The first few months we were in this country we attended the New Years Eve event in the city square. As midnight neared I was surprised to see someone take the stage and do some sort of announcement. As he muttered on and on I kept looking at my watch and started glancing around to see if anyone else noticed he was going to talk right over new years… they didn’t seem to care. What? This is not how you celebrate new years! You count down from 10 to 1 and then at the exact strike of midnight you light off the fireworks and scream and shout and hug and kiss! Time ticked on and he talked at least 5 minutes past the strike of midnight. Then, like nothing was amiss they lit off the fireworks and everyone celebrated! This is not how we do it in America.
I stand in the check out lane and the store is busy. Really busy. They have maybe 3 lanes open out of the 15 in the store and there are employees sitting in the aisles giggling and chatting while organizing shelves. Can’t they open just one more lane? Seriously, there are about a bazillion people in line here! Finally a worker opens another lane and it’s not the “next in line” (which would have been ME) that gets to go ahead, its whatever person can push their way ahead of another and as long as you don’t make eye contact everything will be fine. Just act like it didn’t happen. Exhale. Don’t look like the annoyed foreigner today Abby. This is not how we do it in America.
Driving down the road dodging bikes, people, potholes, pigs, dogs, chickens, and the occasional drunk man. I think I could make an awesome video game based on traffic here. If you make it through the course without getting stopped by a drunk man demanding money, or without hitting a pig and having to pay several hundred dollars for it, you win! It would be a great hit.
Helmets. You would think racing in and out of traffic while carrying your wife and baby on the back of your motorcycle could at least be a little bit safer if you were wearing the helmets you are holding under your arm, but maybe just having them there will magically give you extra safety. This is not how we do it in America.
As this New Year starts I realize despite the crazy ways they do things (or DON’T do things) here, I am learning to love this country, especially Papua where we have found ourselves these last 6 months.
Though it pretty much looks like someone spit blood everywhere you go (from the betel nut they chew and spit), and it is so hot some days that I want to live in Antarctica, I do love this place. It is beautiful. From the people who live along the shores of the ocean and lakes to the ones who live on the mountains and deep in the jungles, there is a distinct richness to Papua.
God is doing things here. I am so encouraged by the men and women we see and hear speak in our church, who have been strongly encouraging the believers to raise their children in the Word and not forsake the next generation who will one day lead Papua. Who challenge the congregation to live according to their position in Christ – FREE from sin and fear! I am excited to see what God does here in the next few years, starting with this one, 2015! Our plans really are not our own, the Lord directs our steps. We are learning this first hand as we see doors close and new ones open. I am excited to see what God teaches us and how he will direct us in this next year. May God use our frailty to demonstrate His might. Happy New Year!!!
I have two friends who I study language with each week and sometimes it feels like I am learning two different languages! This is because one of them is a “Papuan” from this island who uses the local slang and dialect, the language of the locals who talk in a very casual or I guess you could say “laid back” manner. The other is a “pendatang” or a person who moved here from another island. She uses the more “proper” Indonesian that is easily understood throughout Indonesia. Both sides are important to learn. Even though using “proper” Indonesian is still understood by Papuans when they hear it, they don’t talk that way and obviously feel more comfortable around people who talk the way they do. They don’t care so much about grammar, which is great for me who doesn’t have that as a strong skill anyway!
I want and need to know proper Indonesian also in order to communicate with the rest of the country. If I just learn the local dialect used here, later when I talk to a person from say, Java or Kalimantan I would probably sound like a hillbilly if I said “kasih bunuh lampu itu!” (literally “give death to that light” but basically “kill that light!”) like they might here, instead of “matikan lampu itu” (turn off that light).
So each week I study with my friend who uses the local dialect to give me stories and new words and I try to use their slang. Then once a week I study with my friend who speaks proper Indonesian and she teaches me the “polite” or more general way of saying the same things!
There are at least 2 ways to say almost anything and I am trying to keep them straight in my head to be ready to use the correct dialect depending on whom I am talking to.
It would be like a Latino coming to America and learning how to speak English from a Californian and then at the same time studying English from Uncle Si from Duck Dynasty. That there is plumb crazy ya’ll!
Just a little glimpse into what we are studying these days!
