Tuesday, September 30, 2014

We Treat, Jesus Heals

Kudjip Sunrise:
(by Dr Bill McCoy in "Until We All Have Names")

"Sunrise over the Waghi Valley was announced by the shrill wake-up call from a chorus of male cicadas. A brief pause ensued, then another cacophony, as flocks of rainbow lorikeets migrated through the massive eucalyptus trees of Kudjip Station. Wagtails and honeyeaters followed with more amiable tunes of their own. Low clouds and shifting morning light adorned the magnificent mountains behind Nazarene Hospital."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My gracious mentors here at Kudjip Hospital have given me a week of shadowing the experienced doctors in clinic before I start on my own next week. On my very first day, while seeing patients with the legendary Dr Bill McCoy (wrote the above quote), I met a young man named Kenneth. He was about my age, a student at the local Bible College, a faithful husband, father of 2 little ones, and his bright smile and firm handshake caused me to wonder why he had paid good money to be seen by a doctor. 

Kenneth described months of coughing, weight loss, night sweats, and flank (side) pain. In my mind, these kind of symptoms easily lean towards a diagnosis of Cancer, but I was hoping for something infectious, something that we could treat and rejoice in the recovery. During our exam, I enjoyed Dr Bill's use of Kenneth's belt notches to determine his weight loss - three notches seemed fairly significant. To my eye he was lean and fit - though he reassured me he used to have the muscle bulk and energy to play rugby. As we placed our stethoscopes to his chest, we noted areas of diminished breath sounds, and sent him off to X-ray. 

To the practiced eye, the image above is quite concerning, and I was pleased to immediately recognize the "fluffy" infiltrates and cavitary lesion (top left of picture) suggestive of Tuberculosis. Dr Bill was also pleased, and reminded me that if Kenneth's symptoms had been due to Cancer or HIV, his treatment options and prognosis (in this part of the World) would have been poor. But, TB is a daily diagnosis here, and there is an entire wing of the hospital designated for the treatment and full recovery of this patient population. 

Before sending Kenneth off to pick up his first set of meds, we prayed together. Dr Bill prayed in Tok Pigdin, and thanked The Lord for Kenneth's life, faithfulness, and for this non-terminal diagnosis. During our prayer I found myself again in an extreme state of thankfulness - to be here, playing a small part in the very real ministry to these beautiful people, an instrument of God's Love. The hospital motto has returned to my mind over and over: "We Treat, Jesus Heals".

More recently, I diagnosed my second case of TB, though this one was more obvious. The moment my eyes fell upon the wasted frame of Thomas, I knew some insidious disease had been eating away at him for a long time. His Chest X-ray is below, and you will recognize the same fluffy infiltrates as noted above in Kenneth's film - though these are much more diffuse. 

With every patient I see in the clinic I am handed their "Scale Book" - a paper booklet which serves as their medical record in which notes and medications are written each time they visit the doctor. In the Scale Book handed to me by Thomas I wrote the word "cachectic", which Dr Wikipedia describes as "a wasting syndrome...seen in patients with cancer, AIDS, chronic lung and heart disease, and tuberculosis...a positive risk factor for death." 

Needless to say, cachectic is not my favorite word. As a Pediatrician, I have used this word for severely malnourished children, a problem that can usually be corrected without complication. As a physician here at Kudjip, seeing patients of every age, I am saddened to think I will use this word more often, and many times, for irreversible disease. But for today, for Thomas, I am thankful that we do have medicine that will work - that the word "cachectic" will not follow him to an early grave. 

Please join with me in prayer for these patients, that in their darkest trials of illness, they turn to Jesus - for Salvation, for peace, even for JOY - that their Faith may find the Solid Rock upon which they will stand eternal. 
After Our Prayer - Thomas in middle, family member on Left

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Finding Faith in "Bus Lotu"

Our first Sunday on Station, we were invited to join our mentors, the Myers, at our Station church located adjacent to the front gate. Well, that WAS the plan until our Saturday night dinner hosts, Jordan and Rachel Thompson, invited us to join them at a "Bus Lotu" (Bush Church), where Rachel Thompson had been invited to speak. Always looking for the most exciting opportunities, we notified the Myers of our plans to abandon home base for a trek into the wilderness.

