The Sneaky Switcharoo Sounds Trick

The Neno language has some impressive tricks up its sleeve.  There is a phenomenon that linguists call…well, actually, I can’t remember the term, even though we must have covered it in linguistics class.  That class was in Portuguese anyway, so most of you wouldn’t understand.  Let’s just forget about linguistic terms, since I am not a linguist.  I’m a language learner and a servant of Jesus Christ.  My goal is not to analyze, alphabetize, and grammatize the Neno language.  That has already been done, thank goodness.  My goal is to live the Neno language, with the goal of speaking it just as they do, so that I can clearly communicate God’s Word in their cultural context.

That means that I do need to somehow understand or deal with the tricks, however. Back to one of the tricks the Neno language likes to play on unsuspecting language learners.  The Gs are forever turning into Ks, or is it the Ks that are turning into Gs?  Can anyone really tell?  I certainly can’t.  All I know is that if I am talking about a crop area in general, it is a ga.  If I am talking about Mariana’s crop area, it is a ka.  If we are discussing my mouth, it is unGu.  Your mouth is enGu.  If we decide to discuss someone else’s mouth, it is xiKu.  (The un, en, and xi parts are people markers, with function similar to the separate words used to discuss my mouth, your mouth or her mouth in English).  But the actual part of the word that means mouth changes from gu to ku.

The Ps and Bs like to switch back and forth too, without notice, often completely throwing me completely off track in attempts to deduce sentence meaning.  I need to start paying attention to the Ds and Ts, because they comprise another “suspect pair” which might participate in the Sneaky Switcharoo Sound Trick.  No, that is not an actual linguist term.  Nothing against what we studied in linguistics, phonetics, and phonology; I actually loved those classes and put them into practice every day, without remembering the textbook terms.  Remember that I am not an actual linguist, and thus have the prerogative to come up with fun, catchy names.  Besides, you must admit that you are far more likely to remember to pray for Paulette and her coworkers as we deal with the “Sneaky Switcharoo Sounds Trick” than you would if I told you the technical name for the phenomenon.  Perhaps in another post, I will share a bit of basic linguistics.  For now, just pray for me, my coworkers, and our Neno friends and teachers.

Each week, I can tell we are making progress (Jesus, great Neno teachers of all ages, and myself), but it’s not fast enough.  There are children growing up so quickly, who need to hear about Jesus while they are still young, before the world pulls them away.  There are parents raising them who need to know the Biblical principles for family life and teaching children.  There are elderly people who might not understand what salvation is, and don’t have much longer to hear the complete story of what Jesus did for them and how they can know for certain if they will go to Heaven when they die.

Some Neno friends are trying their hardest to trudge their way through reading the Bible in their second language, Portuguese, with very little understanding.  They have so many questions about spiritual things, which I cannot answer yet.  Since the eventual goal is teaching the Bible, my current and pressing ministry is clear.  Acquisition of Culture and Language.  While enjoyable and sometimes just plain fun, it can also be daunting and overwhelming, especially considering the urgency of the bigger picture.  Without your prayers and God’s answers, my coworkers and I would surely fail.  But with God, all things are possible.  Thank you for engaging in this monumental task with us, through your prayers.

Milking Today for All Its Worth

This post was written in the city.  No refrigerator in the village, after all.  

While taking a few minutes to organize my fridge this evening, I observed something interesting.  There is an insane amount of dairy on those cold shelves, considering that I live alone and am expecting to be in the city for only 2 more days. We’re talking farm-fresh milk, cheese, ice cream, buttermilk, fermented milk drink, and homemade yogurt – at least 2 – 4 servings of each item.

Can you tell I grew up in Lewis County?  I am no farmer’s daughter, yet those dairy country roots run deep, friends.  The smell of manure still spells h-o-m-e in my nostrils, as well.  Perhaps these persistent traits are the result of many happy childhood afternoons spent playing in barns or haymows with friends.

In my defense, it really is smart to eat and drink as much dairy as possible during every city trip anyway, because back in the village, the only dairy products available are powdered milk, parmesan cheese and canned cream.

