Why I Love Papua New Guinea

December 20th started early, with Jeff, Maggie and I piling into the Land Cruiser.  We were going to Kaipale for their special Christmas service.  Pastor Ki had invited Jeff to come and preach.

The sun was shining, the air was barely warm, and the road was rough — as always.  As we drove, we looked out20141220_150347 over the trees and watched the warmth create clouds from the hillsides.  We rose over 3000 feet as we drove from Birip to Sirunki.  We were no longer in a valley, but were on the saddle of the mountain range.  We drove by Lake Sirunki where many LCMS missionary families used to go to relax and play with their families. The warm air turned cool.  Everything just felt good.

Jeff parked the Land Cruiser at the gate and about a hundred people lined up along the path from the car to the door of the church.  We shook hands with men, women, children, and lapuns (elderly).  Greetings of “Merry Christmas” were exchanged, even by those who only speak Engan, because “Merry Christmas” is “Merry Christmas” in Engan (it is always interesting to see what words have made it into Engan from English). I can never get over the welcomes we receive, especially from the lapuns.  Most of them don’t speak a word of English or Tok Pisin, but their joy is substantial.  They shake my hand with energy, speaking rapidly in Enga.  They consider the time when the missionaries were in Enga before as a golden age, a time when things were good.  Since they left, times have been hard.  They see our faces, and they have hope that things will come better again.  It is humbling.

The guitars started playing as we sat down on the bench to the side of the chancel.  The guitars play harder and the people sing louder when the missionaries come.  A woman was sitting there already with a young baby in her bilum.  She let Maggie and me peek inside “Her name is Michelle,” the mom said. “She is getting baptized today.  Another mom sat down with a very handsome baby boy.

The service started, and Pastor Ki’s warmth reflected from his eyes and his smile as he conducted the liturgy both in Engan and Tok Pisin.  Jeff got up and preached the sermon.

Kaipale is one congregation in Sirunki.   Sirunki is the center of The Spirit Movement, a false teaching that proclaims that the Father created the world and then went away.  The Son redeemed the world and then went away.  Now is the time of the Spirit — and dreams, prophecy, and intuition are better than Holy Scripture.  Kaipale is faithful to Scripture and orthodox Christianity and it is important to keep them strong.  The God who was born a baby and died on the cross to save them has not left and forgotten them.  In Heaven, He continues to love them, to prepare a place for them, to sit at the right hand of God the Father, who is also caring for them and providing them with their daily bread.20141220_124306

After the sermon came the baptisms — seven people stood in the first row in front of the chancel.  Six mothers holding six babies, and one old man.  Behind each of the women, forming a second row, was a man — the father of each baby.  In baptisms here, the mother holds each baby upright, and the pastor goes by and baptizes each one, taking water from a bowl held by someone next to him.  Today, Jeff baptized each person as Pastor Ki held the bowl.  I could see the water pouring from Jeff’s hand over each head.  When everyone took their seats again, seven small puddles sat on th20141220_125647e floor.

Two young female confirmands came forward.  The head man and head meri, the layleaders of the congregation, came forward and stood beside them to show that they had been examined and accepted.  The faith these young women professed was the faith of the Bible and that congregation.  Pastor Ki stood behind, with his hand on each woman’s head as Jeff blessed them, one at a time.

Then Holy Communion.  Everyone lined up for Christmas Communion.  All of the congregations in the area have not been able to have communion for a while.  Pastor Danny, who usually brings communion 20141220_130506wine from Lae, had his last shipment confiscated by the police, despite having a letter from the police chief.  So today, Communion was especially joyful.

More songs and then more handshakes and joy. A three hour service full of good teaching and the joy of bringing people dead in their sins into Christ through baptism.  If it had been five hours, it would still be too short.

