…I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life…
Before we came to PNG, I read several blogs about living overseas, missions, and culture shock. I read about what people had experienced when they lived as expats for the first time: the good, the bad, and the unmentionable. One of the things I read in several different blogs was that it takes a year before you really settle into a new place and begin to see it…Honestly, I didn’t believe it. I knew it would be a tough transition, but surely it wouldn’t take a year?! And suddenly, here we are at the end of 10 months and I’ve never been so wrong. As we close in on one year in PNG, I can say without a doubt that it really has taken me this long to begin to uncross my arms. Let me explain a bit.
The first couple of months here, we were surprised at the level of exhaustion we were experiencing. Every single night, we were ready for bed by 8:30 or 9. We seemed to have only enough energy to make it through the tasks of the day (our work assignments, cooking dinner, laundry, and washing dishes) and that was it. We were done. It became clear pretty quickly that what used to be easy was now hard and took twice as long. Dishes with no dishwasher, laundry with no dryer and daily rain in the forecast, every meal made from scratch, grocery shopping for an entire month at a time and an hour away on a rough road, driving on the opposite side, not to mention cultural shocks by the dozen meant that our nerves were raw and our confidence we could make it here, low. It seemed that I ended up in tears at least every other day wondering what we had done in coming here. Just surviving was difficult…how could I ever hope to contribute to the Kingdom in any way if I couldn’t even figure out how to run my (much smaller than in Tennessee) house?
And what's more, I was angry. Not really at anybody, but angry at how hard this was. Why would anybody purposefully have chosen this? We were grieving hard. We were homesick for family and friends and all that was easy and familiar. Everything we had known as our "norm" had been stripped away and I didn't like it. As a result, I think I missed out on some blessings in these first months because I wasn't ready to let my guard down...uncross my arms...and let this place and its people in. And in all honesty, weren't these people and their needs the reason we felt called here? Without that call, I wouldn't be here and I would still have my nice normal life, right?
I also noticed another phenomena…most of the social media posts I was making were about living life in PNG: scenery, our family doing unusual things, the market, my laundry on the line…but there wasn’t much about our ministry. Now looking back, though we were involved (and continue to be involved) in our respective ministry assignments, living life here was just so different that it became my focus. I’m not sure it could have been otherwise. Now, this is a thing that, in the past, would have made me feel guilty. Realizing that I was more absorbed in what was happening in our lives, what we’d lost (and gained), and feeling like a tourist instead of a missionary is definitely something that would have made me feel an immense amount of guilt just a year ago.
But part of what’s changed in me in PNG is that guilt or shame about how I do or don’t feel, accomplish, measure up to, or compare to others is really non-existent. I call it grace. God has broken through so many times in the past 10 months and reminded me that NOTHING is wasted. NOTHING. Whether I’ve had an incredibly ‘successful’ ministry in my first year here or not isn’t dependent on anything except my complete and utter dependence on God. That’s something I’ve had to learn. And it takes time. So I could hang my head in shame and feel sorry that I haven’t done more, been more, whatever more…or, I could take what has happened to me and through me as part of the process of the Holy Spirit continuing its work in my life. And I am nothing but grateful. Realizing that our missions experience isn’t going to look like anyone else’s and it doesn’t have to measure up to some ideal of what we thought it would be has been freeing. The truth is that it’s been a hard adjustment. The hardest of our lives. But God has been faithful and has invited us in to this adventure in ways we couldn’t have imagined.
This week, there was a new flower about to bloom in our front flower bed. It was gorgeous, even in its pod stage. Y’all know I love metaphors, and man, this one hit me hard. We’ve been planted here and it’s taken awhile, but now, finally, I feel like that flower. It’s taken 10 months, but I’m beginning to open up…uncross my arms…to what is going to happen next. I ran across a meme recently that compared burial to planting…it feels the same, but with a different result. And I’m ready.
There are people to meet, relationships to develop, ministries to participate in, and work to be done. I’m so glad that I get to be part of it here at Kudjip.