Monday, August 17, 2009

Traveling Mercies

[Note from Nancy: Sharon has not been able to send any more pictures because their modem is not working. I'm posting this blog with the only picture I have and I'll add more if I get them. Please pray for Sharon, Paul, Andie and Evan. POC is rigorous and challenging. ]

“Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” ~Lamentations 3:23


The Maxi-Cab had been booked earlier and was scheduled to arrive by 8:45 – enough time to get us to the airport for check-in at least two hours in advance. He arrived after 9:15. This was an opportunity to practice not freaking out and praying instead. God was gracious, and though we did not make the two hour advance, we had no problem getting boarding passes.

We had checked the luggage requirements before leaving the states. Though we were allowed two bags each at 50lbs each from Alabama to Singapore, Air Niugini allowed us two bags each at 70lbs (32kg). This made us happy as we could stuff more into the checked baggage and have to carry less. It made Evan happy because he was allowed to take a box of Legos that he inherited in Singapore (with three boys to play with, he had become a Lego-maniac the past few days.) When we placed the first Action Packer on the scale, it registered 28 kilos and I saw a concerned look move across the face of the woman behind the counter.

“You are allowed 25kg,” she said calmly. “We charge by the kilo.”

I gently reasoned with her, explaining the policy I had found on the website for Air Niugini. Since we had originated in the US, we were allowed 2 x 32kg each, rather than the 1 x 25 each afforded all other international travelers. (Now THAT’S some international relations!) She said she would have to check with her supervisor. While she walked away, I prayed.

Soon she was back, smiling, acknowledging that we were right. The bags were in-processed and weighed a collective 157kg (100kg less than we would have been allowed, so Air Niugini still came out okay.) We walked over to exchange some money so we would have American dollars when we arrived in Port Moresby, and then we said our goodbyes to Joe and Amelia. I don’t normally cry easily, mind you, but their prayer for us was tender and moving.

Singapore airport was interesting – we cleared the immigration official, returning the cards they had placed in our passports upon our arrival (I guess they want to make sure everyone finds their way back out.) As we were working our way to the gate, we finally realized that each gate has its own security! Now we understood why the “boarding time” was a full hour before the scheduled departure.

The airplane, a 757, was packed, and I believe, for a large jet, had the least amount of leg room I’ve ever seen. My knees touched the seat in front, so you can imagine how comfortable Paul was. But, the upside was, contrary to the many jokes that had been delivered on the subject, there were no chickens in the seats next to us. Or anywhere else in the plane, for that matter.

Now, keep in mind that it was 11:30PM when the plane left the gate. The lights were dimmed and people around began to rest. Once in the air, however, the lights (all of them!) were turned on and a full meal was served! Beef of chicken? Um … no, thank you. I had figured that they would serve drinks and maybe a light snack and then serve a full breakfast, but that was not the case at all. So people were eating full meals as midnight snacks – midnight Singapore time being 2AM PNG time. Then they served tea and coffee. Of course.

Unfortunately, the gentleman two rows back had not partaken of the coffee, for within minutes he was sound asleep, and snoring. For the entire flight. Let’s see … chickens clucking or a man snoring? Oh, how to choose! : )

As we landed in Port Moresby, we could see a lot of the countryside and it was, as expected, beautiful. The ocean and beaches on the right, the highland mountains on the left. The kids were both very excited, for which I am very grateful. We know that people are praying!

Immigration went smoothly and we claimed all of our bags. Only one lock was missing. I saw the currency exchange counter, but we forgot to actually exchange our money. Fortunately, again, because people were praying, we were not charged any customs fees. We did declare that we had some gifts (I brought some small things for the kids to take to birthday parties), food (prepackaged – that was no problem), “identical items in quantities of more than 1” (huh? Well, okay … deodorant, insect repellant, etc.), and “goods valued in excess of $1,000 Kina per adult and $500 Kina per child.” The only thing they wanted to see was the food. They asked us what was in our “hard boxes” (the Action Packers – clothes, shoes, towels, sheets, toiletries … personal effects) and handed us our passport. Thank you, Jesus, for favor with these officials! They didn’t even want to see the electronics we were concerned about them charging us for!

