Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Celebrating Believers in Tupibu!

(Grab a cup of coffee and sit down to enjoy this exciting update which is a bit on the longer side)

I mentioned in my last post that I had the opportunity to hike to Tupibu to be part of the plans celebrating the many there who are newly putting their faith in Jesus. I've been anxious for the opportunity to sit down and share my experience with you all!

First some background. We didn't even know the village of Tupibu existed until somewhat recently! One of the believers from Tariknan set up this little hamlet for his family back in 2008 for various reasons. Since then others of his family line have also set up homes there. Tupibu sits right on a main throughway for people coming out to the coast. As such one of the leaders in the Mibu church decided at some point it would be a good opportunity to build a house there to witness to folks who very often stop in Tupibu for a night's rest before finishing their long trek to the coast. And then a few months ago, the Mibu church, together with everyone living in Tupibu decided that it would be good to teach everyone in Tupibu about Jesus. These initial evangelism lessons carried on for several months, finishing up this last Friday. The result... most of the people there, 29 in all, have realized their need for Jesus and are trusting in what he accomplished on the cross and his resurrection!

This is where my little weekend trip comes in. When there are new believers the Mibu area churches make a really big deal about it! And why wouldn't they! More of their friends and family are now sharing in the great things Christ has done for them! They're genuinely excited for the new believers and so it's time to celebrate!

We got there late in the day on Friday. After bathing in the nearby river and changing into clean shorts and a shirt, I spent the rest of the afternoon alternating between eating, socializing, and napping! One thing I love about these trips is the simplicity of being. I'm away from all the complications of my house and running water and electricity and internet and all that junk (good junk though). So we get there, and find out that John (see picture) and his four wives who are new believers, will be hosting us. I was so thankful for just having  little foam mattress to sleep on, a tea kettle to boil water in for my cheap instant coffee in my little camping mug, and someone always cooking taro, bananas, pitpit, greens, and the special treat of some pig fat! Oh, and also thankful for a clean outhouse to squat in! I just loved the opportunity to have nothing else to think about except spending time with my friends and sharing in the task of being an encouragement to the new believers!

That first day believers from 8 different villages showed up in droves! Without a moment wasted, they all started getting their headdresses, grass skirts, bead necklaces, and other body decorations ready for that night's planned singsing. Many sat around the various areas working through the flowers, leaves, and grass they'd collected along their hike there. Stripping, cutting, and binding the items together into their colorful armbands, arranging their feathers, smearing red paint on their bodies, and tightening and tuning their drums things began to shape up.

As the sun ducked behind the mountains for what makes a much elongated blue hour, a gift was put together by each of the groups that came to show their support. Cabbage, pitpit, flowers, cash, and other little goodies formed a pile atop some banana leaves that were laid down for just this purpose. Everyone gathered around and shared their excitement for the new believers there and their gratitude for being willing to host so many people. A traditional handshake was done and the gifts distributed.

I needed another nap after this :) 

I woke up about 8 or 9 that night to the ongoing beating of drums and singing. These singsings tend to go all night long till sunrise. It's been a long time since I've stayed up all night through one of these. I usually try to sleep as much as I can (try sleeping to constant rhythmic pounding drums that you can feel) and when I wake from a shallow sleep, get up and go join the other observers till my eyes won't stay open any more. I then go back to the hut, sleep some more, and start the whole process over again! This time, the whole night was wetted with a constant drizzling rain. But that didn't stop them from singsinging their hearts out; nor me from enjoying my little bits of time observing through the night. It's always fun and interesting to hear the different villages' songs that they've made up to honor God, where in the past they used to sing to manipulate the spirits and their dead ancestors. (I have a short video of the singsing I've been trying for nearly 3 days to upload now, but thus far been unable. Hopefully I can post that for you soon!)

By 7am the singsing was over and everyone dispersed to eat, nap, and clean all that red paint off their bodies.

The rest of the day was fairly full of meetings. The main meeting was an opportunity for other believers to stand and share words of encouragement, warning, and wisdom to the new believers. I had a chance to share here along with the others. Such a wonderful time to hear more mature believers reaching deep into their experience with God to strengthen these new babes in Christ. And very interesting to hear what they see as important to share. It really affirmed to me the value of the work here and just how far they've come! We all heard some great wisdom that day!

We had a few other meetings that day revolving more around administrative stuff, and discussions for the urgent need for leaders to be faithful in their service to the church. Because how often do you have the gathering of so many leaders at once!

