Mountain Biking and Missions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(*Acquisition of Culture and Language)

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

A Getaway Plane, a Virus, and Resurrection

At 11:07, near Gate 75, I nearly fall asleep while typing, wondering if there is any point in even trying to capture these thoughts in a meaningful way. It is not only a moment of personal exhaustion but also of worldwide panic. If I don’t concentrate on something, though, I’ll fall asleep and miss what could be one of the last planes leaving for my other home.

It was supposed to be a flight out of Syracuse originally, then JFK. But at the end of a crazy day, I’m in Toronto, because the chances of actually getting back to Brasil from here seemed higher.

It’s only one day sooner than I was supposed to leave, and there is no denying the conviction that I need to get out before the door closes. As wonderful as the past 8 months of home assignment have been, the time has come to leave. Whatever happens in the coming weeks and months, my American home is not the place to wait it out.

After my dad and a friend from church dropped me off, I verified that the flight was still on time, then paused, overwhelmed with gratitude and relief tinged by uncertainty. The normal emotions of saying goodbye and heading off alone were accompanied by slight guilt for leaving a place and people that I love in a time of crisis.

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Holding back tears, I wished my phone had enough battery left to watch the video of “Confidence”, the song four friends played and sang as a going-away surprise in church yesterday.

A woman walks down the hall many yards away. From that distance, her red coat looks like the one a friend has been wearing all winter. For a split-second, my heart jumps with a thrill of joy, then falls immediately when I realize that my friend, who I said goodbye to less than 7 hours ago is back in Lowville, and we won’t see each other for three years.

And already I miss her and her family so much that my eyes fill with tears, prompting the question,

“Why am I even doing this if it hurts so much?”

But now is no time for reflection or meditation, or meltdowns. I must stop thinking about friends and family and all the special memories shared in recent days. That will have to wait.

So I go into travel mode instead, and get in the Air Canada line to check my bags.

Having pushed aside the grief of departure, I suddenly remember how much I love airports.  As liminal places, where transition is the norm, not the exception, airports facilitate both reunions and farewells, and are portals for people embarking on new adventures.

If I lived in a city with an airport, I would go there frequently to get work done. It would be an ideal place to think and pray and write, with plenty of events to watch and people to meet during study breaks. Despite certainty that a direct flight was the wiser choice this trip, it was actually rather disappointing that this new flight eliminated my 11-hour study time during the intended connection in Miami.

But back to Toronto. In less than half an hour, in addition to checking two 70-pound suitcases, I was able to:

  • Chat with an endearing family from Johannesburg, South Africa, whose holiday in Canada was cut short and who were very enthusiastic to hear that I’ll be doing Bible translation.
  • Meet a lady who has to have a layover in Brasil and is hoping not to get stuck there as she attempts to find a way home to Chile in the midst of cancelled flights and closing borders.
  • Help an Asian man figure out how to make water come out of a fountain. He expressed his gratitude enthusiastically with a series of bows and a huge smile.
  • Encourage a young, exhausted-looking mom of a two-year-old boy, who had to cancel travel plans to visit his daddy in Trinidad.
  • Talk with a man heading to visit his family in Pakistan, where, according to him, they are safe from the virus.

Did I mention that airports are delightful? Besides the thrill of every takeoff, I love meeting people, hearing their stories, making connections, and sharing Jesus.

Did I also mention that airports are confusing? Staying up all night to finish packing didn’t contribute to mental clarity.

Three proofs of my exhaustion:

  • Trying to go through security with the baggage cart.
  • Misinterpreting the gestures of an agent, thinking he was telling me to dump my water, which I was planning to do anyway, when he was actually directing me to a different door.
  • Walking through security with my sneakers on the whole time, never even thinking about taking them off until other people were putting theirs back on.

In my defense, by the time the sneakers incident happened, I was focused on a new temporary life mission: Cheer Up as Many Security Workers as Possible in Two-Minute Encounters. Most of them seemed really grumpy and irritable, which totally makes sense with all they must be dealing with recently.

Unfortunately, the only joke that came to mind was one I made up today with a reference to the book of Habakkuk. Since that would not be universally appreciated, I stuck with smiling and making an extra effort to be grateful and friendly.

The security workers must have been almost as overtired as I was, since they didn’t notice my sneakers. Or maybe they simply chose not to say anything out of kindness, because this is not a typical night in a typical airport.

Today, nearly everyone who is flying is facing unexpected circumstances or life changes or cancelled plans because of a global crisis. And that goes for people who aren’t in airports as well.

