Archive for ‘furlough’

January 29, 2018

Rusty Ole Missionary

by mendibpng


As many of you know, we spent the last six months in Spring Hill, Tennessee, USA,  to help our oldest son transition to life in the U.S. It was a fairly big undertaking, to uproot our family for that period of time, but we haven’t regretted the decision to do this. We feel satisfied that he is doing well with college life and adulthood.

Thoughts on returning to the field after a six month absence…
I realize my experience isn’t unique, in some ways, as many of my fellow missionaries have come and gone from their place of assignment, only to feel the gears inside them noisily turning to adjust to being back. Papua New Guinea is home to our family. We wholeheartedly embraced the land and culture here in 2002, and haven’t looked back. At the same time, we have had trips away, and each time the process of transitioning hits us painfully. It’s a costly venture, this twisting and turning and questioning the space and longing for the stability that seems elusive. All of this has been compounded by dealing with grief of losing one of the most important people in my life, and I’m finding this transition to be the most challenging and painful one so far.

The first week of our return, I hiked up and down my porch stairs hanging up laundry multiple times per day. Although I was grateful to have a covered space to hang out everything, I inwardly groaned because every muscle in my body ached from the exertion. This should tell you how much exercising I did on furlough… little to none!  Added to the physical adjustments, my mind felt like an empty balloon. One of my friends called and was asking me some very simple questions and I couldn’t even answer her. It made us laugh later but was an ‘aha!’ moment… yep. I’m not running on all cylinders as they say.  Then there was that time when I overreacted emotionally… actually it was more than once!

Added to all of that was the great feeling of being back amongst our community. After six months of not living in close proximity to friends, it felt extremely refreshing to see our loved ones again. The youth directors rented two vans for friends and teens to come to the airstrip to greet us, what a feeling to step off the plane and hug so many friends!  The friendships that we have here are deep and comfortable. Ben and I sat in complete gratitude to be back with our small group, knowing that this was a safe place for us to just be ourselves, without having to justify or explain who we are. It felt good to be amongst people who were sincerely interested and invested in us. The years we have spent in that group have paid off a million times over.  Similarly, other close friends have also circled up and welcomed me back, giving me a chance to debrief and process while also sharing their last six months with me.  To say I’m grateful is minimizing the feeling… it’s much more than that.

Along with the joy of seeing loved ones again comes the challenges of community. There is the question of when to speak up in love or when to stay silent. I am sure it’s the same anywhere, but perhaps more intense here in a small community where we have people from many cultures and denominational backgrounds.

Before I left the U.S., a friend gave me ‘Of Mess and Moxie,” by Jen Hatmaker, and yesterday I read this timely advice from Hatmaker

We listen sincerely, we don’t just reload while someone else’s mouth is moving. Dialogue is easily spooked, so you must be vigilant against fear, dismissal, manipulation and apathy—true enemies of safe dialogue.  You’ll feel it at first, deep down, the urge to rebut, rebuke, refute. It will be a cold rock in your gut, tempting you to correct or disagree, or to be offended and center yourself in that person’s story. But that instinct can be overcome, and the results of someone feeling heard and respected are immediate and palpable. It takes a fairly high level of humility, empathy, and courage to keep a space open and healthy. It’s a developed skill that takes practice. To me, that is what love looks and feels like. (p. 81)

My biggest problem is that I want to add something, anything to make a person feel better when she’s pouring out her heart to me. But as my training in debriefing has taught me, the best way to help someone is to listen and not put myself into her story. I struggle especially with my older kids in this area because I want to fix them so badly. I realize that they need my love and empathy more than my fear that something bad will happen if I don’t say the right thing. That’s what I’m rusty on, and where I’m wanting to grease my squeaky gears so that I can be the kind of friend and mother who offers safety and love.

