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.

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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.



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.

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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.

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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.

When Saturdays are Worlds Apart

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.






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.

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.  

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


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?

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.


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.



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.  

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!

Christmas flowers?  Oh, yeah!


8 Fun Things to Do With Your Neighbors…if you live in an Amazon village. [ Becoming – Part 8 – PARTICIPATE ]

Becoming…The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village

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Sugar cane, ready to be hacked in shorter pieces for planting.  See # 7 in list below.

Participate!  In my book, the second P of the ACL learning cycle is the most fun and exciting of the four.  My sister must have agreed, because she was always up for participating in a culture event, especially if it involved walking deep into the jungle.

Do you want to know the best advice I was ever given when learning Portuguese?

Don’t learn the language.  Live the language.   – Antonio and Gustavo –

Credit goes to my Brasilian brothers for sharing that unforgettable pearl of wisdom, which captures the essence of Participate with inspiring words that continue to stir enthusiasm in this language learner’s heart.

What could be more motivating than doing life with neighbors and friends, after all?  At least for someone who genuinely loves people and enjoys social interaction (despite being an introvert) this job/ministry sometimes seems light on the work and heavy on the delight.  Just consider my daily work routine as intentional, purposeful “hanging out”.  Some might prefer to call this “chilling” but in the scorching temperatures we face here, that word would be incongruous, if not absurd.

Participation, or “living the language” is the best way to begin relationships, deepen friendships, attain fluency in the language, understand who the people in this community are, and how they view the world.  Participation provides diverse opportunities to enter the daily routines of my friends in a way that textbook learning could never imitate.

During Participation in a Culture Event, an ACL learner is expected to:

  • Observe.  (Watch, listen, and learn.  My friends are the experts).
  • Record.  (Take notes, record audio or video, take photos).
  • Elicit language and culture. (Figure out what can be learned from the event).
  • Join in. (As invited or allowed, without taking away from the natural flow of the event).

Essential tools for Participation:

  • teachable spirit
  • paying-attention skills
  • sense of adventure
  • flexibility
  • patience
  • camera
  • notebook and pen
  • voice recorder
  • (additional tools vary according to the event)

So, are you ready for my surefire, foolproof, satisfaction-guaranteed-or-your-money-back list of fun things to do with your neighbors if you ever happen to live in an Amazon village?  Here we go!

  1. Eat wild pig’s head. Nothing like a community gathering around the supper table for great food and time together.  Only this meal often takes place between 8 and 10 AM.  And instead of sitting around a table, try squatting around huge metal basins which contain the pig’s head and manioc or another root vegetable.  Make sure you grab fast, ripping off chunks with your fingers, no matter how hot the meat and manioc is.  At village “potlucks”, if you snooze, you lose…literally.  So if you like meat (and wild pig is way yummier than boring old grocery store pork), head to the pig feed as soon as you hear the shrill call, “Come and eat pig, ya’all!”  It doesn’t last long.
  2. Dance all night. You don’t know how to dance?  No worries.  Neither do I, in the technical sense of the term.  Here, dancing is just walking/marching/step-stepping around in a circle.  Very little skill and coordination required.  All you need is a friend, energy, extra coffee, and willingness to deal with a headache the following day.
  3. Swim in the river. This is a great way to pass time, learn vocabulary, test your memory (since you can’t write new words down while you’re in the water), and cool off on days where the tropical sun threatens to burn you up.  If your swimming buddies are children, you may end up spending hours laughing and swimming and playing their version of tag, called “Jaguar!”  There aren’t any real jaguars in the river, thankfully; just watch out for anacondas, which have been seen there on rare occasions.
  4. Burying a dead pet monkey. This doesn’t happen often, but just goes to show that anything that happens in my neighbors’ lives counts as a culture event, and is a learning opportunity.  How do they bury the monkey?  What do they say?  How does the monkey’s owner (a little girl) act?  Perhaps the conversation will turn to deeper topics such as their feelings about death in general, or belief in the afterlife.
  5. Weave baskets. A great opportunity to observe carefully and then try your hand at a new skill, probably amidst much laughter.  I did successfully make a basket last year, with help, although it turned out a bit lopsided.  Hopefully there will soon be an opportunity to try again.  Basket-weaving is a “girls-only” Culture Event however, so the men in my reading audience will have to find their own activity.  Making arrows or feather headresses are a couple of “boys-only” alternatives.
  6. Make manioc root drink.  This sugar-sweetened beverage is called “ee”, in a high tone, not to be confused with “ee” in a low tone, which means river.  The women spend a lot of time making this.  After all, if you don’t have “ee” available for your family at all times, you’re probably not a very good wife and mom.   I’ve watched the ee-making process countless times, but it is still a learning opportunity.  We often have wonderful conversations in my friends’ kitchens as they peel, cut, cook, strain, and mix.
  7. Plant sugar cane. Shortly after my arrival in the village I had the chance to participate in this event, and my teacher, Werrig, made a big deal of how well the sugar cane grew, and invited me to help again last year.  Although I sweat more that morning than any other morning in my life, planting sugar cane isn’t difficult.   Werrig’s encouragement and plan to take me again next planting season had me thinking I must be a natural sugar cane planter, or at least a pretty good helper or a hard worker.  Well, come to find out, just last week, that Werrig is convinced that the reason her sugar cane grew nice and thick is because I have fat arms.    Just what every girl wants to hear.
  8. Eat honey. Okay, this one does sound a bit boring.  But how will you and your neighbors eat honey unless you have honey?  And how will you have honey unless you harvest honey?  And how will you harvest honey unless you avoid the beestings?  And how will you avoid the beestings unless you light a fire next to the tree you chopped down?  And how will you chop down that tree without going deep into the rainforest where you will get lots of ticks?  See?  That wasn’t so boring after all.  And wild Amazon honey is finger-licking delicious.

