In the last blog post, I recounted the 3 best parts of last year. I started with the good because, really, remembering the good lends me perspective on the bad.Life here in Papua New Guinea is unpredictable and while sometimes that can be a good thing, last year for most of the time that just meant difficulty. Lack of infrastructure, logistical hurdles, and unreliable weather contributed to many of the hardships of 2015, but the hardest parts for me were more emotional than logistical and more personal than professional. Here they are:
- Being Away from Fellowship –Hypothetically, I knew this was coming. We moved 8,000 miles away from everything in Arizona, our church included. On the list of ‘Things I’m Choosing to Leave Behind Spiritually’ were things like sermons every Sunday, small group every Thursday, and gospel-centered conversations with other believers frequently. Yet, being without these things was harder than I thought it would be. For a large chunk of last year, I fought the reality that reading the Bible in the morning was one of my only sources of spiritual encouragement. Yes, we came here with other believers who love the Lord—but we were all struggling to adapt and adjust to life here and seemed equally stretched. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how much self-pity and discontentment I had invited to pull up chairs and sit down in my heart. Oh, the lies we can let creep in during times of difficulty! They promise to make you feel better, but they never do. But there is joy–real joy–in the truth found in the gospel. Namely, the truth that, first, I deserve nothing good from God, yet He gives me so much every day, beginning with life and breath. And secondly, God is sovereign over my circumstances–He is in control of them–and He loves me, promising to work even hard circumstances for my good. Ergo, if I lose my faulty state of entitlement and remember that the God who is in charge of my circumstances loves me and promises good in all things, then my pity parties and discontent become humility and faith that, hard as my circumstances might be, they come from a God who loves me and are for my good. So, yes, it is true that there is not the same spiritual support system here as we had back in the States. This is a difficult task that we came here to do and being away from fellowship is a part of it. But truth is still truth. God has sustained all of us here so far and will continue to do so!
- Being Away from Matt –Before coming to PNG, Matt and I were super-committed to not being away from each other. In 10 years of marriage, we spent a total of 5 days apart. Last year, we were away from each other for 83 days. That, my friends, is almost 3 months. Now, we knew going into it that he would have to be gone for some period of time. Surveys would have to be done and houses would have to be built. But still, this was a hard part of 2015. I did, however, get to see so much of God’s grace during this time, not the least of which was my mom coming out for much of the time Matt was away. It was also helpful that every time he left, I wanted him to go…because if he hadn’t gone to survey language groups, we would not have found the Ndo people of Mawarero. And if he hadn’t left again and again (and again even as I write this!) on house building trips, we would not have a house to live in within Mawarero. Every time we were apart last year, it was for the sake of the gospel and that made it not only easier for me to let him go, it made it an occasion for joy.
- Being Away from my Family – The unexpected difficulty here was not missing them so much as it was not being able to be present for hard circumstances in their lives. When troubling things happened back home in 2015, I could not be there, either to be directly involved or to lend support to those who were. That was hard for me. However, the up side with this one is that part of my family did come to me last year. My mom came out twice in 2015, and was an invaluable help and friend each time!
- Working Through Team Conflict – When you move across the world with nine other people and have to adapt and adjust to a new language and culture together, it makes sense that there might be conflict. In our situation, this was heightened, I think, by the massive decisions we had to make all throughout the year. We had to be unanimous about weighty decisions ranging from which 4-5 tribes to survey out of the hundreds in PNG, to which kitchen cabinets would be in our house in the tribe, to how many thousands of dollars we would spend on house building. It was like a marriage in a lot of ways, like trying to decide which house to buy and why or which car to purchase and when, but instead of only two people making the decision united by marriage, there were six very different people united by a desire for the gospel to go to the nations. This was difficult. But by God’s grace, we now have a track record of not just having conflict, but resolving it. More than once in 2015, forgiveness was sought and given. And there is a sweetness in knowing our teammates better now than when we first came and seeing the grace of God evidenced in each of their lives. And though sometimes it is a fight to be unified and love each other since we are all sinners, we do fight for it. Because if we do not, the gospel will be hindered. If we do not love each other, genuinely and from the heart, then the message we proclaim will not look very powerful. But if we are united and love each other—not in the absence of conflict, but in the midst of it—then the message we declare will look very powerful indeed because it is.
And then, just to round out this post, here are a few more specific hurdles that God guided me through:
- The Nine Day Hike Through Ndo—No, no, I didn’t actually go on a nine-day hike. But while our husbands were gone, our time was filled with looonng 8-11 hour periods of no electricity, no fans, no running water, no way to charge devices, and no safety lights at night. The electricity hasn’t been that unreliable since that period. But God knew and helped us and we got through it!
- Saying Goodbye – There was a sweet, short season where a large team from the US (and my mom!) came out to help us build our houses. They all left on the same day and, when they left, the tiny Madang airport went from being packed with laughter and people to it literally being just Team PNG. There was a sadness that came with that silence that was unexpected in its depth. But things went on, as they do, and now that time has become one more difficult season that God saw us through and that I can look back on to see His faithfulness.
- Breaking my Toe – Well, there are worse things I could have broken. But this definitely made life here more difficult and painful for six weeks and there wasn’t even a cool story to go with it (I tripped over Matt’s shoes in the hall)! Matt became a one-man everything in our household (cook, housekeeper, Laundromat, etc.). The good news is that Matt no longer leaves his shoes in the hall.
I said in my last blog post that life is just the sum of the good and the bad of our circumstances. As I look at this list of the hard things last year, I’m thankful.Thankful that there were hard things through which we had to persevere so that we could know more of God and His abundant grace. Life can be tough and relationships can be messy wherever you are, but God is always the same and that is good news. And that is why I am here.2015 was a challenging year, but we are still here, we are still together, and we are still moving forward. If that isn’t a testimony to God’s faithfulness to six undeserving sinners, I don’t know what is!