How to Handle Tree Frogs

(Recently I have been looking through files of rough drafts written in the jungle. This post is based on events of 2017).

It was a peaceful night in the jungle. The generator had been turned off for almost an hour and all of the village’s human inhabitants had gone to bed. Thousands of insects and birds filled the sultry air with their voices, however, composing a lullaby that somehow seemed soothing despite the almost startling blend of exotic tones, rhythms and melodies.

I was almost asleep, in that delightful zone where the last contemplations of the day begin to merge with the first dreams of the night.

As suddenly as a teacup breaks when dropped on the floor, all sense of calm was shattered by a splat on my cheek. I cried out and jerked upright, knowing immediately that such a slimy sensation could only be one thing…a tree frog!

Now, you need to know that I am normally a very tolerant and welcoming human being. During the first months in my little house in the jungle, I thought tree frogs were rather cute. Their sticky toes, skillfully and wonderfully made by our Creator, enable them to perform impressive athletic feats.

This is the only brightly-colored tree frog I have seen in the Amazon. His uniqueness is the reason he was photographed by my sister. Normal tree frogs in our village are grayish-green, with very similar coloring to an average backyard frog. Sadly, it seems I never took pictures of any of them. 

I felt absolutely horrible the morning I found a bloated frog, belly up in the pot of water which I had thoughtlessly left uncovered, while it was still at boiling point, right before bed the previous night.

But jumping out of the darkness onto my face was clearly a declaration of war. Tree frogs against human. All feelings of acceptance and empathy towards tree frogs disappeared as fast as fish and manioc root at a village gathering. What options were there?

  1. Leave the jungle and let the tree frogs have my house, hoping they would learn the language and teach my friends about Jesus.
  2. Live in fear, always wondering what the frogs’ next devious plan would be.
  3. Let the frogs know that since they had declared war, I was ready to fight!

Option #3 seemed like the best choice.

Defensive strategy: sleep with a mosquito net every single night, 12 months of the year, even during seasons when there were no mosquitos.

Offensive strategy: every time a tree frog was seen jumping around, locate and grab it.

Trying not to cringe at the slimy sensation in my hand, I would then throw it as far as possible out the back door. The problem was, although I became an expert frog-grabber, I can’t throw very far. To all future missionaries out there, here is a pro tip. Play baseball every chance you get, endeavoring to become a great pitcher so you will be able to throw frogs so far from your house that they can’t find it again.

With my substandard pitching skills, however, I could imagine the frogs gleefully hopping back, entering the house through the thatch roof, and jumping around inside with huge froggie grins, their chirps declaring, “I’m back! You can’t throw far enough to keep me out!” And each time I caught one of those little guys, I wondered, somewhat disheartened, how many times I had caught him before.

One morning, I came back to the desk after grabbing a drink of water, because one needs to be well hydrated to practice complex parts of speech such as dynamic auxiliaries.  Picking up my pencil to attempt to write a grammatically correct sentence expressing my desire for my mom and family to be well, my pinkie smushed onto something slimy.  Sniffing the brown streak on the paper and my finger confirmed that it was tree frog poop…the enemy was attacking on another front.

So I left the desk to wash my hands, without having written even one word.  Then I had to recopy the four previously-written sentences onto a new page, so that I could throw out the smelly one.  See how annoying tree frogs can be?

Earlier that same week, I tasted something really strange in one bite of my granola…a sharp pungent taste that does not match any of the ingredients in my recipe.  Even though I only left the bowl unattended and uncovered for one minute, is it possible that something dropped in?  Yuck.  I’ll never know for sure, but am still wondering if that was a sneak assault by the enemy.

The most frustrating part of dealing with tree frogs is that it never ends. Although there are never as many frogs in the jungle as there were in Egypt during the second plague, there are a lot of them there, especially during rainy season. Countless times, I have heard the unwelcome sound of froggie feet sticking to one surface, then another, then another, causing me to to stop studying or reading, or even get out of bed to go deal with the intruder.

It is an ongoing battle, one little frog at a time, one interrupted task after another, day after day.

Are you getting the point?  In the jungle, days can start with tree frogs.  Days can end with tree frogs.  Small chunks of time can be wasted by dealing with tree frogs, decreasing productivity and happiness (mine, not theirs). Tree frogs are smelly and unsanitary. They can trigger feelings of grumpiness or frustration or helplessness.

It’s the same frog in all three photos. 



There are “tree frogs” in life, as well. These aren’t major crises or real enemies, but small ongoing problems. Sometimes we allow these  annoyances to distract us, decrease our productivity and steal our joy. We may end up wasting more time or emotional energy than necessary in dealing with these “tree frogs”, diminishing our focus on what is truly important in life.

Are you plagued by any “tree frogs” right now? How should we handle the “tree frogs” in our lives?

This is entirely dependent on what form the “tree frogs” take in your specific situation, but here are a few ideas. Hopefully one of these strategies works for you. Please take these suggestions with a grain of salt and use your own common sense.

  • Scream.
  • Breathe deeply. Pray.
  • Throw salt on them.
  • Take pictures.
  • Adopt them as pets.
  • Sing to them.
  • Laugh and continue with business as usual.
  • Watch them jump around, or just jump around with them.
  • Ignore them and stay on task.
  • Ask them to stop distracting you and help you work toward your goals.
  • Sing to them.
  • Swallow them whole and regurgitate them as a “magic trick” to entertain your friends.
  • Wash your hands (with soap) after touching them.

Is This Your Jungle?

Three months ago, if you had asked where I would be in June, my answer would have been, “In the jungle!”, with an audible exclamation point in my voice and a visible one on my face.

Due to the pandemic, I have not yet been able to return to the jungle. But would you like to hear some of what God taught me there in the past?

I actually started thinking about this topic before leaving the States. It was a snowy February afternoon in Lewis County and I was off on another adventure to spend time with someone.

As I hopped in the blue car I thanked God once again for dear friends who had lent me their vehicle for the entire eight months of my home assignment. Their generosity made it possible to meet up with financial supporters and other friends, visit my grandparents and run errands, serve in a variety of ministry opportunities, go on adventures with siblings, and arrange speaking engagements without making transportation arrangements for each event.


Photos featuring the car that allowed me to drop off Eli at the airport, plan surprise birthday picnics, hike one of the 46 peaks with the whole family, and go to the church building countless times, for services, music practice, studying, playing piano, fellowship, and ministry.

Driving down the road and enjoying the beautiful scenery of pine trees adorned by snow, I realized how much life was about to change in the upcoming transition.

Returning the car to my friends seemed symbolic of letting go of independence and freedom in returning to my village home. Not only would I no longer have a car to drive, there wouldn’t be places to go or a schedule to plan.

In the village, my routine is determined by the plans of my friends. Our outings include going to the gardens and the river and deep into the jungle. Just so you know, those adventures are far more epic than trips to stores or coffeeshops or restaurants.

But one downside is that I can’t organize a daily routine or meet up with people or go on spontaneous adventures whenever I get cabin fever. Absolutely not! Unless my friends are going somewhere and invite me to go along, I am “confined” to the village limits, since it is considered socially unacceptable and dangerous for a woman to go anywhere alone. The one exception is that when school is in session, it is fine for me to walk the 7 minutes up the path to attend classes, as long as I inform someone of these plans.

In the jungle, the number of friends I can see is very limited. Unless there are visitors from other villages, the maximum number of people in the village is 40, but the actual number is often as few as 15.

During my first two years there, there was no internet, thus, no contact with the outside world.

Does that sound like the kind of life you would choose? Well, some of us do! And I am so blessed and grateful that Jesus sent me to the jungle!

The jungle has undeniably been a place of isolation and separation from the life I had known, far removed from the two worlds I abandoned to become part of a third.

Yet it was there, as my friends taught me verbs, tones, sneaky switcharoos, and cultural norms, God taught me a lot about life, community, holiness, and dependency on His Spirit – lessons that I probably never would have slowed down enough to learn in North America.

I quickly learned that I love small and simple. Having less people around and less options available means having more time and focus to invest in relationships with new friends, immersed in their world. In choosing to become “poorer” as far as options and luxury and independence, I found myself richer in many other ways.

Rather than caging me in, the apparent restrictions opened doors to wide spaces of unimaginable freedom. Limitations led to an adventure of depending on Jesus in a deeper way. He taught me more about what it means to abide in Him, to just live, to be who He created and called me to be.

The jungle has changed me forever. More accurately, Jesus has used the jungle as a tool of sanctification and transformation, faithfully continuing the good work He is doing to make me more like Him.

These aren’t jungle photos, but the journey from monarch caterpillar to chrysalis (look closely inside the jar) to butterfly is an unforgettable picture of transformation.

I long for the day I am allowed to go back and learn more from Jesus and from my village friends. It will be wonderful to be reunited with them so we can spend hours together every day, on epic adventures or just sitting on benches, engaged in conversations while swatting away the bugs. It will be wonderful to once again eat granola for breakfast and rice for lunch 7 days a week, with the occasional surprise meat or fruit, without needing to plan a menu or buy groceries for at least 3 months.

Please understand that my love for jungle life and friends does not mean it is always easy to be there. It hurts my heart to be far away from family and miss out on seeing my nephews and nieces grow up. Going for weeks without a hug is harder than I ever imagined. While in the jungle, I long to worship and fellowship in community with other believers in a language I understand. And those are just normal feelings of loss and longing, not to mention out-of-the-ordinary situations.

During occasional times of crisis, it felt like the walls were closing in and I might be crushed. There was no escape or relief from fear and emotional pain that overwhelmed my heart. It was hard to stop thinking about stressful situations that were right there in the village, when I couldn’t even go for a walk by myself.

But Jesus held me fast and kept me from falling. His joy and grace and peace were more than enough.

The positive aspects of jungle living truly outweigh the negative. And in this adventure of walking with Jesus, even the pain and suffering are part of the blessing He gives.  

Now, can I share a secret longing of my heart? For the past four years, I have wished that you, my dear family and friends, could live in the jungle too, at least for a little while.

If only you could spend enough time there to give you a break from your fast-paced, crazy North American lifestyle. I have wished that you could trade all of that for solitude, quiet, peace, fewer commitments, and deeper relationships with fewer people at a time.

I have prayed that Jesus would somehow teach you what He has started to teach me about abiding in Him and just living, finding true joy in Him alone, and genuine delight in having less. I have wished that I could somehow include you in the precious and indescribable experiences He has given me in my jungle world.

And now, all of a sudden, the entire world has changed. Life, as we knew it, has been stripped away for a time. We have been isolated and restricted.

During this unwanted and unexpected transition, can you relate to any aspects of jungle life described above, friends?

Has your world closed in or become smaller in these days? In what ways has your routine been interrupted and your options limited? Maybe all you want is to get out of your house and escape stress and confinement, but you can’t really go anywhere, because it would be dangerous, or socially unacceptable.

Whether it be finances or relationships or opportunities, in some area of life, you probably have less. Maybe you even feel like you are less.

Do you ever feel like you are living in a different culture from the one you knew three months ago? We are so accustomed to having unlimited choices, options, and independence, that it is normal to resist or complain when they are suspended.

Please don’t get me wrong. I never would have prayed or wished for a pandemic or quarantine or lockdown. But I wonder if our loving Heavenly Father, who works all things out for good to those who love Him, might be using this crisis to answer my prayers for you in an unexpected way.

20190827_111428The work Jesus wants to do in our lives normally depends on our response, however. Will you allow Jesus to use this time to renew your heart and mind, transforming you and making you more like Him? What is He saying to you today?

Will you have the courage to make this your time in the jungle?

Even as your heart grieves the real and painful losses you are suffering, will you also look for the blessings and choose to be grateful for the good gifts of the present situation?

By God’s grace, will you sit at Jesus’ feet and learn from Him, asking what He wants to teach you in this time of isolation, cancelled plans, and uncertainty?