The next morning, we took a small road winding up the mountain from back of Station, the Land Cruiser tearing up packed clay riddled with potholes and rivulets where streaming rainwater had run amuck. While we were still on level ground, I was curious as to why an old lady was loping along the road ahead of us decked out in her Sunday best. I then noticed the cluster of deep puddles ahead, and felt sorry to have scared the poor old dame into the bushes as she fled the risk of a mud bath. We did our best at a friendly Sunday morning wave as we slowly passed, and I was thankful to see a weathered smile appear between rows of corn. 

As we climbed the earthy orange scar through lush jungle, it was clear that some areas of the road were still soft, not yet baked hard by the sun, and the 20 degree incline was putting the Cruiser to the test. Jordan expertly maneuvered the manual beast, but well short of our final destination, a steep incline held the vehicle at bay, and we reversed to try the hill again. Ready for another go, Jordan eased the transmission into action, but our clay caked tires found no purchase. Reversing another 15 feet, we tried again, but still with out success. Upon our final reverse and attempt, the Cruiser moved!...but not forward. This section of road, which was currently winning, had a relatively steep drop off to the right, and as Jordan engaged the wheels, they performed a Cha Cha Slide right off the road! Our fearless leader informed us that a nice "little" walk awaited us ahead. 

I was infinitely happier trudging up the mountain than bouncing around in the back of the vehicle, and I stopped frequently to investigate the plants and the view. It was not until we reached the church that I found the best view - a breathtaking survey of our beautiful Waghi valley - Kudjip Station campus in the foreground, easily distinguished by so many tin roofs amongst jungle green, and great cloudy mountains beyond. 

The church building was quite small and plain from the outside - simple thatch siding and tin roof - the front doorway surrounded by an army of battered shoes, discarded in honor of entering this House of God. But while it did not appear much from without, as with most things of God, it is what lay within that shone the brightest. 

Approaching the door, I was captivated by the Spirit of freedom which carried forth upon joined voices. Shoeless, I found my place next to Rachel, standing among a throng of PNGians, worshipping our Lord and Savior. There were no chairs, but woven reed mats greeted our feet, and a perfectly orchestrated floral masterpiece crowned the simple alter. As I joined in song, not quite understanding the words, I remained stricken with the powerful beauty of these brothers and sisters - hands raised then clapping, bowing low then dancing, tears of joy released in the presence of His Love. 

Thanksgiving and praise carried through hymns, a few specials (including a lovely piece played by Jordan), an exhortation given by the pastor's wife, and powerful testimonies volunteered from members of the congregation. Rachel Thompson then gracefully took the stage, and in Tok Pidgin, delivered one of the most beautiful sermons I have witnessed.  The message was simple - Jesus is present and active in our time of need:  #1 - He is present to save us from tribulation when we call upon Him [Silenced the storm when sailing with disciples - Matthew 8:23-27], and #2 - He is present to hold our hand as we endure trials [Peter's faith failed as he walking upon water, but Christ held his hand amid the wind/waves - Matthew 14:22-33].   Rachel T. is the MK high school teacher at Kudjip, so I suppose she's had some experience capturing the attention of her pupils, but in these simple parables, the Holy Spirit was very much at work - and EVERY soul present heard and received the Truth.

After the service concluded, we had a nice picture taken of us overlooking the Wahgi Valley, then headed back down the mountain - trailed by a parade of villagers who had kindly offered to help free our sorely stuck Cruiser.

Though it took about 10 minutes of trying various methods (and sorting out who was calling the "1,2,3"), with Jordan at the wheel, the back seats filled with excited village kids, and about 20 strong men pulling, pushing, and levering, we finally freed our ride from the miry clay. But of course, when the Body of Christ works together in Faith, anything is possible!  

Friday, September 26, 2014

Introducing KUDJIP

What follows are my journal notes from when we first came to Kudjip. For those of you who have been following, I wanted to provide you my initial impressions of the area and Station, before diving into the many stories which have already accumulated during my first week working in the hospital. Thank you all for reading/following, for all your encouragement, and for your prayers - which we dearly appreciate. 

We have arrived at Kudjip Nazarene Hospital, our residence and place of service for the next year. At over 4’000 feet elevation, the air is cool, crisp and clean - cut through by intense rays of the equator sun. Burning brighter still is the Lord’s Love shining through His servants, the staff of Kudjip Station, who have rolled out the red carpet of hospitality.