A virus so tiny we can’t see it is changing our world in ways so huge they cannot be denied.

We are fragile, vulnerable, formed from the dust to which we are destined to return.

Yet disease and death are not invincible superpowers. They will not be the end of the story for anyone who is in Christ Jesus.

As He said to Martha, four days after her world had fallen apart, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” John 11:25

If we believe in Jesus, we have eternal life today, right now.

We, as people of the resurrection, have the opportunity to breathe Jesus’ life to those who only sense the death and darkness, the chaos and confusion of these moments.

What words of life and hope and joy can we speak to people around us?

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The Friday before coming back.

In the midst of isolation and social distancing and separation, will we encourage others, intentionally building bridges of relationship in new and creative ways?

Even though our specific situations and responses to challenge and loss vary, can we be honest about feeling some combination of frustration, fear, anxiety, grief, or other messy emotions?

Can the solidarity of knowing we are all facing sudden unprecedented change connect us to the rest of humanity in a way that wasn’t possible before?

Will we have the confidence to believe and declare that Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, is still at work in and through our lives, and in this chaotic world?

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?”

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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!

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Remember the Red Rose

This is the post in which I share a story from nearly 6 years ago that I have been too ashamed of to write down or tell anyone. So if you have other things to do, feel free to stop reading. Just kidding. Hopefully the lessons God taught me using a red rose will help or challenge you.

Last week was Valentine’s Day, as you probably noticed. I went to Wal-Mart to buy pizza toppings, the last phone card needed for this home assignment, and the thinnest socks possible for bug protection in the jungle. I hadn’t been in the USA in February since 2013, and had forgotten what a commercialized holiday this is. Flowers and chocolate and sappy cards, oh my!

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Still, I remember enough of North American culture to know that February 14 is a day when emotions run high, hearts are especially fragile, and hidden pain resurfaces.

So, standing in the candy aisle, a random urge from the night before to buy a Valentine’s gift for someone, didn’t seem like the best idea. Even expressions of friendship can be taken the wrong way when you don’t know a person well. And I am no longer comfortable enough in the American culture to navigate social situations and holiday expectations skillfully.

That insecurity prompted a flood of other fears. In my heartfelt desire for friends and acquaintances to experience Jesus’ love and believe in Him as their Saviour, do conversations end up being directed by me, and not His Spirit? Do I say things that push people away from Jesus instead of draw them towards Him? Do I try to run ahead of the Holy Spirit instead of walking after Him as a follower of Jesus? What if, whether here or in the village, in efforts to connect and serve and be a friend, I just mess things up?

As these emotions stirred in my heart, I gazed at the overwhelming number and style of candy boxes.

And a small voice suddenly whispered, “Remember the red rose.”

Even a siren or a snake or a stampede of army ants couldn’t have gotten my attention any quicker. I hadn’t thought about the red rose for a long time.

It happened in 2014, the summer that Brazil hosted the World Cup. Lots of ministry sprung up that year, some of which focused on outreach to women working in the sex industry, as well as prevention of human trafficking, which escalates in places where major sporting events are held. One ministry initiative was Festa na Rua (Party in the Street), a monthly event held in a different urban location each time. One evening that I had signed up to help, my Brasilian dad found me a ride with a young couple who were heading towards that area of the city, to spare me the normal 2 or 3 hour commute by public transportation.

Enroute, we were accosted by a street vendor. It is very common for Brasilians to go into business, selling candy or bottled water or other small items on the streets. Drivers stopped at red lights are viewed as potential customers.

This businessman was not peddling any of the common commodities, however, but was selling red roses. This was the first time I had seen a flower salesman at a stoplight.

And I suddenly felt an urge to buy a rose. “What kind of crazy idea was that?” I wondered. Sure, I come up with lots of crazy ideas on a regular basis (don’t ask my siblings), but this one seemed especially odd. Why in the world would I buy a rose?

For one thing, I had never made a habit of buying from street peddlers, and, less than halfway through missions training, I was on an extremely tight student budget. Also, I’d be helping set up for a party, and taking public transportation back home at midnight. A rose would get ruined. And what would the people I was riding with think of a strange American who randomly bought a rose for no logical reason?

But a small internal voice insisted, “Buy a rose!” I didn’t listen.

The light changed to green, we drove on, and I suppressed the feeling that I had made a wrong choice, distracting myself through conversation, and the building excitement for a Party in the Street.

The group heading up the event had a well-laid plan. We talked, prayed, and headed out to the designated corner, loaded down with food, soda, decorations, music, gift bags, and excitement to see God work.

