Sunday, December 20, 2009

Like Scrooge, Visited by the Spirit

We'd had a busy semester and I was looking forward to finally being together as a family (minus our two sons who are in college) for a relaxed Christmas day full of family traditions. I'd put off buying much in the way of gifts because I always felt overwhelmed/discouraged when I'd walk into the stores. Then, just like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, I felt like I was led by "the Spirit" to see/experience two events that have completely altered the way I will "do" Christmas this year.


First, we went to the college to pick up our mail. Scattered around the campus, like shattered pieces of glass, sat students unable to get back to their islands. They had requested to stay on-campus and do facility maintenance to earn a few extra bucks which will be spent on their favorite affordable food: Top Ramon, raw fish, and various canned meats (Spam being their first preference). When asked what they would do on Christmas Day, they indicated no plans--just hanging out on the all-but-deserted Pacific Islands University campus. Now, you need to know that personal gift-giving is not part of their routine Christmas celebration. They have little cash, and there aren't really stores, as we know them,
 on most of their islands. However, one thing that is a very important part of their tradition is the gathering of the community for a Christmas celebration with lots of local food taking center stage. Everyone brings their best food to share. It broke my heart to picture these students "stranded" on campus, isolated from their family and homeland, eating dry packages of Top Ramon with Kool-Aid powder added as a special treat.


The second thing that grabbed me was an article in Guam's paper, the PDN. The summary read as follows: "The U.S. Air Force is parachuting about 10 tons of donated items to Pacific islanders throughout Micronesia during the 58th annual Operation Christmas Drop this week. Operation Christmas Drop is the longest running organized air drop in the world and one of the largest charity efforts in the Pacific."


I went to their site:
http://www.christmasdrop.com/ and enjoyed wonderful pictures depicting both the process of getting the boxes to the islanders and also life on these remote islands. (I have copied and pasted below a collage of the more poignant pictures.) Having been to some of these remote islands in Chuuk myself, I could totally visualize the excitement of the military personnel in the plane as they fly over what appears to be an endless ocean, when suddenly, the far-off-shape of a green atoll rimmed in white surrounded by crystal clear turquoise water appears on the horizon. As the plane would hone in on one of these remote islands, the personnel would be desperately scouting for the location the natives have chosen for a drop zone. With no telephones or advanced equipment, finding the drop zone can be like finding Waldo! A drop zone can be as simple as a red sheet draped over a tree near the edge of the sea. Several small fishing boats huddle off-shore, waiting to snag the boxes from the tropical waters.


This year alone, Operation Christmas Drop brought tools, medical supplies, food, and gifts to nearly 50 islands in the Pacific. As I read the names of some of the islands receiving drops: Etol, Satowan, Moch, Oneop, etc., faces of our students hailing from these tiny islands appeared in my mind: beautiful faces, luminous eyes, gold-studded teeth, contagious smiles, musically gifted, having overcome impossible odds, and among some of the poorest people in the world. Having LITERALLY no income, these students have experienced life as subsistence farmers/fishermen. The pictures of the tin roofed shacks, schools nearly devoid of supplies, and the primitive attempts to catch rain for drinking water were striking reminders of the third-world conditions from which most of our students at PIU come. The photographs serve as a reality check to the extreme privilege in which we live. As eviscerated as the US economy seems, our housing, clean drinking water, medical care, excellent educational opportunities, and array of foods, demonstrate that we are more than blessed.


All of a sudden, the idea of a traditional Christmas surrounded by family seemed very hollow. This surprised me because I, like I'm guessing most of my American friends, treasure the precious, nearly sacred time spent with immediate family celebrating the birth of Christ. So, why is it that I am more excited about trying to get as many students into our home on Christmas and trying to figure out good gifts to give them than I have ever been about any Christmas past? (By the way, I'm thinking they would each LOVE a case of Top Ramon.) I think that for me, just like for Scrooge, the "Spirit" has "opened my eyes" to see what I have never really seen before. It is not a sacrifice to try to make our money stretch to include gifts for needy Micronesians. It is not a sacrifice to include these students in our Christmas Day traditions. Do you think Scrooge was bummed that "the spirit" had opened his eyes to the needs of those around him and the part that he could play to make a difference? Absolutely not! What excitement and joy we can experience when we respond to "the Spirit."


These pictures were taken from
http://www.christmasdrop.com/.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Party at Our Place!

We had a great Christmas party with some 15 of our students at our home last week. This is a visual blog: take a look at the pictures and you'll see the fun we had. The group consisted of our 2009/10 Traveling Team coming to a city near you this summer. At the end, you'll get a feel for the music we'll bring to the States with us this next summer. Enjoy.

Playing word games:
Daniel and Charles on the barbeque: What's a party in Micronesia without LOADS of food?

Featuring some of the 2009/2010 Traveling Team and some of their hosts:


Our students cracking up at our old photo albums (think Eric in short-shorts, circa 1983):


Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the PIU Traveling Team! (Turn up your speakers)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Where's the Thanksgiving Fish?

