Sunday, December 18, 2016

Bacon and Eggs

With a satisfying smack of the hammer, the last runway marker was pounded into place and the job was done.  Well, almost done.  We still had to climb the hill.

For the Ngalum tribesmen helping mark their new airstrip at Diphikin, the walk back up to the top of their new airstrip is one of the easiest in their entire territory.  A different story entirely for me, the middle-aged wimp whose middle-aged eyes are looking at the 14% grade that the middle-aged legs will have to walk up if his middle-aged self wants to get back to the airplane and fly home.  Trudging up the hill, I do my best to mute the awful rasping that my middle-aged lungs are making, hoping to hide the racket from the maddeningly cheerful Ngalum for whom this wouldn’t even qualify as a Sunday stroll. 

14%.  The maximum grade for a road in mountainous areas of the United States is 7%.  In Papua’s Eastern Highlands you’ll be hard pressed to find a straight piece of land longer than 100 meters with only a 7% grade.  For the Ngalum of Diphikin, the only straight piece of land suitable for an airstrip site just happens to have this ridiculous grade.  Don’t mind landing on it, not one bit, but walking up it is for the birds.

To my delighted surprise, I don’t pass out on the way up the hill.  Cresting the top into the flat parking area, we arrive to a hubbub in full kerfuffle.  The folks who stayed at the top of the airstrip are butchering a large pig.  A Ngalum man deftly uses an axe to do the job.  They will send out the prized pork with me as gifts to our team in thanks for opening up their airstrip for service.  A huge hind-quarter has my name on it--they present it to me dripping with blood, ready for the grill.  It’s easily a $150 piece of meat, probably worth much more.  

In the midst of this melee, a tiny little old woman weaves her way through the crowd carrying one of those ubiquitous little black plastic bags that are everywhere in these parts.  She hands me her treasure gingerly.  “For the pilot,” she says, and disappears back into the crowd.

I peek in the bag.  It’s full of tiny eggs from her chickens.  I can buy much larger eggs back in town for 15 cents a piece.  But these are worth much more than money.

The pork is given with equal parts of pure gratitude mixed with hopeful expectation that we’ll return the favor with frequent air service to the village.  The eggs are given…why?  She knows I don’t need them.  She knows that I live like a king compared to her.  I really don’t know why she gave me those eggs.  All I can think of is that she was simply being kind.

I continue to be blessed by these ‘little’ people who belong to the the Lord, scattered throughout the hinterlands of Papua.  May I learn from them.  May I grow to become like the little woman in Diphikin who gives to those who don’t deserve, gives without strings attached, and walks away with nothing but the sweetness of knowing her Master is smiling.  

[originally written November 2014]

Friday, December 2, 2016

Orchids In The Ditch

In the jungles of Papua the men’s room is always easy to find: it’s located any place not currently being used as a lady’s room.  And so it was at Sekame; no fancy signage, just a couple of bushes next to the ditch at the side of the airstrip and I had found the vital facilities I was looking for. 

I looked down at the floor of the ditch where something caught my eye as being out of place.  Here, standing tall among the dirt and the weeds, were wild orchids in all their delicate, regal beauty. 

This one followed me home for my bride...
it's now a part of our garden 
Orchids in the ditch.  Considered by some the most beautiful flowers in the world…costly, sought after, highly prized.  And here they are, in a ditch. 

The thing is, the orchids didn’t know they were in a ditch.  There they were, doing exactly what they were put on earth to do: bloom. They screamed out God’s creative brilliance, his love of beauty and his desire for us to be enraptured by that beauty.  And they are doing this in a ditch, just like they would if they were the centerpiece attraction at a world class botanic garden being oohed and aahed by professional flower people. 

I pay way too much attention to the context in which I find myself.  Am I willing to fulfill what God has me on earth to do when I find myself in some anonymous ditch in a backwater village deep in the interior of Papua?  Or do I put in the effort to shine only when I have an audience of professional Christian people from whom I might coax an ooh or an aah? 

Am I willing to scream out God’s creative brilliance, the beauty of who he is, by producing my best work and allowing joy to rule in my heart even when all I see around me is dirt, weeds and the steep walls of the ditch I’m in?

Thank you, God, for orchids in the ditches.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Tenth Leper

“I have nothing with which to repay you.
God will reward you.”

I heard those words yesterday afternoon from the lips of a grizzled old man as we stood under the wing of the plane at an isolated mountain airstrip. Tearful words of thanks for adding on a flight to fly his grieving family home after burying their son in a distant village.

It had been a long, hard, hot day with multiple stops, long delays, plenty of sweat and not a few frustrations.  At one point, I felt something moving on my stomach and looked down to see a cockroach running uphill on a beeline for getting under my shirt sleeve.  Another one zipped across the instrument panel.  They must have jumped ship from the evil smelling sago I had hoisted aboard at the previous stop.  I smushed the one on my shirt a few millimeters short of his destination.  This didn’t help the appearance of the shirt any… but I felt better.  The day’s difficulties, like the cockroaches, were multiple, ugly and unwanted.  They filled my senses, cried for the attention of my corruptible spirit and clamored for me to conclude that life stinks

Touching lives...
And then the words of an old tribal man challenge me to see the unseen.  To make real the unreal.  To believe the unbelievable.  That there is a God.  That he is watching.  That he delights when his children make feeble attempts at mimicking his love and mercy.

This place is overrun with what I like to call tenth lepers.  Following in the footsteps of the original tenth leper who returned to Jesus to thank him for wiping the scourge from his skin, I find so many folks doubling back to say thanks for the smallest of things.  (The most creative thanks I ever received was written on a roll of toilet paper and left prominently on my desk… appreciation from missionaries whose massive shipment of the vital stuff I’d frantically stashed in a dry water tank by the side of the runway during a tropical downpour.)

What about me?  What about you?  Are we one of the nine?  Or do we, like #10, take the time to look around us and marvel at the healing that God has done on our leprous hearts?  Do we shake our heads in wonder at the goodness God allows into our lives despite the fact that we live in a horribly broken place? a beautiful place.
I’m jarred by a man who, having just buried his son, still doubled back to thank the pilot who has known no such suffering.  I flew home counting the ways that God has already rewarded me.  I was struck by the privilege our team has of being involved in so many different ministries, the privilege of touching so many lives, the privilege of getting a God’s eye view of one of the most beautiful, pristine places left on the planet, the privilege of knowing that as a result of our collective efforts the Word of God will remain in this place long after we are gone.  I found myself doubling back to my Master to ask for forgiveness for thinking that life isn’t fair because a cockroach makes for my armpit.  

Then I thanked him that life is indeed not fair: he showers good things on the undeserving.