Part 1 – Becoming…Introduced

Becoming: The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village

So who’s ready for an exciting expedition?  This is a quest I have already embarked on, actually.  Many of you have traveled the path with me, in a figurative yet very real and meaningful sense, through your prayers, friendship, and following the adventures related on this blog and through semi-regular email updates.

However, I realized awhile ago that while the ACL journey, Neno edition, has been referred to often on this blog, I have neglected to clearly communicate the heart of ACL – the philosophy and principles behind it, along with the bigger picture as it relates to church planting.  Then there are  the methods, the daily routine, learning cycles, hourly logs, charts and endless to-do lists.  Spending time with people is key, as you know, but maybe you have wondered if I just hang out with my Neno friends for 8 hours a day, or are there “time together” strategies to be implemented?

At the end of September, back in the city, I saw that a blogger I follow was part of a 31-Day writing challenge, where bloggers pick one topic and write a post on that topic every day in October.  Well, I obviously couldn’t participate in something like that, since I wasn’t going to have internet access for most of October.  But the idea seemed like a good one, and motivated me to start my own personal writing challenge, exploring and explaining ACL in a deeper way, with five important incentives.

  1. For you, my friends and family, to understand better what the heart and reason for “ACL ministry” is, as well as the ins-and-outs of what it looks like on a daily basis here in the village.
  2. For readers who may be heading into the adventure of cross-cultural missions (or at least considering the possibility), to hopefully answer some of your questions and show that ACL, while impossible for a person attempting it on their own, is something that God can enable anyone to do.
  3. For myself, heading into a second year of ACL, having recently passed the mark of 12 months actually in the village, to remind myself why God has called me to do this and how I can do it, to the best of my ability, by His strength and for His glory. Articulating the content of these posts will hopefully assist in refining and sharpening the goals Jesus and I are working towards, exponentially increasing my motivation and passion to continue running this ACL marathon, and finish well.
  4. To record more of a miraculous journey, leaving blog posts as memorial stones, to forever remind me of God’s mighty acts.
  5. To be challenged as a writer, thus growing in the ability to use the written word to express what is on my heart and mind, and more importantly – what God is doing in my life and among this people in this little corner of His great harvest field.

Now, since my priority still needs to be ACL, there is a very good chance I will not write this series in 31 days.  It may not even be 31 posts.  As with many journeys in life, only time will tell how this idea will turn out.

It is already 7:15 in the morning, though, so I really need to leave this desk and find some ACL adventures to participate in.  Expect to hear more about that soon!

A Roasting Pan Christmas

Last year during the Christmas season, I was in the city for just over a week.  On December 4th, I listened in to the service at my home church, connected through skype.  Hearing the familiar words of the first advent reading brought back so many memories.

To make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

As the service continued, I too lit a purple candle, and turned off the ceiling light in my room.

Pastor prayed, thanking God for the miracle of Jesus’ incarnation,

That you would come not only to be our God, but to be intimately with us.

Partway through the service, I was overwhelmed by thoughts of all that needed to be done the next couple days before our team headed back to the village.  The light from one candle was enough to show the mess all around, prompting me to jot this note on a piece of paper.  “And I wish the room was cleaner.  There are reasons it’s not.”

But just as quickly as those thoughts came, they were replaced by a sense of quietness, stillness – a moment of peace.  What a blessing to worship God at the same time as my church family, in different places but connected through technology, singing the same songs and hearing the same words of Truth.

After a year, looking at the piece of paper used to take notes during that church service, I no longer remember if the following is something Pastor said, or a personal reflection.

Jesus, the light.  He came not only into the darkness, but into the messiness, the busyness, the rush.

And isn’t that important to remember?  Sometimes, my tendency is wanting everything to be perfect, neat, organized, and unhurried so that I can be ready for Jesus, with long periods of time to focus on Him, because everything else is done.  Truth is, that’s a nice thought, but it rarely happens.  Normally, it is a matter of putting aside a long to-do list, ignoring any messes around me, and allowing the peace of God to quiet my heart so I can focus on Jesus.  This is my reality, as a child of God who loves Him and lives to serve Him, but can still get far too caught up in the rush and hurry and demands of life.

