ministry

You know you’re back in PNG when…

I wrote this just after our arrival back to Papua New Guinea. It encapsulates just a few of the cultural and physical adjustments we had to re-make.

  1. The flight attendant announces that there is to be no chewing of beetlenut on board the aircraft.
  2. You sweat through your shirt by 7:30am.
  3. You look down at 10:30am to discover that your shirt is now crusted with salt from your own sweat.
  4. Showering is not just a morning wake-up habit, it’s a daily life essential. You have to wash off one layer of sweat and dust before adding a new one.
  5. You can smell your clothes before you put them on. (Because of the high humidity, all your clothes smell moldy, even if you just washed them)
  6. You put on bug spray to go to church.
  7. Rain outside can make conversation inside impossible.
  8. You look out your kitchen window to a landscape of jungle as far as the eye can see.
  9. You have to pound the salt shaker to get anything out of it.
  10. You re-acquire the skill of racing outside and yanking clothes off the line when you hear it start to rain.
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your prayers kicked in

The wall of humidity hit us as we stepped off the plane in the capital of Papua New Guinea. We made our way down long corridors and a few ramps to be funneled into the lines for immigration. Getting a visa for my sister Diana took place without a hitch, and our multi-year visas were still good, so we sailed through that part of entering PNG pretty quickly.

It took quite a while for our suitcases to come through on the conveyor belt, since all the luggage from all the international flights were coming to one small carousel. Our bags retrieved, we waited in line for customs. “This is the part where they decide whether or not to let your stuff into the country,” I explained to my sister. Her customs form showed that she had nothing to declare, so she got waved on through while we were pulled aside to have our bags checked.

“Your form says you have items to declare that are new and exceed 1,000 Kina in total value,” the customs official stated. “What are those new items?” We started to list off the things we’d purchased in the US to bring back to PNG. “It’s things for our house, not for resale,” we assured her. When we got to the part of the list that mentioned the laptops we’d picked up to replace our dead and dying computers, her eyes lit up.

“What kind of laptops? Are they Apple?”

“One is made by Dell, the other one is Apple.” We showed them to her, explaining that we use the computers for learning the language of the tribal people we work with.

“How much did you pay for the Apple computer?” She called a fellow customs official over and they began mentally calculating how much to charge us for the laptop we were bringing into the country. Any new items brought into PNG are susceptible to a tax of 10% of the item’s value. While that tax was designed primarily for businesses importing goods, it affects incoming travelers with new items, too. Whether you were charged or not depended on the customs official and their assessment of your situation.

“When did you buy it?” she asked.

“As soon as we went to America. That was four months ago.” I braced myself for hearing the total they’d settled on.

Then, I saw it. And I felt it. Your prayers kicked in. “Just leave it, let them through,” the official she’d called over said. “Yeah, it’s alright. You can just go on through,” our customs lady said.

Stunned, but not wanting to give her a chance to change her mind, we grabbed our suitcases and headed for the door. We swerved to avoid colliding with suitcases that skidded across the floor as they came off the x-ray machine. Then we were around the corner and out in the airport lobby where Diana waited for us.

“Someone was definitely praying for us,” I said to Josiah. “That almost ended totally differently. We almost had to pay.” Thank you, God.

I don’t know who of you to thank for praying at midnight (CDT) on Sunday night, but whoever you are, thank you. Thank you for responding to God’s prompting to pray for us. Thank you for walking with us on this journey, for standing in the gap on our behalf. Ever wonder if your part matters? We don’t. We can feel it when your prayers kick in.

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missionary myth #4: home assignment is a vacation

Road trips, seeing different parts of the country, not reporting to an office every day… I can see why from the outside our life may seem like the break from monotony that many people long for. But somehow it doesn’t quite feel that way to us.

Maybe that’s because in between all that traveling, we are speaking in churches, meeting with supporters, and juggling a load of “behind the scenes” administrative tasks that come with our job. In many ways, our job on home assignment is more similar to that of a traveling businessman or a speaker on tour rather than a long family vacation. We often speak 2 to 3 times on a Sunday, field a lot of questions, and spend most of the day interacting with new or no-longer-familiar people.

