Rangers Lead The Way! – Pointe Du Hoc

June 6, 2014 – Remembering the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

This post was originally published in 2011 after our trip to Normandy.

Rangers Lead The Way!

Pointe Du Hoc

The Pointe

Pointe Du Hoc is an amazing piece of shoreline. Translated “Hook Point”, this anvil shaped rock outcropping juts into the English Channel giving it an unmistakable profile. The cliffs of this legendary site are situated between Utah and Omaha Beach, making it an ideal strategic location for Germany to defend the occupied French coastline during World War II. From a distance, its rugged beauty conceals the horror and destruction of the D-Day invasion in June of 1944. A closer look reveals a crater laden landscape, now deceptively covered in green grass.

The twisted remains of concrete fortifications remain as they were after allied bombers obliterated the area, preparing the way for the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion.  The Ranger Monument on the site consists of a gray granite pillar  meant to symbolize the knives used by Rangers to pull themselves to the top of the cliffs. There are two inscribed tablets at its base on either side. It was erected by the French to honor those men who successfully seized the cliff top from the Germans, preventing artillery fire on American troops landing on Omaha Beach. Tourists, many of whom are veterans, roam the site in quiet contemplation. Children play in the craters and climb atop the rubble. High school students mill about, laughing and talking with one another. I think they are oblivious to the meaning of their field trip. Perhaps one day, what happened to me will happen to them. Their life experiences will begin to catch up with what they’ve learned in books. Freedom will take on new significance.

It is truly breathtaking to stand on the edge of these sheer cliffs overlooking the sea. As I looked down on the roiling surf, I could only imagine how terrifying it must have been for Rangers as they approached in landing craft, looking straight up towards their objective 150 ft. above them. I could not conceive how any soldier overcame the terrifying reality that lay before them on that day. How does one summon the courage to do impossible things? Rangers in particular are possessed with a healthy dose of confident invincibility. I know this to be true. But even the Ranger will come face to face with human limitation as these men did on D-Day. I think for some soldiers the courage to do impossible things comes when all regard for self-preservation is exchanged for something else, confidence in a God who loves them and has already secured their fate.

Dedication to the 2nd Ranger Battalion

The Ranger

The origins of the Army Ranger are found in the settlement and defense of the Americas in the 1600’s. This new, rugged terrain and the unconventional “raiding” tactics of the Native American required adaptations in traditional fighting strategies. Using their foe as the example, settlers began to rely on stealth and reconnaissance carried out by small groups of fleet-footed men with the ability to survive in the wild. These men and their methods became more effective than traditional European tactics. Reports from the roving bands often included phrases like, “this day, ranged 9 miles”. Thus, the term Ranger was born. Ranger units continued to be an important facet of defense in the New World, participating in all major conflicts from the Revolutionary War until the present day. The modern-day concept of the Army Ranger took shape during World War II. In 1943, the U.S. Army realized the need for a different kind of soldier in efforts to bring down the German war machine. Inspired by British commandos, the army set about developing a recruitment program in the United States. 500 of the best of the best were chosen from over 2,000 men who applied for the opportunity to become part of this elite force. The results produced the first battalions of Army Rangers to serve in the European theatre.

Under the command of a Texan, Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder, members of the 2nd Ranger Battalion trained first in Tennessee, then on the Isle of Wight for perhaps the most dangerous mission of Operation Overlord and the D-Day invasion– the taking of Pointe Du Hoc. Their actions on that day are a testament to their bravery and perseverance in the face of incredible odds and high casualties. When most would have given up, they doggedly kept looking for opportunities to complete their mission. The same was true on Omaha Beach, where the remainder of the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions cut the German line, allowing the army to move in. Colonel Max F. Schneider’s yell, “Rangers lead the way!” as troops advanced on Omaha Beach has become the Ranger motto. Today they remain an elite fighting force, tasked with some of the most difficult missions around the world.

Army Rangers have an internal fortitude, drive, and ability to overcome and survive that I can only describe as unnatural. Trained to think, act and execute as a team, they embody sacrificial service for our nation and they would most certainly, willingly lay down their life for a friend.

The Mission

When Omar Bradley first tapped Rudder to lead the mission on Pointe Du Hoc, it was January, 1944. The scope of what he was being asked to do led Rudder to think that Bradley must have been joking. I suppose Rudder did some serious introspection when he realized the Bradley was intent on carrying out this dare-devil mission. The commanding general of the 1st U.S. Army was asking him to take three companies of men, approach from the sea, scale the cliffs while under fire and destroy six captured French guns being used by the Germans to fire on U.S. landing troops. Then they were to continue inland, setting up a roadblock along the beach roads. Bradley said this of Rudder:

“No soldier in my command has ever been wished a more difficult task than…Rudder.”