Our location was a neighborhood known as “Luz”, the Portuguese word for “Light,” yet a place of darkness, where women work in an industry which devalues and dehumanizes them. Unimaginable stories of hopelessness, tragedy, poverty and abuse, in many cases, drive women to places where instead of receiving compassion, they are often judged and stigmatized.

Our desire was to bring light into this dark neighborhood, and connect with ladies working there. We prayed that they would sense that we loved and valued them as individuals, and start to believe that Jesus loves and values them and has a purpose for their lives.

It was an unconventional and terrific party! Many people who stopped by seemed excited about the refreshments and small gifts and the chance to socialize.

One of these was a lady we’ll call Annabelle. After listening to her story and sharing a bit of mine, I asked Annabelle the question which had been suggested by the party coordinators as a way to turn the conversation towards Jesus, and lay the foundation for the Gospel message to be shared.

“What was the most memorable or meaningful gift you have ever been given?”

Her answer came without hesitation. The most meaningful gift Annabelle had ever received was red roses.

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My heart sank with the realization I had messed up big-time. God wanted to use me to give Annabelle another red rose as a tangible expression of His love, to show that He saw her and knew her story and her heart. The small gift of a red rose might have proved to her that God’s big gift of salvation through Jesus had her name on it as well.

But I had disobeyed the Holy Spirit, classifying His voice as a “crazy urge”. Choosing common sense over the illogical, propriety over spontaneity, safety over risk, a seat in the boat over a walk on the waves with Jesus, I didn’t buy a rose. What seemed like an insignificant incident became a significant regret. If only it would have been possible to go back to that stoplight, buy the rose, and give it to Annabelle.

She still heard the message of the Gospel that night. I pray that she still sensed Jesus’ love and compassion during our 15-minute conversation. But she didn’t receive the rose. And I missed out on being the delivery girl for what could have been a meaningful miracle.

As a daughter of God, I already know I am loved and valued, yet I still need the Gospel just as much as anyone else.

So what is the Gospel? The good news about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Even though we were all born sinners by nature, wanting to do things our own way, with a bent toward sin and away from God, He loved us so much that He sent Jesus, His only Son. Jesus died for you and me and for the whole world, regardless of our job or background or belief system. He took the punishment for our sin to bring us back to God, as His children, and give us everlasting life.

But not only did Jesus bring me back to God when I believed in Him for salvation from sin; He continues to draw my heart back to God whenever I turn away. Being in vocational ministry and living in a jungle does not exempt me from ignoring God’s direction or believing lies or living in fear of what others will think. So Jesus continually calls me back into the light, when it feels safer to stay in the dark corners of the nearest comfort zone rather than walk by faith.

God is still transforming my heart and renewing my mind. He graciously used the red rose incident as a catalyst for growth and change.

Since then I have been more aware of His still, small voice, and obeying it, sometimes even without being 100% sure of whether it is the Holy Spirit or a random urge. While it’s still a struggle sometimes, I’d rather do something that appears crazy than risk missing out on being part of something God wants to do in another person’s life. Although it often means embracing the unknown, jumping out of the boat, and redefining comfort zones, I’m all in. 

So on February 14th, while not overly excited about the commercialism of this holiday in our culture, I bought and delivered the box of candy embossed with a shiny red rose, along with a small bouquet of fresh flowers.

Did those Valentines’ gifts become miraculous tools used by God? I have no idea, which is fine. That’s God’s business. But I do have faith that the Holy Spirit is at work in the heart of this person, praying that He will draw her to Jesus someday, and that my attempts of friendship might be seen as small expressions of His love.

In the adventure of walking by faith, in confidence that the mission is His, not mine, I’m trusting that God will keep me from messing up too badly as I continue to grow in grace, learning to recognize His leading in both the major and minor situations of life. I’m believing that as I live by God’s Word and abide in Christ, my conversations will be led by His Spirit not by my own agenda.

And one of the things I am 100% sure of is that whenever I do mess up, or even choose to disobey, like that afternoon in São Paulo, our loving Heavenly Father will always forgive, and continue to use me, not because I’m perfect, but because He is so perfect that He is powerful enough to use weak and broken ones to accomplish His work in this world, despite our failures and mistakes.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

A Christmas Letter (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for sending me. I love you. 

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!

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

 

 

The Corn Speaks Again!

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I am the corn.

Whatever this means for today, for 2019, and for the remainder of the days You give me on this earth…

Dear Lord Jesus, I am available!

Another year is just about over; 365 days of adventures with Jesus to treasure up and ponder. Just like the last day of 2017 and 2016, this morning found me trekking through the jungle with friends, harvesting corn from their gardens and watching them work long hours to prepare tasty traditional dishes.

