Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In the Company of Greatness, Part 2

“If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness.  We carry this Precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.  That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us.”  2 Corinthians 4:7, The Message

“Greatness is not manifested by unlimited pragmatism, which places such a high premium on the end justifying any means and any methods.”  ~Margaret Chase Smith

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world … as in being able to remake ourselves.”  ~Mohandas Gandhi


Baluka had met us at the Port Moresby airport back in August when we arrived in country.  I remembered him as a very nice young Papua New Guinean man who had helped us with luggage and kids and escorted us from the international to the domestic terminal.  Before he left, he helped us through security and made sure we got checked in for our flight to Madang.  Now, bright and early at 3:00AM, he arrived at the mission guesthouse to help me once again.

The ride to the airport was pleasant as we talked - in Tok Pisin (he knows English quite well, but was determined not to let me off the hook, and told me as much!) - about our families, where we were from, that sort of thing.  Once we arrived, the wait was much longer than I expected, though Baluka didn’t seem surprised in the least.  He and I had the opportunity to talk some more.  Finally I asked him how he came to know the Lord.  A wide smile spread across his face.

“Yu laik harim testimoni bilong mi?”

Yes, I’d like to hear your testimony.

He told me of growing up in a religious, but non-Christian home where, deep in his spirit, he felt the tug to do God’s work.  He prayed often for this, but since his insides were of the “old way” he was unable to follow through.  Time and again, though, God answered specific prayers regarding things such as his ability to continue school, and finally, after getting caught up in the college party scene for a while, he found himself at a dead end and gave his heart to the Lord.  When he returned home at the end of that term, his family could tell that he was different.

He still longed to do the work of God, and continued to pray to that end, but when the chance came for him to play on the national rugby team, he didn’t hesitate.  The situation, however, proved to be too much for him, and he struggled to stay in right relationship with God.

Finally, the opportunity came for him to work for a Christian mission.  Knowing that he needed to remove himself from his present environment, and still feeling the desire to work for God, he jumped at the chance, even though it meant a bit of deception on his part.  After three months on the job, his conscience got the better of him, and he approached his boss to confess and ask for forgiveness.  He was met with a smile and the words, “I’ve known for some time.”

Apparently the boss was just waiting for him to admit the deceit.   He told his embarrassed employee he would get some counsel on the situation and get back with him the next day.

It was a very long night.

Allow me to paraphrase the verdict:

Because you’ve worked three months under the cloud of this deception, said his boss, you must now work three months in the light of the truth.  It will be on a probationary basis, and at the end of the three months we’ll reevaluate.

This was about 15 years ago, and Baluka has served the mission ever since, with a smile on his face, and the truth on his heart.


A few years ago, as his father was getting close to death, he had the opportunity to, one more time, share with him the Gospel.  Always before he had been antagonistic to it, but now, as his body was failing him, he allowed the truth of Christ’s love and the power of the cross to sink in, and he gave his life over to the Lordship of Christ. 

The next day, though he had previously been bedridden, he was up and about.  He had a spring in his step and a radiance about his face the likes of which Baluka had never seen.   Baluka found his father sitting on a pier overlooking the water – one of his favorite spots – and approached him only to hear these disconcerting words delivered with a smile: “Tomorrow I will be leaving you.”

The next day, his miraculous strength gone, his father was confined again to the bed.  He told Baluka and his cousin to go fishing – to get out of the house.  And he reminded him again that this would be the day he would die.

Against his wishes, Baluka went fishing, expecting to come home to the worst.  However, upon his return, his father was still alive, though barely.  Sometime before midnight he turned to Baluka, who was sitting on his left holding his hand, and his nephew, who was sitting on his right, and asked about “the three of you.”

No, Dad.  There are only two of us here.

His father disagreed and indicated his son, his nephew, and, with a beaming smile, “the man standing at the end of the bed.” 

The boys could see nothing.

But the dying man could.  He was smiling at the man who, moments later, would escort him into the Afterlife.  All because his son had been willing to share Christ with him one more time.


This, too, is God’s story.

