Saturday, April 29, 2017

Tabu (tam-bu)

            Each country has a culture: some more unique than others. Fiji is a country full of culture and traditions. This last week I had the opportunity to be a part of a very unique tradition that does not happen much even in this country.
            Death is such a harsh reality on this earth. It does not care who you are or what you have. One year ago, unbeknownst to me, my village chief died. Although I had not arrived in Fiji at that point, I was able to see some of the results of his death. All were prohibited to fish in our bay for one full year after his death. On April 27 we as a village celebrated the opening of the bay with a huge fishing celebration. Preparations began many days before; some were sewing new outfits, others were gathering and cooking, while the men went into the bush to find the vines and branches. Everyone participated in the event. Very early Thursday morning the action began. A team of strong swimmers dragged the ½ - ¾ mile long vine rope to the outskirts of the bay. By 6 AM most of the villagers were on the beach or in the water taking part. The village was divided into two sides and placed on opposite ends of the rope. Commands were given by the appointed leaders in the boats and on the rope ends to pull, wait, and rustle the rope. After hours of pulling in the two ends, the end was coming into sight. The fish were being led into and trapped in a small area. The only thing left to do was wait for the tide to go out and leave the fish imprisoned in the shallow coral reefs.
            The time had finally arrived. The excitement was growing as the head leader explained what was to happen: the first fish were to be caught and divided among all in the village. Shouts and cheers arose as the first spears were thrown! All hands were put to work as fish were being speared and thrown onto the uncovered coral. Men, women, children, and grandparents worked diligently to get all the fish into the boat. After the boat was filled to the brim, the waters were opened for personal fishing. Instantly, everything became free for the taking. Some used spears and nets while others used rocks and hands to capture the last of the fish caught in the low waters. Happiness could be heard and seen even as the rain began to pour down upon all. But the festival did not end there. The people went back to their homes to prepare for the afternoon ceremony. Beautiful dresses, tops, and sulus of brightly printed materials were to be shown off. There was an abundance of food and fellowship as the afternoon progressed. Gifts were presented to the deceased chief’s family in honor of his service to the village. The festivities continued on late into the night as stories were told and memories recounted.

            This may have been a one-day event, but the memories will stay with me forever. I got to see a village made up of different tribes and religions come together as one united family. This is my family.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Worth More than a Tabui


            Last night I had a very interesting conversation with my host family. Apparently, in Fijan culture, if a gentleman would like to court a girl, he must show that he is indeed interested. He must bring a present to the girl’s family to show that he is serious and can provide for her. I believe that in most cultures, more so in the olden days than present day, some sort of dowry was required in order to marry a girl. There may or may not have been a required pre-dowry payment in order to court a girl. I typically think about a payment including money, land, or even cattle (way back when). However, last night I was pleasantly surprised by the payment method. No, it wasn’t beach-front property or pearls or 500 coconuts, but a tubui! I think my mouth feel open at that point considering what that must look like. Maybe you could imagine it like this:
            Gentleman: (knocks on the door)
            (Father of young lady opens the door)
            Gentleman: Good evening, sir. How are you doing?
             Father: Fine, thank you. And yourself?
            Gentleman: Doing well, thanks.
            Father: So what has brought you to my house this evening?
            Gentleman: Well…um…I…would…um…like…um
            Father: Enough with it lad! Just spit it out!
            Gentleman: (Rather flustered) I would like to marry your daughter.
            Father: Ah! I had been wondering when this day would come. Tell me, son, how can I know that you will do well and respect my daughter? What proof could I have to be reassured of your truly devoted love towards her?
            Gentleman: Sir, the only thing I have to give is this. (Reaches into his satchel and pulls out *shing, sparkle, sparkle* a whale tooth)
            (Daughter is peering out the window. At the sight of the tooth she loses her breath.)
Father: (Gasp) Oh my, boy. It seems that you really have been thinking seriously about this, haven’t you?
Gentleman: Yes, sir. And I will care for your daughter and our children as if I had paid 100 whale teeth for them.
(Daughter, still peering out the window, starts feeling warm tears roll down her cheeks as she sees how highly her secret love values her life.)
Father: Well boy, (pause to hold self together) it appears that you are a fine, young, responsible lad. I would be proud to call you my son-in-law.
(Daughter bursts through the doorway to fall into the arms of her long admired whale tooth winner.)
The End

Now please, hold back your tears as you imagine this Fijan love story. So maybe not that serious. But on a serious note, there is someone who values you immensely; One who was willing to give more than some old plaque catchers for you. This story may sound a little old hash, but the truth is it can be new and fresh everyday. Have you ever seen the Grand Canyon? God would dig 100,000x deeper to find you. What about the moon? If some nice guy says he will bring the moon down to you, you should wait to see what God would do for you. He can create a whole galaxy of moons that are each unique. Why would He do such a thing for you? Simple. God loves you.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Giving it all up

     Can you think of one thing that you are very attached to emotionally? Maybe it is a family member, something that your great-great-grandfather gave to you, or a current job. So many times we hear that we must be willing to give up everything for God. That makes sense when it is something that obviously comes from the world. How can God be living in us when we are crowding Him out with things of the flesh? But have you ever thought about what if God calls you to give up something that is useful in your ministry work? Maybe you have a truck that is used every day to take sick people to the clinic, but God calls you to give it up. Perhaps, that college degree that could be used to teach others something specific must be put aside so that God can use you another way. What if He asked you to give up some of your missionary family? Recently, God taught me a good lesson about giving up what is not even really mine.
            Every class session the students are required to participate in a weekend-long survival campout. This usually happens in the bush where the students can have access to all the natural resources available. Due to many unforeseen circumstances, plans had to be changed this time and the campout was to take place at our lagoon-front piece of property in Honey Camp. Of the many changes that had to be made, the hardest to plan was the transportation issue. Normally, the staff members can travel quickly and freely between the campsite and home. However, even though distance wise the property is not far, the time to travel there is much longer. Friday morning the students headed out bright and early for their weekend retreat: the staff to join in the afternoon.
            Everything was going well until I realized that my missionary family had not arrived. They should have arrived around 5:30 pm and it was almost 6:30 pm by now. I figured that they had gone right at the fork in the road instead of left. This isn’t a big problem considering the road is a loop: just wait until they come full circle. But they were taking a really long time. I called back to home base and checked to make sure they had left. Sure enough, they should have been at camp already. The guys jumped into the truck to go look for them since it was getting dark and might be a little difficult to find our property on the lagoon. When news returned that they had not been found on the loop road, we started thinking about where they could have possibly gone. The guys went back out to check on the few roads that forked off the loop, but only to return with nothing. Panic was not setting in, just a bit of worry and confusion. My dad doesn’t get lost easily. He knows how to get to our property. Mom would have told someone if something was wrong. Despite all of the signs, we kept looking in hopes of finding them stuck on the side of the road or with a flat tire. I tried to call but all I heard was, “I’m sorry but the person you are trying to reach is not available at this time.” As the hours passed things started to seem more abnormal. By 10 pm I was starting to feel desperate. With all the stress of being in charge of the weekend, the lack of sleep due to all the preparation changes, and the desperation of knowing they had been literally minutes away yet did not arrive pushed me over the edge. My emotions burst open like an uncontrollable storm. Before midnight struck we had two of our local pastors, friends from phone companies, the police, the embassy, and many other friends involved in the search. It is not as bad as you think. Just go to sleep because you cannot control yourself right now. But I can’t sleep right now with this type of stress. What if…? What if…? And again my tears flowed freely. My body began to shake while everything seemed to be turning from bad to worse. My missionary sisters hugged me and held me to calm me down. They repeated God’s promises, sang songs, and prayed for deliverance for the lost company. God, why should I need to give up my family? They help people all over the world to be able to continue to do mission work. They are serving You in so many ways. They are Your missionaries. And that is when it hit me like a strike of lightning in the middle of that storm: They are Your missionaries not mine. In that moment I had to decide to give them up and submit it all to God. Perhaps, although my finite mind could not understand how, God had a bigger plan for their lives. A calm gently started to flow over me as I held onto God’s presence. Maybe I would never see them again, but only in earthly terms. That resurrection day will be all the sweeter as I see more loved ones lifted up to Jesus, the One who conquered death. That night gave very little sleep, but it did give an assurance that God’s angels were encamped around us. The next afternoon, tears once more fell as I got to hug those that I had considered lost.
            Can we really give up anything in this life? Do we actually own any item in this world? Or have we been loaned all of these many things from an infinitely loving God? Take care of what has been placed in your care, but also be ready to return it whenever God calls. It will never be a loss. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

One Man's Trash

            There is a saying that says, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” I, personally, find this to be applicable to my life. Most days, for class preparation, I can be found looking through the workshop garbage pit. Believe it or not, you really can find some treasures there! I prefer to think that the stuff I use from the dump is hidden treasure: so hidden that most people throw it away without even knowing what they have. Have you ever thought that maybe some people view certain humans in light of this saying?
I recently joined a group from MOVE that goes to visit a ranch in the village every Tuesday evening. At the ranch, the different families come out to have worship and learn more about the Bible. Most of them cannot read, none have much money, the majority of the kids do not have properly fitting clothes, but they do have something else: a desire to know Jesus. A few Sabbaths ago, we had an evening worship at the ranch with this family. With the families from the ranch and the few church members that came from the local churches, we had a total of 32 kids and 25 adults! The adults did a Bible study while the kids enjoyed a plethora of activities. We sang, played games, listened to stories, and did crafts together. The craft was one of those “one man’s trash another man’s treasure” deals. We took an oat canister, cut it in half, and glued paper on it. (One little girl loved it so much that, the following Tuesday, when I was at the ranch, she told me, with much pride, about her precious treasure.)  It was a great blessing to see so many people praising God’s name at the close of a wonderful Sabbath.

To be 100% honest, I sometimes feel like I fall into the category of “one man’s trash.” This is the result of sin in my life. Satan likes to pester those who have fallen into sin by tricking them into believing that the Savior has no interest in them because of the transgression. He uses the guilt factor to convince us that we are not worth anything and it would be better to give up to defeat and fall into his ranks. Unfortunately, many people fall into this trap and never come out of it. They believe that they cannot return to church because of a wrongdoing. They fear the shame of being found out as a sinner by a brother in the congregation. However, this is exactly the work that Jesus came to the earth to do: dig through this big trash pit of an earth to find His treasures. He only creates treasures. Sometimes those treasures get stains and a little damage, but that never means they become trash. “As you see the enormity of sin, as you see yourself as you really are, do not give up to despair. It was sinners that Christ came to save.” (Finding Peace Within 28) Never give up!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

My Mission

            I recently arrived back home (Belize) from a month and a half in the USA. What relief I feel every time I come back from traveling and can sleep in my own bed; I think this is a common feeling among travelers. It really is a delight to be in a place with my other family. However, part of me sometimes wonders if I am making the right decision with my life. I know that not everyone agrees with the choice I have made to serve as a missionary, but I cannot help but continue doing this work. Every person is born into God’s kingdom as a missionary (that includes you and me). There is, however, different jobs that God calls us to do in His service. Some He calls to be doctors, others dentists, others teachers and administrators, and even some others to be mechanics. After saying that, I want to say that I am privileged to be none of the above. I can’t even really describe what I do in a single job description. Certain days, I have to be the nurse. Some days I end up being the mechanic (not much gets fixed those days). Other days I feel like a mom. I don’t think a single day goes by that I don’t do something for which I am under qualified. But that is the beauty of it all: God uses the under qualified to do His work just as much as the qualified. This may be a stumbling block for some who firmly believe in organized education, but I think that God’s training can be received in many other places. So, you may be asking, what is my real mission? Teach. He is asking me to teach people about His love for them. Whether I do that while putting a Band-Aid on a student’s arm, or buying 80 bags of cement, or cutting the grass, He is beckoning me to do it all in His love. Oddly enough, I am not the only one He has called to do this. Remember how everyone is born as a missionary into God’s kingdom, and He sends this message to all of His missionaries. So if you are studying medicine, working on a farm, taking care of others, or stocking the shelves at a grocery store, God is calling you to do it for love. I pray that whatever mission field you have been called to you can remember the purpose and mission. Do not be discouraged by the devil’s lies. God has called you to a special mission and He will not let you fall out of His loving arms.