And so we press on…

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. Philippians 3:12-14

March 5, 2015

On putting on my Mandy face…

by mendibpng

IMG_0002 sm
Just before leaving for a missions conference last Thursday, I emailed a friend last week that I had to go “put my missionary face on…” and she replied, “put your Mandy face on!” I had to smile at that, because she was right. Even if I try to put on a façade, the real me will eventually seep out. As a Third Culture Kid (TCK), it is much easier for me to go straight to a deep conversation, rather than making small talk (which I’m not very good at!) I always have the fear that I’m over-sharing and that I’ve scared someone off because of the things I share. But, it’s how I operate and I can’t seem to help myself. I found myself voicing these insecurities during the missions conference a few times to another adult TCK who assured me that this is what is good, and necessary. I’m thankful for people in my life who ‘get’ the whole roller coaster of emotions that go along with what to share and how far to go….

When Ben and I speak in groups, whether small or large, it is always a goal of ours to be authentic. Sometimes that means admitting some of the things we struggle with. Other times it means sharing where we feel like we have failed in our work, in our marriage, or as parents. The life we live can seem glamorous at times, and although we find a lot of joy and purpose in it, it can be really hard and full of struggles at times, in some cases even traumatic.

Letting our true selves hang out has a lot of benefits, like connecting with those who want to have a grasp of our situation and know us well (I call them the ‘unshockable’ people!) Also, some of the themes in our struggles are the same whether you are overseas or living in the First World, like parenting, marriage and cross cultural conflicts. It gives a level of safety, where you wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to have a meaningful conversation.

Opening up has risks. Sometimes well meaning people think they assume they know you after having only a small glimpse of your life. Other times, they might give unsolicited advice that isn’t always helpful (and although I want to have a loving response–it’s extremely awkward to find an appropriate one!) I am all for a word of timely advice! I’m just talking about the kind of advice which isn’t so helpful.

Also, a side note here: as someone who has struggled with boundaries my whole life, in the area of vulnerability, I have found Henri Nouwen’s advice in my favorite book by him “The Inner Voice of Love” to be really helpful,

You must decide for yourself to whom and when you give access to your interior life. For years you have permitted others to walk in and out of your life according to their needs and desires. Thus you were no longer master in your own house, and you felt increasingly used. So, too, you quickly became tired, irritated, angry and resentful…


It is important for you to control your own drawbridge. There must be times when you keep your bridge drawn and have the opportunity to be alone or only with those to whom you feel close. Never allow yourself to become public property where anyone can walk in and out at will. You might think that you are being generous in giving access to anyone who wants to enter or leave but you will soon find yourself losing your soul.

As I speak with people and feel my insecurities invading, I try to remember to pray “Lord, let me be who You want me to be today. Let me only speak Your words.” If I choose this, He always comes through for me, and He is my place of safety every time. I suspect this is going to be a lesson I come back to often because I am a fallen & sinful person…I am always going to feel the pull to ‘put my missionary face on,’ as I was going to do last week before my friend encouraged me to be me.

All this to say, I had the opportunity again yesterday to ask myself, “how much am I willing to let others, even strangers, see my deepest struggles?” Almost as soon as that thought appears, I fall back to, “if my life is not my own, and it really belongs to Jesus, then all it really matters is what He thinks of me.” And if me being transparent opens the doors for people to extend grace (and care) to themselves and especially to my fellow overseas workers, then that is well worth it. Authenticity, transparency….this is where I want to live.

And to my brave brothers and sisters who have gone before me in living authentically, thank you. You are the hands at feet of Christ to me.



January 10, 2015

I was burning out… (part 1)

by bzephyr


In June we ended our last 4-year term in Papua New Guinea in the agony of burnout. I felt a lot like this pickup truck that we came across one day with its rear bumper hung up on one edge of this narrow creek and it’s front end pressed into the opposite bank. The back wheels were spinning in the air, well, in the water really. It was working hard, going nowhere, and they were burning out the transmission.

After 6 months away, we want to go back for more. But not more of the same. In this and the next post: the circumstances in which I was burning out. In an upcoming post: learning to burn bright without burning out.