Well, this list could easily contain 58 Culture Events instead of 8, but it’s a start.  Guaranteed to provide fun and laughter with friends, and enough new words to keep your brain working hard as you become part of a new community.

Let’s face it though; you might never actually live in an Amazon village.  Yet God designed us human beings to engage with each other in meaningful relationships, no matter where we live, what the culture is or what activity options are available.

So how can you participate in the lives of your neighbors?  Maybe God wants to use you to make a difference in the community where you live, or reach out to a specific person or family in need of a new friend. Have you ever made a list of ways to spend time with your neighbors?  How might you intentionally begin relationships, deepen current friendships, understand who your neighbors are and how they view the world?

Becoming – Part 6…PRACTICE with Patience (4th P)


Becoming…The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village


Practice is supposed to take up between 50% and 65% of ACL time.  Some of this is practice on my own, and some of this is practice with friends and language helpers, both in the context of actual culture events and out of context, at my house.  This is the P in which the information I have gleaned actually sticks in my brain, hopefully, at least.

Today (May 7th) the focus area for my Practice time was Gourd Blackening.  People here drink their traditional beverage, “ee” out of gourds that have been split in half, scooped out, cleaned, dried, blackened with ashes from wood from a certain type of tree, and sealed, using glue made from the inner bark of another type of tree.  Yes, it is a lot of work, especially since these types of trees grow way out in the jungle, not in or near or village.

Gourd Blackening was an event I participated in the day before yesterday.  I spent some Practice time on it yesterday, but needed more.  Instead of recording an oral narrative of this event by asking Xibu to tell me the story of how we blackened drinking gourds, I decided to write this story myself.

First I looked back at my Field Notebook, pages 177-182, where I had taken notes during the actual event.  This time, I had had the unique opportunity to Participate in the same event twice on the same day, with two different ladies.

Gourd Blackening is an event which seems to only take place in April, based on this year and last year, at least.  That would be an excellent question to ask someone tomorrow.  Ooh!  What P is that an example of?  That’s right – Plan!  .

At any rate, Gourd Blackening is not something an ACL student gets to participate in often.  I participated once last April, in a group culture event, where one of my friend’s mother-in-law taught her, her sister and I how to do it.  But that would be another story about Participating.

From my Field Notebook, I reviewed all the new vocabulary and specific phrases related to Gourd Blackening.  At this phase of ACL, I am also focusing on writing the correct form of complex sentences, especially when I try to form a sentence and it comes out in the wrong order…which is probably the case for most of the complex sentences I say, but thankfully, no one is tracking those statistics.  I also looked at the computer file from last year to check if there were any different words or phrases recorded there.

