I’m Already Going

à tere unkaliá.

I’m already going. I’m on my way.

One week left. In seven days I’ll be leaving this jungle village, leaving all of you. Oh, it’s not a permanent good-bye. But nine months seems like such a long time.

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As this picture shows, I actually already left. Wrote this blog on June 10th, but just posting now.

Entreat me not to leave you. Where you are, I have come. Where you lodge, I also lodge. Your people have become my people.

Today I ask you, my beloved village friends, how can I leave this place of learning and becoming, where my mere attempts to talk or use your simple everyday tools like machetes result in laughter and memories and an occasional minor injury?

How can I spend nine months separated from you who have become my teachers and friends while I have, to some extent, in the process of learning your words and your ways, become one of you?

How can I say goodbye to you who have put up with me, given me the most delicious fish the world has to offer, and appreciated the simplest of my homemade cakes more than any other group of people ever has?

How can I leave my little house in the jungle, whose thatch roof and dirt floor in the kitchen delight the depths of my being in a way I never imagined architecture could?

How can I bid farewell to the stunning Amazon night sky that never fails to remind me of the greatness and power of our Creator and Savior?

Saying goodbye to you who are still longing for the Word of God in your language pierces my heart like a sharp deadly arrow that your people used to use.

While I desperately need a break from the heat and some of the physical and emotional challenges faced in recent months, I find myself reluctant to say goodbye to the intensity of life here. The incredible mixture of persistent pain and extreme grace has kept me clinging desperately to Jesus while falling deeper in love with Him. Why would I take a break from that?

But that “other world” where I was born and raised is part of God’s purpose and plan, just as essential to my calling as language and culture acquisition in your world is. Rest and different ministry opportunities and time with family and friends are other ways in which Jesus will show me His abundant mercy and grace. 

So I’m already going.

As a culture that values family relationships and honor very highly, it is easy for you to understand that I miss my family. You have expressed your happiness that I will soon see them again. I love all of you dearly, but obviously I also love my parents and sisters and brothers and grandparents and nieces and nephews and church family and other friends, and it isn’t right to stay far away from all of them forever.

A nephew was born five months ago that I haven’t yet seen. I am excited to meet him and hold him and watch him grow. I am excited to once again spend family time with my family, as you have graciously allowed me to spend almost three years with yours.

All the accumulated memories and shared experiences and solid friendships have already caused me to cry repeatedly at the thought of saying good-bye. When I told some of you about my tears and sadness, it totally made sense to you. Why wouldn’t I cry? While I’m excited to see my family, obviously I’ll miss you like crazy while I am far away in their land. And of course you’ll miss me just as much, especially when you see my empty little house. Goodbyes are awful. Togetherness is precious.

To my four-year-old friend:

Yesterday I almost cried when you and your cousin were here playing with my toys and sucking lollipops and saying the cutest, funniest things that little boys could say, wishing I could store these moments away for safekeeping like the treasures they are.

When I come back, you and your cousin won’t be four anymore. How can I leave?

You are a master of sass and sarcasm, in a tonal language that lends itself to such. There are so many stories to tell of the many ways you have brought me joy.

Like the recent day when you looked down at your feet and then at mine, exclaiming, in your most sarcastic tone, “Your feet are STILL white?”

And I rolled my eyes and laughed with delight. Yes, small friend, my feet were white on the day I met you when you were one year old, (how is it even possible that you were just one and now you’re four?) and they were still white last year, and last month. They are still white today, and as much as I wish that the tropical sun would change their tone to a lovely shade of brown like your feet, my feet will most likely still be white when I see you again in nine months.

Because I’m on my way. If I don’t, I won’t get to see my bubbly, blonde niece, born just three weeks before you, while she is four.

Her personality is similar to yours in many ways, I think. Teller of stories, roller of eyes, one who delights in life and makes people laugh even when she isn’t trying to do so.

But I know your personality better than hers. I need to spend this season there, to be present in her life, and get to know all of my nieces and nephews again, after being separated for much too long. They are already counting down the days until their “Tia Paulette” arrives.

So on Saturday, I will tell each one of you that I’m already going.

And each of you will tell me. “Go.”

Some of you will add, “Go well.”

There will be tears on both sides. But it will be okay.

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This week will be difficult physically, as I know my back will rebel against all the cleaning and organizing and lifting that remains to be done. It will be difficult emotionally as all of us face the upcoming farewell.

I am thankful for the roots of friendship that have grown deep in our hearts, and can’t be uprooted by distance, or by wild pigs as often happens to the manioc root in your fields. It would be far more painful if you didn’t care that I was leaving, or if I was eager to get away from you.

Although it won’t be an easy week, it will still be a good week. We will treasure these last days together. We will fit in a few more study sessions, go to the gardens a couple more times, and sit around talking in our kitchens, reminiscing about the past and looking forward to the future. The opportunity to talk about goodbyes, relationships, language progress, dreams, the Bible and God’s work in our lives makes transitions so much easier than they used to be.

For while I cannot yet string your words together with perfection and skill, in the way you string beautifully-crafted coconut shell beads into traditional necklaces, at least I am finally able to string them together in grammatical and logical sequences that communicate thoughts and feelings and ideas in ways that can usually be understood.

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Looking with wonder at one last cloud of Amazon butterflies.

After a few more heart-to-heart conversations and after the last goodbye, I will step into the leaky boat that normally smells like fish, cross the White River, and leave you, for now.

I’m already going. I’m on my way. Ã tere unkaliá.