As usual, I reflect on the work of God in my heart and life, thanking Him for His good gifts of joy and suffering in 2018.

Please check out this story I wrote that was published online by Ethnos360, along with a few pictures from our village, including one of a dear friend.

And The Ear of Corn Speaks!

 

 

The Babies Someone Wanted

We forget many conversations almost immediately while others impact us so deeply that the words are etched on our minds forever.  In March, a friend, sitting on my kitchen bench, started an unforgettable conversation by saying, in a quiet, anguished voice, “I killed my baby.”  In response to my questions, she told me as much of the story as I could understand.  It wasn’t her choice.  My friend’s father-in-law didn’t want the baby for some reason, and said that she had to follow the cultural procedure of burying the baby alive and leaving it.  She told me how it’s cries grew weaker until it’s little life was over, and how she cried because she wanted and loved her baby.

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A few days ago (12-18 – it was about three weeks ago now), the little elderly grandma in our village told me a similar story from her youth.  In her case it was her own husband that didn’t want the baby and said it had to be buried.

On Monday, as part of ACL practicing, I decided to spend one of the hottest hours of the afternoon lying on the cool tile floor of the bedroom while listening to audio recordings.  That conversation with the grandmother was first on my review list.

So much for my scheduled hour of listening practice.  Three minutes and 18 seconds into the audio recording, I was bawling so hard I had to hit the pause button, and never did finish practice time that day.

These dear ladies still carry the weight of strong negative emotions decades after their babies were buried.  The emotion they both named was sadness, but their comments and facial expressions lead one to suspect the possibility that pain, trauma, bitterness, helplessness, guilt and anger also reside in their hearts. 

These women each lost a baby.

Babies they nurtured in their wombs for nine months, babies they wanted and loved, babies they were not allowed to keep.

I cried so long and hard today.  I cried for the countless babies in this culture who were left to die over the years, before the Gospel came.  I cried for the mamas who loved and wanted their babies, and still have not been comforted.  I cried for the dads and grandpas whose hearts were hardened toward these precious little lives.  I cried for the people groups that are still living in total fear and bondage, as my friends were just 42 years ago.  I cried for the sorrows and fears and questions that my village friends still face.  I cried about my own fears and insecurities.

If these things grieved my heart so deeply, why would I write about them and risk bringing sorrow to you?  Even as I write this, I’m not certain I will post it.  This is the third time I have written about similar cultural topics and my reactions, but the first time I have had the courage (or audacity) to post.  Perhaps the time has finally come to share this part of my heart and ACL adventure.  You want to know why?

First of all, because it’s hard to cry alone. 

I need you, my family and friends, to come alongside me in prayer.

Will you please pray that Jesus will fill me with courage and hope?  I’m not very strong or brave, friends.  Monday proved it.

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As a result of the power of the Gospel and the changes that Jesus has already brought to this culture, the practice of burying “unwanted” babies ended years ago.  Praise the Lord!  By His grace, some of the enemy’s lies have been vanquished by Truth, and many dark places have been illuminated.

But it would be naïve to think that all is now well in this village and culture.  Yes, there is evidence of true joy, hunger for God, and Christian fellowship.  Yet darkness and lies and bondage and pain still exist among this precious people.  And how could it be otherwise?  They don’t have the Word of God in their language yet!

I want to make it very clear that I am not judging this culture or saying that it is worse than North American culture.  Our culture also has dark and tragic aspects that grieve my heart and would shock people from other countries.  Just as no individual human being is perfect, no people group is perfect.

Every people group has wonderful characteristics, and I prefer to share the parts of this culture that I love and appreciate and participate in.  But it would be dishonest to pretend that life here is completely lighthearted, one cool jungle adventure after another.

And that is the second reason I might actually post this.

Because you are part of the ministry team God is using to reach these people, so you need to know at least some of the hard, heartbreaking details. 

How will you be able to pray knowledgeably for us if I never tell you that this culture, like all others, is contaminated by sin and marked by darkness? 

How will you support us in the battle if you only know about the triumphs and not the defeats? 

How will you hold the ropes for me personally, your sister and daughter and friend, if you don’t know what makes me cry, or sometimes want to run away? 

Can I be very real with you, friends? Even though the very reason for being here is to shine Jesus’ light into this dark place, my own fears and insecurities show that darkness is still trying to claim a stronghold in my heart. 

