a day in the life [of a language learner]

 

Written February 9, 2017fog out window

I tiptoe across the kitchen floor to look out the window. Though I see it every morning, I never tire of looking out onto a landscape of thick jungle with clouds of fog drifting slowly along the valley below. I can’t see the river from here, but I can hear its quiet roar in the midst of the chorus of the bugs and birds that greet the sunrise. My chilly toes remind me that I wanted to check the thermometer — surely it’s in the 60s with how cold I feel. Nope, the little red line tells me that it’s actually 72 degrees, a temperature probably considered warm in many places. Not here. I’m looking for a blanket to wrap up in while I read my Bible and start my day.

 

I was hoping to wash clothes today, but the pitter-patter of rain on the roof makes me question if we’ll get enough sun for me to be able to run the washing machine off the power from the solar panels. Even if there is enough sun for that, I’ll need to use the clotheslines under the house rather than the ones out on the end of the house.

I light the stove and start heating up the water for our morning hot drink. We’ve still not taken up coffee drinking, but a mug of hot tea or Milo (a chocolate malt drink) helps to take the edge off the chilly mornings. After a breakfast of banana bread and some language review time, we’ll be under the house with Andru and Nolas for our language session.

We went on two “field trips” with them earlier this week — one to a group of hamlets we hadn’t visited before, and the other down to the river where people bathe, and wash clothes and dishes. Since then, we’ve been reviewing what we learned on those outings, and have been asking questions having to do with those contexts. Like, “who can bathe where?” “where are people forbidden to bathe?” and “who decides who can build a house in a hamlet?”

After our language session finishes in the mid- to late-afternoon, we’ll be trying to organize all the information we’ve gathered that day. Before you know it, it’ll be time to make supper and turn on the HF radio to “check in” on the evening radio sched. Then dishes and showers and maybe a little time to read or talk before we call it a night and climb under the mosquito net.

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growing up fast

written January 31, 2017

When we first moved into Mouk and started building the house, our big prayer request (as far as language was concerned) was that our mouths would somehow be able to make the sounds of the Mouk language — particularly the uvular R. The uvular R is a sound you have to make way back in the back of your throat, almost as if you were gargling. When we were in language-learning training in the U.S., the uvular R was the one sound that we couldn’t pronounce, so it was really intimidating finding out that the uvular R is all over the place in the Mouk language. Plus, making that sound by itself is one thing, but then trying to pronounce a uvular R in the middle of a bunch of other consonants and vowels was quite the challenge when we first arrived. We probably sounded worse than babies learning how to talk.

A few weeks into language learning, while still struggling to make the uvular R sound, the biggest thing that was tripping us up was trying to remember all the different possession words and how the verb prefix changes based on the vowel of the verb root. In English, if I want to say “my Father” or “my banana” or “my house” or “my leg,” I can use the same possessive pronoun “my” for all those things. But in Mouk, there’s a different way of saying “my” for each of those things. They split all nouns into categories — and so how you say “my” depends on which category the noun is. Banana is in one category, so to say “my banana” I’d say “ngagu obul”, but house is in a different category, so I’d need to say “lugu ninu” to say “my house.” Relatives and body parts are two totally different categories, and they get the “my” attached right to the word:

“lugude” my mother

“ligaw” my father

“luku” my opposite gender sibling

“golngong” my stomach

“kongu” my leg

“omtugu” my eye

And then of course there’s a different word for “your”, “his”, “our”, and “their” in each of those categories, too, which means our brains were often tired and hurting from trying to keep everything straight. We would often get mixed up and use the wrong possession word, which put us probably in the toddler category, since most of the 4 year olds here in Mouk can keep it all straight! It’s still sometimes a challenge to know which category some nouns fit into, but looking back, we can see just how far God has brought us in learning all that stuff.

Now, we can put together basic sentences, but we struggle to know where to put the “glue.” We can say “I get up. I eat. I go outside. I walk around.” But connecting all those things into a story that flows better and doesn’t sound quite so choppy is a challenge. We’re still trying to discover and figure out how to use words that connect thoughts and express the relationship between different events — words like and, then, therefore, so that, because, in order to, with, instead of, like, but, otherwise, maybe, unless, etc.

