Open Doors and Closed Circles

(written in June 2017)

It was the last day of classes up at the boarding school.  The next day, students would travel back to their home villages, scattered over this half of the reservation.  They only get two weeks of break in between school sessions, but based on how emotional they were, you would think they were going to be spending months separated from each other.

I had walked up the starlit path, enjoying several minutes of nighttime beauty and jungle sounds.  The plan was to sit in on the seventh grade Maternal Language class which was scheduled, but their teacher decided to cancel the class and give the students a chance to go up front, one at a time, to say good-bye and express whatever was on their hearts.  At least that is what seemed to be happening.  Sometimes I just guess.

Based on some of the conversation, I wondered if this particular teacher would no longer be teaching the seventh-graders, increasing the emotion of these farewells.  Again, sometimes I just guess.

It was interesting to observe a lot of “typical teenage behavior” in the manner in which each young person went up to share.  The order was determined by drawing

Some of them talked timidly and briefly, looking down at the floor.  Others expressed themselves quite articulately, making eye contact with the rest of the class, gesticulating forcefully.  Some students giggled or cracked jokes while another was speaking, or pushed a hesitant classmate up to the front for their turn.

At least two of the seventh-graders are already parents, one a young mama with a little boy who is just learning to walk.

After all the students had shared, their teacher spoke as well, his words seeming very sincere and heartfelt, whatever their meaning might have been.  After he closed with the typical, “Ena tete.”  (That is all), one of the more outgoing girls in the class suggested that they pray.

They formed a circle at the front of the room and the teacher invited me to join in.  During the whole time, I had already felt as if I were intruding on private class moments, an out-of-place wallflower who is far too white and blonde to ever be invisible, but then again, the current story of my life involves habitual intrusion on moments that in all honesty, a Lewis County gringa does not belong in.

I can’t remember if we held hands or put our arms around each other’s shoulders, but we were all gathered close, touching one another, coming together to talk to God.

Someone said, “Let’s all pray.”  And the low voices began all around me, words flowing fast and freely, to me an unintelligible stream, but understood perfectly by God, to whom language is no barrier.

And I long for deeper relationship with these precious young people, “teens” to us, but probably already considered adults in their culture.  May our physical closeness in that moment of prayer symbolize a future relational closeness, that will give us a friendship of freedom and trust.  May we someday spend hours in conversation about life, love, God, the Bible, the future, our hopes and dreams and fears.

My mind races with questions about these young people, questions that I don’t even know how to ask yet.

Who do these teenagers believe Jesus is?

Would they call themselves Christians just because a chief made that decision for the entire people group a number of years ago?

Or do they really understand what it means to know Jesus?

To them, is prayer a way of communicating with the God who created them and loves them?

Or is it a ritual performed to gain God’s favor, get something they want, or impress others?

Or is prayer merely a “cool thing” to do, because they have seen it done in churches in the city?

If prayer is important to them, why do almost none of them come to the Sunday meetings down in the village?

Are their hearts really hungry for God?

After the generator is turned off in an hour, will some of these very young men and ladies pair off and “secretly” do what we have been told many of them do every night, while the adults turn their backs?

Good thing their prayer wasn’t longer, or I would have started crying.  I have no idea what they were saying, but I know what my prayer is tonight.

Father, thank you for these precious young lives gathered around me, and for the open door to be here among them, although my youth was a world away from theirs. 

Help me learn this language fast and give me the privilege of discipling these seventh graders.  Give us a deep friendship that will cross the cultural differences.   

Protect them from the evil in this world, from the dangers they are exposed to in the midst of the major transitions their culture is experiencing. 

Help them know Jesus truly and walk with Him, love Him best of all, and see Him in my life, even now. 

Give them your word in their language, and a hunger to read it and know it. 

Teach them what is right and wrong, convicting them of any immoral or sinful behavior that is forbidden by You, for their good and protection. 

Guide them by your Spirit, in righteousness, morality and purity.

Show me how to love them like you do even before we can really talk. 

Give us moments together of fun and friendship and connecting.

Increase my burden for their souls, my fervency in prayer, my love for every teen in this circle, and my faith regarding the work you are going to do in their lives and families and culture. 

May this circle, which has neither beginning or end, symbolize unbroken unity and eternal life in Jesus…probably not a reality for all of these tonight, but by faith, I ask that one day it would be so! 

For, since you open doors wide, can you not also close circles tight?  With you, all things are possible. 