Too many hats

During our last two years in PNG, I felt more and more overwhelmed by the many hats I wore in our 10-language Bible translation project…

  • Translation trainer/advisor
  • Translation consultant
  • Language development specialist
  • Team leader
  • Budget and reporting administrator
  • Transportation facilitator
  • Purchasing and shipping coordinator
  • Building and maintenance supervisor
  • IT support technician
  • Community relations spokesperson
  • Crisis manager

Whenever we left the village and stayed at our national training center, I wore those same hats in a different location, but added a few more…

  • Translation & NT Greek instructor
  • Translation software troubleshooting assistant
  • Branch policy and strategy contributor

Too little too late

As time went on, I thought I was getting better at managing a myriad of tasks. I did start learning to say ‘no’ and to have better boundaries. And there were many people inside and outside our team who took various parts of the load. But it was all too little too late for what I had already done to myself, and the heavy load that I had placed on my own shoulders came at a cost to my health and to my family.

On many occasions we talked about change and we tried to make improvements to how we planned and how we responded to the overwhelming needs around us, but these intentions were like brief blips on the screen that are gone as soon as they appear.

A year is not too much for the most important thing

By June we were ready for a real furlough, and not one where our work triples because we keep doing our overseas work while adding all the speaking engagements and taking on a study program at the same time. We needed a year of intentional evaluation of our circumstances, retraining of our minds, and revitalization of our spirits. Our hope is that it will be hard to forget a year of redefining who we are and the patterns we follow. It will be hard to forget a year of being remade. It will be hard to forget a year of intentional focus on reestablishing who we are and whose will we’re called to serve.

You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring — what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  James 4:14-15 (HCSB)

January 7, 2015

Remind me who I am…

by mendibpng


This time last year, I looked ahead to our year of furlough. I anticipated seeing friends and family again after a four year absence, and I couldn’t wait for a break from cross cultural living. I can say overall it has been wonderful to catch up with people face to face, and that has been the best part of furlough.

It truly has been a break for us from other things, like cross cultural stress, community living and the daily tasks, especially cooking from scratch. Last week when we started talking about our return to PNG in earnest, I realized that I am finally looking forward to returning to PNG because that is where my heart is. Even when I picture my life there: waking up early to go to the market, making bread, and hanging up clothes to dry, it didn’t seem to bother me. It surprised me to realize that I want to return! I can’t say I’m looking forward to the other stressors but I feel like I can cope better with them, now that I’ve had a break from them.

I think it all boils down to belonging, and where that happens for us as a family. We have been away from the U.S. long enough that PNG is now our home: that is where we fit in, where our work in Bible translation happens. It’s also where we’ve raised our kids, and where their deepest friendships are, not just with kids their own age, but with other missionaries who have watched them grow up and have celebrated birthdays, holidays and milestones with us.

Thirteen years ago, we joined the ranks of ‘overseas workers’ or ‘global nomads’ as some like to call us, and we can’t ever really come home again and be who we were before. Even though we know this intellectually, it seems that this furlough especially has highlighted this, and it has been hard for all of us.

So now, I’m looking ahead to what needs to happen in the months ahead of us. We are going to be busy: preparing and packing for a shipment, getting medical clearance for each of us, looking at what medicines and other supplies we need to take for our next term overseas. I need to apply for a work permit. Those things I am NOT looking forward to at all. In fact, I feel an anxious bubble rising in my stomach when I think about them.

In the midst of all of this, God gave me these verses to hold onto:

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.  Psalm 143:7-9

I belong to Christ and because of that, only His view of me matters. I love this song by Jason Gray because it reminds me that I belong to Christ

I hope that by the end of 2015, I will have grown to the point where His answer to the question “Who am I?” will just be a part of my natural life, as easy as breathing in and out.

And that’s what I want to keep in focus for 2015. Of course I’d love to improve myself…but…everything comes after knowing Christ more.

November 14, 2014

These experiences

by mendibpng

In our village, there are often little things for my kids to get in on. On this day, a few months before we left PNG, Jacob had a chance to observe little ducklings getting their daily snack of ants that these kids had found between the wood and bark of a tree. Our outings there are limited to places we can walk to (and with the addition of twins, I wasn’t crazy about walking far with them, only to have to carry them home!) so we often stayed close to home. Sometimes there would be a community (ethnic) dance, and we loved going to those.
Our outings here in the U.S. this year are quite different. We usually get into a car to go to the library, animal farm or to Chicago on free museum days. Because they are different experiences from what we’re used to, we’re trying to savor all of it and be thankful.  Last week we visited Kline Creek Farm, where they told us about the pioneers and how they lived. We found it fun to talk later about how similar our life in PNG was to what the early settlers experienced. Today we had a chance to meet some other home schoolers at a skating rink. One of my kids remarked on the way home, “I didn’t think it would be fun. But it was really great, can we go every week?!” I suspect we won’t make it there every week but it’s a great way to exercise and socialize in the winter months.

