Beginning Challenges of Cross-Cultural Ministry

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[Editor’s Note: A young couple with two young children (one 2 years old and one just 6 months old) began their first term as missionaries in East Africa in June of last year. After their first four months on the field, the wife wrote an article in their newsletter that speaks of the challenges she faced and why she continues to be willing to face them.]

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My Life as a Big Baby

People learn to bloom where they are planted. I grew up in America, so I learned most of the important skills for living there. I can boil spaghetti as well as the next person. I can drive in Dallas rush-hour traffic while eating a cheeseburger. I have learned how to write a good term paper, how to find a bargain on quality children’s clothing, and how to use the internet to expedite nearly every facet of my life.

But now I live in East Africa, and the three-year-old next door knows more about how to survive here than I do. I scorch the beans and let the milk boil over. I don’t know how to wash my clothes when the electricity goes out. I can’t drive myself to the grocery store.

I don’t know the names of the trees in my own yard, and I had no idea that coriander and cilantro come from the same plant. I’m reminded of the little farm girl in the movie version of Love Comes Softly, who asks her citified stepmother, “How’d you get to be so old without knowin’ how to do nothin’?”

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I speak like a toddler, with halts and mistakes and frustration at not being able to explain myself or ask a simple question. Many times I want to tell a story from my childhood or make a joke or just explain that the reason I’m cranky is because I miss my family. But like a child in the throes of the terrible twos, I don’t have the words to say what I mean, and I’m reduced to awkward silence in order to avoid bursting into culturally inappropriate tears.

It is a humbling experience to find myself in a world different from the one I have always known. I grew up in a charmed place where clean water flows from every faucet, public restrooms exist, we have entire retail chains devoted to pet supplies and baby care gadgets, and the amount of food that we throw away is more than enough to feed every hungry person in the world.

I have thrown away half a casserole before just because I had so many other things to eat that it lost its appeal before I had a chance to eat it. That thought actually brings tears to my eyes now. I have been padded and protected from the realities of life. I have learned to bloom in a greenhouse, but I know nothing about how to sink my roots deep to find water, push my way up through the weeds, and stretch my leaves high for my share of sunlight.

(And lest you feel sorry for me in my exotic plight, I confess that even here I am still sheltered from the hardships of life. I live in relative luxury, and I stand in awe of the strength and grace of the people around me.)

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But Christ did the same for me. He left his blissful home and the perfectly comfortable relationship with the Father that he had known for all of eternity. He came to live in a sweaty, thirsty, unsafe place. His new friends didn’t “get” him, no one appreciated what he was giving up, and the demands placed on him were overwhelming. He was willing to look awkward, to be misunderstood and even victimized in order to reach his long-term goal.

We aspire to have a small piece in that same work. Whether or not we succeed in our translation endeavors, I hope our willingness to be overgrown babies in this culture will show our neighbors that we are here because the love of Christ – both his love for us and his love for them – compels us.

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This story reminds us that we who have grown up in highly developed countries are rich beyond comparison to most of the rest of the world.  But our greatest treasure is not some material object or privileged status in the world.  No, our greatest treasure is the knowledge and the faith we hold that Jesus crossed the greatest cultural barrier by leaving His place in Heaven and coming to live among mankind.

This is a treasure that is available to every man, woman and child on the earth, because the love of God is no respecter of person, He loves every person on earth equally.  But to get this message of hope and love to people, some of us may have to go like this young couple and cross geographical and linguistic boundaries to share this message.

It’s not easy to live and work cross-culturally.  It can be downright frustrating and often times humiliating as was shown in the story above.  And yet it is all worth it.  When we do find the right words, in a language that the people do understand, so many times their faces light up to know that God has not forgotten them.  Knowing that Jesus came to die for them and grant them God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life is life steams of living water bursting forth in the middle of a great desert.  What a privilege and an honor it is to serve people in this way as an ambassador of God.

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Starting Our Mission Experience In PNG

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Our Orientation To Papua New Guinea

Last week I shared a story about a young couple that had just started their missionary experience in East Africa.  I was very happy to hear how well their first six months went in their new country of residence.  They sounded like they got a good start to learning Swahili, making new friends, and beginning their time of ministry over there.

