Tag Archives: culture

Don’t Live a Dead Faith

There is a custom in my husband’s tribe when it comes to nicknames. If you share, say an orange, with a friend from that moment on instead of calling that friend by his or her given name you can agree to call each other “Orange”. The tradition can go even further. You can agree that if one of you forgets and uses the person’s name instead of the new nickname the person who forgets then has to buy the other person say a coke or whatever is agreed upon.

So when you hear someone called “peanut” or “carrot” you know that at one point, usually early on in the friendship, they shared that particular food. The little guy we have been taking care of for the last several months calls one of our neighbors “Lolly” the name of a favored gum because when we first moved in she shared a lolly with him.

I had been in Papua New Guinea less than two weeks when my brother-in-law organized a welcome gathering for me. My husband’s tribe is about an hour flight from the capital city where we were, but a lot of tribesmen and their families live in the city and many turned up to the gathering to officially welcome me to the Kukilka tribe. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever been apart of. As we ate chicken, caucau (sweet potatoes) kumu (greens), and bananas, several people got up and gave speeches thanking me for joining their tribe and expressing their gratitude that I was willing to leave my family and country and join them by choosing to live in Papua New Guinea.

I first met Alex that night. He broke a cooking banana (called a Kenga) in half and shared it with me. Now we call each other Kenga. Alex is a taxi driver. He and his wife have two children a girl who is in seventh grade and a little boy who is five. Alex’s brother recently died of a heart attack, and earlier this year tests showed that Alex has a blocked coronary artery putting him in danger of this same fate unless something is done soon.

In the past, this life giving procedure was not available in Papua New Guinea. Those who could afford it flew to another country to have the surgery done which of course costs an enormous amount of money. Now the hospital here in the city is able to perform the operation. At the end of this month several doctors from Australia are traveling to Papua New Guinea specifically to help people with this condition. Alex is now on the list to see these doctors when they come and hopefully get the treatment that he needs. The trouble is that, as a taxi driver, Alex doesn’t have the 45,000 PNG Kina (around 15,000 US dollars) needed for the operation and hospital stay.

My husband put together a committee to help Alex raise the needed funds. So far the committee/community has raised about one ninth of what is needed. One thing that we seek to do as missionaries here in PNG is to help people rethink certain mindsets and behaviors. Helping Alex is one practical way of doing just that. My husband doesn’t want to see people just contributing to someone’s funeral after they have left this earth, but to take action and take care of their families and tribesmen while they are still with us. Change can happen. Lives can be saved, but it takes action not just talking. It takes people being willing to “put their money where their mouth is.” Like the Biblical book of James says, “faith without works is dead.” We don’t want to live a dead faith. We serve a living God. A God of action and as children of God we need to be active as well. Not just praying about things but doing what we can to actually bring change.

There are just two more weeks left to raise the needed amount for this operation, but I’m excited to see how God will work through His people to bring in what is needed. If you would like to contribute to this need. You can do so online by clinking here. Any amount is appreciated. It’s a big need and a daunting goal at times especially with the time limit, but God has a way of working through His people in a big way. He has already started to do this, and I am excited to see how He continues to work. It’s a story. His story and our story. It’s excited to be apart of change and to be able to see a man given a second chance at life.

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Humbled by Love

My ten-year-old nephew just stopped by our little grass hut, “I want to kill a kakaruk (chicken) for you.” The meal was in need of some rice, so I dragged the 10 kg bag of rice over to the door and scooped three mug fulls into his tin pot. I guess it’s chicken for lunch today.

Since coming to my husband’s village in PNG nearly a week ago, I haven’t cooked a single meal. People stop by the house daily to drop off fresh fruit and vegetables and sometimes even eggs and scones (bread rolls). We ventured into town a few days ago and while shopping I loaded about a week’s worth of boxed chocolate milk into our shopping cart. Life without electricity makes it hard to have a fridge, so I figured that the shelf milk would be a nice way to get some calcium since these boxes don’t need refrigeration. A couple people must have noticed my love for chocolate milk and for the last two days two different family members have dropped by the house to add more boxes of chocolate milk to my growing collection.