The goal was to practice these sentences, phrases and words by including them in the story, which was a step-by-step narrative with dialogue, written in third person, about Xibu and I blackening her gourds.

Less than an hour after I had rough drafted the story and edited it as much as possible, Xibu arrived for a previously-planned study session.  The reason I add that detail, is that Xibu is such a proactive friend and language helper that sometimes she comes over without being asked, with the plan of teaching me.

Her initiative seems to be based on two things – friendship and hunger.

Our friendship has grown so much over the past two years.  We genuinely have fun together, whether doing traditional art, tramping through the jungle, smiling at the antics of her grandson, baking bread, or sitting on a bench outdoors while moaning about the vast numbers of biting bugs.  I think it is evident that I value her culture and language, and she truly enjoys passing it on, as well as learning a skill or two from me.  Of course, much can also be said for the opportunities to laugh that I provide – amused laughter at her student’s clumsy attempts to use tools or vocabulary, as well as delighted laughter when I wield a tool well or say something complicated correctly .

Knowing that my purpose for being there is to teach God’s Word in their language, Xibu wants to help me reach the goal of fluency as quickly as possible.  While she is the teacher on both sides of the language/culture coin, she views me as the future Bible teacher and she is looking forward to the time when she can be the student, often expressing her desire to learn God’s Word and her frustration at not understanding it in Portuguese.  Xibu’s hunger for God’s Word motivates her to continue investing time in teaching me.

This afternoon she stayed for about two hours.  Most of that time was spent correcting Gourd Blackening Story (that is admittedly not the catchiest title, but since the story is not destined for publication, it’s fine).  Xibu corrected all of my mistakes, of which there were a significant number, but not nearly as many as I expected.

On some of the complex sentences, after reading aloud she would say, “Good,” to which I would ask in surprise, “Really?”.  And a couple times, as she read my tiny but neat pencil scratchings, she would exclaim, “Nice!” with such a proud expression on her face, pleased that we really are succeeding in this task together, teacher and student.  Xibu made suggestions for phrases to add to the story, and explained a few grammatical topics along the way.

For instance, she taught me that after you have stated the names of people, you don’t refer to them as “alej” (the word normally used for “they”) but as “é ej.”  This may apply only when one is referring to the named people in the very next sentence; clarifying the scope and specifics of grammar rules is very difficult with my current language level, but I was excited to learn this much today.

Tonight I typed and printed the story out, coming up with a few more sentences in order to include a couple vocabulary words accidentally omitted, and a couple grammatical structures that might fit into the story, if Xibu (or her husband, whose Portuguese is better), can help me figure out how.

I’ll continue practicing this culture event by reading the story aloud to anyone who is interested.  I am so grateful for the patience of Xibu and other friends in helping me practice their language.  I also am learning to be patient with myself, even when I wish I were progressing more quickly.

Some other Practice Techniques I often use at this stage of ACL are:

  • Focused conversation – simply talking with people about the event.
  • Looking at photos of the event with friends, and discussing photos.
  • Asking questions about the event.
  • Getting an audio recording of someone talking about the event.
  • Listening to and typing out such texts, and thus learning new words and grammar.
  • Various practice techniques specific to the ACL method.
  • Review and drilling.
  • Correcting independent “grammar work” with a language helper.
  • Listening to audio recordings – new words, sentences, texts.
  • Mimicing the audios, practicing pronunciation and especially tone.
  • Participate in the same culture event again, practicing what was learned previously.

Part 2 – Becoming…An ACL Addict

Becoming: The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village

So…the Neno language has me officially hooked.  I stayed up until 10 last night.  That’s late for me, especially in the village.  It was our second evening without diesel (this time), so from about 7:30 to 9:15, I was sitting on a small block of wood, outdoors in the moonlight with my next-door neighbors and two couples who had come down from the school to visit them.

That gathering included lots of laughter and conversation, of which your resident language and culture learner understood only about 10 percent…maybe.  Group conversations are the hardest to follow, especially when I don’t know all the speakers well, and cannot see their lips or facial expressions.  Yet they are still great opportunities for friendship-building, challenging the brain, and practicing my Neno listening and deduction skills.

