Category Archives: Gospel

Mubami Pre-Allocation Trip, Day 3

Mubami Pre-allocation Trip, Part 3

Day 3, March 1, 2018

Today we were supposed to catch a ride from Kamusi across to Sogae. Pastor Max spent most of the day yesterday trying to arrange a ride and he told us that there would be a truck coming for us today. So, like the Westerners we are, we assumed that a truck would be arriving today. Before breakfast, we packed up our belongings, neatly organized them by the door and waited for the truck to come. We sat around for a while chatting with whoever came by, and Jennifer enjoyed getting to hold a cute little Mubami kid in her lap.

Jennifer holding a Mubami kid on the porch of Saloma Local Church
Map of the central portion of the Mubami region (doesn’t show Ugu village, which is further south and Kubeai village which is further north). Click the map to download a more detailed map into Google Earth or other GPS apps.

While we were waiting, I had the chance to talk with a few of the Mubami men underneath Pastor Max’s house (homes here are built on posts raised about 8-10 feet off the ground). An elderly man named Gaulei showed me his tattered and torn Gogodala Bible. The Gogodala are a very large language group just south of the Mubami who have had foreign missionary influence since at least the early 1940’s. Their New Testament translation was completed in 1981 and they have been a powerful missionary force in the surrounding region. Four out of the six ECPNG churches in the Mubami area have Gogodala missionaries as their pastors. Gaulei proudly showed me his Bible and I couldn’t help but think that it seemed to have gotten more use than most Bibles I’ve seen in the US. To be fair, though, paper doesn’t fare too well in the tropics so Bibles age quickly.

Gaulei reading from his Gogodala Bible
Gaulei’s Gogodala Bible

I asked Gaulei to read me a passage, curious if he knew Gogodala well enough to understand the Bible in Gogodala. Typically, in a village setting like this, elderly men may know some other languages from nearby peoples, while young men with more access to education may know some basic English or Tok Pisin. Women and children typically don’t know any other language aside from their mother tongue with any significant fluency, though there were a couple exceptions to this norm.

Gaulei struggled through a couple verses with what I would probably classify as the equivalent of a third or fourth grader’s reading ability in the US. But, knowing how to sound out the words of another language is very different from understanding their meaning. I can stumble through reading German—not well, mind you—but I understand basically nothing of it.

“Do you understand what you just read?” I asked him. Gaulei stared at his Bible for a moment then looked at me and shook his head “no.”

I felt like Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch. The Ethiopian eunuch couldn’t understand the Isaiah scroll he was reading without help, either, probably because there was no Bible in his mother tongue at the time. He was probably reading in Greek or Hebrew. Without someone skilled in these languages to interpret for him, he would have been hopelessly lost. Even with Philip to translate and explain it for him, eventually he would need the Bible in his language if he ever hoped to reach his fellow Ethiopians with the Gospel.

Rex reiterated what he had told me yesterday. “He can’t understand it because this isn’t his language, it’s the Gogodala language. So, he can read the words but the true meaning—he’s not able to understand that.” Since there’s no secondary school (grades 9-12) in this area, the vast majority of children don’t make it past grade 8 in the Mubami area—most don’t make it that far—leaving them with far too little English to understand the Bible in what has been described as one of the world’s most complicated languages.

Around lunchtime, the people explained that the truck that was supposed to come get us had to first deliver some people to Diwami, but that upon its return it would take us to Sogae. That was fine by us—as long as the truck arrived by 1 or 2pm we should be able to make it to Sogae before dark. By 2:00, we were beginning to have some serious doubts about our travel plans. Someone told us that they had heard that the truck had to take a ferry across the Wawoi River and take someone a little further towards Balimo, but that when it returned we would all go to Sogae. Balimo is a very long way from Diwami, so we quickly got the point. PNGans are typically less direct than Westerners and have a cultural aversion to disappointing someone. They don’t like to deliver bad news. So, if they know what you’re expecting or hoping for, that’s what they will tell you. (One has to be very careful, therefore, not to ask leading questions, because you’ll almost always get the answer you’re looking for whether that’s the “truth” or not! This often-disregarded cultural phenomenon is probably the source of many misleading statistics.) They hadn’t lied to us, they had simply used a culturally appropriate way of telling us “Yeah, that truck ain’t coming today.” We haven’t been here for a long time, but long enough to be able to read between the lines of this gentle PNG let-down. So, we unpacked our stuff again, set up our beds, and resigned ourselves to traveling tomorrow.

Since we had some free time and I was starting to get bored, we walked down the logging road about a kilometer to see another Mubami village called Newtown. While it’s still a part of the Kamusi area, it’s in its own little area off by itself. There were about 10 or 11 homes, most made out of off-cuts of lumber from the logging company with metal roofs, typical construction for the Mubami area. We didn’t really spend much time at Newtown, just walked down there and then back to the church.

Logging road going through Saloma into Newtown and on to Sogae.

That night a group gathered in the church sanctuary around electric lanterns and we talked and ate dinner. I think three different people brought us three complete meals that night. Just as we were finishing the first meal, the second arrived, and then the third. We were stuffed. There’s just only so much rice and tuna I can handle in one sitting, and after having rice and tuna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the past two days, I was not terribly thrilled to see a third helping coming our way. So, we politely nibbled at it a little so as not to offend and then shared it out with all of the people sitting around watching us eat.  (Which, by the way, is as awkward as it sounds.)

After eating we chatted for a couple more hours. Phil amused everyone with a funny story about an elderly couple vacationing in an Asian country where they didn’t speak the language. The couple had brought their beloved house dog with them on their vacation. One night, they went to a nice restaurant and brought their dog with them. Since they didn’t speak the language, when they ordered their food they just had to use hand gestures. Wanting to order some food for their dog, they pointed at their dog and then made the gesture for eating food. The waiter grinned, nodded to acknowledge his understanding, picked up the dog and walked back to the kitchen. Later, he returned with the couples’ food. They ate their meal and then flagged down their waiter to pay their compliments and retrieve their dog from his meal in the kitchen. They motioned for their dog and the waiter just gave them a puzzled look. Finally, the waiter mustered up what little English he knew to say, “You already ate it!”

Everyone, including myself, was dying with laughter at the mortification of the elderly couple who had just discovered that they had eaten their beloved pet. As I looked around the room at the men and women laughing, I felt for a moment like I was with a group of old friends. After just two days, they already become like family to me. I looked over at Jennifer who was sitting on the floor with a group of women and smiled because she looked perfectly at home, like she belonged there despite her different skin color, language, and culture.