In Jesus’ name, Amen 

First Attempt at Public Speaking (in Neno)

It happened one fateful night in July, the first time I had the chance to travel with Neno friends to a celebration in one of the other villages.  One of the traditions at these events is to “give welcomes”.  I am not sure of all of the proper protocol involved, but it seems that people from every village get the chance say something.  As a handful of Neno men went up front to take their turn “giving welcomes” someone called out my name, and the friends sitting on the simple wooden bench beside me said they wanted me to go up and say something too.  As panic froze my mind into a veritable ice cube, they pushed me to my feet and I was walking up front too, wishing we had practiced for this in a language study session.  Thankfully, I was third to last in the line that was arranging itself across the front, in front of the platform instead of on it, so there was a little time to formulate something to say which would hopefully make sense grammatically and be appropriate for the situation.  This is what I came up with:

Sisters, brothers.  How are you all tonight?  Welcome!  I am happy to be here to worship Jesus with all of you.  That’s it.

Pathetic, I admit.  But I would rather give a short, pathetic greeting in the Neno language than talk a lot, in semi-eloquent Portuguese.  It proves that I’m trying, at least, even if my efforts are about as lame as attempting to row a boat across the river using a spoon instead of an oar.  It demonstrates a respect and appreciation for their language and a refusal to rely on Portuguese as a crutch.  At least that’s my perspective on the matter.  Who knows what my Neno friends think?

Actually, they gave me a clue regarding their opinion a couple weeks later, when some friends were visiting from another village who had not been at the celebration where I made my public speaking debut.  The family who took me along to the celebration, and made me go up front, told their friends that I had “given a welcome” the first night we were there.  Although I must relate such observations as speculative because of a very limited understanding of the Neno culture, I will share my conjectures.  From my friends/teachers facial expressions and the way they talked about the event, commenting that I spoke only in Neno, not Portuguese, it seemed like they were bragging about me, proud that their little language learner is making progress.  Their friends seemed impressed and excited by the news.  And I busied myself in studying the dirt floor, letting a combination of embarrasment and reticence prevent my taking the opportunity to ask about proper grammar for that “long sentence,” which I wonder if I butchered…or made mincemeat of, more likely.

And just for the record, it is very normal to end any discourse by saying, “that’s it.”  Actually, that might be the only acceptable conclusion.  In my speech, you could translate it, “That’s all, folks.”  I literally had no more words to say at that point.  Hopefully by next time I get to try my hand (err…mouth and nose and vocal cords) at public speaking, I will have learned a few more phrases suitable to such situations.

Guided in the Dance

One of the highlights of any Neno celebration is dancing.  Lest you get the wrong idea, these “dances” are really more like marches.  One couple links arms and starts the dance, soon followed by numerous other pairs, marching in step to the music, 1-2-1-2-1-2.  Dance partners can be husband and wife, two men, two ladies, two children.  Sometimes three people link arms and join in the procession.  Occasionally, one person will enter the circle alone, dancing behind a pair.  There don’t seem to be many rules.

From time to time, the direction of the dance will change and everyone quickly turns around, to follow the pair of dancers that had been following them moments before.  Other than these quick about-faces, the dance is simple and predictable, a great advantage for someone as clumsy as I.  God must have taken this aspect of the Neno culture into consideration when He sent me here, knowing that even slightly complicated dance rhythms would be serious challenges to my motor skills and coordination.

During the second celebration held in our village since my arrival, a friend beckoned me to come dance.  I joined her eagerly, and another friend followed.  With their arms linked through mine, we joined in the procession of dancers, following the pair in front of us in the circle, changing direction, marching around, swiftly turning again.  At first I had to concentrate, but before long, the steps and turns became so automatic and natural that I was able to ponder subjects more profound than dancing or lively keyboard music.

In that moment, there were ladies on each side, my friends and guides in this glorious, joyous, cross-cultural dance of missionary life.  They are not just my teachers as far as dancing, but also in talking, daily living, Neno etiquette, relationships, and all the other aspects of the multifaceted system we refer to as culture.

As we moved together, around and around, step step step, I yearned to be able to move with my friends in other ways, fitting in with their routines, their customs, doing life together gracefully, without breaking step, stumbling, or bumping people on the sudden turns.  There will be days when it’s not so fun, moments when I feel like I’m dancing on eggs, when the culture reveals itself to be much more complex than its simple dance style.  Yet I boldly pray that I will live in unity and community with my Neno friends as much as possible, becoming part of their culture in deeper ways than one can now imagine.