Besides that, we’re still learning lots of new words, but now the challenge is not only remembering the new words, but differentiating between new and old words that sound super similar to each other. Previously, when we would try to remember or recall a new word, we just had to be able to tell it apart from maybe 100 – 300 other words (“what was that word? Oh, I think maybe it started with an ‘s’ and had a ‘p’ in it somewhere”). Now, however, with the pile of words in our brains is getting close to 1,000, there are more and more words in there that are starting to sound alike, and it’s easy for our brains to accidentally pull up the wrong one.

For example:

“mgo” (he leads) and “mko” (he hits)

“empi” (you pull it out) and “empmi” (you ask)

“pegim” (up there, above) and “pelim” (breadfruit)

“wom” (you) and “won” (thing)

“galo” (sweet, tasty) and “galou” (vine)

“mongmong” (nausea) and “mangmang” (quiet because it’s deserted) and “mangamanga” (crazy)

So, when we accidentally say, “what did you pull out?” instead of “what did you ask?” we just get to laugh and keep going. We may speak better than we did when we were “toddlers” in the Mouk language, but we’ve only made it as far as maybe being 4-6 year olds now. 🙂 I wonder what we’ll sound like when we’re teenagers?

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the house – from all four sides

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One little piece of God’s big plan

It started long before January 2013, but that’s when we first discovered the role God would have for us in His story, so that’s where I’ll start. Josiah got an email explaining that there were Mouk believers in Papua New Guinea who had started an outreach to a neighboring people group on their island (the island of New Britain). Having evaluated their skills and giftings, they knew they would be able to teach literacy, develop and teach chronological Bible lessons, present the Gospel, and disciple the believers in this outreach. But there was no Scripture available in that language (as is the case for the majority of Papua New Guinea’s 850 people groups), and these Mouk believers knew they lacked the education and resources to be able to translate God’s Word for that people group. So they asked for a Western missionary who could join their team and do the translation. And that request got passed along and was now in an email in front of us.

We were dating at the time, but we already knew God’s plan was to join our paths and send us to Papua New Guinea (PNG) to spread His glory among the unreached there. We were both in training with New Tribes Mission to become cross-cultural church planters. We had been praying about what God might have for us in the future…was this email part of His answer? We began praying about it. Josiah had been dreaming of working in partnership with PNG believers ever since he was a kid. God had directed Rachel into Bible translation since she was 16. Both our hearts longed to be a part of helping PNG believers reach out to neighboring people groups to make disciples and plant churches. This opportunity to join the Mouk believers in their outreach seemed tailor-made for us.

We were planning to visit PNG that summer so I (Rachel) could meet Josiah’s family, who serve as missionaries there on that island of New Britain. God worked things out so that during that summer trip we were able to make a short visit to see these Mouk believers and talk to them about this opportunity to partner with them in reaching another people group. We couldn’t make any promises, we told them, but we would keep praying about this. We still had a long ways to go before we would be able to come back to PNG as full-time missionaries.

Fast forward three years. We’ve gotten married, finished our training with New Tribes, seen God raise up an incredible team of people to send us with love, prayers and finances, and arrived in PNG as career missionaries. We have completed our orientation to the PNG national language and culture and our 3 month bush orientation. We’re now ready to get officially plugged in to what God is doing here in Papua New Guinea. Through every step along the way, God has continued to point us in the direction of partnering with an existing tribal church in PNG to take the Good News to a neighboring people group.

Josiah with some of our future Mouk coworkers

Josiah with some of our future Mouk coworkers

So a few weeks ago, we flew into Mouk to meet with the Mouk church leaders and some of the believers who have initiated this outreach to another people group. We were trusting that this trip would just confirm to us and the Mouk that God was still leading us to partner together, and that’s exactly what happened. Read more about our trip to Mouk.

Our next step is to move into Mouk and spend a year or two learning their language and culture, as this is crucial to good communication and effective teamwork. So we’re gathering materials for building a small house in Mouk and gearing up for diving into full-time language learning sometime in August. We’re excited to join hands with these solid believers whose hearts beat with God’s heart for the world to know HIM. What God has been doing among the Mouk started before we were born, and we are thrilled and humbled that He’s now allowing us to have a small part in what He’s doing in and through this passionate band of believers in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.