Jennifer talking with some Mubami women
Phil Carr (right) and Rex Amadi (left)
Mubami men enjoying conversation

It’s hard to explain why or how, but in that moment I realized that God had given me the answer I’d been praying for. Before we left, I hadn’t made out a list of “qualifications” for what I was looking for in an allocation. I know that lots of people do, and there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that as long as you’re willing to set aside your list if God says so. Some people’s list includes things like “an airstrip within 10 minutes,” or “cell service in the area,” or any other number of qualifications. But for me, such a list couldn’t answer the primary question I had which was simply this: “Are these the people you want me to serve, God?” That question, for me, was the only one that mattered. The rest is simply logistics. So, instead of making a list, Jennifer and I decided to simply pray that God would make his will clear to us. God knows us far better than we know ourselves, so I knew that He would know exactly what would make his will clear to us concerning the Mubami. And in that moment, as we all laughed so hard we cried, it was clear to me. These people were hungry for God’s Word and we had already formed a bond with them that I simply couldn’t explain. Like Jonathan and David, my heart had been inexplicably and inextricably tied to theirs and I simply couldn’t walk away. They were no longer statistics or stories, they were my brothers and sisters, people that Christ died for.

In hindsight, I’m grateful that the truck didn’t come as planned and I’m glad that I didn’t make out a list of qualifications. In all my planning and careful consideration, I’m pretty certain that such a list would not have helped me to discern the difference between God’s will and my own. And most of all, I’m thankful for that elderly couple who sacrificed their dog for a people group in Papua New Guinea that they had never met.

< Day 2        Day 4  (Coming Soon!) >

Mubami Pre-Allocation Trip, Day 2

*This is the second of a seven-part series about our pre-allocation trip to the Mubami people of Western Province, Papua New Guinea. The purpose of our trip was to discern God’s will regarding us potentially starting a new Bible translation project in the Mubami language, which currently has no Scripture.

Day 2, February 28, 2018

This morning we sat around on the porch of the church building and chatted with people as they came by. We got to meet various church leaders and church members and Pastor Max busied himself most of the day trying to arrange a ride for us to Sogae via one of the logging trucks going through the area.

Sitting on the porch of Saloma Local Church

After an early lunch (more rice and tuna), we went to visit Waliho, a very hot 1.5km walk from the church we were staying at in Kamusi. While Waliho is just as close to Kamusi as Saloma or any other part of Kamusi it is technically a separate village that relocated to be closer to Kamusi from its original location further down the Guavi River. Waliho relocated closer to Kamusi so that the people could get jobs with the logging company. Since it’s one of the only employers in the area, many of the Mubami people are employed by the logging company in Kamusi.

Walking to Waliho

It seemed to me that we were not as well received in Waliho as we had been at Saloma/Kamusi. There was only one man in the village when we arrived—the rest were in the bush working. There was something in the body language and conversation that left me with the impression that there was some underlying cultural tension that I wasn’t understanding. Then again, it’s equally likely—if not more so!—that I simply misread the situation. Cross-cultural body language is, after all, a tough read! The people told us that the men of the village would be back later that afternoon, so we told them we’d come back then.

Traditional carved canoe at Waliho village

We made our walk back towards the church and stopped at a trade store to buy an umbrella. I used to feel silly walking around with an umbrella when it was sunny and not raining, but after walking a while in the hot, tropical sun, you get over such matters of pride quickly! I was surprised by the variety of items available at the trade store. There was a boat motor, a couple bicycles, some cheap plastic toys, a few small solar panels, umbrellas, some clothes, and a variety of basic foodstuffs, among other items. It was a far cry from Wal-Mart and most of the items appeared to be relatively poor quality, but if you were in a pinch, they might suffice for a little while.

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When we got back to the church at Saloma, we sat around for a little while chatting with people. There seemed to be a constant stream of visitors, curious to see who the visitors to their area were. There was a heavy rain in the afternoon, so we waited for it to pass and then made our trip back to Waliho to see if we could catch the men who would have returned from the bush by then. Unfortunately, we found that the men had indeed returned from the bush to the village, but then had departed again. We don’t know whether they intended to give us a “cold shoulder” or if perhaps they just had a lot of work to do that day. But, since you never know what people’s intentions are, it’s always best to assume well unless you know otherwise. The women and children were more than happy to see us, though, so we shared with them why we had come and took some pictures.

Waliho village

On our way back, we stopped by another neighborhood in Kamusi which has a second ECPNG church. Several houses surround the church and most of the people living in this area have relocated here to Kamusi from Ugu village, the southernmost Mubami[i] village. The church is called “Kamusi Urban,” somewhat of a misnomer if you ask me because, despite the relative development in Kamusi from the logging camp, it’s still a far cry from “urban.” We were told that Kamusi Local Church (aka, Saloma Rural Church) had been planted as a branch of Kamusi Urban for the express purpose of reaching Mubami speakers. The logging company has brought in a large influx of workers from all over the country, so the church services at Kamusi Urban are led in English or Tok Pisin, the languages of wider communication in PNG, and the pastor is a non-Mubami speaking Gogodala man. But, since most of the Mubami don’t know these languages, they were not being well served in these services. So, a group of the Mubami—with the blessing and help of Kamusi Urban—planted a sister church in Saloma to minister to Mubami speakers.

Ugu village resettlement in Kamusi
Kamusi Urban Church

I found that encouraging for a couple reasons. First, it clearly demonstrates the need for a Mubami translation. If the Mubami people had enough trouble understanding basic announcements and sermons in English and Tok Pisin, how much more difficult would it be for them to read Scripture in these languages? Second, it demonstrated to me clearly that they understood that spiritual matters simply can’t be communicated well in a second language. Anyone who has ever tried to preach or share the gospel in a second language knows this struggle well. Abstract concepts like “grace,” “salvation,” “faith,” and even “love” are difficult to translate on the fly and they are always interpreted through a cultural lens. Language includes much more than simply letters and definitions, there’s a whole host of cultural information that is implied or assumed as well. The Mubami understand that and are willing to do what is necessary to make sure their people understand God’s Word as best they can. Unfortunately, that ability is seriously hampered by their lack of a Mubami Bible.

