Category Archives: Travel

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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Reduced to Fragments

My fingers smelled dusty. An old papers and torn movie tickets kind of dusty. As I sat on the floor of my childhood bedroom sorting through shoes boxes of papers and odds and ends from high school and college days, I came across a yellow sticky note with the words “reduced to fragments” scribbled on it. “That’s how I feel,” I thought to myself—“fragmented.”

Pieces here, pieces there—part of my heart always stays back in the US when we get on that airplane. In the US I have the ability to jump in a car and easily spend time with family and friends I have grown up with, people who know my history; people who have walked with me through the bumpy spots.

I would be lying if I said I did not miss the hot showers and machines that wash your clothes with the push a button. I love the ability to wear jeans without worrying if it will offend someone. I love walking into a store and buying eggs without calculating the exchange rate in my head. Then, of course, there is the luxury of high speed Internet and a million food choices. Maybe it is good for my waistline that our trip has a clear end date.

Now, time in Australia is a buffer as we wind up our furlough and prepare to head back to Papua New Guinea in October. As fragmented as it feels at times, overall; it has been an amazing trip—road trips, new memories, new friends, and new interest in what God has us doing in PNG.

I’m ready now as all these pieces float together to form some sort of fluid picture I am ready to return. As fragmented as this life may seem at times, all the pieces and places are important—each one giving its own flavor and flare.

It’s true life can be reduced to the fragments that make us who we are—culture, family history, experiences and memories. The past is the past. The future has its own stories to offer.

So I am taking this new day, this chapter of the story, and choosing to live in the present—thankful for what each place has to offer. Thankful for this fragmented now.

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Popcorn Man

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We’ve been working on learning letters. “B” and “P” ended up sounding the same, so I tried saying “P” popcorn over and over. I guess my little guy liked the sound of the word popcorn. It made him laugh. As far as I know, he has never had popcorn before in his life. But, it is a fun word to say; and it did the trick of distinguishing the letters “B” and “P”.

When I first meet Bradley, I was told that he was deaf and a little bit mute. He didn’t communicate much at first. He played by himself more then he did with other kids and ran around naked most of the time. Adults tended to put up with his quirky behaviors to a certain extent but would then chase him off to go and play somewhere else.

People simply called him Boss. So much so that it took me awhile to find out his given name. He responded much quicker to Boss then he did to Bradley, and seemed content to go about his day climbing trees and drifting from place to place.

Our hut quickly became his new favorite attraction, thanks to the abundance of fruit that people had given us. Other village kids were shy when it came to interacting with me. Some of them had never seen someone with my skin and hair color before. When sharing our wealth of fruit with the neighbor kids, they would come up shyly and respectfully say thank you, giggle, and then run back to playing. Not Bradley. First thing in the morning he would run up to our hut grab the orange or passion fruit and hang around for more. He became my little shadow tilting his head back and forth and looking up at me with his irresistible little grin. After a while someone would chase him off telling him to go home and put some clothes on. He usually came back wearing an oversize t-shirt and would hang around some more.

Even though people told me he didn’t speak properly I couldn’t tell much of a difference because I only knew a few words in my husband’s local language. I communicated with him like I did with the other kids—mostly smiles and gestures. One day I was rewarded with a big hug from my new little friend.

When our time in the village was coming to an end, Bradley’s parents and grandmother agree to let us take him back with us to the capital city. We hadn’t planned on doing this, but seeing Bradley’s need for some one-on-one attention really tugged at our hearts.

We’re not sure how long Bradley will stay with us. Today marks four months of having him as apart of our little family. To tell the truth it’s been an exhausting, but rewarding experience. Everything was new for him—the plane ride, turning on a light switch, turning on a water faucet, wearing shoes. Communication has been a huge challenge, but Bradley has improved so much. He is not deaf and definitely not mute. As time has passed, he has learned quite a bit of Pidgin English and some English as well. He’s slowly learning to play with the neighbor kids here. “No hitting, no pushing, and no pinching” are still frequently used phrases, but they are slowly starting to sink in. He makes friends wherever he goes (the casher at the grocery store, the security lady at the local nature park). He just runs up and starts interacting with people in his own little way, and his contagious belly laugh over the smallest things usually wins them over.