I’m thankful for outings in PNG and here in the U.S….and am looking forward to what’s ahead: spending time with my aunt, uncle and cousins for Thanksgiving, visiting friends, and enjoying Christmas lights and holiday activities. While we were away in PNG, I pictured what it would be like to come back and share these experiences with our kids.  That anticipation makes it even more fun when we actually get to do them!

November 12, 2014

This Country and Those Who Protect it…

by mendibpng


Since I have lived overseas for most of my life, I am constantly reminded of how much freedom we as Americans have.  We are rich in freedom here.

My kids and I are studying American History. It has really impacted me how people came to our country seeking religious freedoms and opportunities for a better life. Sadly some were brought here against their will. I want my kids to learn about and remember are those who fought for the freedoms listed in our constitution: abolitionists, members of the military, women, politicians and so many others!

I am well aware that there are ‘issues’ and ‘problems’ here (it’s often one of the first things people tell missionaries as they come off the field)…but today I choose to thank God for the freedom that our people (especially those who serve in the military!) have fought so hard to hold onto.  As a woman in this country, I have the freedom alongside everyone else to things like voting, freedom of speech and so many more other things that other people in the world don’t have.

When we were at the McCormick building last week, we read aloud several of the quotes up on the wall. This one by Voltaire stuck in my mind so I thought I’d end with it here:

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

Tags: ,
November 7, 2014

You know you are in reverse culture shock when….

by mendibpng


  • your mad skills at things like dehydrating food, booking plane tickets, and malaria prevention are no longer needed. All of a sudden you need a whole new skill set (and believe me, mine were rusty!)
  • a simple task like mailing a package is daunting (Me, “Where is the PO? Where do I park? Oh, I have to take a stub to be next in line? What if she calls the number and I don’t hear her?”)
  • the GPS tells you to turn right, you do, and realize you are going the wrong way on a ONE WAY street when someone honks loudly at you…
  • you forget how cold it is outside and walk out with a t-shirt and flip flops.
  • you feel incredibly grateful when someone in a grocery store talks to you kindly because it happens so rarely.
  • you forget names, drop things, spill drinks and generally are hyper-alert because of all the things going on in your head all at once.
  • you program your phone number into your cell phone because your mind still blanks even after several months.
  • you find yourself reading price labels out loud at the grocery store because there are so many options and you are overwhelmed.
  • you (or your spouse) have been looking forward to doing something culturally American but your children aren’t really keen on the activity…do you go ahead with it and hope they come around, or scrap it??
  • it surprises you that cars stop for you to cross the street, so you run a little.
  • you are still converting things to the currency where you live overseas whenever you go out shopping.
  • some habits stick with you like, you lock your door during the day and check it multiple times at night to make sure it’s locked.
  • you successfully order pizza using your coupon and (hopefully) didn’t sound like a crazy person.
  • you speak English but you feel like you are speaking a different language than everyone else. (My language now includes cultural idioms from my British and Australian colleagues and also from PNG.) We coached the children, “don’t say where is the toilet?” We say, “where is the restroom?” here.

Some of the things listed above made me laugh, and some to be honest made me cry. In reality, any small thing can trigger great anxiety or emotion because I am still trying to adjust. This week while talking to a friend, I described what I’m experiencing as similar to chronic illness (in that it’s invisible). A friend of mine struggles with a chronic illness, and you would never know it unless you knew her well. She suffers daily (hourly!) but bravely lives with a valor that I’ve never seen in another human being. Anyway, I am sure I do not carry myself as well as she does, but to look at me, it is probably not evident to most people that I am struggling under the surface. Cumulative stress from living overseas has taken its toll on our marriage and family (that is a good reason to have a furlough, right?) And yet, I have five kids to care for daily, so I try not to ‘wear’ these things on my sleeve every day. Plus when my kids are having a hard time with reverse-culture shock, it is really hard for them to see their mom falling apart.

