Wednesday, December 26, 2007 PNG

The Sunday School children singing "Away in a Manger", and for the pidgin speakers, "Long Ples bilong Sipsip, na ol Bulmakau".

We have just enjoyed our third Christmas here in PNG. It seems much of the nostalgia around Christmas experienced in Canada is somehow stripped away here. The sun is far too hot and the culture far too removed from a Canadian Christmas. In fact, living here forces us to see Christmas festivities from another lens, maybe, a less glamorized, commercialized, and even sanitized end. We see it amidst poverty. We see it amidst people who probably have to go to their gardens on Christmas day to cover for their evening meal. We see it through the lens of people, many of whom can’t afford gifts for their children, let alone the bare essentials to be healthy during the season of Christmas. Reflecting on all of this, makes one realize that in many ways Christ came into a world much like this. There were colonies of lepers, there were the very poor that had no real national social blanket to fall back on, there were the sick and the lame immobilized and placed by the roadside for the next benevolent traveler. Sadly, in the West many don’t think they need Christ for they have much of what He came to do—“to preach good news to the poor…to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” And yet the truth is, both worlds--the West and the other, the North and the South, are in desperate need of this. They are in desperate need of the one thing that no money can buy, no insurance plan can cover, no festive experience can resurrect, and that is peace with God through Christ. We thank God that we know this peace and have opportunity to proclaim it to a hurting people. This is Christmas.

Visitors from down under!

We do accept visitors you know, that’s just for the record. Well, this past weekend we were blessed to have Dean and Natalie Huizinga and their precocious son, Clive here for a few days. (For some of you who might remember the Huizingas when Rev Huizinga served in Hamilton, Dean is their third born). Natalie finds her roots in Australia and experienced PNG before with a three month village experience close to Port Moresby. But for Dean and Clive this was all very new. We think they enjoyed their short stint here, visiting the areas that we work, eating mumus and enjoying some swimming at a local hotel. They left us on Monday to return to their good friends and ours in Port Moresby, Wayne and Cheronne Vanderheide.

For Dean and Natalie, thanks for going the extra mile to visit the Lae field. It was a blessing and a pleasure to get to know you and your active, smiley and passionate little man, Clive. May God bless you!

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Mumu

It all began when we brought 4 live chickens and some lamb chops over to our friends, Wayne and Fina and family. We came back the next day and were greeted by this—-the mumu. This is not the same as some cows bawling (or is that baying, or neither?), rather, and especially in the highlands of PNG, this is a traditional way of cooking. Here’s how it works: first, you get a hot fire going which heats the stones under it; once the stones are near red with heat you cover them with banana leaves and lay on the food. The food is PNG cuisine: sweet potato, cooking bananas, cabbage, chicken, lamb chops, leafy greens called kumu. All of this uncooked food is covered again with banana leaves. Like a big green present! It is then that some 10 gallons of water are poured over the leaves. And then the steam. The steam is so strong that leaves begin to lift so you then have to cover these leaves usually with stones, but with modernization and all, a tarpaulin and an iron mesh will do. Those are modern additions to this ancient procedure! The steam cooks the food to tender-perfection and some 3 hours later, we eat…and eat…and eat!

Warning: we don’t recommend you try this at home, we would hate for you to become part of the mumu—-talk about bawling.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

2 Kina (70 cents) for a day's work

(Brother Robert Jerry, married with three boys)

"So how did you do today?" I asked Robert as he sauntered up to our house. "Not too great, I sold about 2 Kinas worth of peanuts, em tasol--that's it." My mind then began to do the math. How could he support his family with that? Impossible. In fact, for him to get to and from the market was a two Kina fare. Two Kina is about 70 cents Canadian. Not much at all. These peanuts were brought to him from his village, some 13 hours by car. He would have to share the profits with his brother who took them down. He has been frequenting the main market in town which houses some 400-500 vendors. Many of them also barely scraping enough profits to get home. This two kina would have been understandable if he had sat there for 10 minutes or so. But he was there for some six hours or so under the hot tropical sun because most of the market is exposed to its relentless heat. My heart breaks to know the burden that he carries to look after his family and the near impossible walls to climb to do that.

We are thankful for Robert. He has been a faithful member of one of our new churches for some 3 years. He is the deacon/treasurer of the church's funds and has been scrupulous in maintaining them. He has so little and yet is not bent on garnering the little he has with the church's collections. We praise God for men like that, but we worry about the poverty he and his family face.

Speaking of faces, his youngest son a few months older than Karlyn has the deep lines of illness and malnutrition etched into his face. He has what you would call an old face already. Please pray with us for Robert, his wife Julie, and their three boys that the Lord will provide for this faithful workman of God. They moved to the Tent City settlement for the education of their children..but education isn't free here. Life is harsh, very harsh. This is poverty.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Facing lies...

(The Church--the pillar and foundation of the truth. This is the front of one of our churches in an area called Kamkumung).