We’ve almost got the alphabet down. The other day in the grocery store I saw a bag of unpopped popcorn and asked Bradley if he wanted to try it. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” was his response as he shook his hands up and down in excitement. He liked it—the popping sound, the fluffy white popped kernels, but mostly he just liked gobbling it up as most five-year-olds do. I left him unsupervised for less then five minutes and came back to half a container of salt poured into one of the bowls of popped popcorn. Oops, my bad. Note to self, don’t leave the salt anywhere near where he can reach it. But, the popcorn and abundance of salt were mostly salvageable. He’s a handful no denying that. But, even on the extremely overwhelming days when my husband and I ask ourselves, “what were we thinking?!” the reward of seeing him improve each and every day makes it so worth it. I love my little popcorn man.

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Even So… He Sees

We got up before the sun, even though our flight left in the afternoon. An hour hike up the mountain, waiting for a bus that ran on a sporadic/no schedule, a half hour bus ride into town, and then another bus out to the airport left me feeling exhausted long before the plane’s tires   kissed the runway goodbye. I stayed awake for the two complimentary cookies and plastic cup of juice before my eyes closed for the rest of the 45 minute flight.

During our three week stay in my husband’s village, our landlady had sent us a text saying that her house, where we had been renting a room, was currently under foreclosure. “Please send someone to collect your belonging and pick up your car.” So we did, and kind friends allowed us to keep our things in their house until we made it back to the capital city.

We’ve been working with widows in the city of Port Moresby since April seeking to encourage them and help with their physical needs as we are able to, but it’s ironic how often the widows we work with end up helping us. Before we left to visit my husband’s village, one of the widows we had recently connected with offered to let us stay in one of her rental properties. A god-sent, as it turned out, since apparently our current housing accommodations were no longer an option.

We arrived from the airport to our new home which had been furnished with new sheets, pillows, dishes, some cooking pots, and even a warm meal of chicken and chips (French fries) from Big Rooster (Papua New Guinea’s version of KFC). After an overly steady diet of sweat potatoes that meal tasted heavenly.

I recently finished reading, “The God Who Sees You” by Tammy Maltby. I didn’t even know I owned the book. My husband must have downloaded it on to the kindle during the days when we had high speed Internet and downloading free kindle books was a fun rainy day activity (those were the days…) I never cry when I’m happy or when something really just touches me. Ask my sister. One of my favorite activities is making her cry during those happy/sweet movie endings that bring softer souls to tears. Not me. I’m a die hard dry eye, but this book literally made me weep in spots (I blame pregnancy hormones of course).

Taken from the story of Hagar in Genesis chapter 16, the idea behind the book “The God Who Sees You” comes from Hagar’s encounter with the angel of the Lord in the desert after she ran away from her abusive mistress Sarai. The angel meets her in the dessert, acknowledges her pain, promises that the baby she is carrying will become the father of a great nation, and encourages her to return to her mistress. In response, Hagar refers to God as the God who sees saying, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Genesis 16:13 ESV). From then on the well where she encountered God was called Beer-lahai-roi which translates—the well of the Living One who sees me.

It’s interesting to note that God did not remove Hagar’s difficult circumstances, in fact He told Hagar to return to her far from ideal life, but He promised hope. First, he showed her that her circumstances had not gone unnoticed; and secondly He promised that good would come to her life. Her descendants would be so numerous that they would be uncountable. Not a smooth ride, her future. It required returning to a hard situation, but now it was a situation with purpose and promise in the midst of difficulty.

Sometimes all we want is the smooth ride, the easy “blessed” life, but, God, He wants more for us. He wants to write a story in our lives. He wants to build a nation and our little troubles are just a part of the bigger picture designed to bring Him glory. But, that doesn’t mean that He doesn’t see us in our struggles, from little things like exhaustion to bigger things like abuse and sickness. He sees us. He knows us. He carries us through often using small gestures like a meal of chicken and chips as a reminder that He’s got us. We did not know that the house where we had been staying would be taken over by the bank while we were away, but He did; and He already had a perfect solution in place through one of the very ladies who He had sent us to this country to help. It’s mind blowing sometimes to take a step back and look at all those “little” things. They aren’t little of course. They are big reminders in an often unstable world that He is God, and He is the God who Sees.