During the week, we have several meetings with friends or family who are partnering with us. We also speak at Wednesday evening services, small groups, and/or open house meetings. Often, after speaking once or twice, a meeting or two with supporters, and then a meal with someone else, we arrive back at the home where we’re staying and finally have a chance to catch up with our hosts for an hour or two before crashing for the night. Then the next morning, we pack the car, and we’re off to somewhere else. On average, we log 1,000 miles of driving per week.

In the car, or between meetings with supporters, we write prayer updates, blog posts, or newsletters. We update our website. We stay on top of the paperwork that comes with being self-employed clergy (schedule C clergy income records, vehicle mileage logs, etc). We reply to dozens of emails, texts, and calls from supporters and churches. We confirm or work out details for the next legs of our trip. We pay bills (yes, we have some of those). We make preparations for our return to Papua New Guinea (flights, guest housing, buying things to take back, etc).

And in between those things, sometimes we do get to visit a beach, or take a walk, or even catch a nap. Thanks for praying for us doing this busy time of traveling and sharing what God has being doing in our lives the past two years!

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10 ways to encourage a missionary

  1. Pray for them. And I don’t mean saying, “God bless the missionaries, wherever they are” at a meal now and then. I mean, really PRAY for them. They face the same daily struggles as you, with the added stress of being in a cross-cultural context. They face isolation and loneliness. They get discouraged and feel forgotten. Pray for their spiritual, mental, emotional, and relational struggles, not just for their health or safety.
  2. Write them an email. Let them know you are praying. Don’t just write when you hear from them. Write them out of the blue, and let them know you are thinking of them and you care about them.
  3. Call or skype them. Find out what the time difference is, find out a way to get in touch with them via phone or internet calling, and do it! Call them and tell them you are praying for them (if you actually are). Ask how they are really doing, and…
  4. Listen. Hear what they’re saying. Hear what they’re not saying. Find out how life is really going, and what things they can’t write in a prayer letter. Listen to their stories and put yourself in their shoes. How are they feeling? What’s really hard for them right now? What are they excited about? Ask questions to draw them out. Let them process life. And listen.
  5. Send a video message to encourage them. Video yourself and/or other people sharing an encouraging Bible passage, praying for them, or telling them how much you miss them and love them. It’s the closest thing to a long-distance hug. (If they don’t have internet access, put the video on a flash drive and mail it to them).
  6. Send them a package. Find out what things they miss, what things ship well, and what would just tickle their hearts to see in a beat-up cardboard box on the other side of the world.
  7. Visit them. Fly (or drive) to where they are, and get a glimpse into their world. Don’t take a dozen people and try to do a huge project (unless they’ve asked you to), go with your family or a few friends and just go to encourage them. Seeing what life is like for them on a day-to-day basis will not only expand your world, it will help you know how to better pray for them and encourage them.
  8. Give them a break. Send them on a vacation. When they’re on furlough, offer to watch their kids and pay for them to go on a date. Encourage them to rest. Try to lighten their load.
  9. Help with practical needs. The possibilities of how to do this are endless. Use your skills and gifts to help them in really tangible ways. Help them with computer problems. Offer to help them put together their update video or PowerPoint. Provide housing while they’re on furlough. Help them find a vehicle to use for furlough. Babysit for them. Help them set up their appointments with churches and other supporters. Fill their car with gas. Wash their car. Help them set up doctor and dentist appointments. Get school supplies for their kids. Buy them groceries.
  10. Advocate for them. Encourage other people to get involved in their lives and ministry. Recruit other people to pray for them. Challenge others to support them regularly. Find out what needs they have, and get your friends and family involved in meeting those needs.
  11. (BONUS) Walk with God. One of the most encouraging things for a missionary to see is someone who is passionately following God. Your enthusiasm and commitment to being a part of what God is doing will be contagious and refreshing. And, chances are, if you’re walking with God, when He puts it on your heart to encourage a missionary, you’ll hear Him. And do it.

If you have more ideas that you’ve seen work well to encourage missionaries, share them below in a comment!

 

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Reverse Culture Shock

Since arriving in the USA four weeks ago, we’ve been trying to adjust to life in what now feels almost like a foreign country to us. We both dealt with culture shock moving over to Papua New Guinea, but coming “back” to the US, we’re now dealing with what’s known as “reverse culture shock.”

