Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Grieving Cross-culturally

It was Monday, our usual day off – our Sabbath rest – and we had decided that it would be fun to head to the resort to spend an hour kayaking around the beautiful, aqua blue lagoon.  As we arrived at the resort, a taxi driver called out to me to tell me that a little baby had died, one that we had prayed for in the hospital just a week before.  She was the one-year-old daughter of Pastor Morrison on the island of Tanna, and his wife Rahab.  She had improved enough after we saw her that she was discharged from the hospital.  She had an enlarged heart and congestive heart failure that they were trying to control with medication.  Surgery is not an option in Vanuatu and only a slim possibility in New Zealand or Australia because of the incredible expense involved.  We didn't hear anything from Pastor Morrison and assumed Baby Louise was doing well.  So, we were so surprised to hear that she had died. 

Prima Nazarene Church
We went and spent several hours with the family that afternoon - crying and crying.  When we arrived at Prima Nazarene Church everyone had gathered and various women were holding Louise's dead body.  I was feeling so sad that I couldn't even really think of anything encouraging to say.  The sun had gone down and the church was dimly lit with a solar lantern and a kerosene hurricane lamp. I sat on the mat with the ladies, one of them the baby's grandmother (my friend Rahab, and Baby Louise’s mother's namesake).  They carefully unfolded a woven mat and spread a piece of cloth over it.  Then they folded a blanket and put it in the middle.  They indicated to the baby's auntie that she had to put the baby on the mat, and carefully placed her head and limp little body on the folded blanket.  They began to carefully wrap the baby in lots of cloth and finished by folding the mat over her, then placing another cloth over the folded mat. 

Baby Louise’s mother had been crying a little distance away, and she came over at that point and wailed and wept, caressing the bundle that held her baby.  David described her as “weeping violently” - a good description.  At one point, a woman came with some special clothes, and the bundle was completely unwrapped, in order to dress little Louise's body with the special dress and socks.  So much grief, it was hard to take it all in!

The parents' wishes were that they be able to fly back to Tanna the next day to bury their baby near their home, but the expense was prohibitive.  We helped them with the cost a bit, and then told them that we would be praying for God's provision.  We were asked to return to the village the next morning to preach for the memorial service. 

We arrived there the next morning with lots of vehicles parked along the road, and many people crying at the church.  Women were cooking near Pastor Gideon's house since the family is expected to provide food for all the guests (a very burdensome custom).  Pastor Gideon told us that some of the men had left to get a different coffin for the baby.  A small coffin had been built out of some wood and the baby's body was placed in it, but a few of the family members found it not adequate.  A lovely little white coffin with silver handles on the side and soft padding inside was purchased instead.  When it arrived, the baby was taken out of the first coffin and resettled in the nice one.  That was David's cue to begin the funeral.

God really helped him preach a beautiful message of encouragement and truth about the gospel of Jesus Christ and of God's love.    An amazing thing happened a short time after he finished preaching.  Peter and Jenny's landlord is from Morrison's family and was in the church when we arrived.  She stood up and began to speak to the ladies at the funeral in their language in a very soothing, calming way and finished with singing a little chorus about heaven.  Afterward she came over to us and explained that she had translated what David had said so the ladies could understand!  What a blessing!  Some women here don't understand Bislama (the trade language in Vanuatu), so God provided someone to interpret for the mother and the women who had been grieving all night and desperately needed words of encouragement in their heart language!

Some of the family had called their Member of Parliament (something like our senator), and asked for his help to get Pastor Morrison, his wife and Baby Louise back to Tanna since Morrison had helped to vote him into office.  He agreed to pay their way!  He wasn't even supposed to be available to receive a phone call that morning, but God detained him long enough for the family to share their need with him.  We stayed with the family until it was time to take the baby and the family to the airport. 

While we waited we saw some things that were very different from our own ways of grieving.  A woman came into the church yard carrying a large stick which someone quickly took away from her.  She began to call out for Morrison and when she located him, she began to beat him viciously!  Morrison’s brother, Pastor Gideon, stood between the woman and Morrison, both of them weeping.  It was the woman’s way of showing her grief, something that is culturally accepted and expected.  How very sad and strange to our understanding of grief!