So lovely to finally have a home to hang up this precious engagement gift. It has traveled from Northern Ireland to Kenya then to the US and Australia. Now it is finally out of its box and on display in Papua New Guinea. It is hand painted and made from slate from Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland the place where my husband and I first started to get to know each other.

So lovely to finally have a home to hang up this precious engagement gift. It has traveled from Northern Ireland to Kenya then to the US and Australia. Now it is finally out of its box and on display in Papua New Guinea. It is hand painted and made from slate from Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland the place where my husband and I first started to get to know each other.

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Building a Home and a Future

 

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Their hut is like most of the traditional homes in this mountainous area of Papua New Guinea. The sides of the house are a beautiful weave of bamboo mat and the roof is made from stiff, dried grass. It’s a beautiful home, but a temporary one as the walls and roof deteriorate over time. Dishes are washed outside and set out to dry on a platform made from sticks then covered with fresh banana leaves. The shower hole is literally that. A ditch off to the side of the house has been dug and the water dammed off so that a small stream and a jug provide a place for washing.

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Off to the right side of the house, there is a shelter covering neatly stacked boards. Further away, to the left of the hut, the ground has been cleared and posts are cemented in place providing evidence of the beginning construction of a more permanent home. But, apart from the gathered building materials and the cemented posts, nothing more has been done on the house.

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Solomon was three when his father passed away. His sister Naomi was just one. Now they are both a year older and their mother, Ai, wonders what they will do when their village hut begins falling apart. “My current concern,” Ai shared regarding her husband Alfred Doa’s death, “is having the boards how will I as a widow manage to build the house? That troubles me. When the village hut falls apart there is nobody to build. It would have been better if he had built the modern house before his passing.”

Ai and her children live with her mother- in-law, Yasameng, who is also a widow. Her husband passed away when her two children, Alfred and Esther, were very young. The same age as her grandchildren are now. Yasameng remained in her husband’s village not remarrying, but instead she focused on raising her young children. She vividly remembers her thoughts as she sought to raise her children on her own. “Where can we draw strength and support to live life without their dad and my husband?” She remembers thinking. “I thought a lot about what the future would entail.”

Yasameng was invited to join a prayer group and through this group she received the strength and encouragement she needed to face the daily struggle of raising her children as a widow. As they grew, both children were able to finish primary school, although neither had the opportunity to attend high school. Both Alfred and Esther married. Alfred Doa and Ai were married for five years before he passed away a year and a half ago.

“Since Doa’s passing I have again been concerned about my grandchildren,” Yasameng shared, “and also concerned about the project of the house he left uncompleted. Since I’m loosing my strength and advancing in age how will I be able to see these two grandchildren grow up? Who will be able to help support and raise these children?” she asks. “The uncompleted house, with some building materials left behind, is a big concern to me. How will I be able to get the remaining building materials to build the house for my grandchildren?”

In spite of these challenges, Yasameng continues to look to God for strength. “I have come to know that life with God is a huge strength for us,” she shared. “We believe that the Lord will be able to sustain us in life in the midst of all these concerns and worries that we have. However, the practical needs that we have in front of us include raising my grandchildren and gathering the building materials to complete the house- practical needs which still concern me.”

“The building materials are there and I keep looking at them with my eyes,” Yasameng said, “but I can’t do much. If Solomon and Naomi had happened to have been in primary school when their father passed away, it would be a different story, but that wasn’t the case. So much concerns me as a grandmother,” she confessed. “They are still young and I am gradually loosing strength.”

Ai continues to hold on to the dreams that she has for her children. Solomon recently started preschool, and she wants Naomi to receive a good education as well. “My biggest dream is for Solomon to complete his education,” she shared. “And then find a job which can take care of him and his sister. However, in order for him to accomplish such a desire, there is the financial need of his education.” This need continues to concern his mother. “I don’t want him to experience the same thing that happened to his grandfather and his dad. My dream is to help raise the kids so that they can grow up to be a man and a woman who live a healthy and decent life.”

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My husband and I are working to help these two ladies as they seek to raise their children. One practical way we want to help is to finish building their house. We would also love to see Solomon and Naomi complete school. If you feel lead to help this family by sponsoring one of the children’s education or by helping them to finish building their house, please contact us at siruthpotinu@ gmail.com for more information or click here to donate as well.