People occasionally ask us what we do when Thanksgiving comes around. Since we're only loosely connected to the States, some assume we don't celebrate it at all. Well, as you will behold in these photos, we do celebrate Thanksgiving, with all the trimmings! Yes, we even enjoy succulent turkey, stuffing, mash potatoes, and my (Eric's) personal favorite, sweet potatoes. So, at high noon, most of our faculty and staff, along with about half of our on-campus students, gathered in the large classroom to tables loaded with food. After singing and a little sharing, we feasted . . . and feasted . . . and feasted (and then went back for more dessert).
This year, I noticed that something was glaringly missing. A scan across the table, loaded with American fixings, revealed the absence of fish. No fish?! This is the first Thanksgiving in three that has not had fish. Sure, the boatload of obligatory rice was there, but no matching creatures of the sea. Now, I'm not the biggest fish fan, but I noticed how incomplete the table seemed to me. My first thought was, "Wow, I guess my idea about what comprises a traditional Thanksgiving meal has changed." My second thought was more intriguing. The meal, when complete with rice and fish, is actually more traditional than the way I've always conceived of it! The first Thanksgiving wasn't a bunch "English" consuming volumes of food in hushed isolation. It was a celebration with the local natives as an expression of thanks to God who had brought them through unbelievable hardship and irretrievable loss. You can't tell me there wasn't fish and probably (wild) rice at that first Thanksgiving. So, what did we do on Thanksgiving? We celebrate it, perhaps much more "traditionally" than you do in the States! Now for the leftovers . . . .

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Chuukese on the Catwalk

The atmosphere was electric with anticipation as the music thumped and a spotlight shone on the runway. Bouncers rigorously guarded the two locked doors to make sure spectators could supply the requisite proof that they had an invitation (aka, were female). What would be the 2009 fall fashion for Chuukese clothing? What surprises might be in store for the spectators who would watch lovely Chuukese models promenade down the catwalk? Well, OK, so I am glamorizing the event to some extent. But, what a great evening we had.

The idea of hosting a fashion show came about after I heard a PIU student extolling the beauty of "the latest" Chuukese skirts. I couldn't see what the fuss was about. At first glance, the skirts looked the same as they always had--same floral cut-outs, same tea-length, and same cotton or nylon fabric. As the students attempted to explain last year's fashion, the fashion of four years ago, and the latest fashion, I suggested we have a night where they could bring the skirts and actually demonstrate the differences for me. I also asked them to explain to me the rules around what they could wear and when. Well, one thing led to another, and eventually we decided we'd have a fashion show in the large classroom at PIU. I'd bring the dessert and drinks, and they'd do the rest. As seems to be consistently true of our Micronesian students, they amazed me with their creativity and ability to provide quality entertainment. Undoubtedly, the students more than took care of "the rest." They had arranged the chairs so there was a long runway proceeding from a set of double doors, they located some special colored spotlights, and hooked up a sound system so that the entire event was narrated by an emcee. Additionally, they had music coordinated throughout the entire show. Not only did they show the latest in Chuukese skirts, they paraded mu mus, "sports-wear," and traditional wear from the Chuuk State islands of Satawal, Puluwat, Faichuuk, Weno, and Bafeng. It was during the showing of traditional clothing that I understood the need for locked doors and attentive sentinels! (Think styles similar to what Adam and Eve would have worn!)

Below I have posted some select photos. I had to be quite discriminating because I didn't want to inadvertently expose a student's knee, a part of the body that most our students are not comfortable publicly revealing. Guess you should have been present to get the full showing! :-)

How Chuukese fashion-astute are you? Below is a picture of Chuukese skirts in various levels of fashionableness. Can you arrange them in order from least to most fashionable? (The answer is at the bottom of this article).


The picture below is what females wear while playing sports! It is a skirt (worn with an underskirt so as to ensure no chance of it being seen through). Then comes a t-shirt. Over the t-shirt is a skirt tucked into itself forming a type of "tube top." Just imagine how hot this must be! (Remember Chuuk is about 7 degrees above the equator and thus ALWAYS blistering hot.)


Mu mus are worn to church and all other formal events.


Skirts are "every day wear" and are worn while cleaning, fishing, playing sports, bathing, swimming, etc. They are considered casual--no matter how "fancy," and therefore not appropriate for church or special occasions.


Traditionally, and even now on many of the islands, women go topless. But, showing one's leg (Knee and above) is taboo! This picture is of a traditional skirt woven and currently worn for special events (e.g. an inauguration) on the island of Puluwat. (It felt like the heavy weaving found in Mexican serapes. Unfortunately, the student was unable to explain the materials used to make it). It is worn as a wrap around and, therefore, it must be very hot to wear. However, when you wear this skirt, you do not wear a top so perhaps that compensates?!