[i] Actually, the people from Ugu are quite insistent that their name is not “Mubami” but “Dausami.” They argue that “Mubami” was a name given by Australian colonial workers to their people and is derived from the name of the bones they traditionally wore in their noses. Everyone else that we met (not from Ugu village) insisted that “Mubami” was the original name and “Dausami” was the name given by Australian colonials to the people and is derived from their traditional dreadlocks which they called dauso. In either case, the Mubami now have neither nosebones nor dreadlocks and everyone seemed to agree that they speak the same language, with some minor dialectical differences. This will be an interesting sociolinguistic puzzle for us to explore over the years!

 

< Day 1   Day 3 >

Mubami Pre-Allocation Trip, Day 1

*This is the first of a seven-part series about our pre-allocation trip to the Mubami people of Western Province, Papua New Guinea. The purpose of our trip was to discern God’s will regarding us potentially starting a new Bible translation project in the Mubami language, which currently has no Scripture. 

Day 1, February 27, 2018

Yesterday, in the early morning pre-dawn hours, a massive 7.5 earthquake hit the highlands. We felt it at Ukarumpa, but it didn’t affect us. On the way to Kamusi we flew to Walagu and Bosavi airstrips to drop off a couple MTTs (mother tongue translators) and pick up a couple expats (foreigners—fellow missionaries in this case) from their village stays. On our way there, the pilot flew over some of the hardest hit areas and we took some pictures and surveyed the damage. Whole sides of mountains had just crumbled. As people slept, their homes simply collapsed. Many were killed or buried alive and many thousands of people lost their homes, their gardens, and their villages. It was heartbreaking to see the damage that this earthquake inflicted. According to the news, it was the worst earthquake PNG has seen in 100 years. The expat lady we picked up in Walagu said that her water tank had buckled and broke, spilling out all of her drinking water. People are afraid to go back into their homes (and rightly so), and they are afraid to go out into their gardens, many of which are built into the side of the mountains. The aftershocks continue a week after the quake, some greater than a 6.0 magnitude.

Landslides the day after the 7.5 earthquake
Landslides the day after the 7.5 earthquake

After surveying the earthquake damage, we landed at Walagu and then Bosavi. Though most people back in the US would probably consider Ukarumpa a “bush” airstrip (‘bush’ is the Australian term for deep jungle), I would say that landing at Walagu and Bosavi gave a new meaning to “bush” airstrips for me! Walagu was the first time that I ever thought while landing, “Is it possible for a plane to spin out and roll on landing?” Bosavi airstrip was even more fun! But the pilot handled the conditions with skill and the plane held up just fine. These bush airstrips don’t get nearly as much maintenance as they do rain, so it made for a bumpy landing!

Mt. Bosavi in the distance as we land at Bosavi airstrip.
Landing at Bosavi airstrip

After leaving the Bosavi airstrip, we flew up over Mt. Bosavi and then the pilot took us down into the crater! It was breathtaking. I’ve never seen a volcano up close before and I had no idea how big the crater can be! I’d guess that you could easily fit all of my hometown of Cabot comfortably inside the crater. It no longer surprises me that scientists have discovered new species that are only known to exist inside that crater! It’s basically big enough to have its own zip code. After leaving Mt. Bosavi, we continued flying south towards the Mubami. We flew for a good 30 minutes or more over seemingly endless jungle. I thought to myself, “Now this is bush…”. The scenery reminded me of something I’ve seen in National Geographic films or Jurassic Park.

Flying over the edge of the Mt. Bosavi crater
Inside the crater of Mt. Bosavi

When we landed at Kamusi, I was surprised by how “developed” it seemed, at least compared to Walagu and Bosavi. The logging company has built a couple small stores (similar to convenience stores in the US), put in a long airstrip made of crushed limestone, and carved out logging roads to get their equipment around. There’s a large sawmill, a primary school (grades 3-8), and a good number of people living in and around Kamusi.

Kamusi airstrip
Kamusi Logging Camp

When we got off the plane, we were greeted by Adau and Domai—the MTTs for the Bamu language translation project where Phil and Chris Car work. They’re very old now, especially by PNG standards, and their New Testament translation is nearing completion. Back in 1995, Phil had made a trip upriver to Kamusi on a survey with Adau and Adau had been the one to translate an elderly Mubami man’s request for help with Bible translation. Unfortunately, at that time Phil had to tell the man that we simply didn’t have anyone to send to help the Mubami translate Scripture. That unknown elderly Mubami man is most likely dead now, and none of the Mubami seem to know who it was that made the request. So, Adau was very happy that we were there to consider working with the Mubami.

Adau (Center) and some Mubami children

We were also greeted by a number of Mubami men, women, and children. A couple of the men identified themselves as members of the translation committee at Ugu village. We had some difficulty getting word to the folks at Ugu that we were coming, so I was very glad to see that they had received the message and been able to come. I’ve been reading, studying, and asking about the Mubami for three years now, so it was surreal to get to finally meet some of the people I had been hearing about.

Finally, we made our way to Kamusi Rural Church (aka, ‘Saloma Local Church,’ named after the creek that runs through that area), a Mubami speaking ECPNG (Evangelical Church of Papua New Guinea, the dominant denomination in Western Province) congregation in Kamusi. A crowd had gathered around us, curious to know why the waitskins were here (waitskin is not intended as a derogatory term—it just means ‘people with white skin’). The church leaders set a time for later that evening to convene for us to tell everyone why we had come. That night, about 80-100 people came into the church and some of the denominational leaders were present as well. It quickly became clear that, despite our best efforts, no one except a handful of people knew we would be coming, and no one seemed to know why we had come. We told them that a few years ago, our organization had done a survey in the Mubami area to figure out if they still needed their own translation. Some of them nodded, remembering when our colleagues had come back in 2014. “We read their report about your desire for Scripture in Mubami, and we are here to prayerfully consider whether God wants us to come and help you translate the Bible into Mubami,” I said in Tok Pisin. I wasn’t sure how many of the people would understand me, but a handful of the men and a couple women clearly understood and translated my statement into Mubami for the rest of the people. Faces lit up and people chatted excitedly. The elders hushed everyone so we could continue. We explained that there are many languages in PNG that are still waiting for the Bible and that we weren’t sure if God wanted us to go to the Mubami or if he had another place for us to go.

Saloma Local Church (aka, Kamusi Rural Church)

Even as I explained that we had not yet made up our minds, it was hard for me to not just say, “We’re here to help you translate the Bible!” How do you face people who have been begging for God’s Word for decades and tell them, “I’m not sure if God wants me to help you get his Word or not”? Experience has taught me that a need, by itself, does not constitute a calling, but still, I struggled to get those words out and maintain my prior commitment to cautiously pray and carefully consider my decision.