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After two years of great fun, hard work, and dependence on Jesus, I can speak well enough to discuss serious topics and investigate slightly more profound aspects of this culture.  Thank you, Jesus!  But suddenly, since September, new questions have begun to trickle into my heart and mind.  On Monday that trickle turned into an overwhelming and unexpected flood…

What if I discover unspeakable hidden customs, not from this culture’s past, but from their present reality?

What if my trusted friends start telling me unbelievable things that shock and grieve me?

What if I can’t handle it? 

What if I’m not strong enough?

What if I don’t know what to say? 

What if I don’t have what it takes?

And, you can guess what happened next.  I started bawling again, this time out of fear instead of sadness, until the Holy Spirit quieted my heart with the realization that while my questions are real and valid, there is another question that trumps every single one.

“What if God’s grace is enough?”  And I worship God through the tears.

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That question is not a true “what if”, my friends.  The blazing truth revealed by that question answers all of my fearful questions.  Of course I’m not enough for these things.  And I don’t have to be.  Jesus didn’t bring me here because I am qualified or tough or have what it takes to do this job.  He brought me here because I am a weak, foolish, fearful vessel, and that is the kind He loves to use to demonstrate His power and glory and sufficiency.

God’s grace is enough. 

God’s grace is enough for me and for all my fears.  His grace is enough for the elderly little grandma and for all her grief.  God’s grace is enough for you, and whatever you fear or grieve today.  God’s grace is enough for this whole people group, for my home culture and your culture, and for all people everywhere.  And isn’t that the good news we celebrate this time of year?

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.   And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.  Luke 2:10-14  (emphasis mine)

Will you please pray for me with regards to all of this? 

Will you please pray for these sweet elderly ladies whose hearts need God’s healing and peace? 

Will you pray for this people group as a whole, and for each individual, that Jesus’ light will shine brightly into the darkest hidden places, bringing freedom and life and joy? 

All of us, wherever we live and work, are in a battle.  Light versus darkness. Truth versus lies.  Good versus evil.  Faith versus fear.

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What kind of darkness do you encounter in your community?  I would challenge you not to turn away from the lies, the tears, and the needs around you.

We who walk in the light do not need to fear the darkness.  Ask Jesus to show you the dark places where He wants you to shine.

And please feel free to comment or e-mail me with how I can be praying for you about these things.

Level With Me!

Becoming…The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village

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According to an online dictionary, the expression “level with” means

to be straightforward with someone about something; to be sincere or truthful about someone or something.

Well, today, I’d like to level with you about my progress in ACL.  I’d like to level with you, but I’m not going to.

This is not because I want to be indirect, insincere or dishonest about my progress.

Actually, I cannot level with you about this today because I need someone to level with me first.

As many of you have probably experienced in your workplace, ministry, family, or other areas of life, self-evaluation is a challenging task.  Can you imagine trying to evaluate your own progress in learning a tonal language spoken by less than one thousand people?  (In other words, there are no youtube videos, vocabulary lists, or handy little DIY proficiency quizzes online).  Well, I can imagine trying to evaluate my own progress, but I sure can’t evaluate it accurately.

Enter the ACL consultant!  His (or her) job is to evaluate the progress of missionaries who are doing ACL, to figure out what level they are at.

But maybe you are asking, “What levels? I thought you only need to learn the language so you can teach the Bible, make disciples, and plant a church.”  True, only that.

However, working towards that goal, in the ACL program, there are 4 distinct levels – Basic, Progressing, Capable, and Proficient.  Each of these is divided into 3 sub-levels.  These levels are used to describe and measure the learner’s language ability.  Each level has a different focus, which determines the most helpful learning activities, study strategies, and percentages of time spent on each of the 4 Ps.

In order to be approved to teach God’s Word here, I must reach sub-level 3 of the 3rd level, in both language ability and understanding of the culture.  Based on research and our mission’s experience, this is the minimum level necessary to communicate Biblical truth clearly, without creating confusion.

My language and culture skills are definitely NOT at sub-level 3 of the Capable level yet, but I am very eager to find out my current level, and get tips for accelerating future progress.

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The star in the levels diagram above marks the goal, the official finish line for the ACL journey!

Reaching that 3rd sub-level of Capable does not mean the end of learning and becoming, but the end of full-time ACL.  It will mark a transition into teaching ministry, while still continuing to learn about the culture and improve language ability.  The Proficient level isn’t pictured in the diagram for some reason.

Would you like to know a secret, though?  Reaching the proper level does not guarantee that a missionary will communicate successfully. 