When Operation Overlord commenced, Rangers approached the cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc on landing craft equipped with grapnel firing rocket guns used to secure ropes and rope ladders to the cliff wall. Using accumulated bombardment debris, ropes and their own knives, the Rangers climbed in waves, swiftly scaling the cliffs. Casualties were high as they were under constant fire from Germans who held the high ground.. Only about 90 men survived out of the original landing party of 225. Those who remained were confronted with an unrecognizable landscape of bombed out destruction. Communications were disabled so Rudder was forced to send his radio man back down the cliff to get a message to headquarters. The words “Praise the Lord” signaled that Pointe Du Hoc had been secured.

Pointe Du Hoc secured (httpen.wikipedia.orgwikiFileNormandy4.jpg)

To their surprise, the 155m artillery guns they were supposed to destroy were nowhere to be found. Immediately patrols set out from the point to set up roadblocks and look for the guns. Two particularly savvy Rangers recognized cart tracks leading away from the Pointe and correctly figured they had found the path of the big guns. Unbeknownst to them, the Germans had moved the guns a mile away and camouflaged them in the hedgerows. In the article “Rangers take Pointe”, Lenoard Lomell and Jack Kuhn are interviewed on the events that took place that day. Lomell explains:

“The guns had to have been taken off the Pointe. We were looking for any kind of evidence we could find and it looked like there were some markings on the secondary road where it joined the main road. We decided to leapfrog. Jack covered me, and I went forward. When I got a few feet forward, I covered him. It was a sunken road with very high hedgerows with trees and bushes and stuff like that. It was wide enough to put a column of tanks in, and they would be well hidden. We didn’t see anybody, so we just took a chance, running as fast as we could, looking over the hedgerow. At least we had the protection of the high hedgerows. When it became my turn to look over, I said, “God, here they are!” They were in an orchard, camouflaged in among the trees.”

They destroyed the guns with thermite grenades. Despite the setbacks, high casualties and against incredible odds, all objectives for the mission at Pointe Du Hoc were met by the 3rd day of the D-Day invasion. Army Rangers continued to play a pivotal role throughout the remainder of the war in Europe and Pacific theatres.

I left Pointe Du Hoc thinking about all the Army Rangers I  know. I had a new respect and awareness for their courage, their skills and their sacrifice. So, here’s to the United States Army Ranger, whose actions around the world are rarely known or reported, whose valor and bravery rarely recognized, whose role in securing our freedom and safety rarely acknowledged.

“You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith, and belief; it was loyalty and love.” 

Ronald Reagan at Pointe Du Hoc on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. June 6, 1984

This essay is dedicated to the United States Army Rangers.
The Ranger Creed
Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger, fully knowing the hazards of my chosen profession, I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor, and high esprit de corps of my Ranger Regiment.
Acknowledging the fact that a Ranger is a more elite soldier who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea, or air, I accept the fact that as a Ranger my country expects me to move further, faster and fight harder than any other soldier.
Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be, one-hundred-percent and then some.
Gallantly will I show the world that I am a specially selected and well-trained soldier. My courtesy to superior officers, neatness of dress and care of equipment shall set the example for others to follow.
Energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. I shall defeat them on the field of battle for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.
Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission though I be the lone survivor.
—Ranger Handbook SH 21-76[1]
Posted in Devotional Essays | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Miles From Home On Memorial Day



My visit to the Port Moresby Bomana War Cemetery S. Ralston for http://www.texpatfaith.com

My friends and family are all together this weekend, observing Memorial Day in the U.S. It is on occasions like this one that I lament being so far away. Even so, I want to express my appreciation to all veterans and their families (especially those near and dear to my heart – you know who you are) and to acknowledge your losses.

As I thought about Memorial Day, I remembered that I live in a place that played a significant role in the Pacific during World War II. Back home in Texas, many would be hard pressed to find Papua New Guinea on a map, but I can always tell when I’m talking to a WWII veteran of the Pacific Campaign. Their age and that knowing look in their eye tell me I don’t have to explain to them where Papua New Guinea is or what all occurred here in the South Pacific.

So, here is a little history that connects me and my far away home, to my beloved veterans in the United States:

In May of 1942, Japanese forces were intercepted and defeated by American air and naval forces in the Coral Sea. What remained of the Japanese expedition returned to Rabaul where they decided to attack Port Moresby from Bougainville in the Solomon Islands. They held the base at Bougainville until Americans and Australians began the New Guinea Offensives towards the end of 1943. [1]

The offensives involved thousands of Australian troops in jungle warfare and succeeded in giving Douglas MacArthur a firm base in New Guinea to launch another campaign for the capture of the Philippines.[2]

Those who died in the fighting in Papua and Bougainville are buried in PORT MORESBY (BOMANA) WAR CEMETERY, their graves brought in by the Australian Army Graves Service from burial grounds in the areas where the fighting had taken place. The PORT MORESBY MEMORIAL stands behind the cemetery and commemorates almost 750 men of the Australian Army (including Papua and New Guinea local forces), the Australian Merchant Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force who lost their lives in the operations in Papua and who have no known graves.[3]

This post is dedicated to all those I know and love who have served in the United States Armed Forces. Your sacrifices and your personal losses are acknowledged and appreciated by me as I live freely on the other side of the world. I also want to express appreciation for those I’ve met here in PNG who have served in the Australian Defence Forces.