On hot, blistering days, I miss ice cream almost as much as I miss my mom.  Just kidding, of course.  But I have been known to daydream about going out for ice cream with my mom, at our favorite custard place at the bottom of the hill going up to Martinsburg.  It is even possible that I evaluated the relative importance of planning my next trip home to include one of Stewart’s Shoppes ice cream sales.  $3 for a half-gallon is a great deal, after all.  Too bad I couldn’t fill my suitcase and stock up for hot jungle days.

You may never have heard of it, but I’m pretty sure that Acute Dairy Withdrawal Syndrome is a thing. ADWS? And the first symptom is consumption of dairy as if there’s no tomorrow.  Since we leave for the village tomorrow, this seems like a good time to go make a healthy milkshake, one of my favorite city treats.

Basic Milkshake Recipe

  • frozen milk cubes
  • a bit of liquid milk (whole milk makes it creamier!)
  • over-ripe bananas
  • peanut butter
  • a drizzle of honey or maple syrup if the bananas aren’t sweet enough
  • cinnamon or vanilla extract (optional)

Combine in blender and blend until smooth and creamy.  Enjoy!

Other personally tested and approved milkshake variations are coffee, chocolate, coconut, maple, carrot cake, vanilla chai.  Or use your own creativity to come up with even more.

Got milkshake? Me too!

Got Blood?

He gave blood – not through plastic tubes, but torn flesh; not pierced with sterile needles, but iron spikes; not lying on a reclining cot, but hanging on a rough wooden cross.  Jesus gave not only His blood; Jesus gave His life.

Have you ever donated blood?  If so,

  • Because of giving blood, you suffered a moment of pain, 10-15 minutes of discomfort, and may experience a day of weariness – Jesus suffered hours of excruciating pain, humiliation, and increasing weakness.
  • You gave blood until the bags were full – Jesus gave blood until He died.
  • Your blood may save three lives. Jesus’ blood has already saved millions.
My first time donating blood, in Woodstock, NB, 2006

But how, you ask?  How could one man’s blood be so significant?  And what would possess a man to suffer such things and to give His very lifeblood?  Jesus died because you are in critical spiritual condition, and His blood is the only thing that can save your life.

In the Bible, the one true God reveals Himself to man.  God is perfect, without limits, eternal, almighty, unchangeable, all-knowing, just, merciful, and loving.  In Isaiah 45:12, God says, “I have made the earth, and created man upon it…”As our Creator, God is the one who sets the standards of right and wrong.  In the Bible, God explains that He Himself is the standard for perfection and righteousness.  We owe Him our obedience – to disobey is to break His law and sin against Him.  But each one of us has a sinful nature, a will which sets itself against God.

Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned.”  Since everyone sins, it doesn’t seem like a big deal until we examine the consequences.  According to Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death…”  Because you have sinned against God you will die someday, not only physically, but also spiritually.  Your sin separates you from God and His heaven; you will live forever in hell, a place of continual torture and agony, utterly isolated from everyone.  Isn’t there anything you can do about your critical condition?  No, there is nothing you can do about your sin.

However, God loves you.  He longs for you to know Him, worship Him, and live with Him in heaven someday.  But because of His holiness and justice, God cannot just let you off the hook for your sin.  Sin demands payment.  Hebrews 9:22 tells us the price: “…without the shedding of blood is no forgiveness.”

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8   God sent His son Jesus Christ to earth.  Jesus never sinned, yet gave His life for the sins of the whole world.  Three days after dying, Jesus came alive again, showing His power to forgive sin and avert the death penalty for mankind.  But the blood Jesus shed for you does you no good unless you receive it.  Let me tell you how.

Acts 16:31  “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”  What does it mean to believe?  1.  Admit that you are a sinner and need forgiveness. 2. Believe that Jesus shed His blood for you and rose from the dead. 3. Choose Jesus as your Lord – just like receiving a blood transfusion involves risk, receiving Jesus’ blood and forgiveness involves both the blessings and the costs of living for Him.