Our welcoming team, and mentors for the year, are Jeff and Susan Myers, who have served as Nazarene missionaries at Kudjip Hospital for many years. Throughout the bustle of getting us settled, we have truly appreciated their savvy expertise in navigating the local area and culture.  

After arriving in Mount Hagen Airport, the Myers loaded us into their Land Cruiser and we set off for Kudjip Station. During the 45 minute ride into the Waghi Valley, Rachel and I received priceless pearls of insight regarding the local culture, and how things work “around here”.  Similar to most ex-colonial countries, we drove in the left lane…except here in PNG, it’s not always the left. Potholes are plentiful, even on the “major” roadways, so drivers use whatever good road there is…even if it’s on the wrong side. This might not be such a big deal, except most vehicles travel quite quickly here, and often two converging drivers choose the same space of road to occupy...which makes for further swerving and bumping. (I should clarify - Jeff Myers is a fantastic driver, and in no way put our lives in danger… :-)  

I think what concerned me more than the risk of vehicles colliding was the proximity of speeding/swerving vehicles to the MANY road pedestrians. Being that most nationals do not own a vehicle, let alone a bicycle, they either take a local bus (PMV) or walk (more often the case). So, whether wandering along the edge of the road, or stepping out to wave down a PMV, my heart twinged each time we missed a national by inches. 

In truth though, I doubt the locals are ever unaware of each vehicles’ proximity. It seems the roadways here are very much a part of the social scene. Not only does the road provide the quickest avenue through the bush, but since so many gather for this purpose, the lifestyle of long walkabouts bears opportunities in connecting with other members of a given “wantok” (village) or “lain” (family/clan). It almost has a parade feel:  passing groups of jostling youths in a variety of school uniforms trying to make out the passengers of every vehicle, women of every age burdened with woven bags slung from crown to buttock, or men stopping to warmly greet one-another and share long conversation. It is also quite common to see men to hold hands while walking together – purely a symbol of camaraderie and trust.  

In addition to the social aspect, it seems where there are crowds, there is marketable opportunity - and during this drive, it occurred no less than every 10-50 feet along the road.  The usual suspect is a middle-aged women, sitting under an umbrella shielding from sun and rain, with the produce of her garden displayed before her on a piece of plastic in neat rows:  kaukau (sweet potatoes), taro root, greens, peanuts, bananas, oranges, beans, papaya, etc. Other examples were stacks of fencing posts, pigs or goats tied to trees, coolers with baggies of Tang, and full cooking fires with veggies or meat sizzling in large pans.

The backdrop to this roadway circus is “the bus” (bush or jungle), scattered with brown patches around thatch huts, winding muddy streams, plots of black earth gardens neatly sectioned with rows carrying every form of vegetation, and the land always rising into steep mountains which disappear in cloud. The Myers named a few areas we passed through and pointed out a larger river as one of the boarders for our hospital's "catchment area" (a designated area around the hospital from which any resident may come at low cost to be seen - those across the boarder are expected to go to whatever hospital covers their area, or they can pay more to be seen at Kudjip).

After roughly 45 minutes, we reached our destination. Kudjip Station is just off the main road, and seems to be a popular spot to gather – enough so that there is an official PMV stop, and the Kudjip “market” (a busy collection of umbrellas promising fresh produce and pick pockets). Turning up the Kudjip driveway, I noted tall trees planted over 50 years ago providing shade for a few more roadside salesmen, and we slowed for the gated entrance – opened quickly by a smiling security guard in black garb. Everywhere within the station, bursts of colorful flowers greet the eye, and trees of every kind sway in a near constant breeze. Turning past the main hospital, the gravel drive took us past a basketball/tennis court, and down toward a collection of newer houses – the first of which bears a red tin roof. A welcome party was assembled, and missionary children carrying flowers ran around the yard and vehicle heralding our arrival. They had decorated our front door and porch with bright flowers and a marvelous welcome sign. 

In the bustle of unloading our luggage and greeting those gathered, I took a moment to peak inside our new home - and then picked up my jaw from where it had landed on the floor. Wow!  When we accepted the call to serve in the rugged Highlands of Papua New Guinea, we had signed on for thatch hut living and creepy crawlies galore. THIS, was nothing like it! Can I get an AMEN?! :-)

View from our Kitchen window.