A New Guinean man named Luke who works for SIL, met us outside of customs. He helped us re-check our bags for the flight to Madang, and then he escorted us to the domestic terminal (several hundred yards’ walk down a covered sidewalk.) I had questioned why they would want someone to do that for us, but when it was said and done, it was very nice to have someone who knew the ropes and some of the officials to guide the way. Luke was a very kind young man who is married and has three daughters. He’s on the PNG National Football (soccer) team and will be playing in Australia next month for a tournament. We enjoyed his company. Entering the domestic terminal, I was amused at a sign on the door proclaiming that betelnut was not allowed to be chewed on any flight.

Convinced that we were taken care of, he let us pass through security into the domestic terminal and then left. We sat down, expecting to be called in about 40 minutes to board for our 10:45AM flight.

The call never came.

Finally, at about 10:45, they announced that, due to technical difficulties, Flight 110 to Madang had been cancelled, and that all ticketed passengers should make their way back to the domestic ticketing counter to receive new boarding passes on a new flight.

Though he had had the most and best sleep on the snoring-but-no-chickens leg of the journey, this did not sit well with our youngest. Once we knew when the next flight was, it didn’t sit well with any of us, but we turned on a DVD for the kids, scrounged up some food (we were glad that we had exchanged for Kina now!) and took turns napping. The kids split a chicken pie. I wasn’t sure what that would be like when I splurged the 5.90 Kina for it (approximately $2.35), but they did enjoy it. Andie even asked for a second one a couple hours later.

Finally, our flight was called and we walked outside and out to our plane, a Fokker 100 with significantly more legroom than the 757. Despite the heavy cloud cover and the high altitude (28,000 ft) we were very attentive to whatever scenery we could see during the one hour trip to Madang. Indeed, this is a beautiful country. Rugged mountain, picturesque coastline, plenty of snaking rivers, and green, green, green … everywhere green.

The airport was little more than a paved airstrip and a boarding/luggage shack. We were met by some of the POC (Pacific Orientation Course) personnel who were very friendly and welcoming. Believe it or not, and thank you for your prayers, all of our luggage made it. We only had a couple of wounded bags and one baggage casualty (a bag damaged beyond much further use during a gate check back in Huntsville.)

We loaded our luggage in the back of a people mover and crawled in after it. The POC grounds are on a mountain at about 1200 feet overlooking Madang and the coast, and we bounced and jerked around in the back of the PMV the entire 1km up the mountain. When the ride was over, Andie commented on the steep drop-offs, and said it had been a good opportunity to “catch up on our bravery.” A revamped Japanese military barracks, it is definitely no-frills, but each room contained some shelving, a few simple tables, chairs, and cabinets, and raised bed platforms with thin foam mattresses and mosquito nets. What more could one ask for?

The spiders, grasshoppers, wasps, water bugs, and geckos (one of which was a good 10” with half a tail missing) welcomed us to our humble abode. Having been delayed several hours in Port Moresby, though, we had very little time to find, for example, flashlights before the evening (after dark) meeting. Fortunately, the power did not go out all night, allowing us to almost completely unpack. Eventually the flashlights did, in fact, appear.

With fatigue and fear talking, one of the last things I said before bed was, “OK, I am ready to go home now.”

But true to His word, God’s mercies are new every morning.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Seeing Singapore, Part 1

(Disclosure and apology: I know that you have been eagerly awaiting the next installment of our story. I am sorry it has taken so long! Immediately after I posted the last entry, Blogger began giving me problems; I have not been allowed to post or even save drafts. Thank you to my Mom who is posting for me!)