My friend told me about a recent happening here in town. There was a young middle school aged girl, about 16 years old (lots of older kids are in lower grades here because of having to travel out to town to attend school) who got into a relationship with a 23 year old so called “pastor” and ended up pregnant. Knowing her family was still back in the village and she was pretty much alone with this newly discovered secret, she told her boyfriend, who responded by saying he didn’t want that responsibility and told her to go away. Feeling discouraged she texted his family telling them she was going to kill herself since she was all-alone. A nephew of the boyfriend received her text and raced to her home to try and stop her but he was too late. He found her hanging from a tree on the side of her house. She had killed herself, along with the baby who was around 3 months along. I have been thinking about this story a lot today. It makes me so sad, especially considering the boyfriend was a “pastor”.
Sadly these kinds of things happen all the time. My friend said it’s very common for girls to hang themselves in the villages. Its easy to look at the majority of the population here and imagine that they are mostly saved, that they understand the gospel and go to Church because it is a place of fellowship and a chance to learn more about the Lord. Instead, most go to Church because it is just another part of their identity. As much as the color of their skin or the name of their tribe, they are “Christian” and being a Pastor can sometimes be just a step up the economic and social ladder. Though there are those who are saved, many are just tangled in a confusing list of dos and don’ts that they believe make them “Christians”. Don’t eat in the Church because it’s the house of God. Don’t spend money set aside for offering or you will get sick. Don’t chew beetle nut because… well, they don’t really know why not.
What is scary is that many times the reasons behind following these “rules” are that they were taught to them by the first missionaries who shared the gospel with their tribe and they have tried to follow them ever since. It is such huge responsibility for us to teach clearly from the word about the kind of relationship God wants to have with man. Not a list of dos and don’ts that put up walls between us and our Creator but a grace filled relationship where we are gently led by his Spirit to do what is right. From the moment we meet an unreached people group they will be watching every move we make and our testimony is a big giant blueprint of what they are going to mimic. Scary.
I am learning more and more that there is NO WAY my life or anyone else’s is going to make any impact on the unreached unless it is Christ doing everything. There is not one tiny bit of something special that I have to offer, even though I am tempted in my flesh to think there is! In fact there is a lot of not so special stuff that I easily mess everything up with when I do think I have something to offer! It HAS TO be Christ doing it, and He IS! People are coming to know Him all across this country and that is so cool to watch. I am guilty of looking at other failures like myself and thinking, how in the world are people coming to the Lord through failures like us? and then I remember that “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:26-31) and then I can say PRAISE THE LORD because lets be real, we foolish, weak and lowly things could never do this on our own!
Have you ever missed your flight to America in an international airport at midnight with a baby and surrounded by people who don’t speak your first language? Well, I (Abby) have. If you can imagine, it was not a fun experience. Looking back I can sigh with relief knowing it all ended up alright and I made it to the states and back here again in one peace, but at the time it was the most stressful experience I had been in. God was so faithful during the whole ordeal to provide just the right people at just the right times to help me on my way, including an amazing woman from Japan who, instead of going home after a full day of work at Japan airlines counter, decided to drive me in her personal car to a travel agent at 4am in the morning and then to several hotels to help me find a place to sleep for a few hours. Besides giving birth, I don’t know that I have ever been so exhausted! (carrying a 17lb baby around can add to the strain!)
In the end I had to buy my whole ticket to the states all over again. I was so discouraged as this trip was a surprise visit to my family and we really weren’t planning to spend that kind of money otherwise. God provided again when I found out I could request a refund and might get reimbursed. PRAISE THE LORD I was eventually fully reimbursed the original ticket cost! My troubles didn’t stop there though, as the moment I finally landed on American soil (insert teary eyes and quivering lip), the snow storm of a lifetime was just hitting the northeast and all the flights were grounded. So close yet so far! I had literally an hour long flight left to be in home sweet Michigan and now my flight was cancelled. I honestly wasn’t surprised at this point. Maybe the sheer exhaustion had worn away my senses, but I calmly approached the counter to find out what my options were. They put me on standby for the soonest flight available which was about 3 hours away.
I prayed fervently that somehow I would get on that flight! Slowly the airport started filling with more and more people whose flights were grounded and I really started thinking I might be living out the movie “terminal” for the next few weeks. Side note: EVERY airport needs to offer FREE WIRELESS to travelers! I had NO way to contact my Mom in MI or Nathan since I had an Indonesian cell phone and there was no free wireless at O’hare! Get with the times already Chicago! A lady at starbucks pointed me to a “free 10 minute wifi” computer where I fumbled through the slow keypad (you know the kind where you type and then the words appear 5 minutes later) and finally was able to let my Mom know I would be late. I killed time by hunting for the cheapest possible drink in the airport and settled on a Lemonade from Auntie Anne’s instead of paying $5 for a bottled water. When by headache set in I regretted that decision.
