“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.
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)