On top of that, there’s a delicate balance between being totally honest with people (who may find it shocking to know the truth, or who really don’t want to know!) or veering into self pity (even if I’m not feeling self pity, I don’t want to be perceived as such!) Anyway, my closest friends are gracious to accept me for who I am, do not judge or try to ‘fix’ me. They laugh with me over funny things that happen and cry with me when things get rough.

After five months of being here, I’m starting to feel like I’m coming out of the fog, and even have had some experiences where I haven’t felt completely out of it (yay!) I’m really thankful for the time we have here, and for the chance to adjust in our own time frame. We are also enjoying so many things about being home, that it is definitely worth the effort of readjusting.

November 5, 2014

Noah’s furlough blog

by mendibpng

I am an MK (missionary kid) meaning my parents are missionaries in Papua New Guinea or PNG for short. PNG is an island in the Pacific Ocean just above Australia. It is divided in half. Half of the island is PNG and the other half is Indonesia. There is over 800 languages so there is a main trade language called, Pidgin or Tok Pisin. It is derived from tons of different languages, like English. Since it is an island, the coasts are hot and humid. The highlands are temperate and about 80 degrees year round. The north coast is about 2 degrees south of the equator and there is only two seasons; rainy and dry. There are two large missionary bases that I know of in PNG. New Tribes in the North East and Ukarumpa in the Eastern Highlands. Ukarumpa is one of my home towns. Its where I grew up, but I was born in the USA. My home town in America is Wheaton, Illinois.

I’m in America. My home town here is new and exciting. The leaves are in the middle of turning colors and dropping to the ground. Also everything is spelled different. (PNG is a common wealth country.) There are paved roads, contrary to the dirt and gravel rounds in PNG. Fast food restaurants are everywhere. Half of them we couldn’t eat at for a while, we usually eat tons of vegetables and a little meat. Mc Donald’s is mostly processed meat and grease. Not to say it doesn’t taste good but we weren’t used to so much meat and oil. The meat grown in PNG is usually expensive or tough and chewy: chicken and crocodile. There is a crocodile farm that mianly uses the crocodiles for  the skins, and so they sell the meat cheaply. It tastes like chicken but has a different texture. There is a small store in Ukarumpa that gives us all that we need. But the prices are going up all the imported things like beef, lunch meat, toys…ect. Now we can buy meat for sometimes 3 times less here in the US.

Walking on cross walks and being careful opening car doors are lessons I had to learn the hard way. It was so embarrassing, we were visiting our cousins when I opened the car door into another car next to use and scratched it. Lesson learned. The other time wasn’t so bad, because all I got was an angry car honk and a little bit of a talking to by not just one but three of my family members. (Older brother, younger brother and mom.)

Being a furloughing MK  is nice at times. I get to finish school by lunch most days. I get to see my grandparents and eat fast food. I get to eat meat which we can only get occasionally in Papua New Guinea.  I am privileged enough to get a tablet. It brings “friends.” I vaguely know a few people in online games. I started reading the ‘Lord of the Rings.’ Books rarely take me more than 3 days but it has taken me a couple of weeks and I’m rarely half way through. In my defense it combined all three of the books so if you split it up, I finished the first book, and I’m about 2 thirds of the way through. We visited our other grandparents in Florida and we went to Aquatica. We visited my parents friends in our car trip in Colorado. They went camping with us and taught us (or retaught us) how to fish. We later visited friends who went to a training course with us in PNG and their oldest, a little 6 year old’s first words to me were “do you like legos? I have The Lego Movie and lots of legos.” Here in Illinois we have gone to a wildlife preserve called the Arboretum where there are tons of trees, and we have taken tons of pictures. I can’t put any on here because I don’t have them on this device but I took one thinking that one tree was photo bombing the other tree. Ha ha haa. Any way we have visited a couple friends and all of our grandparents. We have had a ton of fun. Tomorrow we are visiting a Planetarium so I hope to have even more fun!!! This is how our year back in the States has gone.

