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

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Rabaul Recess ~ Continued

Here is my continuing story of our trip to Mt. Tavurvur in Rabaul on the South Pacific island of New Britain.  See Part I.

Thankfully, our journey across the bay was smooth and uneventful. Skipper Chris rounded the point in view of “mother”, the largest and oldest cinder cone. She is currently dormant and deceptively green and majestic. The water grew warmer and warmer as we got closer. We pulled up onto the black sandy shore, it’s color a result of pulverized volcanic rock and ash. The base of Tavurvur bares the remnants of past eruptions and lava flows. They spread down to the beach in the form of black and gray jagged rock. I noted my running shoe clad feet in comparison to Paul’s bare ones. I heard my husband say, “Are you going up this mountain without shoes?” “Yes”, Paul said, smiling as he led the way. I envied his ease and agility as he scrambled up the base of the volcano, confidently choosing our path towards a low-lying steam vent. I had to carefully navigate my every footfall. Instinctively he would turn towards me and offer an assisting hand.

The Black Beach of Tavurvur

The Black Beach of Tavurvur

A "shoe-footed" ascent

A “shoe-footed” ascent

Before long we could hear hissing steam coming from the rocks that were turned yellow by the sulfur coming from deep below. The unmistakable smell of rotten eggs hung in the air. We stood and watched with fascination as the vent expelled steam from the side of the mountain. It was loud and it had a certain rhythm that made me wonder what type of force underneath the earth could possibly produce that kind of cadence.

High above us, the summit of Tavurvur continued to belch light gray ash. We ascended higher, drawn like Frodo and Sam to the top of Mt. Doom. Soon though, my legs told me it was time to turn around. Much to the chagrin of the men, we began our descent back down to the beach. I stopped often to assess the path in front of me, more treacherous now – the rocks were wet and slick.

Suddenly the ground began to rumble and shake beneath my feet. A loud explosion, like a cannon-shot, came from above. I turned and looked up to see Mt. Tavurvur ejecting massive boulders from her top. Thick black smoke and ash billowed into the sky.  ‘Wow. This is crazy. I’m going to get crushed by falling boulders’, I thought. ‘On a remote island in the Pacific…like maybe no one will ever even find me.’ I was thinking of Frodo and Sam again…happy I didn’t have a ring to destroy, but wishing a gigantic eagle would come pick me up. That would’ve been awesome. Lucky for us, the trajectory of the mountain’s caldera put us out of harm’s way.

The mountain rumbles

The mountain rumbles

She blows!

She blows!

From a safe distance, we watched Tavurvur angrily spew her insides for a couple of minutes before continuing our journey down. On the beach Chris was all smiles. “The mountain blew for you!” he said. I smiled at him. “Yes, it certainly did.”

We continued to be mesmerized by the volcano’s activity, past and present, as we toured the harbor. A Japanese stronghold during World War II, the harbor is littered with relics from the war, both above and below the water. It also bears the scars of the volcano’s destructive eruption in 1994. Evidence of a town quickly abandoned is everywhere. Particularly striking was the overgrown runway from the old airport, dramatically sheared off at the water’s edge. The Volcano Observatory sits high on a hill above the harbor, continually monitoring the mountain’s activity in case of the need for evacuation.

Remnants of war and eruptions

Remnants of war and eruptions

As we headed out of the harbor, past the Vulcan cinder cone and the distinctive Beehive remnant, I thought about the resiliency of the island’s inhabitants. They seem content to live near such potentially destructive power that could awaken at any moment. So unlike me, constantly assessing my risks.

Inhabitants of Rabaul fishing near the shores of Tavurvur

Inhabitants of Rabaul fishing near the shores of Tavurvur

The Beehives in Rabaul's Harbor

The Beehives in Rabaul’s Harbor

By the time we headed for home, it was late afternoon. The wind was stiff, which made for some very large swells and a very long trip. The little banana boat whacked its way back across the open water in a manner that scared the living daylights out of me. I was hanging on for dear life the entire time. My husband stood with his face in the wind, holding the rail on the side of the boat and loving every minute of it. I guess it’s true that opposites attract. What a day and what a once in a lifetime experience! As I stepped out of the boat onto dry land I looked at the dark gray muddy ash still on my shoes and remembered a couple of lines from my favorite movie:

Sam ~ “There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Tale by Bilbo Baggins, and The Lord of the Rings by Frodo Baggins. You finished it.”

Frodo ~ “Not quite. There’s room for a little more.”

The adventure continues!

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Rabaul Recess – Part One

Living on the Pacific Rim provides some awesome opportunities to feel the earth move. Well, maybe you wouldn’t think it was so awesome, but if you are a nerd like me it’s pretty cool. It’s a very real reminder of the power of God in creation. This whole region is active with tectonic movement and tremors and earthquakes are common. A couple of weeks ago my husband relayed to me what he described as “a very large person stomping down the hallway” at his office. Turns out it was a tremor. Just looking around at the landscape of Papua New Guinea provides plenty of visual evidence of volcanic activity as well.