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The view right now from my kitchen table here at the mission base.  As of today I have exactly one week to get this apartment all cleaned, organized and packed up as well.
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The Corn Speaks Again!

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I am the corn.

Whatever this means for today, for 2019, and for the remainder of the days You give me on this earth…

Dear Lord Jesus, I am available!

Another year is just about over; 365 days of adventures with Jesus to treasure up and ponder. Just like the last day of 2017 and 2016, this morning found me trekking through the jungle with friends, harvesting corn from their gardens and watching them work long hours to prepare tasty traditional dishes.

As usual, I reflect on the work of God in my heart and life, thanking Him for His good gifts of joy and suffering in 2018.

Please check out this story I wrote that was published online by Ethnos360, along with a few pictures from our village, including one of a dear friend.

And The Ear of Corn Speaks!

 

 

The Babies Someone Wanted

We forget many conversations almost immediately while others impact us so deeply that the words are etched on our minds forever.  In March, a friend, sitting on my kitchen bench, started an unforgettable conversation by saying, in a quiet, anguished voice, “I killed my baby.”  In response to my questions, she told me as much of the story as I could understand.  It wasn’t her choice.  My friend’s father-in-law didn’t want the baby for some reason, and said that she had to follow the cultural procedure of burying the baby alive and leaving it.  She told me how it’s cries grew weaker until it’s little life was over, and how she cried because she wanted and loved her baby.

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A few days ago (12-18 – it was about three weeks ago now), the little elderly grandma in our village told me a similar story from her youth.  In her case it was her own husband that didn’t want the baby and said it had to be buried.

On Monday, as part of ACL practicing, I decided to spend one of the hottest hours of the afternoon lying on the cool tile floor of the bedroom while listening to audio recordings.  That conversation with the grandmother was first on my review list.

So much for my scheduled hour of listening practice.  Three minutes and 18 seconds into the audio recording, I was bawling so hard I had to hit the pause button, and never did finish practice time that day.

These dear ladies still carry the weight of strong negative emotions decades after their babies were buried.  The emotion they both named was sadness, but their comments and facial expressions lead one to suspect the possibility that pain, trauma, bitterness, helplessness, guilt and anger also reside in their hearts. 

These women each lost a baby.

Babies they nurtured in their wombs for nine months, babies they wanted and loved, babies they were not allowed to keep.

I cried so long and hard today.  I cried for the countless babies in this culture who were left to die over the years, before the Gospel came.  I cried for the mamas who loved and wanted their babies, and still have not been comforted.  I cried for the dads and grandpas whose hearts were hardened toward these precious little lives.  I cried for the people groups that are still living in total fear and bondage, as my friends were just 42 years ago.  I cried for the sorrows and fears and questions that my village friends still face.  I cried about my own fears and insecurities.

If these things grieved my heart so deeply, why would I write about them and risk bringing sorrow to you?  Even as I write this, I’m not certain I will post it.  This is the third time I have written about similar cultural topics and my reactions, but the first time I have had the courage (or audacity) to post.  Perhaps the time has finally come to share this part of my heart and ACL adventure.  You want to know why?

First of all, because it’s hard to cry alone. 

I need you, my family and friends, to come alongside me in prayer.

Will you please pray that Jesus will fill me with courage and hope?  I’m not very strong or brave, friends.  Monday proved it.

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As a result of the power of the Gospel and the changes that Jesus has already brought to this culture, the practice of burying “unwanted” babies ended years ago.  Praise the Lord!  By His grace, some of the enemy’s lies have been vanquished by Truth, and many dark places have been illuminated.

But it would be naïve to think that all is now well in this village and culture.  Yes, there is evidence of true joy, hunger for God, and Christian fellowship.  Yet darkness and lies and bondage and pain still exist among this precious people.  And how could it be otherwise?  They don’t have the Word of God in their language yet!

I want to make it very clear that I am not judging this culture or saying that it is worse than North American culture.  Our culture also has dark and tragic aspects that grieve my heart and would shock people from other countries.  Just as no individual human being is perfect, no people group is perfect.

Every people group has wonderful characteristics, and I prefer to share the parts of this culture that I love and appreciate and participate in.  But it would be dishonest to pretend that life here is completely lighthearted, one cool jungle adventure after another.

And that is the second reason I might actually post this.

Because you are part of the ministry team God is using to reach these people, so you need to know at least some of the hard, heartbreaking details. 

How will you be able to pray knowledgeably for us if I never tell you that this culture, like all others, is contaminated by sin and marked by darkness? 

How will you support us in the battle if you only know about the triumphs and not the defeats? 

How will you hold the ropes for me personally, your sister and daughter and friend, if you don’t know what makes me cry, or sometimes want to run away? 

Can I be very real with you, friends? Even though the very reason for being here is to shine Jesus’ light into this dark place, my own fears and insecurities show that darkness is still trying to claim a stronghold in my heart. 

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After two years of great fun, hard work, and dependence on Jesus, I can speak well enough to discuss serious topics and investigate slightly more profound aspects of this culture.  Thank you, Jesus!  But suddenly, since September, new questions have begun to trickle into my heart and mind.  On Monday that trickle turned into an overwhelming and unexpected flood…

What if I discover unspeakable hidden customs, not from this culture’s past, but from their present reality?

What if my trusted friends start telling me unbelievable things that shock and grieve me?

What if I can’t handle it? 

What if I’m not strong enough?

What if I don’t know what to say? 