It’s so humbling to be shown love in such practical ways. I’m the first foreigner from my husband’s tribe in Papua New Guinea to marry someone from their tribe and then come to live in their village. To be honest, everyone’s kind reception has been so overwhelmingly loving. A generous crowd met us at the airport hugging us and crying with joy. We then piled into two buses which took us from the airport into town. In town, we caught another couple of buses which took us as close to the village as the roads allowed. From the end of the road we walked. As we got closer to the village, first the kids appeared yelling their welcome and running to greet us.

Further up the road we meet the mothers and some of the elderly men of the village. Even though rain was starting to fall, they stood on the road waiting to greet us. Only one little girl started to scream when she saw me. She had never seen a white person before, and I guess the experience left her a bit frightened.

Coming down the main hill to the village the light rain turned the mountain path into a bit of a slip and slide. When I started to slip, two people grabbed my hands and helped me make it down the mountain in one piece. It’s humbling to feel so helpless needing basic assistance for something as simple as walking down the road, but it’s so beautiful to see such kind demonstrations of love. Yesterday, when we were out on that same road two of the guys had taken the time to cut steps all the way up the slippery part of the path so that I could walk up and down the hill without any problems. It’s hard to even find words to express my gratitude except to say that I’m so humbled by everyone’s love.

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Once we made it down the path and through the welcoming arms of everyone who came out to say hello I was shown to our new house—a beautiful two bedroom grass hut complete with passion fruit and oranges hanging from the ceiling as a welcome gift. Again, I was blown away. We had told everyone that we were fine staying with my husband’s mom until we had a chance to build our own house, but my husband’s brothers decided that we needed our own place to live in until we have time to build something more permanent. Again, I was blown away—such love. I am humbled and grateful to have been given so much especially by people who, according to the world’s economic standards, have so little. What love.

Our beautiful little hut

Our beautiful little hut

What a welcome

What a welcome

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Cultural Conundrums

How do you do it? I mean really? How do you live the day to day in a culture different from your own without losing your sense of self? I can eat ugali with my hands, brush my teeth outside, wash my laundry in a bucket, but those are methods of daily survival. How do you move past mere survival to actual relationships? How do you develop friendships when culturally people are open with their lives, but can be very private with their thoughts and feelings?

“Just tell me what you’re thinking,” I want to mentally cry. “Does 2pm actually mean be there by 2 or does it mean I’ll be sitting by myself for half an hour before anyone else ambles in? Can I ask questions about your life or is that seen as intrusive?” I’m not trying to be intrusive. I just want to know who you are? I want to be your friend past surface conversations about food and weather.

Then I realize that’s not how it works. You don’t ask questions without first building trust. Information can be seen as a form of power. What you know about someone has the potential to be used as a tool to hurt or shame them. So the focus is not as much about how individuals feel or think, as it is about how a group functions and how it works within the fabric of tradition. The reputation of the group as a whole is what is important. Individual lives fall within that carefully built structure.

The last several months of coming back to live in Kenya have reminded me just how much culture affects relationships. Living within a mix of cultures can teach so much, but those lessons can be painful at times as cultural misunderstandings leave one or both people with hurt feelings or a sense of frustration.

I’m from a “cold” culture as defined in the book “From Foreign to Familiar” by Sarah Lanier. Cold cultures (so named because they are usually found in cold regions like Canada, the northern states of the US, the UK and many European countries) value individualism, punctuality, and personal expression. I’ve also spent a lot of time in “hot” culture countries spending formative childhood years in the Democratic Republic of Congo and now living parts of the last year and a half in Kenya.

People from hot culture countries tend to focus on the group over the individual, are more event focused then time focused, and place a high value on community. Life often has more of a laid back feel and communication is frequently done indirectly so as to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or causing embarrassment. In hot climates there is much more of a communal sense of belongings so what you have is usually shared with the group.

From a theoretical perspective I love and appreciate both hot and cold cultures. But on a more practical level, it can be difficult living within a mix of the two. I want to share my belongings with the group but get frustrated when a DVD comes back scratched. I want to live a more laid back lifestyle but also find myself feeling anxious when not much was accomplished during the course of the day. Finding that elusive middle ground is a constant challenge.

