Four years ago today, I walked, barefoot, down the aisle of a little church and pledged to spend the rest of my life alongside my best friend, Josiah Van Der Decker. There was a winter storm that day, and I can still remember how cold it was to stand outside in the freezing December air, getting a few wedding pictures taken next to a tree whose bare branches had been encased completely in ice.IMG_0181.JPG

Now, on the other side of the globe, sweat trickles down my cheek as I sit at the computer, writing under the breeze of a ceiling fan that tries in vain to alleviate the oppression of the humid tropical air. Ice-covered trees and freezing temperatures seem like a vague memory from a totally different world, almost a totally different life.

So much has happened in these short four years. From surgery to linguistics, to a crazy 8-month tour of the US, to Pidgin studies, to housebuilding in Mouk, to months of sickness and completing our study of the Mouk language. We’ve been through all this and more — together.

God has been faithful each step of the way, and I can’t put into words how incredibly grateful I am to have spent the last four years by Josiah’s side. Being a team in life and ministry is an experience like none other, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health, we’ve been together. We are together. We’ll be together.

I don’t thank God near often enough for the privilege of being Josiah’s wife. There’s no one else I’d rather run the race with. No one else I’d rather live the daily-ness of life with. No one else I’d rather laugh with, cry with, or make amends with. Yes, I know it’s not proper grammar to end a sentence with a preposition, but I want you to catch the operative word here: with. We’re together. And we’re in this together. Because God has put us together.

Thank you, God, for the last four years you’ve given us. Your grace is what’s brought us this far. And it’s what will carry us each step of the way into the future.

Thank you, Josiah, for making the last four years the most incredible and unforgettable of my life. Here’s to the next four years. And four more after that. And four more after that. And on and on, as long as we both shall live.

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FAQ #2: what do you eat?

Here’s a sampling of some of the fresh food we’ve been enjoying. 🙂

Rachel drinking from a green coconut

Rachel drinking from a green coconut





Josiah eating sugarfruit

Josiah eating sugarfruit

Rachel eating a pomelo (her favorite fruit in PNG!)

Rachel eating a pomelo (her favorite fruit in PNG!)

Josiah cutting up a pineapple

Josiah cutting up a pineapple

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my PNG man

“I think bananas are good for my emotional well-being.”

I smiled to myself, watching Josiah’s face light up with pleasure as he scarfed down yet another banana. Was that number four? I’ve lost count. 🙂

We’d only been in PNG two days at that point, but already I could see another side of Josiah emerging. A side of him that I’d only barely glimpsed when he brought me over to PNG the summer of 2013 so I could meet his family and see where he grew up. Now, having moved here to live in Papua New Guinea on a long-term basis, this side of him that I’d glimpsed before began to fully emerge. He is still the same gentle, loving man that I met and fell in love with. He is still a man after God’s own heart. His mind still thinks way more abstractly than mine, he still loves cooking, he’s still generous and fun-loving.

But the “PNG side” of him was what I hadn’t really seen before. The side of him that eats bananas by the handful, carries a bush knife everywhere he can, jumps at the chance to scavenge for firewood and build a fire in the jungle, and loves having the chance to refuel a helicopter again. The foods that he would dream of while we were in the US are now available to him – foods like greens, tapioc, kaukau (like a cross between a sweet potato and a potato), guava, Maggi noodles (like Ramen, but better), sugar fruit, sugar cane, green coconut juice, and breadfruit.

Josiah and I at the lighthouse in PNG where we got engaged

Josiah and I at the lighthouse in PNG where we got engaged

Though in many ways being back in Papua New Guinea as an adult is very different for him (especially since he now has a wife with him), in other ways, it’s still very familiar to him, and he just thrives here. As I watch him get “recharged” by hiking on jungle trails, as I see him light up when he gets to “story” with the nationals in Pidgin, I can’t help thanking God for this amazing man he’s given me to do life with. Today is a milestone, marking his completion of 25 years of life. For almost two years, I’ve gotten to do life with him as his sidekick and helpmeet. I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with him, watching God use Josiah and his unique abilities to bring glory to Himself. Happy Birthday, Josiah!!

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The First Week

As of this past Friday, we have been in Papua New Guinea for a whole week! People from the US keep asking us “how’s the adjustment going?” so I thought I would write down some things that are taking some getting used to:

  • The weather. It is usually about 70-90 degrees here, which isn’t too bad, it’s just the high humidity that really gets you.
  • The windows are different here. Because of the climate, you need as much breeze as possible to go through your house, so often any outside walls of a house have an opening that’s almost floor to ceiling. That opening is where you have your louvres – like shutters/blinds built into your wall that you can open and close. The bottom half of the louvres are wooden so no one can see in, and the top half are glass, so the louvres work like windows. If you need more air in your house you open the louvres; if you need less air coming through your house, you can close the louvres.
  • The food. There are some foods here that taste like they do back in the US (like rice and chicken), but a lot of foods here taste different, and there are a lot of US foods that aren’t available here (like potatoes, tortillas, salsa, ranch, packs of deli lunch meat, etc. These are just a few examples – no, we’re not wanting these mailed to us 🙂 ).
  • Shopping is different here. There is one store that carries some Western foods (like a few canned soups, peanut butter, pasta, mayonnaise, chocolate chips, and raisins), but most of the stores around here are small Asian stores that have a whole hodge-podge of things. If you’re looking for something in particular, you have to look through a bunch of stores to find it, and if/when you find what you’re looking for, you’d better buy it now, because it probably won’t be there the next time you come shopping.
  • There are geckos everywhere, which is helpful for keeping down the number of bugs (I actually have hardly seen any bugs here so far), but sometimes they scare the living daylights out of me if I don’t see them, and then all of a sudden they scurry up the wall next to me. 🙂

Thank you to all who are praying for us as we adjust to living in Papua New Guinea!