There were some legitimate concerns and questions that I had before I could definitively say “Yes.” Probably the biggest concern was motives—why did they want a translator to come help them? That may seem like a silly question, but there are many examples of people groups in PNG who have had ulterior motives for wanting a missionary, chief among these ulterior motives being cargo cults (PNG’s version of the prosperity gospel). It’s a widespread belief in many areas of PNG that waitskins are deceased ancestors of theirs, come to bring them material goods (a.k.a., “cargo”). Thus, white missionaries are usually well received and welcomed, but oftentimes their reception has ulterior motives underlying their seemingly enthusiastic embrace of the gospel. (This is one reason that Bible translation takes so long—it takes years to learn the language and culture well enough to avoid the numerous potential pitfalls in translation of Scripture!)

So I asked them, “Why do you want the Bible in Mubami?” Max Saiya, the pastor at Saloma Local Church, and Rex Amadi, the chairman of the Mubami District ECPNG, both passionately explained, “Our people are not well educated. We are bush people. I and few of the other men known Tok Pisin and a little English, but our wives and children don’t understand these languages. When we preach, we have to read Scripture in English, Tok Pisin, or Gogodala and our people don’t understand the Bible in these languages. We need the Bible in Mubami so that our people can understand God’s Word.”

“Well,” I thought to myself, “That’s as pure a motive as I’ve ever heard.”

Pastor Max translating for us to the Mubami people.

That night, they brought us rice and canned tuna in brine for dinner—a special (and expensive) treat that they themselves don’t often eat. To us, of course, it’s one of the blandest meals imaginable. Hardly what you’d hope for after a long, hot day. But the kind gesture was not lost on us. We stayed up talking with the people until probably 9 or 10 that night. But, it had been a long day and we were ready for sleep. Someone brought us a bucket full of tank water for bathing (a precious commodity—their only source of clean drinking water) and the pastor let us use a corner in one of the two rooms in the back of the church for our bucket baths. So, we took turns taking bucket baths in the pastor’s office. The floors were simple wooden slats, so the water drained right through to the ground. I chuckled to myself as I imagined this scenario playing out with various friends and relatives back home and the looks on their faces as they asked incredulously, “You want me to take a shower where?” It was not my first bucket shower, thanks to POC, but it was the first time I’ve taken a bucket bath in the pastor’s office!

After our bucket baths, we settled in to sleep. Phil took the opposite side of the room we had taken our baths in and Jennifer and I took the other room. By the time we set up our mosquito nets and air mattresses, I was drenched in sweat again. I often wonder during village living if there’s even a point to bathing, but at least it provides some relief from the heat, however temporary.

As I lay there drenched in sweat, I was comforted by two thoughts. First, I was very glad I had thought to get these little USB powered fans and battery packs! They’re not much in terms of cooling power, but it’s better than nothing! The second thought was that whatever suffering I was enduring was nothing compared to the spiritual suffering that comes by not having God’s Word in your heart language. For the Mubami “The Greatest Story Ever Told” has not yet been told—not fully. It’s still locked behind a closed door of a foreign language. Hearing statistics and stories about people without Scripture is moving, but to hear the passionate plea for myself was heart breaking. It’s miserably hot here, and it seems like we’ve flown to the edge of the earth and jumped off. But how can I say “no” to such a request? I’ve traded my American Dream for God’s Dream, the dream of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-11) That is a trade I will never regret making. What a privilege it would be to play a part in bringing God’s Word to these people.

Our sleeping arrangement in Pastor Max’s office–a mosquito net hammock with a hiking air mattress under it.

Missionary-ese:
MTT–Mother Tongue Translators; our national partners who do the work of Bible translation

Expat–short for “expatriate,” a foreigner (like us)

Bush–an Australian and PNG term for deep jungle and undeveloped areas

Waitskin–literally, “white skin;” a non-derogatory Tok Pisin term for people with white skin, often used to describe foreigners in general.

Tok Pisin–a Pidgin/Creole of English, widely spoken throughout much of PNG. Literally, “Pidgin talk” or, alternatively, “Talk of the Birds.”

Cargo Cult–PNG’s version of the “prosperity gospel;” It takes many shapes and forms, but at its core is an attempt to manipulate Christianity in order to obtain “cargo”–stuff.

Tank water–Rainwater collected from the gutters into large water tanks. For most people, it’s the only source of clean drinking water. Once it runs out, life gets difficult…

Map of the central portion of the Mubami region (doesn’t show Ugu village, which is further south and Kubeai village which is further north). Click the map to download a more detailed version into Google Earth or other GPS apps.

 

Day 2 >

Is the safest place to be in the center of God’s will?

For those of our readers who don’t follow us on Facebook, you might not be aware that Jennifer and I are currently in Australia on medical leave from Papua New Guinea (PNG).  Just a week or so after finishing our Pacific Orientation Course (POC), Jennifer fell ill with a very serious case of bacterial sepsis.  Based upon the symptoms and a tentative diagnosis from some of her doctors, we suspect that she contracted Scrub Typhus, a potentially life-threatening disease transmitted by the bite of an infected mite.  Within four days of the start of her symptoms, her illness had progressed to a life-threatening case of sepsis, which required immediate and advanced medical care.  The closest facility that could provide the necessary medical treatment to save her life was in Cairns, Australia, so she was evacuated to Cairns for treatment.

Because of a phenomenal team of doctors and nurses, thousands of people’s prayers, and God’s mercy, Jennifer was released from the hospital after a two and a half week stay to continue her recovery here in Cairns.  She’s doing much better now and the doctors expect her to make a full recovery, though it’s going to take some time.  It’s our hope that in about a month she will have recovered sufficiently for us to move back to PNG and resume ministry at the missionary center at Ukarumpa.

In light of the events of the past month, I’ve thought a lot about the meaning and purpose of suffering in the life of the believer.  This is a topic that I’ve wrestled with a good bit, and I’ve written about suffering a good bit here on our blog–here, and here, and here, just to give a few examples.  But there’s one saying that I hear from time to time that has caught my attention this past month.

“The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.”

The first time I heard that saying I was a teenager.  A missionary from Africa had come to my church and shared with us about his ministry there.  After describing some of the challenges, risks, and dangers associated with being a missionary in Africa, he said that people often asked him how he could justify taking his wife and children into such a dangerous place. he responds by saying “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.”