If you believe, “you will be saved.”  This is God’s guarantee, and everything God says is absolutely trustworthy.  Jesus’ blood will wash your sin away. 1 John 1:7b“…and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” You will be saved from sin and hell, able to know God and have a lifelong friendship with Him.

Please don’t wait.  You may never have another opportunity, and without Jesus’ blood, you will die.  But just like a doctor would never force a dying person to have a blood transfusion against his or her will, Jesus would never force His blood on you.  He gave His blood, and offers it everyone, but the choice is yours.  Got blood?  If not, why wait?  Won’t you believe today, and receive the blood Jesus gave for you?

A Sort-of Farewell

We are heading back to the village in less than two hours.  Instead of telling you to expect silence for a couple months, however, I have a special surprise for you this time.

My very smart sister kindly taught me how to schedule posts, so that they appear automatically on a set day.  I wrote quite a bit in the village this last time, and found some writing from the past to share as well.

So, every Friday morning, at 7:11, a new post will appear on this blog (if I did it right).  The schedule runs through June 9th, when you will be able to read, “The Cake Chronicles: Part Two.”  I hope to be back in the city for another quick trip sometime around June 9th, Lord willing.  In the meantime, please enjoy the scheduled posts, and leave comments!  I won’t read them for awhile, but will greatly appreciate them when I do see them.

Our trip coming out to the city last Wednesday was the worst I have ever seen the road.  Puddles and mud and slippery, oh my!  We had to wait for about an hour and a half at one point, because a big truck was stuck in the mud, so the road had to be widened to allow vehicles to pass.  That’s what you call a jungle traffic jam.  The pickup we were riding in also got stuck a time or two, or five or six, or eight.  I lost count.

The good thing is that the Neno people could be “get-trucks-out-of-the-mud” professionals.  They keep their cool, work together, don’t mind getting covered with mud, never give up, and are great at handling a hoe.  If I weren’t always too busy being carsick, there would be terrific photo and video opportunities.

There were also some wildlife sightings – tapir, mutum, and tortoises.  It was my first time seeing a tapir, and living mutum (a type of bird that tastes like chicken).

If you think of it throughout today, please be praying that the Lord would grant us safety on the road, and that we would reach the village in a timely manner, with as few delays as possible.  I will be praying for you throughout the coming weeks as well.  Take care!

If I Were an Ear of Corn

December 31st, 2016!  Out with the old year, in with the new.  But no time off for the holidays here…all the festivities actually mean lots of extra opportunities for new-to-me cultural events which make for excellent, fascinating ACL classes!  Today I am observing the process of making a delicious traditional corn dish, called mambe.  Today’s goals are conversation, learning new words and phrases related to the process, and taking detailed notes and photos.

Please join me on a wooden bench in my friend’s kitchen as her sister and her mom and aunt work together in this culinary endeavor.  Instead of sharing language and culture notes on How To Make Mambe, however, I’d like to share a heart lesson that God taught me through this class.

You’ll need to use a bit of imagination, because we are going to look at this process from the corn’s point of view.

The ear of corn is first grated, rubbed hard and firm, time and time again, against a sharp, rough, metal grater, with jagged holes, looking as if they were punctured by nails.  Its kernels are thus scraped off slowly and painfully.  Then the cob, bereft of its goodness, joining a heap of corncobs already on the ground.

Meanwhile, the grated kernels of corn, having already been subjected to complete torture, are given a rest, right?  Not even close!  They are unceremoniously dumped into a huge pestle and pounded mercilessly with a heavy mortar, beaten up and down, crushed from side to side, round and round.  The crushed corn is then sifted.  The fine yellow powder which falls through the mesh is reserved, while the coarse bits that remain on top are tossed back into the pestle and pounded again.  Each repetition of the process pulverizes the grains of corn a bit more, until all that remains is a fine yellow powder.  This is mixed with a bit of water and mashed manioc root.