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Shop ’til you drop

We’ve finished drawing the house plans and calculating most of the supplies we’ll need. We’ve counted and calculated and crunched numbers ’til our brains hurt. Now, the really fun part begins…shopping!! We get to go around town, from store to store, trying to find the supplies we’ll need. There is no “Home Depot” or “Lowe’s” here, just a few hardware stores that sometimes have things in stock…and sometimes not. 🙂 We have figured out how much we need of different materials, so now we just find things, figure out the best deals, and start buying supplies.

Buying roofing iron

Buying roofing iron

We’ve ordered some of the “big” things, like corrugated roofing iron, wood (for part of the house; the Mouk are cutting the wood for the house frame), and a generator. The rest of the materials — like fly wire (for screens), 220v wiring, nails, cement, polyurethane, toilet, sinks, etc. — we’ll find, buy, load into a van or truck, and bring back here to Hoskins. I (Rachel) am not usually a fan of shopping, but buying supplies for housebuilding is actually pretty exciting, and I enjoy keeping track of all the lists, price quotes, receipts, etc as we shop. Josiah is great at finding good deals, or knowing the best place to look for those hard-to-find items.

After we bring home the supplies we’ve bought, we get to pack the supplies into boxes, totes, or storage drums. Then we weigh them and label them (with their weight, our name, and the location they’re going to) so that they can be transported into Mouk, either by single-engine plane or truck/boat/dump truck.

Learn more about housebuilding costs and how you can be a part

See our first post about housebuilding

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The Partnership Begins

The Kodiak’s bumpy landing on the muddy airstrip. The sea of faces surrounding us as we climbed out of the airplane. Vigorous handshakes. Huge grins. People who knew our names because they’d been praying for us to come join them. A church whose heart beats with God’s heart for the world. It’s hard to encapsulate the events and emotions of our trip into Mouk in just a few words and pictures, but here goes:

Flying to MoukMay 18

We flew from Hoskins to the Mouk airstrip along with 6 church leaders from the tribe where we did bush orientation. Due to the timing of when the plane was in the area, our visit into Mouk overlapped with some meetings between church leaders from 3 different tribes. We were warmly welcomed with food, songs, and the chance to shake the hands of all 350+ people who were there (some were Mouk church leaders from other villages).

Even though we’d never met 99% of these people, everyone knew our names because they’d heard we might come and join their team of Mouk missionaries (believers sent out by the Mouk churches to another people group). Within minutes of our arrival, we found ourselves in conversations about more tribes who still have no access to the Gospel. “The bananas are ripe,” the Mouk kept saying, “but the workers to harvest them are few.” (Luke 10:2)

May 19

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Church leaders from 3 tribes meeting

We sat in on the meetings between the church leaders from the 3 different tribes. They talked a lot about the different needs of their churches, how to help each other grow, and the need for unity in the Body of Christ. How can we work together? How do we help churches that are struggling? How do we build fellowship and unity between us? It was a great opportunity for us to see how relationships are forged between church leaders from different people groups, who live in different areas and speak different languages.

 

May 20

Two New Tribes leaders met with the Mouk church leaders, our potential future Mouk coworkers, and the church leaders from the tribe where we did bush orientation. The church leaders from our bush orientation shared about what things they taught us, what topics we discussed with them, and how they helped prepare us for partnering with the Mouk church. All the different parties represented in the meeting agreed that God wanted us (Josiah and Rachel) to join the Mouk in their outreach to another tribe, so then we were invited to join the meeting.

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Meeting with the Mouk

The Mouk church leaders said they were all excited to have us join the Mouk outreach, and they want us to come learn the Mouk language and culture so that we can have a strong relationship with the Mouk church and be sent out by them to join their outreach. They had already decided what village they would like us to locate in (it was the village we were in for these meetings — the one with the airstrip), and they wanted to know how soon we could move in. They offered to help us build a house to live in while we learn the Mouk language and culture.

Josiah shared the story of how God had worked in our hearts and directed us to pursue this partnership with them. We’ll share that story in our next blog post. Then, since we were all agreed that we (Josiah and Rachel) should join the Mouk in their outreach to another tribe, we all lined up and shook hands to show we were “wan bel” (unified). You should’ve seen the grins on everyone’s faces. 🙂

May 21

Everyone gathered for a church service to sing, pray, and hear God’s Word taught. Two of the visiting church leaders from where we did bush orientation taught on two different passages of Scripture. Afterwards, we (Josiah and Rachel) spent a while talking with our future Mouk coworkers about how the outreach started and some of the challenges they’re facing.