With many children all around the church playing quietly with each other, we watched as a woman and her little girl who was about five years old came near the coffin and began crying.  I recognized the woman as one of the relatives.  It surprised me that the little girl was also sobbing and crying.  She kept wiping the tears from her eyes, and even after her mother stopped crying, the little girl continued.  I wondered if she just had a tender heart and cried when she heard others crying or had she known Baby Louise and helped to care for her in the village?  One thing was clear, she was very sad. 

Not long before it was time to leave for the airport, some of the men got their screwdrivers out and began to take the cover off the coffin.  One of the family members who owned a camera wanted to take a picture!  The family carefully unwrapped the mat and multiple layers of cloth until Baby Louise was visible.  Many people stood around, cameras flashing, to get their last recorded memory of this precious little one.  A few weeks previously, a young mother who had lost her baby at birth pulled out her cell phone and showed me a picture of her dead baby’s body. 

Our truck became the hearse and carried Morrison, Rahab, and the baby's coffin, with David driving.  I jumped in another bus to make room in our truck for family members; my bus led the long, slow procession to the airport.  We waited another hour or so until the coffin went inside the plane along with the family, and then another long wait before it actually took off heading to Tanna.  Once the family landed on Tanna they had a long drive to their village, but Morrison's brother Ken arranged a truck to get them there.  Baby Louise was buried the following day and the family continued to cry together for five days.  On the fifth day, they have one more big meal together, and the crying is finished – at least the family’s obligation is finished.  I’m quite sure that Morrison and Rahab are still grieving the loss of their precious little Louise.

The Lord reminded me about the story in Ann Vos Kamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, about the parents who had two little boys die of a rare lung disease.  I looked up that part of the story to read it and was reminded about "hard eucharisteo" (difficult thanksgiving).  The father had talked to the author and said he and his wife felt blessed because they had been able to spend some time with their boys before they died.  And, the father said that he had remembered the story of King Hezekiah who begged God for healing and God gave it, but it was not for the best.  This father had learned to trust God's plan, and found comfort in praising God.  So, throughout the days that followed, I looked for ways to thank God in the midst of the grief and sorrow and loss.  Here are some of the things that I found to be thankful for:
  • ·        Little Louise's illness was severe enough that the doctors on Tanna suggested she come to Port Vila.  Had she not come, she would have died on Tanna, and her grandmother Rahab would never have met her, nor would many of her family who are living in Port Vila.  They got to see what a happy child she was and got to spend some time with her before she died.
  • ·        God provided for her to be buried on Tanna at her village rather than in Port Vila, which would have multiplied her parents’ grief.
  • ·        God used David to speak words of comfort and encouragement, and then provided for the translation so that the women (and men) could hear the Good News again.
  • ·        Because of this little baby's death, many people came together who would never come to church, and they got to hear the gospel.  We are praying that someone will trust Jesus for salvation and receive life forever because of this little baby's funeral.
  • ·        Both Morrison and Rahab are believers and know the hope of heaven.  They do not grieve as those who have no hope!  They know that little Louise is in God's hands and totally healed forever!
Most of us never realize how differently the people of other nations respond to life events.  Even after living among Melanesian people for the last 20 years and having attended many “cry-cry’s” with them, the experience never feels exactly right.  I wanted so badly to help comfort others as they cried so violently, but all my attempts seemed to only intensify their grief!  The truth is that everyone is expected to cry, especially the women, and a lack of tears might indicate that you are to blame for the death.  One thing that we’ve come to realize is the same in both my home culture and my host culture - grieving people really appreciate having others come and be with them as they mourn.  As I sat quietly crying with Morrison and Rahab, I prayed knowing that the God of all comfort hears our cry and answers us.  One day, God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and there will no longer be any death or crying.  Until then, I will cry with those who cry.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

You may be wondering how the land purchase is going...

The 1/2 acre of land - from our truck on the right
down the road to where you see the other truck on the left.
At the beginning of this year, we started the process of purchasing land intending to build a district center for the Church of the Nazarene.  The one-half acre of land is located directly on a paved road and centrally located in an area of Port Vila that does not have a Nazarene Church yet.  There are Nazarene church members living in the area who travel by bus to their church each Sunday who would be very happy to help plant a church here.

David seated with the landowner, also named David, and other chiefs
who witnessed the payment of deposit for the land.

The process is nearly complete, but the final steps seem to be taking a very long time.  The landowner and us are both very eager for the process to be completed!  Please pray that God will thwart any attempts from the evil one to block God’s plan and that in all the dealings, whether with the landowner or the government, God will be glorified.

What Does Prayer Have to Do with Planting Seeds?