Next, the fire.  Mambe is baked on a round, flat stone, positioned just a couple inches over a scorching hot fire.  All moisture is baked right out of the cornmeal, resulting in a finished tortilla-like product that is hard, dry, and crunchy.

This is only one of several “recipes” I have observed during corn season, all treating the corn in different ways to make different traditional foods.  The other recipes are no gentler to the corn.

At any point of making mambe, or manzuat, or ee, or some other food, I can imagine the corn saying, “Stop!  That’s enough!  It hurts too much!  I can’t take it anymore!  How much suffering do you think I can deal with?  Why is this happening to me?  When will the pain end?  What is the point?”

Sound like anything you’ve ever said, or thought?  Me too.

As I sat in the hot, hot kitchen the last day of 2016, notebook, pencil, and camera in hand, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart with His still, small voice.  “You are the corn.”  That simple analogy provided much food for thought, prayer and meditation in other quieter moments, alone with God.

Basically, the illustration is this.  Each one of us who are children of God are ears of corn.  God is the One who has a plan and purpose, a recipe, if you will, for each of our lives.  Here are some of the turths God showed me or reminded me of based on this illustration.

  • God has different purposes and plans for different children, for different servants.
  • Therefore the process, circumstances and life experience He gives to each one will look and feel different.
  • The final product will also be different, as well as the ultimate use to which He puts each of our lives. Some will be the crunchy corn tortillas; others will be the staple food-drink of the culture; yet others will be a creamy hot chowder.
  • It’s not about “who I am”, who “I want/choose to be”, or “who I can become”, which all seem to be catch-phrases in our culture. It’s about allowing God to make each one of us who He wants us to become, and cooperating with Him in the process instead of fighting or protesting His work in our individual lives.
  • The purpose of becoming who God makes us is not for our own benefit or self-realization, but to be used and consumed (figuratively speaking) by others, for their spiritual life and health and sustainment. Paradoxically, we find that giving ourselves for others brings the greatest blessing and fulfillment of all.
  • We glorify God in being consumed by others, bringing spiritual life and nourishment where there would have been death or famine. (And what a privilege and honor that God would use us in a given time and place for the life of people around us!  Jesus is all they really need, after all; yet God allows us to participate in bringing Jesus’ life to others, and in that way, we are part of His life-giving work).
  • No type of “corn food” is categorically better or worse than another. They are all nourishing and delicious, but different.  Similarly, no servant, nor his or her form of service, is better or worse, superior or inferior.  As all real foods nourish and sustain, so all who truly serve God are used to feed His lambs and build His church, in one way or another.
  • The preparation process of making us useful for God’s purposes will sometimes appear ruthless, senseless, pointless, wasteful, and unspeakably painful. To us, it will seem like tribulation, trial, suffering, anguish, affliction.  The ordeal and distress may drag on endlessly from our perspective.
  • The preparation of the corn seems to take forever. Yet the one preparing it has an end goal in sight and knows that it will be ready after a certain number of steps, duly carried out.  The corn has no way of knowing this.  The prep work in our lives may seem to take forever.  Yet, God, the One preparing us for His ultimate Kingdom purpose, has an end goal in sight and knows that we will be ready after a certain number of steps, carefully planned and executed by Him.  We have no way of knowing how many steps His work will take, or knowing when we are truly ready.

Friend, if you are a servant of God, do not be surprised if “life beats you up” sometimes, like corn beaten in a mortar with a heavy wooden pestle.  But ask yourself, is it really life, or is it God?  A common attitude expressed in the church and on the mission field is “God allowed this trial in my life.”  Sometimes that is true.  That thought is often my first reaction to suffering.  But God has challenged me to think about suffering in a radically different way.  I suspect that assuming that most of our pain and suffering is “allowed by God” is a wishy-washy, instant-fix generation, couch potato Christian perspective.  There are times (many more than we would like to think, I believe) that God is actually the Unseen Hand causing or orchestrating what feels to us like suffering.