We barely had a moment to start unpacking before we were summoned for our tour of the Station, gleefully provided by a number of the “MKs” (Missionary Kids). As we walked back up the gravel lane towards the hospital, I appreciated a pleasant view of the valley to the West, and again noted a brilliant array of flower gardens. Our tour revealed a moderate campus of houses and dormitories (for School of Nursing students) surrounding the central hospital area. We were shown the very small “mail room” building (which is also chock full of sports equipment and a small library of books and movies), and Rachel met a pet tree kangaroo. On our way home, we were provided an umbrella for a surprise rain shower - apparently not much of a surprise to everyone else. But hey, this is after all "The Land of the Unexpected".

In reflection, the road ahead will be strewn with discomfort and challenges to our way of thinking. That we not fall away, nor stumble, we ask for your prayers – to walk by HIS power, our path lit by His Spirit’s wisdom, our eyes opened to His perspective, our hearts filled and overflowing with His Love, Grace, and Joy. Please partner with us in our transformation, and in our thanksgiving! 

His Kingdom come, 
His Will be done, 
here in Kudjip as it is in Heaven. 

Aerial View of Kudjip Station

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Concluding our Dusin Adventure

Meeting God in the Highlands

(PART 5 - Final)

I think it's safe to say that when you begin dreaming in the language you are studying, your studies are paying off well. I can't recall with whom I was arguing, or what about, but I clearly remember speaking long sentences quite fluently to make my points. Rachel, slightly irritated at the memory, tells me she heard most of it. :-)

After our morning studies, a neighborhood friend, Jeffrey, brought us some "Switfrut" to try. He demonstrated with his own fruit how to crack open the hard rind to find the sweet seeds inside. Imagine clusters of miniature grapes that closely resemble frog eggs in size and texture, each with sweet clear jelly coating a large seed. I think Rachel and I both completed the task of "enjoying" this treat out of courtesy to Jeffrey who watched with eager anticipation. With sticky sweetness on my fingers, I was then approached by a butterfly. I think anyone else would have run away, but I bravely offered my hand upon which it landed...with a body the size of my index finger, and each wing the size of my hand! I was proud to have captured such a wild beast with the mere offering of my hand, but sadly, the big fella departed before Rachel could grab the camera. 

Not the butterfly, but another terrible beast of these mountains...

During the afternoon, three men came to the door, asking to speak with me. The eldest requested medicine for a boy who had been sick. The fact that I am a Physician was supposed to be a secret while in Dusin, but the word must have gotten out somehow. I was forewarned by our Kudjip counselors, the Myers, that I wouldn't have a moment of rest and study if the local population knew I was a doctor. I had every intention of obeying this directive, but when asked directly to come see a very sick boy, I was severely torn in what to do. I told the men I didn't bring any medicine with which I might treat they boy, but they asked if I could just look at him, to see whether he needed to go to the hospital or wait further. The closest "Haus Sik" (hospital) to Dusin is across a couple mountain ranges in Singapi - about a 4 hour hike if moving quickly. As the story went, the boy became tired 3 days prior and had fever, cough, and had only slept, taking in very little water and almost no food. They denied any "sua" (wound/abscess), "traut" (vomiting), or "pekpek wara" (diarrhea). I'd seen a number, if not most of, the other children with snotty noses and cough, so a viral respiratory infection of some form seemed likely. I ultimately agreed to see the boy, and it wasn't far to go. I was led to the storage shed of the local store, and found myself crawling through a couple tiny doorways into a very dark space without evidence of a child. The man opened a window and the blinding light revealed storeroom shelves with stacks of ramen noodles, rice, sugar, salt, and there in the middle of the floor was a bundle of blankets - no movement or evidence of life. The man pulled back the blanket to reveal a small boy, maybe 3 years old, curled up next to a half-eaten pack of dry ramen noodles, looking quite withdrawn and frightened. He was hot to the touch, his heart was racing, and once moving, he had a spasmodic cough. He wasn't too dehydrated based upon a wet mouth and a few tears during my exam, and he quietly responded to a few questions from the man which I asked. He denied any pain - just felt tired and cold. I regretted not having a stethoscope with me, as I was primarily concerned for possible pneumonia, but the boy wasn't breathing overly fast, and wasn't having any difficulty breathing. Obviously, I was more than a little concerned for this boy - possibly my first patient in Papua New Guinea - but there was nothing I could do. I strongly suggested to the gathered men that they increase the amount of water he was drinking, and try to get some chicken broth into him - not just plane hard ramen. I asked them to keep me updated with his progress - if worse, then he would need to go to Singapi for fluids and antibiotics - if better, than it was likely just a viral infection that needed to run its course. Although I felt completely useless, they thanked me profusely. Later I found Pastor Thompson and gave him the full story, at which point he informed me of a cupboard of medicines in the back shed of our house, which he said are for the Dusin people - when a medical professional is present. Great, I thought, now I've got no excuse at all to avoid stepping into the Doctor role. I went and inventoried this cabinet, which contained quite a number of antimicrobials, and selected the appropriate dosing of Amoxicillin to treat the boy's likely pneumonia. The pills went into a little baggie, which I set on the kitchen counter - still undecided as to whether the boy would need the treatment. In the States, the boy would have had a plethora of blood labs drawn (including cultures), given IV fluids, received a chest X-ray, and started on an IV antibiotic in preparation for admission to the Pediatric Ward. With only oral antibiotics at my disposal, I decided to wait and watch, with a plan to see the boy first thing in the morning - if not awoken in the night for a worsening of his condition.

