Reflections of a new missionary
47 days ago, my feet hit a soil I never imagined in my wildest dreams they would. For one thing, a few years ago, I had never heard of this country (or if I had, it was in with the rest of forgotten geography files in my aging mind). As we descended into Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, I felt sick. If it had been nausea from the plane it would have been easy to treat, but this was the feeling of being out of control of my future and a complete loss of everything I knew as “normal.” What was worse? I had chosen it. This wasn’t something that just ‘happened’ to me, but it was preceded by months of planning, fundraising to get here, and the liquidation of over 80% of my family’s worldly possessions.
A few years ago, Justin and I both read “Radical” by David Platt. I have to say that this book set the stage for many discussions and ideas we had in our marriage of what we might do with our lives. Then, in a random string of events, we ended up traveling overseas to adopt our daughter when we had fully intended on domestic adoption. After our first experience in an international context, traveling through China, Taiwan, and Japan, we returned home, but home would never be the same. For the next five years, we would have secret discussions, late at night usually, about what it might be like to one day live somewhere else…Have an adventure…Live simply…Give our daughter a grand worldview…Collect stories for our grandchildren…and most of all, have a small part in what God is doing on the world stage.
But for those five years, those discussions stayed between us, shared only with a few trusted friends. To talk about it was exciting and scary and it was fun to dream. From time to time, we even searched under our denomination’s ministry opportunities throughout the world to see if we thought our gifts would fit any of the needs. We were naturally drawn to Asia-Pacific since our daughter was born in Taiwan. There were places like Palau, the Philippines, China, Singapore, Thailand, and an island just north of Australia called Papua New Guinea. And the funny thing was…PNG kept coming up on those searches. There was a Nazarene hospital there and lots of opportunities to serve. But inside, I found myself fearful of being so far away from family and comfort. And as a mom, I worried about what this would mean for our beautiful daughter. She had already endured a lot of change and loss in her young life.
Fast forward. January 2016. I received a call from our friend and district NMI (Nazarene Missions International) president asking us if she could give our e-mail address to the Global Mission director for the Church of the Nazarene. She was at a conference with him and had told him about us and our interest in missions. We agreed and after months of paperwork, a trip to Kansas City to the Global Mission headquarters, and many conversations with missions personnel, we received an e-mail in September 2016 asking us if we would be open to pursuing an assignment in Papua New Guinea at the Nazarene hospital we had seen on the website months before.
August 7, 2017. We boarded the first of four planes that would take us across the country, across the Pacific, and on to Papua New Guinea. Saying goodbye to all that was familiar…people, places, sights, smells, tastes, and experiences…was more difficult than I expected. And the hardest part is that we knew it was going to get tough, but we had no idea just how tough.
Now, we’ve been here six weeks. Everything is different. Everything about how we do life has changed, from dishes to groceries to laundry to free time to family time, nothing is as it was. I’m teaching at the elementary school for the missionary kids and Justin is working on IT projects for the field. On our mission station, there are about 20 missionary family units, plus about 600 PNG nationals. The landscape is beautiful. But PNG is a hard place. Depending on the website you visit, there is between 60%-80% unemployment. Most people grow or raise their own food and the villages and tribes have always been separated by geography. There are still places without access to clean water or medical care of any kind. In many ways, it is the land that time forgot.
Honestly, right now, the reality of PNG is too much for me to get my head around most days. So, I’m concentrating on my part in this adventure: the MK school. Many of our missionary families here include one or more doctors. We also have administrative and maintenance staff. The MK school makes it possible for the missionaries to accomplish the work they’ve been called to do. When I first heard about Nazarene hospital and the possibility of coming here, I was excited about being able to use my skills as a hospital and hospice chaplain. But a few weeks into our process, I was asked if I would be willing to assist in the MK school for the first year. I was surprised and a little frustrated. I’m not a teacher, have never wanted to be a teacher, and did not go to school to be a teacher. I struggle with kids. Nevertheless, I decided to say yes to what was being asked of me and I learned a huge lesson about pride and humility.
For the first three weeks of school, I was doing ok. I was actually enjoying it, even though I hated to admit it. But last week, something was different. Justin was out of town and I began to resent being at the school. The kids were also past the “new” of the school year and more of their personalities have been coming out. I was cranky, sour, and felt like folding my arms in front of my body for the rest of the school year. Justin came back last Thursday and I cried and complained, repeating over and over again that “I am not a teacher.” My attitude stunk. And the kids were not responding well to me.
Later that same afternoon, our neighbor came by to bring a box that my mom had sent us in the mail. It had a folder inside that she had included at my request when we were trying to get the suitcases weight down just before we left. Scanning its contents, I pulled out my most recent Myers-Briggs score sheet. ENFJ. That’s what I’ve always been. Extrovert, Intuitive, Feeling, and Judging. Then another line on the page caught my eye. There it was in black and white: Idealist – Teacher. Apparently this particular test classifies you in a number of ways based on your answers. It says I have natural teacher qualities. Immediately, I roll my eyes upward and say, “seriously, Lord?”
Later that night, Justin and I were talking. He said that his attitude has not been great this week either and that he happened to be watching an animated version of “Jonah” with our daughter. He said he was pretty struck by Jonah’s reaction to God’s decision to forgive and restore Ninevah. He has struggled with compassion for people and love for them. The story spoke to me when I realized that the results of my job as a teacher are not up to me. My story is about obedience to what God is asking of me. That’s it. I don’t have to be responsible for how anyone responds or perceives me, but I do have to obey. It’s all in the attitude. I can choose to fight against my assignment every single day and just merely get through the year, or I can throw myself in wholeheartedly and make the best of this, giving the kids access to me without walls.
This week, I learned that I do have something to offer and that I can even look forward to having a chance to give it. The results of my obedience are really none of my business!
Romans 4:16 (The Message)
“This is why the fulfillment of God’s promise depends entirely on trusting God and his way, and then simply embracing him and what he does.”