* Answer to the order of which skirts are most stylish: The most sylish are on the left, moving to the least stylish on the far right.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hand-in-Hand

Undoubtedly, there are some parts of Micronesian culture that are amazingly beautiful. They remind me of a time in American history when things were purer and far less pretentious. Specifically, I think the overt affection our students show to other same-sex students is precious. It is common to see same-sex students strolling arm-in-arm, or, as in the meeting I attended last night, three female students held hands for the better part of the meeting. During dorm devotions, I'll observe the women softly rubbing each other's backs or playing with each other's hair. The last time I did this type of thing was in first grade! And, the physical contact is not restricted just to women. I'll see the men ambling with their arms slung over each other's backs or with fingers interlocked as they meander along. Here, it is seen purely and readily embraced. Imagine the meaning these actions would have in the States! And, again, it is our loss. What a beautiful aspect of relationships that we Americans are missing out on.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Busy Fall

Just finished an amazing Spiritual Emphasis Retreat at PIU. This year we were blessed to have a speaker, Matt Augee, from the States, who has extensive youth ministry experience. He was clearly able to connect with the students. In addition, Dan Fields, a professional photographer for the San Diego Chargers (as well as a surfing photographer and cultural photographer) came and dazzled everyone with his staggering ability to capture culture on film. You will not be disappointed if you go to his blog: danfieldsphotographyblog.com. Speaking of not being disappointed, one of our students just posted a great summary, complete with fantastic pictures of the retreat on his blog. As you read his blog, it is especially interesting because he writes from his Micronesian perspective and using English which is his second language: http://goodtestimony.blogspot.com/2009/10/thank-you-student-body.html

Two days later, the female staff at PIU hosted a "Mystery Dinner" for female students. The students were broken into five groups and sent to five different locations on campus. In each location there were three female staff and part of a meal. For instance, one group had popcorn and milkshakes. It was so cute to hear many students say they had never had a milkshake before and, "They taste pretty good!" I realized how much joy I felt in sharing this classic American drink with another culture. Another group had some side-dishes: rice with spam (an all-time favorite with the Micronesians) and a noodle dish. And, of course, one group had the main dishes. So, no one knew which course they would start their meal with and which course would finish their meal. After 15 minutes at each "station," the groups would rotate to another "station." As a new group entered, we asked each woman to introduce herself. The staff had been given a few suggested questions to ask the students (e.g. If you could meet anyone, who would it be, and why?). I decided it would be interesting to see if the students had any questions they wanted to ask us. And guess what? They definitely did, and each group asked the same question: "How did you and Eric meet?" Ha, ha! I guess girls everywhere are romantics!!

Dressed to the nines and sporting their new sunglasses!



Playing a silly game where you have to read a card and do what it says. For example: Elbow to forehead--but you have to hold the card there and not let it drop. This caused much hysterics!

Friday, October 2, 2009

"Peace, Be Still"

Just finished responding to all the many people who were praying for us and had left messages on facebook. As I have typed, I have watched the winds increase from 4 mph to 20 mph. I have no idea how strong the winds will eventually get. I guess now that the REAL threat has passed, everyone will go on with life, have a fiesta, and we'll receive no further information on storm conditions! (Welcome to Guam!!) I have cut and pasted below what was issued at 8:00 a.m. this morning from Guam Homeland Security:

At 8:00 a.m. (ChST) Governor Felix P. Camacho returned Guam to Condition of Readiness 4 (COR 4). Based on the latest information, weather officials no longer expect Typhoon Melor (20W) to be a threat for Guam.

The Tropical Storm Warning for Guam has been cancelled.

The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and Joint Information Center (JIC) and the island’s 12 designated shelters will begin to scale down operations. The EOC, JIC and all shelters are expected to close by 12:00 p.m. today.


Going through this has reminded me of the verse in Mark 4:41 where the disciples asked, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!" I give thanks and praise God that I KNOW who he is. He is the Lord Almighty who controls the wind and waves. I grieve for the thousands who are not asking the question, "Who is this?" Please continue to pray for God's mercy on Saipan (they're about 123 miles from Guam)--the typhoon should be hitting them this evening; and most of all, please pray for those who do not KNOW the one who commands the winds and waves.

http://www.nws.noaa.gov/os/tropical/pacific/

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tropical Storm--Check!! Time to Hunker Down!

So, on the positive side, I guess I'll be able to check off another experience on my running list of interesting things I've done or seen. Lived through a tropical storm--check! Unfortunately, this experience happens to be a little more nerve-racking than other experiences on my list because I don't have a category in my brain in which to plug this one. When I rode an elephant in Thailand, I plugged it into my category of "Things Ridden" (horses, bucking mechanical bull, ornery ram, surf boards, skate boards, and bicycles). Okay, so as I approached the elephant, my brain could anticipate the general sensation of movement not of my own, the need for balance, and the fact that I would be higher than usual. Now, tropical storms . . . hmmmmm . . . oddly no category comes to mind. I have a few nebulous shemata by which to make a possible connection: earthquakes, heavy rain, fairly strong winds that would occassionally whip down off Mount Diablo and weaken our backyard fence in CA; but, oddly enough, tropical storms don't seem to fit. So, as a result, I blindly follow the instructions posted on the front page of the local newspaper and the Guam Homeland Security Office. Speaking of which, I have cut and pasted below their Conditions of Readiness and terms (we are in condition 1 for a tropical storm). Believe me, I am following all instructions to a tee. We are hunkered down in our 100% concrete and rebar bunker (aka "house"), typhoon shutters are secured, and the trampoline has been taken down and stored. But seriously, please pray for the many people on Guam who live in plywood and tin houses. They are presently displaced from their homes and are in emergency shelters.