I also shared the fact that things did not go quite so well for us when our family went over in 2006.  One of the things that was taken for granted, both by ourselves and those with whom we would work, was that we would do well very quickly since we had already served as long-term missionaries in Papua New Guinea.

What we all neglected to realize was that there are huge differences between life in PNG and life in Africa.  In PNG, our family lived in a remote jungle village of about 200 people and learned a Papuan language slowly over the first couple of years.  Whereas in Africa, we were in a city of about 200,000 people and had to start communicating in Swahili within the first few days we were there.  That is why an orientation to the mission field is so important.

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I am very thankful then for the training that our family got in 1997 at the Pacific Orientation Course up on Nobnob Hill near the town of Madang, Papua New Guinea.  Following their advice, we landed in Madang (after 52 hours of travel) and were immediately whisked off to the training center on the hill.  They believed it was best to go straight to the training center so that we did not “learn any bad habits” by being in the country on our own first.

It was certainly a culture shock for us seeing as we left a frigid Canada behind that February and then came into PNG where it is almost always above 90 F year-round on the coast.  The funniest thing happened though when we first entered PNG at the Port Moresby airport.  Jill saw no reason to keep a winter coat, so she stuffed it under the seat ahead on the plane.  In the customs line, they called her name out (oh no!!) and said, “I think this is your coat, Ma’am.”  🙂

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Once we got to the training center, we had more surprises to adjust to.  Back then, when emails and cell phones were just really beginning to take off, we were told that there would be no communication with family or friends except by letter.  (Really??)  The idea then was that if we were to get posted to a remote area that had no contact with the outside world (except by snail mail), then it was important to start practicing what that would be like while in our orientation course.

The other big challenge for some was that they didn’t even want us to bring any soft drink cans into the center.  (That was hard for Jill who liked Coke so much back then, but more in a minute.)  What was more important, was that they helped introduce us slowly week by week into more of the culture of PNG and the trade language Tok Pisin (a pidginized form of English).

Not only did we learn to speak with the local Papuans, we spent time with some of the families that lived around the center.  We were assigned to one family and we were to visit them once a week and begin developing a relationship with them and learn how the average Papuan lived.  We built fires to cook our food, hiked the jungle trails, and constantly worked at language learning.

The big “test” for all of us at this orientation course was to go live in a village with local people for five weeks.  We lived in thatched roof houses just like they did, built fires to cook on, and lived and worked right alongside of the people.  This was definitely a huge challenge, but after preparing for nine weeks at the center, we felt ready to live just like the Papuans.

Now back to Coke.  I knew what a big thing it was for Jill to have to give up Coke for the 3 1/2 months.  Right in the middle of our village living experience we were going to have our “midway visit and evaluation” by the center directors, which just happened to coincide with our wedding anniversary.

So I had prearranged with the directors to spring a surprise on Jill.  We had a very nice visit with them when they came to our village.  We showed them around.  They talked with the people to see how we were doing.  We had our interview with them.  And then we all relaxed when they said we were doing fine.  Then just before the main director got back in his car, he said to Jill that he had a surprise for her in the car, via my request.  She went over and lo and behold, he pulled out an ICE COLD COKE!!  (I got triple stars in her books for that anniversary surprise.)

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Well, if I haven’t been able to get the main point across yet through my stories, here it is: to be able to enter into a cross-cultural environment and have the most effective ministry possible among the people, you really need to have a good orientation period into the local language and culture.  That is not to say that someone cannot minister to people of another culture without any training.

But to really be effective in reaching the people, we need to learn to “live where they live and walk where they walk”.  And how much better it is if we are carefully trained and eased into that environment.  I pray this article will be of help and encouragement to new and aspiring young missionaries.

Vehicle Challenges In Papua New Guinea

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In an ideal day, you get up in the morning after a refreshing night of sleep.  In a relaxed but efficient way, you enjoy a nice hot breakfast with juice, and coffee for those who drink it.  Then you probably get into your car and drive yourself to work along well paved roads.  Your sense of peace and purpose may be challenges by rush hour traffic and rude drivers, and your immediate concern may simply be, “Will I get that parking space I want when I get to the office.”

