Tag Archives: PNG

Quilts and Calla Lilies: Are We Ever Home?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home Sweet Home

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May His Face Shine Upon You

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord bless you

And keep you

Make His face shine upon you

And be gracious to you

The Lord turn His

Face toward you

And give you peace

Amen

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

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Pressing into the Positives

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

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

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

Sammy at his commissioning service

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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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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The Church on the Mountain

20171203_105237There was jumping, dancing and singing—the kind of singing that springs from the joy of the soul. People waved branches and pieces of cloth. The atmosphere was infused with a feeling of genuine joy. A smile crept across my face as I thought; “I’ve never seen an offering with so much feeling take place in an American church.”

It was thanksgiving Sunday, a Sunday to come and thank God for His faithfulness over the past year; a time when people brought special offerings, sang songs in their local languages, performed cultural dances and just spent time celebrating. The last group offering seemed to peak with a new level of joy. It touched me so much because this was the group who, as a congregation, had lost the most. The church we attend is made up of three separate fellowships that meet individually on a weekly basis but come together once a month and celebrate communion as one body.

The last group to give their thanksgiving offering was from the church on the mountain. The church that had their building bulldozed to the ground. I happened to be there the day it happened. A road was coming through. Most people in the area were given eviction notices. We had dropped by the pastor’s house on some quick errand, and he was heading up to the church because some people who had been given eviction notices had moved their things to the church property.

There was a feeling of chaos and helplessness on the mountain as people stripped tin sheets off the roofs of their buildings and threw them into the back of pickup trucks. I met the pastor’s wife from the church at the bottom of the mountain. Their church, even though it was not in the direct path of the road had been told to move.

Then the shock—bulldozers drove up and started bulldozing the trees around the mountain church as well. Even though no eviction notice had been given and the church was well off the path of the road, the mountain church somehow also fell in line for destruction.

Despite documents being shown by the church leadership that talks had been happening between the University (who were said to own the land) and the church, the documents and pleas were ignored. There was no official land title (something very difficult to obtain in PNG). No verbal or written evacuation notice had been given; but, while many congregation members watched helplessly, the building was demolished.

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We did not stay to watch. It hurt too much. I thought of the first church service I ever attended in PNG at this very church. The children welcomed us with flowers sprinkled along the walkway and colorful leis. I thought of the little boy Bradley that we took care of for nine months and how he loved climbing those beautiful trees surrounding the church building. I thought of one of the widows that we worked with and how her husband had been the one who did all the masonry work on the building.

The next Sunday, after the building was destroyed, we met in the hot sun with just umbrellas for protection. A few reporters from one of the local papers stopped by to take some photos of the rubble.

That Sunday now seems like ages ago. The road is nearly finished now. Both the church at the bottom of the mountain and the church at the top of the mountain still meet under makeshift tarps and temporary structures. My husband preached there yesterday to the faithful congregation that a week ago sang and praised God with their whole bodies as they gave their thanksgiving offering.

What a year they have had. It is humbling to see that in spite of unforeseen circumstances, injustice, and pain they still meet. This is their fellowship. They meet with the sun beating down on the wind blown tarps. They meet in the rain (like yesterday) pulling the wooden benches back out of line of the drips. They meet with a generator buzzing in the background to provide power for the sound system.20171203_103543

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They meet with gladness among the rubble and it is a beautiful testimony—thanksgiving and genuine joy in spite of hardship.

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I Wonder How She Felt

I doubt they had a donkey, you know, even though there is a donkey present in most Christmas pageants. They didn’t have money for a lamb, what the law required when consecrating a baby, so they gave the less expensive (but still accepted option) offering of two pigeons.

A mud soaked road gave me a new appreciation for Mary. Last year I was newly pregnant and trying my best to make my way up the mountain road with a sister-in-law on each side of me very kindly reaching out to grab my arm when I started to slide which was frequently. Humbling to say the least. It was about an hour worth of walking before we reached the spot in the road that was finally dry enough for the bus to make it down without getting stuck. Mentally, I worried if this hilly climb would put any unnecessary stress on the little life inside of me. Sure the PNG ladies did it all the time, but they were in much better shape then I was. After six hours worth of bumpy bus rides, no restrooms (apart from stopping on the side of the road) and, greasy gas station food we were dropped off on the side of the road and wait for over half an hour for our ride to pick us up. Stunningly beautiful scenery, but hardly ideal traveling conditions when expecting. I was just so thankful that I didn’t throw up.

I wonder how Mary felt as she travelled during one of the most inconvenient times to travel. I’m sure she had swollen ankles and felt keen disappointed as, after such a long journey, inn after inn was full. Finally Joseph managed to find them a spot in a dirty stable. I’m sure she worried, as most new moms do, about keeping her baby clean and avoiding sickness especially during those first crucial hours. I wonder if, as she wrapped his tiny frame in strips of cloth (swaddling clothes), she thought, “does God see me here, bringing His son into the world in the midst of dirt and dung. Is this how things are supposed to be?”

I find myself wondering the same thing sometimes while hand washing dirty dippers in a tiny sink when I’d much rather be in bed. “Does God see me, my situation, is this how things are supposed to be?”

He does see, especially in those humble, dirty times. When no one else sees. He showed Mary that he saw her right where she was. Angels filled the night sky singing of the birth of the new born savior. But, he not only sees; he has been there himself. The most high God entering the world in the most humble of surroundings.

A King born in a manger.

 

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