Of course, he’s not the first believer to espouse this view.  A quick search of Google will reveal that others have written articles on this topic, encouraging believers that you’re safer following God’s will than venturing out into a life of sin and rebellion against God.  It’s an encouraging sentiment, and one that stuck with me for several years.

Too bad it’s wrong.

I mean, it sounds nice, sure, and it’s got an element of truth to it.  Indeed it’s better to follow God’s will than to sin, but is it really safer?  We’d all like to think that the risks we take as followers of Christ will all turn out to be the smart, safe decision after all.  We’d like to think that following God’s call to accept that job with a cut in pay so you can spend more time with your children will somehow end up being the best career move you ever made.  We’d like to think that those inner-city kids and the homeless people we minister to would all turn out to be nice, kind people who are just down on their luck.  We’d like to think that when we forsake all, leave our homes, country, family, and loved ones behind, and move to a third world country that God would then be obligated to shield us from all that makes that country “third world.”

But that’s just not how it works.

Sure, things like that happen sometimes.  Many a Christian employee has found that refocusing his time on his family ends up somehow netting him the financial security that used to elude him.  Sometimes those homeless people you serve turn out to be lifelong friends.  And some missionaries never experience serious illness or persecution.  (I haven’t met them yet, but I’m sure they exist somewhere.)

But, we don’t even have to look into the Bible to refute this cute little saying.  All it takes is some good ‘ol common sense and a little bit of history.  Do you know what every disciple of Jesus, except John and Judas, have in common?  Though not recorded in scripture, history tells us that every one of these remaining ten men died a brutal martyr’s death.  And they’re not the only ones.  Voice of the Martyrs estimates that “In this past century alone, more Christians were murdered for their faith than any other century in human history, an estimated 200 million.”  One missionary I met who has served in the tropics for many years estimated that she has had malaria over 40 times.  Her husband has had so many surgeries to remove skin cancer from his ear that he hardly has an ear left now.  The child of another missionary couple with whom we went through training recently had cerebral malaria–a serious, often fatal form of malaria, which only turned out well for her due to a providential meeting with a doctor on the street.  Just this past week, a missionary with our organization passed away from a sickness he contracted while hiking through the jungle to a nearby village.  And–lest I forget–I’m currently sitting in Australia because my wife contracted a nearly fatal case of bacterial sepsis while ministering in the bush and had to be medically evacuated to Australia for treatment.  Even if you’re just a believer following after Christ in Suburbia, God’s will is likely to take you into dangerous situations, serving sinful people, at great risk to yourself and/or your family’s personal well-being.  If we’re talking about physical safety, I think we can say that following Jesus is most definitely NOT a safe choice.

I’m not even going to address the question of financial safety because, let’s face it, following a money management strategy that advocates giving away as much money as possible, exalts the poor, humbles the rich, and has as it’s primary proponent a homeless man with “nowhere to lay his head” (Lk. 9:58) is not likely to turn you into the next Bill Gates.

“Ah,” you might say, “But following Jesus certainly is the safest choice spiritually.”  Well, that’s obviously true in an eternal sense, otherwise there would be no point at all to following Christ!  But, on this side of eternity, following Christ can even be risky to your spiritual health.  I had a seminary professor who loved to remind us that “Being a minister is hazardous to your soul!”  Why?  Because those who follow Christ paint a giant target on their back for Satan.  If you look in scripture, those who are following God are often targeted for spiritual attack.  Job, Judas, Paul, and Peter–all four followed God and were targeted by Satan for spiritual attack.  Three ultimately withstood Satan’s ploys, and one (Judas) gave himself over completely to Satan.  (But, even Job and Peter were rebuked at some point for caving into Satan’s schemes.)  Of course, the true believer need not worry about being indwelt by Satan as Judas was, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t suffer Satanic attacks.  In fact, it basically guarantees it. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”  2 Tim. 3:12 (ESV)

Still, some people seem to think that following Christ is the safe bet.  “After all,” they reason, “If it turns out that I’m wrong, I’ve lost nothing.  I’ll at least have lived a good life.  But, if the Bible is true and I am found an unbeliever, I’ll suffer eternal Hell.”  Unfortunately, those people do not have Paul on their side.  Paul seemed to think that the costs of following Christ were so incredibly high that if it all turned out to be a lie, “…we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:19, ESV)  So, to those who think they have nothing to lose by following Christ, I think Paul would say “Then you’re not really following Christ.  If you’re doing it right, you’re going to suffer loss.”  Almost every single “hero of the faith” in the New Testament (and many in the Old Testament) died a horrible death because they followed Christ, and, I would argue, EVERY believer WILL suffer if they choose to follow Christ.  When you have as the goal of your faith oneness with a man who died a brutal death on a cross, you are guaranteed to suffer.

The simple fact is this–following Jesus is NOT safe.  It never has been, and it never will be.  The only way in which following God’s will is safe is in view of your eternal destiny.  But that’s not how this saying is most often used, and if that’s what you intend to communicate, then saying that “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will” is unhelpful and downright confusing.  It would require a disclaimer that smacks of a pharmaceutical commercial.  “Except in the case of physical, mental, social, financial and other non-eternal destiny types of safety.  Side effects may include: homelessness, spiritual attack, poverty, sickness, ostracization, crucifixion, shipwreck, flogging, and, in not so rare cases, death.”

So, how should we think about the cost of following Christ?  When we make a choice based upon risk, we usually evaluate it based upon the likelihood and severity of both the risk and reward.  There’s four questions to consider here:

  1. What is the likelihood of incurring loss?
  2. What is the severity of the loss that might be incurred?
  3. What is the likelihood of receiving a reward?
  4. What is the value of the reward that might be gained?

Having answered the first two questions (“100%” and “Severe, possibly death,” respectively), we should now turn to the last two questions.  For the believer, the potential for reward for following Christ is guaranteed.  (Note the guarantee in 2 Tim. 4:6-8 below.)

So, the only question left is of the value of the reward.  And, since our rewards for following Christ are eternal, we can say that our rewards are “infinitely valuable.”  Near the end of his life, Paul had this to say about his impending death:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6–8 (ESV)

The New Testament is rife with the subject of eternal rewards for following Christ.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.   Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

1 Corinthians 9:24–25 (ESV)

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

Luke 6:22–23 (ESV)

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,  knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

Colossians 3:23–24 (ESV)

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings,  sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.  For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.  Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

Hebrews 10:32–36 (ESV)

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12 (ESV)

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Revelation 2:10 (ESV)

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.