The strategies and levels and learning cycles and evaluations of the ACL method are all helpful in working towards a measurable goal, and achieving it more quickly.  We use these tools, but we do not depend on them.  They would never be adequate to accomplish our objectives.

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In the ACL journey, success is not attained by the method itself.  Nor is effective ACL achieved through the missionary’s intelligence or ability or dedication to the task.  Successful ACL is absolutely impossible without the work of the God of the Impossible.

That goes for teaching ministry as well.  No matter how fluent and assimilated into the culture a missionary becomes, clear communication of God’s truth is not guaranteed by reaching the level-with-a-star and getting approved by a consultant.

As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2,

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.  And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:  That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

Clear communication of Biblical truth, in any language or culture, is dependent on the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit.  Fervent prayer is essential.  These are truths God started impressing on my heart in a deeper way last year.

There.  At least I leveled with you about something today.

So, please pray that God will empower me to do my level best during the next 10 days of ACL, and also during the evaluation itself – August 14th-16th. Those will be an intense and mentally exhausting three days, for my coworker, myself, our consultant, and the two language helpers who will be working with us.

My earnest hope and prayer is to come out of the evaluation amazed by Jesus and the mighty workings of His power.  Whatever level has been achieved, may the evaluation results make us all say, “Wow!  Look what Jesus is doing!  JESUS is amazing!”

Hopefully the results will also encourage the hearts of my faithful friends and language helpers with evidence that God truly is helping us and that in Him, our labour is not in vain.  And will inspire you to praise God with us, assuring you that your prayers and participation in this journey are making a difference.  Together, with His continued blessing, we will arrive at that star.

God is faithful, and He is able!  After all, He is the One who created my ears, brain, and mouth.  He has enabled me and sustained me, even through seasons of challenge and suffering.  He brought me here and gave me precious, meaningful friendships in this Amazon village.  He has planted in the hearts of our friends a hunger for His Word that is incredible to see.

I haven’t reached that star yet, but am still praying that God will give me the language this year, so that by the end of 2018 I will be fluent enough to teach His Word.  

Will you believe with me for this, friends?  Will you pray in faith, that the God of the Impossible would do great things in my heart, in this place, and among this people, for His glory?

What impossible dreams has God given you?  What goals are you working towards for the name of Jesus?  I would love to pray with you about these! 

 

 

Six Ways that ACL is like a Tree [ Becoming – Part 11 ]

Becoming…The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village

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Tacked onto the bulletin board next to my desk, along with an assortment of other ACL papers, in three languages, is “The Missionary’s ACL Manifesto,” a reminder of how I should think and act every day on this journey of becoming.  This manifesto is a set of personal declarations for the learner.  It is based on ACL’s six tenets, which are illustrated by a tree and three supporting principles, which can be compared to sun and rain, pruning and feeding, and soil preparation.

Without further ado, I present to you,

The Missionary’s ACL Manifesto

Relationship-Centered
I will work to build relationships with, and interact with as many people as possible.
Culture-Derived
I will learn mostly from the context of what the people are doing and saying.
Experience-Oriented
I will spend most of my time away from paper, home and office, and be out observing, interacting and participating in the real life of the people.
Comprehension-Based
I will spend significant time trying to understand and be understood.
Communication-Focused
I will spend more time in real communication than on study alone or in mere repetition for practice’s sake.
Proficiency-Measured
I will appreciate the value of evaluations, both to determine my progress and to fine-tune my CLA efforts toward reaching my goal.
Learner-Motivated
I will be disciplined, work hard and seek help when I need it.
Consultant-Guided
I will seek out and appreciate help and advice, and will take advantage of all input by applying it to myself.
Situationally-Adapted
I won’t compare myself to others, and will follow a multi-style approach.

This evening, as on many others, my evening reflection includes manifesto-based assessment of the day just gone by.  To what extent was each declaration fulfilled in today’s ACL activities?  How can I live out these tenets and principles even better tomorrow?  How can I deepen my roots in this culture, intentionally, purposefully, growing and becoming?  What steps can I take tomorrow towards the goal of producing fruit of linguistic, social and cultural proficiency?

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Reflections on July 26 ACL:

Relationship-Centered

Interaction with almost everyone in the community today!  One family’s daughter and son-in-law arrived from another village, and I forgot to go over and greet them, so need to remember to do that tomorrow morning.

I had the chance to help out two adult friends…nothing big, but even little things can be a blessing and mean a lot in relationships.