Upon writing this, I admit that a slight cold shiver comes over me.  I don’t like suffering.  That double-whammy staph infection last year was painful.  It hurts to be far away from my nieces and nephews and miss important stages of their development.  Stomachaches, migraines and back pain are frustrating, especially as they slow my progress in language learning.

So I am a little bit afraid of what the next step of God’s preparation process in my life might be.  Interesting that God brought this illustration to my attention the very last day of the old year, looking ahead to 2017.  What could He be preparing me for?

I shouldn’t be afraid.  God knows what He’s doing.  He has a “recipe” all planned out, and the end result, will be oh-so-unimaginably-good.  In the moment I perceive His finished work, all the delays and suffering will make sense, and prove to be minimal, compared to the glory of what God has in store.  My heart’s desire is that whatever He is doing in me will prove to be for the spiritual life and growth and nourishment of the Neno people.  And honestly, deep down, although my flesh shrinks back from the thought, if it takes more intense suffering to accomplish this purpose, or any other unknown purpose God might have, I’m okay with that.

Will you please pray for me?  Pray that God will do whatever it takes to make me who I need to be to be useable, for the Neno, and for all His purposes.  Pray that I will accept with joy whatever suffering or trials this entails.  Pray that I will rightly discern such things, not as attacks from the enemy or as “what God allowed” but as His very plan.  Pray that God will turn my fears into courage, my self-preserving instincts into selfless surrender to His hand.

Pray also for yourself.  Only you and God know how these truths apply to your life and heart and situation.

John 12:24  Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.

In Over my Head (a glorious place to be)

To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Colossians 1:27

 (The following was a written prayer / journal entry, from November 4th, 2016.  I jotted it into my field notebook during a late-night Neno meeting that I couldn’t understand, except for an occasional isolated word or phrase.  After trying for awhile, my brain was just too tired to concentrate any longer.  Other than a handful of minor edits, mainly for grammar, it stands as originally written.)

Seriously, Jesus, what have we gotten ourselves into this time?  A tonal language?  For real?  Smothering heat, countless biting bugs, guaranteed environmental mold.

But mostly just the language.  This ain’t no easy-peasy, it’ll-be-breezy little language.

We’re in over our heads. 

Only we can’t be, because you’re the Water Walker, the Sea Opener, the Storm Stopper, the God of the Impossible.  You have never once gotten in over your head in all of eternity past and you obviously have eternity future under control too.

And, logically, I can’t be in over my head because I am in Christ – in You!  There is no more me, apart from You.  There is only we.  That’s the secret, isn’t it?  No more me.  I in You, and You in me.  Only we.

And the absolutely best, most exciting place to be is what would have been termed, in other circumstances, or from another point of view, “in over my head”.  For it is in that state of affairs, that sad situation, that hopeless desperation…

There it is that Your power moves and Your glory shines!  There it is that the impossible-ness of reality is confronted by the God who makes the impossible real!  Here it is Jesus, that You show through me, because anyone who knows me, my background, and weaknesses, knows that this is a crazy, mind-blowing adventure I have embarked on.

I can just imagine how the stage might be set, introducing a play of this year’s events and future goals:

“Small-town, sheltered, privileged, Lewis County homebody girl from a tight-knit family goes to the jungle.  She lives without electricity, battling infections, bugs and bacteria to “live wild”, become part of a tribal community, learn a tonal language, and preach the Gospel.”

Sound foolish?  Unbelievable?  Absurd?  Inconceivable?  Yes indeed, that is a definite setup for failure, were it not for You in me, the hope of glory!

The Fish that Didn’t Grow on Trees

This afternoon (February 7th) I had just sat down to study when some friends came to my door.  “We’re going fishing,” they said.  One of the many tricky aspects of the Neno language is that they have two different words for “we” – “exclusive we” and “inclusive we”.  I still don’t understand the proper usages very well. 

When someone comes to my house to tell me what they are about to do, it often seems to be an indirect way of inviting me, or at least checking to see if I want to be involved in whatever activity is about to transpire.  The confusing part is, if that’s the case, why do they use the exclusive we?  In my little brain, that seems to exclude me, although circumstantial evidence indicates that they are actually trying to include me.  Someday I will understand this linguistic phenomenon.

