards repairs.

This week brought other hard news. One of the widows we work with was sentenced to three years in jail due to a land issue that took place while her husband was still alive. Her children are now all young adults, but one of her kids has special needs.

Then we received news that one of the ladies who has been a support/encouragement person for WEWF passed away suddenly after a short illness. She and her husband have a young daughter.

Some weeks are just hard. It is hard to know what to say, hard to know how to move forward, hard to know how to be a support and encouragement. But, we do stand together not knowing the future, but knowing and trusting in a God who does. On the hard days I go back to that moment with Rose baking bread in the kitchen. We are here for a reason to stand together, walk together in the midst of broken cars, flooded streets, prison sentences and the painful reality of grief. It is not easy, but it is easier when you face it together.

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Rose with her freshly baked bread

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