This also has implications for the darkness and messiness of sin, which affects every person in the world, no matter how organized their outward life may be.   You see, we could never bring light into our own lives, or clean up the sin in our hearts.  But the good news is that my sin and mess and incapability and not having it all together didn’t disqualify me from anything.  On the contrary, the sin nature I was born with and my own sinful choices made me the perfect candidate for Jesus to come, showing that I needed Him, the Light of the World, the Prince of Peace.  The darkness and dirtiness of your heart won’t keep Jesus from coming into your life either.  Jesus doesn’t say, “If you clean yourself up and get rid of that darkness, I will come.”

Describing Jesus, the apostle John wrote,

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not…He came unto his own, and his own received him not.  But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name…And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.  For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.  John 1:4-5, 11-12, 16-17

Jesus shines.  Jesus comes.  Jesus gives.  We are left with a choice: whether we will receive Jesus, or receive Him not.  Will we continue living in darkness, or begin walking in the Light?  Will we receive Him – the fulness of His grace and eternal life?  Have you made the decision to receive this free gift?

A few days ago, on a Christmas episode* of Adventures in Odyssey, I heard an illustration which relates to the subject of Jesus coming in the midst of our reality, no matter how messy or disordered it is.

The following conversation takes place between Wooton Bassett, a delightful, bumbling, friendly, eccentric mailman who is attempting to decorate his yard for Christmas and Bart Rathbone, Wooton’s neighbor who thinks he is just plain crazy.  Wooton’s young friend Colby is there also.

Bart:  “This place is a disaster area.  It looks like the junkyard had a garage sale.  And what is that anyway?”

Wooton:  “Oh, that’s my stable, but you know, it’s not done yet.  I can get the 2 by 4s and traffic cones to stand up okay, but every time we try to move it or put decorations on, the whole thing collapses.”

Bart:  “Decorations?  What decorations?  That thing ain’t covered with nothin’ but hubcaps, pop cans and oh…what is that?”

Colby:  “It’s a roasting pan.”

Bart:  “A roasting pan?  And what does a roasting pan have to do with Christmas?”

Wooton:  “Oh uh well you know, you see uh I’m using it to show that even though the world is uh you know full of sin and dirty car parts and…and roasting pans…well God still sent His Son to us in the middle of it cuz you know.  He uh he loves us and stuff and that’s why we celebrate Christmas.  Besides, won’t it look great when the lights are turned on?”

Although I suspect that Wooten hadn’t really thought through the meaning of his “decorations” ahead of time,  and was just trying to come up with an explanation on the spot, his words really touched my heart.  Okay, so maybe I’m almost as crazy as Odyssey’s favorite mailman, but please hear me out.

As implied above and pictured below, my apartment here at the mission base is not the most organized place you’ve ever seen.  It is a “base” after all, to which I come only every couple months.  That means a typical state of organizing, coming and going, trying to remember where I left things last trip, buying supplies to take to the village, and making notes of tasks that must not be forgotten.  So piles, clutter, to-do lists, half-packed boxes and chaos are part of everyday city life.

Thankfully, at home in the village this is not the case.  However, even there I’m not the world’s best housekeeper, and my adorable little thatched-roof house is never completely tidy and picture-perfect.

So stop reading for a minute and look around.  What do you see?  If it’s a picture-perfect, well-organized, Christmas-decorated, peaceful house, that’s wonderful, and I congratulate you.  But please read on anyway, in case another day finds you surrounded by a different environment.

Perhaps, though, your sideways glance revealed dirty dishes in the sink, laundry to fold, toys scattered everywhere, half-finished projects, an unmade bed, dismantled electrical appliances, piles to sort, gifts to wrap.  Well, then we’re in the same club, you and I.

Maybe the sounds around you would be better classified as commotion and hubbub than peace and tranquility.  If so, don’t worry about it, because whatever the roasting pans, half-packed boxes, and hubcaps of your life, Jesus comes right into the middle of it all.  It’s not about us having it “all together” so He can come.