It would be nice if life were that easy for all of us.  Certainly this idyllic life is probably not the norm for most people, seeing as we always seem to be rushing too much to get somewhere to do something.  And of course there are many normal but stressful aspects to daily living that all of us must deal with in life.  For those of us who work in overseas mission ministries, an average working day often carries a much higher level of stress and challenges.

Above is a picture taken from inside the Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) hangar in Madang, Papua New Guinea.  One of our missionaries there who works in the area of Logistics shared the story below about the day that she was to meet an incoming flight that brought some other missionaries to town, and send out a missionary and some important cargo to one of our bush allocations.  I was one of the missionaries coming in that day and didn’t know at first why we waited over an hour for our colleague to show up.  Read her story…

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Branch Vehicle Struggles

By Bethaney Butler

After a few sputters, the engine died and there I sat in PBT’s Toyota Hi-Ace, in the middle of a humongous pothole, while smoke filled the interior of the van and raindrops pelted the outside.  “Just another day in paradise,” I thought.

I was only a few hundred feet from my destination.  I had a van full of cargo that needed to get on the plane, which had already landed.  I had passengers who arrived on the flight and were awaiting pickup. Plane days generally boil down to one word in my mind: chaos.

The commotion had begun earlier that day.  I received a short notice call from MAF letting me know that the plane would be there shortly, so I needed to make my way to the airport. I had planned on loading all the cargo into the back of the Toyota Hilux, PBT’s most reliable vehicle.  Just before I was to start loading it began to rain. I quickly switched plans, taking our most unreliable vehicle, but the only one that could get all of the cargo there dry.

I eventually managed to make it to the airport but only after two other cars came to my aid—one to transport the cargo and then another to tow the van. Living in Papua New Guinea, there are already a number of challenges that we face in our days, having unreliable vehicles only adds to the frustration.  The PNG Branch is in need of some new vehicles.  Vehicles that are trustworthy and reliable. Vehicles that make those challenging days, just a tad easier.

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[Editor’s Note: another PBT colleagues of ours also has written briefly about how bad our vehicle situation is in our PNG Branch.  The picture below makes it look like the Hi Ace is a great vehicle, but read what my friend has to say about it.]

Right now we are at an exciting time as new team members are joining our branch. We have one family with two young children and one single female coming as translators this coming January. God is answering our prayer for more harvest workers! Like your vehicle is important to you, it is doubly important to us as overseas missionaries.

One area of high concern is security and trustworthiness. With many single females on our team, it is an extreme concern to them to have a secure and trusty vehicle. Driving past dark in a vehicle that you can’t trust is a very stressful situation for anyone in a foreign developing country. The vehicle featured was a recent branch owned vehicle that had transmission issues, battery drainage, and mold on the seats and ceiling.

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In light of all this, I thought it would be appropriate to raise the following question with all of those who read my devotional articles on this blog site:

Would you consider giving to the replacement of one of our vehicles?

If you would like to donate, you can do so online or by check.

Online:

https://dlq4.donatelinq.net/qv10/default.aspx?MerchantID=PBTI
Click: Give Now button
Select category: Within Our Reach Campaign
Select sub category: PNG Vehicle

Give by check:

PBT Finance Office
PO Box 380820
Duncanville, TX 75138-0820

Note: PNG Project—Vehicle Replacement Fund

For more information contact: finance@pioneerbible.org.pg

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This is the first time that I have made any kind of financial appeal on this site.  But I feel this one is very timely and appropriate.  We are trying our very best to do the work that God has called us to do over in Papua New Guinea.  But without reliable vehicles, our work quite literally grinds to a halt.

If God does lead you to help us out, would you mind replying to this article in the response area below and let me know about it?  Your comment will not be posted to be seen by anyone else.  But it would be such a great encouragement to me if I were to hear back from some of you.  May God bless you abundantly through Jesus our Lord.

First Exciting Months On The Mission Field

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[Editor’s Note: It is always exciting to go to another country and experience the richness of a new culture and a new language spoken around you.  Below is a portion of a newsletter that was written by some friends of mine with Pioneer Bible Translators back in August of 2010.  Try to picture yourself being with them as they discover new things, strange things, and maybe a few things to be worried about.]