(Note from Nancy: I am posting several blogs one per day, as Sharon requested. But I want you to know that they have arrived safely in Madang, PNG, and they began POC today (Wednesday, August 12th). Thank you for your prayers and keep praying! J)

Wednesday, August 5, continued

Joe predicted that we would sleep until 11AM, but thanks to lots of sleep on the plane, the kids were ready to get up by 8:30. That turned out to be a good thing, though, as it helped us acclimate to the time zone more easily. The boys had gone to school, and eventually Joe would have to go to work, but he took some time in the morning to take us around a bit first. We walked to the bus stop where he told us, for simplicity's sake, to stick with route 25. Check. We took Bus 25 to the Ang Mo Kio stop. There we found a facility which doubles as a several-story mall housing various types of shopping, restaurants, and a food court in addition to the bus terminal and train station. It was lunch time.

Joe took us to the food court - the local hangout. He said it is usually just as cheap or even less expensive to eat at a place like this than to cook at home, so you can imagine it was a bustling place. I'd been told by more than one person that eating was a great hobby in Singapore; however, as you might expect, knowing they have a much more active lifestyle, we saw very few people who struggled with weight. Soon our table held rice, dumplings, carrot cake (kind of like an omelet with boiled carrot pieces), roasted pork, chicken, and duck. The kids tried drinks which were a cross between a smoothie and a milkshake - strawberry/banana for Andie and rock melon (cantelope!) for Evan. Everyone tried everything and ended the meal very full.

Joe took us to the train station and gave us instructions on where to go and how to get there, and made sure we knew how to get back after we were done. Our goal? The downtown, touristy shopping district. We had no problem navigating the train or finding the correct stop, and found our way to the visitor information office. While they filled me in on good things “to do and see,” Evan took advantage of the leg massage machine. Smart guy. We wandered around for a while, and Andie found another technological bathroom wonder: the automatic door! Finally we made our way back, train and bus, to our friends’ flat.

I forgot to mention that they live on the 12th (top) floor of their building. The kids decided that they thought it would be a good idea to see if they could run up the stairs and beat the elevator. Yeah, yeah, you go ahead. (Insert incredulous look here). As we passed the 10th floor we could see them out the window of the lift. Evan was still trucking along pretty well; Andie was grasping the handrail and her tongue was hanging out, but she was determined. We beat them to the top, but they beat us in the sweat-producing contest. Congratulations, kids. Any mom would be proud.

About 70% of the population lives in high rise apartment buildings like these:

Paul decided to lie down and take a nap. Just so you know, that is not part of the approved process for conquering jet lag. I made sure he knew it.

The kids went swimming with the Lee kids. Good. Wear ‘em out!

That night we went to bed much earlier … like 9:30.

Thursday, August 6

Some of us woke up around 7:30. That’s enough sleep, don’t you think? Others of us, who shall remain nameless, slept until 9:30. OK, that’s like 12 hours, even in Asia.

Joe took us again to the train station where we tried to exchange some travelers’ checks. Apparently, American Express is not common in Singapore. Really? After the bank personnel placed a call to AE, they surveyed our passports, and they got both of our signatures on numerous documents, we were afforded the exchange. I’m not quite sure that we didn’t sign away our first-born, but they let us keep her anyway.

After lunch (the kids cleaned their plates!), we headed to the Singapore Botanic Gardens ( and specifically the Orchid Gardens. I have never seen so many orchids in my life! They were beautiful – so many different colors and patterns – an amazing display of God’s limitless creativity. In addition to orchids, we enjoyed the various pitcher plants. Andie found a large snail on a leaf. When she reached out to touch it, it raised up like a dog or cat might raise up to sniff her. I never knew they were so friendly!

We stopped through China Town for about an hour and just browsed, and then that evening was relaxed.

Friday, August 7

Member Care (Missionary Care) has been somewhat slow to be implemented into the missions culture. Some organizations have done a very good job of it, while others still have much to learn. We had an opportunity on Friday morning to meet someone who is instrumental in Member Care with a different entity. We met Belinda and her husband at a restaurant in town and spent a long time sharing our hearts and our stories. It was such a pleasure.

