Saturday, November 28, 2009


Church was every morning and evening. Our house sat right behind it, so if I chose not to go, I usually stayed hidden from the inquisitive brown eyes during the duration of the service. This particular evening, I was laying in the hammock strung across our veranda, reading. The hour of evening service was announced by the ringing of the church bell. Martin, the catechist, would take the old, rusty hammer reserved for this purpose, and strike the empty gas cylinder that hung from the eves of the open building. The clanging would ring throughout the village, signalling to the faithful that it was time to come again to get their souls wiped clean. A quietness settled over the village in that hour. The echoing axes stopped chopping, women laid off yelling at their young, and even the infants sensed that now as a time to be still.

I lay there in the hammock, listening with half an ear to the sounds of the service. The evening zephyrs carried scents of fragrant flowers that bloomed only at dusk, and also the prayers of the faithful. Streams of 'Lord have mercy' and 'Christ have mercy' were caught up on the breeze, wafting past me and up to heaven, hopeful offerings of fragrant incense to a God they really didn't know.

I let my book fall to my side, and rested my head back on the taut web of strings. The fading tropical sun's quick glory radiated through the trees, blessing the village with its golding light. I watched the clouds above the leaf roofs change from dusky rose, to orange, a quick, bright flash of molten amber, and then the sky became a palate of deep purples and blues as the sun sank below the ocean's rim.

From the church, lines from the closing hymn rose in the Islanders' perfect harmony:
'Abide with me, fast falls the evening tide.
When darkness deepens, Lord with me abide.
All other helpers fail and comforts flee.
Help of the helpless, Lord, abide with me.'

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Outer Strength, Inner Brokenness

The village had two wells, one for each half. The one closest to us was dug by a group of well-meaning Peace Corps years ago, a four-foot diameter concrete shaft penetrating into the island's coral core. The remains of a sad windmill stood beside it, its dilapidated arms hanging down in defeat, pointing in despair at the rusted water pump. The villagers used long poles with little buckets attached to the ends to access the water now. It was an art to carefully lower the bucket so that it filled with water (which was about 1 foot deep on average), but didn't stir up the silty bottom of the well, thus polluting the entire water source.

I had a morbid fear of the well. The villagers treated it with respect, never going too close to the edge. They scolded me when I looked too long into its depths. I think that a spirit lived down there, although they never told me its name. It seemed that wells all over the islands were homes for benevolent water spirits.

The water was brackish, too salty to drink but good to wash ourselves and clothes in. My mom paid me three dollars a bucket to haul water from the well to our house - good money. I had a thriving business with my family, charging them for buckets of fresh water when they needed 'showers'.

Once a 10 gallon bucket was filled with water, I would have a friend help hoist it onto my shoulder. I would then totter my way through the houses. If you have never tried it, it is difficult to carry an open bucket of water on your shoulder or head. Disregarding the weight, you have to walk very smoothly. The more you wobble around, the more the water begins to slosh, and very quickly it will throw you off balance. My pride made me endure intense amounts of physical suffering, with my neck aching from the weight of the bucket pressing against it, my arms trembling from holding it up, my legs quivering with the effort to keep the rhythm of my walk. I endured all this, so that the village kids would see me as strong, and one of them.

A year ago, I sat in the chiropractor's office and watched as he studied an x-ray of my back. "Were you a gymnast, as a kid?" he asked me.
"No," I said.
"You have arthritis in your lower back. I never see it in people this young, except for people who worked on farms as children, or who played intense sports such as gymnastics."
"Would carrying buckets of water on my shoulders for seven years count?" I asked.

I've picked up a lot of hidden aches in my efforts to 'appear strong' to those around me, or to be accepted. Every time we would move from the island to the US, or back again, I would suddenly find myself dropped into a community where everyone had been tootling along in their lives, and expected me to pick right back up again, wherever the CD skipped to. I didn't have time to go through an adjustment period. The islanders didn't understand me missing things like shopping malls, church picnics, and Thanksgiving. American kids didn't 'get' my longing for the simpler life and small, tight-knit village community.

So, I compartmentalized my island and American selves. Each part of me lay there, dormant and aching for recognition, with the effect that wherever I was, no place was completely home. I developed arthritis of the heart, a constant, festering aching that effected my ability (or willingness) to let anyone too close. I became very strong on the outside, good at 'faking the funk' no matter what situation I found myself in.