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The Unexpected

“Keep an open mind and ‘expect the unexpected,’” my brother-in-law phoned to tell me the night before we flew out. I’d heard this motto before. Papua New Guinea is nicknamed The Land of the Unexpected, and it’s a fitting phrase for such a diverse nation.

Even though I’d heard so much about my husband’s home country I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I’ve spent a lot of time in Congo and Kenya and was familiar to an extent with their language and cultures, but this was new territory on the complete opposite side of the world from the places familiar to me.

As our short flight from Brisbane glided toward the island’s coast, I was amazed to see so much green and so many mountains jutting, it seemed, right from the ocean’s coast. We landed and entered an airport that was clearly under construction. In fact the whole city seems to be under construction. With the South Pacific games set to be held in Port Morseby, there are construction projects happening all over this costal town. As we have driven by the several unfinished stadiums several comments have been made as to whether all the project will be finished on time, but no one seems too worried.

A giant television screen in front of what will be the main stadium counts down the days, hours, and seconds until the opening ceremony on July 4th. Billboards around town proudly announce that Port Morseby is “games ready.” There’s an atmosphere of expectancy mingled with a touch of uncertainty, but it’s clear that Morseby is a growing town egger for growth and opportunity.

There has been so much growth in this city that one of the city’s biggest problems is housing. Even for a small place, rent is high. Some people live in what are called settlements—crowed, make-sift communities known for higher crime rates. Thankfully, through one of my husband’s friends, we were able to rent out a spare bedroom in someone’s house for the price that I used to paid in the US for a two bedroom apartment. But, it’s in a safe area and our little space has a beautiful view looking out over the sea.

I must admit things haven’t always gone as expected. I was hoping for our own place—a place to finally unpack our five suitcase. I was hoping to finally have our own kitchen and bathroom something we haven’t had in our almost six months of marriage. I was hoping to set up a warm environment where we could have people stop by and just chat over a cup of tea. Maybe that will come someday.

For now I’m learning to be thankful—thankful for the friendliness of people I just met allowing us to stay in their home. I’m thankful for a safe place to live, and I’m thankful for an unexpected beautiful ocean view.

For now those other dreams will have to wait. It seems like there is still some more living out of a suitcase time that needs to happen in the mean time.

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From the Other Side of the World

0956603-R3-E037 The last several weeks have been a blur—traveling to incredible new places all over Australia while silently wishing I could be on the other side of the world attending my Grandpa Pontier’s funeral. And yet, I’ve felt so wonderfully full making new memories and meeting new friends that it’s hard to even process everything. My childhood dream of seeing a koala came true, and as I stood gazing up at the furry gray ball sleeping away in a gum tree I couldn’t help but smile at the richness of it all. Life- it’s but a moment. I tried several times to blog about my grandpa after hearing that Alzheimer’s had taken its toll on his life, but words eluded me. It didn’t quite seem real until I saw the pictures posted of my mom receiving the flag that had draped his coffin. When I saw my Grandpa last he seemed frustrated. Ready to go home as he put it. Lonely for his wife, whom he had loved so faithfully, and ready to meet his Savior. He’s home now. Knowing how much he longed for that I’ve found it hard to be sad. He was a strong man, principled and very much in love with his birthplace, Congo. Even when Alzheimer’s set in and he would tell the same stories over and over, I still loved to hear his stories. There was the story about when he shot an elephant with a single shot, stories of frog hunting with his best friend, stories about his time in the US army, and stories of how a tall Texas gal had captured his heart. During my time in Kenya I saw a classroom building and house that he had built years before I was born. I smiled when I saw his work knowing that his labor as an engineer and builder was still being enjoyed not just in Kenya but in other parts of the world as well. I’m thankful for his legacy and thankful that I inherited his red hair as well as his love for Africa. I’m grateful to call such an amazing man my grandpa with all of his accomplishments and even with his flaws I loved him dearly. He taught me about faithfulness, and about the beauty of holding your partner’s hand no matter how old you grow. He taught me about the art of telling a good story, and he taught me to appreciating a country that is different from the one your passport reflects. I’m thankful for the life that he lived and even from thousands of miles away I was there in my thoughts as he was laid to rest—happy and finally home. IMG_5677

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