If you happen to speak a language that uses exclusive and inclusive forms of we and would be willing to enlighten me, please leave a comment below, no matter how many paragraphs it takes to explain.  I would love you forever. 

Returning to today’s story…

Since I wasn’t sure if they were inviting me, I replied, “Go ahead!”  (Sounds like a strange thing to say, but that is the normal response when someone tells you they are going somewhere). 

Then one of the teen girls, with what appeared to be a concerned look, proving that it really had been an invitation, asked, “Are you going?”  “Are you?” I replied.  (She wasn’t the one who had said “We’re going fishing” so I wasn’t positive if she was part of the “exclusive group”).  To her “yes”, I responded, “Okay, let me just change clothes quick.”

And off we trekked – out of the village, on the path leading to the river, past the place where we cross to go to the city, and down a jungle path.  Despite being rather exhausted that afternoon, I was excited to finally be part of a Neno fishing expedition.  Once I went to a creek to catch tiny little fish with some of the children, which was fun, but didn’t count as a real fishing trip. 

As we hiked along, I started imagining how delicious fried fish would taste for supper.  Observing the group, which included two couples and all their children and grandchild, revealed that their “fishing equipment” was a bit surprising.  Most of the ladies and girls carried large baskets.  They must have been very optimistic about the results of this fishing expedition.  Either that or they were expecting Jesus to be waiting at the river to tell us exactly where to cast our nets, or poles, or whatever tools the Neno use.  Come to think of it, the only thing I saw that could possibly be used for killing fish was the gun one of the men carried.  Another man carried a chainsaw.  Strange, but I assumed I would learn the reason eventually.  Maybe they were planning to cut some firewood on the way back.  The Neno often multi-task on their expeditions, doing various activities that are outside of the stated original purpose. 

After about fifteen minutes of walking near the river, we stopped.  All of us ladies and children stood or sat on the path, swatting bugs, while the men went off into the trees, on the side further from the river.  The noise of the chainsaw broke through the peacefulness of the jungle.  Many amazing things occur in the Amazon jungle…but is it possible that fish grow on trees?  Truly mystified, I asked what the men were doing.

“Bullyrapay kata.”   (cutting a certain type of fruit)

That’s when the lightbulb started to flicker and finally turn on in the dark room which is my linguistically-confused brain.  Was it possible that the purpose of our hike was not fishing at all?

Maybe when I was “invited”, the phrase used was not,

“Bullyway iggi toonka”, but

“Bullyrapay iggi toonka.”

The two words in question are only slightly similar and I learned them weeks ago.  As far as their meanings, it is rather difficult to confuse a fish with a fruit that grows in a long pod on a tree.  Nevertheless, hearing a word by itself is easier than hearing words in a phrase and interpreting it correctly as a whole.  Also, perhaps my eagerness to participate in the cultural event of a fishing expedition, tricked my ears into hearing what they wanted to hear.  Either that, or we were gathering fruit on the way to the fishing site.  As my dad always said, “Never give up on a fishing expedition, unless you can get stuck in the snow instead, because that’s more exciting.”  (Okay, my dad never actually said that, but it sounds like something he would say if he was there).

As it turned out, we were on a fruit-gathering expedition the whole time.  That was a bit of a letdown for someone hoping for fish, but also a letdown to everyone hoping for fruit, because it turns out the “bullyrapay” wasn’t even ripe yet. 

One of the men did shoot four birds though (Notice the multi-tasking and planning ahead?  He certainly hadn’t brought the gun along for shooting fruit!), so at least his wife and children and grandson each had a few bites of meat for supper.

And I learned an important lesson.  Don’t count your fish before they’re catched, especially if people are carrying chainsaws and baskets instead of fishing poles and nets. 

My supper menu turned out to be popcorn and a carrot.  Maybe not as exciting as fried fish or tropical fruit, yet very delicious and satisfying, nonetheless.