This, too, is God’s greatness.


Two very different men with two very different stories.  It’s not what they’ve done that makes them great.  It is His Story as it emanates from faces of different colors and bodies of vastly different ages and physical abilities.  It is the image of the invisible God which, despite their personal histories or life’s accomplishments, seem to seep out through their every pore.

And in their presence, I was, most certainly, in the presence of God.


In the Company of Greatness, Part 1

“I was unsure how to go about this, and felt totally inadequate – I was scared to death if you want the truth of it – and so nothing I said could have impressed you or anyone else. But the Message came through anyway. God’s Spirit and God’s Power did it …” 1 Corinthians 2:3-4, The Message

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events ...” ~Robert Kennedy

“No one who has come to true greatness has not felt in some degree that his life belongs to the people, and what God has given them He gives it for mankind.” ~Phillips Brooks

He was quite unassuming, the man sitting next to me at dinner that night. Imposingly tall, yes, but the wrinkles on his face and the slow labor of his walk betrayed his increasing age. And because he was so soft-spoken, I was having trouble hearing him.

“I’m sorry. What did you say your name was?”

“Jim Parlier.”

I was in Port Moresby, spending the night at a missionary guesthouse en route to Buka. The heat was getting to me and I was sure I hadn’t heard right.

“His wife,” prompted my friend, “wrote the book, Poking Holes in the Darkness …

“Yes, of course. I’ve read it.”

More than once.

As we were planning to come to Papua New Guinea, this book opened my eyes to the lives of translators in the bush of PNG. People who sacrificed their lives not only to go to another country, but to go to another country and live among a distinctly primitive people with a completely different culture, all for the sake of bringing them God’s Word in the language that speaks to their hearts.

After nineteen years of living and working among the Managalasi, Jim and Jaki Parlier, along with their national co-translators, dedicated the Managalasi New Testament.

Other than when I was a kid in a candy store, I have not often felt like a kid in a candy store. But I did that night. Now, of course, if you know me very well, you’ll know that I was determined to be in total control of my face, vowing not to betray the enthusiasm that was welling up in the pit of my stomach. I was, in fact, hanging on his every word.

Oh my goodness! I’m in the presence of greatness!

“So, Jim,” I calmly began, “what are you and Jaki doing these days?”

We chatted for the better part of dinner, and I was no less intrigued by him when we finished than when he’d repeated his name for my benefit. In fact, I was even more certain that I was, in fact, in the presence of greatness.

Since completing their translation work in the 1980’s, they’ve returned several times to visit. On one such occasion, about ten years after their translation work was finished, they arrived to find that the several denominations in the area were fighting. Apparently they were disagreeing on various points of scripture, and criticizing those who thought differently. (Sound familiar?)

Jim was at a loss. For the next five years he prayed for God to show him what he could do to help the situation. Finally, in the darkness of early morning God awakened him with His answer.

Get them together and teach them.

Despite the obvious hindrances to such a gathering, within a couple years they had started a Bible school in the area. Before they could ever ask for money, people began offering it. Someone would call Jim up and ask what the need was, and as soon as he rattled off a figure, they were dropping a check in the mail. So certain is he that God alone is doing this work that Jim told the financial administrator of the school, “When we have to ask for money, we’re closing the school.”

They have now graduated three classes totaling about 120 people. However, there have been concerns about decreasing enrollment, so in January of this year, when they were opening registration for the next two-year course of study, Jim prayed with the leadership of the school that God would bring who He wanted to enroll. More than 100 people registered! Some staff expressed concerns about space and suggested they cap the registration numbers. No, said Jim. We prayed that God would send who He wanted to be here. This is His work, and He’ll make it work.

True. His work. His story.

His greatness.

A-Flying We Will Go

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” ~Lord Kelvin

“Flying is hours and hours of boredom sprinkled with a few seconds of sheer terror.” ~Pappy Boyington

Here in Papua New Guinea, you can never quite be sure what you will encounter when traveling. I knew that in a theoretical sense, of course, but when we arrived in Port Moresby back in August, and our connection to Madang was cancelled, it was a surprise. Fortunately, we were booked on the next flight up and we only had about a 4-5 hour delay in the airport. They said the cancellation was due to “mechanical problems,” and maybe that was so, but it’s possible, too, that not enough people were booked on the flight, or even that someone was just having a bad day. Around here you never know for sure.