I’ve been learning lately that it takes time—time to build trust, time to establish a reputation, time to understand yourself and why you think the way you do so that you can understand someone from another culture better. But, the breakthroughs do happen. Often when you least expect. As a westerner, I’m learning that I sometimes need to throw out my schedule so that when those times do come, when that trust has finally been built, I can cultivate the moment instead of rushing off and missing it completely. Like last week when my roommate asked me about my family for the first time. The week before she had briefly told me about hers opening the door for future conversations. Now a second opportunity surfaced.

I was able to linger in the moment while we chatted. She was sewing a skirt so I sat down on the floor and painted my nails in order to continue the conversation without standing there awkwardly. As we talked one of our neighbors walked in, and I ended up painting her nails as well. While the nail polish dried we watched a movie. Unplanned, unscheduled but slowly friendships were forming.

I’ve found that it may take weeks even months sometimes but relationships do happen if you stay flexible and are willing to adjust your own ways of thinking. People are more important then DVDs. I’ve had to learned in this communal context that building relationships often involves some scratches. I’m learning to be ok with that. I’m learning to wait and to enjoy the differences. I’m learning that my way of approaching life isn’t always right. I’m constantly learning to be flexible, but the payoff is beautiful as slowly genuine friendships start to form.

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Stillness of the Soul

Two three day weekends (thanks to a UK holiday followed by a US holiday) and a delay in the lovely process of bureaucracy has resulted in me landing in Kenya three days ago while my fiancé waits in London for his passport to be returned. The good news is that the visa was approved, but the visa process and waiting for the passport to be available for collection has been a bit of a patience game.

So, plans to jump right into ministry have been delayed; and instead I’m enjoying the hospitality of friends who run a children’s home near Nairobi while I wait. I must admit that the American side of me finds having no schedule, no job, and no responsibilities a bit disconcerting. I’m in limbo, unable to plan, unable to fill my day with things that keep me from having to stop and honesty look at my life.

Sometimes the stillness scares me.

It’s ok for a day or two. I’ve repacked my luggage twice, spent time playing with some of the kids, and have even been able to get some wedding planning done. But, as everyone else has schedules and responsibilities; I currently have none so I spend the majority of my day alone.

Today I read Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart. Eighty-four pages of pure wisdom. I felt convicted, encouraged, challenged, and feed all at the same time. This slim book somehow manages to unwrap the purpose of solitude in such a simple, beautiful way that it’s hard as a reader not to be changed by its profound counter-cultural message. Stop and be still.

But we’re afraid of the stillness.

It’s easy to see busyness as a good thing, but Nouwen shows that a certain amount of silence is essential to one’s spiritual life. Yes, we may fear the silence; but we need it in order to truly understand God. “We move through life in such a distracted way,” Nouwen writes, “that we do not even take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say, or do are worth thinking, saying, or doing.”

“Solitude is the furnace of transformation,” Nouwen argues. “Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusion of the false self… In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding: no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me—naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken,—nothing. It is this nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something.”

When it’s all stripped away—when it’s just you and God—it’s easy to see how small you are, how sinful, how, broken. But, as unpleasant as it is to be stripped of the props that we cling to in order to provide routine in our lives; it’s mind-blowing to experience that—while God is a God of order—He is not a God of routine. He has more in store then just the comfortable. He’s not interested in our busyness. He is interested in our soul, in a relationship, in more then what tradition and culture have to offer.

So I’m taking some time to stop—to ignore the nagging feeling that I must go out and do something. Time to stop and evaluate myself, my heart, my motives. It is scary because I don’t always like what I find when in the stillness I stare into the brokenness of my soul, but as Nouwen so insightfully points out solitude is the furnace of transformation. The silence allows God to shape the soul into what He wants it to be. A painful process, but one that produces eternal result. A process that transforms one from doing for the sake of doing to—being, existing, feeling life, and finding true purpose.

Be still my soul

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Stepping Back

 

Stepping back

It’s been a week and two days since I stepped back on American soil. Did you know that US customs is now almost completely automated? You stand in line until an empty machine opens up, then you scan your passport and answer a couple quick questions on the computer screen. The computer then takes your picture and prints out a receipt which you take to the only human being involved in the process. The man behind the desk scribbled on my receipt, and I was good to go.

So I’m back. It’s been fun running into friends at Walmart and getting to be with my family again. I’ve eaten more meat this last week then I think I ate all of last year put together. I’ve only opened the driver’s door instead of the passenger door once since coming back, and thankfully I’ve never had trouble remembering to drive on the right side of the road.