Oh, when we are journeying through the murky night
and the dark woods of affliction and sorrow,
it is something to find here and there a spray broken,
or a leafy stem bent down
with the tread of His foot and the brush of His hand as He passed;
and to remember that the path He trod He has hallowed,
and thus to find lingering fragrance and hidden strength
in the remembrance of Him
 as in all points tempted like as we are,
bearing grief for us, bearing grief with us, bearing grief like us.
 ~Alexander MacLaren

[1] http://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/2014300/PORT%20MORESBY%20(BOMANA)%20WAR%20CEMETERY
[2] https://www.awm.gov.au/wartime/23/new-guinea-offensive/
[3] http://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/2014300/PORT%20MORESBY%20(BOMANA)%20WAR%20CEMETERY
Posted in Blog Entries | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Adventures in Australia – The Sydney Harbour Scene

Before moving to this part of the world, I knew very little about Sydney, Australia. My knowledge was limited to the TV coverage of fireworks from the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge on New Year’s Eve – one of the first places the clock strikes midnight. And my parents had visited there, in their semi-retirement years. My only other experience was a one-night stay in early 2013, for the purpose of catching a connecting flight to Dallas the next day. During that short stay my husband and I had a memorable visit to The Wine Odyssey on Argyle St. in the historic Rocks section. We had so much fun choosing some Australian wines to ship to the U.S. for our daughter’s wedding. Australian personality even shows in their wine labels. The funniest one was Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch, a Fowles Wine Chardonnay that just kind of fit with the old world English feel of The Rocks and the light-hearted sassiness of the Australian people. Something about the ability of women to shoot their lunch also reminded me of Texas.

Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch! www.fowles.com

Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch!

In my naiveté, I always equated Australia with photos I’d seen of the dusty outback. Sydney’s Rocks section consists of narrow, stone laneways, brick and mortar buildings and wood beamed warehouses, built into the rock face overlooking the harbour. It’s not at all what I expected. Not surprising though, considering Sydney is the site of the first European settlement in Australia, the storied penal colony from Britain established in 1788. I found it interesting that the oldest building in Sydney is St. James Church, built entirely by convict labour from 1819 to 1824. It’s use for worship has been continuous since it’s completion.

I fell in love with Sydney and it’s people on that first visit. They are friendly, funny, and addicted to the outdoors. I think all the vitamin D makes them extra happy. So, I jumped at the chance to meet our youngest there for her spring break from university this year.

I booked us with points at the Sydney Harbour Marriott, Circular Quay. The Circular Quay is where all the action is for Sydney Harbour. (Quay is another word for wharf and it’s pronounced key, not qway. If you say it wrong you risk getting that “oh brother, she’s a tourist” look. You will get corrected and you might get teased.)

We couldn’t have been in a better location. A lot of fun was right within walking distance of our hotel. So after a monstrous Chicken Caesar Salad and an equally large pot of Earl Grey tea, my daughter was sufficiently recovered enough from her “Pacific Express” jet lag to go out and explore.

Didgeridoo busker on Circular Quay

Didgeridoo busker on Circular Quay. H. Ralston for http://www.texpatfaith.com

Circular Quay is a hub of lively activity. I think it is one of the busiest places I’ve ever seen. Shops and cafes line the promenade opposite the wharves. Ferries continually come and go, carrying commuters and tourists to their destinations. The sound of the Aboriginal didgeridoo’s, played by local buskers (street performers) attired in aboriginal dress and paint, resonates all along the promenade. It’s ethereal beat is a reminder that this place was once populated only by Australia’s indigenous peoples.

The iconic Sydney Opera House…shells reaching over the harbor

The iconic Sydney Opera House…shells reaching over the harbor. S. Ralston for http://www.texpatfaith.com


Cruise ships and ferries in the busy quay

Cruise ships and ferries in the busy quay. H. Ralston for http://www.texpatfaith.com

The iconic Sydney Opera House sits at the far eastern end; it’s shell form reaching out towards the water. The beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens sit on the hill behind the opera house, ideally situated for a panoramic view. The Museum of Contemporary Art is located on the western end of the quay; just near the Overseas Passenger Terminal that supports the many cruise liners that come in and out every day. And there’s the bridge, always in sight, soaring over the harbour a short distance away.

Coffee and seahorse chocolates…people watching on the promenade.

Coffee and seahorse chocolates…people watching on the promenade. S. Ralston for http://www.texpatfaith.com

Sydney Harbour and Circular Quay kept us thoroughly entertained during our stay. We spent many hours having coffee by the waterside, planning our days, watching ferries… and people, taking photos and just enjoying the incredible clear blue sky. It was our staging area for more adventurous pursuits in the days to come. And of course, our trip wouldn’t have been complete without a return visit to The Wine Odyssey, this time just for dinner.

My mother was in my thoughts as I wrote this…wishing she were still here so we could share our memories of Sydney together. Love you Mom.