In high school, it became worse. I left the Solomons for good and returned to the US, with a heart full of mourning for people and places I loved and would never see again. It was like the whole village died in one fell swoop. I dusted off my American self and, with the help of Old Navy and the Clinique counter, assimilated into high school. I found myself being angry at the kids around me, angry at how easy it was for them to belong, to fit in, to 'get' the jokes. I was angry at how simple their lives were, how narrow their world view was, how close-minded their conversations. Most of all, though, I was angry that they weren't my island family.

I eventually made some friends; mostly people who helped keep our relationship on a safe, surface level. And a few, precious, true friends who were just as different on the inside as I was - you know who you are.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

From Suburbanite to Missionary - My Dad's Faith Journey

What is it like to go from a suburban small-business owner, to a foreign missionary? As it all seemed like a huge adventure to me as a kid, I will let my father's words describe the process for me. The following are excerpts from our family newsletters as we embarked on the journey that would change all our lives forever.

March 1989 - (the first newsletter ever sent out)
"We are rapidly approaching a crossroads in the life of our family and would appreciate your prayers for us. This will entail some major decisions concerning our involvement with Wycliffe Bible Translators.
As you know, we have been on a fairly normal course up to this point; raising a family, being active with our neighbors, and serving in our local church.
This June we plan to attend Wycliffe's four week missionary candidate program, "Quest". They require this for all potential translators, to judge their suitability for field work. We are praying that God will use the staff at Wycliffe to give us definitive guidance concerning our involvement in Bible translation."

August 1987 - Quotable Quotes from Quest
"Success is not permanent, neither is failure."
~Jerry Allen, our language instructor giving us encouragement the first week of class

"When entering another culture remember, you are the foreigner, not them."
~Scott Smith, missionary kid

Q: "Did you ever feel like quitting?"
A: "About every day."
~ Dan Davis has served with WBT for 23 years, completing one New Testament and serving as a consultant on many others.

"Sometimes God puts us on a holding pattern to make us grow."
~ Ken Wiggers, former Jaars pilot on returning to the US for medical reasons

"The work of Bible translation involves a partnership between those being sent and those who are sending. God chose each member of this partnership before the foundation of the world."
~ Clarence Church has been involved in Bible translation at various levels since he first went to Mexico with Cameron Townsend in 1947.

December 1987
"Last week Nathan's bike was parked behind the family van and got crushed. Later Matthew toddled out the back door and became stranded in the back yard with his little bare feet in the sticker burr patch.
It seems that our kids are always getting into situations that they can't resolve alone. Similarly, our desire to do Bible translation is getting our whole family into a situation where we cannot proceed alone. So, we are in the process of looking for people to make u support teams at churches, who will be our partners in this venture. These teams will be involved in financial support, daily prayer, and keeping the church and friends up to date on our activities.
'Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me let him follow Me.'"

September 1988
"I crossed the front yard and took a look back at the home we had just completed. The big rental truck was packed. The boys and I climbed in and lumbered up the hill, past the homes of friends. Our hearts were full of memories as we left the life that would be forever changed when we return.
We lumbered through Westlake and headed north on I-35. Matthew's excitement had worn him out. he was sound asleep in his car seat, cheeks flushed in the heat. Nathan was quiet, staring out the window.
As the mile markers slipped by, my mind was in the past ... Cub Scout meetings, teaching kids in Sunday School, men's Bible Study, work, soccer practice. July and August had been an incredible storm of activity as we finished the house and moved with a great surge of help from our friends.
Our last hours in Austin were full of tears. It was very difficult to leave. We realized how much of our hearts were in our home, our friends, church, and community ... we miss you all.
However, we know that the Lord is our Shepherd and we trust that He has still waters in store for us. Please pray that we will be able to be still and trust Him for what lies ahead of us as we train to translate God's written Word."