Revelation 22:12–14 (ESV)

When the Bible speaks of the risks we must take as believers following God’s will, it doesn’t speak in terms of “safety” versus “danger.”  The New Testament never offers safety as a motivation for following God’s will.  Instead, it speaks in terms of “cost” versus “reward.”  It was not for the “chance of safety” that Christ endured the cross, but “for the joy that was set before him” (Heb. 12:2); he gained strength to endure the cross because he set his eyes on the eternal reward that comes from following the Father’s will.  For us, the incentives that scripture gives for the sacrifices we make here on earth to follow Christ include:

  • the crown of life (Jam. 1:12)
  • an inheritance with the Son (Col. 3:24)
  • a throne in heaven/co-reign with Christ (Rev. 3:21, 20:6)
  • “…a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mk. 10:30)
  • rewards which will be so great that our earthly struggles seem insignificant (Rom. 8:18)

No doubt there will be more rewards than these listed here, but that gives you a glimpse.  Can you imagine sitting on the throne with Christ himself?!?!  In addition to these, scripture often doesn’t specify the nature of our reward, simply calling it a “reward.”  But, even if no specifics were ever given in scripture concerning the nature of our eternal rewards, considering the source, we can rest assured they’ll be worth it!

The question is not, “Is following God’s will safe?”  The answer to that is obvious, “NO!!! It’s the most dangerous thing you can do with your life!”  But, following Christ is definitely worth it.

A hope of eternal reward–not the false hope of temporary safety–is what will give comfort to the believer in the midst of suffering.  When you’re struggling to pay your bills, laying in a hospital bed, or being ridiculed or persecuted because you followed Christ, it will be of little comfort to hear that following God’s will was the “safe” choice.  The worst day of my life was the day I watched my wife–the most precious thing to me in all this world–get loaded into a plane to be flown to another country for treatment and wondered whether I would return to America as a single dad.  I love my wife dearly, so I don’t take this lightly.  I can imagine no greater pain than losing her.  But, even as I sat in that plane holding her hand, not knowing whether or not she would make it, I had a comfort and peace from God.  And the thing that gave me comfort was knowing with all my heart that if God decided to take my wife, she would go to be with Christ.  Her earthly sacrifice would be instantly rewarded with a crown of life and the words “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  She would spend all eternity with Him, and the cost she paid here on earth would have been worth it.

May 11, Jennifer getting into the Kodiak to fly to Cairns.

So, when we are called to make tough decisions and are weighing the cost of following Christ–be it to a new job, into a rough neighborhood, into a new ministry, or into a new country–let’s stop asking “Is it safe?”  Let’s not fall prey to the delusion that following God will be safe.  We ought to ask instead, “Do I believe that following God’s will be worth it, regardless of the cost?”  And the answer to that, for the believer, should be obvious.  When we finally get that perspective, we can live our lives in a way that shows the world that our Savior is worth whatever the cost may be.  He is infinitely worthy.  And then we can say with Job,

Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…”

Job 13:15

When it rains, it pours

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:19‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Well, after many years of preparation and training, we are finally here in Papua New Guinea. Way too much has happened in the month since we left the States to update you on all of it, but it you want a snapshot of our lives here, I suggest you check out our ministry page on Facebook.

The only problem is that when you look at all of the beautiful pictures of gorgeous sunrises, natural caves, hidden spring-fed pools, and lush jungle, you might leave with the impression that we’re on an adventure filled vacation.

But life is not all sunshine and roses. It often rains, and when it does, it pours.

There are many wonderful things about living in a new culture, but the fact remains that adjusting to a completely new lifestyle takes a toll on you–physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Just for example, back in the States I lived a fairly sedentary lifestyle. I have a fitness watch which tracks my steps for the day, and back in the States I would rarely exceed 7,000 steps in a given day, unless we were especially active–like spending the day at the zoo or something like that. But since we’ve left the US, I don’t recall a single day when I’ve tracked less than 10,000 steps, and many days have me exceeding 15,000. Yesterday, for example, I never left our compound, didn’t go on any hikes, and did nothing except the basic chores like preparing meals and such and my step count was 11,537. Why so high? We spent the majority of the day chopping firewood, preparing meals, cooking over an open fire, and running back and forth to the bathroom to retrieve drinkable water. In order to help prepare us for life in a remote village, on the weekends we prepare all of our own food outdoors over an open fire using no refrigeration–all while trying to take care of two little kids. If I’ve had a day more mentally and physically draining than yesterday, I can’t remember it. On top of these weekends, we have class daily from 8:00-4:00, and occasional jungle hikes and open water ocean swims. Then there are all the new foods. Some are pretty good, but others are…well…interesting. Food has become much more of a commodity which is consumed for fuel here, rather than for fun like in the US. The physical drain is intense for someone used to a sedentary American lifestyle. I’ve lost over 25 pounds since we left the US without even trying.  (I’ve lost another 15 pounds since drafting this post almost a month ago!)

In addition to the physical demands, there are plenty of mental stressors, too. In the absence of local trash pickup, we are discouraged from using disposable paper and plastic goods. You don’t realize how dependent you are upon trash pickup until you’re forced to switch to cloth diapers (which must be hand washed…😳) and have to try to figure out alternatives to Ziploc bags and paper towels, which are nowhere to be found. When your kids are adjusting to new foods (read “explosive diarrhea”), cloth diapers can be the thing that just ruins your day. It seems like every other morning we wake up and the first thing we have to do is change diapers and wash bedding. It’s not a pleasant start to the day. On top of this, when you’re living is such close community with people you’ve just met from all over the globe, there are cultural stressors even amongst your fellow missionary colleagues. Add to that the exhaustion of spending hours a day learning a new language, making new friends, and learning the culture of the people to whom you minister, and even days which are physically less stressful can get the best of you.

Lastly, there’s the spiritual stress. You don’t realize how refreshing your Sunday church service is until you’ve sat through an entire service in a foreign language and only understood several words here and there. After a long, physically and mentally draining week, you look forward to the spiritual refreshment of Christian music and teaching, only to find yourself straining to understand bits and pieces of the sermon, and not recognizing any of the songs that are sung. Church service becomes just another culture and language learning session leaving you more exhausted than you were before. The Holy Spirit may be alive and well in the church you visited, but the spiritual truths of God’s Word are locked behind the gate of a foreign language and culture, inaccessible to you.  One positive takeaway from this experience, however, was being able to empathize with the many people who attend service every week in PNG in a language that is not their mother tongue, read scripture in a language that is not their mother tongue, and sing songs that are not from their culture or language. It gives me a greater appreciation for Bible translation and mother tongue scripture use.