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May 22

We all gathered for another church service, and this time, two visiting church leaders from another tribe shared from God’s Word. Then, we all had a big feast of cooked roots (taro, kaukau, etc.), rice, and pig meat. Having a feast like this at the end of a visit is a cultural way of showing we are all unified and parting ways on good terms.

After the feast, the Mouk church leaders talked with Josiah about where we should build a house in that village, and where to get the wood for the house.

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Marking out the house

The Mouk deacons had a meeting and decided what spot of ground they wanted us to build on, and then we went over and staked out the house measurements (20’x32′). Then we discussed what size of timber we would need for the house frame, and they encouraged us to get the wood for the walls and floor from a place in town, since they thought it would be harder and more expensive to get a portable sawmill to cut that wood and it would take 3 months before the wood would be dry enough to use.

The Mouk offered to cut the wood we need for the frame of the house, and to help us make arrangements for bringing some of our housebuilding supplies in by boat and dump truck. We discussed when we’d be able to return to start housebuilding, and settled on the date July 5th, since that worked best with their plans and with the New Tribes Aviation flight schedule.

May 23

IMG_1730After packing up our backpacks at daybreak, we hiked for 20 minutes to get to the dump truck that was going to drive us (the two of us, all the visiting church leaders, and 2 New Tribes leaders) down to the coast. Two and a half hours of bumpy, muddy logging roads later, we arrived at the coast and then loaded our things into a dinghy. What was supposed to be a 2 1/2 hour boat ride turned into 5 hours of slowly puttering along. 🙂 At sunset, we arrived at a small town where a truck was waiting to drive us back to Hoskins. So, after twelve hours of travel, we arrived back home, exhausted and covered with salt, sand, and sweat, but excited by how God is working. 🙂

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Little house in the big jungle

Now that we’re back from Australia, we’re focusing on 3 main priorities while we’re here at Hoskins: 1) spend time getting to know the New Tribes area leadership and the support missionaries here, 2) start meeting with our potential national coworkers and their sending churches, and 3) begin plans and preparations for building a small house in our coworkers’ tribe so that we have somewhere to live while we learn their language/culture and build relationships with them. We’ve talked about those first two priorities a bit in our weekly prayer updates, so now we want to talk a little bit about that third priority: preparing for housebuilding! 🙂

The house we’re planning to build won’t be big, and it may not look fancy, but it should be adequate for our needs while we learn our national coworkers’ language and build relationships with them and their sending churches. We’ve talked about house designs since we were in missionary training in the U.S., and after thinking through and sketching out 5 or 6 different designs we’ve finally settled on one that we think should work for us. It’s a basic 20′ x 32′ design with corrugated tin roofing (pretty standard roofing, unless you’re making a leaf roof), plenty of windows with screen (don’t want the mosquitos indoors!), and made primarily out of wood. I’d post a picture, but…it isn’t built yet! 🙂

So what does planning and preparing for house building look like? Well, IMG_20160510_210441so far it has involved a lot of drawing. Josiah’s been busy drawing to-scale plans for the floors, walls, roof, under the house, etc. He’s been calculating angles for the roof, lengths of boards, and the area of the walls and floor. Recently, we figured out how big of a pit we need to make for our septic system, and how heavy one of our filled water tanks will be. All that math we had to do in school is paying off! 🙂

Once we figure out the quantities we’ll need of pipes, fly wire, nails, screws, tin roofing, cement, gutter pipes, etc then we’ll start making trips into town (about 1 hr by road) to find out how much those supplies will cost and where the best place is to get them. We’ve heard that a lot of other missionaries usually spend $30,000 – $40,000 on building a house (and half of that cost is transporting the supplies into the jungle), so that’s a pretty safe estimate to shoot for, but we won’t have a clearer idea of how much this house will cost until we actually do this step of crunching the numbers. We’ve started a special “house building account” to use for designating money for buying the supplies for the house and flying them in to the location where we build it.

