Archive for January, 2014

January 29, 2014

Joy and renewed vision amidst deepest pain

by bzephyr


I had to run and get my camera today to capture this moment. This was the first time in many years that we had as many as 18 men from all 10 languages at our Bible translation workshop. The two Ramo language translators are finally here again after more than a two-year absence.

Painfully true, however, is the fact that we no longer have 11 languages represented in this project after our friend from the Serra language died over the Christmas holiday. We deeply grieve the death of Ignas Salley, not only because he was our brother, but he was also the only translator from his language group. Now there is no one who is ready to continue that work.

Another two men in this picture are back at the translation desk again after going through nearly a year-long process of reconciliation with their churches, communities and the translation team. Three other men are working together as friends again after miscommunication and conflict prompted them to part ways a few months ago.

Two of these men are carrying on the work for their language on their own while their partners carry heavy burdens during a difficult season of life. Two others are pursuing God’s calling on them to continue translating his Word even though their church has a strict policy about not compromising their beliefs through fellowship with other denominations. Two of these men are here at the translation desks even though they were elected last year to the huge responsibility of local level government leader for their large communities.

Seventeen of these men are married (six of them in the last few years), and they leave their families for 3 or 4 weeks at a time, five times a year, in order to bring God’s light to their people. Two of these men came to this workshop directly after burying members of their family. Three of these men are here despite the fact that their brothers have pressing need of them in interactions involving land disputes, police investigation, and all that goes into sending a younger brother off to a distant town to finish high school.

Two of these men are here at this workshop to continue producing the seed that bears fruit for God’s kingdom, even while other team members enjoy the import and excitement of showing the life of Jesus on DVD, produced with their own Malol translation. So they don’t even get to see the fruit of their own labors.  One sows and another reaps. But there is no harvest without the seed, which is the Word of God.

Does the Word of God exist in your language? What a joy it must be for you. There are many who still endure much hardship and pain to grab hold of God’s promises. The Word of the Lord is light and life and joy eternal for those who hear it and hold on to it until the Lord of the harvest reaps his abundant crop. 

January 24, 2014

Furlough fever: Real Stress from Cross Cultural Living

by mendibpng

Another aspect that occurred to me when I contemplated furlough feelings are the real/normal stresses of the last four year’s worth of missionary service that we will [hopefully] be working through. I picked out a few of the stressors Joan Carter’s study outlined: (there are more if you want to check out the article cited below):

  • Seeing needs I’m unable to meet
  • Confronting Others When Necessary
  • Amount of Work
  • Communicating Across Language and Culture
  • Work Priorities
  • Self Expectations
  • Conflicts Between My Values & Host Culture
  • “Goldfish Bowl” Existence
  • Travel Difficulties
  • Guilt Feelings Over having Plenty in the Midst of Need
  • Furlough Expectations & Schedule
  • Frequent Moving
  • Recreation & Exercise
  • Family Responsibility vs. Ministry
  • Loneliness and Isolation

(Taken from Missionary Stressors and Implications for Care, by Jane Carter. “Enhancing Missionary Vitality”, p.102-103)

I would add a couple more not listed above that have significantly affected us:

  • Raising five kids and thus having little time to ourselves/spend with each other
  • Having multiple large appliances break in the house all at once
  • High cost of living and traveling
  • Illnesses of loved ones at home in the U.S.
  • Missing big (happy) events like weddings/births of babies, etc.
  • Sickness
  • Tribal fighting
  • Tasks of daily living (ie cooking from scratch)
  • Supporting national and expat colleagues who are dealing with crisis in their families and personal lives

I could write a paragraph or whole blog post on each of the above topics, but I won’t, as this post is getting too long already. I think it’s enough to say that those topics affect us at varying degrees and times. I’ve seen cross cultural workers with incredibly high tolerances for stressful situations who end up burnt out by the end of a long field term, just from the accumulation of all of them together. In other words, I suspect if we faced one thing at a time, the ability to handle it in a healthy way would be much higher. Each thing takes its toll and builds on the others. For me, having been here for nearly four years means that my margin and tolerance is at a low place. So hopefully heading back to the US in a few months will feel like a bit of a reprieve from those things, so that I’m equipped and ready to face them again once furlough is over.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I would change this life for anything. Nope. I’m all in. I am just a wee bit tired tired after four years.

