Monday, May 27, 2013

Barefoot and Beautiful

"I was a barefoot earth child for a couple of years." ~Isabel Lucas

"When I had no shoes I was comfortable - I used to run barefoot. When I wore shoes it was difficult." ~Haile Gebrselassie

"I found them uncomfortable and after that I decided to continue running barefoot because I found it more comfortable. I felt more in touch with what was happening - I could actually feel the track."  ~Zola Budd

My feet are always nasty.   Seriously ... crusty, cracked heels, calloused toes.  Permanently ingrained dirt. I know you were dying to know that.

Be glad I'm not posting pictures.

When we went back to the States on furlough, it took less than a month of walking on plush carpets before my feet felt "normal" again.  It, along with the actual walking on plush carpets, was nice while it lasted.

The problem here is I wear sandals (Teva or other outdoor-type) almost exclusively.  I can probably count on two hands the number of days I have worn sneakers since arriving in the Highlands in 2009.  I would think, with the high humidity levels here, that feet wouldn’t crack like mine do, so maybe there is something else at play here that I haven’t recognised, but somehow, wearing sandals like this continually and detrimentally exposes my feet to the elements.

That said, many around me prefer to go without shoes at all.  Not many of the expatriate adults, mind you, with our woosy-where-is-my-plush-carpet feet.  But many of the PNGns and kids from all passport countries go barefoot whenever possible.

The rule at school is that kids have to have shoes, and must wear them as they travel around the campus. They can take them off on the soccer and baseball fields during recess, but they must wear them to get there and leave them at the edge of the field.  Because of the intense rainy (read: “muddy”) seasons here, students are allowed to take off and leave their shoes outside of the classrooms, and many of them do … every class, every day, rainy or no.

I am always struck, though, by the things people will do in bare feet.  My own children, determined to not have woosy-where-is-my-plush-carpet feet, regularly walk around our centre barefoot … even to church if they can get away with it.  Of course, if possible they would prefer to walk in grass rather than on the rocky dirt roads, but they tough it out even there if necessary.

They're determined to have "PNG feet."

At sports day this weekend, I was amused to see so many bare feet on the field.  You may not have noticed it in the pictures I previously posted, so I will give you a sampling here for your own amusement.   The pictures below were taken of every set of feet running the senior girls’ and senior guys’ 1500m races.  Yes, granted they are running on grass rather than asphalt, but check out the percentage for yourself:

That's 4 out of 17 runners wearing shoes, for a grand average of 76.5% going barefoot.
About right.  :)

In some ways, I think this culture is much more similar to the culture of Bible times than is the first world from which I hail, and the topic of shoes is one place I see that similarity.

Interestingly, when I look up instances of “sandals” in the NIV using my go-to online concordance, I get 28 results, compared with 247 hits for the word “feet.”

There are no results for hiking boots, flip flops, sneakers, or stilettos.  In fact, there are no results for "shoes" at all.

This makes me look differently at the feet around me.  Especially the Melanesian feet attached to those who this Wednesday will be finishing up their translator training course here in the highlands and preparing to return to their villages, their extended families, their gardens … and their work of bringing the Scriptures to their own people in their heart languages.

“How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion,
‘Your God reigns!’”
  Isaiah 52:7

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Week in Review Supplement: 26 May ("Evan's Birthday")

"You know you're getting old when you get that one candle on the cake. It's like, 'See if you can blow this out.'" ~ Jerry Seinfeld

"Let them eat cake."  ~Marie Antoinette

Because I didn't want Evan's birthday to get lost in the normal week in review, I chose to keep today separate.  Though he had a party a few weeks ago, on Friday evening, Evan had three of his friends over to celebrate his actual birthday weekend.  They ate hamburgers together and watched "The Hobbit."

An hour into the nearly-three hour movie, they took a break for cake.

Such as it was.

After using one for his skating birthday party, I am now down to three candles.  As there's no Wal-Mart on the corner, he got one again. It had nothing to do with him getting old.

Of course, he'd like it to mean that he's gonna get nine more chocolate celebrations.

This is the same cake recipe that I had used for Andie's birthday, and while the difficulties I had were different this time (I attended to the oven with much more religiosity, and so managed to maintain within it a relatively consistent temperature), other troubles ensued.

Here is the final product, as I pulled it from the refrigerator:

Oh, alas.  Now, this cake recipe is absolutely delicious, and though, at least under my chefery, it has been fraught with complications, it'll still eat.