When I got the call last Friday that my flight from Ukarumpa to Port Moresby (via the aviation department of our mission agency) had been changed, I wasn’t too disturbed. In fact, it was good to know that I would not be picked up at 7:30AM. Instead, I could have a normal morning with the kids and my husband, and even run a few errands before it was time to go.

I managed to say goodbye to the kids as they left for school, but they were either embarrassed by my attempts at affection or eager to get to school (I’ll assume the latter), and they each shrugged me off with an annoyed “ok, bye Mom.” After checking off the things on my list, I came back to the house to wait for my ride to the airstrip. In the twenty minutes I sat waiting on the front porch, I got better quality time with the kittens than I’d had with the kids.

Other than an equipment change (the Kodiak was grounded for some mechanical work, so we rode on the King Air), we took off shortly after our (new) scheduled ETD of 1100 and about 50 minutes later were making our final approach into Port Moresby. The wind was whipping at, the pilot later told us, 25 knots, so it made the approach somewhat, shall we say, tremulous. The gal across the aisle from me was holding her stomach “so it wouldn’t move around so much.”

Well said.

Ukarumpa from the Air

When we arrived at the guest house (three of us were overnighting in Moresby and had been assigned to stay together), we ate lunch and then sat down to watch “real time TV” in the common room. We caught up on the news of the world for a while, but each of us at various times, helped along by the heat, dozed off in front of the broadcast. Gripping news day; what can I say?

I was determined not to stay up too late after dinner because, as I had just discovered, my Tuesday morning departure for Buka was scheduled for 5:20 … A.M. Now, we think we have it bad in the States, but here, even for domestic flights, you have to be at the airport two hours in advance. So, I was told I would be picked up by our mission shuttle at 0300 hours. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for, say, sleeping. (I got exactly three hours and forty-three minutes, but who’s counting?) Normally there is only one flight from Port Moresby to Buka (around 9:30AM), thus my surprise to find that the agent had made a reservation for oh-dark-twenty. But, these early flights do have one thing going for them – their on-time record – and I would eventually arrive in Buka, on time, at about 7:00AM.

I boarded the flight and found that there were only ten passengers on the Fokker 100 (seating capacity: 98). The journey was peaceful. Apple juice and cookies were served –yes, the breakfast of champions. I watched, in between cat naps, the breaking of dawn and took in the sight of West and East New Britain as we passed by to the South.

Bougainville Island on the Left, Buka Island on the Right, with Airstrip

For the next two and a half weeks, I would be grounded on a beautiful tropical island, serving out my days as the conference kitchen manager and meeting some fascinating Papua New Guineans. Should all go as has been arranged, my return flight schedule would take me through East New Britian, in and out of the Rabaul/Kokopo airport, hopefully within sight of the volcanoes so famous for destroying the city of Rabaul.

Currently that was scheduled for February 19.

Flying around here, though, you never know for sure.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


“As the first printed books were quite rare and valuable, it was determined early on that something was needed to mark one's place in a book without causing its pages any harm.” ~Wikipedia, “Bookmark”

“Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend - or a meaningful day.” ~Dalai Lama

I could have been friends with them.

Imagine the scene. A family is leaving your town for good. A good percentage of the population turns out at the airstrip to bid them goodbye. There are hugs, smiles, tears, “don’t forget to email me” …

You are standing toward the back of the crowd watching the single engine plane rumble down the grass runway. As the wheels leave the ground and it soars into the sky, disappearing over the mountains, you think to yourself,

I could have been friends with them.

Shortly after we arrived, one of the leaders here told us that he has found himself in this situation more than once … experiencing regret for what could have been.

“How long are you here for?”