That evening, Pastor Thompson and Esther invited us to join them to sample their typical dinner. We followed Pastor Thompson and his youngest, Melissa, down to their house, where we were ushered in to sit on thatch mats next to the open fire. Since we had already eaten, we were a little overwhelmed with the heaping pile of vegetables we were served. They described the cooking process, and named each of the foods - taro root, kaukau (sweet potato), and cooked greens - all of which were delicious. The greens reminded me of something between spinach and asparagus, and the sweet potato was milder in flavour (which I liked) than the orange version I'm accustomed to back home. Pastor Thompson regaled us with some "story" (conversation or stories) about other foods they cook, and we did our best to share, in Tok Pidgin, a few cooking stories of our own. We didn't finish the plates in front of us, but were reassured it was OK - the five children would be happy to help us finish. 

Highland children - Beautiful and full of Joy

As we walked back up to our house, I was shocked by the night sky - clearer than I'd ever seen in my life, every star and constellation in full splendor, and the Milky Way spreading from horizon to horizon. We saw two shooting stars, a few orbiting satellites or airplanes, and the clouds coming across the Northern mountain range showed off an illuminating battery of lightening. What an honor to witness this immeasurable creation of God in all its majesty!

The following morning, I found the boy somewhere between fevers, still warm to touch and without energy, but not as tachycardic (heart racing) as yesterday. The father said he had increased the boy's fluid intake which likely accounted for his slight improvement. His cough had not changed however, so I produced from my pocket the small baggie of Amoxicillin, and explained in great detail (in my best Pidgin) the dosing/duration, how to crush the tablets into a couple ounces of warm chicken soup, and stir between sips to ensure the boy got all the medicine. I also gave the boy a small wooden cross necklace, which I had found within the medicine cabinet. It is very unlikely he will remember my presence or help, but perhaps some day, the cross round his neck will inspire a connection between compassion and our Savior. 

I am thankful for our Dusin experience, for the kindness of Pastor Thompson and his family, for all the smiles and soccer provided by the local kids, and for the opportunity to unplug amid God's untouched creation. God only knows what awaits us in this year of service at Kudjip Hospital, but my eyes and heart are wide open. 

Upon our return to Kudjip - in a TINY aircraft! :-)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Redefining the Meaning of Life

Meeting God in the Highlands
(PART 4)

After another delicious egg and ham breakfast, I was sitting on the porch, working on my second cup of coffee, when men carrying large white bags began dumping them in front of the house. Other men would then carry them another 150 yards up to the airstrip to the plane loading area. In conversation with one of the men, I learned these were 50kg (just over 110 pound) bags of coffee beans, to be picked up and flown back to Mount Hagen later in the afternoon. I didn't want to intrude, or assist in a way that would embarrass them, but one young man was struggling a bit with his load, so I offered to lend a hand. Shouldering the heavy bag without too much difficulty, I followed the same uphill track to the loading area...legs and lungs burning by the time I dumped the bag. A crowd had gathered atop the hill adjacent to the airstrip, and I received a little cheer. Well, thought I, couldn't hurt to help these guys out and maybe earn a little respect in the process. A dozen bags/trips later, and more than a couple complements on my strength (probably just being polite), we had finished, and I'm first to admit I was thankful. I sat back down on the porch, took another long drink of my now cold coffee, and thought long and hard, with appreciation, for how much work must go into the coffee I enjoy every day. 