Bethlehem sure didn’t have everything ready for Jesus that night.  Most of the people there completely missed His coming.  But God sent Jesus anyway, in the fullness of time, to a chaotic little town in the midst of a country seething with political unrest.  And in that time of darkness and disorder, a few people went to the manger, met Jesus, and experienced a moment of heavenly peace in His presence, away from the commotion of the rest of the world.

Let’s not miss His coming today, friends.  Even though He’s not here as a baby anymore, Jesus sent His Spirit back to this earth, and in that sense, He is here, Emmanuel, God with us, now and always.  As the old carol says, “Let every heart prepare Him room.”  It’s not about whether our houses and surroundings are perfect for Jesus to come.  We just need to have a ready heart, open to Jesus.  At any time we can meet with Him, delighting in a moment of heavenly peace in His presence, away from the commotion of the rest of the world.

*  I would highly recommend listening to the whole episode.  The part quoted above is absolutely when you can hear the actors’ personalities, and the story has a great message.  Just go to the following website and click on the link for “The Popsicle Kid.”  The episode will only be available there for about a week.

To Visit: A Philosophy

If you read the previous post , here is the story behind the story.  This is the reasoning that dragged me reluctantly out of bed, into the home and life of another, on a day where I didn’t feel like reaching out to anyone, no matter how much they needed a friend.  Thankfully, Jesus’ love compelled me to forget my own fatigue and self-centeredness long enough to visit a family He knew would be gone by the next time I had a day off from work.

Someone even told me afterwards, “I probably wouldn’t go there by myself.”  I’m not really sure why.  Sure, it’s not considered the best part of town, but seriously?  It’s not like it’s NYC, or São Paulo, or Boston, three cities where I have done things by myself that probably were not the best ideas ever,  and yet was protected by God.  (Note from December 2017:  Is it possible that God brought me to the jungle so He wouldn’t have to send so many angels to protect me from the situations I get into in big cities?  That was a joke; I know angels are not in short supply and that the real GPS (God’s Protective System) is foolproof and failsafe, whether put to the test in a village or a metropolis.  However, maybe God did bring me here partly so my family wouldn’t have to worry about big city misaventures as often). 

So, the question is, why should we go visit people in need?

The primary reason is that Jesus visited us when we were in need.  As I told this mom that day, Jesus left His perfect home in Heaven to live in this awful, broken, messed-up world, in the midst of sin and suffering.  And He gave more than just His time (33 years of it, btw) and His love – Jesus gave His blood, dying to pay for our sin.  Then He came alive again, proving once and for all that He is more powerful than sin and death.  In Him we have hope and life.

When we think of visiting others as a way to follow in Jesus’ steps, to show our modern-day world a small glimpse of who He is, it becomes a wonderful opportunity.  It is also a chilling responsibility.  If we don’t go to visit those around us now, while we can, we might never get the chance.  They might never visit us.  And if no one visits them, they might never hear about Jesus.

In one sense, it doesn’t take much – a little time, a little love, a little initiative.  In another sense, it takes a lot.  A little time could turn into a long-term relationship.  A little love could move you to tears, to compassionate involvement in someone’s life.  A little initiative could take you right out of your comfort zone into places you have never been.

Please hear a warning.  This whole visiting thing…it isn’t foolproof or predictable.  After all, there’s no manual, no “Visiting 101 for Dummies” book.  The Bible, of course, has many guiding principles for life and relationships, but it doesn’t have an exhaustive list of situational responses.  So we are left to prayer, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, discernment, and wisdom.

It can be messy.  You might get desperate phone calls in the middle of your work day, asking for help you are eager but unable to give.  You might lie awake at night, mind reeling at graphic descriptions of real-life horror.  You might struggle with questions about how much you should help someone and how much you should encourage them to help themselves.  You might be uneasy when you find out they know people you know and the two parties are not on friendly terms.  I have dealt with all of the above, as a direct result of visiting people in need.