I heard one of the teachers recalling to me later that afternoon how during the teaching, when the people of Tupibu realized that Jesus paid the full price for their sin, in which they've been helplessly stuck, their amazement and shock was expressed in mourning the rest of that day right through till the evening! "It was wailing and crying like someone had died," he recounted. It was the gratitude felt when you realize the providence behind just barely escaping some disaster you had no business escaping. He said the people were like, "We almost all died without ever knowing this! We could have totally gone forever without knowing God!"

Let's hope and pray that this kind of gratitude is what continues to flavor their walk with the Lord from here on out! I think it's often the loss of the simple and joyous gratitude of being redeemed and made one of God's own, in favor of the many technicalities and scholastic exercises that make up christian 'religion' that can make our faith seem so dry and flavorless. I love seeing it when it's fresh and raw like I saw and heard in Tupibu!

That evening they decided that another singsing was in order. I was so tired, I think I actually slept through the night on my little foam mattress despite all the drumming and singing. I did enjoy the start late in the evening, and the end, early in the morning.

We started back early the next morning after quickly eating some taro cooked on the fire.

When we passed through Tariknan, we stopped at one of the local bible teacher's home for some food and to discuss some of the issues they're facing there. Wuri and his wife had cooked a nice meal for us. Our meeting kept getting interrupted by a fearless and persistent young cassowary (a large bird, a little smaller than an ostrich when full grown) intent on stealing the food right out of our bowls and hands as we ate!

In total, we travelled 12.24 miles, up and down over 14,000 feet of muddy, leach infested mountain slopes, rivers and landslides. It was exhausting but totally worth what we went for! God is being recognized more and more for who he is here in Mibu and the surrounding areas! We got to see one more reach of his kingdom extended to a new place, to new and grateful recipients of his abundant grace! We can't thank you all enough for your part in it; for supporting us in this ministry through prayer and regular monthly finances!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

After A Week And A Half

This last week we've been able to get most of our stuff re-situated, cleaned up, or otherwise repaired, and start to see the emergence of a family routine. Next week is the week that we try to hit the routine hard, getting fully back to the work we're here to do. That's the plan at least. As I say that, I realize my office space has become a storage place. So there's some work there to get that workable again too... well anyway, we're trying! We've been sure to make plenty of time to catch up with friends when they're around, and that's been good!

One thing that strikes me as we return is seeing how many people have built a house up here in the little hamlet where we live, near the airstrip. NEAR THE AIRSTRIP!!! That's the important part. The finish of this beast of a project is imminent enough in their minds that some are starting to live and garden up here so they can be close to the work. From what I understand, they intend to continue to live up here when the strip is done! This is a good sign!

I've been able to have several discussions with folks about the church. I've been to a meeting last weekend, will be having another this weekend, and we got to share in fellowship with our Mibu brothers and sisters last Sunday at church! We're still trying to discern what growth/changes have happened this year while we were away. It's a good start that we don't see anything concerning. In fact, the church leaders continue to do well. Can't wait to get the full feel of things and fine tune how we can serve the church best as we seek to help them mature to the point where we can leave. Of course the translation must continue on, but there are also lessons that need to be developed and lots of leadership training and discipleship. That's just going to take time to figure out more clearly where things are at and what areas to focus on. One thing we do know right now though is that we need to be showing folks more of what God's word says about Jesus' return.

Finally, this weekend I'm honored to be able to hike to Tupiboo (tu-pee-mBOO) where the Mibu church has been doing evangelism lessons the last several months. This weekend marks the last of these lessons! Can't wait to go and see for myself. So tomorrow I'm planning on hiking a ways over there and spending a couple nights. Saturday we'll hear the last of the lessons, and I'll share some encouraging words to those there who are newly trusting the Lord Jesus to free them from their sin and give them new life. I've clearly been in the States too long as I was getting laughed at this afternoon as some friends watched me pack and laughed, hinting that I'm over-preparing :) Hmmm... ditched a few things, but I am realizing that learning to go light is a learned thing... each time we come back! Can't wait to share with you all how our time there goes and how the initial gospel teaching has finished. Of course the gospel is never 'finished'. This is just the beginning of things at Tupiboo.