     1.  Pile of fresh coffee beans placed out to dry.
     2.  Stacked bags on airstrip ready for pick-up.

After another morning study session, we were joined by a handful of children on a neighborhood walk - up hill and down dale. Richard provided entertainment by expertly climbing a tree (see if you can find him in the picture below). We walked around quite a number of thatched wall houses scattered across the mountainside, each with some variation of children, chickens and pigs, a hard clay yard, an outhouse, and sprawling vegetable gardens. We stopped by the local elementary school house, which was in slight disrepair, and the split trunk benches/desks reminded me of something I'd seen in colonial Williamsburg. We were then shown the skeleton for the replacement school building not far away. Apparently, the building supplies are provided incrementally by the children, who's parents send them to school each day with a piece of wood to contribute. 

To punctuate the process of the local economics, Rachel and I then enjoyed a walk up the mountain to where Pastor Thompson's garden was well under way. We found him and his two boys shoveling and rearranging large clumps of earth along the hillside in preparation for planting (pic below). We learned of their plans for corn, sweet potato, taro root, greens, sugar cane, bananas, and other common crops of these mountains. After the morning's coffee bean experience, and viewing this garden work upon a 45 degree slope, I really began to appreciate the hard work these beautiful people endure every day, always smiling, always thankful, always sharing with one another.

We met a couple small pigs upon our return home, one of whom decided I was sure to show him the way home, and wouldn't leave my side! 

With the promise of an airplane arriving in the afternoon, there is always quite a number of people who congregate around our house, lounging on the grass, the boys throwing or kicking a ball, the girls and women in small clusters chitchatting, the men standing in small groups sharing important words in low tones. I've noticed a few times in these moments of idleness the women grooming one another. One sitting, the other lying with head in lap receiving a thorough inspection of the scalp for (I'm assuming) lice. When one is found, the groomer places thumbnail to thumbnail, and with a forceful PINCH, pops whatever little exoskeleton had taken up residence. 

With the closest opportunity for bathing a 30 minute hike down to the "wara" (river) at the bottom of the valley, it seems that hygiene takes a backseat in Highland life...especially when your every action will only reverse the effects: shoveling gardens, carrying heavy bundles of wood/leaves/crop, building and tending cooking fires, walking barefoot at all times - up and down steep terrain, and almost always through thick mud, etc.  Besides, it rains so frequently here, it seems that sort of "shower" keeps the worst filth at bay.

When the plane finally arrived from Mount Hagen, I was interested to see the sizable amount of cargo being unloaded in exchange for the large bean bags: Rice, noodles, flavoring packets, sugar, salt, clothes, pots/pans, tin roofing, empty sacking, etc.  Many of the families who gathered must have worked long and hard to gather those beans, and now walked away heavily laden with goods that cannot be grown or made in these mountains.

A Reflection Upon the Day:
My mind returns over and over to the relatively retched/poor state of living the people of these mountains endure. Yet, all I can see is joy - as they live every moment in its fullest. They wear the same clothes every day, with the exception of a handful who have a second shirt. They gnaw on raw vegetables for breakfast and lunch, and then cook the same for dinner. They are covered in sweat and mud from the hard work they invest in their gardens, and the long treks they make up and down mountains to help in others' gardens, visit relatives, or attend school. Life is not easy here, but in every moment they share with one another, and while truly this sharing is a form of investment, it produces a brotherhood which is expressed in thanksgiving and laughter. They never pass one another by without a warm greeting, they are happy to share time in conversation or play a quick pick-up game of soccer. In the absence of western entertainment, they enjoy their evenings sitting fireside, telling stories, singing, and dancing. When I recognize the beauty in their retched/poor state, my eyes are further opened to the corruption in spirit of the Westerner. We who have so much, forget how to be thankful. In the pursuit of an even "richer" tomorrow, we abandon sharing in the need of our family and our neighbors today. The Western bustle drowns out our ability to revere God and His creation. 