The faith, the joy, and the perseverence of the Engans always brings us so much joy.  “I can’t believe they pay me to do this.” Jeff whispered to me in the middle of the service.  In a period of leaving the country, re-entering the country, and possibly re-leaving the country over and over again — it can be hard to remember this. It had been ten months since I’d been able to go out with Jeff when he preached. Being in the congregations always grounds me and reminds me why God has brought us here.  It truly is an honor and a privilege to work among these people who need the assurance of God’s love, and in return, give the same reassurance.

Merry Christmas.

A Day Like Any Other Day

The rain is falling for the third or fourth time today.  Some days, I can’t keep track.  The dog is hiding under the house and the cats are cuddled up on the porch.  It’s a night like any other here in the Papua New Guinea Highlands.

We don’t know how many we’ll have left.

I lead devotions on Tuesday night, because it is the night for our regional conference call.  Tonight we prayed the Litany —

“To rule and govern Your holy Christian Church; to preserve all pastors and ministers of Your Church in the true knowledge and understanding of Your wholesome Word and to sustain them in holy living;

To put an end to all schisms and causes of offense; to bring into the way of truth all who have erred and are deceived;

To beat down Satan under our feet, to send faithful laborers into Your harvest, and to accompany Your Word with Your grace and Spirit. —

We implore you to hear us, Good Lord.”                                           (Lutheran Service Book, p. 288)

And we sang “The Church’s One Foundation” –

The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, Her Lord;
She is His new creation, by water and The Word.
From heav’n He came and sought her, to be His holy Bride;
With His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.   (Lutheran Service Book, p. 644)

That got me to thinking about Donna.  Donna is an incredibly special woman who has been a missionary for several years.  She retired from being a teacher and then went and served in Guinea.  After her term in Guinea, she signed up again and went to Indonesia.  At the school in Indonesia, someone accused them of evangelizing, and they were deported, and then she was sent to New Guinea, where I met her.  She hugged me with great energy the first time we met.  Donna equals warmth and comfort.

Our first weeks, we were neighbors with Donna.  She would sit on the porch swing every morning, singing hymns.  Often, Jeff and I were still lying in bed, trying to process this amazing place before we were inundated with it again.  Donna told us that before she was deported from Indonesia, she sat and sang hymns while she waited alone to find out what was going to happen to her.

I’ve been singing a lot more hymns lately — either out loud or in my head.

This morning, Anton sent me a picture of the latest article in the paper, accusing us of not even being missionaries and being criminals (who, us?  really???) and I’ve been thinking that it might be time to start getting a suitcase ready.  We have not been served any papers, and if we get deported, I am not sure that the laws will be followed – they certainly haven’t been thus far.

Tonight, the thought popped into my head:  “If I were to need to put my whole life into a suitcase, what would I pick?”  Thus far, I have my favorite mauve vest.  I don’t wear it here.  It’s usually too warm or too cold.  I’m not sure it even fits anymore. Without hesitation, I grabbed our Advent wreath, then our wedding picture and the kids’ baptismal portraits. I probably will try to cram in our Christmas ornaments — all of them were picked each year and commemorate something that happened in the year.  I will miss my Mexican blankets.  I haven’t used them here, but I’ve had them since before I was married, and they are still warm and soft.  I will also miss the spice houses my mother bought me as a wedding present.  Maybe if there is room somewhere.  It seems like a weird list of things.

The Christmas things have a particular value.  Our stuff hadn’t arrived yet last Christmas.  We had been traveling in early December and very eager to get home to Timothy so that we could be at church again.  Culture shock slammed into us as we sat in church on that 3rd Sunday of Advent, and they sang the exact same songs they’d sung since we arrived, and the exact same songs they’ve sung ever since.  The bush is the same, the weather is the same, the roads are the same.  Nothing was different.  I don’t want to feel that way again at Christmas.

There is a pervading sense of calm.  The newspapers may attack or defend, but here,  the rain falls, the cats cry on the porch as if I hadn’t just given them a pile of bacon rinds ten minutes ago, and the day just kind of meanders to night, like every other day.