And eat it they did.

Happy eleventh birthday to my baby!  (and to my brother, too, who shares the day!)

Week in Review: 20-25 May ("Sports Day")

“Just play.  Have fun.  Enjoy the game.”  ~Michael Jordan

“If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?”  ~Vince Lombardi

“God made me fast.  And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”  ~Eric Liddell

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly …” ~1 Corinthians 9:25-26a

Much like last week was consumed with the grade 8 play, this week was consumed with anticipation of and participation in our school's annual Sports Day.  When students enter the secondary campus, they are assigned to one of two sports “houses,” either the red team (“Alpha”) or the blue team (“Beta.”)  Siblings are always assigned to the same house, so typically families are united in their loyalties.

When Stacey moved in with us, we became a house divided.  Her team, Beta, had a five year winning streak before Andie’s team, Alpha, broke that streak three years ago and then maintained a three year streak of their own.  Who would take the honours this year?

So I managed to find two outfits (one for Friday and one for Saturday) that broadcast support of both red and blue, and we headed for the campus.  Until mid-morning on Saturday when they decided to let the tension mount, a computer monitor displayed the running point tally, and more often than not it was neck-and-neck. 

Out on the “sports oval” (basically an all-purpose playing field enclosed by a 400m track), various events were taking place.  Back in the stands area, entrepreneurial people were selling various foodstuffs including barbeque chicken sandwiches, ham and cheese rollups, homemade doughnuts, iced coffee, sodas, ice cream cones (which is significant because we haven’t had ice cream in our store in months - this family must have trucked this in on their own!) … even sushi rolls made by some of our Japanese friends.  Yes, we came to cheer, but we also came to eat.

Even if some people played with their food.

I think, like the play, the rest of this story is best told in pictures …  
Opening in prayer to the God who gave them the ability to run and throw and jump ...

Everyone did what they could to display team spirit.
Team tug-of-war - a win for Beta!
Andie participating in the Obstacle Course
Andie crossed the finish line first in her heat of the 200m - way to go, Andie!
Andie displays her form in the long jump.
The finish of the senior guys' 1500m was picture-perfect.
Stacey's dad (center) happened to be in town for some training and got to come out and watch.  You can bet he was proud!

Stacey had unique - and consistent - form in her long jump ...

... and this woman runs her heart out!  Way to go, Stacey!
The Cyclone involved sub-teams of four running around cones while holding on to a cardboard pole (yes, they eventually broke, which is why Stacey's pole is half the size of Andie's pole in these pictures), and then running back and the entire team jumping over said cardboard pole (which. even though they broke, were better and caused less impact injuries than the bamboo poles they'd used in the past), then carrying the cardboard pole over the top of the crouched team back to the front where the next group of four took it and ran for the cones.  *whew!*  A win for Beta!
Girls against girls and guys against guys, the Chariot rider wore a Velcro flag and tried to protect his or her own while attempting to steal those from the other teams.  Three people carried the rider and tried to keep him or her out of harm's way.  Girls and guys won for Alpha!
After all of the regular sports day events were over, they had a 4x100m relay and a 800m race for the community.  My favourite moment was when these high school guys (bottom right) jumped in and ran with one of our older community members as he slowly but surely completed the 800m.
And the winner is ... BETA!
Final score, Alpha = 1253 and Beta = 1308.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Week in Review – May 13-19 ("The Grade 8 Play")

“I’m mortified to be on the stage, but then again it’s the only place where I’m happy.”  ~ Bob Dylan

“As soon as I step on that stage, nothing matters.  I don’t think of it as work. It’s just so much fun.” ~ Miley Cyrus

" ... whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."  ~ 1 Corinthians 10:31b

We have been consumed with preparation for the grade 8 play.  I’m having a hard time even remembering anything else that happened last week, to be honest, so here goes.

After the loss of a cast member the Friday before, dress rehearsals on Monday and Tuesday were extra critical in making sure the kids were not only ready with what they had already been preparing for five weeks, but that they also adapted well to the new stage dynamics.  Two students, including Andie, graciously and enthusiastically assumed the parts vacated by the loss.

