Posts Tagged With: family


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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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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Why are you learning that??

When you hear about all the different things we’ve been studying here in PNG, do you ever wonder, “why in the world are our missionaries learning that? How does that help them?” In case you’ve ever pondered why we are learning what we are (or even if you haven’t), let me take a shot at explaining some of the reasoning behind what we’re studying here in Papua New Guinea culture and language.

First of all, here’s the big picture of why we’re studying Tok Pisin (also known as Melanesian Pidgin). Tok Pisin is one of the national languages here in PNG, so it’s used a lot in towns for people from different tribes to be able to communicate with each other. Remember, PNG has about 850 different people groups who all speak different languages (not just different dialects – these are totally separate languages!), so having Tok Pisin as a common language in the towns is pretty much the only way people from these different people groups can talk to each other. Not everyone in PNG speaks Tok Pisin, but usually at least a few people in each tribe can speak it, so knowing Tok Pisin helps us be able to communicate in the towns here as well as with just about anyone we come across.

One of the biggest reasons we’re studying Tok Pisin is because our heart is to partner with solid believers from a tribal group who are going as missionaries to another tribal group near them. In our partnership with them, we will likely need to communicate with these tribal partners and many other believers from other tribes, and the only language we may have in common with many of these people would be Tok Pisin. Besides that, when we move into the tribe that we hope to work in long-term (alongside our tribal partners), the language we will need to use to help us learn the tribal language would be Tok Pisin.

So for the sake of the ministry we’re hoping to do, and just to be able to get around in PNG, we are working on learning Tok Pisin and the PNG culture right now. But how does what we’re studying each week contribute towards our long-term big-picture goals?

I mentioned in our most recent prayer update that we studied adjectives this past week. Why are we studying adjectives? Well, quite honestly, we use adjectives all the time! When we go to the market to buy our fresh fruits and veggies, we need to be able to say how many carrots we want, and which ones we want. You can’t ask for “3 of those” and “a big one” if you don’t know adjectives. We also use adjectives in everyday speech, like when someone asks if we’re alright (a common greeting here), we need to know how to say “I’m doing well” or “I’m tired” or “I’m hungry” or basic things like that.

So what about the different culture things that we’re learning? Why are we learning how to cook like they do here in the village? Why are we learning to wash clothes like they do? Why did Josiah learn to make a mat out of a coconut branch? Well, there are several reasons behind the things we’re learning in culture. Sometimes, we learn how to do something or make something because it helps us to build a relationship with someone. Josiah made the coconut branch mat with a guy that he is working on befriending, and it was a great time for Josiah to spend time talking with this guy, learning more about him and his world. Other times, we are learning aspects of their culture because it helps us understand the people here in PNG, and it helps us identify with them. If we don’t know how to do basic things in their world (like wash clothes, wash dishes, cook), it makes it hard for us to know what their life is like or establish common ground with people.

So far, I (Rachel) have only been able to investigate very surface level aspects of the culture here (like food, houses, basic everyday activities) because of my limited language ability. But the more I’m able to speak and understand in Tok Pisin, the more I can start diving into deeper aspects of the culture here in PNG – like what men and women’s roles in society are, what their beliefs are, what things are important to them, how and when they express emotions, what the authority structure in the village and family is like, and so many other areas. So the “surface” things we’re learning about culture now help us build relationships with people so we can get down to deeper aspects of culture, and they help give us clues about what things are important in this culture (like why do they only have a few words for colors, but have tons of terms for different family members?), and help us build common ground with them.

I hope this helps in a little way to give you the background for what we’re doing right now in culture and language study. If you ever have questions about why we’re learning what we are, just shoot us an email! We’d be glad to try to answer your questions, though we can’t promise an immediate response. 🙂 And as you think of us, please pray for us as we start moving from just studying “surface level” things in the language and culture here to diving down deeper into the culture and language. We need your prayers!

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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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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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top 10 things I think I’ll miss

We are leaving the United States on July 15! In honor of our departure, here is a list of 10 things I think I (Rachel) will miss when we’re in Papua New Guinea. I’m hoping to write a similar post a few months from now when we’re in PNG, and compare what I thought I would miss with what I actually do end up missing. So, here’s my “top 10 things I think I’ll miss” list:

  1. my family
  2. being there for family events (graduations, marriages, births, etc)
  3. taking road trips (yes, even though we spent the last 8 months traveling, I still love road trips, and I’ll miss being able to just hop in the car and drive somewhere)
  4. going to church in English
  5. being able to communicate easily with people via email, phone, etc
  6. our ministry partners and friends (we have built a lot of great relationships over the last 8 months, and won’t get to see you for several years)
  7. the privacy of not having everyone stare, point, laugh, etc every time I go out in public (here I blend in, there I will stick out as a tall, white female)
  8. 50 degree weather and 4 seasons (in PNG the average temp is 70-90 degrees, and there are two seasons: rainy season, and dry season)
  9. Food – I will spare you the complete list of all the foods I will miss — it’s a long one — but the top two restaurants I will miss will be Bojangles (Cajun fillet biscuits and sweet tea!) and Braum’s (two words: ICE CREAM!)
  10. Internet access – I think I’ll miss being able to look things up online if I need to, or having Skype, or being able to buy things online.

I know some of these things may seem very shallow or superficial, but these are things I honestly think I will be hard to be away from. So whenever you get on the internet, or drink sweet tea, or go to your family member’s graduation, you can think of me, and pray that God will help me adjust to living in Papua New Guinea. 🙂

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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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