CONDITIONS OF READINESS
The Guam Homeland Security Office of Civil Defense has established conditions of readiness to prepare for a storm.
The Conditions of readiness are based on the onset of damaging winds of 39 mph.


Condition of Readiness 4
Damaging winds may arrive on the island within 72 hours
What this means: day-to-day activities are normal


Condition of Readiness 3
Damaging winds may arrive within 48 hours
Review, update your family disaster plan
Buy and replenish supplies for your disaster supply kit
Fill up car(s) with gas
Secure outdoor objects
Prepare household for long term power and water loss (laundry, outdoor cooking, etc.)
Tune into radio and/or television


Condition of Readiness 2
Damaging winds may arrive within 24 hours
Close and secure shutters
Fill containers with water
Move vehicles to a secure and protected area
Review family disaster plan with entire family
Seek emergency shelter if home is not fully concrete or prepared to withstand damaging winds.
Tune into radio and/or television.


Condition of Readiness 1
Damaging winds are occuring or expected within 12 hours
Only mission essential personnel and vehicles are allowed outside
Tune in to weather news



TYPHOON TERMS
Depression: General term for a low-pressure tropical weather system with rotary circulation and accompanying rain.
Tropical disturbance: A moving area of thunderstorms in the tropics that maintains its identity for 24 hours or more.
Tropical depression: A tropical cyclone with rotary wind circulation and maximum sustained surface winds of 38 mph.
Tropical storm: A tropical cyclone with distinct circulation and wind speeds of 39 to 73 mph.
Typhoon: A tropical cyclone with strong pronounced rotary winds and maximum sustained surface winds of 74 mph.
Supertyphoon: A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained wind speed in excess of 149 mph.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

And it Raaaained--I'm Not Joking!


With uniforms especially clean and great expectations, soccer players from all the island's soccer clubs and their families arrived at the fields. A significant grant had been given to the Guam Football Association (meaning soccer) and a HUGE celebration fiesta was to be thrown. A parade of the players along with speeches from the Governor and other VIPs were to accompany the fiesta. At the soccer practices leading up to this event, players had been told that rain or shine, the fiesta would proceed. We were a bit worried because Guam was on a tropical storm watch and had been experiencing a LOT of rain. Nevertheless, with golf-size umbrella in tow, Noelle (9-years-old) and I showed up for the big event (Eric was at a basketball practice with 12-year-old Katie). Huge and new canopies with poles affixed in concrete lined the fields. Under each canopy was found youngsters touting the same colored jerseys and nearly all the colors of the rainbow were on display down the line of canopies like a pack of Life Savers. As Noelle and I began to situate ourselves under the canopy with other players sporting green jerseys, it began to rain. The kids were thrilled and spilled out onto the field to gleefully splash and wholeheartedly attempt to score a goal while some poor sap slipping and sliding attempted to prohibit success. Soon, the rain changed to very heavy precipitation. A loud cheer went up--primarily from the boys whose play became all the more frenetic. The faint-hearted players dashed to join their parents who were sequestered under the canopies. I kept looking around wondering when they would tell us the event had been cancelled. But, everyone was hunkered down happily socializing. Like a train, the rain began picking up speed and volume. It became difficult to hear because the rain was slamming down so hard. Although we were under the canopy and about four feet in, the rain began to slash in sideways and we were getting quite wet. Up came our seemingly circus-tent-sized umbrella which we put in front of us like a shield. As Noelle and I nestled behind the umbrella shield on our lawn chairs that sit about five inches off the ground, we noticed that the grass beneath our feet was disappearing under water. To our shock, we realized it was beginning to flood! A bright jolt of lightening followed by an incredible clap of thunder had anyone not already under the canopy frantically sprinting for cover. Lightening, thunder, and a torrential rain like you can't imagine followed. At that point, trying to make it back to the parking lot wasn't an option. Regardless of the canopy and the mammoth umbrella, staying dry wasn't happening. I kept thinking, "It can't rain this hard for long." I was wrong. The water beneath us was rising to the point that I was afraid we would soon be sitting in it. And then, I noticed something quite disturbing. Everywhere I looked I saw cockroaches and beetles of every imaginable variety furiously paddling and desperately seeking land. These critters' safe haven was, you guessed it, our feet and the legs of our lawn chairs--which led to our bodies. Although I actually like reptiles, I feel quite differently about insects. As we sat, feet buried under water, I could at times feel the desperate squirming of an arthropod trapped between my flip-flop and the sole of my foot. I was forever pushing the crawling maniacal beasts off my legs. It was free shock therapy for an insectophobiac! At any rate, the rain eventually let up, the speeches were cut short, and the parade was cut completely. But, on Guam, food will NEVER be cut. And, like only Guam can do it, there was an amazing fiesta, complete with roasted pig and a whole freezer truck of Haagen-Dazs ice cream. Remember, this is Guam, rain and heat go together, so the ice cream was a relief. Of course, that relief was nothing like the relief of arriving at home and finally stepping on dry, solid ground. And to think, as I write this, it's still raining outside!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Miscellaneous Guam

1) In the first 1-1/2 years of living on Guam, the three drivers in our family hit four boonie dogs. "Boonie" (homeless) dogs are prolific on the island.