The play, loosely based on several fairy tales including Cinderella, The Three Little Pigs, and Sleeping Beauty, was written by my friend Cathy several years ago.  She now lives here in PNG and it was she who directed the play.  It was billed as “A retelling of the classics – fairies not included.”  Clever and witty, and in many places unexpected, the play charmed and entertained our community at 2pm on Thursday (mostly elementary kids as it was a pupil-free day at the Primary Campus) and 7pm on Friday.  The students did a pretty good job on Thursday, but Friday night they smashed it out of the park!

I was so proud of this class!  It was such an honour to work with this group who I came to love when I taught them two years ago, and I was so grateful that Cathy granted me the opportunity to participate even though my attention ended up being more divided (with work responsibilities and putting out fires) than I initially expected when I volunteered.  I look forward to more chances to help with drama in this very talented community.  :)

 Andie (top right) and some classmates patiently enduring hair and makeup under the guidance of a talented backstage team.  :)

 Cinderella watches from the background as her evil stepmother (Stacey, right) trains the two stepsisters in anticipation of the castle ball.

 The stepfamily arrives at the ball and is greeted by the castle servant (Isn't she cute?!).

 Cinderella accepts a dance invitation from the prince.

 After Cinderella makes a fool of herself, the stepmother persuades the prince to give her eldest daughter a spin.

 He chose me!  Cha-ching!

 Once entrenched in the castle, the step-ladies discover that not only is the prince is not as charming as he seemed, he's too cheap to hire house help!

 Goldilocks evicts the three bears from the cottage.

 Little Red (Riding in the Hood) discovers that a wolf is impersonating his granny.  He ain't down wid' that!

 The middle pig (isn't she cute!?) begins to build her house of sticks.

 The two younger pigs take refuge in the moments before the wolf blows down her house.  I guess she can't say it "sticks" after all.

 The new queen and her new baby (stylishly swaddled in our dog's blankie - no lie!), with the doting new grandmother.

 Nearly sixteen years later, the "baby" (isn't she cute!?) proves she is not yet ready for the throne.

Grateful that Cinderella has agreed to help her despite the harsh way she was treated, and in light of the threat on her daughter's life, the queen accepts Cinderella's forgiveness and entrusts her with her daughter's care.

The princess returns to the castle a different person.  Isn't she cute?!  :) 

What an awesome cast!

(Thank you to our co-worker, Amy, for taking these pictures!)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Week in Review: 6-12 May 2013

 “Any idiot can face a crisis – it’s day-to-day living that wears you out.”  ~Anton Chekov

… our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  ~2 Corinthians 4:17-18

"I'm not sure what people expect a sacrifice to feel like but I think it feels hard sometimes. I think it feels like not being sure you will get through the day." ~Rachel Jones 

Living overseas can be difficult.  I agree with Rachel Jones who, in her blog post (link above) says she will not say, “I never made a sacrifice.”  It is a sacrifice to be here.  It is a sacrifice to walk away from the conveniences you’re used to, to walk away from family you love, to walk away from the life you are comfortable with.  And when things are happening back home that you wish you could be there for, it is a sacrifice to not be able to go (just as it would be another kind of sacrifice to pay $5000 for a round-trip ticket.)  But, in that sacrifice, are also blessings, as you fix your eyes on what is unseen, what is eternal, and confide your concerns to God in prayer.

But when crises are happening on both sides of the sea, it can seem even more overwhelming.  For me, this week in particular has seemed like an exercise in crisis-response. 

After two long weeks of standardised testing, I was faced with quite a number of students who had not finished their tests, and several others who had yet to start, namely new arrivals from POC who missed testing with their classes.  (Can you say, “good timing?”)  My crisis-response plan included creating a schedule, communicating it with the teachers, and committing to four more early-morning lab set-ups. 

Crisis response plan, successful. 

By 9:30 Friday morning, I was able to declare our testing season complete.

Another crisis, one that the school administration has been working on for many weeks, is an impending teacher shortage. By way of perspective, the Primary Campus has 18 teachers slotted for this coming school year (which isn’t quite enough to offer what we have traditionally offered), but we know of only 9 (nine!) for the 2014-2015 year.  We completely trust that the Lord can provide, yet we feel compelled to plan rationally as well, to make sure that we don’t set ourselves up to burn out our teachers ... an attempt to head off crisis-response with crisis-prevention. 

After weeks of brainstorming and planning, we proposed a change (of schedule and class offerings) to the teachers, and later to the school board.  The Board offered a unanimous vote of support and acceptance, so on Monday we issued a letter to our students’ parents explaining that this change would be happening and that on Friday afternoon we would be having a meeting for anyone who had concerns. We anticipated that from this meeting would emerge any complaints and concerns that were hiding out there.