Later that evening, we boarded a bus and took the kids to the Night Safari, and extension of the Singapore Zoo. The Night Safari claims to be the first of its kind in the world. It was open from about dusk to midnight and includes walking trails and tram rides from which you can view hundreds of nocturnal animals in well-simulated natural habitats. Also included is a tribal show with dancing and lots of fire, and an animal show that was rather entertaining. We caught a taxi back to the house (turns out, it was cheaper and much faster than taking the bus!), arriving at about 11:30PM.

Saturday, August 8

The day was to be filled with a trip to Sentosa, “Asia’s Largest Playground.” We started out by visiting the snake charmer who, for S$5, allowed the kids to hold an albino python. At first Evan was going to just stand beside his snake-holding sister, but the charmer wrapped the constrictor around both of their necks. Afterward, he admitted it was pretty cool.

We moved on to the “Images of Singapore” museum –a beautiful collection of historical information and stories told through dioramas and wax sculptures. I definitely recommend a trip to Images of Singapore for anyone who gets a chance to visit the country. We then had a picnic lunch followed by some wild rides on the Luge (a wheeled cart and a long, gradual, winding, downhill track followed by a trip back up the hill on a sky lift.)

Finally, we went to the beach where the kids played and caught crabs for hours. On this beach is located the “southernmost point” in continental Asia.

Sunday, August 9

On Sunday, we visited Bartley Christian Church with our friends. It was a very nice service and we were challenged by the sermon (about passing a vital and active faith down through the generations.) We had lunch at McDonalds and then spent the afternoon packing our bags.

Because August 9 was National Day, we went to a cell group party at a home and enjoyed the good company and great food along with celebrating Singapore’s Independence 44 years earlier. When the appropriate time came in the televised celebration, I truly enjoyed watching the entire group (except us, of course) stand together to say the pledge and sing the National Anthem.

Monday, August 10

By noon on Monday, our bags were pretty much packed. Lunch included spring rolls, which my sister-in-law had requested I eat for her. Joe had told me that he knew where to get the best spring rolls in town, and, though I have not tasted any others in Singapore, I would have to agree. They were wonderful!

It was decided that we would take the children to a swimming complex. The Anchorvale Community Club is a public facility that includes eight large water slides, two Olympic-sized pools (one covered), and a shallow children’s play pool with spray stations and the like, all for less than $2 per person. The kids, of course, were completely delighted. They wore themselves out on the water slides, in particular. We forced them to give up their nirvana at 4:45 (which was particularly sad because Andie had just made two friends and was enjoying them quite a bit.)

After showering and cleaning up, we made our way to a food court just a few blocks from where the Lees live. This particular one was known for housing a location of Botak Jones – an American food joint with burgers, sandwiches, salads, steaks, etc. (Botak apparently means “baldie.”) Andie had fish-n-chips, but the rest of us ate delicious burgers and fries. (I think Evan ate his weight in French fries.) Amelia had decided that we had to eat at this place at this time because it would quite possibly be the last “real American” meal we would have for quite some time.

The Maxi-Cab was scheduled to pick us up at 8:45 for our ride to the airport.

(This story to be continued after a couple of commercial breaks.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Trans-Pacific Observations

Monday, August 3

The alarm at 0320 signified that we had reached the end of our deep, restful two hours of sleep. Time to get up and get to the airport! We frantically stuffed the remaining items in our bags and piled everything else in more-or-less logical piles for my gracious parents to deal with: donations to the Salvation Army, storage items, leftover toiletries and other assorted items up for grabs, etc. It took three cars to get us, my parents, and all of our baggage to the airport. My parents would have to return later and pick up the extra car.

It had been my plan to finish the packing on Saturday so we could relax and enjoy Sunday, but … um, yeah. So far, I’ve only thought of two things we forgot, neither of which was critical, so I suppose that denotes success enough.

I regret that we did not get a picture of our hoards of luggage – four action packers, two large suitcases, one small suitcase, one frame backpack, and several carry-ons. We had separate bookings on Continental to Houston and then San Francisco, and on Singapore Airlines to Seoul and Singapore. An earlier call to a gracious person Continental Airlines had secured for us two free bags apiece (normally $15 and $25 on domestic flights, but they took pity since our ultimate destination was overseas), and Continental has a baggage transfer agreement with Singapore Airlines so we knew we would not have to claim and re-process these bags in San Francisco. (We are so grateful, God!)

