Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Dog, a Bag, and an Acrobatic Gecko

Besides the video I posted two nights ago, it has been quite awhile since I last posted on this blog.  This is not for lack of desire, but a result of technical difficulties and the ubiquitous busyness that seems to daily consume me.  Sigh!  But, moving onto much more interesting things, I want to tell you about the second church service that Eric and I attended that first Sunday on Yap. 
This Yapese service was held in the beautiful open-sided church that sits on the hill overlooking the lagoon in Colonia, Yap.  I found it interesting that many of the men stood on the outside of the half walls surrounding the church.  Perhaps they were not regular church attendees but had heard there was a guest preacher that day.  Or, sadly, like many in Micronesia, perhaps they felt ashamed and not worthy to fully enter the church.  Regardless of the reasoning, the church was primarily filled with women. 

Eric was the guest preacher and was to deliver the message in English (not that he had any other option!) and Pren, a church elder, would translate into Yapese. Eric’s message was preceded by a cappella singing complete with the rich harmonies I so love in Micronesian singing.  Shoes off, it was soon time for Eric to deliver his message.  After a rough

start developing a rhythm between messenger and translator, a pattern eventually evolved and the Word of God was being effectively shared. If you’ve ever sat through a talk being simultaneously translated, you know the translation part is a little tedious if you speak the language of the primary speaker.  Thus, during the translation part of the message, my eyes began to wander around the room.  Intrigued, I watched a drama unfold on the wall behind Eric’s head.  Scurrying out from behind the large cross attached to the wall, a baby gecko attempted to catch an insect, when suddenly, a much larger green lizard, bolted out from behind the church flowers and hungrily grabbed 

the gecko by the tail.  The unfortunate gecko valiantly attempted escape, but was securely held in the death grip of the lizard’s jaws. The gecko became utterly still, and the lizard chomped further up on its tail.  Still, the gecko did not budge.  Once again, the lizard opened its jaws to engulf more gecko tail when suddenly the gecko pushed off from the wall, doing an amazing and beautiful back flip in the air, and landed squarely in the center of the altar.  I had to stifle the giggles as this Animal Planet drama unfolded behind Eric and Pren who were completely oblivious.
At the conclusion of the sermon, Eric returned to his seat, where a dog meandered up and snuggled at his shoeless feet; a clear indication of his approval of the sermon.  

As we shifted to make room for the dog, the elders fumbled about looking for the offering plates.  Oops!  Somehow the offering plates were inaccessible, so quickly a plastic bag was found as a substitute.  Seriously, this was an ugly plastic bag—the type of bag that would contain a loaf of bread!  No one minded.  No one was concerned.  Could you imagine the uproar this would create in a typical American church?!  The Yapese parishioners simply broke out in beautiful harmony as the bread bag made its way around the sanctuary.  I had to smile and thank God for the no frills, refreshing simplicity of worshiping Him in spirit and in truth.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Yap Outer Islander Worship Service

I have had nothing but trouble trying to upload this video of the outer island church service (described in my previous post) directly onto this blog.  I have finally resorted to putting it on YouTube.  You will find the URL below:

In the video, you can hear the parishioners singing in their native tongue and you can see the beautiful handmade lavalavas (woven skirts) worn by the women.  Additionally, you will notice the backs of some of the women who continue in the native tradition of going topless.  This is seen far more often once you leave Colonia, the capital of the state of Yap, where this was filmed. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

From the Land of Lavalavas

(Note:  Now that we are back in CA and have time and consistent/fast Internet access, we will post some stories and corresponding pictures depicting our time in Micronesia.  This post was written from Colonia, Yap, on March 25.)
This is the lagoon in Colonia, Yap.  The building in the background but nearly on the water (the left building in the center of the picture) is the youth center where many of the church events are held.  Up on the hill and slightly to the left with the steep tin roof is the Yap Evangelical Church.  PIUs teaching facility is the lime green building directly behind the youth building but up on the hill.  The mission house, where we were staying, is parallel to the teaching facility and off to the left.
In background is a close-up of the Yap Evangelical Church, the red building off to the left but closer to the water is the mission house (where we were staying), and along the water, the light blue building is the youth building (on the right is the house where the Pacific Mission Aviation pilot and his family live).
Awakening to the thick air ubiquitous to Micronesia, I quickly rose from my bed in the mission house and donned my Chuukese skirt and the coolest shirt I could find.  Today I would have the privilege of worshiping with four different people groups in one day.  How cool is that?!  