Romans 8: 8-17
Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation--but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ""Abba," Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

My Prayer:
May we all share in His suffering, 
relinquishing control, abandoning self, 
to simply obey and serve in His Love. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

To Whom are You a Leader ?

Meeting God in the Highlands
(PART 3)

(Written on Sunday, 9/14/14, while on Cultural Retreat in Dusin, PNG)

We awoke early, listening, knowing we must not miss the chime of third bell. It's Sunday here, and church is announced to the entire valley from a truck wheel gong which hangs at White Stone. Pastor Thompson, or perhaps one of his boys, first rang the bell at about 0730, while we enjoyed coffee over our devotional. Throughout this time of waiting for "Lotu" (church) to begin, we were treated to pleasant melodies from someone practicing guitar. Second bell was at 0900, followed shortly by third bell around 0940, and so we made our way to Lotu, down the hard clay path which lies adjacent to the airstrip. 

The Church "Bell" at White Stone

We separated once inside the long low church building, Rachel to the women's benches on the left, and I to the right, to sit with Pastor Thompson. He informed me we would see even more people come, the latecomers having travelled the furthest. (Imagine hiking for 2 hours through steep jungle terrain to get to church!) We joined the congregation in song, three guitarists and an elder leading from the front. When the local lyrics escaped me, I would sing my own words to the same tune, and the Spirit was present. We were then treated to a few "specials" by various groups of youths, and I was happy to place some "Kina" (dollars) into the men's side offering plate. I found it interesting that while the men's plate was sparse with only a single 50 "Toea" (cents) coin, the ladies' plate had many Kina bills and Toea coins. Perhaps their wives manage the household tithing as mine usually does. 

Pastor Thompson's message was regarding leadership. He reminded the people of God's infinite authority, the pastor's duty and authority as God's mouthpiece, and each man's duty and authority as head of their household. The people of PNG culturally place importance on gaining authority, becoming the "Big Man" in their community, by generously placing others in their debt - the more people in your debt, the more friends/allies/supporters in your time of need, which equals power. Pastor Thompson reminded us of our place in God's kingdom, members of one Body, equal in importance as each of us is a leader to someone. Rachel and I were thankful our language study had enabled us to understand this beautiful message. 

A Rainbow Reminder of God's Promises

After a quick lunch of tuna on chicken crackers (my favorite new snack), I took a soccer ball outside. At first I was passing the ball with the 2 or 3 kids who were already lounging outside our house, but as usual, within just a few minutes we had enough for two full teams, and the stick goals were put up.  Some boys who have become soccer friends are Richard, Randy, Charlie, and Randal. In this type of soccer, while size, speed and skill still matter, every single one of these kids happily rugby tackle and hack at the ball with everything they've got. I was continually amazed and encouraged by the feirce smiling and jesting which these children exhibit in their rough play, taking and returning serious blows without the slightest trace of anger or tears. I kept thinking "THIS is the way soccer should be played! ...none of this falling down faking injuries business!"  Anyway, almost 90 minutes and at least two dozen goals later, sore and exhausted, we called it quits. I'm sure it helped that a large front of rain was tearing down the mountainside towards us. :-)

Surrounded by so many young hearts, Pastor Thompson's message had returned to me, and I wondered who The Lord would place before me this year to disciple and lead into His Love.  

Please PRAY for our eyes to be opened to the needs of those around us, that we might be vessels of His Love and salvation. 

...and while you're praying, ask God who He's got in mind for you too! You are indeed a leader to someone. Think upon the fruit of your relationships - does it point toward Christ?

By His Love and Grace, T&R

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The View from Mountain Hights

Meeting God in the Highlands
(PART 2)

I awoke to steady drizzle, birds singing, locals chatting out back, Rachel tinkering in kitchen with coffee fixings. Throwing off the blankets, I quickly appreciated mountain cool that had settled into the 50-60's overnight. I bundled up and donned warm slippers, but caught myself wishing for a beanie - no worries, my hoodie will do. We enjoyed a hearty bacon and egg breakfast, and then retired to the porch for our morning devotional. As we read aloud, two tiny girls sat at our feet listening, not understanding, but respectfully studying our voices and mannerisms, occasionally teasing one another and playing - but always silently. As the Love of God spoke to us through that devotional, I knew He was with us, and so whether they understood or not, I prayed for those precious souls at our feet to receive the same Love. 