What if I don’t have what it takes?

And, you can guess what happened next.  I started bawling again, this time out of fear instead of sadness, until the Holy Spirit quieted my heart with the realization that while my questions are real and valid, there is another question that trumps every single one.

“What if God’s grace is enough?”  And I worship God through the tears.

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That question is not a true “what if”, my friends.  The blazing truth revealed by that question answers all of my fearful questions.  Of course I’m not enough for these things.  And I don’t have to be.  Jesus didn’t bring me here because I am qualified or tough or have what it takes to do this job.  He brought me here because I am a weak, foolish, fearful vessel, and that is the kind He loves to use to demonstrate His power and glory and sufficiency.

God’s grace is enough. 

God’s grace is enough for me and for all my fears.  His grace is enough for the elderly little grandma and for all her grief.  God’s grace is enough for you, and whatever you fear or grieve today.  God’s grace is enough for this whole people group, for my home culture and your culture, and for all people everywhere.  And isn’t that the good news we celebrate this time of year?

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.   And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.  Luke 2:10-14  (emphasis mine)

Will you please pray for me with regards to all of this? 

Will you please pray for these sweet elderly ladies whose hearts need God’s healing and peace? 

Will you pray for this people group as a whole, and for each individual, that Jesus’ light will shine brightly into the darkest hidden places, bringing freedom and life and joy? 

All of us, wherever we live and work, are in a battle.  Light versus darkness. Truth versus lies.  Good versus evil.  Faith versus fear.

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What kind of darkness do you encounter in your community?  I would challenge you not to turn away from the lies, the tears, and the needs around you.

We who walk in the light do not need to fear the darkness.  Ask Jesus to show you the dark places where He wants you to shine.

And please feel free to comment or e-mail me with how I can be praying for you about these things.

A Wednesday Poem

Because Wednesday was the day this was written, and I can’t come up with a good title.

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I don’t want a life I can handle.
I don’t want a job I can do.
I want to stand on the Impossible’s brink
And see it accomplished by You.

I ask not that the path would be easy.
I ask not that the tears would be few.
I want to run this race so hard that I stumble,
To be picked up and carried by You.

Send me giants to slay by Your power.
Give me mountains faith only can move.
Clear a path through the sea and destroy every foe.
So the victory brings glory to You.

Let the world see Your power in weakness.
And give credit where credit is due.
This weak, trembling servant could do nothing alone.
But yearns to be used greatly by You.

 

Disturb Us

It takes a certain amount of faith to ask God to calm a raging storm in one’s life. It takes greater faith to jump into the wild sea while the storm continues, trusting God with the results.

Sometimes I ask God for the Impossible, believing wholeheartedly that He will work miracles. Time after time I have seen the Impossible become reality, thanks to His amazing power and grace.

But other times, despite God’s prompting, I am too afraid to get out of the boat, to jump off the cliff, to take the first step down unknown paths that could change me forever. I am terrified to lose sight of the land, even if that is the only way to find the stars God intends for me to reach, the only way to shine in the darkness, so that Jesus Christ might be clearly seen.

In the words of one of my favorite Rend Collective songs, did God make us and redeem us for “so much more than this”?

What impossible things would Jesus do in and through me and through you, if we would obey Him in every area of life, whether or not His will makes sense?

If we were to follow Him with courage, hope, and love, how might God reflect His glory and the beauty of the Gospel to the world?

Wrestling with these questions over the past several days, I have been deeply disturbed and unsettled by their implications and by my oh-so-little faith. In His faithful mercy, the Lord brought this prayer and blog post to mind, challenging me once again with His truth and His dreams and His worthiness.

One Little Light

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While organizing old documents on my laptop, I came across a prayer, written by Francis Drake, apparently, although I do not remember who he was.  It was on a document called “Whole Milk Yogurt”, oddly enough, which contained a yogurt recipe, two paragraphs of a journal entry from 2013, and this prayer.  The only more random document I opened this week was named Staff Meeting, in a folder entitled Head Start (my former workplace).  The “Staff Meeting” document contained only a recipe for Salmon Cakes, with absolutely nothing related to work or staff.  I am quite sure that Head Start never held a meeting teaching us how to make Salmon Cakes.

Hopefully this little anecdote about my poor organizational skills will make you laugh and feel better about your life, because I can’t imagine that any of you have documents more randomly…

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Night at the Orchestra

November 1st, exactly one month ago, was my last day at home in Itapecerica da Serra, and definitely the most memorable last night on record.  After we had all survived the excitement of Camila’s wedding, my brother Antonio suggested doing something fun and special to celebrate before I headed back to the jungle, and together we decided that visiting the Sala São Paulo for a concert would be just the thing.  Since these plans were made a bit on the last-minute side (as most brilliant plans are), it took some effort and planning to coordinate everyone’s schedules, but Antonio worked it all out for the family to go.  Our dad, who isn’t actually a big fan of classical music, and preferred to spend the evening babysitting his adorable grandson, passed his ticket on to Danilo, our married brother.  So it was the five of us that went.

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For you to appreciate just how unforgettable our night at the orchestra was, you have to understand that after two years in the jungle, my soul was almost starving for beautiful, classical, live music.  I knew I missed it, but hadn’t realized how much until the hunger started to be satisfied, bit by bit, during October.

First came the chance to play a piano while waiting for an event to start.  It was only for half an hour, but oh!  A real piano!  It had been nine months since I had played an electric keyboard, and 14 months since I had touched the keys of a real piano, so this was a rare treat.  My mom and brothers sang along on a couple hymns, which was fun, and brought back special memories.