Whatever happens, God is good.

Sinners in the Hands of a Merciful God

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.

As far as the east is from the west,

So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Just as a father has compassion on his children,

So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.

For He Himself knows our frame;

He is mindful that we are but dust.

(Psalm 103:10-14)

Psalm 103:1-13 was the text today for Bishop Joshua Morai’s funeral.  He died of liver cancer at 41 years old.  He faithfully served a region that was not his home, caring for the pastors under him.  He left behind a beautiful wife, and five strong children, and many who grieve his death.

Still, plenty of people said that Bishop Joshua must have done something evil in order to be punished by God this way, ignoring the proof of all that God has blessed him with.

This kind of thinking isn’t unusual to Papua New Guinea.  We see it in the United States as well.  When we suffer, like Job, we cry out “Why did God do this to me?”

Then there is the other side of the coin – The Prosperity Gospel.  The religion of America – “God helps those who help themselves,” Ben Franklin proclaimed.  The chief agents of this message today are Rick Warren, Beth Moore, and Joel Osteen, to name a few.  They create their own lists of commandments and state boldly that if you do these things, God will reward you.

Before we went out into the mission field, I was finishing my training as a Mental Health Counselor.  Several people came into my office who had trusted in these false prophets, but could not see that they were false.  God must be false.  They did what was right, so God must not be just.  They were suffering, hurting, and angry.

But as the Psalm says “God does not deal with us according to our sins, he does not reward us according to our iniquity.”   The person that believes in God has His compassion.  He doesn’t reward the believer who sins the least with the most good stuff, and He doesn’t punish the believer who sins the most with the worst punishments.

Our reaction to suffering tends to be anger.  And it is anger because we do not have a concept of how sinful we are.

We forget that Christ promised that we would suffer because we belong to Him and instead we imagined that we would be prosperous, because we are on the winning side.  Satan wants us to be angry with God and to walk away from Him.

When you ask most people, even Christians, why they should go to heaven, the response is “because I’m basically a good person.”  I have heard this statement from child abusers, drug addicts, and adulterers.  We forget that Adam and Eve sinned against God by eating a piece of fruit.  They chose to listen to the serpent instead of God.

The punishment was that Adam and Eve, knowing good and evil, would experience pain and death.  All of their descendants, all of us, would deserve pain and death.  When Adam and Eve, the culmination of God’s creation, refused to trust God in a small thing, the whole of creation rebelled against them.  Work would be a struggle, childbirth would have pain, bodies would get sick, sons would murder each other, and death would come.  These are not punishments, but consequences.  A world with sin cannot work the way it should.

But death was not where it would end.  God was “mindful that we are but dust” and had compassion.  Adam and Eve lost their home, for their own good.  God clothed them and still caused the rain to fall and food to grow.  Most of all, He promised Christ, who would take on their punishment, because they could not.  He even tried to be gentle with Cain and gave Him a lifetime to repent.  But Cain would not trust God, he only feared his fate and blamed God.

“God does not deal with us according to our sins, He does not reward us according to our iniquity.”  When we are suffering, we tend to forget the good things we still have.  As the meaning to The First Article says:

…He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.

He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have.  He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.

He defends me from all danger and guards me from all evil.

All this he does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.  For all this, it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

But how easy to get angry when when one or some of these things are taken away, as if they were not gifts, but entitlements.  We lose a job – “God has abandoned me.”   Our child gets sick — “How dare God allow this to happen!”  A spouse cheats on us–“God must hate me.”

There is one other reaction to suffering, or to lack of suffering.  There is the person who believes they are so evil that they don’t deserve God’s good gifts.  They look at their lives and feel condemned by the fact that they have good things because they had been so bad.  They think “God couldn’t possibly ignore those things.  He couldn’t possibly REALLY forgive me without somehow taking it out on me.”  That person tortures themselves with these thoughts.  They still struggle with certain sins.  How could God ignore that and be good to them?