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If you were to lick our fingers

We’d finished scarfing down Chic-fil-A nuggets and fries, we’d made one final pit stop at the airport restrooms, and boarding was starting in 20 minutes. With the knot of emotions tightening in our stomachs, we knew it was time. The whole group formed a circle, and a few people prayed.

Then, one by one, we started saying our goodbyes. I (Rachel) had already spent the last few weeks crying at the oddest times – at my sister’s wedding rehearsal dinner, in the shower, and late at night in bed. But now, as I hugged my siblings and parents goodbye, the wave of emotions hit me like a ton of bricks. And the tears came.

Goodbyes at airport

Goodbyes at airport

I couldn’t stop them. It was hard to make sense of the whole tangle of emotions, thoughts, and memories that all coursed through my heart and head. I realized I was crying not only because of all the good times we’d had together over these past few weeks, but also because of all that I would miss in each of their lives while we’re gone overseas. Four years is a long time. A lot of life is going to happen to each of them, and I won’t get to be there for it. My niece will be 6 years old the next time I see her. My youngest sisters will be 17 and 20 before I see them again. There will be so many moments of their lives that I’m going to miss.

And so I cried. And I held them tight, trying to etch those hugs in my memory. Trying to memorize their faces, their voices. Trying to choke out the words “I love you” between my tears.

For Josiah, the wave of tears welled up inside him and started leaking out his eyes even before we all circled up to pray. But as our pastor prayed for us, prayed for God’s guidance and peace for us, he felt an incredible sense of calm come over him. It’s not that he wasn’t sad to leave our family, because he was. He cares about them deeply. But the tears and pain were overwhelmed by an even greater sense of peace and security in knowing that this is exactly what God has for us. He still felt the pang of loss as he hugged our family members and friends goodbye, and as we waved one last time before we disappeared out of sight.

Since walking down the jetway to the airplane in Kansas City, both our faces have been watered many times with unbidden tears as memories of our family members flood our minds. I’m sure we looked pretty strange to many people as we sat there on the plane with tears running down our faces.

Please understand I’m not having a pity party, and you don’t need to have one for me, either. I’m just trying to give you a glimpse into the real heart and guts of what it’s like for missionaries saying goodbye at the airport. It is honestly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

So if you were to lick our fingers, you wouldn’t taste the nuggets and fries we had for lunch, or the soft pretzels we ate during our short layover in Dallas….you would taste the tears that we have wiped from our own faces, from each other’s faces, and from our family’s faces. The tears that mean that we care so very deeply for our family, but we have to leave. The tears that realize that no matter how tightly we hold them when we say goodbye, we still have to let go.

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if you won’t, you can’t

“So do you have siblings?”


“What are their plans?”Clipperton family Mother's Day picture- May 2014

Each time I (Rachel) start listing my siblings and the various directions they’re headed in life, this thought starts to push itself more and more to the surface of my mind and heart: I’m going to miss them. Even now, as we’re traveling around, I’m missing out on getting to help my sister with her wedding plans. I don’t get to be there as my niece starts saying her first words. I have no idea whether or not I’ll get to be there for my brother’s high school graduation. A few weeks ago, we got to talk on the phone with my parents for a little, and see how they’re doing. In a few months, though, we’ll be on the other side of the ocean, where we may not have access to a phone or skype.

Already, my heart is starting to ache with the separation I know will take place. Living overseas as a missionary means I will only get to see my family every 4 years or so. A lot can happen in 4 years… siblings can graduate, get married, have children…and I won’t be there to see any of it. You’d think that since I grew up as a missionary kid, I’d be used to goodbyes by now, but instead of getting easier, I think they’ve gotten harder.

As I wrestle with the pain of leaving my family and moving to the other side of the globe, I’m reminded of what Jesus said in Luke 14: “whoever of you won’t renounce all that he has can’t be my disciple.” If I’m unwilling to part with my family, or my possessions, or anything else for the sake of the gospel, I can’t be a disciple of Jesus Christ. It’s just part of the cost of following Him. I have to look at these goodbyes with an eternal perspective – I’m leaving my family behind to go be a part of bringing others into the family of God. And if I won’t leave it all behind, I can’t be His disciple. Is saying goodbye to my family hard? Absolutely. I’m going to miss them like crazy. But is it worth it? Yes, more than I’ll ever be able to see in this lifetime.

What about you?

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:25

“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:33

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