Just the chance to attempt to make music awakened something in my soul that had fallen asleep.  While I sing every day in my little jungle home, singing is not the same as playing piano – following the measures in a hymnal, four fingers at a time, blending the carefully-chosen chords and harmonies.  Delight!  Even now imagination brings back the beautiful sounds of the last few measures of The Solid Rock, when I finally played them correctly after several tries.

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The second magical musical moment happened when someone left a guitar at the house.  I can’t remember which brother picked it up first, but when he started to play…oh the beauty!  It almost made me cry.  When there were instruments at home, playing music used to be part of the everyday routine, so I had really missed listening to it.  Both Gustavo and Antonio are very gifted musicians, whose playing glorifies God in a remarkable way.  The beautiful melodies they create fill the hearts of those who hear them with wonder, joy, and worship.

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Sala São Paulo is a beautiful historic building.  Architecture is a type of beauty that I normally am not especially drawn to, but in this case it was impressive enough that I noticed.  And excellent acoustics for performances.  Our seats were behind the platform, which was terrific because we were so close to the musicians, and could see the conductor’s face.

And then we went to the orchestra.  The classical pieces composed by Beethoven, Hummel, and Rossini, and played by the world-famous Sao Paulo orchestra were indisputably another level of beauty altogether.  I told myself to remember and treasure each moment and measure, so that I could savor them later when in need of that type of beauty.  For although I am surrounded by beauty every day here in the jungle – the natural beauty of tropical plants, the linguistic beauty of a tonal language, the human beauty of smiles and friendships, a corner of my soul had been longing for another type of beauty for a long time.  That yearning was satisfied by a special night of music a month ago, and I am thankful.

Music, at least in my heart, does something that no other type of beauty can do, nourishing and speaking to me in a special way.  Music of the caliber we heard that night, instantly prompts my soul to step into God’s presence, worshipping Him as the Creator of all beauty, the One who deserves my love and life

As we listened, drinking in the beauty of our surroundings and the music, wishing it could go on forever, my thoughts drifted to a place where beauty will never end.  There, the music will be so glorious, that in comparison, I suspect that those brilliant orchestral masterpieces will seem as inept as my five-year-old self playing “Do a Deer” with one finger.  In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes that “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” I would venture to guess that these unimaginable things include music, one of God’s great gifts to us, and thus especially appropriate to offer back to Him in worship.

In the car on the way home, we talked about music nourishing the soul, and about the many types of beauty there are in the world.  We considered how all beauty points us to Jesus, and increases our longing for eternity.

Then my brother mentioned how deeply he was impacted by The Lord of the Rings movies.  I haven’t watched them, so this will be based on his comments, as well as I remember.

Antonio said that the movies do a masterful job depicting a world dominated by ugly beasts and malignant forces.  They show the power of evil in a way that makes you feel sick, drawing you into despair and hopelessness, because it seems impossible that the evil will ever be defeated.

But then, at the end, in the darkest hour, in stark contrast to the reality which has been presented throughout the entire movie, a good wizard comes and defeats the seemingly invincible evil.  Light and goodness and beauty prevail!

All of that is a copy and reflection of truth, giving us a small glimpse and understanding of God´s omnipotent power and authority.

All cultures and individuals are contaminated by sin, yet despite that knowledge, it is hard to see the darkness of deception, pain, and guilt in this people group that I love.  Hearing details of the war that the devil waged on them, the lies he used to cause the literal death of family members of my dear friends, triggered sorrow and anger.  I also felt the darkness of fear and doubt in my own heart as I wrestled to not react according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit, depending on Jesus alone.  He used these hard situations to remind me of who He is and what He will do.

At the end of time, in a way even more remarkable than any movie could portray, our God will gloriously triumph over all the evil in the universe.  When all we can see and feel is ugliness and darkness and despair, we must remember His promise that in the end, the truth and beauty and goodness and light and power of Jesus Christ will prevail, making all things right and all things new.

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Last night with the family (some of them), until the next time!

And just as I finish editing this post, the generator turns off, allowing a beautiful jungle lullaby to be clearly heard.  The instruments playing tonight are steady rain on the thatch roof, voices of birds, and insect songs of a thousand varieties.  On November 1st, God blessed me with orchestra music and special family time.  And that night, I felt so loved.  On December 1st,  He blesses me with the music of nature and special time with Jesus.  And tonight, I feel so loved.

If I can live by the truths mentioned in this post, and rejoice in whatever types of beauty are part of each day, always keeping my eyes on Jesus, the One altogether lovely, my heart will never be truly hungry or afraid or in despair, though feasts of beautiful, soul-filling music might be few and far between.

When Saturdays are Worlds Apart

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Caio and Camila, October 20th, the beginning of their life together as husband and wife, building a household of faith.

Just five Saturdays ago, I was in São Paulo, with my sister, other family members, and a bevy of bridesmaids.  We spent the day in a fancy beauty parlor, getting our hair and nails done, talking, laughing, and preparing for my sister’s wedding.  What a lovely celebration of marriage, a gift created by God, as Camila and Caio began their life together, and their dream of building another Christian family for the glory of God.

By midafternoon that Saturday, I was dressed better than I have ever been dressed in my entire life.

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And you know what?  I wouldn’t have missed that special family event for the whole world.  So many memories, that we would remember for a lifetime even without the thousand lovely photos that are a treasure in themselves.