It’s crazy always having 3G internet, being able to take an actual hot shower whenever I want, and not having to wash laundry by hand. I haven’t had a lot of reverse culture shock experiences expect that I was shocked with how white the eggs and sugar are in America, and when I got on my first American Airlines plane I was reminded how fast many Americans talk. Its feels a little funny not to carry shillings in my wallet any more and not to hear multiple languages as I go throughout the day.

It’s interesting to me how normal and yet abnormal life is all at the same time. I waved to someone I didn’t know yesterday as I was driving down the road, and I couldn’t remember if that was culturally appropriate or not. I guess since I live in Southern Illinois it was OK, but I need to brake that habit before I go to visit my grandparents in Chicago next weekend.

While I was gone kids got taller (a couple are now taller then me), babies were born, people moved away, and my sister got engaged. It’s fun catching up with life again although this last year in Kenya has changed me, and I’m not always sure how to fit back into this life. For now I’m just going to savor these next two months in the US. It’s kind of refreshing being somewhere where life comes easy, and I don’t have to worry about converting money and communicating in a language that I can understand to some degree but can’t always communicate basic sentences in.

As much as I love America, I already miss Kenya. I desperately miss the kids I got to work with. I miss buying avocadoes for 12 cents. In a strange way I even miss wading through knee high water to get to the store when the rains came in and turned the road in front of our house into a lake. Life in Kenya is an adventure. It’s a life often stripped to the basics. When it’s time to cook dinner you go to the backyard pick cabbage, carrots, and potatoes and make a meal. I miss that. I even miss washing my clothes by hand sometimes even though it would take half the morning to get it done. I miss the stillness of the morning. Sitting on the couch after the kids left for school just reading my Bible and journaling. I felt so close to God in those moments, and it changed me. But, it’s good to be changed. It’s good not to get too comfortable. I think the best thing about traveling is getting a new perspective, being stretched (even though it’s painful) and seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. It’s nice to be home, but I’m thankful that I went. Not everyone understands that, but I’m happy to belong in more then one place. They have both shaped me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I miss this road even on the rainy days

I miss this road even on the rainy days

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Meet me in St Louis, Louis

Yesterday I got my first parking ticket so in I way I feel like I am an official city resident now. Yes, I’d read the no parking on the first Monday, third Thursday, and second Friday after a full moon signs but as a creature of habit I tend to park in relatively the same place everyday and forget which spots should be avoided on which days. Thankfully, parking my car in the path of the street sweeper was only a ten dollar fine and should help me remember to take those signs more seriously in the future.

So far, I love the historic city of St Louis. My friend describes it as many different neighborhoods connected together with the city spreading out instead of up as it does with skyscrapers in many other cities. I’m not a fan of the traffic though. Living on the south end of the city is nice and definitely has much more of a neighborhood feel, but when I drive toward downtown for work the five lanes of traffic still up my stress levels. It’s fun being able to see the arch as I drive toward the city, but I have to focus so much on making sure I can get over in time to catch my exit that I don’t really have the chance to enjoy the view.

The houses are beautiful. Mostly slim brick row houses with a quaint almost European charm. The city and neighborhood parks are charming as well and help take away the harsh concrete jungle effect that others cities have.

St Louis

 

People love their pets here. There always seems to be someone out walking their dog. I know people all over the country love their pets, but in a city having a pet (especially a dog) has almost a different purpose. Pets are a social door. Walking a dog in the park is a safe way to communicate with a stranger without getting too close. Pets allow for friendly interactions between strangers without anyone coming across as a creeper.

I’ve also noticed that St Louis loves four way stops. It seems like when not on the interstate those red signs pop up all over the place. Four way, three way, on coming traffic has the right of way. I’m starting to get the hang of it mostly and have only gotten honked at a couple of times.

Overall, I love it here. One of my favorite things about living in the city again is that people ask you what you do for a living instead of who are you dating. It’s also been refreshing to be around different ethnic groups and to hear a foreign language being spoken at the grocery store. I love the diversity, the culture, the chance to be around intertwining worlds. St Louis has a lot of beauty, and I’m glad I get to call it home for the next few months.

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