How to Handle Tree Frogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Option #3 seemed like the best choice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES
It’s the same frog in all three photos. 

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

 

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

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

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

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

Is This Your Jungle?

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

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

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

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

 

20190824_155946
Photos featuring the car that allowed me to drop off Eli at the airport, plan surprise birthday picnics, hike one of the 46 peaks with the whole family, and go to the church building countless times, for services, music practice, studying, playing piano, fellowship, and ministry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 Things I Miss About the Village

Two of the most frequently asked questions as a missionary is finishing up home assignment are,

“Are you excited to leave? and “Are you excited to go back?”

IMGP8530

No one has ever asked me both of those questions, however. It is either the first or the second. I finally figured out that the reason either one of those questions seems complicated is because answering both questions is the only way to give an accurate picture without oversimplifying the situation.

So are you ready for both answers?

No, I am not excited to leave. Saying good-bye to family and friends that I love is always painful and hard and sad.

Yes, I am very excited to go back. I love the friends and the life God has given me in the jungle and even while I have loved being here, have missed being there at the same time.

After explaining that paradox to some friends a couple weeks ago, someone asked what I miss about the village.

Well, the biggest and obvious answer is my friends who live there, but here a few specific descriptions, in no particular order, of things I miss.

  1. The effortlessness of spending time with people. Rather than calling to schedule something for the next day or week, or ask if someone is home so I can go visit, all I have to do is leave my house and walk around the village until I find someone sitting on benches outdoors or in their kitchen houses. Due to their culture’s natural hospitality and acceptance, and almost 3 years of intentional relationship-building, I am welcome to just walk in, sit down, or join in whatever activity might be happening, no questions asked, except for the traditional question like the one you ask friends when you first see them each day, “Did you wake up?” This lifestyle of togetherness and community is a wonderful way to live.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES
  1. The look of delight and pride on the face of one of my best friends when I get things right in their language, or ask an insightful question about the culture. She has invested countless hours in patiently teaching me, and we have grown so much together, as teacher and student, and as friends.
  1. Little children yelling at my door during my third or fourth shower (cool-off technique) of the day, “What are you doing?” Well, they can hear the water running, so they know I’m showering. They just want me to hurry up so I can let them in to come play with my toys. The funniest occasion was when the little girl who tries to take charge of every situation, yelled in the most demanding voice a 4-year-old could muster, “Hurry up and let us in, cuz these bugs are biting us!”, as if there were no other houses in the village where they could escape the bugs, and I was a horribly neglectful person for failing to grant immediate refuge. These little friends make me laugh so much. I thank God for all the children He has placed in my life who enjoy spending time with me.
  1. The peace and stillness after the generator is turned off, normally between 9 and 10 pm. After everyone has gone to bed, with the background music of singing birds and insects, it feels like it is just Jesus and I alone, with no one else awake in the world to interrupt our time together. Many nights I step outside for a minute or two to gaze at the starry Amazon sky that He created. Even if the day might have been filled with stress or physical pain or discouragement or tears or a sense of failure, the beauty of that sight never fails to fill my soul with wonder and stir my heart to worship our Creator and Saviour.
  1. Not needing to deal with money or shopping or errands or appointments for months at a time. 
  2. Seeing brightly-colored parrots and macaws fly overhead as I walk across the village and remembering again, with a thrill, that I live in the real, live, Amazon rainforest.IMGP9652
  1. Being engaged in a lifestyle of ministry in which I am reminded on a daily basis that I do not have what it takes to do what Jesus has called me to do. That is true in the States as well, but it isn’t quite as apparent. In a culture that I am still becoming part of but will never completely belong in, my incompetence and weakness is very obvious to everyone. I’m not strong enough or brave enough or smart enough or organized enough or healthy enough or spiritual enough. Whether it is my inability to adjust to the heat, cope with stress, pronounce words, keep bugs out of my food, use a machete, handle a complicated cultural situation, or trust God instead of worrying, I am in way over my head in the village. And this is good. Abiding in Jesus comes more naturally when we are constantly confronted with practical examples of the reality that we can do nothing on our own.watching ee
  1. The daily suspense of waking up with no idea what could happen on a given day, but knowing that if I am in the right place at the right moment, there will probably be exciting culture events or interesting conversations to participate in. Knowing that I’ve missed out on lots of events and conversations since July increases my anticipation to return and jump back into language and culture learning with my friends. Every day in the jungle is an adventure!