Then my thoughts went even deeper, to the One who brought me here.

Life with Jesus could be compared to a dance.  And my deepest desire is to be guided by Him, led by His Spirit, dancing with Jesus until I am one with Him, not even knowing how He leads.  May this continue until I am not thinking anymore about where or what or when, just following His lead automatically, turning fast and true, always in step with Him.

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.  1 Peter 2:21

For so long this verse has given me the idea of looking to Jesus as a role model, an example.  You know, Him on the pedestal, up high in the sky, or way out in the lead in a race.  And here is little old me plugging away behind, panting as I try to keep up, stepping in the footprints He left so long ago.

But I think the Neno culture has given me a new mental picture, that may be more accurate in some ways.  What if I am not called to follow behind in Jesus’ steps, but to follow beside Him?  Jesus doesn’t lead far off ahead in the distant horizon.  He also doesn’t lead from behind, pushing and prodding us along like stubborn mules.  Jesus links arms with us, drawing us close by His side, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, as equals, as brothers, co-heirs, children of God, to use biblical terms.  Did you get that?  As equals with God the Son, the Eternal One, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us.  He is the only one who lived a sinless life, walked with God perfectly, danced impeccably with never a misstep.  And He condescends to dance with me at His side, as an equal?  Inconceivable!  Yet true.

Jesus isn’t dead and gone, you know.  He was dead and is alive again.  He did go and sent His Spirit back to live in us.  So His footprints on this earth are not past, like wild pig footprints (or deer hoof prints, for those of you not fortunate enough to live in a place where you can hunt wild pigs)  that need to be tracked.  Jesus is still present in our midst, here on this earth (albeit not physically and bodily) and He calls us to walk (or dance, for our present analogy) with Him.

You see, in this Journey-Dance of life, I don’t know what I’m doing.  Life is fluid, ever-changing, variable, intricate, detailed.  Sometimes one’s dance is marked by pain, agonizingly slow steps to a hauntingly beautiful melody as we learn to dance in faith, even in the valleys and the shadows.  At other seasons, the song is wild and vibrant, as we dance with reckless abandon and celebration.

The many dance steps and musical moods glorify our King.  He, after all, is the one directing the orchestra, our individual lives, and the grand scheme of history.

Sometimes the melody is marked by grace and steadiness, other times by changes so abrupt it would be easy to miss a beat or lose our step.  That is why it is absolutely essential that we stay close to Jesus in the dance of life.  He is the guide, the leader of the dance, the only one who knows what the next measure of music holds and which steps are most suitable for each specific note.  This world isn’t predictable, after all.  And neither is Jesus.  With Him as our life, every day is an adventure.

In those early morning hours (for the dances at these celebrations often last past midnight and sometimes until dawn), I realized that the closer I stayed to my Neno friends, the more our steps blended, in a sort of physical harmony.  Similarly, the closer I am to Jesus, the more in tune I will be with the music, and fully in step with the dance.  United with Jesus, one in direction, purpose and vision.  That is my heart’s desire.  To walk and dance so close to Jesus that without even thinking about it, I would go where He goes, I would do what He does, I would be like Him, imitating Him, and thus showing the world a small glimpse of who my Saviour is.

Leaving Luxury

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Surprising my little brother at camp.  Hugs are one thing I miss terribly in my village home, so a month of hugs in abundance was just what my heart needed.  

Written September 16th, 2017

Tonight you could call me an Israelite.  Not the courage-exuding, faith-filled, battle-winning type.  More along the lines of the desert-wandering, ever-whining, luxury-craving kind of Israelite.

I sit here next to my Neno friend, in the nearby village we are visiting for a celebration, one we have been anticipating for over 2 months.  Yet instead of being grateful and excited to actually be here as planned, all I can think about is how uncomfortable this small piece of log is to sit on.  If one didn’t balance just right, it could easily roll back and deposit one in the dust.

Worse, my thoughts then wander to the bathroom, which is better left undescribed.  Suffice it to say that it is not as “nice” as the community bathrooms in our village, and would score very low with regards to both hygiene and practicality.  In stark contrast to my normal water-ingestion habits, I wonder what would be the smallest quantity of water that I can drink in the next 36 hours, without getting dangerously dehydrated.

