Category Archives: PNG

Dengue Fever, Covid-19 and a Stranded Husband

Psalm 71

As I emerged from the fog of Dengue fever feeling much more myself but still tired, the rest of the world began bracing for the rapid spread of Covid-19. It feels strange to have PNG in a semi-normal state while other (more stable countries) are far from normal at the moment.

Like many parts of the world, PNG is currently under a state of emergency. But, honestly it has just been so quiet. I’m actually impressed with the country’s response as a whole. When the first case was confirmed, a two week lockdown period was put into place which included: no incoming international flights, no domestic flights, no gatherings of over 100 people, no buses running and no traveling from province to province without a permit. The two-week school holiday was moved up and many people stayed home from work. Large markets closed (or were very scaled back) and people were encouraged to stay home as much as possible while health workers did testing. A second case has now been confirmed, so that province (not the one where we live) continues to be in lockdown; but the rest of the country, while still under SOE, is no longer under lockdown. All that could change again as the days unfold and circumstances change quickly, but for now life has been simplified and is mostly just quiet.

Since PNG has had a chance to see what has worked and not worked in other counties affected by the virus it is encouraging to see the government take things serious from the get go and now easing things up a bit. Here in PNG there has not been so much of the mass panic buying that seems to be happening in other places; and, for the moment at lest, things are semi-normal.

Unfortunately, Simon was stuck up in Hagen as he had just traveled to the village a week before the ban on domestic flights was put into place. So the kids and I were in the capital city with prayers that he would be able to come home if the lockdown on domestic flights was lifted. Every day Trevor would take a ring off of his little count down chain and count the days until Daddy was coming back. I’ll admit it was not the easiest thing to be in the midst of lockdown while Simon was away. But, if there is one thing that I have learned during this time it is that God is so very faithful; and the active body of Christ is beyond beautiful. It is not until you are put in a situation where things are not going as planned that faith is really tested.

Times that shake your routine to such a level as they have been shaken over the last month often force you to take a step back and ask- what am I really leaning on right now for strength? Am I leaning more on my husband, my color-coded weekly schedule, my carefully crafted count down chain then I am on God? The collective world is learning a lot of lessons these days and one of the biggest lessons is that things change, and we are not in as much control as we think we are. Circumstances can change quickly and even the best planning can let you down in an instant. I’m very much a planner. I love when things follow the mapped out route that I have in my head, and I often stress when they don’t. Parenting has shown me that many, many things are actually out of my control; and it is a daily struggle for me to let that go of that control. When pandemics happen it becomes even clearer that we are not promised a stable future. We just have today. As Christ followers, we are told to pray for our daily bread and; we are promised peace because the God we serve is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

If we believe those promises-not just recite them but believe them, then it is wrong to continually live in fear and give into the mental “what ifs”. Now is the time more then ever to trust- trust the God who sees the future. Trust the God who knows the past. Trust the God who sees you in your struggles and promises to walk with you and provide for you as long as you seek His kingdom and His righteousness. Mathew 6:33 just happened to be my son Trevor’s memory verse last week. Now is a good time for each of us to be asking are we truly seeking first God’s kingdom? If so then we should not worry about tomorrow. If not, how can we adjust our lifestyles to do so?

While down with Dengue, I read these verses from Psalm 71:20-21, “You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth. You will restore me to even greater honor and comfort me once again.” We are not promised an easy life. In fact, sometimes it is in the most difficult days that God draws us closest to Himself, so let us not run from the suffering but rest in the one who promises comfort and restoration.

If there is one lesson I have learned from having Dengue fever, this Covid-19 lockdown and having Simon stranded in Hagen it is that we need each other. It is not easy asking for or accepting help, but we must do so. Allowing the body of Christ to minister to you and being the hands and feet of Christ to those around you is what can lift the burden of all of this heaviness. I could tell you so many stories of how people have blessed me beyond belief over the last month- emails of encouragement, a friend taking my busy preschooler for the morning so that I could really rest. The day before our city went into lockdown a friend asked me to send her my grocery list so she could pick up some things for me at the store. I responded that I really needed to go myself so that I could get out some cash (I literally had 20 Kina around $6 cash in the house, but she didn’t know that). She responded by saying that she had actually already taken some cash out for me last night. I about cried. The amount she ended up giving was more then I had planned to take out, so I was later able to bless several other people who have been financially affected by this lockdown.