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6 Months…

Wow! We have already been here six months . As we reflect on our time here we can definitely say that we are truly blessed. God has provided for all of our needs and even some of our wants. Sometimes as we live day to day, it is easy to overlook just how far God has brought us since arriving in February.

We have settled into our home here and into somewhat of a routine. We are now more than 2/3 through our formal language study and are gaining more confidence with each passing week. God has blessed us with new friends both expats and nationals and we have been able to strengthen some of the friendships which began while we were in Texas.

None of what has happened in our lives during the past 6 months would be possible without an awesome and faithful God and wonderful and faithful supporters like all of you. Praise be to God and many thanks to you for your prayers for us and our ministry.

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A Volcano

About 30 kilometers north of the city that we live in is an active volcano. The last time it erupted was about 27 years ago. Now it is a popular place for tourists to visit. You can hike or ride up to the top of the mountain and view the crater.

This month we had the opportunity to visit and experience some pretty amazing sights. The thought that kept running through my mind was, ’God is so cool!’ I am sharing a few pictures but they really do not compare with the beauty of God’s creation. Oh, and the (not so pleasant) sulfur smell could be very strong at times as well.

We spent the day with some friends sightseeing and hiking around the mountain. The weather was cool at the top of the crater and the hiking was extremely pleasant. Although somewhat scared, I even enjoyed looking over edges where there was either no railing or a railing made of bamboo or walking across a bridge constructed out of bamboo and rope that looked like thick yarn (not bad for an acrophobic!).

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Independence Day

Independence Day was celebrated this month but we were told that this year was not typical. Usually there are neighborhood parties, games, food and lots of excitement. This year we were told it was much quieter than normal because of fasting month. People of the majority religion (about 85% of the population) do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. So this puts a damper on celebrations because people have much less energy.

Last weekend however our church held a small gathering in honor of Independence Day. After worship service we listened to the children sing songs, joined in playing some traditional games and had a lot of fun.

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Cultural Corner

There are many things to get used to in a new culture. We will share some of the things we are learning about the culture here.

In the area where we live it is not polite to point to things or to point at people with your finger. There are several ways to indicate what you are referring to without pointing your finger. You can move or nod your head in that direction, use your elbow or simply use your thumb (which is our favorite). This does take some getting used to.

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Neighborhood Noises . .

In the neighborhoods here you can buy many things right in front of your house if you want. There are vendors that walk, ride bikes, motorcycles or trucks, push carts, or carry large items who roam the streets daily selling their goods. Each will have a certain sound that after a few months becomes very familiar. Some will play or sing a jingle, others will bang on hollow bamboo with a stick or tap on a plate or bowl with a spoon and some will repeat a phrase over and over again.

At first the sounds in the neighborhood were a little hard to get used to. Five times a day we hear loudspeakers that call the people to pray and several times a week speaking is also broadcasted. During the night there are security guards in the area that will bang on the metal street lamp poles as they make there rounds. This usually begins around 10:30 pm. Now all these sounds are becoming normal and at times even welcome (like when we need bread).

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[Editor’s Note: Cultural anthropologists and psychologists will say that the first few weeks to about the six month mark for a person in a new cross-cultural experience will be exciting and even euphoric.  This is called the “Honeymoon Stage”.  But at some point the newness wears off and it becomes difficult to work in the foreign environment.  During this time, a person can get depressed or even hostile.

If the person stays long enough, they may go through a period of resignation, where they function in the culture, but they lack joy.  Hopefully, the person will stay long enough to be able to adapt and integrate joyfully into the local culture and world around them.  This couple who wrote this newsletter has reached the last stage of cultural adaptation.  But please pray for any missionary you might know who may be struggling and has not reached that final stage yet.]

Expect The Unexpected In Missionary Life

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[Editor’s Note: This incredible story that just came to me this week is true and fascinating to read.  Note her prayer request at the end, and please uphold her and others who work in Papua New Guinea.]

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I watched in dismay as two pairs of legs came sliding over the edge of the truck’s canvas roof, over the handrail and into the truck that was moving along at a very fast speed.  Soon, two men were sitting where I and another missionary friend of mine had been holding the handrails and watching the moonlit scenery.