Knowing that Micronesian church services essentially never start on time, I leisurely munched on a banana out on the porch that sits on a hill overlooking the lagoon and buildings below.  The first service I would attend would be a service for "Outer Islanders."  Yap still operates with a caste system, and the women from the outer islands, considered low-caste, are required to wear a particular type of skirt in public.  These skirts are hand-made on looms. They are woven with thread not much thicker than the common thread we use for sewing in the States; so, you can imagine how many hours it takes to hand-weave a whole skirt out of such thin thread!  The wrap-around skirts, known as lavalavas, have a solid background with stripes of various widths and colors, and are often worn with no shirts (as you can see in the final picture).  

From my perch on the hillside, I could see individuals, couples and families arriving at the church.  Like the diversity and yet coordinated theme found in a quilt, each woman with her beautifully woven skirt purposefully headed for the church.  Within half an hour of the designated start time, rich, melodic singing filled the ocean breezes, and I quickly scurried down the hill to join in the worship of Jesus Christ, our shared God.  

After the singing, Pastor Asael began to preach in his native tongue, Chuukese.  This is not the language of the Outer Islanders, but sadly, there is no pastor for these people.  Pastor Asael came to Yap as a missionary from Chuuk because there were no Yapese nationals willing/qualified to pastor.  Fortunately, the Outer Islanders understand about 60% of what Pastor Asael says since their languages overlap to this extent.  As Pastor Asael fervently delivered the Word of God, I discreetly exited and headed back up the hill, where the Yapese Evangelical Church is located.  I'll write about that experience on my next blog!            