We need each other. We need to be ok with people helping us, and we need to look for ways to bless those in our circle whom we can and feel led to bless. We need to trust God who sees our every need over trusting the government, family, or even our job. God is a loving God who abundantly cares for His children. There is no need to fear the future. He cares about even the smallest details. Halfway through our lockdown weeks, a couple from church stopped by the house with a boxed filled with snacks, rice, chicken and some veggies. Trevor loves his snacks so it was yet another reminder of God’s faithfulness. Another friend messaged that she had some food to share with us from a friend who had recently left the country leaving behind a fully stocked pantry. We pick up two huge bags of food from her and swung by the store for a few essentials while we were out. While shopping, Trevor wanted to add honey to the shopping cart. I told him not today. When we got home and unpacked the bags of food we had just been given there was a full, unopened jar of honey inside. Even though my husband was stuck in the village, my amazing friend Erica was not working during the two weeks of lockdown so she stayed with us and kept our little family sane. Thankfully, domestic flights started running again; and Simon was able to make it home last Tuesday.

I just wanted to share these few stories with all of you lovely people. I’m sure many of you have stories as well from this time of lockdowns, quarantines and just general uncertainty. I could share many, many more. God is so faithful- so very, very faithful; and it is during times of trouble that His faithfulness is often the most evident. May we each be a light in our little circles of influence today accepting help from those around us and offering help when and where we can do so.

 

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The Christmas New Year Lull

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I had to check the calendar. “What day is it?” Tuesday, Sunday I’m not really sure. Somehow the six days between Christmas and New Years feel like a strange time warp, a bit of a prolonged blur. But, I actually really appreciate those days because I’ve come to see them as a chance to slowly pack up the Christmas decorations, reflect on the past year and think ahead to the new one just around the corner. Do years have corners?

I managed to give out a few Christmas cards to friends on Boxing Day (see how organized I am). I got the salt dough Christmas ornaments, that my friend gave me, decorated during that six-day lull. It took a couple days to finish them, and we did markers instead of paint because I didn’t feel up to cleaning up a paint mess. My 3 year old colored one, and I made a cute one for our daughter’s first Christmas. With the final two, I used them to reflect back on 2019 and look forward to 2020.

I find that years often have a theme or a word that keeps popping up. I noticed this particularly in 2013 after getting through a particularly rough year (See To Butterflies, 2013, and New Beginningsthat was tainted with the sudden death of a close friend and a car accident just before Christmas that landed my grandma in the hospital with a broken hip and eventually cost her life. I felt completely stuck running a newspaper in a small town that I had opened not because I had wanted to do it but because other people had wanted me to do it. I battled some serious depression that year until I finally decided to stop living other people’s dreams for me and to go out and live the dreams God had tucked deep into my heart. 2013 was a beautiful year. I moved to the amazing city of Saint Louis, worked as a nanny, travelled, met the man who would later become my husband, and got the privilege of parenting 19 beautiful kids in Kenya. After one of the hardest years of my life, it was one of the best. Through out that year butterflies (a symbol of freedom and new beginnings) kept popping up. Sometimes it was a butterfly sticker on an envelope. Once it was the mom of the little boy I nannied for buying a butterfly shaped cookie for me as a way of thanking me for giving her the peace of mind that her little guy was in good hands while she took a few days a week to pursue her dream of opening a coffee shop. Those butterflies that popped up were always little unexpected reminders of God’s love throughout the year.

This year it was during a retreat in April that the word Healed was impressed on my mind as the word for 2019. At first, I thought it referred solely to physical healing. At the time I was in the midst of recovering from a painful wound that had resulted from an abscess steaming from mastitis that had burst and took several months to heal. Then, mid way through the year, I got a deep cut on the back of my ankle that at first seemed to be healing but then became very infected and took months to heal. Both those wounds have healed now although the scares remain. As they healed, God has used a variety of things throughout the year to show me that He longs to bring emotional healing not just physical healing. I struggle with anger, people pleasing, a constant fear of losing those closest to me. I struggle with feelings of bitterness and feeling unseen as I pour many hours into taking care of two little people who seem to constantly need me when emotionally I just want some space. This past year God has shown me my emotional wounds of anxiety, insecurity, and rejection; and as we have journeyed together this year the healing process has begun. There are still scars, but God has shown me that for anxiety- perfect love casts out fear. I no longer have to live in that place of fear but can settle my heart in a secure love. For anger rooted in the chains of legalism, insecurity and feelings of never being enough- God has shown me the beauty of living under grace and I pray as I continue to grow in this area, I can pass that lifestyle of grace on to my children. For feelings of being unseen- God has shown me that He sees me even when no one else does and that I need to let go of unnecessary burdens and duty and just sit at His feet.