We're missing our co-workers who had to fly out unexpectedly Sunday morning, cutting our last time before they go on furlough short by a week. Angie came down with an illness that needed urgent attention by a doctor, so their family was medevac'd out. Being the only expats out here is always hard, so we would ask for your prayers for us please. Please pray that our sense of dependence on the Lord would be renewed each day. Pray for strength and protection from the Evil One whose attacks we have felt keenly here in the past. And finally, if you would pray for Geoff's other knee on this upcoming hike. Yes, I had my right knee worked on in the states, if you remember, and that one is feeling stronger than ever, but now my left knee has been acting up :(

We reflect each and every day on God's provisions through you all as you pray for us and provide for our monthly financial needs to live here and serve the church in Mibu! We are grateful for your participation with us in this ministry!

Geoff and Shannon

Friday, March 17, 2017

Our Return to Mibu!

We made it into Mibu! The last week has been more than a whirlwind of travel and working out logistics to get here! We are reminded of the many things we take for granted, like power, and communication, and water and food. Our thankfulness for the goodness of our Creator as he bestows these things on us for our sustenance is renewed as we come back to Mibu and find things 'challenging'. Yet the big picture is still that we have what is needed, even if not in the most convenient state as we've grown used to in the US.

As the helicopter descended we saw many of our friends that we've missed so much this last year! They were all there at the landing pad waiting for us to arrive! It was so fun to see them again and catch up at least a little bit on what's been going on in their lives!

The day we flew in there were three families, plus supplies, trying to get in. And with our family having been gone for a year, we had quite a few supplies to get us started again! In addition, our pilots were needing to get people from a nearby Finisterre Vision ministry out to town. Getting it all in on that day was going to be a long shot, but we were thankful to see it all happen despite the questionable weather.

We hit the ground running, working very full days to get our house back in order so we can live and serve effectively here in Mibu. Leaving a house in the middle of the jungle for a year means coming back to much mold and mildew, dust, ants and cockroaches, a non-working solar system, and internet that wasn't working.

Each day we focused on the highest priority projects, working through each room of the house with bleach and bug spray in hand. Each storage area and surface had to be cleaned out and then things organized and put where they belong.

We came back to batteries that would no longer store power. We've now installed just a single, low capacity battery, which means that we are going to be consuming power as minimally in the next few months as possible, just to get by. In the process of checking and troubleshooting, and also trying to get our systems back in place and working, we came across many of our devices that no longer work, adding more to the workload; fixing things needed to fix other things! Whew! It's amazing what you can fix (and how you can fix it) when you can't just go to the store to buy another! We also had to move our fridge and freezer down to the office where there is more reliable power, and also install some lower wattage light fixtures in the house so as not to use up too much of what little power we have.

It's been a challenge to keep in front of the laundry. A year of storage in the bush makes for a lot of mildew. In addition, the first night back in our own bed made for a feast for the residents we've tried for years to keep at bay… bedbugs. So all bedding, curtains, anything fabric had to be washed in vinegar, detergent, and with a healthy dose of permethrin to kill the little itch inducing beasts. We also did a thorough cleaning of our room and were sure to add bug spray to each nook and cranny of our wooden bed frame. We've not had any bites since!

Regarding our vsat internet system, it too was not working. Chris and I spent much time troubleshooting, replacing and fixing parts, trying to get it to work, but to no avail. Additionally, the nearest cell tower from which Chris is able to get a weak signal at his house, has been vandalized and is no longer working. We also saw that our radio antenna was destroyed by a falling tree branch and has been strung back up, hanging by a thread. With this barely working means we were able to slowly work out a solution to get our communications system back up. It involved bringing in a technician from Christian Radio Mission Fellowship with spare parts and vsat savvy. But Lucas, the tech, was able to get things up and running again thankfully! Turns out our coax cable was corroded by moisture, we had a faulty LAN connection on the modem, and the modem had not been updated in so long that it would no longer connect to the satellite system. For now, we have a loaner modem while our old one gets repaired. By the time all was fixed the clouds had socked us in and both Mike, our pilot, and Lucas were stuck for the night sleeping in our still messy house.

Meanwhile, our friend, Dave and his son, Caleb, who were visiting with our co-workers offered to help with some projects around our house. Never having a shortage of stuff that needs to get done, we took them up on their offer and they used what window screen we could scrounge up and replaced the window screens on about half of our house. This was a big deal because the window screens here fill up with mold and mildew. The spores then blow through the house and spread causing all kinds of symptoms of irritation and allergies. Cleaning the screens no longer does much good as they're quite old. So replacing the worst offenders for now has made a huge difference!

Coming back to all these urgent matters has made it difficult to spend the time catching up with friends like we'd like to. Hopefully very soon we can get these boots back on the ground, and refresh our relationships with our friends and brothers and sisters here in Mibu.