Papaya (We call it "paw-paw")

In 2006, the Church of the Nazarene purchased land on which to build a missionary home.  Almost as soon as we had the lease in hand, we began to plant seeds all over the 2.5 acres of land. 

If we ate a fruit that had a seed, we planted the seed - passion fruit, papayas, pineapples, soursop, mangoes, coconuts, avocadoes, and lots of citrus trees.  Before we left on home assignment in April, we ate avocadoes for the first time from one of the seeds that we planted.  We’re still hopeful that one day the mangoes, coconuts, and citrus will begin producing fruit too.
Grapefruit or Pamplimus

Over the ten years that we have been living in Vanuatu, we have planted many kinds seeds of all different shapes and sizes.  But, the seeds that are bearing fruit that will last are the seeds of the gospel that have been planted in the hearts of people.  The Lord has brought many people across our path during these ten years. Try as we may, we cannot MAKE seeds grow.  We can plant and water, but “only God makes things grow” (1 Corinth. 3:7).  It is such a joy to watch as God transforms individuals and bears fruit in their lives, as they begin to take part in the work of sharing God’s word. 
David with Pastor Gideon and Kami ready to plant
seeds of the gospel on Tanna.

Missionary J. O. Fraser labored about 100 years ago to share God’s Good News with the Lisu tribal people in China.  He planted many seeds and carefully watered, but saw little to no results year after year.  He understood the necessity of prayer when preaching the Gospel to people who were lost in the fog of tribal religions. 
Raela planting seeds through women's ministry
 “In 1922, Fraser wrote his prayer partners, ‘I used to think that prayer should have the first place and teaching the second. I now feel that it would be truer to give prayer the first, second and third place, and teaching the fourth’” (www.OMF.org).  

We pass along to you the challenge that brother Fraser shared with his prayer partners, 

“I am not asking you just to give ‘help’ in prayer as a sort of sideline, but I am trying to roll the main responsibility of this prayer-warfare on you. I want you to take the BURDEN of these people upon your shoulders. I want you to wrestle with God for them” (Ibid.).

As we wrestle in prayer for those who need freedom in Christ,
God through his grace prepares the hearts of those who will hear, 
so the seed of the Gospel can take root and grow.
Planting seeds in the lives of SPNTC students who in turn go out to share Christ.

Catching Up and Dreaming Forward - SPNTC Update

Life has continued to move along so fast that the newsletter and blog posts that we expected to publish in early August have been pushed to the “back burner” to make room for the other irons already in the fire!  After arriving in Port Vila on July 23rd, Sylvia began preparing to preach for the first night of the district revival on August 16th , and David prepared to teach Gospel and Culture at the end of August. During the in-between days, we grieved with Pastor Morrison and his wife Rahab whose little 1 year old daughter died as a result of a heart problem.  Our field leaders, Harmon and Cindy Schmelzenbach, came through for a few days of evaluation, encouragement, and leadership development for our mission team.  And, we had meetings with pastors, district leaders, disciples…!  There was lots to catch-up on after being away from Vanuatu for four months and from our missionary partners, Peter and Jenny Isaac, for eight months.

Dave and Dr. Rosie Kerr and Grace and Anna, serving in Fiji
One meeting was called to help our school (principal, faculty, and students) answer some really tough questions to help us evaluate the development of the Vanuatu campus of SPNTC.  David continues to work on this evaluation as he and the other campuses get ready to meet with the International Board of Education in November (17th – 23rd).  Dave Kerr (Chancellor) and his wife Dr. Rosie along with their two sweet girls, Grace and Anna, spent several days with us in September helping to guide us in planning for the future. 

Our two dogs, Ginger and Jodi, insisted on
attending the meeting too. :)
Dave leading key representatives from SPNTC-VU
to dream about the future
During the three weeks of Gospel and Culture class, David taught biblical principles for evaluating the culture through the lens of the gospel.  The students gathered in groups to discuss some of the challenging issues in Vanuatu like the use of kava, sorcery, and how the cultural attitude of respect fits with the gospel.  They also learned about the cultural challenges involved in mission and then developed and presented their plan for church planting in new areas of Vanuatu.

Sylvia will be teaching two classes during the next few months – Biblical Interpretation in October and Johannine Literature in November.  She is praying that her students will become “lovers of Scripture, seekers after God, and joyfully committed to adopting the message into their own lives and to their contemporary contexts” (Syllabus: Interpreting Scripture from Modular Course of Study).