So fast forward to Friday noon and the next semi-related crisis.  My boss and I realised that we had forgotten to put together a slide show to help explain the rationale behind the change.  I had about two and a half hours to put it together, but was also scheduled to teach two hour-long computer classes in that time. 

Back up to before Christmas, and yet another crisis.  I still remember the email from my boss asking if I would teach the computer classes upon our return as our computer teacher would soon be leaving the school.  With some amount of trepidation, I agreed.  The next teacher, a Finnish woman with lots of rolling R’s throughout her name, was due to be here by the end of March.  Crisis solved, right? 

After a work permit/visa crisis of their own, she and her husband were finally able to arrive at the end of April, meaning that this past week she has come to observe for the first time.  I am so grateful!  And was also very grateful when she agreed to take over the Grade 2 class on Friday afternoon (after I taught the lesson and got them set up) so I could work on the PowerPoint slideshow for the afternoon meeting.

Crisis averted.

Uh … with the convergence of crises, I almost forgot what I was writing about.  :)

So, I left her in charge and 40 minutes later, just in time for the meeting, the slide show was finished and safely transferred from my office computer to the auditorium laptop. 

Crisis averted.  Again.

Now we awaited the influx of unhappy parental units and the next crisis.

The meeting was attended by exactly one parent, a thoughtful member of the school board who had already heard our spiel, expressed her complete enthusiasm, and only decided to come to the meeting in case we needed backup.

Bless her!

And we thanked the Lord for this non-crisis.

On Thursday evening I found out about a situation at the secondary campus that, fortunately, I did not have to personally deal with, but which left our grade 8 play without one of its cast members … one week before the curtains opened.  I made some calls to ensure that the director was informed, and the next several hours included much brainstorming. In the end, that cast member’s parts were divvied out to others.  We shall see this coming Thursday how effective was this crisis response.

I was double-booked on Saturday, with play practice and set work scheduled at exactly the same time as a pre-Mother’s Day preparation party for the Tok Pisin Sunday School kids.  Not a huge deal, but after a week of running interference with various difficult situations, this too felt like a crisis.  An hour after those were scheduled to end, Evan’s birthday party was scheduled to begin at the Teen Centre.

Normally this time of year it is especially difficult to book the Teen Centre because of all the end-of-school-year activities that are going on.  Two years ago we tried in April to book it for a party in late May, but there was no availability.  This year, learning from that situation, I started the booking process in February.  This, more than two weeks before his actual birthday, was the closest we could get, but get it we did.  This crisis was avoided completely, and Evan and his friends were able to scooter and rollerblade and ripstik to their hearts’ content.

There was one more coulda-been-a crisis related to the birthday party that I can’t forget to mention.  Evan is not a cake and frosting guy, and had told me that he wanted brownies and ice cream for his party.  However, for nearly a year the store has been unable to stock ice cream.

Now that is a crisis!

Evan informed me early enough, though, and I was able to make two litres of vanilla ice cream in the days leading up to the party.  Problem solved.


Perhaps the biggest crisis on this here island is the fact that there are 300 language groups still remaining (in PNG) that do not have a single line of God’s Word translated into their mother tongue.  The national translation organisation, BTA, has said that by themselves it would take 150 years to get projects going in every language that needs translation.

How do you solve a crisis so immense?  Truly it is a God-sized task. 

This past weekend, BTA met with SIL and other parachurch organizations as well as churches representing a number of denominations.  The end result?  Signing of the “Bible Bilum Covenant.” 

A bilum (bee-loom) – a traditional PNG string bag worn over the shoulder, neck, or with heavier loads, slung across the forehead and hanging down the back – is in its own way a crisis response tool.  Do you need to carry 30kg of fresh garden produce to market?  Put it in your bilum.  Do you have a few cords of firewood to haul?  Grab the bilum.  Need to put the baby to sleep?  Put her in the bilum and hang it in a tree.

Bilums come in a variety of styles, sizes, colours, and patterns.  They are as unique as the people who make them, and many of those who make them still do not have a Bible in their language.

300 language groups need the scriptures.  300 language groups have never heard God speak their language.  They need God's Word before thousands more die.

They need a Bible in their bilum.

This is a crisis.   

But, I believe it is one God plans to solve.

“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. … and they cried out in a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God!’” ~Revelation 7:9-10

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)