I’ve said many times in this space but I feel compelled once again to say that any kind of adversity is an opportunity for me to practice the presence of God. In the same way, I am also aware that because these stresses are a constant reality, I am likely to overreact and have to repent fairly regularly unless I take time to notice what is happening before I react. I love it that God shows me these things gently, without making me feel condemned.

So if you bump into a missionary who has just come off the field, you may notice that he or she looks a little war-torn and tattered emotionally,mentally, physically and spiritually. My thought is, if I write these words out loud, maybe it will open some doors for dialogues on these topics and hopefully just promote grace for the road ahead, not just for me but for anyone who wants to understand what a missionary might be facing before and during furlough.

Please feel free to comment if you have any thoughts/insights to add to this conversation!

January 21, 2014

Furlough Fever: decisions, transition & adjustment

by mendibpng

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It’s not just the kids who are experiencing emotions and thoughts about furlough. Ben and I are navigating them as well. There’s the plain ordinary side of transition and grief that I can feel beginning to well up. As is often talked about in transition seminars, we haven’t left yet…we haven’t arrived, either, so we’re caught in the middle. I think of it all lumped together as The Great Unknown. Steven and Jocelyn Head, our friends who work with Heartstream ministries (member care to missionaries) explained it to me like this:  it’s as if we are in a river: we haven’t quite put everything behind yet, but we haven’t reached the other side, either. There’s the good expectations, like seeing loved ones who we haven’t seen in years–former missionaries, friends, family, coworkers who are home based. But then we are also leaving our friends behind who understand our life here and have become like family to us. We don’t just live life together in community. We carry each other’s burdens in the hard times, and our friendships are deep. On top of all of these things, I suspect I take goodbyes rather hard because of my history as a TCK (Third Culture Kid).

It doesn’t matter where we go in the world, we will always be missing someone somewhere.

Next, there’s the decisions. As the parental units for our family, we have millions of options weighing on us. Some things can wait, but other decisions need our attention sooner rather than later. How long should we stop over in transit to Chicago? Will anyone live in our house while we are gone? What repairs need to be made in that case? How much traveling can we do as a family without burning ourselves out? Will it be as fun as we anticipate? Where will we live? What will happen with our team while we are gone? Will we hear from our village friends in our absence? What expectations will people have for us once we get to the U.S.?

Finally, there’s the physical adjustments we’ll have to make. Some of them we know will happen since this is our third time to go on furlough or “home assignment;”  however, it doesn’t make them any less shocking.  Some call it ‘reverse culture shock.” Things like: hearing our mother tongue (English) spoken constantly, recovering from jet lag for days, driving on the other side of the road with all the different traffic signs/signals (we only have stop signs here on our center to obey), shopping with a plethora of choices, helping our kids navigate their new world and trying to make sense of the culture that has moved on in our absence (For instance, we don’t own a smart phone yet!) I remember feeling very disoriented for a while after arriving last time, almost a surreal feeling like I had just stepped off the plane from another planet.

The only thing that keeps my insanity at bay is stopping whenever I am starting to feel anxious is to invite Jesus into the center of what I’m thinking about. I have claimed Psalm 23 repeatedly, picturing myself walking hand in hand with him through green pastures. I went there again today when I started thinking about Ben’s 3 1/2 week trip starting tomorrow.

I’m going to quote it from the King James Version because I love the sound of it:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Psalm 23 King James Version)

After I got to the “surely goodness and mercy” part, I heard God say to me, “put on your banquet shoes.” I shook my head, wondering what on earth that meant. I had that feeling that I was making it up. But then I knew. I’ve been exercising three mornings a week, and during that time it’s just Me and God. No kids needing a drink or snack. Nobody’s bottom to wipe. No phone ringing. No other noise except the two of us (and sometimes worship music). And it all made sense, as these things usually do when He speaks. I need to keep my sacred places intact even in the midst of the unknowns ahead because that’s where God will meet me. Those banquets are where blessings begin to pour out on me, where I can stop thinking about myself and ask Him to replace those self-focused thoughts with desiring Jesus more than I want all my concerns resolved. That’s where he restores me, leads me beside still waters, and is present in my fears and anxieties. I’m still going to have to go through this process over and over again before our departure date of June 25 rolls around, but I know that goodness and mercy is going to follow me the whole way.

“My cup runneth over.”