2) Essentially Guam has two seasons: rainy and REALLY rainy. The temperature remains pretty much the same year-round--HOT! We are currently in the REALLY rainy season. Thus, at the last practice, nine-year-old Noelle's soccer coach instructed the players to either bring a change of clothes or a large towel to future practices so that after a deluge, they can "fix" themselves. And I'm not about kidding when I write "deluge." You can't imagine the velocity with which the skies open-up! But, being a rain forest, rain is not an impediment to Guamanians--the play goes on despite it!

3) Karyn started home schooling our girls (9 and 12) last week. Besides teaching core subjects, she is teaching a year-long unit study on ancient history (Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans) and a unit study on the human body. If you have any recommendations (or donations) of resources, they would be appreciated. (Karyn laments the loss of the incredible stateside libraries.)


4) When Karyn gives the girls a break from school, she has to threaten them to get them to go outside because they complain it is too hot. One of their favorite things to do outside is jump on the trampoline while spraying each other with the hose. Because it is the rainy season right now, there are a LOT more mosquitoes. This is an added incentive to NOT go outside. Besides, Eric reports that the vicious weather is slowly destroying the trampoline's canvas straps like jungle insects devour a carcass.


5) This week Eric begins teaching Prophetic Literature and Spiritual Foundations for Ministry. His administrative responsibilities as dean of the seminary are in full swing again, and he's back in the pulpit at Agana Heights Baptist Church each Sunday.


6) Food lasts significantly longer now that our son, Christian is no longer living with us. He remained in the States and joined his older brother, Teyler, at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. We were sad that we couldn't be with him at his parent/student orientation; however, we are exceedingly grateful that, at least for this year, God has provided the funds for him to attend such a solid, Christian college. Furthermore,we are thankful that he has a loving and doting grandmother (Karyn's mother) who sat with him in our stead at his orientation.


7) Registration for Pacific Islands University is about over, save for a few stragglers. From all accounts, it appears we will have significantly higher registration than we had expected; some 115 students. The college is abuzz with activity and excitement as we enter into the 2009-2010 school year. Expectantly we await the mighty and life-transforming work God will do not only in our students' lives, but in each of ours as well.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Back on Guam

After two and one-half months in California, we are back on Guam. While in California, we spoke in a different church up and down the California coast EVERY Sunday. Since we have to raise 100% of our own support for our work here, we are hoping that as a result of these efforts, we will have gained additional supporters. We actually really enjoyed the opportunity we had to worship in different churches, to meet new people, and to reconnect with old friends. But, alas, the time came to say goodbye to California and to return to our work on Guam. Although we very much looked forward to returning to our work at Pacific Islands University, we dreaded having to say goodbye to our family. It was especially sad for us to leave behind our son, Christian, who just turned 18 in July, because he will be joining his brother, Teyler (21 years old), at Westmont College in a couple of weeks. Below are some pictures of the goodbyes which probably speak louder than any explanation.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Ticking of the Clock

Without a doubt, I think the hardest part about being a missionary is being separated from family and dear friends. Don’t get me wrong; certainly there are other factors that are challenging. Different foods, different bugs (and many more of them I might add), different weather, and a different culture, just to name a few. Regardless, these challenges pale compared to the pain of residing 6000 miles away from those dearest to one’s heart. Recently, I have heard the incessant ticking of the clock: eight days or 192 hours, seven days, or 168 hours, etc. before Departure Day, aka D-Day. Enjoying the company of extended family, I will suddenly feel my heart seize up and the ache of a broken heart—the realization that I will lose this easy camaraderie in a matter of hours. My eyes swell with tears and our boys (18 and 21) laugh and roll their eyes and our girls (9 and 12) snuggle closer. I envy the boys’ ability to compartmentalize the impending pain of D-Day. I suppose when I was their age I could have done the same. And yet, I notice that they clear their calendars so that our last few days here can be spent together. I observe the cuddling and vying for “who gets to sit by brother” when it’s time to be seated. Clearly, they too hear the incessant ticking of the clock. Although I’m dreading D-Day, I’m also looking forward to being back on Guam and continuing our work there. I’m anxious to look into the gold-studded smiles of our students. I’m eager to hear the melodious singing coming from the dorm rooms, and I can hardly wait to pour my heart into what I teach in the classroom. One thing that is constant through all the changes our family has encountered in the last few years, is God’s faithfulness. He is truly faithful, and despite the pain of having to say goodbye, I am truly grateful for the privilege and joy of working in Micronesia. "Let them give glory to the Lord and proclaim his praise in the islands" (Isaiah 42.12).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Goodbyes Arrive