But in the midst of the messiness, it can be beautiful.  You might be the one to get a joyous phone call informing you that a baby has been born.  You might get to sit in the hospital for a couple hours, watching a young mom, the light of new life shining in her eyes as she coaxes her precious little son to nurse.  You might get a warm hug from someone who doesn’t trust easily.  You might hear someone say that they know your prayers for them made a difference.  In seeking to be a friend, you may gain valued friends for yourself.  God blessed me with all of this beauty in that one week of contact with the family mentioned in these two posts.

Whether your experience of visiting someone involves reward or only sacrifice, you will at least be able to leave knowing that you reached out in the name of Jesus.  And whether those you visit realize this at the time, or perhaps come to understand later, they will experience Jesus’ love through your gesture of kindness and compassion.

To Visit: a Story

(True story from sometime in 2013.  I wrote this shortly after it happened, but am sharing it for the first time today).

11-year-old runaway.  Locked up in a room for a year and a half.  Cancer survivor.  Mother of eight.  Custody battles, some won, some lost.  Raising five children, one a pregnant 15-year-old.  Lived in a safe house due to domestic violence.  Sexually harassed.  Stalked by male neighbors.  Treated unfairly by landlords.  Going without food so her children can eat more.

One of the street girls from a huge city in Brasil?  No.  This story is not from a Brasilian, nor even from someone in an urban area.  Ready for a surprise?  If you live in Lewis County, this woman was in your backyard until a few weeks ago.  I met her in a crowded apartment on a street much like yours.  Ironically, when she answered her phone, she sounded like an antisocial, distant woman.  Although praying we could talk at least for a little while, and making a couple quick phone calls to request prayer from others, I expected to merely drop the Bible off for her son, who had attended Good News Club, and be sent on my way.  Met at the door by the boy, I asked if it would be okay for me to meet his mom quick.  He took me up the stairs and around the corner to apartment 6 where he introduced me to his mom, pregnant teenage sister, and the two brothers in the room.

After less than two minutes of small talk, she asked me to sit down.  Settled comfortably on a rickety wicker chair she had cleared off for me, I listened, asked questions, and listened some more.

After awhile I talked, praying for words that would express the Gospel in a way that they would understand, hoping that passion for Jesus and His greatness shone from my eyes and sang through in my voice.  Even with no language or culture barriers, there are worldview barriers which can often obscure the message.  In the midst of some obvious misconceptions of Jesus, the Bible, and the church, Truth was shared.  After almost an hour and a half of conversation, she accepted my offer to pray for their family, closing her eyes respectfully as I stumbled for words to ask God to watch over them and draw them closer to Him.  Before leaving, I asked, “Can I give you a hug?”  She nodded, and hugged me as a woman who has not received a hug in a long time and wanted one very badly.

If only our paths had crossed sooner, instead of a few days before this family planned to move out of state.  Would I have been able to be a consistent part of their lives, to show this mom what true friendship is, to help her see Jesus?  I wish the clock could go back, or that I had taken initiative to meet her sooner.

Who else is in our backyard, waiting for someone to meet their child, reach out to them as a parent, knock on their door, and visit?  Who might we pass by without noticing?  Let’s ask God to show us, so we don’t miss an opportunity.  He sees the lonely, the brokenhearted, the oppressed.  He knows where they live.  And if we are willing and obedient, He will send us there.

Never Too Late to be Thankful

Well, the Christmas season is in full swing, with stores playing carols and holding special sales.  Towns are decorated with manger scenes, lights and evergreens.  People hustle and bustle, making holiday plans, and baking special seasonal treats.

Since I arrived back in the city shortly after midnight yesterday, I have shopped for ingredients for Christmas treats for my coworkers, searched high and low for cute Christmas plates or boxes to put said treats into, given a English / cookie baking class to an eight-year-old friend, attended her Christmas concert, eaten delicious panettone made by one of my coworkers, listened to Christmas music and programs on the Mars Hill Network, and enjoyed the festive lights and decorations here in Ji-Parana.  Although I love the peace and quiet of the village and am not overly fond of this city, a week or two of holiday hustle and bustle is a welcome prospect at this time of year.

