Posts Tagged With: blessings

Missionary myth #5: outrunning rhinos or bumming on the beach

There are many misconceptions about missionaries in general, and even more about our lives and ministry as “missionaries in a tribe.” Probably one of the most common misconceptions we run into is what people think life is like for us as missionaries who live in the jungle.

Since most of you reading this don’t live in the jungle, it’s not hard to see why you may have trouble imagining what it means to be a missionary in the jungle. So I won’t blame you if you’ve thought some of these things. But please, don’t blame me if I chuckle at some of the things you’ve thought. 🙂

Rhino internet 2Hearing the word “jungle” makes some people think that our job often requires hacking through thick rainforest undergrowth with a machete, swinging from vines, avoiding quicksand, and outrunning rhinos on occasion. Like we’re some sort of combination of Tarzan and David Livingstone, with maybe a little Indiana Jones thrown in. 🙂

While we have used a machete (called a bush knife here in PNG) to cut a few branches now and then, we don’t swing from vines, I’ve yet to see quicksand, and the largest land animal here is a pig, a crocodile, or a small type of emu (known as a cassowary), so……no rhinos. And no lions, tigers, or bears. (Oh my.) There aren’t even monkeys here.

Others, however, hear that we live on an island in the tropics, and instead of envisioning us with a machete and a pith helmet, their minds conjure up images similar to their memories of that weekend they spent in the Bahamas or some TV ad for a vacation in Fiji. They picture us lounging under umbrellas on the beach, sipping lemonade. Or maybe napping in hammocks and then drinking from coconuts with those little umbrella thingys in them. They imagine us sunbathing, snorkeling, and maybe going to a luau or two.

In the interest of full disclosure: we do have hammocks, and we do take naps in them sometimes. To try to sleep on a mattress in the middle of the day is like lying on a sponge under a heat lamp in a puddle of your own sweat. And we have gone snorkeling a time or two when we were on a break in the town of Madang.

But coconut straw iStock photoI rarely drink lemonade, and we don’t lay under umbrellas on the beach. There are no luaus, and it would be ridiculous to try to sunbathe here. We’re right off the equator. The sun is HOT here. It will cook you. If the humidity doesn’t dissolve you into a puddle first.

As far as coconuts go, we do drink coconut juice, but that’s from green coconuts, not the dry ones with the thick white flesh. And here, you either split a crack or carve a hole in the coconut to drink from it. There are no straws or little umbrellas involved. 🙂

So what is it actually like, being a missionary in the jungle?

Well, we live in the tropics. Which means, we have two basic seasons: rainy season and dry season. In rainy season, it rains. A lot. Like a couple weeks ago, we got 10 inches of rain in one week.  And it’s cold – like a chilly 67 F on occasion. In dry season, it still rains, but not as often. Sometimes in dry season in our current bush location, we can go a whole week or two with nothing more than a sprinkle. But enough about the weather. Let’s talk about life.

We live in a village surrounded by jungle. The village is made up of a dozen or so hamlets, which are like neighborhoods. Hamlets consist of a handful or two of thatched roof houses, where families eat, sleep, and hang out. People hike to their gardens a few times a week to plant, weed, or dig up some roots to eat. They also spend time at the river; bathing, washing clothes, or looking for fish and crawdads.  Their daily life consists mainly of finding food to eat.

How do we fit into this? Right now, our job description involves a lot of time with people. Our task in this season is to connect with the Mouk church and become Mouk so that we can be sent out as missionaries from the Mouk to the Anem people. So we’ve spent time learning the Mouk language, studying the Mouk culture, and building relationships with the believers.

That connection is initiated and facilitated by the believers here. They invite us out to different hamlets, where we sit, talk, cook, eat, and read Scripture together. We laugh together, we cry together, we pray together. We take part in each other’s daily lives so that a connection is forged that will continue even when we’ve moved on. We’ve spent time nurturing and developing a unity between us and the Mouk church, because our role is to be an extension of them.

So while it may not be as relaxing as lounging under an umbrella on the beach, connecting with other believers refuels us in a way that nothing else can. And though it’s (seemingly) not as exciting as swinging from vines or outrunning rhinos, it’s thrilling to us to be a part of Christ’s Body here.

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together

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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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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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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the house – from all four sides

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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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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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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

BANANAS!!!!

BANANAS!!!!

kaukau

kaukau

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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