We will be team teaching the first ever extension class for SPNTC on the island of Tanna.  Pray for God’s direction in the preparations and for his anointing on the students and teachers during the class time in December.

Family Time in the States - Graduations, Wedding, and Ordination

Jeffrey’s wedding was the occasion that brought our whole family together for a few wonderful days.  But we were able to be with our adult children and other family members at other times during our home assignment as well.

We had been with Joel and Bekah and the grandgirlies in Buffalo for their graduation – Joel receiving his Ph.D and Bekah receiving her Master’s degree –

 and then, we had the privilege of sharing at their home church in Buffalo, Amherst Church of the Nazarene.  It had become a special place for us too, as we spent several months there while Sylvia recovered from her cancer surgery in 2011.
Sylvia and Dora wore their special island dresses when we spoke at their church.
Joel and his family were able to come to General Assembly, and it was such fun to witness some of the happy reunions with "old friends" - some from faraway!  They were able to come to the farm in Michigan for a few days before our return to Vanuatu.  They had lots of fun exploring Grandpa Great’s big garden and the produce stand across the road, fishing in the pond and catching LOTS of fish, feeding the chickens, reading stories, and just being together.  They have since moved to Anchorage, where Joel is teaching at the University of Alaska, and Bekah is teaching two very eager pre-schoolers!

Since Sylvia's parents' farm in Michigan was our homebase, 
we had several opportunities to visit with Wesley during our time in the States since he lives at the farm.

And, we made it up to Oscoda near Lake Huron for a few days to visit Jeffrey where he repairs giant jets.

But, the only time we were all together in the same place was the weekend of Jeffrey and Kristen’s wedding. It was a delight to have many of our extended family members join us there in Canton, Michigan, including David’s father who is now 92 years old!  It was a joy for David to be able to lead the wedding ceremony – a very beautiful, god-honoring service of celebration and commitment.
Both the Potter and Heasley sides of the family were at the wedding,
and our PNG family was represented by Rev. Peter Kui.
Jeffrey and Kristen are living in Oscoda, Michigan, where Jeffrey continues to work as an airplane mechanic.

Wesley has been working at Gentex in Holland, MI, for about 2 years now and has started back to college to get a second bachelor’s degree in engineering.  He caught the garter at the wedding, so maybe another wedding will be coming up soon...

During our last week in the US, we made a trip down to Ohio to attend the ordination service of the North Central Ohio District.  Sylvia was one of two women and five men who were ordained during that service.  We thank the Lord for his guidance during the years of preparation, and continue to humbly look to him for strength and direction.
Thankful for the friends and family who came to celebrate with Sylvia after her ordination
 and for their faithful prayer support throughout the process.

A Few Highlights from Home Assignment 2013

After ten long months, we are finally breaking the silence with a new post to our blog!  

We praise God for his strength and protection during our home assignment in the USA from April through June.  We traveled to 7 different states and spoke in over 40 churches during those 3 months.  We are thankful for the genuine interest and loving, supportive folks we met in all those churches. 

At the end of June, we were so glad for the privilege of attending the quadrennial assembly of the Church of the Nazarene in Indianapolis, Indiana, where we joined in worship with thousands of Nazarenes from around the world.  It was a special privilege to join in fellowship one afternoon with many of the Papua New Guinea friends who had made the long trip to attend the General Assembly. 

Along with the many other friends that we had the joy of sharing a meal with or meeting in the AP exhibit, it was a special delight to re-connect with several of the teachers who had spent a year or two in PNG serving in the MK school and helping to shape our three sons. 

First MK School teachers -
Bill and Connie Patrick
MK School teachers -
Ruth Kinnersley and Tami Hardesty-Jaynes
After the assembly, we took two of the PNG delegates with us to Sylvia’s parents’ farm in Michigan.  Mr. Wallace White Kintak is our dear friend from the College of Nursing.  White has been faithfully and wisely leading the college for over ten years now.  Rev. Peter Kui has been serving as the Officer in Charge at Melanesia Nazarene Bible College, and this was his first trip to the USA. Both White and Peter have experienced God’s protection through some difficult periods of persecution as they have served the Lord in PNG.  They re-told their stories for Sylvia’s family and some friends who had gathered at the farm one day. What an honor to know these godly men of faith and to know them as our brothers! 
David, Peter and White picking cherries
Peter and White "story-ing" with Sylvia's father and David