Dinner at The Wine Odyssey - The Rocks

Dinner at The Wine Odyssey on The Rocks. S. Ralston for http://www.texpatfaith.com

Next…Manly Beach, and a peek at one of the locations for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby!

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flying Fears

Having one child still in college means a perfectly legitimate excuse for a spring break trip. This year we arranged for our youngest daughter to meet us in Sydney, Australia. She flew the 16-hour “Pacific Express” from Dallas to Sydney via Brisbane. It’s a long haul, but even so, she was ahead of us by a couple of hours. We followed behind her from Port Moresby to Cairns, Australia before journeying on to Sydney. Our flight from Port Moresby to Cairns was on a de Havilland Dash 8. I’ve flown the ‘ol Dash more in the last couple of years than in my whole lifetime before moving overseas. I used to avoid them like the plague because I was just convinced they would crash. But, flying has become so much a part of my life, so routine, that my fears have become nonexistent, well…almost.

It was Saturday, March 8th, notable because of my husband’s momentous birthday the day before – making him eligible for retirement. The date would take on much greater significance by day’s end, and I would revisit many of my flying fears.

Entering Australia from Papua New Guinea means passport control and customs. On the way down to Cairns, I passed the time reciting my passport number to my husband. I was determined to finally memorize it so I wouldn’t have to fumble with my passport, my reading glasses and the small print on the incoming passenger card. It’s infuriating for those of us in our 50’s with failing eyesight.

As we came through passport control, I noticed an extraordinary amount of staff on duty in the small airport. But Cairns is an international resort town with connecting flights to the rest of Australia so I didn’t think too much of it at first. But then I noticed that no one was being very friendly. ‘Where are all the tan, gregarious Australians?’ I thought. Where was my ‘Hello Love!’?  This time the agent who took my passenger card wasn’t smiling. In fact, she looked downright mean.

While my efforts to memorize my passport vitals were successful, I’d forgotten to actually write the info down on the card. I guess that sets off alarm bells. Still not smiling, the agent remarked that I had been remiss in my responsibility to properly fill out my card. She then motioned for me to step into “you are being punished for not writing down your passport number” lane. My bag and me were ushered off to the left where I was commanded to stand between two black lines and not to move. I was searched, sniffed by a sweet puppy trained to detect bombs and drugs, and swiped for explosive material. Thankfully I passed because, you know, I was pretty worried about it. I realize that being a middle-aged American woman makes me a prime suspect for all things deadly. My much more stern looking husband got no such treatment but of course, he remembered to fill out his card completely. I now know that being thorough on the passenger card is the number one sign for not being an international terrorist. He was waiting patiently for me at the exit. I met his quizzical look with a shrug as we proceeded into the arrival lobby.

The tiny lobby was filled with security. Australian police stood in groups of three, talking quietly and looking around. More customs agents and their dogs walked in and amongst all the passengers who had just arrived. “What in the world is going on?” I asked my husband.

Later that day we learned of Malaysian Airlines flight 370’s disappearance under mysterious circumstances. When we flew through Cairns, the news was still fresh and everyone was speculating about terrorism. No one knew then (and no one knows now) where the plane went or the fate of the mostly Chinese passengers on board.

I’ll never know if the unusual circumstances in Cairns were just routine tightened security or whether the plane’s disappearance made the atmosphere more tense in a town that hosts so many Chinese travelers. Whatever it was, it was definitely out of the ordinary.

I would continue to follow the story of MH370 in the coming days. It took on extra significance for me because my husband and I were meeting in Kuala Lumpur some weeks later and we were flying Malaysia Air. For the first time in many years, fears about my fate in flight resurfaced. Would I know if something were wrong with my plane or if I were about to lose consciousness? Would I notice an odd turn in our flight path? Would I start looking at the pilots and crew more intently for signs of distress? All things I haven’t given much thought in years.

Flying is a necessary part of the expat life and I accept the risks. But the frequency and the routineness of it all breeds over confidence. I’ve become much more concerned about my physical comfort than my physical safety, in spite of the real dangers that exist in the world today. Those dangers are the reason for the mean faces, the dogs and the attentiveness to the passenger cards. And though I find it annoying, those dangers are why I’ve been screened, searched, swiped, questioned, even yelled at, all over the world. I know I’m supposed to trust those procedures for my protection, but when my flying fears resurfaced I had to ask myself – Whom did I really trust? Did I still trust the God of my salvation with my fate and my eternal security no matter what may befall me? I found my reassurance in Psalm 91.

