Tuesday, March 22, 2011

R & R Under the Sea

Yap:  March 16 & 17, 2011

Our working trip to Yap actually took place during Spring Break.  Since we were supposed to be off-work, we decided to take a couple of days to see just why this dot on the map is also one of the world's most sought after dive locations, a place that makes lots of people's "bucket list."  While it is true that 90% of dive tourists have no idea about the society beyond the walls of the dive resort, it is also true that 90% of the people living outside the dive resort have no idea exactly what lies underneath the water surrounding their island.  There is no way to describe it, so pictures will have to do.  By way of introduction, Yap is known for its Manta Rays, huge, graceful creatures flowing through the water without the slightest concern about the divers gawking at them as they glide by.  Spanning fourteen feet across in some cases, they stop in certain spots to let the little wrasse (fish) clean the accumulated plankton off their massive bodies.  Sometimes appearing in a line-up called a "Manta Train," they form an elaborate mating ritual as one-by-one, they float above diver's heads as if traveling through liquid space.  It is truly an amazing sight, but so was everything we share with you in the following slide show.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Yap: Making Connections

March 14, 2011
Tuesday was the day to put on my dive program coordinator's hat, and meet Yap's legendary Bill Acker. If it weren't for Bill, Yap would only be a tiny dot on an enlarged map of Micronesia (“tiny islands”). Bill came here in the seventies as a Peace Corps worker and couldn't get Yap about of his head. He returned here, and basically discovered the scuba industry, making Yap world famous for its manta rays (you also may have heard of Yap as the island of stone money, but that's another story). Bill was very open to our school's very unique dive-training program which is intended to certify dive masters who can get solid employment back in their home islands. We had a great chat. He introduced me to his dive shop manager, Jan, who along with everyone I've met among his 85 employees, is very interested in what we're doing. Bill would love to employ more Micronesian dive professionals.

Bill's Dive Resort

One doesn't always do things by appointment here, so after meeting Bill, we decided to try to find a woman who we heard was trying to find Karyn (few people seem to have phones). It seems that she dropped by the PIU teaching facility saying she heard there is a woman here who is a counselor and specializes in working with victims of sexual abuse. Her interest revolves around her work running a woman's center for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. In true island-style, no one seemed quite certain where the facility was located, until we were finally directed to a building that was surely the one. Surely it wasn't, but close! This was the building the women's center had originally planned on using but is now being used for a daycare. While Karyn was inside trying to get the location straightened out, she noticed an announcement instructing parents to make sure they get their kids immunized for mumps due to the recent outbreak (we forgot that mumps even existed!). A moment later, Karyn detected a little five-year-old Yapese boy watching her. He crept closer and closer and then gently put his little brown hand on her white leg as if overtaken by curiosity at how white skin must feel. Taking comfort from her mumps inoculation, Karyn reached out her hand so he could touch her; instead, he took her hand like they were going to take a walk together – too cute, just like the rest of the little ones staring at these strange white apparitions with wide brown eyes. By the way, later we finally found the woman's center . . . and it was closed. Not to worry, we've got a couple more days.

After a quick visit to the ESA restaurant to grab our once-a-day meal, I made my way back to the apartment, and Karyn went straight to the PIU teaching facility to use the internet.

For the next couple of hours I met with Liebenzell missionary and PIU board member Harold Gorges (PIU was originally founded by Liebenzell Germany). Harold is a wealth of information about Micronesia, where he has served since 1978, living in Yap the first 10 years. Like everywhere, I suppose, we are visiting a very unique culture, but I was stricken by how different it is from the other Micronesian islands. Westerners struggle to tell the difference between one Micronesian and another, thus falling prey to the assumption that they all share the same culture. Little could be further from the truth. Even here in tiny Yap, one group fails to understand another, exacerbated by the fact that they speak languages as different as English and Chinese. It is a culture that is private, patriarchal, and clan-driven, yet scarred by sky-rocketing substance abuse and suicide rates. To boot, this shame-based culture won't talk about its problems. Naturally, some of this characterizes the church, and therein dwells the problem. So, helping the church build the infrastructure I referred to in yesterday's entry is much easier said than done. Fortunately, as believers, we know there is hope!That evening we sat around a generous dinner table with Pastor Asael, his family (Chuukese), some leaders of the

Pastor Asael and Techimy

Yapese church, a German/Canadian couple volunteering in our teaching facility, Harold, and another visiting missionary from Liebenzell Germany. It was time to say goodbye to the latter, Armin, who had been with us at PIU, in Palau, and now in Yap. What a joy to later hear Pren, chairman of the Yapese Evangelical Church board, as he managed to balance sharing his testimony (in excellent English) with an ever-present wad of bright red betelnut in his mouth. He found Jesus (the other way around?) when he was told he might not make it through a serious surgery, so he had better make peace with his God. Pren had no God, but after reading a Gideon Bible and constantly bumping into Christians, he sneaked into church and discovered that God is named “Jesus.”


What wonderful fellowship we had that night across the cultural lines; another taste of heaven, where all God's people speaking languages from every people group, will join together in proclaiming Jesus as Lord.