It had to begin sometime. We can't say that we didn't know it was coming, but sooner than we were prepared for, it arrived. We have now begun the first in a long series of goodbyes. After one last trip down to the southern part of this long state, the time arrived when we had to say our first goodbyes before heading north, only to eventually head 6000 miles west. We had a great time with Eric's brother and his family - their girls and our girls are close in age - but all good things must come to an end, or so they say. I suppose that this farewell allowed us some grace to ease into the goodbyes still to come, parents, more siblings and cousins, and most to be dreaded, our sons. This time, we return to Guam with only half our kids - Christian now stays behind to begin his college journey and that walk down the road to complete independence. Fortunately, we've still got three weeks before the tears will flow. But, of course, even more fortunately, separation is only temporary. One of CS Lewis' friends recalled saying goodbye to Lewis. Of course, Lewis straightened him out: "'At all events,' he said with a cheerful grin, 'We'll certainly meet again, here - or there.' Then it was time to go . . . . When he reached the pavement on the other side, he turned round as though he knew somehow that I would still be there . . . Then he raised his voice in a great roar that easily overcame the noise of the cars and buses. Heads turned and at least one car swerved. 'Besides,' he bellowed with a great grin, 'Christians NEVER say goodbye!'" And all of God's people said . . . .

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Beautiful Fall River Mills

Please enjoy this slideshow featuring photos by Bill Myers, pastor of Glenburn Community Church in McArthur, CA. Bill is both a great guy and a very gifted photographer (yes, folks, this really is California).

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Vision of God's Beauty


As we climbed higher in elevation, the trees became more dense and stood tall and proud, like sentinels guarding the entrance into Shasta county. Occasionally we were delighted by the snow-covered tops of majestic mountains proudly calling attention to their superior height among their Sierra-Nevada neighbors. Our drive was at times slowed by a logging truck or an alfalfa-hauling flat-bed, two primary exports of the area. This caused us no particular irritation because this elongated our opportunity to soak in the picturesque landscape. Although like Micronesia, this area was sparsely populated, the comparison ended here. We couldn't help but imagine how our students' eyes would bulge in amazement at the vast amount of open space and seemingly endless miles of land. Ultimately, we were greeted by a valley situated at 3500 feet. Wild rice paddies, acres of alfalfa, strawberry patches, and fields of mint presented a mosaic of verdant hues abutting one another in no discernible pattern. Nestled in the midst of this sat a steepled country church ministering to the Fall River Valley community of 3500 people. It was to this location, located six hours north of the San Francisco Bay Area, and two hours south of the Oregon border, that we traversed to share the work God is doing in distant Micronesia. The parishioners were extremely friendly and eager to meet the missionaries they have been praying for the last two years and we were enthusiastic to meet those who had been praying! After we both shared in the Sunday school class and Eric preached at The Glenburn Community Church, several of us went to the Fall River Hotel (built in 1935) for lunch. After sharing and dining on dishes flavored with wild rice (a main crop in this wet part of California), we toured the picturesque countryside and loaded our memory card. Beyond rejoicing in the beauty of God's physical creation, however, we rejoiced in the ministry partners He has raised up all over the globe. Our deepest thanks go to Rev. Bill and Shelly Myers, old college friends, who treated us like royalty and provided us much-needed relaxation and meaningful conversation. They are a picture of something as beautiful as the landscape: faithful servants and cherished partners in ministry. (Our next blog will feature some of Bill's award-winning photography).


Friday, June 26, 2009

Church Connections

It's been both fun and busy being in a different church every Sunday, along with various other events mid-week. We've enjoyed preaching at two of our partner churches since our arrival in California, and it's been a joy to catch up with ministry friends. Here's a picture of us with Shawn and Patty Robinson, pastors of Clayton Community Church. Eric, Shawn, and a third pastor, Mike McCoy, prayed together every Thursday morning for nearly ten years. What a great time catching up and hearing the great things Clayton Community is experiencing. Two full services and a massive building project made us feel extra special when Shawn announced that amid all their important projects we've been added on as regular mission partners!
Last Sunday found us on the other side of the bay preaching two (three?) services at Central Peninsula Church. I guess we're a little unsure if Eric preached two or three services because a video of the first 9:00 sermon (see picture) was rushed to their satellite church in Milbrae for their 11:00 service (filled with another 400-600 people)! CPC is one of those thriving congregations, reaching some 1,600 each Sunday between their two sites, and they are praying about adding another. Again, we are humbled to be mission partners with CPC as well. We even took a picture of us in front of their mission partners display.
It's been a thrill to have lots of opportunities to share our work with God's people, and a tremendous joy to watch as people respond with enthusiasm and support. Among other things, it reminds us of just what a privilege we have serving in Micronesia. Thanks to all of our supporting churches and individuals (who together represent dozens of other churches!).

Monday, June 22, 2009

Reunited!

