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.

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.

The G20 is Coming! The G20 is Coming!

Brisbane’s preparations for the G20 have been interesting to observe. Here are a few things that are happening.IMG_20141106_214842

1.  “Colour Me Brisbane.”  As part of the Cultural Festival, there are various buildings that have been lit up in a multitude of colors, culminating with King George Square, where City Hall is.  Lasers project the images of organ pipes on the Greek columns of City Hall.  Across the square, there is a computer touch screen where people can press the keys and make the pipes come alive  (my son describes their liveliness a different way — something about “seizure-inducing.”).

Another tablet allows you to project laser “fireworks” onto the corners of City Hall in the colors of a nation’s flag — any flag in the G20.  We kept bombarding City Hall with American-themed explosions. Sure, there were six other flags with the same colors, but we knew.  Oh, we knew.



Artwork celebrating Australia’s resources is projected with amazing clarity onto the building just next door to City Hall.  It truly looks like the building has been painted to advertise the wonders of Australian produce.  Five minutes later, it is calling attention to the beautiful Australian beaches.



Towering over the square, the flags of the G-20 are laser-projected onto a nearby skyscraper.






A lot of other things are happening, too.  The South Bank has musical concerts and cultural displays.  Brisbane is putting it’s best foot forward.

2. Security Measures.  We just saw that there will be areas blocked off to traffic in the name of security.  Also, we read that we can’t walk down the streets with glass bottles or eggs anymore — favorite tools of protesters.   Walking along Eizabeth Street, we saw that the utility access manholes have sticker strips across them so that if they’ve been opened, it is obvious. People who travel into The City from other parts of Brisbane need to plan on delays and possible searches.


3.  Avoidance.  Because of all of this, about 75 % of the companies who are centered in the City Business District are arranging other options for their workers — either to work remotely or from other offices.

Also, the hotels for other areas around Brisbane — such as on Stradford Island (Straddie), The Gold Coast, and the Sunshine Coast — are filling up from Brisbaners (Brisbanians?) deciding to go on holiday instead of dealing with any of the chaos.

4.  Full Up –  Brisbane hotels are full.  We were able to book until the 10th, but no further.  Our Brisbane experience will be coming to an end in just a few days.

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.

Tea is Just Different

The most surprising thing for me during my time in Australia is that I have developed a real appreciation for tea; most surprising because I thought I already liked tea — a lot.   When I lived in the U.S., it was pretty rare that I didn’t have a cup of iced tea in my hand as I went through my day, just as many of my friends went through their day with a Starbucks in their hands.  I went to tea stores.  I sought out good tea.

“Going through the day,” is the point.  In the US, we’ve become a culture that brings our food with us.   I’m probably even more guilty of that than most people.  If I can’t really have actual fun making my meal, then I might as well just pay someone to make something I can consume without thinking — that way, someone else has to clean up, and I can go about my business. C:UsersLoraDownloads7847504684_61c8762524_o.jpg

Tea is countercultural.  Tea — loose leaf, in a pot, possibly with milk and sugar — requires a person to pause.  Instead of a drink on the way, tea, properly done becomes an interlude.  Instead of dragging it along for the ride, I have to sit down and enjoy it.  It doesn’t allow multitasking.  Even when I am reading or writing while having tea, I have to stop what I am doing to prepare it and I have to pause while I take a drink.  With coffee or iced tea, my eyes rarely leave what I am doing.  And there is something pleasant about knowing that when that first cup is done, the process starts all over again — that second cup is a mere gentle nudge that the end is approaching. No matter what, tea slows down time.  (photo credit: Ben Babcock)

Tea is a culinary experience.  Because attention is needed and because tea is more gentle to the palate, the food that goes along with tea is more sophisticated and complex.    Starbucks has improved their pastries and other food over the past couple of years, but they don’t compare to the scones, tarts, cakes, sandwiches, and quiches that go along with tea.  Here, there really is no practice of Tea Time like the British have but it does still somehow seem natural to have a break in the afternoon. Tea and a trifle seem to fit that break perfectly.

Tea is quiet.  I used to interview respondents in Starbucks and sometimes I could barely hear them.  A few days ago, I ordered a cup of tea to-go at the tea shop around the corner.  The clerk (is there a word for a tea barista?)  filled the to-go cup with hot water, added a mesh filter, and put in the tea.  Then, we both twiddled our thumbs for five minutes while it steeped and he could get his filter back.  No wooshing, whirring, or hollering of names.  Even the man making the tea was simply waiting.  Sitting in a tea shop is more leisurely because of the quiet.  There is just conversation or space to read, a nice snack, and of course, the teapot.

Tea has its own culture.  Intellectually, I’ve known this for most of my life.  From the tea ceremonies in Japan2271432166_bce0c11783_o (1), the love that the Brits have for the drink, and the Boston Tea Party, tea has shaped the world.  I really experienced it personally for the first time when we were visiting one of Jeff’s college friends who had lived in Korea for a time.  In his crowded little office of wall-to-wall books, Adam bought out a special tray with an elegant tea pot and cups, and prepared the tea before us.  After he handed us our cups, THEN we could catch up, pausing every once in a while to make sure that our cups were full.  Just the presence of the tea, so thoughtfully presented created an air of hospitality in an otherwise tight situation (picture credit: ~mers).

Tea is cultured.  Because the person is present in the experience, throughout history, there has been a lot of attention given to the beauty and usefulness of the vessels that hold it and serve it.  Our “irreverent” culture has had a lot more fun with teapots and such as of late, and really, there is so much fun that can be had.  The beauty and creativity that goes into tea is impressive.

When we lived in Pasadena, we also experienced what happens when that isn’t respected.  Back in the early days when Starbucks was sweeping the country, Lipton test marketed a tea shop in the shopping district.  The only thing that they did right was the tea (and despite what most people think, Lipton does have good tea, especially when you get away from the grocery store).  The seats were uncomfortable, the atmosphere was bland, and the food that they offered was airline quality.  We liked going there and trying new flavors, but there was nothing there that invited us to sit and relax.

Over the years, I’ve found tea a healthier option than Diet Coke, It has added to various experiences like Asian restaurants, but now I see why tea is a civilizing force.  I am excited to bring it with me, wherever life takes us through the many years.

(top photo credit:  Laurel F)