The porch seems to be the best way to attract attention - the house sits on the air strip, which most use as an easy way to get up and down that part of the steep mountain, so many passersby detour to our porch for a handshake with the "white skins". The men are more bold, quick to stick out a hand accompanied by bright smiles, while the women are more shy or reserved, only venturing close when in number, with men, or when we greet them from a distance.

One of the fun cultural aspects shared among PNG men, and extended to me, is the unique local handshake. Apparently each area of the country has its own unique amplification of the classic handshake, which seems to help the men build camaraderie, as well as identify outsiders. For the men of Dusin, after a firm handshake, one man captures the other man's forefinger between two knuckles, and pulls back abruptly causing a loud snap as knuckles collide. Both men roll back in laughter with this exchange, smiling knowingly, and slapping shoulders in agreed manliness. It took me a little time to get the snap nice and loud, but even the slightest attempt was always appreciated greatly. 

Per the usual routine of our Dusin retreat, after our morning devotional, we settled onto the couch to take on the next chapter of our language study. The Myers (our mentors at Kudjip) had blessed us with a number of resources for studying "Tok Pidgin" and PNG customs - all of which we eagerly read. We increasingly found that this language is relatively easy since most words used are derived from English. Sentence structure is a little backwards, but once understood, makes sense. Here are some examples:

"Gude, Moning, Apinum"
   - Hello, Good Morning, Good Afternoon

"Yu stap gut?"
   - How are you?

"Mi hamamas long lookim yu."
   - I am pleased to meet/see you.

"Nem bilong mi Ted, na nem bilong meri bilong mi Rachel."
   - My name is Ted, and my wife's name is Rachel.

"Sorri, plis tok isi isi, mi no save long Tok Pigin gut."
   - Sorry, please talk slowly, I don't know Tok Pigin well.

"Mitupela kam long Dusin nau lainum Tok Pigin."
   - We came to Dusin now to learn Tok Pigin.

Quality Time with Pastor Thomspon

Pastor Thompson is our guide and tutor, and certainly the sweetest and most gracious national we have yet to meet. He and his "meri" (wife), Esther, live adjacent to us, and he pastors the local church just down the runway. Our "Tok Pidgin" lessons with Pastor Thompson are unscheduled:  he will find us randomly reading or studying on our porch, or we may hear him holding a conversation outside our house (it is impolite in PNG custom to approach/knock on someone's door - so coughing or loudly speaking nearby is done, in which case those within have the choice to entertain or not) - but we always opened our door. 

The rain visited our mountain escape at least every two to four hours - sometimes a brief drizzle, but most times a heavy downpour. Then, in stark reply, the sun was never far behind, baking everything dry, and easily leaving a burn if care is not taken to cover the ol' white skin. 

In the afternoon, during a period of blazing sunshine Pastor Thompson provided us with a tour of the surrounding area, which took us to "Bigpela White Stone". This rocky outcropping teeters on the edge of the high mountainside and provides a view that brought my mind home to Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains...only this was grander, wholy untouched by powerline, paved road, commercial farming, or housing developments. Pastor Thompson named all the mountains and valleys, pointing out in great detail specific buildings in the distance (brown smudges to us), as various local schools and churches. As we took in the awesome (literal) view, we chewed on sections of sugar cane provided by Pastor Thomspon, sucking the sweet juices from the soft inner pulp, then unceremoniously spitting dried chunks into jungle below.

Thoughts upon Re-Visiting "White Stone":
I took a walkabout to meet with God, and my wandering mind and feet carried me to the pinnacle view of White Stone. It's hard to sit atop God's enormous creation, and not be moved. My senses could hardly grasp the panorama, and I found myself taking mental screen shots where they might make more sense on a calendar. The wind nudged my frame and cut through my sweatshirt - like the Spirit, a force of God we cannot see or control, but moves us. I awaited the Word of The Lord, and shivered both in flesh and spirit. Amen.