I’ve been told that some people have asked this question of newcomers, not necessarily out of friendly curiosity, but out of self-preservation. If you don’t say you’re here long term, then, well, it’s nice to meet you, but I gotta get going. And don’t expect a call from me. I’m not interested in building a relationship only to have my heart ripped out when you leave.

I can understand why someone might feel that way, but how sad.

Transience is just part of the culture here, but I don’t want to be one of those people who watch the plane take off and wonder about what could have been.

Before I left the states, independently of each other, two of my best friends gave me small gifts: bookmarks. One friend bought two, actually – one with pink and green beads and the other with blue and green beads. She showed them to me and just as she, I thought, was about to hand me the green and blue one (‘cause she’s the more girly girl), she pulled it toward herself and thrust the pink one in my direction. “The pink one for you to remember me by and the blue and green one for me to remember you by,” she said.

Yeah, like I could forget.

A few weeks later, unaware of this previous gift, another friend gave me a lovely suede bookmark with beads and a miniature picture frame attached. With my mother’s help, I shrunk and cropped a tiny little picture of me and my friend to put in the frame.

And thus equipped, I left for PNG.

Two weeks ago, a new family arrived in country and moved, temporarily, two houses down from us. In addition to a thirteen year old boy and a four year old boy, they have a ten year old girl and a seven year old boy, the exact ages and genders of our own kids. When we heard this, even before they’d arrived, we offered to have them over for dinner to welcome them and answer any questions they might have about the great POC expedition upon which they were about to embark.

But, it didn’t end there. We greatly enjoyed each other’s company, and we really came to care for and love this family as much as you can in twelve days. We were very sorry to see them go, but glad for them that they are starting the next phase of the adventure God has for them. Following POC, they will not be returning to Ukarumpa, though. Rather, they will be moving to Alotau on the far southeast corner of the island of New Guinea where they will serve as regional center managers. We don’t know if or when we will see them again.

Yesterday they boarded the Cessna for the trip to Madang. Before they left, however, Kim handed me a small, bulging envelope. Enclosed was a sweet thank you card for all of the really selfish things we’d done to create a social life for ourselves while they were here (they thought we were just being nice, I guess), and a handmade beaded bookmark.

A wide smile spread across my face and I told her the story of my two friends who had given me bookmarks before I left the States.

She apologized. Guess she thought I had more than enough bookmarks.

No, no, no, I insisted! I think it’s great! A little twinkle from God’s eye, the way I see it. I love it! (Besides, someone who reads a lot can never have too many bookmarks, right?)

Each of these friends has been a very special part of my life, in very different ways. Each of the bookmarks they have given me, likewise, are very different, and will forever mark the pages of my life that these friends have graced. What if I hadn’t bothered because I didn’t want to have to say goodbye? What a treasure I would have missed out on!

No, the story of my life is still being written.

And I’ll take all the bookmarks I can get.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Little Better Off Than Gilligan

"Now sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip ... ~Theme song from 1960's TV show, "Gilligan's Island"

Gilligan: Hiya, Professor. What are you doing?

Professor: I'm making notes for a book. It's to be a chronicle of our adventures on the island... I think it's a book people will want to buy, don't you?

Gilligan: Sure, I'll buy one. I'm dying to find out what happens to us.

I gotta get off this island.

No, I’m not certifiably insane … yet. But, I will be taking a mission trip from my “mission trip” very soon. And to do so, I gotta get off this island.

A few weeks ago, a center manager on the island of Bougainville issued a request for people to volunteer to go (transportation paid) to work as a kitchen/business manager for some 2-3 week long conferences over the next several months. I decided the one listed for May sounded appealing to me (music and youth together) so I expressed my interest in that one.

She replied that that would be great, thank you, but is there any way you could possibly come for the February conference, also?

Oh yeah. That one was labeled “urgent need.” I guess by “urgent” she actually meant … well, “urgent.”

So, long story short, I’ve made my travel arrangements and I will be leaving here on Monday, February 1. Despite a bit of envy on my husband’s part, I am scheduled to fly on the brand spanking new, nine-seater Kodiak plane to Port Moresby. (If I remember right, we got the fourth one off the production line.)