But I half-heartedly try to pull my mind, which starts kicking and screaming, in an attempt to focus on what is being said from the platform, trying to piece together as much as possible from the words and phrases I understand.  Oh, it’s hard.  My brain drifts to the delicious ice cream, nachos and rye bread I ate last month, the pizza, deep-fried chicken and kielbasa we never had time to make, and the grapefruit I fully intended to buy and eat, but forgot.  Oh, that grapefruit would be so refreshing right now – cold, citric and juicy.

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First meal back in the States, at Panera Bread, with Dad and Mom.  Delicious sandwiches, plenty of water, and wonderful conversation in a language I understand.  

Then I catch another couple phrases of the message…

So this must be the drudgery of missions.  To be sure, much of this life is a grand adventure – everything from trekking through the jungle to eating piranas and making new friends.  But there are moments when missions is made up of little more than scorching heat, biting bugs, self-discipline and mental focus.  There are no obvious eternal differences being made, people believing in Jesus, or even practical contributions being made to the community.

Nonetheless, this daily grind is the toil and labor necessary to become part of a new culture.  All of it is an intentional investment, a foundation to be built upon, preparation for what is to come.

Do you remember the list of questions Paul asked in Romans 10?

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?

and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?

and how shall they hear without a preacher?

and how shall they preach, except they be sent?

Considering the context of missionary work that crosses cultural-linguistic barriers, I would ask also,

And how shall they preach, unless they learn the culture and speak the language?

And how shall they learn these things unless they live them, day in and day out, until by them they are changed?

The apostle Paul didn’t deal with many language barriers, as far as I know.  He was blessed to live at a time when Greek was spoken fluently across the Roman Empire, so his knowledge of Greek and Hebrew were sufficient to preach anywhere he went.

However, in considering the cultural barriers he dealt with, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write,

For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.  And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;  To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.  To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.  – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

In our specific case, unto the Neno, we become as the Neno, that we might gain the Neno.  It is not for us, but for them, and for the gospel’s sake, and most of all for our Savior, the One who died and rose again.  Oh, that He might receive the glory of His suffering!

And oh, that I might stop whining and complaining and getting distracted by heat and other temporary inconveniences!

Father, help me to stop wanting the luxuries of last month.  It really was fun being spoiled by the way my family and others blessed me in abundance, and by our encouraging, joyful time together.  All of this was a gift from You.  But that month of comfort and ease and family time is over.  For now I’m back in another world, this wonderful place to which you brought me, to lose my life, that other reality, for your sake.  Give me the grace to choose contentment.  Teach me to make the most of every moment here, refusing to waste my life on the trivial.

 

Make me willing, by your grace, to leave all the comforts and luxuries and favorite foods and pleasant climate and people I love.  Granted, I’ve already left them literally, traveling by car, plane, bus, and taxi, but help me to leave it all behind again mentally too.  May I not be distracted by desires or memories of what is there, concentrating instead on the reality what is here…a language to learn, people to love, and a culture to become part of.  All of this is included in the adventure of following the one who must be the constant object of my focus – Jesus, my Master and Lord, my Joy and Prize, my All in All.

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May I live out the words of Mary Dagworthy James’ hymn, especially the fourth verse:

Since mine eyes were fixed on Jesus,
I’ve lost sight of all beside—
So enchained my spirit’s vision,
Looking at the Crucified.

All for Jesus! All for Jesus!
Looking at the Crucified.
All for Jesus! All for Jesus!
Looking at the Crucified.

– All for Jesus, Mary D. James

 

Footbugs

This may not be a landmark in my journey deeper into the Neno culture, but at least it helps me relate to my friends and some of the daily inconvenciences of their lives.  I got my first “num” (pronounced a bit like “gnome”, quickly, forcefully, low tone).   Or if you prefer the Portuguese, it would be “bisho de pe”.  Literally translated into English, that would be “foot bug”, but I have no idea what their true name in English is.*  We don’t have these little creepy-crawlies in Upstate New York).  Thinking through my options, I decided to go to my friend and language helper who has 4 young children.  Figured she is probably one of the most experienced at removing the little critters.  I took my own pre-sanitized safety pin along (couldn’t find a needle) for hygiene reasons.

Within about 10 minutes, Mariana had expertly removed my little parasite, saying that it was huge, and had probably been there for over a week.  Yuck.  We had an audience of about ten people watching.  Like a good language learner, I had pen and notebook in hand to record phrases related to this semi-cultural event.  Removing “nuwej”** is cultural; it was just in the missionary’s foot this time.