We're looking forward to having one more week together with our coworkers, the Walkers, before they head back to town. They'll be going on furlough in a few months so we're basically just crossing paths here. Hopefully we can get caught up on the many things that have happened this last year and keep the momentum going.

Oh and one more thing, we're looking to start back up with homeschooling after the Walkers leave. It's always hard to get the momentum going when not having done it for the last few weeks. Plus everyone's in a state of transition still so that adds to the challenge. We'd appreciate your prayers regarding this please!

Thank you so much to all who are praying for us and supporting us with your finances! We're so grateful to be back and ready to serve the maturing church here in Mibu. We hope you'll be encouraged by all that God continues to do here!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Back in PNG!

We're scheduled to fly into Mibu tomorrow (monday our time) where some issues with our house and internet system await our attention. Which brings me to my next FYI... While it seems likely that we'll be able to fix the vsat system within the week there is the possibility that we may not, and that the fix may be up to a couple months in the making. While the system is down we will have no ability to communicate via email or facebook and the like. If you don't hear from us please let that be a reminder to continue to pray for this issue and for us as we 'rip off the bandage' of the convenience and comforts we've enjoyed so much this last year in the US :)We are thanking the Lord for safe travels to Papua New Guinea! All our luggage made it too! It really is a significant thing to get from there to here, on the other side of the world. I think we often take it for granted anymore.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Heading Back to Mibu

What do we say about this last year here in the U.S.? A year is a long time to be away from our normal home and routine. But it also feels like not enough time in so many ways. It's flown by very quickly, yet we're anxious to get back!
This last year we've had the chance to connect with new church congregations, meet new people, and develop new ministry partnerships. We've felt the love and support of so many of you as you've spent time with us, prayed for us and with us, and have contributed financially to the Mibu Ministry. Thank you so much. These things are so important to us when we're over there, so far away. It's a huge encouragement to us and also an affirmation to continue on and finish this job well in Mibu!

We've travelled a lot more than usual this year. We did over 12,000 miles of road trips, taking us through 23 states! We got to visit friends and supporters along the way. We ended up staying a month in northern Michigan with Shannon's parents which was a great opportunity to spend dedicated time with them! We were able to show the kids many key areas and history of this great country to deepen what they learn in school.
Speaking of the kids, we chose to continue homeschooling this year, though Ethan was at a Christian school 3 mornings a week while his sisters took enrichment courses at Eagleridge all day every Friday.
We looked into and took care of many medical things. Shannon and I had way more x-rays and MRI's than we care to admit, two surgeries, several other procedures, and a hearing aid for me. We checked the health of the kids, and tried to rule out any concerns that may have popped up over the previous 4 years of living in PNG.

We, along with the help of our core team, put on several very successful fundraising events from the Photo Gallery, to the Bluegrass Gospel Concert, and then the annual garage sale! We've been able to see our support change from a $1600 per month deficit to just a $700 per month deficit. We're still hoping we can make up that last little bit in the next month or two here and get our support to a full 100%.

In all this, we moved a total of 5 times this last year! Housing was much more of a challenge than what we've experienced in the past.
And now we're standing right on the precipice as we get ready to make the jump again from this land of comfort-a-plenty to the land of the unexpected, where our trust in God's great provision is sure to be stretched and tested. It's knowing this that this last week of preparation we feel a bit of adrenaline surging through our blood; much like I imagine an athlete must feel as he nears his big race where he knows who he really is will be revealed through testing. We know we're going back to some adversity. We've heard that our solar system is shot, and we have a less than ideal fix we're going to try to implement to get us by a few months while we wait for our proper batteries to arrive from the US. We've also just learned that our internet system which we've come to rely so heavily on for the many logistics of living in the bush has stopped working. We're still not sure what the problem is there, or how long or how much money it's going to take to fix it. Coming back to a house that's been mostly unoccupied for a year in the bush usually results in some unexpected projects to get everything functioning again. But we are so looking forward to heading back (and the adrenaline helps us put longer hours into our preparations) and being a part of what God is doing there. We're looking forward to being with our friends and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and supporting and walking with them further into the maturity of their faith.

So folks, March 7th is the date that we're planning on departing Phoenix and heading half-way around the globe to our home in Mibu. Please pray us on our way; not just for our getting there, but also for our getting settled again, getting everything working again, and readjusting back to life and ministry in Mibu again.