It’s a good exercise to be retrospective. It slows you down. Of course, it also allows stuff to stack up on that busy highway of tasks and demands that rarely brakes for even bumps in the road. But maybe a detour is good for the mental equilibrium.
I was asked recently, “What are some lessons you have learned in PNG, both fun lessons and hard lessons?” My first reaction was … uh … um …
… I’m too busy to think about what’s happened, where I’ve been, what I’ve experienced. Maybe there will be a chance to debrief – unpack my thoughts – at a later time.
Then a little nagging voice challenged me: “Why not? Come on, give it a shot. It might be good for you.”
So … let’s see …
I learned tonight that crocodile tail tastes like fish and pork and maybe a little bit of chicken, but really, it’s got its own unique flavor. And we’ll probably eat it again.
I’ve learned not to listen to the experts. When we found we were coming to Papua New Guinea, we Googled it (yes, it’s a verb!), we talked to people who had gone “overseas,” and we read books. We found out all sorts of exciting and challenging things about missionary life. Most of it, we’ve discovered, was old news, or assumptions or misunderstandings. Sure there are many things that are hard to find here (but really – how many bottles of hand lotion or boxes of tissues do you need for two years?!), but things are so rapidly progressing here that there are few items that would be called a necessity that we couldn’t get here. Now granted, many things are “precious” as they say here (that means, really expensive!), but you can find what you need.
There were also stories of dangers both four legged and eight-legged – even two legged. Again, if you take reasonable precautions, it’s not difficult to get around and get along. I’ve felt more threatened wandering into the wrong neighborhoods back at home, or meandering through fields and forests and mountains across the US.
I’ve learned that “Me save (SAH-vay) liklik Tok Pisin.” (Translation: I know a little bit of Tok Pisin [or Pidgin].) And, “Me got bikpela kus (coos),” means “I have a bad cold/cough!” “Apinun olgeta” means “Good afternoon everyone.” And at night, when I’m done cooking a really good dinner, Sandy could say, “Yu pinis cook gutpela kai kai.” That’s if she would.
I’ve learned that there’s no such thing as “loud enough” when it comes to sound systems here. The only setting that works is “as loud as it gets.”
I’ve learned that timbrels go with any song or praise and worship chorus, and that there seems to be a silent signal from somewhere and all the timbrelists start playing at the same moment and in the same pattern! I’ve got to figure out some day how that happens!
I’ve learned that a child’s cry is the same in every language. So are a smile and a laugh. People love to sing and to dance in church, and testimonies and worship songs are joyous and heartfelt. Folks struggle with the same temptations to live what they know, and have the same deep desire to learn to live to love God with all their hearts.
I’ve learned that there are many definitions of “missionary.” It still feels weird to think of myself in that way. Sometimes, as I walk across the dusty compound listening to uniformed school children singing different church choruses from every different classroom, the sun beating down mercilessly, and the smells of cooking and refuse fires and stale garbage wafting on the hot breeze, I find myself thinking, “There’s nothing too different about this life. I’m just an officer serving in another appointment.” It’s a strange thought.
I’ve learned that contact from “back home” is precious – truly of unimaginable value. Whether it’s family, friends, or new acquaintances, we treasure every email, Facebook post, instant message. We especially love photos and videos. And Skype!!! We love CDs from our “home” corps for the year we were in Detroit (Thank you, Dearborn Heights!), prayer cards from some of the DHQs, publications and periodicals, letters and notes of encouragement. One crazy young man spent way too much to send us a box containing Peanut M&Ms for Sandy and original Twizzlers for me.
I’ve learned that there are good folks from your past, or who discover through a friend or loved one that we’re serving over here, who sacrifice to deposit a few bucks (or many) into our account back home, so that we can afford to treat ourselves to things we otherwise would do without.
I’ve learned that Americans have such a tiny perspective of hardship and need. I determined before I came over here that I would not be one of those missionaries who came back making everyone feel guilty for living well. And that’s still my commitment. But I hope that I can impart to others the difference the tiniest little effort of giving – time, money, care – can make in faraway lands.
I’ve learned that I know so little. I’ve learned that there’s so much more for me to know and experience. I’ve learned that God planned this before I was born, and He’s got this whole experience in His loving and capable hands.
And I’ve learned that my puny efforts and abilities are multiplied when God takes them and uses them for whatever His work is here. And I think that goes for back home, too. Imagine, coming to the other side of the world to learn something so basic.
Thank you, God, for your patience in teaching me what You want me to know.