In addition to the stress of cross-cultural church attendance, Satan is no fool when it comes to wartime strategy. If the Word of God is the Holy Spirit’s weapon, then those who advance the Word of God through ministry, missions, and/or Bible translation are spiritual weapons dealers. We endeavor to supply people with the very weapon the Holy Spirit uses to vanquish Satan…which puts a giant bull’s-eye on our backs. Indeed, since we’ve been here, we’ve noticed a sharp increase in spiritual warfare. Kids have had bad dreams, seen apparitions, and there have been various illnesses that just won’t go away. Satan doesn’t play fair, so unfortunately, it’s often the kids that get the brunt of the attacks. Satan is no match for God’s power, but Paul still describes the fight as a “struggle” for us.

Of course, as a missionary entering the field for the first time, all of these stressors (and many more!) hit you all at once. When it rains, it pours. The stress of adapting to all of this change while struggling to be a good spouse, parent, student, and minister can be crippling.

The last few days, it has felt like all of this stress and change of the past month has finally caught up to me. I found myself thinking this morning, “I know that God is supposed to provide grace for each day, but I just don’t see it. Where’s the grace I need to get through the day? Where is God, and why doesn’t he lend me a hand?”

Then it started raining–really raining, not just meataphorically raining. We were supposed to go to the beach today. Now you might be thinking, “What a bummer!” But actually, the rain was just what the doctor ordered. See, a trip to the beach here is no mere vacation in the sand. It’s a big ordeal, especially with kids. There’s all the normal preparation of swimsuits, sunblock, last minute (cloth) diaper changes, etc., but then there’s also a very bumpy 45-minute drive down the mountain in the back of a packed truck with 50 other people. Then there’s baths for kids and the inevitable rush to the bucket-showers, and the long wait in line for your turn at one of the three showers in each bathroom which serve over 50 people. After a long stressful week, I was not really super excited about the beach trip.

So it rained. Rather, it poured. One of those relaxing tropical rainforest monsoon-season gully-washers. So, the beach trip was cancelled. I wasn’t terribly disappointed, though I did feel bad for the kids at first. But, as I watched the rain, it felt as if God was washing away all of the stress of the past week. The kids all made the best out of it and had a blast playing in the rain, throwing water from the downspouts all over each other, and rolling in the mud puddles.  (Missionary kids, or “MKs” as we call them, are a creative bunch!)  Turns out, most of the other parents weren’t thrilled with the idea of a beach trip either, so in the end, God provided just what everyone needed–rest for the adults, and water to play in for the kids. He brought the beach to us, all the way to the top of the mountain.

Some of the kids at POC playing in the rain with their dad.
One happy baby, playing in the rain! (Our kids were napping, so they missed out on the fun.)

God provided just what I needed to get through the day.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ”

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

Learning Obedience through Suffering

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭5:8-9, 14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This is one of those passages in the Bible that is deceptively complex. I’ve read this passage before, but I think I have often missed some of the crucial truths buried within this passage. First of all, let’s take a closer look at some crucial parts of this passage.First of all, notice that the writer of Hebrews is talking about Jesus–the perfect, sinless God-man who always obeyed his Father. Second, allow me to highlight some important words in this passage:

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect…”

Some important and puzzling questions arise from these words. Wasn’t Jesus already obedient to the Father? How can someone who is perfect and omniscient learn obedience? Doesn’t that imply that he was not sufficiently obedient at one point in time? How can someone who never sinned be made perfect? How could Jesus be more perfect than he already was? Does this mean that he lacked some aspect of perfection?

I think the key lies in the type of perfection and obedience that is being described here. Of course, Jesus was in one sense already perfect and obedient. He never sinned, even in his youth, and he never disobeyed the Father. But I don’t think the author is primarily talking about sin here–he is talking about the perfection of faith. To be sure, sinlessness and perfect faith are related very closely, but they’re not the same.

Sin is, to put it simply, doing something God forbids. But faith is taking an action or attitude that is rooted in a trust or belief that God will do what he says.  We see this in the definition of faith provided by the writer of Hebrews himself:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭11:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

We see in this definition that belief is a crucial part of faith, but we also know from James that “Faith without works is dead.”  Furthermore, when we read on in the examples of faith provided by the author of the letter to the Hebrews we can see that all of his examples are people who demonstrated their belief with an action or attitude:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac…
By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph…

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents…

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin…

By faith [Moses] left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.

By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land…
[These people] through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭11:1, 17, 21, 23-25, 27-29, 33-38‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Notice that all of these examples of faith use action verbs (I.e., “offered, blessed, crossed, etc.”).  Faith is not merely belief, it is belief that results in action.  Jesus, while he was sinless, had to learn obedience and be made perfect just as we do because the perfection the author is talking about is perfection of faith.  Jesus’ faith was perfected through suffering.  He suffered as a homeless man trying to find food and shelter.  He suffered the rejection and persecution of the religious and political leaders of his time.  He suffered constant temptation by Satan, and no doubt, the temptations that accompany the lifestyle of a single man.  He suffered rejection and disbelief by his family and close friends.  He suffered the stresses of ministry and constant relocation.  He suffered the frustration of having to wait to begin his ministry until he was 3o.  He suffered knowing that many of his followers were only there for the miracles and free bread.  He suffered the weight of the knowledge of what was to come on the cross.  If ever a man on earth knew suffering, it was Jesus.  Isaiah describes the Messiah as “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3 ESV)

When Jesus began his ministry, he was perfectly sinless.  But he had not yet reached perfection of his faith.  That may sound strange, but perfect faith only comes through trials (See James 1:2-4 below).  Furthermore, Hebrews 5:14 seems to indicate that these trials (or “opportunities to practice discernment”) will be constant.  Why?  Because faith, unlike belief, requires action to be made complete.  For example, you can’t really say that you have faith that God will provide for your finances if you’ve never had to choose between being obedient to God in your finances (I.e., tithing) and paying your bills.  If there is no action accompanying the belief, then it’s just a hypothetical belief at best, or dead faith at worst.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?…So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead…For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

‭‭James‬ ‭2:14, 17, 26‬ ‭ESV‬‬

There is a significant lesson for us to learn in Hebrews 5.