But this chapter gives them comfort, too.  God doesn’t deal with us according to our sin. He doesn’t reward us according to our iniquity.  He has lovingkindness toward us and compassion.  He removes those sins as far as the East is from the West, as far as the Heavens are from the earth.

He did this by putting them into His Son and letting Jesus take the full brunt of this punishment that we deserved. Jesus, being God and man, and being sinless, took it, surrendered to it, and defeated it so now it is truly gone.

The compassion that the psalmist talks about is shown clearly with Jesus when He became a man and lived among us.  Those who were suffering with blindness, tortured by leprosy, and terrorized by demons, He blessed them.  He forgave their sins.  He healed them.  He had no problem with eating with sinners to lead them to repentance, and to honor that repentance.   He was infinitely patient with the men who witnessed everything when they still forgot what they had seen or misunderstood what they had heard.

Look at how He responded to Peter – when Peter started to sink on the water when he looked away from Christ, Christ reached out and grabbed a hold of Peter; when Peter denied Him three times, He restored Peter, three times.  The only time He was truly stern with Peter, was when Peter confessed that Christ was God, and then turned right around and insisted that Christ must not die.

When Thomas refused to hear the witness of ten or more of his brethren, and insisted that he would not believe that Jesus was alive unless he could put actually touch his wounds, Christ came, and using Thomas’s very words, allowed him to do what he needed in order to believe.

When Lazarus died, He wept.  He knew Lazarus would be coming out of the tomb, but He was brought to tears.

“He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”

God knows what we are made of and He has compassion on us as we suffer.  He knows it is hard.  He knows it hurts.  He knows we sin and are full of iniquity.  But He removes that from us and loves us.  He blesses us richly, still, in the midst of our suffering, even when it is hard for us to see.  He is with us through it.  “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.”

And when Bishop Joshua met God face to face, He was not accused of His sins, but was welcomed in to heaven, being told “Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21),” as will we.

The Haus Sik (Hospital)

Something takes us to Wabag once or twice a week –buying diesel, produce, and/or top up cards for our phones.  If we need one of these things (today was several things), we usually take care of the others, too.  if we are going to Wabag, you can also bet that a person or people want to come along.

Today, it was Bishop Nik who needed to go.  Bishop Joshua was in the hospital at Wabag.  He’d recently been diagnosed with liver cancer.  I have no idea how old he is, but he doesn’t look like he’s reached 30 yet.  Papua New Guineans when they are young look younger than they are.  When they are older, they look older than they are.

Joshua is bishop of the Mari Mari district — the remote regions.  He is a nice guy, handsome, well-dressed, very kind.  He always seemed to ooze energy.  A few months ago, we’d heard that he had typhoid. Liver cancer frequently follows hepatitis here.

Hospital wards are like you see in British movies — large, narrow rooms with bed after bed after bed of patients, only instead of evoking an air of cleanliness and organization, here they project misery and confusion.  The hospital provides the bare minimum — the bed.  The person often has to bring their own blankets, pillows, etc., if they want to have them.

People who come to the hospital also need to bring someone to come and take care of them.  This person buys and prepares food for the patient and stays with the patient.  They often sleep on the floor next to the patient (anyone who knows anything about how dirty the floors are in hospitals is probably cringing right now), and they also do not have blankets or pillows.   Plenty of times they don’t own them.  Houses are warm.  Hospitals are not.

As we went into the center room, the wards branch off from here, we met Pastor Maniosa and those caring for Bishop Joshua.  They were waiting for the doctor to be done with him.  In the next corridor, the one marked “Kitchen/Morgue,” a group of people were wailing.  Pastor Maniosa told us that one of the men who was a translator with him on the Enga Bible Translation Project had just died.  He was a Big Man, so there were plenty of people there grieving him and wailing.