Christmas concert tonight.  Sarah is third from the left, right in the front.
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A missionary who works in another tribe, and is also back at the base right now.  We (and her husband) went to a Christmas display after the concert.

But instead of a Christmas post today, I’d like to look back at the last major USA holiday, Thanksgiving.

For me it was a normal day of ACL, finding Neno friends to spend time with and learn from, reviewing words and phrases, organizing photos for study, and practicing through conversation.  But I set aside some time to reflect and practice gratefulness, in a more intentional way than normal.  To be honest, though, thanksgiving is more than a day for me; it truly is an emotion or attitude that springs from deep within my heart, and overflows.  I have so much to be thankful for that, almost on a daily basis, I find myself spontaneously thanking God for something, or everything.  Or just exclaiming to myself about what an incredible life I have, and asking “Why would God even bless me so much?”  When I do catch myself complaining about some minor inconvenience like tree frog droppings on the table, or a hundred crickets that live in my dirt floor and hop around the kitchen every night, or the lack of vegetables, God quickly reminds me of all the remarkable “bonuses” of missionary life and an attitude of gratitude normally returns in short order

This year, I wrote my Thankful Card a couple weeks ahead of time, hoping to get it into my parents’ hands to be read with the rest of the family.  See last year’s Thanksgiving post for the background of this Quinn / Cross family Thanksgiving tradition.

Paulette’s 2017 Thankful Card

I am thankful to be a pilgrim, a sojourner, one who loves life but is constantly reminded that this world is not our home.  I am thankful for the opportunity to be here in a “new world” – becoming part of another culture and language and community.  A call and challenge accepted not because of what I believe, but because of who I believe in and love with all my heart, Jesus.  I am thankful that Jesus loved me first, saved me from sin, brought me here, bountifully provides for me, enables me by His Spirit, teaches me through His Word, and makes every day an adventure!

I am also thankful for the Zoro people.  As Squanto and company helped the Pilgrims nearly 4 centuries ago, my Zoro friends have helped me in this transition period.  While I haven’t faced starvation or death, thankfully, they have been there for me through other challenges, extending true friendship to this “very, very white foreigner”, sharing their jungle bounty and their very lives.

The last two paragraphs, not included here, were a personal note to my family, telling them how thankful I am for them, and miss being with them.

However, God surprised me with something else to be thankful for on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.  In the morning, I had the chance to go access internet at “the farm” with someone.  It was so early that my call woke my parents, since they had been trying to sleep in a bit after the previous night’s festivities, but they didn’t mind at all.  We were only able to talk for about 25 minutes, and of course no one else in the family was awake yet, but it was still wonderful to connect and hear a bit about the family gathering.

Then, late in the afternoon, some of my Neno friends showed up at my house, asked if I wanted to talk with my family, and said, “Let’s go the farm!”

Now this family doesn’t even have a cellphone or other device to access the internet.  I thought maybe they had some other reason to go to the farm, such as eating mangos, or borrowing gasoline, but it turned out the only reason for the trip was to give me the chance to talk with my family.  They gave of their time and gas, and made the effort just because they love me.  With the high value the Neno culture places on family relationships and spending time together, they really seem to sympathize with how hard it must be for our family to have me so far away.  Don’t I have the best friends ever?

And they had no way of knowing it was an American holiday and that all my siblings, grandparents, and one uncle and his family were still gathered at my parents’ house, so it would be easy to talk with all of them with just one skype call.  Little did they realize that I had cried a bit that very morning (and maybe a couple times earlier in the week) just because being far away from family during the holiday season can make me a bit more emotional than normal.  But God knew all of that.  Don’t I have the best Heavenly Father ever?

What are you thankful for today?  Who are you thankful for today?

Psalm 105:1 O give thanks unto the Lord; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people.

Open Doors and Closed Circles

(written in June 2017)

It was the last day of classes up at the boarding school.  The next day, students would travel back to their home villages, scattered over this half of the reservation.  They only get two weeks of break in between school sessions, but based on how emotional they were, you would think they were going to be spending months separated from each other.