The one who lives under the protection of the Most High dwells in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”” (Psalm 91:1–2, HCSB)

Whether I survive or perish, I am the Lord’s…and I’m going to be just fine.

under the protection of the Most High Photo: Shirley Ralston

under the protection of the Most High
Photo: Shirley Ralston

Posted in Devotional Essays, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Stick With Me Baby, I’ll Take You Places


I’m back in Port Moresby after a month of traveling to Australia, the U.S. and Malaysia. My itinerary was governed by my daughter’s university spring break and a much-needed trip to the U.S. How I ended up in Malaysia is still kind of confounding…probably not the wisest decision but I’m glad I got to visit Kuala Lumpur. In 30 days time, my boarding passes looked like this: POM/CNS/SYD/DFW/HOU/BNA/HOU/DFW/BNE/SIG/KL/SIN/BNE/POM

That’s 26 take off and landings, over 60 hours in the air and over 30 hours waiting in airports. A traveling soul mate commented, “How did you let your husband talk you into that?” ‘Hmmm…yes’, I thought. ‘How did that happen exactly?’ “Stick with me baby, I’ll take you places”, he said. I fell for it. The lure of foreign lands and my adventurous spirit conspired against my better judgment. You could say it’s my idea of subduing the earth.

I get funny reactions from family and friends about my travels. Some wish they could go with me, others think I’ve lost it, and some just aren’t interested. But you can always tell when you are talking to someone who shares your same irresistible wanderlust. You can see that restless yearning for the faraway experience in their eye. My fellow expat traveling friends understand this very well.

Traveling is challenging. For example, I’m sure my current diet of lime Jell-O and soup broth are evidence of too much exposure to public bathrooms and too many people in tightly enclosed places. But, if you are willing to endure the challenges there is great reward. My latest journeys were exciting (an unforgettable bridge climb), poignant (MH370)  and comedic (language barriers), sometimes even infuriating (security). But its all become part of my life story that I look forward to passing on to my grandchildren and anyone else who’s willing to listen to me.

I hope my reflections will make you laugh and give you some things to ponder.

Posted in Blog Entries | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ephesus or Papua New Guinea ~ The Culture Clash of Acts 19

Tribal Mask

Tribal Mask of PNG ~ Shirley Ralston

Tribal Masks of PNG

Tribal Masks of PNG ~ Shirley Ralston

It’s a Saturday in Port Moresby and it’s a market day. I shop alongside other expatriate customers, slowly perusing the goods, looking for mementos of my time in the South Pacific. The vendors patiently endure the heat and humidity, gently fanning flies and swatting mosquitos. They smile eagerly, revealing teeth stained red from chewing betel nut. Tables are covered with hand carved bowls inlaid with mother-of-pearl, jewelry, and figures of crocodiles, turtles and pigs. On the ground are more sinister displays of bows, spears, axes and machetes. Encircling this eclectic mix of objects are vibrant paintings depicting local life, bilums unique to every village and beautiful hand-woven textiles. Amongst it all, it’s the tribal masks that draw my gaze. They are frightening but I stare anyway, enthralled by their ethereal appearance. I find myself wondering about their origin and use.

Bilums are unique to  every village ~ Shirley Ralston

Bilums are unique to the village where they are made

handpainted textiles at Ela Beach Market

Handpainted textiles at Ela Beach Market ~ Shirley Ralston

Crocs and such

Crocs and such ~ Shirley Ralston

more sinister displays

More sinister displays ~ Shirley Ralston

The markets are an important part of the economy, especially for the individual vendors. Artisans from the city and surrounding villages bring their wares to sell in one of several open-air venues around town. They are colorful events that provide an interesting glimpse into local life.

The arts and crafts are distinctly Papua New Guinean. Some are inspired by tribal culture and ancient religious practices. A long time missionary to Papua New Guinea explained to me that vendors often chant over the things they bring to market, hoping this will bring a good sale.  Some items may have been used to ward off evil spirits, for sorcery or for retaliation against enemies, even to catch more fish or bless a harvest. I heard a very wise local pastor give a warning to beware of purchases in the markets. “What may seem like an innocent souvenir to you, could have been used in cultic practice”, he said. Romans 1:23 comes to mind.

While the country is one of the most missionized places in the world, it is clear that implements of the past still hold sway in PNG culture. This syncretism creates tension between the teachings of Christ and age-old complex spiritual beliefs. Recently, a controversy erupted over the removal of tribal carvings in the Parliament building by a member of the government. Some see them as demonic, identifying Papua New Guinea with a past they no longer want to claim. Others feel they are part of the nation’s cultural heritage that must be preserved. A fractious debate has ensued over the integration of the country’s history and their Christian faith.

The similarity between what is happening in PNG and what occurred in Ephesus in Acts 19 is striking. Paul’s missionary journeys often ignited a cultural clash when he introduced the gospel message. Ephesus was no exception. His mere presence creates a disturbance and his testimony about Christ ripples through Ephesian culture, affecting their religion, politics, and the economy.

In Acts 19:15, evil spirits recognize Paul and the authority of Jesus, exposing the counterfeit exorcists trying to co-op Christ’s power. “The evil spirit answered them, “I know Jesus, and I recognize Paul—but who are you?”” I love the irony. Evil that is diametrically opposed to Christ actually reveals His authenticity. As a result, those who believed in Him set fire to their valuable sorcery scrolls (Acts 9:18-20), forsaking their lucrative economic livelihood. The conviction with which they abandon this pagan practice causes the word of the Lord to spread and grow.

Paul moves on to Jerusalem but the ripples of his revolution remain in Ephesus.

