Another Day in the Life, village edition.

Not sure which day in July this was.  You will notice that all the ACL (Acquisition of Culture and Language) portions of my day are in bold type.  That way you can easily see some of the different activities that comprise my ACL “routine,” although it varies greatly from day to day.  Today was actually quite a bit less time than normal out in the community, of participation in culture events or conversation (partly because there wasn’t too much happening and partly because I needed to catch up on processing data). 

On this particular occasion ACL added up to a total of 7 ¾ hours, rounding to the nearest quarter hour.  This exceeds my personal goal of 7 hours/day, to reach the mission’s requirement of 40 hours/week.  It is usually easy to fit in closer to 50, though, unless I need to take a day completely off due to a migraine, sleepless night, or other health issue.  At this point I don’t plan a weekly day off, because ACL is too much fun, every day invested is a day closer to teaching the Bible, and I’m not sure what else there would be to do anyway.  Going swimming or exploring the jungle alone would be a very bad idea, and I can’t exactly call my family, go out for ice cream, or visit the bank just to take advantage of the air conditioning while sitting and waiting my turn for over an hour.  And none of my personal hobbies (reading, cross-stitch, writing, listening to radio dramas) are exciting enough to occupy a whole day. 

              July ?, 2017

6:50  – got up late on purpose today, because I hadn’t been able to fall asleep until nearly one in the morning.  Prepared for the day a bit slowly, decided to stick with my plan of not eating breakfast, which is not normal at all.  I am NOT a breakfast-skipper.  But after dealing with 5 days of off and on intestinal discomfort or outright pain, it seemed like it might be a good idea to give my digestive system a bit of a break.  So I didn’t eat anything yesterday, and decided to wait until I actually felt hunger, hoping that would be my body’s automatic signal that it was ready to digest food again.

7:30 –  went up to the school.  I had planned to sit in on 6th grade Neno Language classes, but seeing that 7th grade was outdoors husking coffee beans, then grinding them in a huge mortar and pestle, I decided to watch and help with that project instead. 

9:30 – During recess I talked with friends, then headed back to the village, stopping by the chief’s outdoor hangout, where his wife was weaving a basket.  We chatted for a bit; I took a couple photos and jotted down a couple phrases related to basket-making.

9:45 – the electricity came on randomly, probably because the wife of the chief’s oldest son wanted to wash clothes.  They bought this “batch” of diesel for the generator, so have every right to run it whenever they wish.  We have run out of diesel semi-frequently these last months, so I took advantage of this “bonus morning electricity” to furiously type out language and culture notes, and organize photos, which would use up quite a bit of battery power otherwise. 

11:15 – Juliana came over.

11:25 – The power went off.  Was finally feeling a bit hungry so ate a two-part brunch.

11:35 – went to someone’s house to ask a quick question.  Also found out that the teacher for the Neno language class went to the city.  So that means I won’t go up to the school at 1:15 as planned, because 9th grade won’t be having class at all.

11:45 – plantain and coffee.

11:50 –  Time with Jesus.

12:45 – Typing out notes from field notebook, as well as transcribing some audio recordings. 

1:45 – dishes, taking out trash, dumping compost, shower.

3:15 – preparing for lesson with language helper.

3:40 – tidying house

4:00  – lesson with a friend.  She corrected the written versions of audios that I have recorded, of stories and narratives that people tell.  I write them out the best I can, then ask someone to edit and try to answer questions about the words or sentence structures I don’t understand.   

4:50  – guests dropped in, people from another village who are here because school is in session. 

5:30 – Went to Juliana’s house

6:15 – out and about in community, making plans for Culture Events to participate in tomorrow.

6:30 – Quick snack of sunflower seeds, peanut butter, glass of milk.  Thankfully, stomach seems alright, so planning on more normal (village context, at least) meals tomorrow.

6:35 – The electricity is on!  Washed clothes as quickly as possible…just one load tonight.  Leaving sheets and towel (I have two of each, don’t worry) until next week because I really need to print out some Culture Event plans and my rough drafts of audio story transcription.

7:45 – 8:45  – typing and printing while electricity is still on.  Productive evening…camera battery and both laptop batteries are fully charged.  And I have several pages of new work printed out to study.  Yes! 

8:45 – Electricity was turned off.  Ate sweet potato which had been baking in the oven for an hour.  This was the first ever Neno sweet potato I had been given, and I declare them officially delicious.  The flesh of sweet potatoes here is white, not orange, and the flavor is different than the orange kind, but they are very good.