As a child, I remember reading dozens of missionary stories borrowed from our church.  Eagerly checking one out each Sunday, I would devour it voraciously, hoping that the other children would read and return their books so that I could get a new one the very next week.  In one of these books, written from the perspective of an MK (missionary kid) the family dealt with burrowing “foot bugs” which would leave egg sacs in between their toes.

It grossed me out so much to read about these bugs that laid eggs in people’s feet and had to be dug out with needles.  And now, guess what?  I live in a jungle where these gross bugs (or their similar cousins) live.  Hooray.  Strangely enough, “foot bugs” are not nearly as bad in real life as in missionary books.

Of course, I wouldn’t want to dig them out myself.  Needles are my friends when their purpose is sewing, cross-stitch, or plastic canvas.  But when they are being inserted into my flesh for any reason, they are not friends at all, often creating sensations of dizziness or faintness.

Not sure how I managed to donate blood on several occasions.  Of course the last time, the poor Red Cross workers had to keep me in the “blood donation center” for almost an hour afterwards, because each time I tried to stand up I nearly passed out.  The worst part was, I was the last donor of the day, and they were trying to clear out of the “blood donation center”, which was actually the gym at the local school.  An entire girls’ volleyball team sat on the floor outside the gym, watching my delayed recovery.  Most of those girls probably made heartfelt pledges on the spot…to never donate blood in their lives.

Back to our little “num” friends, though.  A couple weeks later I found one in my left foot.  This one was even bigger, and already “had babies”, as my other Neno friend said, when she finally was able to dig it out.

The strange thing is, in other people’s feet, they supposedly itch like crazy, or hurt, yet I don’t even notice them.  The second one I didn’t feel at all, even after it was huge.  I only found it because that toe was dirty so I washed it.  Yes, I do wash my feet in the shower, including my toes, each day, but without glasses, I would never see a footbug.

(Note added in September:  If I am remembering correctly, I have now had 6 “nuwej”  in all.  However, dry season is the time they are more common, so that number will probably go up soon.  Also, in case you are wondering, these critters are often carried by dogs, so the more dogs there are around, the more likely people are to get “nuwej” also).

*Research back in the city revealed that in English “num” is chigoe flea.

**plural of num – the M changes into a W and then EJ gets added.

Far-Away Family…for now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  John 1:12, 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not by Might…

The other day I had a meltdown.  I can’t even remember what triggered it.  All I know is that I tried to distract myself by leaving the house to spend time with someone, but there was only one elderly grandma in the village, and after a brief chat, it seemed that she didn’t really want company right then, so I ended up back in the house, crying.

Despite the progress gained in seven months, counting by time actually spent in the village, not time since I first arrived here (I still hold a slight grudge against those bacteria and those incorrect antibiotics that kept me away for a few months) one can get so discouraged by the limited capacity for conversation and the minute understanding of a complex culture a world away from our own.  So it is easy to get discouraged by the enormity of the task, and the slow progress towards the goal.

But in that moment of discouragement, a Scripture verse blazed into my discouraged mind and heart.

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.”  Zechariah 4:6

Applying the biblical principal to a language learning situation, where “might” and “power” aren’t exactly what one wishes for the most, it seems appropriate to say,

“Not by intelligence or organizational skills, nor by determination and willpower, nor by anything else, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.”

That’s where it’s at, friends.  One might long for more intelligence, organizational skills, determination, willpower, etcetera, etcetera, but those qualities won’t accomplish the task, at least not in the most effective way.

Which begs the question, “How does one learn a language and culture by the Spirit of God?”

That question has burned in my heart and interrupted many other thoughts for the last several weeks.  Here is the answer I have for now, though it is something that I will continue contemplating and praying about.

The how of language and culture learning is up to God.  I honestly believe that the way I learned Portuguese was a miracle.  Oh, maybe not the blow-your-socks-off kind of miracle where the sun stands still or a dead person sits up during their funeral procession or Jesus walks on top of the sea in the middle of a raging storm.  Nevertheless, all things considered, I learned Portuguese fairly well, rather quickly.  More importantly, I integrated into Brasilian culture to the point where in many ways, I feel more comfortable or fit in better there than in my own culture.

And I ask myself, over and over, exactly how did I even learn Portuguese, and exactly how can I replicate the process for learning Neno?