As I sputtered and tried to say something understandable in Tok Pisin, one of the dark shadows said in English, “Papua New Guinea – the land of the unexpected!”   I had already been feeling that my personal “space” had been violated by 28 people in the packed bed of the big truck, but now facing two unknown men, I was a bit flustered.  It wasn’t until later that I learned that it was actually illegal for the men to be riding on the top of the truck’s canvas.

As we had approached the next town, which has policemen, the illegal passengers had become legal by sitting on the handrails and sort of half-way being “inside” the truck.  As soon as we passed the town though, the illegal passengers hoisted themselves back up onto the top of the moving truck.  To me the whole thing was surreal, but Papua New Guinea is the land of the unexpected.

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We expected to leave Bunapas in the morning, but we didn’t load up until after 2:30 PM.  We expected to head immediately to Madang after a short detour.  Instead by 6 PM we were finally back on the main road heading towards Madang rather than traveling further away from Madang on the “short detour”.

We expected that since the truck was full, we would head to Madang without further stops, but even in a “full” truck, there is always room for more and more passengers. We expected to get to town on Sunday, but instead we were told that it wasn’t safe to enter Madang at night so we would spend the night at a small village on the coast and then go into town on Monday morning.

We expected to actually overnight at this small village, but instead the truck pulled off the road before it got there and went further and further down stranger and stranger tracks through a sago patch until we came out at a little shelter right on the ocean.

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If I hadn’t been so tired when we arrived after midnight, I probably would have enjoyed the moonlit ocean and the sound of the waves. We expected to sleep, but there wasn’t space for me to lie down until about 2 AM or so when enough people had left the truck that I could claim the entire truck tire (I had been sitting on the edge of the tire for most of the trip) and curl up on it with my head on one of my bags.

We expected to leave as soon as the sun rose, but it took a while and then we stopped to buy 5 liters of diesel because they were almost totally out of fuel.  We finally made it to the office at about 7:30 AM. I expected that God would take care of us and keep us safe.  In that and that alone, I was not disappointed.

God had taken care of us on a very good, relatively short trip by van out to Bunapas, protected us as we traveled by boat to and from Tsumba and then watched over us as we traveled by a combination of riding on the back of a tractor and sometimes walking (over bridges and through the heavily rutted sections) on a long “road” to the village where we would hold a Bible training course.

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The first bridge broke as the tractor finished crossing it, but none of the other bridges broke and so when we came back we only had 30 minutes of hiking in which we and the students had to carry the packs and boxes.  Praise God for his protection and care!

We spent parts of 5 days traveling to get to and return from that village where we taught a 5 day scripture use course to 30 students from 9 different language groups.  Despite the difficulties of traveling, the trip was worth it. I had been there when we taught these same students at their first module in 2010.  Several of them at that time had said, “We can’t read these books. They aren’t in our dialect. It is too hard!”

But now at the end of their 5th module, these same students laughed when I reminded them of their remarks in 2010.  These students said that reading the book of Mark was not a problem now and they had with them 4 other epistles that had been published in their language.  They asked, “Are there any more books of the Bible available that we can read and use for preaching?” I told them that I would ask about getting reviewer’s copies of more books for them.

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The New Testament for this language group is one of several New Testaments that are almost completed among the groups that we serve here in PNG.  Please pray that God will strengthen the translation team and give them good health so that preachers in this language group can have the whole New Testament soon.

Praise God with me for a good return to PNG.  I have now bought and packed up over 500 kilograms of supplies for the rest of the year.  Together with another missionary woman and my faithful dog, we will fly by helicopter to the village on September 3rd. Please pray that we will have a safe trip, settle in quickly and be ready to start a translation session with two separate language translation teams on September 10th.

Heading Overseas To Be Missionaries – Pt. 3

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Our First Week in France – Pt. 2

This will be the final article of three which looks at what happens when a family moves to a new country for the first time and needs to learn quickly how to acculturate, to understand and be comfortable in a cross-cultural environment.  One of my fellow colleagues from Pioneer Bible Translators did this with her husband and children in 2010 when they moved to France to learn French in preparation of being missionaries in West Africa.