Some tough things about home schooling include: few friends. I only see my youth group and neighbors. In Ukarumpa we are a small comunity of Christian belivers. We are a very tight community and everyone knows each other. I don’t get to do much and I often feel bored here. I am losing the calluses on my feet. I have to wear shoes everywhere. (I know it sounds silly but I hate shoes.) I don’t have a real math teacher so if I have problems I can’t ask the teacher for help. My mom is not really a math teacher and finds math hard.  I miss my friends and I try to write to them but I often forget, and I really just sit around all day playing on my tablet or reading or watching a movie all day. It is so cold so I can’t really do anything. My life is taking sharp turns. First I’m in a theme park exhausted and the next I’m sitting in my house waiting for something to happen. I don’t want to sound like a Puddle Glum but I am often bored out of my mind. These are some of the pros and con’s of being me in the States. I hope you have enjoyed my story about this year.

November 2, 2014

Furlough Fall Fun!

by mendibpng

In PNG around this time of year, we decorate with fake leaves, pumpkins and gourds. Sometimes we make some kind of fall craft…usually something simple like cutting out leaves and putting what we’re thankful for on them. It makes coming home to REAL Fall extremely meaningful for us. Here are a few pictures from the last couple of weeks. I wish I could express the deep meaning there is behind being able to do things like this after not being able to for 4 years! Awesome. Refreshing. Breathtaking. Fun. Some things I didn’t get pictures of because we were just living in the moment: like when we stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts one afternoon and drove around to find the prettiest trees in Wheaton.

We rode into Glen Ellyn last week because the weather was gorgeous. I think it was 74 degrees out!
jacob&JB bike trailer

grandma and twins
The kids have been to the arboretum several times with Grandma and Grandpa. Grandpa has been giving Noah and Ellie photography lessons there!
Then…picking out pumpkins!

JB pumpkin



JB& Grandpa
“Grandpa, I want him to have a tongue” —best quote by Jenny Beth.
joe ellie pumpkins
And last night, we visited the Paper Bag Man who made funny jokes and gave the kids treats before they went trick or treating in Ben’s old neighborhood.


We ended the night by visiting the dancing lady (Aka Grandma!) and some of her friends. It was very nice to be inside after shivering outside earlier!

October 30, 2014

Life in America: by Ellie

by mendibpng

(photo by Ellie) Arboretum fall leaves.

Coming home to America is different then coming home to Papua New Guinea. It is a total shock when you go to restaurants and see how many choices on the menu. Or when you get overwhelmed by Walmart by so many things to buy. In Ukarumpa, there’s only one tiny little store with not a lot of choices. It runs out of things sometimes and it’s really expensive.

When you go to Papua New Guinea there are different rules, because it is totally another culture. Women have to wear skirts below their knees. Here we can wear shorter skirts or shorts.

Here we have the chance to do different things, like maybe swimming. If you live in Ukarumpa its not everyday you get to go swimming in a pool. But you might not get to swimming as much, but I did. Here, there are smooth roads; over there there are rocky and bumpy roads.

There, I have more friends because we are a close community so we get along very well. My friends are very close, I can walk to their houses. I do a special club with all the girls in my class. We play games and go outside every day.

Well in Ukarumpa, in PNG, also part of being a close community is welcoming everyone new. But here in America there is so many more people and you can’t go up to everyone and say, “welcome to America!” They might think your weird or kookoo. I feel shy here but over there I feel very funny. Here I’m serious, there I’m not. And here’s a tip. Don’t tell people about some gross stuff that you eat or do. They will stay away from you for the rest of their life. Or don’t eat off the floor in public!

Being a missionary kid means first goodbye to your home and your friends. Then transition….then you get over with it. I try to feel good about the things that are about to happen here in America. But when I trust in God he hears me and helps me through. I like this verse: Joshua 1:9.
By Ellie I Pehrson. (Or PIE. My initials spelled backwards)
Ahhh I love pie.

%d bloggers like this: