Mountain Biking and Missions

Back in July 2019, my first stop in the States on home assignment was Colorado, where I visited my brother Eli, who lives in another beautiful region of the world, where he is surrounded by mountains instead of jungles. He was excited to introduce me to one of his new hobbies, mountain biking.

That intense adventure with my brother in the Colorado mountains led me to reflect on intense adventures with Jesus in an Amazon village.

A few days after the bike ride, I jotted down some thoughts and analogies, which I will attempt to explain and share in the next couple posts. (I had been in the village right before visiting my brother, so the following reflections are based on experiences which had recently happened there).

For someone who has done quite a bit of road biking over the years, this experience was a first. The unpaved, rocky trails twisted up and down and through the mountains, impossible to predict.

Within the first twenty minutes, I didn’t turn sharply enough for a curve and flew over the handlebars. Losing control and wondering how hard I’d hit the ground was terrifying. Nevertheless, flying through the air, while not very safe, did bring a certain sense of exhilaration. And even from the vantage point of lying in the dirt, spitting some of it out of my mouth, the view of the surrounding mountains was beautiful. Thankfully, I sustained only some bruises, a tiny cut, and a few thorns.

This incident reminded me of a verse that had strengthened my heart on many occasions during the first several months of 2019.

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.”  Psalm 37:23, 24

Many times in the village, when hitting sharp curves or unexpected major bumps in ministry, it felt like I had flown over the handlebars, and was lying bruised on the trail. The unpleasant sensation of tasting gritty dirt in those moments was surpassed by the delight of seeing God’s glory in the surrounding beauty and tasting the rich flavors of grace. Even though I sometimes fell into doubt, discouragement and even fear, the Lord upheld me and I was never utterly cast down.

Can grace ever be more precious than in moments when Jesus picks us up, brushes us off, pulls a thorn out of our knee, and reminds us that He loves us and that with Him as our Guide and Protector, we are more than conquerors?

You see, it doesn’t matter how rough or intense the trail is if the trail guide is fearless and competent.

Eli made the trail look so easy, zipping up and down each incline with grace and skill. Our expedition was his idea. He was the one who planned it and invited me to participate in an adventure that would have been foolhardy to attempt on my own. All I had to do was go along for the ride, confident that Eli knew what he was doing and that we would have a great time together. I felt honored and privileged that Eli included me in this aspect of his life.

Missions is Jesus’ idea. He is the One who is building His church, calling out His Bride from every tribe, language, people, and nation. He laid a plan which started before the foundation of the world and reaches to the ends of the earth. Jesus wants the villagers and the rest of their people to know Him and become His disciples, and He invited me to participate in this part of His mission. What an honor and privilege to be included in what He is doing!

It would be foolish to go to dark places and preach the gospel on our own.

But the expedition narrative changes with Jesus as our Master and Leader, our Trail Guide.

In Jesus alone we find confidence to set out on the winding, rocky path. We journey to jungle villages and other places knowing that the One we follow is completely dependable and worthy of our allegiance. While Jesus doesn’t tell us the details of what will happen as we obey His great commission, He promises that He will be with us always, even unto the end of the world.

We have counted the cost and realized that the joy and delight of relationship with Jesus far surpass the risk and danger of riding with Him. Believing that safety and health and comfort are overrated, we relinquish any perceived rights to these benefits. Moreover, safety and health and comfort are not actually guaranteed to anyone, no matter where a person lives and works.

Just as mountain trail biking isn’t the safest outdoor activity, life on the mission field is not safe. In recent months I’ve realized more profoundly the levels of risk and peril involved in this calling.

This journey has been lonelier and rockier than anticipated, so intense that it has required nearly every ounce of focus and concentration just to stay the course. All I could do was follow hard after Jesus, 40 hours/week of ACL* with my village friends, and just enough cooking and dishwashing and laundry to get by. There was no leftover physical, mental or emotional energy for anything else. So I streamlined routines, simplified life, and cut nonessentials. I stopped blogging, didn’t plan for home assignment, rarely even called family or responded to e-mails. It was survival mode.

(*Acquisition of Culture and Language)

With God’s help, I tried my best to keep my eyes on Jesus and the people He sent me to, and not let anything else waste precious energy and attention. Nevertheless, a few minor crashes occurred, but by the grace of God, no injuries worse than scrapes and non-life-threatening wounds. I’m entering home assignment bruised and weary, yet with a spring in my step and a smile that emanates from a secret, deeper place of joy than I even knew existed a year ago. This is still the best life ever, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

A Christmas Letter (2016)

Greetings! Please excuse the unanticipated silence on this blog. While an update of what has been happening the last few months might seem the most logical way to re-open communication, I will save that for later this week.

Since Advent, as a season of anticipation and preparation, can also lead us into times of reflection and reminiscing, here is a letter written in 2016, but never mailed or shared until tonight. 

abia

It is 11 PM in the jungle.  Some of the villagers have already gone to bed.  Those who remain here in the meeting-house sit in chairs or on benches, everyone waiting for someone else to lead out in a dance, but all of us too tired to actually do so.  As we sit here, listening to the loud music, swatting bugs, waiting for midnight, drinking coffee to stay awake, and wondering if there will be more dancing, my mind skips across a couple thousand miles to a much more familiar Christmas scene.

Squeezing my eyes shut and sitting on my hands, I am instantly transported to Bethel Church of the Nazarene, imagining myself there with all of you tonight, just a few hours ago.  It is easy to picture the candles in their little wooden holders on the walls, the placement of the wreaths and poinsettias, the familiar Nativity set and Christmas tree.  I can imagine Zach leading the traditional carols and playing guitar, and hear Pastor’s voice talking about who Jesus is to the Architect, the Painter, the Doctor, the Teacher, the Composer, the Florist.  And then I see the candle.  You remember the one. You saw it this evening. That candle which persists, every single Christmas Eve, in remaining unlit.

One small light.  No one will miss it.  Except they will. One small light.  It won’t make a difference.  But does it make a difference?  It does.  Everyone notices that candle more than the others, because it is not shining.

And this year, I realize that I am one little light, missing from your midst, no longer shining with all of you into the darkness of Lewis County.  But I’m not that candle, standing in its normal place but neglecting to shine.  I am a candle that God called and sent to a different dark place, a village in the Amazon rainforest.

This is not just my calling, however; it is our calling. I am a light that you sent here, in partnership with God. Even though some of you knew you would really miss me, and that even my little light could have made a difference shining with the rest of you in Lewis County, you chose to walk in obedience to God, and step out in faith with me. Although it was hard to say goodbye, you sent me out from among you, through the doors that God opened, to the place and the people He put on my heart initially, and then on all of our hearts.

We are a family, a community, a body.  Every time a member leaves, whether temporarily or permanently, it makes a difference and leaves a gap, an empty space in the candle stand. At least a couple dozen names come effortlessly to mind, of those who have left our church and continue to be missed, both for who they are and for the ways they served as part of the body of Christ.

In my case, my leaving necessitated “quitting” Good News Club ministry, the ladies’ prayer group, piano playing, Christmas drama planning, VBS, caroling.  There’s one less person to vacuum and put away chairs after a fellowship meal, or carry dishes up to the pavilion.  Many of you get one less hug every single Sunday.

And I was obviously not indispensable, because the ministry of a church is not dependent on any one person, no matter how involved they might be.  Jesus is the Head of the Church, and He is faithful.  He fills needs and provides other people to serve.  Many of you stepped in to fill the small gaps my departure caused.  And if a thread or two was left hanging, they weren’t essential threads, as all of you continue to reach out, serve and make a difference.  While I was not in any way necessary to your team, I was part of it, so, as happens every time someone leaves, the team is not exactly the same as it used to be.

Your sending has been financial as well.  The money you gave in several generous offerings, and that some of you individually give each month, has been God’s tangible, physical provision to build my house and keep me here, and pay for all the needs this past year.  I know money is often tight and it’s hard to pay the bills and care for families, yet you selflessly set aside hard-earned income, giving to Jesus by giving to me and our village friends. 

And you know what?  This Christmas, I hope you don’t miss me too much, because hopefully you are mostly thinking about Jesus, the first and best Christmas gift, sent to all of us. I pray that you are rejoicing in His birth, and longing for His return. Hopefully you are busy sharing Jesus’ love and hope with those in Lewis County who still don’t know Him. Hopefully you are focusing on special times and memories and treasuring the people who you are with this year.  But, admitting to some Christmas homesickness here, I do hope that just once or twice during the Advent season, you have noticed my absence, and missed me just a little bit.

Because here in the jungle, even though I am loving this Christmas and feeling so privileged and blessed to spend it with these new friends, I miss all of you like crazy.

Christmas and Advent will never be the same without you. For me, the important externals of Christmas are not the caroling and traditions and liturgy and special foods and decorations, as wonderful as all of those are.  The important externals of Christmas are family, and shared experiences worshipping and celebrating and remembering Jesus.  And you are my family.

First and foremost, of course, Christmas is about Jesus. But it is also about celebrating Jesus with family, reaching out to others as a family, and making special memories with family.  And ever since I was 6 years old, that family has been you.

But the sadness of missing all of you and being faraway at Christmastime is easier to endure remembering that the celebration in Heaven someday will be bigger and better than any Christmas celebration in any culture.  And how exciting to realize that, by God’s grace, we pray and believe that our obedience will result in more brothers and sisters joining us as part of His family, as part of the kingdom, as part of the universal church.  And everyone would surely agree that this makes a few tears and a little homesickness all worth it, for the glory of the One whose birth we celebrate, who is worthy of all the praises we could sing and any gift we could ever bring.

So it would seem that I am a gift this year.  A great big Christmas present without a gift bag or wrapping paper.  There have been many times I feel like God could have picked someone better, sent a better present to these precious people.  Why did He send me?  There are certainly missionaries out there who are more intelligent, more talented, more resistant to bugs and bacteria, more determined and faithful.  But the fact remains, that He uses weak and unlikely vessels to accomplish His purposes. We are the ones that God chose to give to these people, for His own reasons and plans. We are the gift.

Thank you for sending me. I love you. 

And just so you know, I am already hoping to spend Christmas 2019 right there in Lewis County with all of you – hanging up the greens, singing Christmas carols, playing piano if needed, going to the party and Advent activities, enjoying lots of snow, and most of all delighting in special moments with all of you, celebrating the birth of Jesus, our Saviour.

So, please, keep up those traditions, and don’t go anywhere!

(Unless God sends you to some other place where the light of Jesus still hasn’t shined or where the Bible has not yet been translated or where there is a need He calls you to meet. In that case, you should definitely go).

Merry Christmas!

Luke 1:76-79 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

 

 

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.

WhatsApp Image 2019-06-18 at 10.36.22
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.

imgp6012

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES
SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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.

WhatsApp Image 2019-06-18 at 10.36.23
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.

WhatsApp Image 2019-06-18 at 13.57.01
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.

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.

20181101_202928

IMG-20181104-WA0058

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.

IMG-20181104-WA0029

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.

IMG-20181104-WA0040
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.

IMG-20181104-WA0033
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

45312700_1896630327051544_108942936384733184_n
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.

20181020_154934.jpg

20181020_154944

 

 

 

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.

IMG-20181021-WA0309
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.  

IMG_20181020_145316180
And the most caring, handsome, and hilarious “adoptive” brothers a girl could imagine.

IMG_20181020_145325539

IMG_20181020_151355138_BURST000_COVER_TOP
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?

IMGP2770
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.

20181124_094916

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.

20181124_144122

20181124_120134

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.  

20181124_090118
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!

20181124_082004
Christmas flowers?  Oh, yeah!

 

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.

IMGP0301
Christmas concert tonight.  Sarah is third from the left, right in the front.

IMGP0309 - Copy
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.

Far-Away Family…for now.

Explanatory note:  My nephews and nieces call me “Tia Paulette” instead of “Aunt Paulette.”  Tia is the word for aunt in Portuguese and is pronounced “chia” by the way.  Two years ago, when I first asked them if they would start calling me “tia”, it took my oldest nephew awhile to get used to the switch.  For a couple weeks, he referred to me as “Tia Aunt Paulette.”  It was so cute, I was almost disappointed when he finally got it right. 

Almost two years ago, I spent a few months doing what our missions agency calls partnership development.  This is a time of networking and sharing in churches and other venues about the Neno people, and how God had prepared the way and was leading me to go live among them, to learn their language and culture with the goal of someday communicating His Word clearly.

One autumn Sunday, I shared at the church that my brother and his family attend.  That was a really special opportunity, since the pastor and his wife are good friends, as are many of the other church members.

After the service, while I chatted with people and answered questions, my youngest nephew was engrossed by the display table I had set up in the back of the meeting area.  His little brain was probably working overtime as he thought through all that his tia had said during church, and tried to understand why and when she would be leaving.  Photos of the Neno, sent by the missionary family already on the field, were arranged neatly, in an attempt to depict the culture and personalities of people I had yet to meet.  After some moments of silent pondering, Gideon looked up from the photos, wide-eyed and serious, and asked my mom, “Is Tia Paulette going to those brothers and sisters?”

When she told me about his question, my eyes filled with tears.  He was only three years old at the time, but he got it.  He really understands.  He probably still doesn’t know exactly how far away Brasil is, or what it means to learn a tonal language, but he understood the most important aspect of God’s calling on his tia’s life, and simplified my mission in that one question.

The thing is, there is another place, where there are people who love Jesus and want to know Him more.  They are not just some distant ethnic group with whom we have no relationship or common bond – they are our family!  Some of them are already real brothers and sisters in Christ, having understood the simple truth of the Gospel and believed.  Others have not heard or understood clearly who Jesus Christ is yet, or have turned away from His words, but we can claim some of these as our future brothers and sisters also, by faith in what God will do in years to come.

Oh, nephew-of-mine, dear child always close to my heart though often far away from my hugs, thank you for showing how much you really did understand by putting it into words that day.  If only you could know how much this has encouraged my heart, on countless occasions since coming to the village.

You see, one of the very hardest things about being here is that I am far away from my dear family, especially from you and your brother and sisters who are growing up so fast.  It hurts to think about all the birthdays, laughter, developmental milestones, funny quotes, and daily routines of your lives that I miss.  It hurts to know that you and Jeremiah and Abbi and Jubilee miss me too, wish I could still go to your house every week, and have very little concept of what life here is like, or how long we will have to wait between visits.  My heart aches to know that my choice to follow Jesus hurts you, makes your little hearts sad, and even causes occasional emotional meltdowns.

But when we are sad and miss each other, if we remember that I am here with these brothers and sisters, I think we can keep it all in perspective.  Jesus, the One we love most of all, because He loved us first, wants to grow His family, which is also our family, so much bigger than we can even imagine.  Because, as our sadness at being separated geographically demonstrates, families are meant to be together.  Tias aren’t supposed to be thousands of miles away from the cutest nephews and nieces on the planet; it isn’t natural or good.  Yet there is a far greater tragedy, a far greater wrong that must be rectified, which also happens to be the reason that we can accept the hardship of living so far away from each other.

The one true God, who created humanity, longs for a personal relationship with each man, woman and child on this earth, whatever their nationality.  And as things now stand, most of the people in this world are far, far away from God, relationally speaking.  He sent Jesus to bridge the gap, dying and rising again to pay for our sin and reconcile us to God.  All that is left is for each individual to hear this good news, clearly communicated, and make the choice of whether he will trust Jesus alone for salvation, thus becoming a child of God, part of His family.

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.  Titus 2:11

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: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  John 1:12, 13

But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.   Ephesians 2:13

Do you know who Jesus commissioned to to proclaim His name among the nations, telling them that God is calling all people to Himself as sons and daughters?  That’s right – Jesus’ disciples, which means all of us who are already part of His family, through faith in Him.  And as we obey Jesus, wherever we are, to spread His Word, we are workers with Him in this incredible mission.  That’s the reason for your tia coming to the jungle and also the reason for your letting me go and praying for us.  By God’s grace, He will use our obedience and sacrifice so that more and more Neno brothers and sisters can know Jesus like we do.

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.  Mark 16:15, 16

For we are labourers together with God.  1 Corinthians 3:9

And lest we feel too sorry for ourselves, in the midst of sacrifice, let’s look at the silver lining which every cloud is said to have, just from an immediate perspective.  Since I can’t be the aunt who lives around the corner and is physically present on a regular basis, I am just going to embrace my role as the missionary tia who lives in the jungle far-far-away, eats alligator meat, holds baby monkeys, and has a dirt floor in her kitchen, but who still loves her nieces and nephews bunches and bunches.  And those bunches of love are even bigger than the bunches of delicious jungle bananas I wish I could send you to eat.  I will continue looking forward to each trip to the city, mainly for the chance of skyping with all of you, and answering your burning questions like, “What did you eat that you didn’t tell us?” and “Do you have any more animal stories from the village?”  “What are your Neno friends’ names?” and “Can you hunt an alligator for us?”

Hopefully, as you grow up, in addition to bringing back an occasional special gift from the jungle (although I’m afraid alligator meat will not be included, Abbi), I will be able able to bring back stories – stories of how is God is at work in the lives of our Neno brothers and sisters.  And I will thank you and your parents, as well as the rest of my family and friends, for your sacrifice and obedience to Jesus, right along with me.  And since our times together will be few and far between, we will treasure them up like the jewels they are, squeezing in as many memories as possible, and living each moment to the full.  And the joy and togetherness and fun and blessing of those moments will stir our hearts to anticipate even more that perfect, endless day when we will be together in Heaven, with Jesus, each other, our Neno brothers and sisters, and the rest of God’s family.

IMGP4684
Last night with my nieces and nephews – January 12th. 2017