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The most loving, beautiful, incredible “adoptive” parents a girl could hope for.

What a joy to be there with my parents and brothers, to celebrate together that the Lord was giving our sister the precious gift of a godly husband who loves her and committed the rest of his life to her.  

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And the most caring, handsome, and hilarious “adoptive” brothers a girl could imagine.

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Or maybe I wasn’t adopted…looks like we were all made for each other.

Today I laugh as I look at the pictures and wonder if these moments really took place only 5 weeks ago?  And is that well-dressed girl with sparkly nails really me?  And is this the same life, or some fairy tale?

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My gorgeous and beloved sister with her new husband!

Today, November 24th, was a rather different kind of Saturday, you see.  I had the privilege of being with village friends for one of their normal-routine-life events, the first Brasil nut harvesting expedition of the season, spending the day not in a fancy beauty parlor, but in the beautiful Amazon jungle.

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If one looks very closely, there were a few common denominators between that Saturday and today…conversations and laughter and photos, but that’s about it.  No delicious dinner and pretty clothes and fancy decorations in the jungle today, just like there were no wild pigs, creek-crossing on logs, or fire ants to bite us at the venue where Camila’s wedding was held.

By mid-afternoon today, I was sweaty and dirty and bug-bitten.  There are two photos to prove this fact, since my selfie abilities have not advanced to the point where I can capture face and pants in the same photo, and no brothers were around to act as photographer.

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The part of the shirt that can’t be seen is covered with sticky juice, a result of the many tremendously delicious mangos we gobbled on our way back into the village.  Who needs ice cream or peanut butter pies when you have free all-you-can-eat mangos?  I must be the messiest grownup mango-eater of all time, though.  That’s one of the many reasons I can identify with children so easily.

Despite the lack of pretty clothes and jewelry, my smile this afternoon is the same as it was five Saturday afternoons ago.  You know why?  Because today, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.  This place, doing life with these friends, learning this language.

Once again, gratitude drips from my heart like juice dripping from a mango, but without the stickiness.  Surely I am the most blessed woman on the face of the earth.  How many people get to glide “magically”, not just from one random world to another, but between these three worlds – Lewis County – São Paulo – Pawanẽwa, specifically?  How many people can say and feel that they “belong” (in the measure that any follower of Jesus can belong to any world this side of Heaven) to these three amazing communities?  Only one person has this unique honor.  And that person is me!  Craziness.  Overflowing delight.  

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These shimmery blue butterflies fill my soul with wonder, beauty, and awe, inviting me to worship God their Creator.

It’s impossible to express how deeply I love each of these communities, which are so different one from the other that they truly seem like unique worlds.  My Saviour and best Friend is the One who placed me in the first one, then led me step by step to the others.  Whether riding through São Paulo traffic, walking jungle trails, dancing in circles, or driving down Lewis County roads, I’ll continue to go with Jesus, saying “Yes, Lord,” no matter where He, my greatest Adventure leads.

Were it not for Jesus’ great love and compelling call, I never would have left that first world for an unknown city, because I love my family and church and community so much.  But after living in Sao Paulo for a few short months, I couldn’t imagine life without my Brasilian family and church and community.

Were it not for Jesus’ great love for people groups who still don’t have God’s Word in their languages, I never would have left Sao Paulo to come to the unknown of the Amazon jungle, because I loved that second world so dearly.  But now, here I am, slowly but surely becoming part of a third world which I have also grown to love.

Now this is starting to sound like I’m about to leave this third world behind and go on some new adventure with Jesus, but that is not the plan at this point.  For the foreseeable future, I’m here to stay, except for brief visits to two other worlds, of course.  Who knew missionaries had superpowers?  Now if I could only have the superpower of speaking any language fluently on demand…that would be the coolest!

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Christmas flowers?  Oh, yeah!

 

13 Reasons I Probably Should Never Be Allowed to Visit the USA Again

Becoming…The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village

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Learning to see the world through new eyes, with new face paint, compliments of a teenage friend.  This paint is made from red seeds called “dough-cop”, and comes off after just one washing.

After a little more than 1 ½ years of living in a new culture with new friends, it is evident that I am becoming more like them.  I’m not just learning the language, after all, but living the language.  I am learning how to view the world through the eyes of my friends instead of the eyes of my birth culture.  While here, these changes are fantastic.  One goal of ACL is to become one of the people, to the point where I understand them and can relate to them in culturally appropriate ways.

The downside is that my behavior might not be considered…umm…normal in places outside of this Amazon village.

Honestly, I have picked up some habits that would be unacceptable at the very least (if not obnoxious) in the good ‘ol USA, and might even shock you a bit.  The list below is not intended to be derogatory or make fun of my host culture and their ways.  The fact that I actually DO all of these things here shows that I don’t have a problem with their culture and am adapting to it quite well.

My intention is simply to share more about becoming part of a new culture by comparing the differences in a humorous way.

To be completely candid, it would be just as easy to write a post…Why North Americans Should Probably Not be Allowed to Visit Our Village.  Some culturally normal behavior from the USA or Canada would be viewed as very strange or downright offensive here.  In the interest of relating to others in love, avoiding offense and living at peace with my new friends, I have learned to suppress certain habits and customs learned from North American and Brasilian culture.

All of these differences are not indicators of better or worse.  They are mere reflections of diversity.  God made all of us different, thankfully.  Wouldn’t it be boring if we all acted and thought and behaved exactly the same?  It is important to appreciate and value diversity.  And why not enjoy the funny side of it as well?