Demetrius, a silversmith and spokesman for the artisans of the temple, lodges a protest. His grounds? That Paul’s message has misled the people and interfered with their way of life. It’s interesting to look at the way he couches his argument:

Reconstruction of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

Reconstruction of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

  • “…“Men, you know that our prosperity is derived from this business. (Acts 19:25, HCSB)
  • “…Paul has persuaded and misled a considerable number of people by saying that gods made by hand are not gods!(Acts 19:26, HCSB)
  • “…So not only do we run a risk that our business may be discredited, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be despised and her magnificence come to the verge of ruin…” (Acts 19:27, HCSB)Paul’s teaching was a threat to everything they held near and dear – their livelihood, their beliefs and their identity. The lesson for us is clear. Belief in Christ creates tension because it challenges us to abandon our old life for a new one.

For many in Papua New Guinea, it is the challenge to abandon the counterfeit power of their pagan past, and take hold of the authentic power found in Christ. Should they preserve their cultural history? Absolutely, it is part of the powerful testimony of their road to freedom. This is true for every believer.

Dear friends, the world is full of “tribal masks” that draw our gaze from Christ. Are you hanging on to the counterfeit power of money, status, intellect, or a relationship? Maybe you struggle with misplaced spirituality. Can you put aside all superstition, notions of luck, or other belief systems that have control over your life? Are you careful about spurious doctrine that alludes to something more than Christ alone? In his book, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis says, “He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only.” It is good to remember that anything we put our faith in more than Christ can become an idol.

Posted in Devotional Essays | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Partnering for the People of the Pacific

We were in an unfamiliar part of town. Jeff had a map but our driver still wasn’t 100% sure of where we were going. He asked the driver, “What is the name of this road?” Uncertainty breeds nervousness in Port Moresby. No one wants to suddenly find themselves in a “no go” zone without a clear and fast exit route. We passed the Waigani Market and traffic slowed to a crawl. People flowed from the market into the street, weaving their way in front and behind the car. It felt ideal for a car jacking. As we inched past the market I spotted the Stop and Shop on the right and the fire station on the left. Both were landmarks on Jeff’s directions to our destination, the PNG Bible Translation Association. A few quick turns and we were safely inside the guarded compound.

Pacific Wa'a' welcome at PNG Bible Translation Association

Pacific Wa’a’ welcome at PNG Bible Translation Association

We were greeted by David Gela, the Executive Director of PNG BTA. A mutual friend from the close-knit global Christian community had put us in touch with one another. David graciously invited us to dinner and a meeting of the Pacific Wa’a Partnership. Pacific Wa’a is an association of ministries that works to further translation efforts in and around the Pacific Rim. Papua New Guinea has become ground zero for Bible translation in this region, due to the hundreds of different ethnic groups and languages present in the country.

A spread of local dishes awaited us. There were platters of roasted chicken and beef, steamed rice and local fruits. There were also several large, round bamboo steamers of mumu (food that is layered and cooked in earthen ovens). They were filled with kaukau, corn, pumpkin and kumu (a stalky vegetable similar to our southern collard greens), all of it wrapped in shiny banana leaves. The women who prepared the meal pulled back the leaves, releasing clouds of steam and uncovering piles of vegetables hidden inside. As a guest I was first in line and I tried not to let my self-consciousness show. I tentatively moved down the table, carefully selecting what I thought I could manage without seeming ungrateful. My body has taught me to be cautious of unfamiliar foods in PNG. The locals and the veteran missionaries showed no such tentativeness. They helped themselves to everything on the table with abandon. I watched as they stripped the leaves off the kumu with their teeth, leaving the stalk behind. ‘So that’s how you do it’, I thought. It was obvious everyone was happy to be blessed by such a feast.

There were people from all over the world at BTA that night, representing more than six different ministries that comprise the Pacific Wa’a Partnership. I found myself talking with Jean, a linguist from Virginia serving with SIL (Summer Institute for Linguistics). At dinner I sat next to Debbie and her husband Robbie, New Zealand missionaries who have served the Gulf Province for over 20 years. Across from me was Jonathan, a representative of The Seed Company from Dallas, Texas. All around us were young people serving with YWAM, who had traveled up by boat from Townsville, Australia. Our small world got smaller when we realized the YWAM leaders were Crystal and George Nita John, the daughter and son-in-law of our New Tribes Mission friends in Port Moresby – John and Linda Sutton.

Crystal and George Nita John with YWAM

Crystal and George Nita John with YWAM

After dinner several of the representatives shared their vision for what the group hopes to accomplish in the coming years. “Wa’a is the Hawaiian word for canoe—a symbol of journey”, Gela told us. “We’re on a journey together led and guided by the Holy Spirit towards the goal of seeing every language group in the Pacific have the Word of God in their own language.”

Vae Eli expresses his passion for Bible translation

Vae Eli expresses his passion for Bible translation

I was touched by the words of Vae Eli, a majestic Samoan “bear of a man”. In Polynesian fashion, he gestured eloquently with his hands as he spoke of his love for Papua New Guinea and the translation work to be done among the people here. Vae serves as one of the leaders of Youth With A Mission (YWAM) at the University of the Nations in Kona, Hawaii.