One thing every missionary has the joy of experiencing: The presence of God's Spirit transcending every cultural divide!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reality Check: The Need is Great

March 14, 2011

Eric reports: It was time to get to work right away on Monday, so I shifted from my role as PIU seminary dean to PIU dive program coordinator. With Charity as our driver, we zipped over to the famous Manta Ray Resort, home of Yap Diver’s. Owner Bill Acker had showed significant interest in our program and a desire to employ more trained Micronesian divers. A friendly welcome resulted in a meeting scheduled for the following day. Check tomorrow’s blog for the results.

Common Sight

When we got home, we had a surprise visit. Let me back up. On Sunday night, after I preached at the English service, we had the privilege of meeting another bright PIU grad, Jonathan Tamag. Jonathan runs the hospital’s community counseling program, and is a young leader in the Yapese church. Although Karyn had been busily preparing to present a seminar to Jonathan’s counseling staff, just before we left Guam, we were told they wouldn’t be able to pull it off (Flexibility is the key word when working in Micronesia). Now it became obvious Jonathan still really wanted something presented, but wasn’t sure when or how, and that’s how it was left. On Monday afternoon, we received a rap on our apartment door and a greeting from Jonathan announcing he had brought his counselor’s with him! It was a classic moment to watch Karyn go into the fight or flight mode, thinking she was on the spot for a spontaneous counseling seminar. I could almost hear her thoughts: “First thing, put on longer, more culturally appropriate, pants (as she flew into the bedroom to change out of her shorts). Second, grab all your material, your computer, and look relaxed.” Actually, Jonathan was not asking for a spur-of-the-moment formal counseling seminar as much as he was looking for some casual consulting in the hopes of setting up something more formal for later in the week. However, what began as nothing more than a little Q & A, resulted in two hours of intensive consulting on issues far deeper than any two-hour conversation could address. Here was Karyn with two of Jonathan’s woefully under-trained, but deeply caring workers, grasping for a helping hand while daily facing issues of epidemic suicide in the midst of a culture that will not talk about it, the very thing essential to resolving it. Serious substance abuse issues coupled with domestic violence and child abuse puts these poorly equipped “front-line” workers at high risk of burn-out. While begging Karyn to return in May and teach a multiple-week intensive counseling seminar, for now, it was settled that she will spend Friday afternoon consulting at the hospital in an attempt to offer a little help and a dose of hope.
Karyn meeting with hospital counselors

After that eye-opening session, Charity decided to drive us up along the other side of Yap proper, which was nothing less than a succession of National Geographic scenes.

Men's House

Picture lush tropical foliage abutting crystalline seas dotted with an occasional large open-air palm-thatched “men’s house,” one for every village. Pulling up to a small tin-walled building with a single gas pump, we were thrilled to be greeted by Lydia, another PIU grad taking the afternoon shift at her family’s gas station ($4.70 per gallon, and the cheapest on Yap). Her ministry is actually teaching in the morning kindergarten program run by the Colonia Church, but like all Micronesians, she is part of the family unit, and does her part pumping gas while killing the time in-between customers sitting out back under the shade of their palm-covered shack.

Rushing back to the lower building for a board meeting of the Yap Evangelical Church, I slipped in just in the nick of time. Asael Ruda, head pastor, and Pren, board chair (and member of the PIU board), had asked me to come to share any insights and news from PIU. Now it was my turn to consult. Though the gospel arrived on Yap in 1959, the church still needs basic infrastructure, and the leaders feel the pressing concern to establish proper ordination procedures. Since long-time missionary to Micronesia, Harold Gorges was also in the meeting, both of us chimed in, and it was immediately decided that a seminar was needed to work on these issues. Just like the counselors in the hospital longing for some fundamental guidelines, so too is the church in Yap. “When can you come back?” It is our hope, that if the funds are available, we will both come back in May, Karyn to work with hospital counselors, and I with church leadership. Then, we’ll be off to the states to reconnect with supporting churches.

Yap Evangelical Church Sanctuary

 Yes, the need here is tremendous, a need I feel our unique school can help meet. Fortunately the need was not so overwhelming as to keep me from enjoying the fresh sashimi (raw yellow-fin tuna) just brought in and sliced up an hour before our meeting, along with the homemade donuts. Yes, I brought some sashimi up to Karyn who was busy preparing the first installation of our Yap blog at the PIU teaching facility—the only place we can get Internet access (albeit, very slow access)! Speaking of which, there’s more to come, so stay tuned!