November 1988
"We have been assigned to the island of Ontong Java to do Bible translation. This is near Guadalcanal and New Britain islands in the Pacific Ocean north of Australia.
During World War II, these Pacific Islands were inundated with U.S. Soldiers who were fighting the Japanese. The U.S. Army brought in mountains of supplies to keep the war effort going: clothes, canned food, vehicles, radios, weapons, etc. The local people had very little contact with white men up to this point, and were very interested in how they came by all of this 'Cargo'.
The local people knew that all power to produce goods, to make gardens grow, to make pigs bear young, to be victorious over enemies, all of this power came from the spirits of ones ancestors. To have powerful ancestors meant to have much wealth. So they thought that these white men must have powerful ancestors indeed.
The local people learned from missionaries that their God was named Jesus. This Jesus had been a man. He had died and gone to the place of the ancestors, and had then returned to men for a period of time.
Of course this made things very clear to the local people. Jesus must have learned the secret of 'Cargo' from the white ancestors and had given this secret to the white men. The obvious problem was that the white men were not about to give away the secret to such wonderful power.
Since the local people knew that ancestor power is appropriated from ritual, they decided to watch the white men, and listen to them very carefully in case they slipped and let out the secret.
The missionaries told them that they should believe in Jesus and be baptized. This the people gladly did. They told the people to build a church and bury their dead in a graveyard near the church. This the people also gladly did. In fact they had observed the white men talking to their ancestors on radios with wire antennas which received the voices of the ancestors. So the people strung vines from their church building to the graves so that their prayer requests for 'Cargo' would be transmitted to Jesus and the white ancestors.
The people prayed, they made air strips, they decorated the graves of their ancestors with flowers; they copied the white men in every way they could. But still no cargo came. Finally they became angry. The white men were holding out on them. There was obviously enough Cargo to go around. These white men were really selfish and miserly. To refuse to share with your village, when you have plenty, is the worst sin they could imagine. Finally, they decided that these white missionaries were bad people. The people turned away and rejected them and their God.
The missionaries were dismayed. The responses to the gospel had been so good at the beginning. What had gone wrong? How could this confused response to the gospel have been remedied?"

March 1989
Our first news letter went out last spring. In it, we talked about the transition from suburban life (work, soccer, scouts, and Sunday outings), to being Bible translators overseas.
In retrospect, it has been a lot like training to sky dive. Last spring we were at the back of the plane chewing our fingernails, and now we are at the door and ready to jump.
We just got our passports back. Next we get shots; hepatitis A & B, tetanus, and oral malaria. Nathan, Danica and Anna are dreading that, and Matthew isn't too thrilled by their reaction to the word, "shot".
A year ago, one of the kids in our Sunday school class heard that we were planning to be missionaries. She approached us and volunteered to send us $5 a month, which was our first promised financial support (and a hefty sum for a first grader).
Looking back on that incident, it reminds me of the time that Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal. This victory turned the hearts of Israel back to God. So he prayed for God to end the three year drought that was a punishment for Israel's idolatry.
As Elijah lay prostrate on the ground, he sent his servant to the hilltop to look for rain clouds. On the seventh trip the servant saw (not a thunder cloud, but) a cloud the size of a man's hand. Elijah's reaction was RUN, before "the storm of rain washes you away."
Over this past year that "little cloud" of $5 has grown to about $1700 / month of the $2400 / month that we need to leave for our overseas assignment. I am continually amazed at how God continues to provide for us, and aware of how much this effort of Bible translation depends on His faithfulness.

June 1989
Nathan received this letter from Samuel Daams, son of Pam and Nico Daams, WBT translators in the Solomon Islands:
Dear Nathan,
I keep wondering when you will come here. I hope to show you how we shoot birds and eat them. I also hope to go and spear shrimps and fish in the creek nearby.
I have many friends whom I have told about your coming. They are looking forward to it and we will show you how to make many things such as trucks out of wood, bows and arrows, and slings.
There are lots of fruit here nice to eat such as guava, mango, sugarcane, coconuts, cabbarei, and pineapple and banana. There are lots of bats and birds here.
I hope to show you a parrot of mine that I shot myself and is still alive and very tame. It likes to crawl along peoples hands and chew their hair.
Yours faithfully,

What do we think about The Move? A quick poll revealed the following thoughts:

David: I am looking forward to getting to know people and feeling at home there. I want the kids to find friends soon too.

Pam: I think that we are going to have lots of surprises. Leaving the familiar is difficult but I feel expectant about what lies ahead.

Nathan (age 10): I think it's going to be fun. I am going to be able to shoot birds and spear fish. I am looking forward to going.

Danica (age 8): I wonder how many friends I am going to make. I am looking forward to making a shell collection. I'll bring some special shells when I get back. I will miss my friends in Texas.

Anna (age 6): I think that home school is going to be exciting. I think that it will be fun and I am looking forward to getting on the plane. I like the food that they have on the plane. I hope I find a friend and I hope that they are nice.

Matthew (age 4): Can I have a Popsicle?