It was a privilege to be part of this gathering and to see so many people transcending culture and language for their shared goal. Translation efforts in individual people groups can take decades. Whether it is oral story telling, translation through symbols or the written word, they work with the urgency of Matthew 24:44, This is why you also must be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” They amaze me – these brave servants who have given their lives to vocational ministry. I am in awe of the task they have set before them. That night, I found a hidden gem of selfless service among the people of the Pacific Wa’a – one of the sweet rewards of the expatriate life as I look at the world through the eyes of my Christian faith.

Read more about The Pacific Wa’a Partnership and it’s participants:

A special thank you to Bob Black and David Gela for coming together to provide Jeff and I with the opportunity to fellowship with this amazing group.

Posted in Blog Entries | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Courage in Uncertainty

My family - PNG style

My family – PNG style

I’m back in Port Moresby after an extended holiday in Texas. Spending that time with my family and friends was really great. I have to admit I wasn’t too excited about my return to the South Pacific. In addition to missing the rest of the season of Downton Abbey and ALL of Sherlock, I was dreading the thirty plus hours of travel, jet lag induced insomnia (the devil’s playground), the sweltering heat and the inevitable loneliness. Navigating time zones, culture, laws, and especially safety issues also come with the territory when living here. This life requires courage and the acceptance of uncertainty. The re-entry problems that we expats face on a regular basis are challenging.

As providence would have it, my next research assignment upon my return was a passage from Acts 23.

The following night, the Lord stood by him and said, “Have courage! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”” (Acts 23:11, HCSB)

I found solace in Jesus’ words as I struggled with the anxiety of re-entering my Papua New Guinea environment. The life of Paul and his ability to adapt and persevere in daunting circumstances has many parallels to the expat life…really for everyone’s life. Here’s a few things I observed:

  • Paul conducted himself as a good citizen with a good conscience (23:1). These qualities gave his words weight when speaking to the people and the religious leaders in Jerusalem (23:3).
  • The honesty of his life and his testimony about Christ won him friends, and sometimes supporters from unlikely circles (23:9, 26-27).
  • He knew how to communicate and he strove to meet people where they were, in their own language (23:6) – to Romans in Greek (21:40), to Jews in Aramaic (22:2).
  • His used his training and he leaned on his experience. This gave him confidence in his convictions and the Lord’s guidance (23:6-8).
  • He was passionate and firm in his speech (23:1,3,5).
  • When he traveled, his testimony went with him. He trusted completely in the Lord. (23:11).

The events that landed Paul in the Antonia Fortress left him with an uncertain future. Christ came to stand by him and said just what he needed to hear, “take courage, you are going to Rome”. I too, hope for courage from the Lord in the face of uncertainty. I know He stands by me as well.

Lots of laughs and great fellowship

Lots of laughs and great fellowship with my home group

I was pleasantly surprised to find Port Moresby in the midst of the rainy season. It is cooler, overcast and breezy. Miraculously, my jet lag struggles have been minor. My sweet brothers and sisters in my home group and the companionship of my husband and friends have eased my loneliness and yes, I am very thankful for Skype. My study of Acts 23 has made me feel hopeful, even in the midst of uncertainty.

Benedict will just have to wait…but I do have all the seasons of Foyle’s War. 🙂

Posted in Devotional Essays | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paul the Expatriate

My research of the Acts of the Apostles for the last year and a half has given me new respect for the first century church. I’m continually amazed by the wisdom and practicality of the apostles and early believers as their newfound faith developed form and structure.

One of the most interesting and controversial figures in Acts is the Apostle Paul. In today’s vernacular, he was a hater, turned by the Lord himself on the road to Damascus. Paul became a living firebrand for the Christian faith. He was a traveler, an expatriate, and he took some legendary road trips. For that task, God equipped him with tremendous faith, wits, courage, and friends.

The marker in the Port of Paphos commemerating the arrival of St. Paul

The marker in the Port of Paphos commemorating the arrival of St. Paul

Reading about Paul’s journeys rekindled my memories of my own trip to one of his expat assignments, the island of Cyprus. Barnabas was from there (Acts 4:36), others too, including persecuted refugees who fled to Cyprus in the wake of Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 11:19-20; 21:16). Paul, Barnabas and John Mark traveled the island together from Salamis to Paphos (Acts 13:4-13), where the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus was converted. Barnabas and John Mark later returned to the island after parting ways with Paul (Acts 15:39). The evidence of their presence is still apparent in Cyprus culture. Archaeological remains speak of the influence of these early missionaries. The impact of their visits is a tribute to the power of gospel message. As I walked the old towns and explored the ancient ruins, I realized I was walking where Paul and Barnabas walked. I shared their view of the rugged coastline and the brilliant blue Mediterranean Sea.

The rugged Cyprus coastline

The rugged Cyprus coastline

From inside the tomb- The Tombs of the Kings

From inside a tomb at The Tombs of the Kings

My memories of my visit to Cyprus caused me to consider the parallels between these first missionaries and my own expatriate life.