If Jesus, the God-incarnate Messiah, was required to undergo trials of such severity and frequency in order to achieve the perfection of faith necessary to be obedient in the mission that the Father gave him, how much more trials are required for sinners such as you and I!

So many times when we undergo trials, we’re surprised by it.  Oftentimes it seems like pointless pain and suffering.  But for the believer, there is no such thing as pointless suffering!  All suffering, in the life of a believer, is designed by God to bring us in conformity to the image of his Son.  So, whatever suffering you may be enduring right now, know that God is with you in the midst of it and there’s a purpose behind it all.

Let these words of scripture sink into your heart as you meditate on what God is doing in your life:

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭4:12-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

‭‭James‬ ‭1:2-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. 

Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans‬ ‭8:16-39‬ ‭ESV

What verses or passages from scripture give you comfort when you’re suffering?  Share them with us in the comments below!

In Awe of His Grace!


For the past few months, we have prayed and prayed that God would help us to reach our goals and make the move to GIAL in July. But, as of June, we seemed to be a very long ways from that goal. While we originally felt like God was leading us to GIAL in July, the numbers simply weren’t adding up, and so we felt God had effectively shut that door.  This, in turn, left me a bit discouraged at the prospect of having to delay our training another six months, especially since balancing my job with my ministry and family had become increasingly difficult and was placing a lot of strain on our family. It seemed as if we were battling an unseen force that simply did not want us moving forward in our ministry!

But God’s timing is immaculate. About the time that I was struggling with all of this, I read a book that just so happened to discuss spiritual warfare (And the Word Came With Power, by Joanne Shetler). Then, our men’s ministry began a study on spiritual warfare called “The Invisible War.” Then our pastor began a sermon series on spiritual warfare! I’ve learned not to believe in coincidences, especially when they happen in rapid succession and in multiples. So, I realized that clearly God was trying to teach me an important lesson about spiritual warfare.

One night in men’s ministry, we briefly discussed a passage from Daniel 10, where Daniel has a vision of an angel after having fasted for 21 days. (“Coincidentally,” I did a 21 day fast modeled after Daniel’s fast in this passage earlier this year, which is the only fast I have ever done of that type and duration.)   In Daniel’s vision, the angel gives the reason for his delayed response, which gives a telling insight into the nature of spiritual warfare and answered prayers:

“Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia…”

Daniel 10:12-13 (ESV)

What I could not see in the midst of my struggles was that “from the first day that [I] set [my] heart to understand and humbled [myself] before [my] God, [my] words [had] been heard.” God had already answered my prayers. Perhaps he even dispatched an angel or two on my behalf!  Only heaven knows, but clearly there is a biblical precedent for such an idea. Whether God’s messengers were battling demons in the past couple months in order to bring about the next step in our ministry or not, I can’t be certain. But, I think that would explain a lot of the things that have been going on in our lives recently. Regardless, God has answered our prayers.

On Sunday, July 12, a generous ministry partner made a sizeable donation to our Wycliffe ministry. What they did not know was that their gift was exactly the difference between what we needed for our first semester of tuition, fees, and books at GIAL and what we had saved! The very next morning (Monday), I received an email from the Admissions department at GIAL, offering me a $1,200 scholarship if I would begin classes next week (July 22)! Jennifer and I were blown away. Could God really be moving things so that we could go to GIAL in July, like we had prayed? We prayed about it, thought about it, and consulted some of our partners for advice and prayers.  While we had enough money for our first semester, we wouldn’t have any for the second semester. Plus, we were only at 49% of our ministry budget, and we needed to be at 80% to afford our living expenses. On top of that, the fully furnished home we had reserved was rented out, and wouldn’t be available until December 21. There were other concerns we had, but those were the big ones. When we went to sleep that night, we were still very unsure about where God was leading us.

Tuesday morning we received a lot of feedback from our partners. Some encouraged us to “Go for it!” while others advised caution. Their advice was extremely helpful, but definitely served to illustrate the conundrum we were in. Around noon on Tuesday, we had found a possible housing solution, but it wasn’t great, and we had also discovered that childcare would be expensive. Fearing that this would place an even greater strain on our already greatly stretched budget, we were about to decide that we would just stay in Arkansas. And then the phone rang. It was the GIAL Housing department calling to inform us that a generous homeowner had just called in his home for rent while he was in China for a year. It was 3 bedrooms, 2 baths with a garage and a yard. Best of all, he wanted some Wycliffe missionaries to stay in it RENT FREE and just pay utilities!!! We were completely blown away. The drastic reduction in our expenses meant that we could afford to live off of about 60% of our budget while we were at GIAL! Just that day, one new partner had joined, and another increased their giving, putting us at 53%, well within range of what we would need and be able to raise in the next couple months. Plus, that meant that we would soon have a surplus, which we could save for our second semester tuition and our other launching expenses! Jennifer and I knew that we couldn’t say “no” to that, so we accepted and began making arrangements to move to Dallas in less than a week.

I sit here tonight having finished one day of packing, with only three more days to finish packing for the move to Dallas, completely flabbergasted at God’s provision. Why he would care for little old me is completely beyond my understanding. I’ve been humbled to the point of tears several times today. Today, a friend from church came and folded and stuffed our paper newsletters for us, Jennifer’s mom and aunt helped us pack, another church friend gave us $200 for moving expenses and took our newsletters to be stamped and delivered, and the men’s ministry at church prayed over me.

I am in awe of God’s grace. I don’t deserve this kind of lavish grace! I’m just a sinner! Who am I that God should bless me like this!?!? I’m nobody! I feel like Isaiah in chapter six when he was confronted with God’s glory: “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” I’m so humbled by his grace.

Why would we give our lives to serve as missionaries in the jungles of Papua New Guinea? It’s not just because there are lost people out there.  There are lost people here, too.  It’s not because we’re adventurous–we’re not, really. It’s because this is the kind of God we serve, and we want our lives to show that he’s worth it!   He’s the kind of God who lavishes grace on “such a wretch as I.” And once you’ve met Jesus, there’s just nothing worth living for but him. He has saved me, given me a hope and a future, given me a purpose in life, forgiven my unforgivable sins, and adopted me as a son into his family, granting me an inheritance that is beyond comprehension! And just like Isaiah, the only response I can give to his grace is: “Here am I, Lord, send me!”
***Update: Since writing this post last night, we found out that I have been granted an additional $500 scholarship, and another new monthly partner just joined out team!  God is good.