I had walked up the starlit path, enjoying several minutes of nighttime beauty and jungle sounds.  The plan was to sit in on the seventh grade Maternal Language class which was scheduled, but their teacher decided to cancel the class and give the students a chance to go up front, one at a time, to say good-bye and express whatever was on their hearts.  At least that is what seemed to be happening.  Sometimes I just guess.

Based on some of the conversation, I wondered if this particular teacher would no longer be teaching the seventh-graders, increasing the emotion of these farewells.  Again, sometimes I just guess.

It was interesting to observe a lot of “typical teenage behavior” in the manner in which each young person went up to share.  The order was determined by drawing

Some of them talked timidly and briefly, looking down at the floor.  Others expressed themselves quite articulately, making eye contact with the rest of the class, gesticulating forcefully.  Some students giggled or cracked jokes while another was speaking, or pushed a hesitant classmate up to the front for their turn.

At least two of the seventh-graders are already parents, one a young mama with a little boy who is just learning to walk.

After all the students had shared, their teacher spoke as well, his words seeming very sincere and heartfelt, whatever their meaning might have been.  After he closed with the typical, “Ena tete.”  (That is all), one of the more outgoing girls in the class suggested that they pray.

They formed a circle at the front of the room and the teacher invited me to join in.  During the whole time, I had already felt as if I were intruding on private class moments, an out-of-place wallflower who is far too white and blonde to ever be invisible, but then again, the current story of my life involves habitual intrusion on moments that in all honesty, a Lewis County gringa does not belong in.

I can’t remember if we held hands or put our arms around each other’s shoulders, but we were all gathered close, touching one another, coming together to talk to God.

Someone said, “Let’s all pray.”  And the low voices began all around me, words flowing fast and freely, to me an unintelligible stream, but understood perfectly by God, to whom language is no barrier.

And I long for deeper relationship with these precious young people, “teens” to us, but probably already considered adults in their culture.  May our physical closeness in that moment of prayer symbolize a future relational closeness, that will give us a friendship of freedom and trust.  May we someday spend hours in conversation about life, love, God, the Bible, the future, our hopes and dreams and fears.

My mind races with questions about these young people, questions that I don’t even know how to ask yet.

Who do these teenagers believe Jesus is?

Would they call themselves Christians just because a chief made that decision for the entire people group a number of years ago?

Or do they really understand what it means to know Jesus?

To them, is prayer a way of communicating with the God who created them and loves them?

Or is it a ritual performed to gain God’s favor, get something they want, or impress others?

Or is prayer merely a “cool thing” to do, because they have seen it done in churches in the city?

If prayer is important to them, why do almost none of them come to the Sunday meetings down in the village?

Are their hearts really hungry for God?

After the generator is turned off in an hour, will some of these very young men and ladies pair off and “secretly” do what we have been told many of them do every night, while the adults turn their backs?

Good thing their prayer wasn’t longer, or I would have started crying.  I have no idea what they were saying, but I know what my prayer is tonight.

Father, thank you for these precious young lives gathered around me, and for the open door to be here among them, although my youth was a world away from theirs. 

Help me learn this language fast and give me the privilege of discipling these seventh graders.  Give us a deep friendship that will cross the cultural differences.   

Protect them from the evil in this world, from the dangers they are exposed to in the midst of the major transitions their culture is experiencing. 

Help them know Jesus truly and walk with Him, love Him best of all, and see Him in my life, even now. 

Give them your word in their language, and a hunger to read it and know it. 

Teach them what is right and wrong, convicting them of any immoral or sinful behavior that is forbidden by You, for their good and protection. 

Guide them by your Spirit, in righteousness, morality and purity.

Show me how to love them like you do even before we can really talk. 

Give us moments together of fun and friendship and connecting.

Increase my burden for their souls, my fervency in prayer, my love for every teen in this circle, and my faith regarding the work you are going to do in their lives and families and culture. 

May this circle, which has neither beginning or end, symbolize unbroken unity and eternal life in Jesus…probably not a reality for all of these tonight, but by faith, I ask that one day it would be so! 

For, since you open doors wide, can you not also close circles tight?  With you, all things are possible. 

In Jesus’ name, Amen