Remains of the Gothic Church, Ayia Kyriaki Church - Paphos, Cyprus

Like them, I am a traveler, encountering strange cultures, other religions and different schools of thought. I too need my faith, wits, courage and community to navigate my way. Paul’s letters speak of his love and concern for the people he met and the relationships he forged during his journeys. We expatriates do the same thing. We meet, we get to know one another, we serve together, we move on but our relationships remain. Our bond is a special one, shared and understood in a special way.

I can also relate to the stresses they were under. Acts 15:39 speaks of a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas regarding whether or not John Mark should continue on as their traveling companion. Any married expatriate couple knows about the strain on relationships and the fortitude it takes to maintain a healthy one. Hashing things out, making difficult decisions and compromise are all part of the deal.

Paul faced many traveling hazards. He was shipwrecked, stranded, sick and often dependent on the kindness of others. He encountered legal problems and security issues. He was beaten and run out of town a number of times. As and expatriate living abroad, I identify with some of his struggles, but a reading of 2 Corinthians 11 makes me never want to complain about my own circumstances. Yet Paul never lost sight of what God had purposed him to do. He was resourceful and determined to overcome the obstacles he faced with a single-mindedness that I envy.

Paul’s tenacity encouraged me this week. The threat of protests loomed over Port Moresby and effectively (but unnecessarily) restricted my travel. I struggled to overcome some physical ailments. Calls from loved ones and photos on Facebook left me feeling homesick and discouraged. But in the midst of my isolation, I found solace in the camaraderie of the men and women that God has placed in my life. I am thankful for the group of faithful women who share this life with me, both in fellowship and in prayer. I am thankful for the voices of my home group lifted in praise and worship to the music of John Sutton’s guitar, for Linda Sutton’s comforting presence and her curious theological mind, and for the joyful disposition of Graham, the itinerant Australian pastor who visited our home on Tuesday night.

Paul and his companions did not know where the Lord would lead them next, they just knew that He would lead…and He would supply the means to go. I know the Lord who loves me will do the same on my behalf.

Acts 17: 24-29 – “The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Being God’s offspring then, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination.”

Posted in Devotional Essays | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cyprus Through My Eyes – Hannah Ralston

I love exploring bible lands. My research of the Acts of the Apostles rekindled my memories of our visit to  Cyprus. Next week I’ll tell you about what I saw but this week I thought it would be fun for you to see Cyprus through the eyes of a young, modern day traveler as we followed in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul. – Shirley

Cyprus coastline seen from the ruins of Kurion

Cyprus coastline seen from the ruins of Kurion

Cyprus is like the rougher, more rebellious sister of Greece.

March may not have been the ideal time to visit. But it was perfect for me. I don’t need bathing suit weather to have fun.

A good portion of winter’s sharpness remained in the winds that swept across the mountain that jutted out into the Mediterranean Sea. The island does not welcome you into its bosom with open arms promising sun, delicious food, and friendly people. Not to say Cyprus does not have all of these things. She merely invites you to explore her rougher facets first.

The cold air rubbed against my raw throat and stung my lungs. It blasted through my hair and cleared my eyes to the sight before me. I peddled even faster, not ever wanting the feeling to end. The setting sun sent brilliant streaks of gold, orange, and pink across the blue sky, setting the clouds ablaze as it sank slowly into the sea. The rosy glow settled on the small city of Paphos ahead of us, sending gold and pink reflections off the glass windows of the houses tiered against the old mountain. My family and I rode our bikes along the paved trail that extended along the shore of the Mediterranean from Paphos Harbor to our hotel. I felt a cold mist on my left cheek. I followed from whence it came, and saw another massive wave crash roughly into the porous, jagged rocks that separated us from the violent, icy ocean. I smelled the salt that was carried on the ocean mist. The pungent smell seemed to spur me further. Ignoring the burning in my thighs, I laughed and peddled faster. I had never felt so alive.

Biking on the promenade at sunset

Biking on the promenade at sunset

When I think of the week I spent in that country, two things stand out in my mind. The first is the woody sweetness of the delicious dried plums I made a habit of eating every morning, and the way I slept while I was there. I believe it was a combination of jetlag, the intense amount of physical activity that was contained in each day, and the immense volume of food I consumed per day. But sleeping in Cyprus was like falling into a deep trance. I liken it to a heavy rock being thrown into the center of a pond, and sinking rapidly to the bottom, not moving until someone comes to retrieve it in the morning.

My impressions of Cyprus that follow the initial two are many and vivid. The fierce wind, the rich, delicious food, the cobblestone street under my feet, the feel of my slick, wind-proof jacket, the way the white curtains floated in the breeze when the windows to our hotel room were opened, the cedar-like smell of the walls in the Elysium. I could go on.

Perhaps I will go back one day. Or maybe, I could just let my memories remain in my brain, undisturbed, like a pearl being held in a secret, velvet-lined box.

Hannah Ralston

Posted in Blog Entries | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment