One year ago this week I was awaiting a biopsy to find out if I had cancer or not. I was informed two days before Christmas that my chest x-rays I had taken in order to receive my Visa had shown some abnormal lymph nodes. I’m sure you could image my shock…as well as my wife’s. We had been preparing for years to be missionaries and Bible translators, and at this time it looked as our plans had come to a halt.
When the biopsy results came back we were elated to find out that I did not have cancer (we later found out that both my pulmonologist and my surgeon thought it was going to be Lymphoma.) I did/do have something called Sarcoidosis, however, but God has allowed this to be more than manageable and we have been serving in Papua New Guinea now for almost eight months.
There’s so much God taught us through this past year, but above all we learned much about His faithfulness. Even when God chooses to allow us to suffer, it is for our good. I think that in our sufferings we get a chance to experience the comfort of God’s eternal promise to us in a much deeper way. At least for me, in my sufferings I found God much bigger than I once knew Him to be.
“Our God of Grace often gives us a second chance, but there is no second chance to harvest a ripe crop.” — Kurt von Schleicher
I’ve often heard from veteran missionaries that one of the hardest things about this work of tribal missions is the time shortly after you present the Gospel message for the first time. It’s not uncommon for the people who understand, to ask the missionaries if their fathers and grandfathers knew this “talk,” and if so, why didn’t they come and tell their fathers and grandfathers.
“Wait, what? You’re moving to the jungle? AND your taking your children? To do what exactly?” Etc, etc, etc…
Before we came to Papua New Guinea to be missionaries these were the type of questions we commonly received (and often times still do.) Now that we’ve been here in country for about seven months I’ve noticed a change in the questions. Before, I think the gist of what people were trying to figure out was really “What…are you crazy or something?” And honestly, I asked myself that many times. Now, however, we seeing an interest in things like what daily life here looks like, do we miss our family…very real, down-to-earth questions that I’d like to try to give real, down-to-earth answers for. So, here we go…some of the most common:
1. “Do you ever get homesick?”
Absolutely not. I am a missionary and therefore reside on a higher spiritual plane than most. SIKE!!! Seriously, there isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t miss our family and friends back home in the States. In fact, I have struggled with the passage of Matthew 8: 18-22, about the cost of following Christ, more than anything else in Scripture. This passage has seemed so raw to me over the last two or three years. I continue to work through it…trying to work my head knowledge into my heart. The cost of leaving our loved ones behind is great. However, we have to trust that God can take better care of our family than we can, and that He alone can fill our need for companionship better than anyone. This is so easy for me to write, but actually living it out is hard. If I am totally honest it would probably only take one time of God not being faithful to His promise to be “enough” in my life in absence of friends and family for me to bail on this work…but He always proves faithful, He always proves true, He has always proved to be enough.
#2 “What do you eat? What’s the food like?”
Ah, so far, there hasn’t been anything too weird. Ok…maybe a little weird, like cassowary (a giant, dinosaur-like looking, flightless, angry bird,) and Saksak (the starchy staple of this country,) but nothing stomach turning. However, while many missionaries here have been initiated into the world of “grub worms” I have yet to take the plunge…though my time is coming, I know. We try to eat a lot of local food from the town market such as different types of greens (a green call “Tu Lip” is our favorite,) coconuts, mangoes, papaya, and kaukau (PNG’s version of a sweet potato.) However, produce here in the tropics is not too great and it’s slim pickin’ when it comes to variety. I’m sure that probably the most effective way to do foreign missions would be to live exactly like the people do: same kind of house, same food, same clothes, etc. However, I’m not really sure how practical that is…sometimes it’s just nice eat an Oreo! Thankfully we have dedicated missionaries here who work in “support” roles. These men and women are the behind-the-scenes folks who make it possible for the missionaries to stay in their bush locations. One such support role is that of our “supply buyer,” Derrick Dobbs. Derrick’s job is infinitely more detailed than I could begin to describe as he is the one who takes care of making sure all of the many bush missionaries stay stocked with the groceries and supplies they need as they can’t just drive down to the super market. Not only does he make sure that we have the essentials like toilet paper, flour, eggs, and milk (powered…but hey, what are you gonna do?,) but somehow he manages to keep special little things in stock as well, just to make life a litter “sweeter” when you need it to be…like Oreos!
#3 “How do you make your money?”
Well, we don’t exactly get a pay check, but we are always taken care of. We are “faith-based” which means that our organization does not pay us a salary. Instead, we rely solely on God to prompt the hearts of folks to support us and their obedience to respond. Crazy right!? But guess what…We have always had what we needed. “Do you worry sometimes about having enough money?” I used to…like crazy. But over the years God has really just shown out in our lives in the area of providing for our financial needs. So much so I just don’t think about it too much anymore. I figure as long as we are faithful to continue with this work like He has called us to, then He will provide what we need to do it. All this is not to say that I swim in a pile of gold coins like Scrooge McDuck, or that we don’t have to carefully plan our finances, just that God has always done exactly what He has promised to do…provide for our needs.
#4 “How do your kids like it there?”
Short answer – They seem to like it pretty good. Longer answer – Moving around like we do is difficult on them sometimes. Our oldest daughter tends to go with the flow pretty well. Our middle daughter has had some adjustment issues and I think sometimes wonders where “home” really is. And our youngest daughter is still a baby, so as long as she can see mom and dad and has her pacifier all is good and right in the world. Each of them at times, though, have certainly asked about their grandparents and friends back in the States (Well, not our baby, that would be weird.) Our oldest two will often say things like “When we go back to America…” not really understanding how long it will be before we are able to do that. As parents, Jessi and I often just try to reassure them that “home” is wherever our family is…be it in America, Papua New Guinea, in the city or in the jungle. We’ve also been realizing that all three of them play off of our emotions a lot. If we “hold it together” emotionally, often times so do they. However, we also try to find a balance where they understand that it’s alright to miss “home,” too. Modern technology has come to the rescue in the form of Skype which has kept the grandparents at bay, allowing them to talk with and see their grandkids.
Well, there are certainly many other questions, some silly, some very serious that are often asked. However, this post is becoming quite long and I am remembering the words of my seventh grade history teacher “The mind can comprehend only what the seat can endure,” so I will call it quits for now. If any of you ever have any questions of any kind regarding our ministry here in Papua New Guinea please feel free to ask away. You can e-mail us at “firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Language learning had produced some really interesting conversations with local folks here. I never really know what to expect when I turn on my recorder and strike up a random conversation. Topics have ranged from family to hobbies, animals to travel, and the most recent…giant earthquakes from time long ago.
Jo, has quickly become one of my favorite people in Papua New Guinea. He’s an older guy that lives in the fishing village here, but is originally from a nearby island. I’m not real sure exactly how old he is, and neither is he. When I asked him his age, he thought for a couple minutes and just said “Mi gat 60 samting krismas” (“I’m sixty something”…though I’m not real confident in this answer.) Either way, he’s a really nice guy and reminds me a lot of my grandfather. Our times together are spent sitting on the floor of his porch talking about all sorts of things.
Recently, about 2 weeks ago, about a 6.8 earthquake that hit off the coast of PNG. We didn’t get any damage here in town, but most people felt it. Jo told me a little about it, and it led me to ask if PNG had a lot of these type earthquakes. He talked on for a bit and then began to tell me about an really big earthquake that came during the time of his “tumbuna” or ancestors. I asked Jo more about it and when exactly it happened, but he didn’t really know. He said it was before he was born and before his mother was even born. It was a story that had been passed down through the generations. This earthquake or, “graunguria,” actually swallowed up a nearby island, he told me, and it was now a reef.
I found all of this really interesting. Who knows how far back in time this happened? I know it’s a looooong stretch, but I’ve read so many books about missionaries (ok, well my wife has read so many and told me about them…I’ve read a few) who after talking with local people have come across old “great flood” stories that turn out to have many similarities to the flood of Noah’s day. Now, I’m not saying that this story Jo was telling me is this kind of story, but it sure is interesting. It makes me wonder what sort of stories we will hear one day soon when we allocate to a tribal location.
We’ve now been here in Papua New Guinea for about 1 1/2 months and this past week Jessi and I had our first language evaluation for the national language. I’ll be totally honest with you and just let you know that I was seriously thinking that they were going to have to invent some new “below-beginner” category to list us in (well myself at least,) but to our surprise we did pretty decent. We both tested out of the basic level. Jessi tested in “Progressing low” and I tested in “Progressing High.” This is the one time in my life that I’ve scored better on something than Jessi, but in her defense I get a LOT more time practicing language during the day than she does. Being the tremendous mother and wife that she is, a great part of her day is filled with homeschooling our kids, cleaning house, doing laundry, cooking our meals, etc. etc, etc… I’m sure any of you moms reading this are now shaking your head in agreement. Actually, I am expected to get at least 40 hours a week worth of language study while Jessi is only expected to get 20. Either way, we both felt encouraged with our results and now feel even more driven to dig in and study harder.
The reality is, the longer it takes us to learn the language and get to a tribal location, the longer people are waiting to hear about Jesus and how he came to forgive their sins. We can not afford to work half-heartedly while things of eternal worth are at stake. Are hearts are increasingly burdened as we become more aware of just how many people groups are willing to have missionaries come and live with them to bring “God’s talk,” but there aren’t any missionaries to send. Pray diligently with us that God would grant us wisdom as we study and learn this language and soon an unwritten tribal language.
Twenty-three days of Papua New Guinea life under our belt now. I’m pretty sure we still qualify as “green” but I do think we are settling in to our new lives. Our first few days were spent merely getting adjusted to the 13-hour time difference. Waking up at three in the morning and having your mind thinking that you should get out of bed will wear you out pretty quickly. However, now we are all on a great schedule and have been “getting to work.”
Our days are spent with a LOT of language study. While the national language here isn’t the most difficult in the world, we want to be diligent, knowing that the faster we learn the it, the quicker we can move into a tribal location and begin learning their language with the hope of translating God’s Word for them.
A typical day now (and for the next few months,) consist of…well, a pot of coffee for one, but then, Jessi sits down with our two oldest daughters and works with them on their pre-school lessons while I study through any new vocabulary and phrases from the previous day, followed by studying new material. This usually last us until about 11 a.m. where we typically have a meeting with some of the more “less green” missionaries. They pick our brains and we pick theirs about all kinds of different topics. They also check to make sure we are making proper strides with language and adjusting to our new life here. Once that’s over it’s time for lunch. Regardless of what we eat, there is ALWAYS either mango or papaya to go along with it. These trees are everywhere here and on the cheap at the market (also, they make your house smell amazing.) After lunch, well, it’s back to the books…study, study, study.
Not all our study comes from books though. In fact, a very large part of our language learning comes from we call “cultural events.” In our training, backing the States, they stressed the importance of getting real world experience with the language. So, a few times a week we go to a local lady’s house to practice our language with her. Also, we study with another lady here at our house as well. Turning everyday activities like going to the market, taking public transportation, and visiting with local neighbors can be the best language learning tools.
Tomorrow I’m actually planning taking the “bus” (actually just a pickup truck that everyone piles into the back of) to the local fishing village to visit with an older man named, Jo, that I met last week. He invited me to come and sit on the porch with him any time to practice “Tok Pisin.”
In the afternoon we have supper together as a family, spend some time with our girls playing board games or something fun, and after they are in the bed…DUH, DUH, DUH…..more studying. Usually, I sit down at the computer and process all the audio files I recorded that day of the native speakers. I load them on the computer, break them apart into different topics, transfer them to iTunes, and spend the next couple hours listening to the over, and over, and over, and…..well, you get it.
Then when my brain just can’t take it any more, Jessi and I break out some Boggle, or Othello (hopefully Boggle b/c she always KILLS me at Othello…Boggle too, though, really) and just try to decompress. Then we wake the next morning and do it all over again.
Well, there you have it, our daily routine here in Papua New Guinea. Of course, this varies some from day-to-day, but this gives you the gist of it. All of the studying and learning this national language will soon help us to learn an unwritten tribal language and aid us in giving an unreached tribe God’s Word for the first time in history!
As I wrote that last sentence, I couldn’t help but think of all the many people who pray diligently for us and give financially to help us be here. Please know that you are just as much ministers in this work as we are! Thank you so much for what you do.
I recently read this quote from Jason Hester, founder of “Restoration Hope,” and felt compelled to share:
“I once thought I was simply blessed to live where I lived and thought very little of my responsibility to the world. I looked at what I considered to be rich people and judged them for not doing more. Then I read a statistic that has forever changed my attitude. Standing in the middle of poverty unlike anything I had ever seen these words literally burned my eyes and heart as I read them, “If your household income is over $25,000 you are in the top 10% of the world’s wealth. If your household income is over $50,000 you are in the top 1% of the world’s wealth.” I suddenly became aware of just how much had been entrusted to me and I began to beg God to forgive me for my apathy towards those that suffer and my judgment of those whom I considered as being responsible for doing something about it.”
Jason and Brandy Hester, founders of Restoration Hope, are two ordinary people who had their hearts deeply broken for the poor and fatherless. The needless suffering and death faced daily by people living in abject poverty pushed them beyond the comfortable confines of their normal lives and challenged them to put their faith in God into action. They founded Restoration Hope in response to the dream God has placed in their hearts.
You can find out more about their ministry by clicking here —> RESTORATION HOPE.
Nine or ten years ago or so, a small country church in Pheba, MS took a chance on a unkempt looking college kid to lead their youth…me. I’m sure there were plenty of times along the way that they questioned that decision, but they were patient, loving….forgiving, and every since then have been an immense part of mine and my family’s life and ministry. I write this blog post for two reasons, One: Simply because I want to brag on them. When you’ve got a good thing, I think it’s natural to want to tell folks about it. I remember, once, when I was a kid, “Santa Claus” brought me my dream bike! I don’t think I stopped talking about that bike for months to my friends (anyone really who would listen.) Well, Pheba Church has been so much more to me that my “dream bike” ever was. Two: I hope anyone who reads this post who may not be a believer in Jesus, may see what God truly intended “The Church” to be and be drawn by the love of Jesus as it is shown through His people.
While I will never be able to express all the ways the people of Pheba Church has encouraged, strengthened, and loved on my family, I do want to say that they are a HUGE part of our lives and the ministry God has called us to. Since my wife and I (and our kids) have accepted and begun to pursue God’s call for our lives as foreign missionaries we have gone through some pretty tough challenges…challenges that without the great love and encouragement of friends and family I’m not sure we could have mustered through and come on out in one piece.
I still remember being in college, working three jobs, while trying to pay for my wife’s engagement ring (totally worth it, by the way,) and every-s0-often someone from the church would just slip a ten or twenty dollar bill into my pocket on any given Sunday. This may not sound like a lot to some folks, but it was always such and encouragement to me, and I can promise you that the pizza and Ramen noodles that money bought was a very much welcomed treat! The blessings this church family have poured out on me and my family have not just been confined to monetary gifts (though they have always given generously and sacrificially to support our mission work,) but they have grieved with us in times of trouble, rejoiced with us in victories, and have always, always been quick and dedicated to pray for us.
This past Sunday, my family, all five of us, got the chance to drive up and see everyone at Pheba. It always feels like going home when we head that way. It was a bittersweet visit as we knew it was quite possibly the last time we may have the chance to see everyone there before leaving for Papua New Guinea. New and old friends alike, were there to hug, welcome, and encourage us as usual, and the food….oh, the food! Nothing in the south says “I love you” like a pot-luck lunch and the folks at Pheba sure made us feel loved! My favorite part of this past visit is when we got to take a few minutes of the Sunday service to present the church with just a small parting gift as a “Thank You” from the George family, and when I was finished my daughters had a little gift of their own to give. You see, Pheba didn’t just invest in some nutty college kid years ago, they have invested in my entire family…so much so that even my five-year-old and three-year-old daughters love them and always look forward to being with them!
So, I’m not the writer of our family (that would be my wife,) but I hope my point gets across clearly. We are so thankful for the people of Pheba Church! They are without a doubt more than just friends, they’re our family.
Sorry for such a late update, but at least there is good news to report. I DON’T HAVE CANCER!!! Turns out that both my surgeon and my lung doc thought I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, so I was pretty pumped to hear their inclination was wrong. Turns out I have something called, Sarcoidosis…weird right? I’ve never heard of it before, have you?
So, what does this mean for us? Well, this week I will start a 4 month regiment of Prednisone to cure up the problem. This stuff can have some pretty nasty side effects ranging from weight gain, to mood swings, and a lowered immune system. Because of the immune system issue we are praying about whether or not we should wait until I complete my medicine to go overseas. Please be praying with us about this and ask God to grant us His wisdom and that the side effects of the meds will be minimum.
Before we found out what was going on with my body, I had someone tell me “John Michael, you can’t be like this…you have to be scared???” My response, “No, I don’t.” I didn’t mean that in an arrogant way or in a “holier than thou” sort of way either. Rather, God had given Jessi and I such a crazy indescribable peace about what was happening. What need is there to worry, or to be afraid, when you KNOW that God is in total control of the situation. We knew, “know” rather, what God has called us to, and He has made it known that He has not changed His plan for us…what need is there to worry?
Thank you all for your prayers during this time. We will never be able to properly express just how much they were felt!
Well, about 5 weeks away from when we were planning to leave for PNG and we got some news that took our wind from us. A couple weeks ago Jessi and I had routine chest x-rays done (these were required in order to get our Visas.) Jessi and I were actually really excited when we were getting these done because it was nearly the last piece of paperwork we needed in order to apply for our Visas. Just a few days later, however, we got word that my (John Michael) x-ray didn’t look so good. It was showing some abnormal lymph nodes in my chest. A couple days later I went for a CT scan, and it pretty much just confirmed that something was wrong.
The radiologist had given two possible options for what was wrong…Lymphoma or Sarcoidosis. What! Cancer! Really???!!! For me it really was like being punched in the gut and having my air taken out of me. If all this wasn’t bad enough, this news came only two days before Christmas. Jessi and I didn’t know what to think. If I am totally honest, both of us were scared to death and spent time that day just crying.
In that fear, we took to the phone and called some friends and family to pray for us. ……. I can say with all honesty, that since then, God has truly started to become our “peace that passes all understanding.” I won’t lie and tell you that we are without any anxieties at all, but we certainly being comforted by our Father.
Since meeting with our lung doc. We’ve found out that there is one other option for what may be going on….Hystoplasmosis. Of the options, this would be the best of the three as it is the easiest and fastest to treat. Regardless of what it turns out to be, we are thankful that we had to have that routine x-ray and found out that something is going on before we left for PNG…God is good.
When I met with the pulmonolgist they did some blood work (it will tell us if I have Hysto. or not) and we are waiting to hear back from that. They have also scheduled me for a lymph node biopsy a week from today, Jan. 6. We are praying that the blood work would come back positive for Hysto before the biopsy. If it does, then there won’t even be any need for it.
Jessi and I, and our girls, want to thank all of you who have been praying for us, written e-mails or facebook messages of encouragement, or even come by to visit us during this time of uncertainty. While we don’t understand why this happening the way it is, and even though we have questions that we are taking before God, we trust that He knows what is best for us and that His timing is perfect. God has already been teaching much about His character through this and I know there is a lot more to learn. Jessi and I still greatly desire to serve in Papua New Guinea as tribal church planters and we are praying that God would heal my body quickly and allow us to get overseas to take the Gospel to people who desperately waiting to hear the Truth.
Be encouraged with us as we see God comfort, heal, and lead throughout each step!