Tag Archives: grace

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)

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.

Suffering Well

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.  And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.  The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

Job 1:20-22

This Thanksgiving, we take time to be grateful for all that we have been blessed with.  But for many, the holiday season is not such a joyful time.  Many people around us are suffering through tragic losses and difficult times.  Each of us, at some point in our lives, will go through similar experiences of suffering.  All of us will, most likely, suffer financial difficulty, health problems, and the loss of loved ones.  It’s not really a matter of “if,” but “when.”  But isn’t it interesting that we don’t all react the same way, even when our problems are basically the same as everyone else’s?  Why is it that some people seem to collapse when tragedy strikes, while others blossom?

There’s a few things from the story of Job in the Old Testament that we can learn about suffering.  But first, let’s take note of a few of the most important details in the story.  First of all, notice that Job’s suffering was not a result of sin that he had committed.  Job is described as being “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (v. 1) We shouldn’t assume from that truth that our own suffering is never a result of our sin—oftentimes it is!  Take a speeding ticket, for example.  Ultimately, all suffering is indirectly caused by sin, because sin has ravaged the perfect creation that God made.  But suffering is not always caused directly by our sin.  Sometimes bad things happen to godly people.

Secondly, notice what Job lost.  First, Job lost his oxen and donkeys.  Oxen were the combines of that day, so this loss would be similar to loosing one’s livelihood and food source simultaneously.  No oxen, no food.  Secondly, Job lost his sheep.  Sheep were used for sacrifices to God, clothing (from the wool), and perhaps for food as well.  The third thing Job lost was his camels—his primary mode of transportation.  Last, and most importantly, Job lost his family.  All seven sons and three daughters were killed when the roof over their head collapsed during a feast.  And, while he was still mourning the loss of these, he was stricken with boils on his skin.  In the span of just moments, Job lost his job, his food, his clothing, his transportation, his children, and his health.

Thirdly, notice that there were things going on “behind the scenes,” in the spiritual realm, that Job was not privy to.  Now, we don’t know for sure why God allowed Satan to afflict Job.  Certainly God could have prevented Satan from doing so, but for whatever reason, he decided to permit Satan to afflict Job to a certain extent.  Perhaps God was trying to grow Job’s faith.  That certainly is one of the outcomes of this whole ordeal.  But while that may be the case, I tend to think that the purpose of Job’s afflictions was for our spiritual benefit.  We get a behind the scenes look at suffering that we don’t get anywhere else in scripture.  So perhaps one of the greatest lessons we learn through Job is that sometimes our suffering is the means God uses to encourage others during their suffering.  Because of the introduction of sin into the world, suffering is an inevitable part of life.  But when Christians endure suffering well, we show through our testimony that there is hope in the midst of crisis for those who are in Christ.

But how do we “suffer well?”  The answer lies in Job’s response to his suffering.  Job’s first reaction to suffering was both grief and worship.  Now Job’s grieving comes as no surprise to us, given all that he had lost.  But worship?!?!  God had just allowed unspeakable disaster to strike Job, and all Job had ever done was live a godly life!  Of course, Job wasn’t without sin, but even God himself describes Job as “blameless and upright.”  How could Job resist the incredible urge to blame God for his suffering?  Job was able to suffer well because he had developed a godly character long before tragedy struck.  Job didn’t wait around for disaster to hit and then look in the “What to read when you are suffering” appendix in his Bible.  Job didn’t have to frantically scramble around asking advice from godly people on how to endure suffering.  Job didn’t wonder what kind of God would allow such suffering.  Job didn’t question God’s character because Job already knew God’s character.  The time to figure out how to handle suffering is not when you’re in the middle of it—the best time to figure that out is when things are good.  Job could worship God in the middle of suffering because he had made up his mind long beforehand that he would do so.  Job had a faith “emergency fund” that he’d been saving up for years, funded by the realization that every blessing was a gift from God.

Job recognized that “the Lord gave…” When times were good, Job didn’t take it for granted.  Job realized that his oxen, sheep, camels, servants, wealth, health, and family were all gifts from God that he didn’t deserve.  That’s why Job prayed for his children after every feast—because he realized that his family’s health and wellbeing was simply a product of God’s grace and mercy.  Job was able to weather the storm because he practiced a lifestyle of thanksgiving.  Job didn’t worship God because God had taken all of these blessings away from him; Job worshiped God because that’s just what Job did—he worshiped God.  Every day.  Continually.  Every blessing that Job received he praised God for.  Every ox, every donkey, every sheep, every servant, every penny of his wealth, every son, every daughter, every moment, every hour.

You see, when we stop taking things for granted and start praising God for every blessing we have, then our attitude changes.  Instead of feeling that God owes us all these things—that we’re entitled to God’s blessings—we begin to see God’s blessings for what they are: grace.  Blessings from God are his grace—unmerited favor.  Suffering is not when God steals things from us that belong to us (our health, family, wealth, etc.), it’s when God simply takes back what was rightfully his to begin with.  If the Lord gave, then the Lord has the right to take away.  And it helps to keep in mind the truth of Romans 8:28—“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  God never takes back his blessings just for the fun of it.  There’s always a purpose, and it always works together for our good.

So how do you suffer well?  You start right now—especially if things are going well.  You live a life of thanksgiving—not just one day every year.  You suffer well by making every day Thanksgiving Day.  And then when tragedy strikes you simply repeat what you say every day: “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”