It took a couple of weeks, but finally we were reunited June 10 with our numero uno, Teyler! What a great joy to see him. 6000 miles of ocean separating us makes these occasions very special. Because of his continuing work as pastor for 5th and 6th graders at Ocean Hills Covenant Church in Santa Barbara, Teyler remains there this summer (some 200 miles south). We all yelled and squeezed when we saw each other, and Teyler's little sisters barely let go of him until we headed back north. This is to say nothing of our joy at seeing Eric's parents and his brother and family. We were also able to see Westmont College (the first time for Karyn and soon-to-be freshmen, Christian). To Eric, the landscape was vastly different since he last saw the campus before the two infamous fires ripped through the mountains over the past year. Nevertheless, Spring has brought new life, and the army of construction workers were busy making the campus better than ever. Lots of laughing, football in the park, surfing, and boulder scrambling made our time in Santa Barbara a blast. It was then off to Pasadena where Eric was finally awarded his Doctor of Ministry degree (notice the doctoral stripes on the arm of the robe!).
The picture is of Eric with his doctoral supervisor, Jim Bradley, Geoffrey Bromiley Senior Professor of Church History at Fuller Theological Seminary. It was a great moment, even though the commencement service was anything but a moment, as nearly 500 people received seminary degrees of one form or another. The quiet drive back to Castro Valley was sweetened by the time we shared together and the promise that Teyler will be heading our way in a little more than a week. Besides, there will be one more trip south before the big one back to the far side of the world on August 12.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Off . . . And Speaking

Just emerging from the fog of jet-lag, the speaking tour began. On our first Sunday, Eric preached at Foothill Covenant in Los Altos; on Wednesday, Karyn spoke at a women's luncheon at Neighborhood Church in Castro Valley, and both shared with a small group from First Covenant Church in Oakland that same night (lower picture). Needless to say, we've been busy!
We sincerely appreciate the opportunities to share our work in Guam at PIU, and cherish the relationships we've been able to re-kindle back in the Golden State. We also cherish your on-going support in prayer as we continue to maneuver through the State. This Sunday, Eric preaches at Clayton Community Church, and then we're off to finally see our son in Santa Barbara, Eric's parents in San Luis Obispo, a
nd Eric's brother's family in Santa Barbara. There's not been much rest!
Oh yeah, about the rest of the family. Christian isn't around much since he spends most of his time running from cousin-to-cousin's house and then off catching up with old friends. In the meantime, we managed to corral him to help us do some work on our house. The girls spend their day with their baby goat, Napoleon, and the afternoon with their cousin, Austin. They are having a ball!

Friday, May 29, 2009

We've Arrived: Jetlagged and Cold!

It really was a long and brutal flight. We left Guam at 4.20 a.m., went straight to Japan, waited nine hours before boarding a plane for LA, extracted all of our luggage, went through customs, and boarded another plane bound for SFO. A total of some 20 hours in travel time. Frankly, it was no fun. Since we had not slept before leaving Guam, we were (and are) exhausted. Initially intending to take a side tour of Tokyo, we instead found a set of benches in the terminal and crashed. Fortunately, the adrenaline kicked in on arrival, and we managed to celebrate with most of Karyn's side of the family, and even took in her nephew's winning playoff baseball game. What's the one thing we've noticed most? The cold! Even though it was probably in the 80s yesterday, the air sent a constant chill up our Micronesian-acclimatized spines. Even now, I type this wrapped up like a winter bunny. But, the good news is, we're here, and looking forward to filling you in on all our adventures.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Creating More Alumni

We did it again! We created more Alumni this year and celebrated the feat at our commencement exercises on May 12. Instead of the usual outside event, we gathered at Faith Presbyterian Reformed Church a few miles from our campus. Sixteen graduates, several of whom in abstentia, were conferred with the Bachelor of Arts Degree in Biblical Studies (save for one who took the A.A.). As Chief Nakamura, former president of Palau, congratulated and challenged them, I found myself imagining the almost endless opportunities these students have to impact the Pacific Rim far more than I could ever dream of doing as a white westerner. Needless to say, with cameras flashing, each member of the staff and faculty swelled with pride.

Take a look at the pictures. Because of people
like you investing in the lives of these promising young men and women, they are now equipped to have a real impact on a world that is desperately in need of the good news they bear. Without the resources to pursue an education on their own, your support enables their success and joins you to the incredible things God is going to do in this part of the world. So, congratulations to our graduates, thanks to you, and praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fried Snake Darkens the Island

Over the past week we have had the joy of losing our electricity at least once a day. There is no connection between the times of day or even the weather. We may first see the lights dim or have no warning before the computer screen vanishes in front of our eyes (reminds me, hit "save now"). Usually, it doesn't last long. Most of the time we barely even get two candles lit before we hear the beep of the microwave and we're lit up again. We rarely speculate anymore about why we lose power. After noticing the frightening condition of the power line in the picture at right, we just stopped wondering. However, several times people have mentioned to us that an errant snake is sometimes the culprit. Slithering along, apparently an unwitting serpent will occasionally huddle up inside a power transformer, light up, and instantly become fried snake a la carte.

After a recent power outage, Noelle joked about a snake probably causing the nuisance, and Eric commented that it must have been a short snake because the outage didn't last but ten minutes. Then the newspaper came: "Snake Knocks Out Power in Villages." "A brown tree snake [see his attractive portrait at left] caused a ten-minute power outage in several parts of the island Saturday night . . . the snake hit a power line at the Harmon substation, causing outages in parts of Dededo, [and] part of Macheche [our neighborhood] . . . The outage also interrupted the 'Gary V: Live at 25' concert at the University of Guam field house."

"There might be a theological thesis here," Eric ruminates. "A snake initiated the first fall into sin, and evidence suggests that snakes still
spark all sorts of mischief. Oh well, I already finished my dissertation; I'll let someone else tackle that."