20181124_090118 (1)

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!

 

13 Reasons I Probably Should Never Be Allowed to Visit the USA Again

Becoming…The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village

IMGP2225 - Copy
Learning to see the world through new eyes, with new face paint, compliments of a teenage friend.  This paint is made from red seeds called “dough-cop”, and comes off after just one washing.

After a little more than 1 ½ years of living in a new culture with new friends, it is evident that I am becoming more like them.  I’m not just learning the language, after all, but living the language.  I am learning how to view the world through the eyes of my friends instead of the eyes of my birth culture.  While here, these changes are fantastic.  One goal of ACL is to become one of the people, to the point where I understand them and can relate to them in culturally appropriate ways.

The downside is that my behavior might not be considered…umm…normal in places outside of this Amazon village.

Honestly, I have picked up some habits that would be unacceptable at the very least (if not obnoxious) in the good ‘ol USA, and might even shock you a bit.  The list below is not intended to be derogatory or make fun of my host culture and their ways.  The fact that I actually DO all of these things here shows that I don’t have a problem with their culture and am adapting to it quite well.

My intention is simply to share more about becoming part of a new culture by comparing the differences in a humorous way.

To be completely candid, it would be just as easy to write a post…Why North Americans Should Probably Not be Allowed to Visit Our Village.  Some culturally normal behavior from the USA or Canada would be viewed as very strange or downright offensive here.  In the interest of relating to others in love, avoiding offense and living at peace with my new friends, I have learned to suppress certain habits and customs learned from North American and Brasilian culture.

All of these differences are not indicators of better or worse.  They are mere reflections of diversity.  God made all of us different, thankfully.  Wouldn’t it be boring if we all acted and thought and behaved exactly the same?  It is important to appreciate and value diversity.  And why not enjoy the funny side of it as well?

Besides, I need something to laugh at other than all the language mistakes I make.  Although those are quite amusing.  For instance, during my language evaluation last week, I told my friend, twice, very confidently, that yes, my entire family speaks Portuguese and only Portuguese.  We had a good laugh over that one.  For variety’s sake, though, sometimes I enjoy laughing at my new “normal” behavior, imagining what it would be like to bring such customs back to North America in my suitcase. 

Before you resolve to never invite me to your home or church, let me assure you that I intend to leave my new habits here in the jungle, suppressing any random third-culture urges.  So please do invite me over next time I’m back in North America!  I’ll be good (and as culturally normal as possible), I promise!  What would it look like if I did fail in this intention, however?

Well, I might…

  1. spit on your kitchen floor.
  2. fling small amounts of water, left in a cup or pot, onto the floor. Imagine my surprise when the wood or linoleum doesn’t immediately absorb the water like our lovely hard-packed dirt floor do.
  3. throw chicken bones or other undesirable scraps of food on your floor.
  4. practice the fine art of culturally appropriate nosiness. “Where are you going?”  “What did she say to you?”  “When are you going to town?”  “What are you doing?”  It probably wouldn’t take long for you inform me that in American culture, such things are none of my business.
  5. casually ask if your child (or you) have lice. You mean that’s not a good conversation starter?
  6. treat meat and potatoes like finger food.
  7. Carry a notebook around and write down phrases from every conversation, sometimes asking you to repeat yourself to make sure I record your statements word for word. (This isn’t actually part of the culture here, but it is something that a language learner is expected to do which has become part of my daily life.  I have even mastered the impressive skill of writing words in a notebook while walking on jungle trails, without falling down.  Usually the words are even decipherable).
  8. Ask to go along when you nonchalantly mention that you are going grocery shopping, hunting, or to visit your in-laws. Can’t miss a good cultural event, after all.
  9. Stand up in the middle of a church service (even the sermon) to go rearrange something that doesn’t look “just right” to me.
  10. Speak tonally.
  11. Make strange comments such as, “will there be electricity tonight?”, “I love refrigerators!”, “It’s morning, and the lights work!” (This also has nothing to do with the culture, but is a direct result of living in a place with only 2 or 3 hours of generator-provided electricity each day…okay, most days).
  12. Ignore compliments, as if I didn’t even hear you.
  13. Ask, “Did you wake up?” instead of saying good morning.
SAM_5830
Not included in the list is habitual posture which is extremely unladylike, although not nearly as uncomfortable as it looks.  It does tend to make one’s feet fall asleep unless weight is shifted frequently, however.

So, if some random person did happen to engage in such behavior, which number above would be the biggest irritation to you, personally?  Seriously, I’d love to know, so please answer!

Don’t worry though, your jungle-dwelling missionary friend will not annoy you in any of the ways listed above!  Except speaking tonally and making comments about loving refrigerators and the novelty of turning lights on in the morning…those might happen occasionally.

Are there any items on the list that you actually wish could be part of your culture and normal behavior? 

Which number would you most strongly advise that I never ever EVER do as a guest in someone’s home or church?

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

IMGP9629 - Copy
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?

The Vegetables that Saved a Life

What do a large basket, three hundred trumpets, water from a donkey’s jawbone, and three boxes full of fruits and vegetables have in common?  Continue reading to find out the answer.

IMGP1536
Fruits and vegetables purchased at market yesterday to take along to the village on Monday.

On Saturday March 3rd, my sister and I were peacefully sleeping in my little house in the jungle.  “Zujkywa*, Zujkywa!” Xibu’s frantic voice woke me from sleep just after 1 o’clock in the morning.  “Pandet morreu!”  (Pandet died).

“Whaaaa-aat?” was the first shocked word out of my mouth, before I realized I needed to be speaking the tribal language, or at least Portuguese, if I wanted to be understood.  Jumping out of bed and telling Xibu we would be right there, Bri and I changed out of our pajamas as quickly as possible, and headed to Pandet’s house, where almost everyone in the village was already gathered.

Thankfully, Pandet was not dead, but he was completely unresponsive.  (One interesting feature of the this tribal language is that they use the same word for faint and for die.  Yes, that does complicate conversations).  So when Xibu called through my bedroom window in Portuguese, she apparently translated the phrase literally as she would have said it in her language.  While we were thankful that Pandet had only fainted, his breathing was very shallow and his extremies were frighteningly cold.  It was obvious his life was in danger.

His wife and daughter-in-law sobbed loudly, while the rest of the villagers gathered around his hammock or in the next room, all with somber, grief-stricken, fearful faces.  Candles and flashlights did little to illuminate the bedroom and nothing to cheer the atmosphere.  We were helpless, under the shadow of death which hung in the stifling jungle air.

Before my sister and I arrived, Adam, who has basic medical training and is responsible for first aid in our village, had taken Pandet’s vital signs.  Since he was completely unresponsive, though, he could not give him medicine or food.  It appeared that Adam did not know what else to do.

Wishing I had relevant medical knowledge to share, I began to do the only thing I could – pray, asking God to somehow save this dear man’s life.  How could he have gone hunting just the day before and now be lying pale and unconscious in his hammock?

Later, we found out that he had been having diarrhea for a few days.  Then, several hours before, he ate cake and drank kool-aid, which is not the best bedtime snack for a diabetic.

Last to arrive on the scene were the chief’s oldest son and his wife, Eliana, who realized that Pandet was experiencing a diabetic coma and quickly assured everyone she knew exactly what to do.  Eliana’s younger sister has the same type of diabetes as Pandet, so Eliana had cared for her during many similar crises.  After she gave Pandet enough sugar water to revive him, Eliana had him eat some food, which gave him enough strength to sit up in the hammock.  He spoke in a very agitated manner as his family members cried.  I was not able to understand anything that was said.  After ten minutes or so, we all headed back to our homes for the night.

To understand the full impact of this story, you need to know that Eliana does not live in our village.  She is a “city Brasilian”, so their family has always lived in the city, but finally built a house in the village last year.  Although they travel back and forth frequently, they spend more time in Ji-Paraná than in the village.

Now let’s rewind to the afternoon of the previous day, Friday, a couple hours before Pandet ate the cake.  Xibu and her family returned from the city where they had been for about a week.  They brought me three boxes of vegetables and fruits, purchased by Ouripio, another missionary.  His ministry is maintenance and oversight of the mission base property, as well as supply-buying for us who work in the villages.  I leave him with money and a shopping list of vegetables and fruits.  After 3 weeks or so, since that is about the length of time that the last vegetables will run out (winter squash and onions have the longest shelf life), if he finds out about anyone traveling from the city to our village, he makes the purchase and sends my groceries along.  Don, who does daily Bible studies and Sunday services with native people in the city, keeps Ouripio informed of their travel plans, so there is a lot of teamwork involved.