So Healed is the word I wrote on the salt dough ornament surrounded by some PNG inspired designs that almost hide the word. Healing is such a slow, intimate, messy but needed process. What is the word for 2020? I asked, and the word JOY came. Joy? I was a bit skeptical. I tend to be a more of a glass empty type person, a realist I guess. But, yes, I would love for my life to reflect more joy. So that is the word I wrote on the last salt dough ornament and hung it on a push pin tacked to the shelf in my room. This coming year I choose to look for Joy. I read Psalms 43 after the impression of the word joy came verses 2-4 resonated with this search for a joy filled life. “Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies? Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me. Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live. There I will go to the altar of God, to God- the source of all my joy.”

I got a message from my sister on Sunday. My aunt, who recently had a stroke, was taken to the hospital with water in her lungs and heart. “How I thought, in that moment, “is this going to be a year of joy?” It is so hard at times being on the other side of the world when difficult things are happening in your family over on the other side of the world. But joy does not mean a year without trials. I have the verse from James 1:2 on my wall- “consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

So JOY- joy in trails, joy from the one true source of joy, joy in each day of 2020. May 2020 be a year of joy for you as well.

Do you have a word going into 2020 or a word from 2019?

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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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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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Mayonnaise Jar of Joy

I struggle with the stillness, the slowness, the days without appointments and weeks without a clear plan; but that is the season now. I struggle, and yet when I finally make peace with the situation I find that sometimes these “slow times” are the richest.

Just as the seasons in the US and PNG are opposite, (yes, it’s super hot here at the moment) the busy times seem opposite as well. I’m used to December being packed with activity, and here in PNG the tendency (at least in the city) is for everything to close up allowing those who are able to travel back to their villages during the holidays. Plane ticket prices are high, vacation time gets used, even kid’s programs and Sunday schools often stop for a good two months. By February, things slowly start to pick back up.

So that is where I have found myself these last few months, in that lull. We had a delightful close up program with the Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship in November and are set to reconvene at the end of this month. We had a quiet Christmas and an even quieter New Year (I’m a tired mom and went to bed at 11pm because it just is not worth losing that extra hour of sleep when every hour is beyond precious).

This month has had some good family time, but sometimes I find myself getting a touch of cabin fever. Partly, it is the reality of the toddler stage when going out is hard (he might miss that all important nap) but staying in is hard too (he is climbing the furniture again and “wheels on the bus” is starting to get permanently cemented in my brain). I guess that is why I cling to the idea of a full schedule. Survive today, tomorrow we are going out. I’m just done.

I’m done just surviving till bedtime. My resolution for 2018 is finding joy in the small moments—because small moments are big part of life right now: ice cream cones, paper airplanes, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

I’m learning that joy really is a choice and it often takes effort. I’ve started writing down a memory or “joy” from the day and sticking it in a jar (currently an empty mayonnaise jar that I hope to get around to painting before 2019). What I’ve found is that stopping through out the day to savor those little joys calms me when I start to feel overwhelmed. It reminds me to laugh, and so far (even on the slow days) I’ve written down at least two “joys” because I can never seem to pick just one.

During these quieter days I’ve been going through photos getting a slideshow together to help celebrate the 2nd Anniversary of the Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship. I have been bombarded by simply joys. I love that the ladies bring their kids and, even sometimes grandkids, to the monthly fellowship. Right outside the door there is always a pile of flip-flops and sandals of every sizes. That sight never fails to bring a smile to my heart. Yes, these ladies and their children often have difficult lives, but they keep on living. We eat together; laugh together, sing together.

Last month we were able to attend the graduation of one of our widow’s daughters (a young, single mom) who wanted to do more with her life. We were able to partially sponsor her school fees at a local vocational college, and her family chipped in the rest. The hope and joy on her face that graduation day is one of those moments that stays with you. If it wasn’t for these quieter days I guess I wouldn’t have the chance to truly reflect on those moments and just how beautiful they are.

It isn’t an easy life. At times hearing so many hard stories, wishing you could do more, feeling tied down during this toddler stage is just hard, but those little moments matter. Anytime you enter into someone else’s life it can get messy, but it matters. We are one body, here for each other. It is often a slow process, but I’m learning to hang in there because there is so much joy woven into each day.

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Enjoying some simple joys with Trevor’s cousins visiting from the village

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