  • Photocopying attendance forms for Xibu, who is the government-paid teacher for the kindergarten – fourth grade students in our village. The government hasn’t been sending supplies to them, which is becoming not only a frustration but a real handicap in the children’s education.
  • Printing out a copy of James chapter three, recently translated into the sister language by a missionary at the base whose primary ministry is Bible translation. He e-mailed it to me to get feedback from people here.  One of the native believers here in the village, who read it a couple nights ago, asked for his own copy of James 3 so he can adapt it into their language.  It is exciting to see this man’s initiative and love for the Word of God.

Little friends came over to hang out and play with my toys, today…okay, that happens almost every day!  I played with them for a few minutes before going back to studying, took photos of them wearing my huge sunglasses, let them spit their apple peels all over my floor (it is made of dirt, remember), and cleaned up the mess later.  One of the three-year-olds even “helped” me with photocopying in the evening.  He got a big kick out of pushing the button and watching the paper feed into the printer and then come out.

Culture-Derived

This tenet was fulfilled beautifully today.  Community hanging-out time in the morning, class with the children (since Thursday is their tribal history day), and watching steps in the processes of 1) weaving a sifter 2) making pottery, and 3) crafting some sort of item that goes on a person’s head.  I need to follow up on all of these, but especially the last one, because it was in the beginning stages today and I really don’t understand what it is going to be.

Experience-Oriented

4 out of 6 hours were out in the community, away from my desk, so this one was certainly accomplished.

Comprehension-Based and Communication-Focused

These tenets are very easy to achieve when spending time with people.  It would be rather absurd to spend hours with friends without talking, trying to understand and be understood.  We are getting pretty skilled at “negotiating meaning,” an entertaining activity that language learners do with their language helpers, who should get a prize for patience.

I engaged in plenty of conversations today, about things happening in the village, how my family is doing, future plans, the culture events I participated in, tension going on between the teachers and the government organization responsible for the oversight of native schools, funny things the children did or said, and much more.

Learner-Motivated

Need to improve on this tenet tomorrow.  I could have been more disciplined today by planning my schedule better.

The fact that I was awake until past midnight with back pain and headache, and still woke up shortly after 5 AM was a contributing factor to low productivity, but should motivate me to be more intentional, not slack off and waste time. Although I also did do laundry tonight, which, along with the accompanying bathroom-washing task, is a nearly 3-hour chore.

So instead of being frustrated for only doing 6 hours of ACL instead of the hoped for 8, I am letting it go today, but will make a more solid plan for tomorrow…and stick with it.  .

Consultant-Guided

Today I followed some specific recent advice from a consultant on how to handle a difficult ongoing situation in a culturally-appropriate and godly manner.

Situationally-Adapted

Some plans for specific multi-style learning strategies didn’t work out to do today because the friends whose help is needed were busy, so I’ll try again tomorrow.

Another Day Closer to Four Thousand Hours!

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Big jungle tree…I think this is a Brasil nut tree.

Overall, I would call this yet another successful day in my ACL journey.  After turning off the laptop and flashlight, I’ll go to bed…with a grateful heart.

First of all, I thank Jesus, who is the Author and Finisher of our faith, the Creator of this world we live in, and the Giver of every good thing in our lives.  Each sucessful day here is a victory by Him and for Him.

I am thankful for God’s Word, and the precious promises it contains for us who follow after Him.  The following verses were part of drawing me to personal faith in Jesus when I was four years old.  Now they now encourage me in ministry, as I seek to know Jesus more deeply and make Him known in dark placed, bringing forth fruit in His great harvest field.

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.  But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.    Psalm 1:1-3

Do you know who else I thank God for tonight? I am deeply grateful for my village friends, prayer partners, family members, financial supporters, and blog readers.  Some of you fit into more than one of those categories.  Even though you are not here right now, your encouragement and partnership on this journey contributed to making today an ACL success.

Thank you!

 

Redeeming (and Recording) the Time [Becoming – Part 10]

Becoming…The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village

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In the last five posts, we looked at “the Four Ps” which run my life help me organize ACL activities and use time wisely, learning from the culture events happening around the village, in the jungle, on the river, or anywhere else.

You will probably remember several references to amounts of time spent on each of the Ps.  Did you wonder how an ACL learner is supposed to keep track of all that?  Well, you have come to the right place for the answer!

Let me introduce you to an ACL form called the Monthly Report.  For each day, it has boxes for each of the Four Ps and some of their subdivisions, in order to record how ACL time is spent, rather than just reporting a daily total of hours.

Pictured below is a real sample of my hours for the first half of November.  The reason it isn’t from a more recent month is that I started planning for this series back in the fall, and at that time did an English version just for you.  Forms are normally filled out in Portuguese to submit to our ACL consultant, which also explains the white-out and rewritten words.