We know that doing house building means there is a lot of work ahead of us, but we’re excited to build a house that will be useful not only for us as we learn language and culture and build relationships with our coworkers, but hopefully for other missionaries in the future, who could possibly live in that house for bush orientation, or missionary pilots could stay overnight in that house if needed. This house could also be a big help to us whenever we fly in or out of our future long-term ministry location, since this house will be at the shuttle location where our supplies (and us!) switch between a helicopter (maybe be the most common route into our future location) and a Kodiak single-engine airplane. We pray this little house will be a big blessing!

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And so what we have learned…

It’s impossible to encapsulate in a few words everything we learned in our bush orientation (from Dec 16 – March 14), but here are just a few of the things we learned through our time living in the “bush” among a group of believers:

  • We’ve learned how dominant the heart language is for national believers and how crucial it is to learn their language to be able to work well with them. Any issue that involves emotions, values, or spiritual things is discussed in their own language, no matter how fluent they are in Pidgin (the trade language).
  • We’ve learned how to have candid conversations with people about our skin color, and how to point them towards our unity in the Spirit despite our outward difference in looks.
  • We’ve gotten a feel for etiquette in the tribal context:
  • How to wait for someone under their house (you would never go into the house where someone sleeps, if you need to talk to them, you just sit under their house and wait for them)
  • What you can and can’t borrow from others (firewood would be a shame to borrow unless there’s a death or a big party, but you can borrow a knife or an axe or tools that there aren’t many of)
  • How to enter and leave a group politely, and the proper thing to do when someone shows up at the house where you cook (which is different than where you sleep). Example: If you were about to eat, and people show up, you wait for all the visitors to leave (which may be a while), but if they won’t leave (and you’re really hungry), then you feed them. 🙂
  • How to go talk to someone about something (go find them, wait until everyone else leaves, or wait until they ask you why you’ve come, or just wait until you think it’s the right time)
  • We’ve gotten to hear about and observe the differences (of opinions, values, leadership styles, etc) between the church leaders from various villages and what kind of problems those differences present
  • We also got plenty of experience living without conveniences like running water, fridge/freezer, oven, washing machine, cell phone coverage, etc.
  • Rachel learned many practical skills like how to wash clothes in the river, how to bathe in the river, how to wash dishes in a river, how to cook over a fire, how to kill centipedes, how to start a fire, etc.

There are many more things we’ve learned, but it would be hard to explain all those things in just a blog post, so here’s just the tip of the iceberg. 🙂 We’re so grateful to God for all the things He taught us and all that we were able to learn from the believers during bush orientation.

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it’s a jungle out here: bush living through the eyes of a city girl

While we’re out here in bush orientation, I thought I’d take a chance to write down some of the things that have taken me a little time to get used to about living out here in “the bush”.

· There are pigs everywhere. This may not be the case in every village, but it is the case here. These pigs dig up the grass all over the place, but especially near the water tank next to the house we’re living in. They can turn a beautiful patch of grass into a dug-up mud pit in less than 10 minutes.

· The roosters here have no concept of time. They crow at all hours, don’t respect anyone’s naptime, and because they wander freely around the village, there’s always one crowing nearby.

· You can see the stars here. I mean, you can REALLY see the stars here. On clear nights, the whole sky is full of stars, and they actually do twinkle. I just thought that was a myth in a song, but nope, they actually do twinkle!

· I’ve had to learn to live in the dark. We use solar panels and batteries for getting electricity out here in the bush, but since the batteries in this house are old, we have limited power supply after the sun goes down. So after dark, we live in the dark, navigating around the house with a flashlight. This has taken me a while to get used to, but I’m finally to the point where I’m not running into everything when the lights are out.

· Staying healthy is a constant battle. The climate and environment here in the jungle make it easy to get sick. The humidity saps our strength and dehydrates us quickly. It’s also a veritable greenhouse for making little cuts or scratches become infected sores in no time at all. Many of the mosquitos around us carry malaria, the flies spread germs, and the centipedes have deadly stings. The sweat, dirt, and grime from everyday living can easily stick to our skin and, if we’re not careful to scrub well, before we know it, we have a boil.

· Wherever I am, there are always critters nearby. Whether it’s a gecko eating bugs inside the house, or a frog jumping onto my foot when I’m walking outside in the dark, or a spider in yesterday’s dirty laundry, or a rat scampering in the bathroom at night.