As time ticked by I prayed more and more that I could get on the flight. When boarding time was finally over Me and another Lady were standing there crossed fingered hoping to be called to board. The magical sound of my name came from the speaker and I was filled with a new dose of energy! We boarded and I passed out sleeping awkwardly while they de-iced the place 2 times. We finally took off and as we touched down in Detroit the flight attendant said “we got out of there just in time! They just grounded all the flights out of Chicago!” THANK YOU GOD! I think I was the only plane that left the airport that day, and that pretty much had to be God, don’t you think?
So I made it. My time was split between Michigan and Texas where Noah got to meet both sets of grandparents and his aunts and uncles and cousins. It was a grand occasion!
My flight back started out smooth and I was able to even see my brother and his girlfriend and my aunt and uncle on my layover in Los Angeles. I was pretty pleased with the apparent ease of this return journey until I arrived in Malaysia and saw that, what do you know, my flight was cancelled! They set me up for a flight an hour later than my previous one, which put me too close to departure of my flight out of Jakarta. Yup. I missed it. I might have made it had my bags arrived in a timely fashion but they lost one of my bags and I had to wait until all the bags came off the plane and then fill in a missing bag report.
I finally got over to my terminal where I got to jump right back into my language learning. The guy who was helping me with my bags said there was no other ticket available until the next day at about 5pm! I refused to accept that answer and asked him to help me find another ticket on another airline. So, in a group of three men (who appeared out of nowhere to help me), me, and a droopy eyed baby, we dragged my bags through another terminal and one of the men started hunting for a ticket for me on his phone. He ended up finding me one and buying it over his cell phone with me telling him our names and dates of birth. I know, shady huh? That’s just how it works here and I really had no choice but to trust these guys. Then came the really awkward part when I had to make sure I had enough money to pay for the ticket and literally had to count my money in front of them! They took my to a money exchange since I didn’t have quite enough, and I was able to pay them in the end. Thankfully no one ripped me off.
I was encouraged with how well my language ability came back after a month of not using it in the states since all of this was done in Indonesian and I didn’t have trouble understanding or communicating with them for the most part. Noah was SO good through all of my travels. I think God knew I would have had a breakdown had Noah not cooperated. But I am home now and can thank God for showing me that no matter what, he cares and will give me the strength I need to get through tough situations... But I don’t think I will ever try that particular one again!
Abby here, a few days from now will mark us being in this country for a whole year! It feels so strange to write that. In some ways it feels like we have been here forever and in other ways it feels like we just stepped off the plane. So much has changed – we can speak the language now (although there is still a long way to go!), we can make some sense of what is happening around us culturally, and we have a SON!
It’s funny how I go in waves of emotions while living here. Actually it’s not funny, sometimes it down right depressing… Some weeks I am so encouraged with progress in language and the relationships I have made here and the future looks bright. Other weeks will go by where even the thought of studying this language for another day just makes me want to curl up under the covers and never come out (except to eat martabak because it’s so delicious!).
During these frequent times I am realizing how fickle the human heart is. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jer 17:9.
This makes the common advice to “follow your heart” some of the worst you could give someone! How quickly my heart can change from feeling like a total moron for not understanding something someone just said in this language, or feeling guilty about spending “too much time” with Noah when I feel like I should have been able to study, to a few hours later having pride rise up in my heart because I went to visit a neighbor and could converse easily and understand all that was said. Every time this happens I am ashamed at how strong the flesh is in me. Not surprised, but ashamed all the same.
I am learning a lot about myself and have found that I am a very “follow the rules” type person. Not that I am a perfectionist (FAR from it!) but if I know things are expected of me I have major guilt issues if I don’t meet people’s expectations of me. This has been really evident since Noah was born. I know I am supposed to be getting a certain amount of hours in each week for language study and let’s be real – with a baby sometimes that just doesn’t happen! I have had to really work on my mind set here. I naturally like to be told what to do and know what my responsibilities are, so when I fail at meeting them, the guilt sets in. I guess this also means I am a people pleaser! Oh… what a long way I have to go. Good thing Jesus died for failures like me! So if you could pray for me as I work through all of this I would really appreciate it! In regard to me relationship with the Lord, I don’t think I have this guilt issue. I have always had a good understanding of His grace towards me and all my problems I just need to let HIS perspective be the only one that matters!