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Real Man's Retreat

    One of my (Eric's) responsibilities while in Yap has been to speak at the Yap Evangelical Church men's retreat. Quite simply, this was the most unique men's retreat I've ever been to. A picture tells a thousand words, or so they say. It's certainly true here. Thus, I've added several pictures of our retreat facility, what the Yapese refer to as a "Man's House." Let me describe it as you glance through the pictures. All over the islands of Yap are men's houses; at least one per village. They are what it sounds like: Gathering places for men . . . only! They are constructed on a base of limestone rocks that form a large rectangle, perhaps 10 feet by 30 feet (or more), with the foundation being about three feet off the ground. Atop the foundation is built the house itself, with milled local wood siding topped with a high-pitched roof made of bamboo and coconut leaves. The roofs are made so well they really do not leak, as we found out during Friday's rain. Around the long side of the walls are several small openings to crawl through to gain entry. The rocks that make up the inside floor are covered with slats of split bamboo, and the room is divided the long way by a long straight piece of tree trunk. That tree trunk forms the communal pillow as each man lines up side-by-side with feet facing out toward the wall, on either side of the tree trunk. It's really rugged and, well, very manly. So manly, in fact, that there are no chairs, just your rear-end and some really hard bamboo slats atop a thick bed of rocks. Okay, though it may have been quite manly, it also quite hurt! Sure, the islanders sat down quite comfortably, legs all wrapped up "Indian style." As for this man, I could barely stand it; the walls were wet from the rain, so I couldn't even find any back support! Three full days later, my other end is still sore. Apparently, one guy noticed my desperate wiggling and miserable attempts to shift my weight around, so, genuinely confused, he asked me what in the world was the matter. I don't think he really believed me when I explained that basically, I never sit on the floor. Okay, true confession: I didn't sleep in the men's house with the others. To my surprise, Pastor Asael (eh-sigh-il) told me there wasn't enough room, so I "had" to leave and sleep on a real pillow in the bungalow down the road. I didn't argue.
    Back to the man's house. On one side of the room sat a few Chuukese guys, men from the neighboring island state of Chuuk. To my right sat about twice as many Yapese guys, concentrating on their beetle-nut chewing as much as on me. In the middle sat the great American ghost who could not, for the life of him, sit still. Nevertheless, amidst all my shifting, I managed to lead these men through a study of the biblical view of marriage. What I said, however, was not nearly as fascinating as the sharing that they began with. Pastor Asael asked the men to share what marriage is like in their culture. Eventually, the otherwise shy Micronesians began to describe things like the intricate details of arranged marriages, the exchange of the traditional stone money, the tradition of the boy moving into a small hut on the property at about age 14 to become a man, and the house where women go and stay a few days each month to be cared for by the midwives. As I opened to Genesis and revealed how men and women were created equal before God, and how Ephesians 5 so clearly instructs men to love their wives, they began to identify the ways their own culture serves to devalue women. Without any prompting, they began to question the normal practice of women having to wait until the man has eaten to his heart's content before she gets anything that might be leftover. They wondered if the man walking way out in front of the woman, a "must" in their culture, actually serves to demean them. Quite frankly, we sat there (uncomfortably perhaps), pondering the incredible image of loving our wives the way Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5.25).
    Now, as people share during Karyn's conference on parenting and marriage, it is all the clearer what a tough challenge this represents to this culture where there is a very strong hierarchy established even along an ancient caste system. It's a culture where power counts for everything. It's also a culture where to upset the "apple cart" would have profound ramifications, so all convictions must be translated into action very carefully. At the end of the day (as my deriairre cried for mercy), we landed on Joshua 24.15: "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." We may not see whole cultures change in our lifetime, but all changes starts with me and my house.
    N.B. In case you wondered, Karyn and I are extremely cautious and highly sensitive to make sure we do not "tell" other cultures what's wrong with them. To be honest, we don't pretend to really know what's "wrong" with other cultures. The one thing we are certain about is that all cultures are extremely complex, mixed of "good" and "bad." In fact, partly to avoid "culture-ism" and to set the stage, I began our discussions by laying out a very critical overview of the devaluing of marriage in American culture.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Saga of Getting to Yap