Here are some of the things we’ve been experiencing as part of our reverse culture shock:

  • Driving on the right hand side of the road. The more we drive, the more we get used to driving on the right side of the road, but it still throws me (Rachel) off sometimes when we turn at an intersection and I forget which side of the ride we’re supposed to be on.
  • You can get literally just about anywhere in the US on roads that are nicely paved (except in Michigan) 
  • It stays light really late here! In Papua New Guinea, the sun goes down by 6:30pm all year round.
  • The climate feels really cold and dry to us here, since we are used to temperatures 80-95 degrees F, with 95%-98% humidity all the time.
  • There are hardly any bugs here! It amazes me (Rachel) how long you can leave food out without it getting attacked by ants, cockroaches, etc.
  • People are always in a hurry. They have so many machines that are supposed to be time-saving (dishwashers, microwaves, etc) but yet no one seems to have any time.
  • Wal-mart is huge, and there are so many options! There are aisles and aisles full of so much food!
  • We get overwhelmed with the constant barrage of media everywhere – billboards, screens, music, ads, displays, etc.
  • Sometimes we draw a blank when we’re talking in English, and we can’t think of how to say something in English. Or we speak in Mouk or Pidgin without realizing it…until we get blank stares from whoever we’re talking to.

Thanks for praying for us as we adjust to being in the USA for these four months!

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not on my resume

“Now, disconnect the ECU from the compressor, and use your digital multi-meter to measure the Ohms of resistance between each of the three prongs on the compressor.”

Um, sure, I’ll get right on that. ?!???!

I (Rachel) am the kind of person that prefers to watch something be done a few times before I ever attempt to do it myself. But living as a missionary in the jungle in Papua New Guinea has rarely afforded me that luxury. When you live in the bush and your stuff breaks, you either have to figure out how to fix it yourself, wait til you can fly in a support missionary that knows what they’re doing, or give up hope of ever being able to fix that thing. And so far, we’ve mostly had to stick with that first option: fix it ourselves. Although for a few things we’ve been able to use the option of flying the item out to someone who might be able to fix it, wait on parts, and possibly fly it back next time the plane is in the area (we did this for our electric board planer that quite working). Here are a few examples of things we’ve attempted:

  • Fix a cracked generator carburator float valve ring by soldering it. At this point, though, our soldering pencil was still on its way to us in our crate of solar electric equipment, so we heated a 4-inch nail in our gas stove til it was red hot, and used that instead to solder the crack.
  • Repair a radio antenna that had a ton of white corrosion in the box where the coaxial cable (connecting to the radio unit) meets the antenna, and then recreate the wire connections in that box and secure them with solder.
  • Diagnose and fix our brand new DC (12 volt) freezer that quit working within a week of getting our first 3 months’ supply of meat and cheese. We got to figure out how to disconnect the ECU, measure the resistance on the compressor, and ultimately install a new ECU (which came on the next flight, much too late to save our meat and cheese, which we had to either home-can or eat).
  • Probably the most befuddling problems are the computer problems we encounter. Unfortunately, in today’s world of connectivity, most computer problems say they need a good internet connection in order to be fixed, and we don’t have that out here. Actually, we haven’t had internet at all since moving in here to Mouk back in July of last year.
  • About a month before we flew out of the bush for a conference, our inverter quit working, which meant that we couldn’t run any of our AC equipment off the power from our solar panels. So every time we needed to charge our phones or laptops, or use our washing machine or blender we had to turn the generator on for power. Fixing the inverter is WAY above our pay grade and IQ level, but through many phone calls to Josiah’s brother Jotham who consulted with some other IT specialists, the source of the problem was identified, new parts were ordered, and now we just have to figure out how to put the new parts in.

Our missionary training included an incredibly helpful course called “Missionary Technology” where we learned to solder, wire a DC plug, and use a digital multi-meter, and some other useful skills. However, hearing about something in class and doing it in the jungle are two very different things. And you won’t find “DC freezer repairman,” “HF radio technician” or “generator mechanic” anywhere on my resume. Which is why we’re so thankful for missionaries like Jotham and Maria, who are headed to Papua New Guinea as support missionaries! Check out their blog.

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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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