8:55 – Cleaned bathroom and hung clothes to dry.  This was accomplished by the light of my handy-dandy headlamp flashlight (as my coworkers’ 3-year-old said, “That’s so you can go in caves!”), which greatly facilitates the non-electrically-powered moments of life after 6 PM or before 6 AM.

9:20 – Noticing cards from my church family on the floor in bedroom (you may have noticed that “tidy the bedroom” did not happen in today’s listed events ), I sat down for a few minutes to re-read them.  Your words of encouragement and love from back home prompted me to pray for all of you, with excitement to see you in just a few weeks, and thank God once again for the amazing support team He has raised up to hold the ropes for this crazy missionary.

9:30 – 45 – outlined this post, so as not to forget what happened today.

9:45 – got ready for bed, listened to the Neno stories recorded today.

9:55 – head on the pillow, listening to Ephesians while drifting off to sleep.


Are You an Apple Picker?

The following story, “The Parable of the Apple Pickers,” was written nearly 40 years ago to illustrate certain tendencies of ours, as disciples of Jesus, regarding missions, ministry focus and the allocation of workers and resources.  I came across it a few weeks ago, and as it is well-written, thought-provoking, and relevant, decided it would be worth sharing here.  Please comment and let me know what you think.



Once upon a time there was an apple grower who had acres and acres of apple trees. In all, he had 10,000 acres of apple orchards.

One day he went to the nearby town. There, he hired 1,000 apple pickers. He told them:

“Go to my orchards. Harvest the ripe apples, and build storage buildings for them so that they will not spoil. I need to be gone for a while, but I will provide all you will need to complete the task. When I return, I will reward you for your work.

“I’ll set up a Society for the Picking of Apples. The Society — to which you will all belong — will be responsible for the entire operation. Naturally, in addition to those of you doing the actual harvesting, some will carry supplies, others will care for the physical needs of the group, and still others will have administrative responsibilities.”

As he set up the Society structure, some people volunteered to be pickers and others to be packers. Others put their skills to work as truck drivers, cooks, accountants, storehouse builders, apple inspectors and even administrators. Every one of his workers could, of course, have picked apples. In the end, however, only 100 of the 1,000 employees wound up as full-time pickers.

The 100 pickers started harvesting immediately. Ninety-four of them began picking around the homestead. The remaining six looked out toward the horizon. They decided to head out to the far-away orchards.

Before long, the storehouses in the 800 acres immediately surrounding the homestead had been filled by the 94 pickers with beautiful, delicious apples.

The orchards on the 800 acres around the homestead had thousands of apple trees. But with almost all of the pickers concentrating on them, those trees were soon picked nearly bare. In fact, the ninety-four apple pickers working around the homestead began having difficulty finding trees which had not been picked.

As the apple picking slowed down around the homestead, Society members began channeling effort into building larger storehouses and developing better equipment for picking and packing. They even started some schools to train prospective apple pickers to replace those who one day would be too old to pick apples.

Sadly, those ninety-four pickers working around the homestead began fighting among themselves. Incredible as it may sound, some began stealing apples that had already been picked. Although there were enough trees on the 10,000 acres to keep every available worker busy, those working nearest the homestead failed to move into unharvested areas. They just kept working those 800 acres nearest the house. Some on the northern edge sent their trucks to get apples on the southern side. And those on the south side sent their trucks to gather on the east side.

Even with all that activity, the harvest on the remaining 9,200 acres was left to just six pickers. Those six were, of course, far too few to gather all the ripe fruit in those thousands of acres. So, by the hundreds of thousands, apples rotted on the trees and fell to the ground.

One of the students at the apple-picking school showed a special talent for picking apples quickly and effectively. When he heard about the thousands of acres of untouched faraway orchards, he started talking about going there.

His friends discouraged him. They said: “Your talents and abilities make you very valuable around the homestead. You’d be wasting your talents out there. Your gifts can help us harvest apples from the trees on our central 800 acres more rapidly. That will give us more time to build bigger and better storehouses. Perhaps you could even help us devise better ways to use our big storehouses since we have wound up with more space than we need for the present crop of apples.”

With so many workers and so few trees, the pickers and packers and truck drivers — and all the rest of the Society for the Picking of Apples living around the homestead — had time for more than just picking apples.

They built nice houses and raised their standard of living. Some became very conscious of clothing styles. Thus, when the six pickers from the far-off orchards returned to the homestead for a visit, it was apparent that they were not keeping up with the styles in vogue with the other apple pickers and packers.