     So, I suppose it's obvious that I didn't get a blog posted before heading to Yap. Some of you know what it's like making preparations for a three-week trip when you're leaving the kids at home. Well, that's what I've been up to. The good news is that I am officially in Yap State, the Federated States of Micronesia. Instead of repeating the interesting factoids about Yap, I will refer to the blog we posted on March 15, 2011, since it contains all of the necessary background information. It's called "The First 24 Hours on Yap."
     Let me simply begin by stating that getting here this time was nothing shy of a miracle. In fact, it really seemed like someone didn't want me here! Go figure. In a nutshell, here's the saga:
  • 6:00 a.m., March 16, I arrived at the Santa Barbara Airport (SBA) to catch my flight to Guam, and was told that my flight had been canceled and there were no other options available to get to Guam except to return on the 17th. 
  • 7:00 a.m., March 17 (next day), I arrived at SBA, caught my flight to Los Angeles (LAX) and missed the connecting flight by five minutes. The agent said, “Why was your flight late, it shows you left Santa Barbara ahead of schedule?!” No explanation was provided, but I was informed that once again, it would be impossible for me to reach Guam on that day; I would have to spend the night at a local hotel and leave on the 18th. I suggested they have me stay the night in Honolulu (1/3 of the way to Guam). 
  • 3:00 p.m. Boarded a plane in LAX, heading to Honolulu.  I was seated in a row with a couple who were inebriated, and an hour into the flight they became extremely belligerent.  They demanded more alcohol from the flight crew who were refusing to serve them. Infuriated, they yelled, cursed, threw a bottle, and, among other things, ripped up the in-flight magazine and threw it all over the floor. Five hours of intense conflict filled the flight, ending with police entering the plane and removing the unruly couple.
  • Upon arrival in Honolulu, it became painfully obvious that my luggage had been lost.  At 11:00 p.m. (3:00 a.m. PST), after 20 straight hours of either being in an airport or on a plane, I was too exhausted to continue the battle for my luggage.  So, with no change of clothes or toiletries, I left for the hotel.
  • Noon, March 18, still no luggage, I am praying that I will, in fact, be on the 2:25 plane for Guam.
  • 6:00 p.m., Guam time. I actually arrived, just about on time, but I had no idea if my luggage had caught up with me. As I held my breath at baggage pick-up, low and behold, it appeared before my sight-sore eyes. Finally, something had gone right!
With some smiley PIU students.
     The sad reality, however, is that by now I was three days late. The essential time I had carved out to spend with PIU's women's dean was now whittled down to a few hours. The leisurely hours I had set aside to hang out with the women students, now nearly shot. It was a grand reminder that, despite my well-laid plans, ultimately, I do not call the shots. Maybe someday I'll learn what that was all about.
     So it seemed as if I had just arrived when I found myself shuttling back to the airport to meet Eric for the 11.59 p.m. flight to tiny Yap (his trip to Guam was smooth as glass!). From here, everything flowed. Greeted with the traditional flower leis once in Yap, we were brought to the mission house by our wonderful friends and co-workers, Asael Ruda and family. If all goes as planned (!), we will dive right into a men's retreat, a full day of preaching, lots of fellowship and consulting, and then the big parenting and marriage conference. 
I even got to sing in chapel with Jaynee!


     At least I made it . . . with my luggage in tow. More to come.

Friday, February 17, 2012

About Time!

Well, my title is meant as a double entendre.  First, it is meant to express the fact that it is about time that we wrote another blog.  The last time we wrote was on November 18, 2011!!  Second, the frustration I face is about time, as in concerning time.  Since moving back to California, I feel like I am chasing the wind!  I am a whirling dervish, doing my work in Micronesia using technology (Skype, Internet, and telephone), researching potential interventions to lower abuse rates in Micronesia, running kids to school, choir, band performance or sports practices, and personally trying to make the HUGE adjustments to living stateside.  (This lifestyle being one of the adjustments--the fast pace, high stress environment.) Sitting contentedly on a bench with a student, looking at nothing in particular while the mosquitoes hungrily buzz about me, and feeling no compulsion to speak because just being together is enough, is a far and distant memory.  Taking the time to have relaxed conversations with friends I meet in the grocery store is another nearly forgotten concept.  Now I (and my friends) race through the shopping in an attempt to get to our next obligation on time.  Heaven forbid I should lose my calendar!  Each day is packed with multiple commitments and no future plans are ever made without consulting each family member's calendar!  Sigh.........  So, I actually am proud of my compulsive, rather perfectionistic self, for not keeping up with this blog.  There was a time I would not have allowed myself to make this healthy choice, but instead would have pushed myself to get it written, regardless of the negative impact it had on me or my family.  I suppose that this shift in values stems from my work in Micronesia.  It is no longer simply with intellectual assent that I can say that relationships are far more important than tasks.  I still have a long way to go to successfully live this out, but I am grateful that living in Micronesia has moved me closer to this beautiful truth.  I know Jesus had some thoughts on this too.  Remember his conversation with Mary and Martha?  So, I can't promise when I'll be writing another blog, but hopefully it will be before Eric and my upcoming trip to Yap.  In the meantime, in addition to the gazillion commitments on my calendar, I am busily trying to prepare a five-day conference on marriage and parenting that I'll be presenting while on that trip, and I'm trying to do it in a way that keeps what's most important at the fore:  God first, others second, and myself (and my tasks) last!