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November 2017, Monthly Report.  This link: img051 should take you to the pdf version, which is clearer and easier to read, except you have to turn your head sideways.  

The expectation of our field leadership and ACL consultant is that missionaries would spend a minimum of 40 hours each week on ACL.  These 40 hours can be organized according to each missionary’s preferences, based on the people group, living situation, family status, and other factors.

Some missionaries do five 8-hour days, with 2 days off, reminiscent of a typical full-time job.  Others have different schedules. So far, I have gone through several “phases” in my personal planning.

For awhile, there was no point in planning for a weekly “day off” because I was loving ACL and being with my friends so much that there was genuinely no felt need or desire for a break.  (It does look like I took one full day off in November, though; nothing is written on the 11th). But normally, what would I do all day by myself?  After a few hours of cleaning, reading, cross-stitch, and listening to downloaded sermons and radio programs, I’d probably get bored or lonely, and end up going to spend time with friends, which involves language, culture, and relationships…ACL!

That has all changed now that Wi-Fi has been installed in the village.  Yes, yes, just writing that sounds crazy.  And it’s certainly ironic that we only have power for 2-3 hours a day, (except when the diesel runs out…tonight will be our last night of electricity until more is purchased) so we can’t have a fridge, but we’ve got Wi-Fi!

So all of a sudden, there are so many things that can be done on days off!  I can skype with my family, blog, look for new recipes, listen to sermons on RightNow Media, watch a cooking show or movie.  And it has been good to spend one day a week “disconnected” from the world in which I am semi-immersed here in the jungle, to reconnect with family and just get some down time to relax my tired brain.

So, since June 15th, I am in a new season as far as scheduling.  A few strategic changes to simplify diet and routine have reduced stress while increasing available time to be spent on…you guessed it!  ACL!

My current personal goal is 10 hours a day which would be 60 hours/week, with one day off.  Considering the 40-hour mission expectation, this gives plenty of flexibility for unanticipated circumstances.  A few recent “for instances”

  • Discovering a major infestation of thosands of tiny ants in my food bins.
  • Washing dishes in the river for a few days due to broken water pump for the community well.
  • Migraines.
  • Spending extra hours alone with Jesus after finding out discouraging news.

When these or other unexpected circumstances arise, since my working goal is already higher than it has to be, I can take a few hours (or the whole day when a migraine is bad enough) to deal with the situation, then go back to work, knowing that we are still “ahead of the game” as far as hours go.

And just to make sure it doesn’t sound like I’m overdoing it or becoming a missionary workaholic, remember that I truly love language learning, and my friends here are terrific.  Spending time with them is a delight, not a chore.  Most of the hours tracked each week symbolize a high percentage of fun.

And while the goal of 10 hours is always on my mind, it’s not a burden, but more like an extra-bonus challenge, resulting in prayers like, “Jesus, let’s see if we can do 10 hours today, okay?”  But when it doesn’t happen, it’s fine, like yesterday, when the intense heat drastically reduced a certain North Country girl’s productivity to the point where by 11 AM, I had accepted the fact that it would be an 8-hour day.

Now let’s go from days and months to the big picture.  According to the consultants and missionaries who have already finished ACL, after four thousand hours, a learner should be fluent enough in the language with sufficient understanding of the culture to begin teaching the Word of God.  Four thousand hours!

So these hour sheets are more than just required reports for leadership.  They are more than proof that I am doing my job and not just hanging out with friends in the Amazon jungle…oh, wait, hanging out with friends in the Amazon jungle IS my job.  But these logs are more than just an interesting record of our activities together.

Every hour tracked on these forms is an hour invested with a purpose, toward a specific goal.  As days and months march on, my ACL hours accumulate, pushing ever closer to 4,000, that elusive but reachable number.  Monthly totals are a recorded testimony to the learning of words and phrases, gaining of experience, assimilation of culture, and deepening of relationships.

Each hour spent in ACL is one hour further into the journey of becoming who God is calling me to be in this place, one hour closer to being ready to communicate God’s Word clearly to my dear friends in their heart language.  The time is short; their need is great; the task is urgent.

Although I often fall short of this, my heart’s desire is not just to “get the hours in,” but to make every ACL hour and minute count – for language learning and for eternity. Will you pray that God will help me in this area?  I want to view these hours not merely as time invested toward an important goal, but as precious opportunities to be a light and a witness on the journey. 

Oh that I might learn well, laugh often, love deeply, and live for Jesus only!

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.  Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.  – Ephesians 5:15-17