Tuesday I will get on a commercial airline and fly to Buka where I will be supervising cooks, driving into town on shopping trips three days per week, helping prepare meals for conference participants, washing linens, organizing duty rosters, dispensing medicine, handling the finances, writing reports, and doing inventories. On Friday, February 19, I will fly commercially back to Port Moresby where I will catch a six-seater Cessna back home where I will sleep for three days.

Now it’s true that flights in this country can get cancelled on a whim, as we found out when we were trying to get to Madang back in August. But, I figure that still puts me a step ahead of Gilligan, Skipper, and their rag-tag gang of island-dwellers. They had to wait for a ship.

Oh, and except for episode #46 where, after getting hit in the face with a crate, Gilligan begins picking up radio signals and broadcasts a weather bulletin announcing an approaching typhoon, they had little communication with the outside world. Well, now that I think about it, they did have a radio made from coconut shells and bamboo, thanks to the genius of the Professor who, for some reason, was unable to also fix the two foot hole in the SS Minnow.

I’ll have email, and a digital phone that even works sometimes. No coconuts for me. No sir.

Which brings me to the food prep part of this adventure. Some of you will remember from a previous post how very bad with meal planning I am. That would seem to be a problem since one of the main reasons I am going to Buka is to coordinate all the meals for an entire conference full of people. But, they tell me that all of the menus are set! Recipes are provided, as well as two national ladies to prepare most of them! All I have to do is watch and learn! (Oh, and all that other stuff I already mentioned, of course.)

So, stand back, Mary Anne. Put down your script, Ginger. Lovey and Mr. Howell, step aside please.

I’m leaving the island.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Oh yes, wait a minute Mr. Postman ...

“Please, Mister Postman, look and see if there’s a letter in your bag for me.  Why is it taking such a long time …?” ~the Marvelettes, 1961

 “Every once in a while, someone will mail me a single popcorn kernel that didn't pop. I'll get out a fresh kernel, tape it to a piece of paper and mail it back to them.” ~Orville Redenbacher


It’s official.  I am pathetic.

And I think I’m going to need a new computer mouse pretty soon.  The left button is getting worn out from clicking on “Send/Receive” no less than 2,196 times per day.

The good thing is, for a flat rate, we can be constantly connected so as to send and receive as much email as we want, and it’s even set up to send/receive automatically, if I’d ever give it a chance.

The bad thing is, as you may remember from the last post, I’m “not doing anything.”  And that leads to lots of extra time to feel disconnected from the world.  It was New Year’s Day before I heard about the Christmas Eve airplane incident near Detroit.  That’s how out of touch I am. 

Don’t hear me complaining, because I’m not.  I am thrilled to be here!  This place is beautiful, the people are precious, and we know God wants us here.  I’m just looking for new reasons to laugh at myself, that’s all. 

But, let’s face it.  Almost everyone reading this post lives at least 8,500 miles from where I’m sitting.

Now, while I am not as bad as, say, a certain snack food magnate, who apparently puts faulty kernels in his popcorn bags just so he can get a few letters in his box, I am still pretty pathetic.  We have message boards here where people can post things for sale, wanted items, etc.  I have found that if I post, for example, that I need to borrow a basketball pump and needle, that I will get three emails almost immediately.  And if I post that I am looking for a small piece of lumber to make a swing seat for the kids, there will be nine replies in my inbox within fifteen minutes.

One day I found myself looking for stuff I could sell.  I justified it by calling it “simplifying,” but on one very real level it was a desperate, backhanded attempt at attaining some kind of socialization.  When the new flip flops I posted for sale didn’t go (my son had outgrown them before we received our shipment), I amended the post to say “make an offer.”  I could have just said, “please, won’t someone send me an email saying you’ll pay me even a dime for these shoes?  In fact, I’ll pay you to take them!  Just so I get to communicate with a real human being ……”



I tried a different approach with the Turbie Twist:


“We got these for my daughter because she had a terrible time trying to wrap up her hair with a big towel after a shower.  She used the purple one briefly.  Now she just doesn't wrap it up at all, but I'll save my commentary on that.  :)

“It is a terry cloth head wrap thingy with a little elastic loop for holding the end after you twist it up.   Yeah, think "info-mercial."