January 19, 2014

Furlough Fever: TCK thoughts

by mendibpng

In June, we’ll be flying on a Kodiak airplane like this one on the first of six flights which will take us from: Ukarumpa–Port Moresby–Brisbane–Melbourne–Fiji–Los Angeles–Chicago, IL. It took us (well, Ben, actually) over four weeks to figure out each leg and which flights would be the most economical for the family.

We’ve been in PNG now for 3 1/2  years, having left the country only a few times for medical reasons to the closest neighboring first world country, Australia. As I’m going about my daily tasks and ministry, I’m constantly thinking about our return to the U.S., planned for July of this year. I started writing what I thought would be a short blog post but it turned out that I needed to make it into a series because I had so much to say. So this one is dedicated to my thoughts about our TCKs (Third Culture Kids) and the transitions they will face in a few months.
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(above: This is what our kids looked like a few months after we arrived in PNG in 2010). When we left the U.S., our twins were nine months old, Ellie was five, Noah was eight and Josiah was ten. Now Josiah is in high school, Noah and Ellie are in primary school, and the twins are four! Here are all of them together at Christmas this year:
kids sm
I talked to my older boys about friends and relatives we want to catch up with when we reach the U.S., and one of the first things they started joking about was how people would say how much they had grown. It’s just a fact of life that if you are gone four years, your kids will look different and they will be that much less connected to All Things Related to their home country.  So a great deal of my thoughts circle around how to make the transition back the U.S. a happy one for the kids, and how to help them with grieving the loss of their home and close friends for an extended period of time.

I’ve spent many hours researching homeschooling materials for the kids and thinking through logistics related to schooling on the road. Our oldest needs a program that is accredited, while we have more flexibility with the younger ones. I am not quite sure how we will keep a routine while traveling and get work done. That might be something we’ll have to scale and adjust to as we get started. We have dreams and expectations of visiting some historical sites in the U.S. and spending time in national parks as part of our homeschooling experience.

Even though we live in the bush a lot of the time here, we don’t have the opportunity to do tent camping as a family. Our plan to travel on furlough involves quite a bit of camping as this is the most economical way to visit a lot of places with our family of seven. Some of the questions we have may become clear after we’ve seen what camping looks like with five children like, “how will we make significant amounts of food while camping?” It could be a blast….or…it could be difficult. I’m just going to add that to the list of unknowns, but I’m comforted by the fact that this is our first furlough without a baby in diapers. Plus, we can always find info and ideas on the internet once we get there!

I know that we can’t physically prepare our kids for everything they experience they arrive, but we want them to have the freedom to talk to us about anything.  It’s fairly common for Third Culture Kids to grieve the lack of belonging anywhere and to feel like strangers in their home country. (I know this because I am a TCK).  It’s also common for them to feel antagonistic about things that they don’t understand, whether it’s cultural differences or simpler things like the lack of autonomy and freedom to be outside as much as they are used to. Incidentally, the loss and grief side feels significant this time around because Josiah has hostel brothers and sisters who will be graduating while he is gone, and he doesn’t know when he will see them again.

So what are we doing to prepare our kids?

  • We’re talking with them and consulting them about our plans, so they don’t feel like everything is completely out of their control or that they are blind sided by decisions. The decision to home school, for instance, came easily for Ben and I, but we had to make sure that the kids were on board. My impression is that they are excited, even the ones who were reluctant in the beginning.
  • We’re showing them pictures of friends and family they will see so that it’s not a complete shock to meet unfamiliar people (to them, not to Ben and I.)
  • We’re planning to visit some of their former PNG friends/colleagues along the way so that not every single visit is a new encounter and those friends will know where we have come from.
  • We’re planning on significant ‘down’ time here and there, where it’s just us so that we can relax and not worry about being on our best behavior.
  • I’m planning on creating photo books for the younger kids of all of their favorite places and people here in PNG so that they have these to look at whenever they are sad and missing their home here.
  • We’ll create a scrapbook of our travels for the kids to remember all the fun places we’ll visit and wonderful people we will see.
  • We’re also talking about the fun food we will get to eat (grapes! cheese! Doritos! Portillos hot dogs!).
  • All of us are working on a ‘bucket list’ of things we want to do while in the U.S. (we might not get to everything but it’s a good way to find out what each of us values.)
  • We’re taking advantage of Wycliffe Connection, a program for our whole family, focused specifically on reentry. Some of our friends will be attending as well, which I think will make it very fun and relaxing!
  • We’re planning to have significant time with both sets of grandparents to strengthen those connections.