The first two flights were eventless. We arrived in San Francisco after a 20 minute holding pattern in the air due to fog. That still left us plenty of time to get to the international terminal and through security #2 before our flight time of 210pm.

Singapore Airlines had been hyped as having wonderful service, and it turned out to be so. They passed out small bags containing a small toothbrush and toothpaste and a pair of slouchy socks. We also received a full-color-covered, glossy, menu for the various meals of the flight. These included lunch, "light bites," and a "light meal" en route to Seoul (note that the "light" meal included salad, pot roast and vegetables, roll and butter, and "Chocolate delight." Maybe they meant "delight meal," because I don't consider what showed up on my tray table to be a light meal. Evan was very interested in the "chocolate delight," but as he was asleep at the time, I saved my chocolate delight for him - a Hershey bar which he eagerly devoured.

Somewhere during the flight from San Francisco to Seoul we passed the International Date Line.

Tuesday, August 4

Because we were flying west, we were ahead of the sun and it was perpetual daylight from our departure at 6am until our arrival in Seoul at 6:45pm (almost 23 hours later); there never was an “evening of the 3rd” or a “morning of the 4th.” Fortunately, for about 9 hours of the trans-Pacific flight, all window shades were down to fool our systems into thinking it was time to sleep, whatever that looks like in economy class. (I think they make you walk through business class on purpose. Those little “booths” that lay flat into beds looked tempting the first time – imagine how they looked when we disembarked after more than 12 hours. We did have an empty seat in our midst, though, so the kids took turns stretching out to sleep, so that was good.)

In Seoul we had a one hour layover – just enough time to snag the bathroom and chill out a bit.

Andie is always on the lookout for new and wonderful bathroom automation. Seoul offered one more technology to add to her list.

No more awkward paper toilet seat covers for her, no sir! :)

The flight from Seoul to Singapore was eventless as well, fortunately, and we tried to stay awake knowing that when we arrived in Singapore we would want to sleep. I watched The Bucket List and a couple episodes of "Back to You," which I never knew existed. Paul watched "I am Legend." Evan played Nintendo games and Andie ... slept. This would bite her later.

About a hour before we arrived, suddenly, it was Wednesday,

Wednesday, August 5

I have not entered the US on an international flight lately, but the yellow health information cards we received as we exited the plane in both Seoul and Singapore caused me to wonder. Do we continue to have a similar concern regarding N1H1?

When we arrived at the airport in Singapore, we realized we had not gotten our friends' street address, which, of course, our immigration document required. Fortunately, we had seen Joe and Amelia waving at us as we approached the immigrations officials, so we knew they were there even though they had walked away as we passed out of sight. Finally, an official escorted Paul past customs to where the couple was waiting and retrieved the information that would clear us to finally "enter the country."

We were so grateful to find that all of our luggage had arrived intact and loaded it up on three of those airport carts. As we passed through customs with "nothing to declare," they asked us if we had brought our entire house with us. I'm sure it seemed so.

The kids were hungry, but it was about 1:40 in the morning by then. Lo and behold, however, they pointed to the 24 hour McDonald's right there in the airport! What a grand country! Evan ate chicken nuggets and Andie had a chicken sandwich and they devoured their fries, and we were finally ready to load up.

Unable to fit six people and the contents of a house in their small Toyota sedan, we hailed a MaxiCab (stop snickering ... it's a van/taxi!) and split up for the ride home. By 3:30am (2:30pm Tuesday, Central time) we were in bed. Five hours later, the kids had had enough sleep, but it was a good thing to get up at a "reasonable" hour, right? Train our bodies to the new time zone? Though it had been long and complicated, the day had just begun.

to be continued ...

We are missionaries serving God and the task of Bible translation by serving the missionary community in Papua New Guinea through Personnel Administration and MK Education. We thank you for your prayers!

For the Bibleless Peoples of the World ...

(Updated 13 April 2013)