My friend gave me permission to take excerpts from her journal that she kept for the first couple of weeks once they had arrived in France.  I found it very interesting that some of the cultural stresses that they faced while adjusting into a modern western-based culture are not extremely different from when we need to adjust to the cultural challenges we find in developing countries of the world.

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Let’s look now at some more areas of life that they had to face and overcome in their new location:

Food (Always the first challenge when you find yourself in a new environment.)

Day 1: “The kids are now (impatiently) waiting till 7pm.  That’s when dinner time is.  They have breakfast in the morning.  The kids go to school at 8am (well, ours won’t-they’ll restart their homeschooling next week).  They have lunch from noon till 2pm.  At 5ish comes the gouter (snack) usually some juice and bread with Nutella or Peanut Butter.  Then dinner at 8pm.  Since us American types would positively starve waiting that long, we’ve compromised at 7pm…at least for tonight.

Day 2: “Unfortunately we discovered that the eggs from the grocery store apparently come from free-range chickens because Sophia got grossed out after finding a blood spot in one helping with breakfast.  We’ll see if she eats breakfast this morning or not.

Day 3: “These were no Pizza Hut cardboard pizza’s but homemade dough rolled out very thin and baked right there in a very hot oven (in less than 15 minutes!) pizza’s!!   It was nice to have something that reminded of home.  And we felt proud that were dining at 8pm…the decent dinner hour in France!

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Language

[Note: Nothing is more mentally and emotionally challenging than landing in an environment where you cannot speak the language of the people around you.  Thankfully, this family had some experience learning French by living in Quebec, Canada for a while before going to France.]

Day 1: “Murrielle spoke English to me at the store and boy did heads turn!  We are glad to be in an area where English is rare.

Day 2: “I think it was the Pastor who called, and I think he wanted to come over, and I think I told him we were going shopping, and I think he was ok with that!  If I am brave (read “willing to be humiliated again today”), I will call him after dinner time (8:45pm) and ask him if he’d like to come over for a visit tomorrow.   I hope he’ll stick to the script I have in my brain.”

Day 5: “I think he was not impressed with our French and is wondering how we’ll survive in Africa but that’s ok.  We actually are feeling rather good about our communicating ability in the community at large and have no qualms about Africa where French is everyone’s second language anyway.

Later on Day 5: “There was a different librarian.  She wanted to show Sophia the books for 10 year olds but I explained that Sophia didn’t read French and I needed younger books as well.  I was looking for a basic (think 1st or 2nd grade) history of France but couldn’t find one.  I did find an older one and will try to wade through that.  When I read my library books, I try to write down every word I have to look up.  I began reading an easy general book on France.

[Note: What an encouragement to others.  The secret to learning a new language is to get out among the people and just keep trying to speak and learn new words as you go along.]

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Telecommunication (i.e. “the Internet”)

Day 2: “Perhaps we will finally get to McDonald’s where there is wifi (pronounced wee-fee :0).

Day 4: “The man who is helping us get settled into our home here is supposed to come today and help us get insurance on the car.  That way we can get to McDonald’s for the weefee :0)

Later on Day 4: “We likely won’t get internet at home so will try to get on Tuesdays and Fridays.  I’ll be sad not to keep up with all my Facebook friends’ lives but will email and post my notes to keep everyone in the loop.  And it will aid my French not to have it at home!

Day 5: “They went out to try and buy a “cle” that you can insert into a computer to make it hook up to the internet anywhere (thus making our computer our cell phone using Skype), but were told that while we may be able to buy the “cle”, we wouldn’t be able to use an American credit card to renew the hours.  So we were stymied again on getting internet at home.

Day 7: “We went to the neighbors across and down the street.  They had said we could use their land line to access email today.  After we were through, they offered a cup of coffee and we were able to talk some.

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From this article, and Part 1 last week, we can see that moving to live in a place where the language and culture is foreign to what you know from back home can be very challenging.  But look at how much progress this family made in just one week.  When we believe that there will always be people to help and trust in God to give us the strength and courage, we can all do what we thought was impossible.