One of the more difficult aspects of living here is dealing with lies. It seems we face lying each day. In fact we hear some people almost fatalistically say, ‘this is just the way things are in PNG.’ As if to say, we can’t help it, we are born to lie.

Barring technical language, the most common type of lie that we experience we coined as ‘relational’ lies. That is, in order to protect the relationship we have to lie. This is not as noble as one might think. It is not like the lies of the midwives of Exodus who lied to Pharaoh to protect the children of Israel. Neither is the lie in the context of war. It was Winston Churchill who captured this nicely stating that the truth is so precious that it has to be protected by a bodyguard of lies. Yet, the idea in PNG is that until the relationship is firmly established it may have to be protected in lies. That is, a young relationship can’t handle the truth. So people lie about who they are, or what they’ve done, or what they want to do. There is another reason for lying and that we say is to protect oneself from being ashamed. Some have classified PNG as a shame culture, the idea is that you have to lie to protect yourself from shame. In the end you could say, lying serves to protect a relationship in its infancy from shame. Coming from the West, this is difficult to handle. Lying in a relationship—at whatever stage—we feel undermines the integrity of the relationship. ‘How do you build a solid relationship on the quicksand of lies?’ we might ask.

There are of course more sinister lies that we face. Some of these are indeed induced by poverty, we feel. People stealing something and stating very matter-of-factly that they know nothing; even leaders in the church lying to garner their own income, wants and desires. People fabricating traumatic stories, just to gain some extra spending money. We've been told that they've lost their child to malaria, their wife to giving birth and they have to bring a dead body to their village—all of which we learn later is not true.

The difficulty that we face as bearers of the truth is to show the transcendent, eternal, God-given value of the truth in a shame and poverty stricken country. The truth is indeed one of the most precious attributes of God that we have been given. Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He is Truth incarnate. The only way we can effectively address the lies is to point people to the TRUTH. That is, point to Christ and model how He lived it. We learn in Scripture that the keeper of the truth is His Church, the pillar and foundation of the truth. We praise God that the head of the Church is Christ and He commands us, barring no cost to self, to speak the truth in love!

Connected Again!

Our phone line is working again! Living in the land of the unexpected, we didn’t expect our phones to be working right away. In fact, we braced ourselves for a phoneless Christmas ;). Anyway, we continually thank the Lord for the little things and big things in life). Praise Him for answered prayer!

Phone line down...

Yes, our phone line is down...and so are our spirits, a little. We've come to realize how much we rely on our email contact with all of you. We're at a friend's house using their computer. We've no idea when our phone will be fixed...could be today, could be next week, maybe next year! Who knows? This is the land of the unexpected, after all...
We're hoping and praying it'll be sooner rather than later.
But if not, we'll take this opportunity to wish you all a wonderful Christmas. May you find much joy and peace in celebrating Christ's birth! Praise be to Him!

Till next time, God be with you.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hot and Hazy Days in Lae

Welcome Jonathan and Karlyn. The sink, their stage. They are a bit stunned by the applause. They don’t spend all their time there, we assure you. But these days are warm, very warm. The temperatures are the hottest from about this time of year to mid-April (that’s just for those who are thinking of coming here during those months). So the stage two or three times a day is set and they do their act. Jonathan rarely joins Karlyn, but once in awhile he can’t resist. He loves the stage. Anyway, a great way to cool off! If only we could all fit in there...

Friday, December 7, 2007

Come See Our World

Over the next few weeks, we want to invite you to get to know Lae with us.

To the left, the home of one of our church members in the settlment.

And to the right, here's the place we call home. We live on the left side. In what is called “Wong-Tim’s Compound”. There’s a razor-wire fence all around the 20 or so units, and security guards 24-7, although none of them are armed, so they’re more of a physical presence than anything. But we’re thankful for them. They pull open the heavy gate at the entrance for us at least 20 times a day, it seems, as we come and go.

Our house by western standards is nothing special or luxurious by any means, but compared to the homes our church people live in, it’s a castle. Just look at the photos and compare. I’ve seen some of their jaws drop open as they walk up to our house. And the curious looks as they ask who all lives here with us. Just your family??! They would probably have 20 of their “wantok” (literally-one language)—their family members living here with them. I think this is one of our biggest struggles. Having so much compared to those we minister to, those we labour beside in the church. We have done nothing to deserve any of it and yet we have a vehicle, and a nice, reliable one at that; we have overflowing cupboards, a fridge and even a large freezer; we have comfortable, clean beds to sleep in; flush toilets and showers. If we’re hungry, we eat. If our children our sick, we see the doctor, at the private hospital. We have toys galore for our kids. We regularly go out to eat. We can travel home to our families. The question has to be asked, is this a barrier to our work? Maybe, but we're not sure what our options are. Should we live more like the regular people do? But that seems impractical as we would be spending all our time just on living—trying to do things the way they do, and not be able to do what God has called us here to do! And not to mention the risk we would put ourselves and our children at if we lived anywhere without a secure fence and guards. Our white skin symbolizes wealth to every Papua New Guinean.