Besides, I need something to laugh at other than all the language mistakes I make.  Although those are quite amusing.  For instance, during my language evaluation last week, I told my friend, twice, very confidently, that yes, my entire family speaks Portuguese and only Portuguese.  We had a good laugh over that one.  For variety’s sake, though, sometimes I enjoy laughing at my new “normal” behavior, imagining what it would be like to bring such customs back to North America in my suitcase. 

Before you resolve to never invite me to your home or church, let me assure you that I intend to leave my new habits here in the jungle, suppressing any random third-culture urges.  So please do invite me over next time I’m back in North America!  I’ll be good (and as culturally normal as possible), I promise!  What would it look like if I did fail in this intention, however?

Well, I might…

  1. spit on your kitchen floor.
  2. fling small amounts of water, left in a cup or pot, onto the floor. Imagine my surprise when the wood or linoleum doesn’t immediately absorb the water like our lovely hard-packed dirt floor do.
  3. throw chicken bones or other undesirable scraps of food on your floor.
  4. practice the fine art of culturally appropriate nosiness. “Where are you going?”  “What did she say to you?”  “When are you going to town?”  “What are you doing?”  It probably wouldn’t take long for you inform me that in American culture, such things are none of my business.
  5. casually ask if your child (or you) have lice. You mean that’s not a good conversation starter?
  6. treat meat and potatoes like finger food.
  7. Carry a notebook around and write down phrases from every conversation, sometimes asking you to repeat yourself to make sure I record your statements word for word. (This isn’t actually part of the culture here, but it is something that a language learner is expected to do which has become part of my daily life.  I have even mastered the impressive skill of writing words in a notebook while walking on jungle trails, without falling down.  Usually the words are even decipherable).
  8. Ask to go along when you nonchalantly mention that you are going grocery shopping, hunting, or to visit your in-laws. Can’t miss a good cultural event, after all.
  9. Stand up in the middle of a church service (even the sermon) to go rearrange something that doesn’t look “just right” to me.
  10. Speak tonally.
  11. Make strange comments such as, “will there be electricity tonight?”, “I love refrigerators!”, “It’s morning, and the lights work!” (This also has nothing to do with the culture, but is a direct result of living in a place with only 2 or 3 hours of generator-provided electricity each day…okay, most days).
  12. Ignore compliments, as if I didn’t even hear you.
  13. Ask, “Did you wake up?” instead of saying good morning.
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Not included in the list is habitual posture which is extremely unladylike, although not nearly as uncomfortable as it looks.  It does tend to make one’s feet fall asleep unless weight is shifted frequently, however.

So, if some random person did happen to engage in such behavior, which number above would be the biggest irritation to you, personally?  Seriously, I’d love to know, so please answer!

Don’t worry though, your jungle-dwelling missionary friend will not annoy you in any of the ways listed above!  Except speaking tonally and making comments about loving refrigerators and the novelty of turning lights on in the morning…those might happen occasionally.

Are there any items on the list that you actually wish could be part of your culture and normal behavior? 

Which number would you most strongly advise that I never ever EVER do as a guest in someone’s home or church?

ACL Evaluations are finished and the Results Are In!

Becoming…The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village

(Please excuse the rambling, and lack of editing in this post.  I am still exhausted, so my writing is not up to par and this is much longer than it should be, but I know some of you are eagerly waiting for ACL evaluation news, so want to share it before heading out for a morning of errands). 

Our ACL evaluations are over!  Last night I went to bed early – mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted, although thankful that the last three days went well, and relieved that they were finally over.

Despite leaving us exhausted, these days were very good, positive days which included laughter and memorable moments, as we enjoyed time with our friends who came from the village specifically for our evaluations.  As Sergio told them, although he prefers to visit missionaries in the village, when necessary, it works just as well to do their ACL evaluations in the city.  The deciding factor is whether native language speakers are able to come to the city as well.  Without Xibu and her husband’s help, there would have been no way he could have evaluated our language levels.

Since arriving in the city on Saturday, from early morning until bedtime, in between other activities, I spent as many hours as possible reviewing vocabulary, talking aloud in the language for practice (alone in my apartment), listening to audio recordings, and reading over culture observations.  Oh, and running next door to bug the missionaries who are fluent in the sister language with questions about grammar.  They were so gracious, helpful and encouraging!

Although I certainly wasn’t able to review all the linguistic data collected (nearly two years spent in the village, after all!) the intense, focused studying helped a lot in keeping more words and sentence structures and information fresh in my mind.  Since Bible college days, intense, this strategy has always been productive for me.  The big difference since then is that I now stop studying at my normal bedtime instead of continuing late into the night.

Besides being helpful in preparation for the evaluation itself, these private study sessions revealed areas that I need to practice more with language helpers too, providing plenty of ideas for our study sessions back in the village the next couple months.

While here in the city, I had really wanted to make pizza as a special treat for Xibu and her family, Sergio, Denize (Okay, okay, also as a treat for me!  Not gonna pretend I don’t love pizza and have been wanting it for months), and that plan worked out well.  Everyone enjoyed the pizza, and since I love cooking and feeding people (at least in places with a refrigerator, air conditioning and access to grocery stores), it was a fun, relaxing way to spend an afternoon, and a break from language review.