Yap PIU Teaching Facility

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The First 24 Hours on Yap

March 13, 2011(middle of the night): Landing on Yap

As the plane slammed down on the tarmac (to the point that I was surprised the wheels could bear it) and immediately braked to the point that passengers were whip lashed forward, we knew we had arrived on Yap. Apparently, the runway is so short that the 737 is forced to take this drastic approach. As we exited the plane to walk across the runway, we noticed the lights flashing on an emergency vehicle. I joked that they anticipated a crash when they saw our abrupt landing, but sadly, I was later informed it was because a child in the “outer islands” had died and was being returned to Yap. Apparently, the very small child was flown to the Philippines in an attempt to secure medical treatment, but it was too late. As we went through customs, there was a Yapese young woman in traditional dress (bright colored grass skirt, no shirt) greeting each passenger with a lei. We were in the very back of the line which was moving very slowly. There was one line that was for locals that was soon empty. The customs official motioned for the next person to move to the “local” line. A man and I simultaneously moved to the free line. He kindly motioned me to continue and he remained in the “visitor” line. As Eric and I quickly made it through the “local” line, I realized that the leis were only given to those in the visitor line. Drat! I should have allowed the man to go first! “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Sigh . . . lesson learned! As we then waited for our luggage to be taken off the plane, I enviously eyed all the leis the guests were wearing, and tried not to stare at the men wearing “thus” (pronounced “thooz”, and
Thuw (thoo) and man's purse
 similar to what American Indians wore). Finally, luggage in tow, we meandered to the front of the air terminal, where we were greeted with beautiful flowered head leis by Pastor Ruda, his son, his daughter, and son-in-law (all graduates of PIU).

They kindly drove us the short distance to the apartment we were to stay in. I was surprised that once we arrived, even though it was about 1:00 a.m., Pastor Ruda didn’t quickly leave, though he had three church services to attend the following day. Instead, he sat down on the couch in our apartment and talked for about 30 minutes. It’s times like these that I am reminded of the stark differences between Micronesian and American culture. I’m sure Pastor Ruda was tired and concerned about all the tasks he needed to face in a matter of hours, but he was more concerned with “being” with us, people he didn’t even know. It took a while to fall asleep because of the heat, but as I eventually drifted off to sleep, I remembered I had forgotten my toothbrush……………..

March 13, 2011 (afternoon): In Search of a Toothbrush 
Once awake, I was on a mission to purchase a toothbrush and Eric recalled he had forgotten his contact lens solution. We began the short trek to a local market while I mumbled about the merits of topless dress given the extreme heat and humidity on Yap (Yes, unbelievable, it is hotter than Guam – we’re about 9 degrees north of the equator!). Searching the shelves I located a toothbrush, but certainly no contact lens solution. The proprietor had no idea what contact lenses were, let alone the solution. Eventually, we made our way to the ESA Hotel, which is owned by the parents of one of our students. We enjoyed delicious yellow fin tuna sandwiches, cabbage salad and papaya. We then dripped our way back to our accommodations and I checked to see if there was any way I could fit into the freezer. Just as we cooled off, it was time to head out and experience traditional Yap.

Yap has a cast system, and there are many social rules. One cannot simply enter a village on the island without permission from the chief or without an approved escort. Therefore, we were ecstatic when we were informed that a village on the south tip was going to present their local dance and Pastor Ruda offered to escort us. Upon our arrival, Pastor Ruda immediately tore a small limb off a tree to hold in his hand. It was then that I noticed that everyone who was not from the village was either holding a “men’s purse” (see picture) or a small leafy limb. Apparently, it is

Men's Purse
 rude to come into someone’s village without leaves or a special purse in your hand; in fact, visitors have to hold the little sapling with the broken-off part pointed forward. The dance was held in front of the men’s house (a place where village MEN gather), and was performed by the men of the

village. Interestingly, at one point, a large group of women bearing gifts circled the men multiple times, leaving gifts beside each performer. The most common gifts were beer and hard liquor. There were also gifts of candy, crackers, and homemade rolls. Some of the women even approached me and gave me a “lei” of homemade rolls and donuts. 

Notice the roll/donut lei
  Later Eric and I were both given leis for our heads and when I asked why us, it was suggested that because Pastor Ruda is considered high cast, the villagers were honoring his guests.

 March 13, 2011 (Evening): Preaching to Dogs

Sadly, Pastor Ruda is the only Protestant, full-time pastor on Yap. He pastors three churches and helps out in two others. Pastor Ruda, who is actually Chuukese, came to Yap as a missionary in 1989. He is from the outer islands of Chuuk, and his language is similar to the outer islanders of Yap—about 60% overlap. However, his language is COMPLETELY dissimilar to the main language of Yap, and he has no ability to speak the main language. Therefore, he preaches for four very distinct congregations: 1) Two Yapese congregations where someone translates his sermon into the main Yapese language. 2) An outer island Yapese congregation wherein he speaks Chuukese and the parishioners understand 60% of what he says. 3) A Palauan congregation where someone translates his sermon into Palauan. 4) A Yapese, English-speaking congregation. It is this fourth group to which Eric was asked to speak. As we gathered, mats were placed on the concrete floor for people to sit (as is traditional). To my relief, they also brought in some chairs. No sooner had the singing begun, than a stray dog entered and made itself comfortable on one of the mats. Apparently, the mongrel is a regular at this evening service! It was a joy to watch as PIU students led the singing, helped with the children, organized the service, etc. Then, as Charity drove us home, we passed a lit up building and we were surprised to see Mac, another PIU graduate, leading a Bible study. Charity informed us that Mac is the first missionary sent from Palau to work in Yap. As we lay down to sleep that night, Eric and I reflected on the joy that we both felt at being involved at PIU because we were witnessing, first-hand, the impact PIU is having throughout Micronesia.