“I've tried the purple one and it works just fine.  I'm pretty sure the problem was operator error.

“The white one has not been field-tested, but I suspect it will do the job.  I'll save the purple one just in case we have a break through.

“White Turbie-Twist


This attempt at lighthearted salesmanship brought no email replies.  :(


The Christmas packages sent by family back in the states finally started arriving last week.  It’s fine, of course … things just take a while here.  But, my son was despairing, and day by day, as Christmas approached, his desperation grew.

“Mom, can we go to the Post Office?”  (*insert pitiful face here*)

I didn’t want him to get his hopes up, and fortunately, he did eventually come to understand that the mailbox was more likely to be empty than it was to be overflowing with little yellow slips of paper indicating that packages were waiting behind the counter.  But, still the dream was alive.

“So what if something comes after Christmas?  Can we open it?”

Yes, honey.  Of course. 


It’s not been so bad since the kids got out of school for the holidays because, frankly, they don’t leave me much time to be bored.  They, on the other hand, are always bored, but that’s another story.  Still, in some slower moments I find myself going back and forth between Outlook and Skype, (*insert pitiful face here*) thinking, “Is anybody out there?”

Click. Open Skype. Click. Open Outlook. Click. Send/Receive. Click. Back to Skype.

Click. Click. Click. Click.



I’m sure the fact that it is the Christmas season has a lot to do with it.  Someone here in Ukarumpa called us on Christmas day to see if we were doing okay being away from family for the first time during the holidays.  I had to confess, though, that out of the last ten Christmas days, we have only been with family twice.  And out of the last ten Thanksgivings, never.  With Paul working at UPS so many of those years, and us living so far from everyone, seeing family on Christmas or Thanksgiving just didn’t happen. 

Instead we spent most of those holidays with friends, and as my mother graciously acknowledged, it was them that we really missed this year.  Not that we didn’t miss our families, too, of course, but you understand what I mean.

I’m sure this is a normal part of adjusting.  And I have come to know in the last few days that I am not alone.  Two other gals from my POC group have confessed to very similar feelings.  So, as pathetic as I am, I am glad to report that I am actually “normal.” 

I think.

Now stop laughing at me.

‘Cause it’s my birthday.

Which leads me to the final, long-awaited conclusion of this post!

I had written up to this point a couple weeks ago (it’s been edited since), but I could not find a suitable manner in which to wrap it all together in such a way that it didn’t sound like a shout out for mercy mail.  What I had so far was one big pity party, and that was not at all what I wanted to convey.

Then, a few days ago, I got three emails from people who should have had no way of knowing when my birthday is; each of them wished me a happy (early) birthday.

OK, someone’s up to something.

I accused my husband, but he denied it, so I figured it must be my mother.  Sho’nuf, she confessed.  Well, not actually confessed

The Skype conversation went something like this:

[1/8/2010 1:11:38 PM] Me: Did you rat me out?

[1/8/2010 1:11:55 PM] Me: You're hesitating ......

[1/8/2010 1:12:19 PM] Mom: huh???

[1/8/2010 1:12:59 PM] Me: that looks like a guilty huh??!

[1/8/2010 1:13:18 PM] Mom: I think it looks like a clueless huh!

[1/8/2010 1:13:45 PM] Me: You didn't tell people my birthday was coming up?

[1/8/2010 1:14:13 PM] Mom: moi???   (and then she added the little sweating emoticon)


Now, I know she took French in high school, but that was a guilty “moi???” if I ever saw one.


Anyway, so for the past few days, I’ve been getting birthday wishes from all over the world!  As of this writing, if I include Facebook emails, I’ve received 41 Happy Birthday wishes! 

Appropriate.  :)


Thank you all for filling my inbox and my heart. 

And we didn’t even have to bother the postman.  :)

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)