· Life out here in the bush really is impacted by the weather. If it’s sunny, we get good electricity from the solar panels, so it’s a good day to get some work done on the computer. If it’s raining, there won’t be much electricity today, so maybe let’s wash clothes or do something to use the extra water that’s overflowing from the water tank. It’s very different than living somewhere where you basically have unlimited water and power, unless there’s a drought or big power outage. It just takes some getting used to, and definitely has grown me in flexibility!

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missionary myth #3: missionaries aren’t afraid of bugs, spiders, snakes, etc

I (Rachel) don’t know how many women have told me “I could never be a missionary, I’m afraid of snakes and spiders!” Well, if not fearing creepy crawly things is a requirement for being a missionary, then I’m not qualified for this job! I share the sentiments of many other women towards all critters which creep and crawl and scurry – a feeling of both fear and loathing.

Though missionary work in many places in the world will not necessarily increase your chances of encountering snakes and spiders, it is true that being a missionary in a tribal (i.e. jungle) context does bring those critters into my life more often than you probably see them in the US. For example, since moving to the jungle for bush orientation, I have had numerous encounters with creeping and crawling things, such as:

· On December 27, while in the bathroom, a 6-inch praying mantis landed on my back, crawled up into my hair, and wouldn’t let go despite my repeated attempts to remove him.

· On December 28, I wasn’t feeling well and was napping in bed (a thin foam mattress on the floor), and a small 2-inch centipede decided to snuggle under the sheets with me (and ended up stinging me).

· The next evening, while walking down some wooden steps, a rhinoceros beetle decided to hitch a ride on my ankle, and just clung to my ankle and hissed and hissed while we tried to pry her off.

· We’ve had three episodes with rats – once right before we left the village for a medical trip, and twice more since then. They’ve gotten into the house twice and eaten some food, but mostly they seem to hang out downstairs, where the bathroom is. The live trap we brought with us seems to work pretty well so far (it’s caught 3 under our house, and 2 in the house next door), and thankfully the people here in this village aren’t fans of eating rat, so we didn’t have to eat any of them. J

· On January 27, while Josiah was gone trying to get our computer working again, I had another centipede adventure. I felt something on the other side of a bath towel scrape my finger, and dropped the towel like a hot potato. I wrapped that towel in a big plastic bag, grabbed the bush knife and Mortein bug spray and took the towel down to the cement pad under the house (all the houses are built up on stilts here). There I dropped the towel, and used the bush knife to gingerly open up the wadded-up towel, and out came a 6-inch centipede! He made a run for it, but I pinned him down with the bush knife, and sprayed him with the bug spray. It took about 10 minutes of hacking at him with the bush knife, and spraying him with the bug spray before he died.

· Last night was a rainfly night. I don’t know the science behind it all, but basically if it’s been a while since it’s rained, and then we get a big rain, our evening is going to be full of rainflies. Any light you turn on becomes a magnet for hundreds of rainflies, all buzzing and flying in dizzy circles. They dive bomb the food on your plate, crawl all over your skin and hair, and will even fly into your mouth or up your nose if you aren’t careful!

· The arrival of the rainflies also brought out those critters that like to eat rainflies. Last night, as I was on the porch trying to brush my teeth amid a flock of rainflies, I noticed a shadow that kept flying by the edge of the porch where I was standing. “What is that?” I called to Josiah. “Probably just a moth” was his reply from inside the house. But as the shadow swooped by again, he could tell it was too big to be a moth. “Nope, that’s a bat”…enjoying the feast of bugs on this particular night.

While I am not one to scream at bugs or rats, I have been fairly startled in a number of these encounters, and emitted a few yelps. J And the combination of all these different adventures with critters, especially in such a short time, has often left me wondering – "am I cut out for this job?" (though I haven’t doubted that this is what God has for me) But the fact that I fear bugs, spiders, snakes, rats, etc, doesn’t mean that I can’t be a missionary, even a missionary in a remote context. God’s grace is sufficient, even when rats scurry into the bathroom at 4am. God’s strength is manifested in my weakness, even when I am stung by a centipede. Though I will probably never overcome my fear of creepy crawlies, I don’t have to be overcome by my fear of those things, and they (the bugs or my fears) certainly aren’t a good enough reason to not go make disciples of all nations. God uses even these things to grow us in our walks with Him!

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