To be sure, those on the homestead were always good to those six who worked in the far away orchards. When any of those six returned from the far away fields, they were given the red carpet treatment. Nonetheless, those six pickers were saddened that the Society of the Picking of Apples spent 96 percent of its budget for bigger and better apple-picking methods and equipment and personnel for the 800 acres around the homestead while it spent only 4 percent of its budget on all those distant orchards.

To be sure, those six pickers knew that an apple is an apple wherever it may be picked. They knew that the apples around the homestead were just as important as apples far away. Still, they could not erase from their minds the sight of thousands of trees which had never been touched by a picker.

They longed for more pickers to come help them. They longed for help from packers, truck drivers, supervisors, equipment-maintenance men, and ladder builders. They wondered if the professionals working back around the homestead could teach them better apple-picking methods so that, out where they worked, fewer apples would rot and fall to the ground.

Those six sometimes wondered to themselves whether or not the Society for the Picking of Apples was doing what the orchard owner had asked it to do.

While one might question whether the Society was doing all the owner wanted done, the members did keep very busy. Several members were convinced that proper apple picking requires nothing less than the very best equipment. Thus, the Society assigned several members to develop bigger and better ladders as well as nicer boxes to store apples. The Society also prided itself at having raised the qualification level for full-time apple pickers.

When the owner returns, the Society members will crowd around him. They’ll proudly show off the bigger and better ladders they’ve built and the nice apple boxes they’ve designed and made. One wonders how happy that owner will be, however, when he looks out and sees the acres and acres of untouched trees with their unpicked apples.

Original version appeared in Let’s Quit Kidding Ourselves About Missions, Moody Press. © 1979 by The Moody Bible Institute. Edited and revised by Howard Culbertson.

Above version of the story was found here:


Language-learning Laughs, take 2

(July 2017)

One evening, I was up at the school for a social event, and one of the 6th graders asked me a question.  I didn’t understand every word, but thought that I was able to fill in the gaps enough to deduce that she was asking, “Are you learning to weave baskets?”

It was basket-making season after all, and I can usually be found in the middle of as many cultural events as possible, observing, taking pictures, and participating.  Also, this traditional skill had been the focus of their Art classes the last couple weeks, so it made sense that this would be on her mind.

So I replied, “Yes!  I’m still learning.”

The confused look on her face clued me in to the fact that I had probably misunderstood the question and thus answered in a way that didn’t make sense.  But when I asked her to say it again, it still sounded like she was talking about baskets.  Poor girl.  She stuck with me, though, repeating the question three times, despite the slight embarassment this seemed to cause her in the presence of other adolescents, until the meaning of all the words finally sunk through my thick skull into whatever part of the brain processes new languages.

Her actual question had been, “Are you getting used to the heat?”  Unfortunately, the answer to that is “not really.”  Occasionally I think I am getting used to it, but then comes another even hotter day that seems to drain the energy and vigor right out of my veins.

Apart from my tendency to misunderstand, there are apparently some words that I habitually pronounce wrong, which is normal at this stage of language learning.  People from the school have been correcting my pronunciation.  In and of itself, this is terrific, because I obviously need lots of help with pronunciation of the Neno language, especially considering the tonal factor.

The problem is that when people at the school, who live in other villages, correct me, they also comment that people from our village are teaching me wrong!

And I don’t have the vocabulary or grammar skills to explain that my friends and neighbors are terrific teachers, and are probably teaching me exactly right (not that I would actually know, haha), and the whole problem lies in the fact that I am learning wrong!

Or, as I prefer to think, I am still only partway through the journey of learning, and welcome all corrections.  Just please blame my mistakes on me, not on my friends and teachers.  There is already enough pressure to pronounce words correctly for the simple desire to communicate clearly.  Add to that the goal of reaching the language level required for Bible teaching as soon as God will enable me to do so, and you may understand the inescapable sense of urgency.

I don’t need the added pressure of thinking, “Okay, any mistakes I make are going to reflect badly on my Neno friends who do so much for me and teach me so patiently day after day.  No messing up!”

Good thing I love this language learning adventure, isn’t it?  Moreover, what a relief it is to know that God loves me no matter how much I mess up, and He certainly won’t blame anyone for my poor pronunciation.  In between cheering me on and supplying the emotional and mental stamina to continue, God probably laughs even harder than my Neno friends and I do at my funny mistakes.  I can even imagine Him winking, knowing that the funnier the mistake, the less likely I am to repeat it.

(Note to self:  Baskets and heat are not to be confused in the future).