Bishop Joshua walked by me and I didn’t even recognize him.  He was walking to the bathroom, just outside.  When he was done, he came back and sat down on a bench outside.  He shook hands with everyone, but held out just one finger.  He was so emaciated, except for his bulging belly.  The whole time we were there, he never even lifted up his head.

The doctor had prescribed medicine for him — but the hospital doesn’t have it.  It will have to be bought in Hagen, if it can be found there.  He also needs a wheelchair.  The hospital doesn’t have one of those for him, either.  Another thing to buy in Hagen (this is the hospital that didn’t have aspirin for Samuel two days ago).  Papua New Guinea has nationalized medicine.  This is what it looks like.

Bishop Nik and Jeff prayed with Bishop Joshua, and assured him that he was in God’s hands, that God had redeemed him, and was caring for him even now.  This is an important message in Papua New Guinea.  Sickness can be viewed as a sign that a person has been abandoned by God or cursed by a demon or a sanguma (witch – I pray that no poor, innocent woman is being blamed for this).  Suffering is part of a sinful world, but God is still holding us and caring for us.  God may heal, because we have more to do here, or He may bring us home to Heaven.  But even this, God will use for good.  It’s hard hearing this, looking at Joshua, and comforting at the same time, because it is true.

First Day Back in Papua New Guinea

We are back in Papua New Guinea.

The flight went well, immigration was smooth, and we had the honor of dinner with our friends and coworkers.  We were able to catch Donna the night before she returned to the United States for good.  We will miss her.

The next morning we put our things into our red Land Cruiser (aka “The Cranberry”- Maggie is thoroughly embarrassed by our blatantly obvious “Psych” tribute).  We picked up meat and groceries.  With a completely loaded down car, we ate a quick lunch at the Hagen Club and hit the road.

The CD in the stereo was the same as when we’d left – The Best of Annie Lennox.  I wonder if Anton liked it, or just kept the stereo off.  With “Sweet Dreams are Made of This,” we climbed into the mountains, down and up the long-windy-sometimes-paved-sometimes-not PNG Highlands Highway.  The drive was our chief concern because of Jeff’s back, but everything seemed to be going okay.  We stopped at the mountaintop market to get cabbage, potatoes, broccoli, and carrots.  “Here Comes the Rain Again” literally did usher in the afternoon rainstorm.

We arrived at the gate feeling better than we anticipated.  Our dog, Uffda, was chained to the house and her tail was wagging happily as she yipped her greeting.  We also saw Cinder, in all her blackness, slink into the yard toward the back door.  She’d get her greetings soon.

In the house, everything was in its place, and beautifully clean.  God bless Nancy.  She helped us unload the car and gave us the news – some good, some bad.

Everyone had been praying for us and are very happy we are back.

The power went out not long before we got home (it stayed out for the next 24 hours).

The water tanks were overflowing because of all the rain.

Uffda killed three of the kittens.  There is one left.  Nancy buried them in the back yard, because that’s what Maggie would’ve wanted.

During a sports competition, some guys from a neighboring village stole our puppy, Callie.  Nancy, absolutely livid, went to the community court and got us compensation – 40 kina (less than 20 US dollars, but twice the value of a dog in PNG).  This made us sad.  We liked Callie, and since she was born here, she knew this was home, unlike her mother, Uffda, who keeps trying to go back to Nancy’s and who has a propensity toward killing small animals – not a good trait around here.  We are going to have to figure out what to do about her, quickly.

Birip was sad, too, though.  This was more than a theft.  It was an insult.  The guests stole from the honored guests of their host.  But we are blessed to be in a peace-loving village, so they sought compensation because they would not get the dog back, and there will be other dogs.  There are plenty.  But the seminary is always sad when bad things happen, which have happened in a continual, stream, because they fear we will leave and who knows when the LCMS will send another pastor/teacher?  They have seen so many missionaries come and go.  Every time we have had to leave and came back we could see the relief.