Heading Overseas To Be Missionaries – Pt. 1

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Leaving Loved Ones Behind

As you listen to the stories from missionaries, it is easy at times to think, “Wow, what adventures they have had.”  We must remember though, that missionaries are also just ordinary people like you and me.  And for those who are going overseas for the first time, especially when they go with children, it can be quite a scary enterprise for them at first.

In these next articles, I want to take excerpts from what one couple wrote about their experiences and feelings just before they left the United States, and what happened for them in their first week of cross-cultural living and learning.  One thing to note, this family went to France first to do language learning before heading to West Africa to serve with Pioneer Bible Translators.

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Let’s listen in on the thoughts of the wife just before they headed to France:

Me: God, I’m scared. I’ve never been scared like this before now. What’s up?

God: What are you scared of, little one? Are you afraid to go?

Me: No, it’s not that. Ok, well, yes a little bit but mainly it’s just that things are going to change here at home while I’m gone. I know some of the folks I’m saying goodbye to…well, it’s probably going to be the last time, God.

God: Yes, that’s true.

Me: And the rest, Lord. Will they come to know you? Will they hold Your word dear, Lord? Will they persevere through the really tough times? Will they continue being faithful to You? These concerns are why I’m afraid, Lord.

God: “I am”, Child.

Me: I know, God.

God: I am God, Child.

Me: Ok, Lord.

God: I love you. I love them, too. Okay?

Me: Ok, Lord.

Me: Hey, God?

God: Yes?

Me: Thanks. But I’m still going to miss them.

God: I know. I made your breaking heart. I love you, dear one. And don’t forget about your secret weapon.

Me (chuckling): What’s that?

God: From anywhere in the world, in any circumstance, you can always pray to me about them. I love it when you pray!

Me: Ok, God. Right now could you make my husband quit snoring so I can sleep?

God (chuckling): When would you take the time to pray if I didn’t wake you up at night?

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Isn’t it interesting that the concern that lay the heaviest on this mother’s heart before taking her family overseas, which included young children, was for those whom they would be leaving behind in the States.  I know she must have had some concerns for her family’s welfare and what lay ahead, but her greatest fear concerned what would happen to those left behind.

I’ve talked to other missionaries over the years about how hard it has been to be away from their home country, and quite a few have mentioned the idea of how difficult it is to have to say goodbye to family members and relatives.  But for some, it is not themselves that they are most concerned about, but rather people like the parents and grandparents.  We do forget sometimes about the emotional cost there can be for those who let their children and grandchildren go off to the mission field.

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I think perhaps this emotional and geographical separation for me and my family was not quite as difficult for all involved when we first went to Papua New Guinea in 1997.  Jill and I had been on a number of short-term mission trips to various countries already, and we had been training for mission work for a very long time.  In some ways, I think our friends and families rejoiced along with us when we were finally able to head over to PNG for our first three-year term.

That does not mean that the pain of separation never happened to us.  In that first year term, we learned of the death of a very close elderly friend who had befriended our young boys like a grandmother.  Before we left Canada, she handed each of our boys a large envelope.  In it were tiny wrapped presents which they could open, one for each day of the first few weeks that we were gone after leaving Canada.  That meant a lot to us.  We were sad that the boys would not see her again.

Then we heard the news of the death of one of Jill’s most special uncles.  He and his wife had truly been the patriarch and the matriarch of the clan of families that made up Jill’s side of our family.  What a loss that was to us.  And finally, we got the news that my father was diagnosed with throat cancer and would probably not have long to live.  We made arrangements for me to go see dad for two weeks.  He died just as I rejoined my family in PNG, but they never got to say goodbye to him.

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This is one of the realities of missionary life.  Even with the advancement of telecommunications and rapid airline travel, we still find as missionaries that we get caught on the other side of the world when critical events happen to those whom we love back home.  So what do we do about that?

Praise God that we do now have the technology to get email, just about anywhere in the world.  And the explosion of cell towers around the world means that we can talk with family and friends almost at the push of a button.  But the most important thing, as portrayed in the humorous dialog above, is knowing that God loves our loved ones even more than we do.  And so we trust Him to watch over them.  And I rest assured that He can do a better job of that than we ever could.  So, thank you God.  Amen.

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