In this case, on Wednesday night, Don found out that a family was planning to travel back to our village early Thursday morning.  So he and Ouripio rushed to the store, boxed up the groceries and took them over to the family.  Well, they changed their mind and stayed in the city (until now, actually), but the boxes with my name on them were all ready to go.

Then on Friday night, at about 8 pm, Eliana and her husband arrived in the village, about 3 hours after Xibu’s family.  They stopped by to say hello, drop off letters from misisonaries at the base, and give us the last groceries, a small styrofoam cooler with cheese and processed meat.  Eliana also asked if we had run out of food, which seemed an odd question.

Saturday, after Pandet’s middle-of-the-night crisis, Eliana told me that they hadn’t been planning to make a trip to the village yet, but all of a sudden her husband said, “Let’s go to the village today.  God put it on my heart to take Zujkyp’s* groceries to her.”  Finding out about this, Xibu, who is his sister, and her family decided to go that day also.

*Zujkyp is the native name I was given.

Being an impressively flexible and supportive wife, married to someone from a very different culture, Eliana prepared for the unplanned 5-hour trip and they headed out the door.  Granted, the chief’s son is known for being spontaneous, but this was different than normal.  It wasn’t an idea he came up with, but a conviction that this was something God wanted him to do immediately. 

Eliana continued, “That’s why I asked you last night if you and Bri had run out food, and if you were both alright.  It was just so odd for my husband to talk that way.”

My voice was hushed by the awe of realizing that something far more important than groceries had been at stake.  “No, we were fine.  Our fruits and vegetables ran out a couple weeks ago, of course, but that always happens, and we had plenty of other food.  After what happened last night, I guess we know the real reason God put it on your husband’s heart to come yesterday.  It wasn’t for Bri and I.”

Tears came to my eyes as I reflected on the miracle that had taken place.  God knew that Pandet would go into a coma and that Adam wouldn’t know what to do.  Not only had God prearranged the timing of the grocery purchase so that the fruits and vegetables would be there just waiting for a ride, He prompted the chief’s son so strongly that he felt compelled to come, arriving in the village only five hours before the crisis occurred.  If Eliana hadn’t been there, it was very possible that Pandet might have died.

Are you facing a crisis in your life, friend?  If God could set events in motion to make sure the right person was in a remote Amazon village, hours away from emergency medical help, to save Pandet’s life, you can be confident that He is in control of your situation too.

That doesn’t mean everything will always turn out the way you want it to, but it does mean that God has a plan.  Will you trust God to work in the hardship or crisis you or your family might be experiencing now?

We serve a God who still works miracles and saves lives, sometimes through very ordinary, commonplace objects and people.  In Scripture He used things as varied and unexpected as  a basket, water from a donkey’s jawbone, and three hundred trumpets and pitchers.  Last month, in our little corner of the jungle, He used fruits and vegetables.

Experiencing such an amazing example of God’s foreknowledge and lovingkindness challenged me to be more sensitive to His leading in the events of daily life.  If you ever feel that God is putting something on your heart, even if it seems odd or unexplainable, let me challenge you to do it.  We never know when our obedience might be a small cog in the machine of a current-day miracle of God.  And we wouldn’t want to miss out on that.

Writer’s Block and Writer’s Break

IMGP9507
Since we now have good internet at the mission base and photos upload quickly, here is a random traveling/birthday picture, after a month-long trip back to the States this summer.

For awhile, I managed to continue a fairly consistent routine of Friday morning blog posts (except for last week, which I skipped completely).  If I had internet access more often than every 2 months, continuing this schedule would be fairly simple.

However, over the last couple months, I have unfortunately not been able to write 10 posts to publish on the next 10 Fridays.  There are many reasons for this, including full-time ACL, headaches, running out of diesel to run the community generator (which results in the laptop’s batteries running out), and writer’s block.  While I normally love writing, especially when the purpose is communicating with team members back home to share what is happening here, sometimes words just don’t come to express thoughts and ideas, all that God is doing in my heart and life, or even relate daily events and experiences.

We are heading back to the village early tomorrow, and while I have a few posts drafted or outlined, all of them need significant editing before sharing and the time is just too short for writing, in addition to everything else that still needs to be accomplished.