I hope that we will be able to be an example to our kids of trusting God and ask Him for wisdom for every small and large decision. We often use our family time to pray about the decisions we need to make, and we will continue ask God to show Himself to us in supernatural ways, rejoicing when He answers, as He did last week by providing all the money at one time that we needed for our return travel to the U.S.

As with most things in life, there are no set of rules or one good checklist that works for every family. There are just too many variables and too many different personalities to navigate. It all just boils down to the fact that we can’t plan enough ourselves or rely on our own wisdom for all of it. The only solution I can clearly see is just simply laid out in verses like this:

James 1:5-8 (NLT)
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

What about you? If you are planning a big transition for your kids, what kinds of things are helpful/useful to do? I’d love to hear comments if you have any to share!

January 14, 2014

2013 in review

by mendibpng


Our intern Luke Elliott  (pictured above, with Noah, Joe and Ellie) spent nine months living with us last year.

January: We had planned to go to the village and do a ‘walkabout;’ however, Ben and I became too sick to travel. Once the virus had finished, it took weeks before the fatigue left us. We had to cancel the trip and Ben worked from home. Our teammates Luke and Laura still went to the village to do language learning.

February-March: Ben worked from home in Ukarumpa. This entailed managing the project (reporting, etc), doing advisor checks on 1&2 Timothy as well as dealing with personnel issues long distance over the phone or via skype. I supported him as the team leader by checking in with teammates regularly and hosting team meals and meetings.
Dictionary Workshop participants identify nouns and verbs in their own languages.

April-May: We attended our bi-annual branch conference. During this month, we went to the village for a follow-up Dictionary Workshop and a translation revision for 1 &2 Timothy. We also began renovation on a staff housing building. Wayambo supervised the construction of most of our other buildings in our project previously, and came out to do this one. The house he renovated into a three bedroom house plus the downstairs apartment was split into two separate living spaces with their own bathrooms!
Jacob “helps” Wayambo.

June-July: Ben and our teammate John consultant checked 1 and 2 Timothy in seven languages (three first, then four the next week) which was the first time they have attempted to do so many languages at once. The translators and language consultants told us over and over how Paul’s words impacted their lives—it was the first time they had translated preaching, rather than narratives in Luke and Acts. A video team from Wycliffe U.S. come during this time to get footage of the project.
August-September: We all appreciated the stability time for the whole family while Ben worked from his cubicle in Ukarumpa. Meanwhile, we supported our team long distance as Luke and Laura did linguistic analysis, Jerry recorded Acts in Arop and Beth, Missy and Cindy went to all of the people groups in our project to do Scripture Use and Literacy activities. In September, Ben and I took the twins to Cairns to see a pediatric dentist, since both of them had some deep cavities that required the skills of a pediatric dentist.

Josiah helped lead worship at church numerous times throughout the year. He also plays in a Soul Purpose (youth) band and accompanies the Sunday school kids each week.
Jacob and Jenny Beth still talk about seeing kangaroos in Australia!

October-November: Seven of our translators/literacy workers came to Ukarumpa for a Discover Your Language course. Ben mentored the Rombar Onnele group which allowed him time to do some more in depth study of the language, which essentially will help them make the translation more accurate.
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(photo credit: Phil King) Ben coaching the Onnele men during the Discover Your Language course.

November-December: Ben went Arop for a translation workshop, while the kids and I stayed in Ukarumpa. He took new computers for the translators and spent most of the time trouble shooting how to connect them to the online and local servers (which store data for our translations) It turned out to be a difficult task but he came home having left them all up and running, praise God! This was probably one of the most challenging times of the year, since many of the appliances in our house died (while Ben was gone) Praise God that the shipping office and the Wycliffe buyer in Cairns helped us replace most of them before Christmas!
At Christmas we had our hilarious moments…
but also our more serious ones, when we shared our Jesse Tree (advent) readings together.

December: Ben arrived home safely and hiked out to a friend’s village the next week. He ended up getting very ill on Christmas day but since we had a low-key holiday planned, he was able to stay in bed for well over a week.

In summary: I am sure you are able to read between the lines and see that it has been a very busy, very fruitful year work-wise. Now, we look to the next five months here in Papua New Guinea and pray that we will be able to balance work and family life as we also pack and prepare for furlough starting in June.

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