So, are you wondering what an ACL evaluation really looks like?  Well, I had been wondering, and now I know.  While each church planting team and each ACL evaluation is different, ours went like this:

DAY ONE

Morning:  planning session – Sergio, Denize and I

Denize’s one-on-one meeting with Sergio

Afternoon: Denize’s language eval with Xibu and Iteran.  She has been here only four months.  Since the first level (Basic) of ACL focuses on learning words, Denize’s evaluation consisted mainly of  vocabulary.  “Name 15 types of fish.”  “15 different birds,” etcetera.  Also “survival phrases”, including greetings, simple questions, etcetera.

Early evening:  Pizza break!

Evening:  Denize’s culture evaluation with Sergio.

DAY TWO

Morning:  my one-on-one meeting with Sergio (8 AM – 10 AM)

My language evalulation with Xibu, Iteran, and Sergio.  Sergio gave me communication tasks, setting up the scenario to include one of my friends.  I was supposed to do most of the talking, but they ended up interacting a lot too, which worked out quite well.  He recorded these conversations with a voice recorder.  Yikes!  Nothing quite like the pressure of speaking in another language when your every word (including all the wrong words you know you’ll say) is recorded.

  1.  Sergio had come for a visit and Iteran asked me who he was.  I told hiim about Sergio’s family and work.
  2. I went to Xibu’s house and after a few pleasantries, she asked me about my family.  I told her about my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews and some information about each one.
  3. Iteran asked if it were true that my family lives far away in the USA and wanted to know what it is like there.  (The purpose of this exercise is to show if the language learner is able to compare and contrast).  So I talked about the weather, squirrels, snakes, cows, and corn, comparing and constrasting details with how things are here.  For instance, “American squirrels are small and have bushy tails, just like the jungle squirrels.”  And, “There, if the snakes bite us, they don’t harm us, so we’re not afraid of snakes there.  Here in the jungle, we are very afraid of snakes, because their bite is dangerous.”
  4. Explain the process of how to make something simple.  First Sergio suggested cake, but I wanted to do something from their culture, not from Brasilian culture, so asked if I could talk about how to make the traditional manioc root drink.  My friend Xibu liked that idea better too.

Afternoon:  continuation of my language evaluation.  We listened to the recordings from the morning session, one sentence at a time.  I was asked to translate into Portuguese everything my friends said, to check my comprehension.  They were asked to translate into Portuguese everything I said, so that Sergio could understand.  Then they corrected each mistake, and Sergio would ask if I understood the difference between how I had actually said the phrase, and the correct way to say it.  I actually learned some neat things about the grammar of the language during this process, which took over three hours.  At the end Sergio asked me to translate phrases and questions from Portuguese into the tribal language.

Early evening:  Denize cooked a delicious supper for Sergio and our language helpers, and then their work was finished.  Good thing, because it was pretty tiring for them too.

Evening: team planning/strategy session.  At this point, we stepped away from the ACL side of things as Sergio talked with us on behalf of the mission leadership team (he is one of 6 members) about situations related to the overall ministry in this village and people group.  Lots of helpful information, advice, and strategies for moving forward and acting in a manner that glorifies God and represents our specific mission well, in its goals of church planting, discipleship, and Bible translation.

Late evening:  Denize and I were really excited about one of the topics covered in our team strategy session, so we talked for awhile.  (I will send a quick e-mail update out today or tomorrow to share that news!  Thinking about it kept each one of us up until way after midnight, when normal bedtime for both Denize and I is between 9:00 and 10:30, so you know it’s exciting).

Also, since we had run out of time for Sergio to do an oral check of my understanding of the culture, he gave me a list of cultural topics for self-evaluation.  It only took about half an hour, while I ate leftover pizza, at 11 PM, just like a good paulistana (person who lives in the municipality of São Paulo, which is known for its amazing pizza and for eating late at night).

Sergio, poor guy, stayed up most of the night analyzing all the data he had collected, calculating our proficiencies and averaging the totals…this part sounded rather technical and mathematical.

DAY THREE

Morning:  Sergio met with Denize and I together to share and discuss our language evaluation results.  He also spent a lot of time encouraging us in the Lord, reminding us to keep our focus on God and who He is, and that all we are doing is for His glory, and other Biblical truth to help us in our journey.

Then right before lunchtime he got a ride to the bus station and headed back to Manaus.  Sergio said that we will hear from him soon via e-mail, with written reports and work plans.  During his trip he was planning to finish these reports of our evaluations and generate work plans based on our individual results to help us keep moving forward, in a focused, effective manner for the glory of God.

So, after all that, here are the results!  Solid, objective results that show where I am in the ACL journey, provide direction for finishing well, and prove that we serve an awesome God!  He really is the God of the Impossible, who uses the weakest of His servants, enabling their brains and ears and mouths for the praise of His glory.

eval results

Remember that even though there is one more level not included in the picture (Proficient level), the star marks the level I need to reach in order to teach God’s Word.  The smiley face marks the level I am at right now – low Capable level.

Do you see what that means, friends?  Only two more sub-levels to go!  We are getting so close to the end of this ACL journey!  So that WOW is a “Look what God has done!” kind of wow.  There are tears of joy in my eyes right now at the privilege of sharing with you what your prayers and support have accomplished here in the work of God.  As I have said so many times before, it is not me.  Not even a little bit.  It is all Jesus!

So will you thank Jesus with me?  And will you remember and rejoice that you are part of this accomplishment, this victory that God has brought about?  And will you also thank God for Xibu and Iteran and all of our village friends?  They are a big part of this accomplishment too.  God has is using them to teach Denize and me their language so that we can someday teach them His Word.