Afterwards, although tired, I was too excited to sleep, and spent another 45 minutes reading a thick linguistics textbook which had fit into my suitcase this time.  Having read at least half of it before, it is more exciting and relevant now that I can apply all the principles to a real language I am currently learning.

Today, 5:25 AM found me at the computer with earbuds in, listening to a lively Neno song, which along with the mug of coffee I had already started on, was a strategic way to wake up and get going.  Three Neno “music groups” have recorded original songs (12-15 songs/group), for which I have been typing out the lyrics.

Did you know that a couple years after learning Portuguese, having spent a total of just 14 months in Brasil, I got this crazy craving to learn another, harder language?  The novelty of Portuguese had worn off.  I could speak it already, after all, and communicate anything I wanted to.  While there was definitely lots of room for improvement (I hadn’t even reached what I would define as fluency at that point) and a definite sotaque (accent) to lose, it no longer provided the mental challenge of a language totally new.  So I spent 30-some bucks on Japanese language-learning CDs, which I listened to on roads all over Lewis County while working as a home visitor.  It was fun, and I learned some phrases long since forgotten, but the motivation didn’t last without the opportyinity for relationships with anyone who speaks Japanese.

Well, now I get another chance at a harder language, built-in relationships already included, no CDs available.  Let it be known that the Neno language fits into the “High Level Challenge Category”, no doubt about it, including tones, grammatical categories that English and Portuguese speakers never imagined, and sneaky switcharoo sounds.  But it’s a blast.

I resent activities like eating, washing dishes, and killing the termites which built a small mound in my kitchen, because all I want to do is be interacting with this language and culture in some capacity.

  • Observing or doing new things with friends, “out-and-about” in the community.
  • Hanging out in groups and attempting to decipher conversations.
  • Actually talking one-on-one with someone, with much better comprehension.
  • Listening to music.
  • Sitting down for a formal organized semi-organized study session with a language helper.
  • Analyzing sentence structure.
  • Writing out the text of audio stories that friends have recorded for me.
  • Reviewing sets of vocabulary flashcards. (This one I often do while eating, actually).

I love it all, and find myself in a perpetual state of wanting more, more, MORE!

Even now, writing to you, a truly enjoyable undertaking, I’m restless, almost agitated, hoping to finish up quickly and go back to that partially-compiled adjective list.  Adjectives here are tricky, one discovers after awhile.  They remain the same whether referring to men or women, thankfully, but have a different plural form, as well as a diminuitive feature, which would take too long to explain when I’d rather find a Neno friend to help me learn it in real life (and there is a real example of the restlessness).  But not ALL adjectives have a plural form, and some adjectives are used almost exclusively in the diminuitive form, so the “basic” form is rarely heard.  There is so much left to learn.

But it’s all good.  By God’s grace, slow and steady will win the race, right?

Sure, I can’t wait to be finished with ACL, because the goal is getting “released” from the program and start teaching the Bible.  And the sense of urgency for that task is growing steadily.

Yet in the meantime, the linguistic aspect of becoming part of the Neno community is worthwhile, fun, and rewarding in and of itself.  And it’s addicting.

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 

Moments Like These

Following Jesus to this corner of the Amazon Jungle has brought its challenges – infections, bugs, tropical heat, tonal language, and being faraway from my family.  Sometimes I feel discouraged, overwhelmed, or homesick.

But God remains faithful.  As He said to Abram, thousands of years ago, “Fear not…I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.”  God Himself is enough to make any challenges and suffering worthwhile.  Actually, He is enough to make them seem trivial.  In addition, if He weren’t already enough, God gives me beautiful, precious moments where His extreme grace shines into everyday village life with unexpected glory.  Although words cannot adequately express these moments, please let your imagination supply what is lacking in the following feeble attempts.

  Moment 1

Leaving the home of one of my language helpers, after eating lunch with her and her family, her two-year-old calls my name, and I respond with, “yes?” to which he replies, “nothing.”  We go through this sequence three times.  He clearly does not want me to leave.  The morning before, he actually came home with me, to play with the toys I brought back from the city last time, and the big cardboard box that my agitator came in.