IMGP9552
White River – photo taken in September

So please forgive me for this long break, especially right near the beginning of a series about ACL.  I will try to get back into writing soon, however, and edit the drafts so that they are ready to post.  If friends from the village go to “The Farm” across the river from the village, and if the internet signal there is good enough, I will go along, and post on the blog.  If not, I will definitely be back in the city either the first or second week of April, so you can expect a new post then.

In the meantime, despite such a long time without updates, please remember to continue praying, and know that I am still very thankful for your partnership and friendship in this wonderful adventure.

If you are not on the e-mail list to receive my Crossing Cultures updates (different from here on the blog, normally every 2-4 months), you can sign up here.  http://eepurl.com/bWtE6X  I will be sending out an update this evening, with recent pictures, news and prayer requests.  Take care, and keep your eyes on Jesus!

Part 3 – Becoming. Homes, Sweet Homes

Becoming…The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village.

Today started in the city, at about 6:30 with a cup of coffee, one last huge bowl of homemade yogurt, a sinkful of dishes to wash, a freezer to defrost, several Psalms, and internet that only worked for about 10 minutes, with the backdrop of traffic sounds, dogs barking, and heat that starts way too early in the day.

Today ends in the village, just after 10 PM, half an hour after “lights out”, with a few bugs attracted to the laptop’s glow, half-unpacked boxes of clothes and groceries all around, lots of cleaning tasks to be done tomorrow (or whenever), crickets chirping in my house, and a veritable jungle orchestra outside, comprised of birds, insects, frogs, and other creatures whose voices I have not yet learned to identify.  It is not a quiet place, but the peaceful noises of nature beat the cacophony of the city any day.

IMGP0232

True, there were so many things I didn’t get done in the city, some rather important.  So many things I wanted to talk about with my mom and sister, but our conversations were never quite long enough to remember it all.  But those things don’t seem to matter quite so much now that I’m here.  They can wait until December.  The wish that I could have finished my to-do list is overshadowed by relief to be finished with the in-transit sensation of waiting and hoping a ride will appear.

My heart has already made the transition from city to village.  Let’s just hope the brain is quick to follow, making the most of every day, grasping linguistic concepts quickly, learning with a new vigor inspired by the delay in returning.  It was actually only 5 extra days in the city, but seemed longer in my eagerness to return to the exciting routine of community, friends, language learning, and jungle life.  I am home.

IMGP0225

Home is a strange concept in the missionary heart, by the way.  Just a month ago, I was talking about how wonderful it was to be home…back in Lewis County, with family, church, friends, eating sweet corn and peaches, talking and praying and worshipping God with other believers in English, wading in creeks, searching for monarch caterpillars, and sniffing the fragrance only furnished by dairy farms.

And now I’m talking as if that faraway land were a dream, or a place I don’t really care about.  While I obviously know it’s real, and still care deeply about people and events there, it is no longer my primary residence.

No, I am not in the same geographical location as the people I love best, my family, because that would be Lewis County, or Colorado, or Heaven, come to think of it.  But home can also be defined as the place in which we belong, whether this belonging is determined by choice, God’s calling, heart ties, family bonds, friendships material possessions, or other factors.

IMGP7764

All things considered, out of all the many places on earth that I hold dear, this tiny Amazon village truly is the place where I most belong right now.  I let go of so much to come here, you know; it was no whim or hasty decision.  It was a choice and commitment made in obedience to the Great Commission and Holy Spirit’s leading as doors opened for me to come here specifically.  And as I left one home, God gave me another, just as He did back in 2008 in Itapecerica da Serra, São Paulo.  But don’t worry – I still consider Lewis County home also, and will always come back to visit and love every day spent there with all of you.  Logical or not, it seems we missionaries have a proclivity for claiming many homes, in widely scattered locations.  But enough reflections regarding home.

Tonight I look forward to the rest almost guaranteed to relax my body, soul and spirit.  It’s more than just the pleasantly cool temperature for sleeping, the jungle lullaby, and perhaps a rainy drizzle on my thatch roof.  Rest will be sweet because I am finally back home, in this place where God has called me, to live and love and work and give, and just…become whoever it is that He wants me to be, for His glory among this people.

Another Day in the Life, village edition.

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

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

              July ?, 2017

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

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

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

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

11:15 – Juliana came over.

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

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

11:45 – plantain and coffee.

11:50 –  Time with Jesus.

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

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

3:15 – preparing for lesson with language helper.

3:40 – tidying house

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

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

5:30 – Went to Juliana’s house

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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