Eight years later, it seems like a blur….  I remember lots of sitting around in people’s living rooms understanding almost nothing.  I remember afternoons in the kitchen with my Brasilian mom, asking her what utensil after utensil after utensil is called in Portuguese, and repeating their names rather badly.  I remember dozens of times when tears would well up in my eyes, because more than anything, I longed to be able to understand and communicate with the amazing people around me, especially in order to talk about Jesus and His great love, and I just didn’t have the words.    But those days passed, melting into fluency, and today, I am living a similar situation in the Neno culture, of desperate longing to understand and communicate.

After God brought Zechariah 4:6 to my attention, with respect to ACL (Acquisition of Culture and Language), I realize that trying to duplicate the process is not the answer.  What I need (and already have!) is not the same process, but the same power.

Circumstances are different, after all.  I am not living with a Neno family, immersed 24/7 in their lives.  I am responsible to care for my own house and cooking.  There are health challenges which slow me down and use up valuable chunks of time each day.  Supply-buying and other business requires frequent trips out of the cultural context.  So it would be unrealistic to expect the process to look the same.  And even though God opened doors for an amazing process of Brasilian culture immersion that worked very well, it wasn’t the process that was the key factor for success.

It was His Spirit that was my passion, my life, my fire, my everything.  And guess what?  The Spirit of God still lives in me.  Here in the Neno village, He is still the same as when I was in the midst of Brasilian “ACL”.  He surpasses any might or power or intelligence or determination I might have on my own.  He works in different ways in different times and different places, and orchestrates circumstances in the way He knows is best.  But we can trust that since the Lord Jesus brought me here, He has a foolproof, success-guaranteed plan for my Neno ACL.  The results and the timeframe will be exactly what He has planned, if I will walk not according to my own resources, but walk in His Spirit and depend on Him.  Please pray that I will not only write this and believe it, but that I will remember this and live it, every moment of every day.

How to Become an Airplane Pilot in Less than Seven Minutes

Written on November 20, 2016

Flying airplanes was never a personal aspiration.  However, today, I almost became a pilot, quite by accident.  Today’s story starts where many of my days start – Mariana’s house.  She is not only a friend, but one of my best teachers.

Our morning lesson was on the topic of transportation.  I already knew how to say boat, airplane, motorcycle, car, and bicycle, but didn’t know which verbs to use for each one.  Drive, ride, fly, etcetera.  So I started asking questions and learning how to use the verbs in sentences.  As Mariana and I conversed, I asked some questions that were ridiculous, just to test the verbs and verify their correct use.  ”

“Did she go to the city by bicycle?”  That would be a long trip, unless you are my sister, so the obvious answer was no, but Mariana understood that I was just experimenting with the language.

Then she asked me if I have ridden an airplane.  She already knows that I have, so I assumed she was just testing my understanding of the language, and replied affirmatively.  I could tell by the look on her face that she was quite impressed.  Which sort of makes sense, considering that she has probably never gone farther than Ji-Pa, which is neither large nor famous.  Traveling anywhere by airplane is probably an incredible thought, especially to and from the United States!  Although one of her sisters has traveled to São Paulo and a couple other Brasilian cities by plane, so the degree of her reaction was a bit surprising.

So the linguistic wheels in my brain started turning, slowly rolling over the phrase she had used.  Uh-oh!  Did she ask whether I have TRAVELed by plane or whether I know how to FLY a plane?  Big difference.

So I reverted to Portuguese to clarify this doubt, and sure enough, Mariana had asked if I know how to FLY a plane.  And I had said yes.  Obviously.

Good thing I realized this mistake and was able to clarify the truth quickly.  Or else soon all the Neno people would have heard and spread the news that an American missionary undercover PILOT had arrived in their midst.  I can just imagine the conversations.

Yesiree folks.  We’ve got ourselves a real missionary here.  She’s from far, far away, from the United States.  She is very, extremely, exceedingly white, because there is lots of snow and cold where she comes from.  She has already learned quite a lot of words and phrases in our language and sometimes she even gets the tones right.  She makes delicious cake and bread.  She is so intelligent that she already learned how to weave our traditional mats.  She knows how to drive cars, ride bicycles, and get this – fly airplanes.  Definitely a keeper.

 

Eweka and Flexible Planning

Eweka is a multi-purpose word in Neno and its sister language.  Juliana’s dad said that is useful in a wide variety of situations, including the one we found ourselves in Friday evening.