By faith, let’s continue praying and believing for that day to come soon!  And please pray that we will all stay strong in the Lord and finish this race well!  

 For by thee I have run through a troop: and by my God have I leaped over a wall.  As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in Him.  For who is God save the LORD?  or who is a rock save our God?  It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect.  He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places.”  Psalm 18:29-33

In this situation, I say, using words similar to David’s,

By my God I have run through these language evaluations.  By His Spirit and in His strength I have reached the low capable level in this tonal, tribal language.  His way and timing is perfect!  He protects me and is my shield as I trust in Him.  Jesus is amazing!  He is the One who gives me strength and brings me step by step, level by level in this ACL journey, giving me beautiful friendships and indescribable joy along the way.  He gives me sure footing when I would surely stumble or despair on my own, holding me up and sustaining me through every incredible delight and overwhelming challenge of becoming part of a new culture.

 

 

 

Level With Me!

Becoming…The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village

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According to an online dictionary, the expression “level with” means

to be straightforward with someone about something; to be sincere or truthful about someone or something.

Well, today, I’d like to level with you about my progress in ACL.  I’d like to level with you, but I’m not going to.

This is not because I want to be indirect, insincere or dishonest about my progress.

Actually, I cannot level with you about this today because I need someone to level with me first.

As many of you have probably experienced in your workplace, ministry, family, or other areas of life, self-evaluation is a challenging task.  Can you imagine trying to evaluate your own progress in learning a tonal language spoken by less than one thousand people?  (In other words, there are no youtube videos, vocabulary lists, or handy little DIY proficiency quizzes online).  Well, I can imagine trying to evaluate my own progress, but I sure can’t evaluate it accurately.

Enter the ACL consultant!  His (or her) job is to evaluate the progress of missionaries who are doing ACL, to figure out what level they are at.

But maybe you are asking, “What levels? I thought you only need to learn the language so you can teach the Bible, make disciples, and plant a church.”  True, only that.

However, working towards that goal, in the ACL program, there are 4 distinct levels – Basic, Progressing, Capable, and Proficient.  Each of these is divided into 3 sub-levels.  These levels are used to describe and measure the learner’s language ability.  Each level has a different focus, which determines the most helpful learning activities, study strategies, and percentages of time spent on each of the 4 Ps.

In order to be approved to teach God’s Word here, I must reach sub-level 3 of the 3rd level, in both language ability and understanding of the culture.  Based on research and our mission’s experience, this is the minimum level necessary to communicate Biblical truth clearly, without creating confusion.

My language and culture skills are definitely NOT at sub-level 3 of the Capable level yet, but I am very eager to find out my current level, and get tips for accelerating future progress.

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The star in the levels diagram above marks the goal, the official finish line for the ACL journey!

Reaching that 3rd sub-level of Capable does not mean the end of learning and becoming, but the end of full-time ACL.  It will mark a transition into teaching ministry, while still continuing to learn about the culture and improve language ability.  The Proficient level isn’t pictured in the diagram for some reason.

Would you like to know a secret, though?  Reaching the proper level does not guarantee that a missionary will communicate successfully. 

The strategies and levels and learning cycles and evaluations of the ACL method are all helpful in working towards a measurable goal, and achieving it more quickly.  We use these tools, but we do not depend on them.  They would never be adequate to accomplish our objectives.

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In the ACL journey, success is not attained by the method itself.  Nor is effective ACL achieved through the missionary’s intelligence or ability or dedication to the task.  Successful ACL is absolutely impossible without the work of the God of the Impossible.

That goes for teaching ministry as well.  No matter how fluent and assimilated into the culture a missionary becomes, clear communication of God’s truth is not guaranteed by reaching the level-with-a-star and getting approved by a consultant.

As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2,

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.  And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:  That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

Clear communication of Biblical truth, in any language or culture, is dependent on the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit.  Fervent prayer is essential.  These are truths God started impressing on my heart in a deeper way last year.

There.  At least I leveled with you about something today.

So, please pray that God will empower me to do my level best during the next 10 days of ACL, and also during the evaluation itself – August 14th-16th. Those will be an intense and mentally exhausting three days, for my coworker, myself, our consultant, and the two language helpers who will be working with us.

My earnest hope and prayer is to come out of the evaluation amazed by Jesus and the mighty workings of His power.  Whatever level has been achieved, may the evaluation results make us all say, “Wow!  Look what Jesus is doing!  JESUS is amazing!”

Hopefully the results will also encourage the hearts of my faithful friends and language helpers with evidence that God truly is helping us and that in Him, our labour is not in vain.  And will inspire you to praise God with us, assuring you that your prayers and participation in this journey are making a difference.  Together, with His continued blessing, we will arrive at that star.

God is faithful, and He is able!  After all, He is the One who created my ears, brain, and mouth.  He has enabled me and sustained me, even through seasons of challenge and suffering.  He brought me here and gave me precious, meaningful friendships in this Amazon village.  He has planted in the hearts of our friends a hunger for His Word that is incredible to see.

I haven’t reached that star yet, but am still praying that God will give me the language this year, so that by the end of 2018 I will be fluent enough to teach His Word.  

Will you believe with me for this, friends?  Will you pray in faith, that the God of the Impossible would do great things in my heart, in this place, and among this people, for His glory?

What impossible dreams has God given you?  What goals are you working towards for the name of Jesus?  I would love to pray with you about these!