That box proved to be the preferred toy during its two-week lifespan.  I suspected that children valuing boxes as the best playthings ever would be a cross-cultural phenomenon, and now that theory has been proven true.  It served as a terrific hideout, playhouse, and jungle gym.  The two-year-old girl, who is an only child, was afraid to go in the box by herself, however, and her mom never offered to go with her, so guess who ended up going in and out of the box about a dozen times that day?  Let’s just say it was someone who was rather large to fit in the box, but I scrunched myself up as best I could, and we both two-year-old had fun.

The box was also great for carpentry practice.  Lorena, my coworkers’ oldest daughter, came up with the idea of nailing the box to the floor (note that my kitchen floor is made of dirt).  After engaging in this activity for over an hour, she commented, “Now that I’m learning how to hammer nails, I’ll be able to help my daddy with things.”  Her dad probably won’t need things nailed to the ground very often, but at least that skill is a small first step towards hammering nails into wood.

The eight-year-old girl invented a game where she and her cousin laid inside the box, and told her two-year brother to run and jump on top of them.  Inside the box, they couldn’t see when he was coming, producing an adrenaline rush of wondering when they would suddenly get pummeled by a flying child.  (No, I did not participate in this game, just imagining what it would be like and remembering similar games I may have instigated with younger siblings back in the day, ahem).  Unfortunately, the box met its demise during a variation of this game, and is no longer with us.

This post was supposed to be about special moments God has given me recently, not “Ways to Have Fun with Large Boxes”.  Please excuse that rabbit trail.

Moment 2

Have I mentioned that the two-year-olds (there are three in our village – two boys and one girl) have developed the habit of yelling my name whenever they see me?  They mispronounce it in the cutest ways, too.  There was never more than a slight chance of a very, very white gringa sneaking across the village undetected, but now the probability has decreased to just above zero.

One of the two-year-olds mothers commented,

“The children like you a lot.”

“Aww…I like them a lot too.”

Her husband interjected a smart-aleck comment into the heartwarming moment, saying, “The children like your cake.”

“Just the children?” I teased back, a twinkle in my eye.  “Not the grownups?”

Returning his attention to working on their family’s motorcycle, he ignored the question, but his wife laughed.

Such good friends, and such wonderful moments.

Moment 3

One morning, down at the creek, as I sat on a log while my friend, washed her family’s clothes, she suddenly commented,

“You are a good friend.”

I have no idea what I was even doing to qualify as a good friend.  I actually felt pretty much like a lazy loser.  If it weren’t for my pathetic allergies, I would have been in the river with her, helping wash clothes, because that’s the kind of friend I am in my heart.  Actually, my sneaky plan was to help despite my allergies, thus the pair of non-latex cleaning gloves (sent special delivery by my special sister-in-law) stuffed in a back pocket.  But I had forgotten that in addition to regular laundry detergent, the Neno use huge quantities of bleach for washing clothes, and the bleach allergy is so strong I discovered it long before doing any allergy tests.  It manages to get the best of my fingers, even inside gloves, and last attempt took a couple weeks to recover from, so I don’t dare use it for anything, and cannot even stay in a closed area with the smell, due to the resulting lightheadedness.

Yet in that moment, while struggling with the never-ending tension of what I want to do and what I am physically able to do, something prompted my Neno friend’s affirming words.

There is no way she could have known what was going through my head.  She doesn’t even know that I am (or used to be, anyway) the hands-on, jump in with both feet, get in the middle of the action, type of person, and that it is oh-so-hard to hold back from getting involved.  Sitting still and observing gets old fast.  Yet in the Neno culture, the opportunities where I have been able to help have been few and far between, due to various health challenges, the intense heat, and the fact that compared to theirs, my muscles are outrageously weak.

Nevertheless, we have a loving Heavenly Father who knew exactly the emotional conflict going on inside His daughter’s heart.  And He gave me that encouraging moment with a friend to remind me to keep on going, loving those around me, and serving when opportunities arise, without feeling guilty or remorseful about all the ways I see that I wish I could serve and be involved.

And as I write this, weeks later, tears fall freely…tears of gratitude for two-year-olds, cardboard boxes, children in my house, jokes and laughter with friends, and unexpected grace at the creek’s edge.  Emotional conflicts continue, but with friends like the Neno, a Father like God, and occasional moments like these, it’s going to be just fine.