Friday, May 1, 2009

Annual PIBC Days

What will we call this event next year when we are Pacific Islands University? Oh well, we'll worry about that next year! For now, enjoy some slides from the recent fun, games, and fellowship time enjoyed at our annual all-school event just before Easter break. Each student and staff is assigned to a team and we compete, Micronesian style (which means we actually help each other succeed). Kick back and enjoy - the Sorensons kind of stick out, so you might notice us!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Gutter Ball Rejoicing

On Saturday, our family went with our PIBC staff/student fellowship group to Andersen Air Force Base for some bowling. We're fortunate because one of the men in our group is retired military so he can get us onto the base. We were disappointed that only three students in our group decided to join in the fun; regardless, we had a blast. Bowling definitely brought out some cultural differences.

Lane One: Comprised of our family: Mother, Father, Christian (17), Katie (12), and Noelle (9). Whenever a ball went into the gutter or only knocked over a few pins, Mother or Father would immediately offer advice and instruction on the proper techniques of bowling and how one might improve the next frame. When most pins were knocked over, you would have heard much praise and encouragement from Mom and Dad. When there was a spare or a strike you would have heard great rejoicing in a manner that would have been approved by Miss Manners. And finally, there was careful attention paid to keeping accurate scores and a definite desire among all participants to know one's score. At the end of the first game, the Sorensons all wanted to play another game to improve on the score in the first game and to compete for the highest score in the second round!

Lane Two: Comprised of three Micronesian students who had only been bowling a couple of times in their lives. (There are no bowling alleys on their islands.) Immediately you would have noticed a most unique way one student had of releasing the ball--sort of a two handed throw (perhaps this was due to her insistence on using a 14 pound ball!) Then you would observe the incredible hoots of laughter and glee when the bowl rolled into the gutter. These hoots, which shook the building, would have definitely been frowned upon by Miss Manners. The level of excitement coming from these students soon resulted in several observers meandering over to observe the goings-on. I think there was more excitement and joy resulting from a gutter ball than a strike. Don't get me wrong, there was plenty of excitement when, to the students' great amazement, a strike was achieved; however, I really don't think the happiness resulting from a strike was any greater than the happiness resulting from a gutter ball. At one point, Karyn wandered over because she noticed that one student had been bowling multiple times in a row. When she asked about this, the response was, "Oh! Sometimes we bowl for each other" (this coming from the student with the lowest score). Often, each student would bowl three times in a row, then the next would do the same, and so-on. Clearly, there was no interest in competing as individuals since there was no real way of keeping score. As is typical in Micronesia, the group was more important than the individual. Without a doubt, the students truly enjoyed their experience of bowling; however, when asked if they wanted to play a second game, they opted for eating in the cafe instead. As unique as bowling is, food is the greatest form of pleasure for a Micronesian, any day!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Rain or Shine--There Will Be Umbrellas

So, we just returned from nine-year-old Noelle's soccer game where, again, I have come face-to-face with the differences between soccer games on Guam and soccer games in California. Here are a few:

In California, umbrellas come out when it's raining. In Guam, you see more umbrellas when it's blistering hot than when it's pouring rain. Today was one of those hot umbrella days. The sun was beating down and the humidity was high, so out came the row of umbrellas, which is to a Guam car what lipstick is to a woman's purse.

Of course, the umbrella does serve its designated purpose as well, because rain or shine, the game goes on. I suppose this is because Guam is a rain forest, so not much playing would be done if games were canceled due to rain. During one of Noelle's games, it was raining so hard that her shoes filled with water. We literally had to "empty" her shoes so she could continue playing. I was in hysterics on the sidelines, thinking of all the games in California that had been canceled because it was sprinkling. If those soccer moms could see me now!! :-)

The Chamorro (Guam natives) spectators are, by and large, very quiet compared to mainlanders. Last year, we had a scheduling conflict so we had Christian (age 17) deliver Noelle to her game and we arrived about thirty minutes later. As we approached the field, I was immediately surprised by all the "noise" coming from the sidelines. I could hear parents shouting, clapping, and cheering. I remember thinking, "Wow! That's kind of obnoxious!" About 15 minutes later I noticed a large number of haoles (caucasians) playing on the opposing team. It was then that I put two-and-two together and realized Noelle was playing one of the military base teams. How quickly I had grown accustomed to the more quiet and reserved spectating style of the Chamorros. (By the way, I'm sure Noelle's team parents have raised their eye brows more than once at the excited shouts coming from my direction!)

On Guam, all teams whose players are 14 and under play co-ed. The reason they are co-ed is that Guam
is too small to have enough kids to make up enough segregated teams. This I really dislike, especially as Noelle gets older. In some games, Noelle is not only nearly three years younger than other players, but the boys are nearly twice her size. This is certainly true in weight. Picture a quarterback trying to tackle a lineman or vice versa. This isn't only a problem with the opposing team, it also creates problems with one's own team because, obviously, there is a greater advantage to pass to the big "linebackers" (which are never girls). However, Noelle has had to learn to be assertive and to compete with very difficult odds which will strengthen her character.