Just to share a little story. At the store today, there were some young boys, about 10 years old, who were selling orchids in the parking lot. We’ve bought some from them before. (To feed Ian’s orchid addiction!) But today I had no money on me and I explained that to them. I don’t think they believed me. They asked me a couple times. I got into my car and they were still hanging around outside it and talking to each other, and I overheard one of them say in pidgin, But she’s driving a church car! Meaning, we can’t do anything to her or her car. Most people here still hold a basis of respect for missionaries. I was so thankful for that today! If I had been a rich businesswoman, I’m not sure what they would’ve done…

Poverty is in our faces everyday. It’s overwhelming sometimes. It breaks our hearts. We hate to see children suffering and hungry and sick. We try to do what we can, especially to those in our church, but we could never do enough. Feed them today, and they’re hungry again tomorrow.

We have realized more fully our calling here. To feed their souls so that they will never truly hunger again. We cannot take away their physical hunger, but we can tell them about the Lord Jesus who will satisfy them for all eternity.

May we do that faithfully…today and everyday.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Some thoughts on being back...

Photo: Ian and Andrew and others from Kamkumung Church putting up woven sago palm blinds to insulate the roof of the church, in the hope that this will make things a little cooler in there!

We've been back for a month and three days. Although in many ways, it feels like we never left...

Change, although inevitable, is not always easy. Having come back again from a stint in Australia and Canada, it has taken all of us some three to four weeks to adjust to life here again. For Karlyn this means getting into a routine that fits this context. For Jonathan it means saying good-bye to the friends and family he has in Canada and reacquainting himself with the friends here. And for both of them it meant learning to sleep through the night again. For Nadia and me it is focusing on our life with the mundane stresses of living in a third world culture, but also the burdens that visit us in our work. We came back to a number of issues that took some 'wind' out of our usual optimistic sails. In one of our congregations, the pastor has been caught stealing money from the congregation (collection/donations) and then lying about it. In another congregation, one of our pastors and his wife are dealing with anger issues in their marriage. And in another, we have some tension between the two main groups: the West Papuan line (formerly Irian Jaya who have come as refugees since early 70s) and a Sepik line that is a large province 400 kms north of Lae.

Holidays are a little bubble outside that you can remain mostly untouched by the stresses back home. Being back forced us to meet them. Coupled with this, my health has not been fully returned to me. Since having malaria in July, I feel I have not fully recovered. Most of you know that I underwent testing in Canada, and no illness was found. The symptoms are curious at best but the overriding one is fatigue: not waking up refreshed and needing to nap sometimes twice a day. The others are lightheadness, general malaise, feelings of numbness in legs etc. These come and go throughout the day. Please join us in praying for healing and strength.

All of this has contributed to a rocky road coming back. Yet, we can say, all of this has also forced us again to find our peace in being here from God. He has already taught us so much about Himself since we have arrived. And the crucible of suffering, however severe, serves only to make HIM more real in our lives. This is happening. Although we could wish the stresses of living here were minimized, the burdens of the congregation removed, and our health fully restored, we know that it is in the midst of all these, we can hear the words spoken to Paul, “my grace is sufficient, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor 12:9. We believe this to be true and desire to follow Him as we know He will manifest His power through it all!

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Day I Turned 29

This was last Friday, the day I became 1 year older. A special day! In the morning, we went to the Lae Golf Course to go for a walk and had a fantastic time. You have to understand that we don't have any parks in Lae. So the golf course was the closest thing--with open space, green grass and lots of trees--and shade---an absolute must as the very hot days of the dry season are upon us. Jonathan and Karlyn loved being there. I think sometimes they feel "cooped up" in our compound. We played hide and seek amongst the trees and played a silly game with some "muli" (orange-like fruit) that we found on the grass. We actually amused ourselves there for 2 hours! It was tough dodging the flying golf balls though! Just kidding, there were no golfers...
Then at night, Ian took me out for dinner at the Melanesian Hotel. Delicious!
Praise God for another birthday! May I follow Him this year...

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Wildeboers in Lae

Well, here we are, on a hot and humid night in Lae (like they all are). We thought we would join the world of blogging. It is kind of like jogging but from our vantage point, easier. Though, with an incredibily slow dial-up we could probably accomplish both blogging and jogging at the same time and still have time to eat. We welcome you to Lae, Papau New Guinea. Where it is too hot to jog and too slow to blog. But we will try.

Our intentions in joining the world of blogging is to give you a glimse of what is happening here in Lae, Papua New Guinea. We think this will be easier than by monthly updates, only time will tell. We wish to share with you, the reader, the joys and pains, blessings and burdens (which can also be a blessing) of living and working in the settlements of Lae; a city in the developing country of PNG. It is something like a journey that we wish to share with you. Although we started this journey in August of 2005, we feel we have only really begun.

We called it TODAY, because we aspire to update it regularly. But more, we have a God who calls us follow Him. This is our desire and embued with the grace given us, we will!

It is our hope that today and many days you will enjoy keeping tabs on our life.

Today, we will follow HIM!