One of the men from the village (let’s call him Andy) had told us to inform him via radio when we were ready to return (not sure if I have already mentioned that the village has a radio to communicate with the city in case of medical emergencies.  It is a blessing, and helps in other situations also, such as scheduling rides, doctor’s appointments, or asking base missionaries to send supplies).

Well, we were all ready to leave, and found out that Andy would be coming to Ji-Pa three days ago, on Thursday.  Since the Neno normally stay in the city for as little time as possible, just long enough to accomplish whatever is necessary, we expected that he would leave Saturday or Sunday, with us on board.

Friday, we heard through the grapevine that no more passengers would fit in Andy’s vehicle, but that he might have a bit of space if we wanted to send anything along.  Since this information did not come directly from him, however, we continued getting ready as if we might leave yesterday.  In between their multiple last-minute errands, while I worked on my last-minute to-do list here, Wellington and Juliana went twice to the Neno “home base” here in the city, but no one was there.

At about 8 pm, Andy called Juliana’s dad, to tell him that he was headed back to the village, but with a vehicle packed to capacity (his family of five, and another family of six!).  Definitely no room for the five of us.  Disappointing, but not the end of the world.  Similar situations have happened before, so it was one more chance to practice flexibility and patience.  And it was not Andy’s fault, or lack of desire to help.  Originally, he had expected another guy from the village to come along on this trip, bringing his vehicle as well, which would have provided enough space for all of us.  But that guy changed his mind.  That’s just how it goes.  Eweka.

So Andy is coming back again, just to pick us up, and we will be returning on Wednesday, paying his gas for the whole trip.  With this arrangement, unless some extreme circumstance happens, there should be no further delays.

It seems Juliana was right last week, when she said we should start seriously praying as a team that God would provide us with our own vehicle.  It would make it much simpler to plan ahead and schedule trips between our village home and the city.  We would also be able to visit other Neno villages, which would open many doors for ministry, once we speak the language.

On the other hand, there are definite advantages of travelling with the Neno, as this provides more opportunities for relationships and spending time together, and helping them out financially with the cost of gas.  Plus we avoid the expenses of car insurance and repairs.  Will you pray with us about this situation please?   Pray for God’s wisdom and direction concerning a vehicle for our team, if and when we truly need it, and also His timing and provision.  Thank you!

This post would have ended there, properly and predictably, with a thank you.  However, that is such a perfect and irresistible (because it was completely unintentional) setup for one last language tip for today.  When someone thanks you in Neno, the correct response is, “Eweka.”

 

 

Putting Words Together

“I’m putting words together!  And they’re making sense!  Okay, so my English may be going downhill fast, but what’s a girl to do?

Seriously, I love languages, and words, and new friends, and communication.  And the more time I spend with the ladies, girls, and little ones, the deeper grows…”

With that my randomly jotted musings were interrupted, right in between the page about my first trip through the jungle with Neno friends, and a page with random vocabulary (who would have thought blisters, trash, hair elastic and “I’m going to grill fish” would have ended up on the same list, after all?)

Although the thought remained unfinished in my notebook, I remember exactly what was growing deeper.  Please allow me to continue.

“And the more time I spend with the ladies, girls, and little ones, the deeper grows…my desire to learn from them, to become part of them, to meaningfully communicate with them.  If only we could engage in heart-to-heart conversations about life, love, family, frustrations and the Bible.  I would love to share my testimony, and the Gospel, the joy we can experience in following Jesus, and so much more.

That day will come, Lord willing, by a large measure of His grace and lots of determined effort – the day when the language and culture barriers are broken down and I am ready and able to share in fluent Neno, in culturally appropriate ways.  And while my heart wishes that there were some secret program to make that possible today, I know that isn’t the way it works.  Time and patience are required.

So for now, it is exciting enough to be learning hundreds of nouns, dozens of verbs, and many random phrases.  Moments of insecurity are normal in the mental struggle of putting words to objects and situations, sometimes followed by a satisfying adrenaline rush, the reward of getting something right.  And even better, I am learning from new friends who are eager to teach, quiz, laugh and correct.  It’s been wonderful so far, and as soon as I get back to the village there are countless language and culture lessons yet to enjoy!  In the meantime, please excuse me while I go review that random vocabulary page and attempt to successfully put a few more words together.

What are the possible combinations?  Maybe the noun trash can be used in this sentence…“I’m going to grill trash.”