Nancy left and we made a pot of tea and caught our breath on the porch.  Then, we petted animals, assessed the propane situation, and set about preparing dinner – Pork chops, broccoli, and rice (I burned the rice.  Jeff said “Now we know we are home.”  The one downside of a truly powerful stove and an ADHD cook).

With the power out, it was dinner by candlelight, devotions and hymns, and an early bedtime. The air was cold, the bed was warm, and the night was just as dark with our eyes open as when they were shut.

How Culture Shock Starts

It always starts with a little thing:  Something that is probably not worth getting worked up about, but it is something that has meaning and coherence, or at least it definitely does RIGHT now in an urgent way that feels like it always has had meaning and coherence. Others don’t attach that value to it, and so frustration builds.

For me, in Australia, it’s baseball caps.   Some of the “youngsters” here wear baseball caps of American teams — I’ve seen mostly Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees, thankfully no Cubs.  But they don’t care about the teams, in fact the first time I asked a guy bedecked in a Giants cap, he didn’t even know it was a baseball team or that it was from the U.S.

See, I'd LOVE to see this guy right about now.
See, I’d LOVE to see this guy right about now.

In Indiana, when I saw a Dodgers cap, I KNEW I had just met someone else who cared about the Dodgers, and might even come from the same “world” I was from — or a drug gang member, could have been that, too..but being from L.A., even that was nostalgic.  Whether we talked or not, it was a flash from home.  Someone wearing a Dodger hat 2000 miles away in the middle of Cubs/Tigers territory definitely put significance on wearing a Dodger hat.

In Papua New Guinea, I know that people wear these things because they come over and end up in the second hand stores, and there is no possible way that they know anything about what they are wearing.  The same guy might be wearing a t-shirt saying “It’s all about the $$, B*tch.”  He won’t know what that is about either, because he doesn’t speak English.  Still, as remote as we are, the flash of Dodger blue and the familiar “LA” is a glimmer of home, and something loved from another world.

But here, the culture is so close to my own  that seeing a baseball cap bobbing up and down in the midst of the crowds catches my attention, and it FEELS like it should mean something to the guy wearing it, and therefore it SHOULD serve as a commonality to me.  Then I realize that it has as much significance to the pimply-faced guy wearing it as his Nikes do — a brand, a style, a cool design, a comfortable hat.

So then I just feel annoyed, and annoyed with myself for feeling annoyed at such a little thing.

In reality, this isn’t the start of culture shock.  It’s a phase, the start of the Second Phase, which is the hard part, and people notice when it gets hard.  When people generically talk about culture shock, they generally mean this part.  At full-blown Second Phase, there are so many things not making sense that the person feels isolated and overwhelmed, and often pretty dang angry.

But there is also the first phase, which is pretty neat — looking around constantly and noticing everything, seeking commonalities and marveling at the differences.  Then, there is the third phase where adapting and integrating bring peace, so I’m told.  Having been pulled out twice this year while in hard core Phase Two, I don’t know what that integration is like, at least, internationally.  Frequently, I’m not sure that I ever will get that far.  I’m feeling pretty worn out.

photo credit: Passion Leica

Tok Pisin: An Illustration

As I have explained before, there are 800+ languages in Papua New Guinea.  Because of this, Tok Pisin, or Melanesian Pidgin, is frequently spoken so that people can communicate with each other.  Tok Pisin has about 2500 words in it.  That means there are a LOT of things, thoughts, and ideas that don’t have words.  There is no word for love in Tok Pisin.  There is only active case.  Frequently, when discussing something, rather than having one word for it, there might be 3-4 sentences needed.

That’s why I really love this XKCD comic called “Upgoer 5” .  Randall Munroe tries to describe a rocket using only the top 1000 words used in English.  He ends up having to describe things like we frequently find ourselves speaking with our neighbors, our students, and our friends.