We took advantage of a long weekend recently in order to experience some of this seismic activity up close, in Rabaul on PNG’s island of East New Britain. The 1 hour and 20 minute flight from Port Moresby is perfect for a weekend getaway. Flights depart on Friday afternoon and arrive in time for dinner and a spectacular sunset – thanks to the volcanic ash. Our accommodations were about 10 minutes from the airport near the town of Kokopo. We stayed at Rapopo Plantation, a place with that perfect, laid back, South Seas feel.

sunset in Rabaul

Sunset in Rabaul-Tavurvur in the distance

Rabaul is a popular destination for divers and snorkelers because of the incredible reefs that surround the island. But it also provides the rare opportunity to experience the Tavurvur cinder cone that is part of the Rabaul mother volcano and the Bismarck Arc. This family of volcanoes sits alongside the harbor in Blanche Bay. Tavurvur is extremely active and has proven to be quite dangerous. It, along with the Vulcan cinder cone, erupted in 1994, causing the evacuation of the town of Rabaul. Thankfully, due to early warning, there was no loss of life. The town has been rebuilt a safer distance away. But since the eruption of 1994, the cinder cone of Tavurvur inside the caldera has continually made it’s presence known. We booked our volcano walk and harbor tour through the full service dive shop on site where we were staying.

Chris, Paul and our banana boat

Chris, Paul and our banana boat

I admit, I am often guilty of suffering from American expectations and this time was no exception. When I saw the small banana boat we would be making our journey in moored along the beach I thought, ‘Really? Where’s the bathroom on that thing? What if I get seasick?’ I suddenly had misgivings about putting my life in the hands of two barefoot local guides in this dinky little boat. But, my desire to see an active volcano overcame my fear so I stepped in sat down and grabbed the edge of my seat. I looked at my husband and asked quietly, “Do you think there are any life jackets on board?” He shrugged…an unusual response for the safety sergeant I know him to be. Paul, our tour guide, must have sensed my anxiety because he stood up suddenly saying, “I now go over safety. There are life jackets in the hold, we have first aid kit, and there are drinks and snacks under your feet.”  I guess he thought that would make me feel better. I tried to ease my anxiety by telling myself that he and Chris, our skipper, had probably plied these waters their entire lives. If anyone had died on their watch I sure didn’t know it and well…ignorance is bliss, right? All the while I was mentally calculating how I was going to get that life jacket out the hold if necessary. Paul and Chris just smiled at me as they gently navigated past the reef and headed out across the open ocean towards the puffing mountain in the distance. My husband seemed unconcerned but I’m a real chicken at heart, and I was praying and hanging on tight.  

He looks at the earth, and it trembles; He touches the mountains, and they pour out smoke. I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God while I live.” (Psalm 104:32–33, HCSB)

More to come! Next – the climb!

 

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My Name is Pride

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time,” (1 Peter 5:6, HCSB)

Say what you will about the Internet, but I have to tell you I’d be lost without Skype. It makes my life in PNG seem a little less distant from my friends and family. Especially great is the ability for my daughter and I to do a bible study together, even though we are separated by thousands of miles. We’ve been studying from Beth Moore’s book, Praying God’s Word. The book addresses how every believer can confront the strongholds in their lives by praying through the scriptures. The strongholds covered in this book seem to be the ones most common to humankind, but there is one that is without question at the top of the list. – The sin of pride. I found one statement particularly honest and revealing, “Pride is self-absorption, whether we’re absorbed with how miserable we are or how wonderful we are.”[1]  How true! After reading the chapter on Pride, my daughter and I agreed we both have more issues than we were willing to admit. It is incredibly hard to focus away from self. I’ve found that it takes a definitive act of volition to view the world with me not at the center! Our natural tendency is to continually check ourselves out in the mirror, and if we don’t allow God’s humbling hand to turn our face away, it can have devastating consequences. I’d like to share some of Beth Moore’s prose with you today. I think you’ll find it a perfect description of the pitfalls of pride.

“My name is Pride. I am a cheater.

I cheat you of your God-given destiny…because you demand your own way.

I cheat you of contentment…because you ”deserve better than this.”

I cheat you of knowledge…because you already know it all.

I cheat you of healing…because you’re too full of me to forgive.

I cheat you of holiness…because you refuse to admit when you’re wrong.

I cheat you of vision…because you’d rather look in the mirror than out a window.

I cheat you of genuine friendship…because nobody’s going to know the real you.

I cheat you of love…because real romance demands sacrifice.

I cheat you of greatness in heaven…because you refuse to wash another’s feet on earth.

I cheat you of God’s glory…because I convince you to seek your own.

My name is Pride. I am a cheater.

You like me because you think I’m always looking out for you. Untrue.

I’m looking to make a fool of you.

God has so much for you, I admit, but don’t worry…

If you stick with me

You’ll never know.”[2]


[1] (Moore, 2009)

[2] (Moore, 2009)

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Worship – Papua New Guinea Style

When my husband and I moved to Papua New Guinea, our first priority was to find a church we could attend. For me, worship is the glue that holds my shifting expat life together. Worship steadies my soul when I’m changing time zones, suffering jet lag and navigating a new place to live. I find normalcy with the body of Christ in the midst of abnormal circumstances.

Based on my experience in Dubai, I thought it would be easy to find a church in Port Moresby. Dubai is a city governed by Islam and yet there were lots of churches and big congregations filled with expats. I looked on this as proof of God’s faithfulness in providing for His people, regardless of the social, religious or political climate. Papua New Guinea openly adheres to freedom of religion. But to my surprise, it took more effort than I imagined. It turns out that many of the expats in Port Moresby worship in their homes, so there’s not really an “expat” church. This puzzled me, but I kept on searching. Eventually, through the fellowship of other believers we met, we were led to a local congregation, Boroko Baptist Church.

On the outside, Boroko is pretty different from most churches in America. And it’s a definite change from the hotel meeting rooms used as sanctuaries in Dubai. The church building consists of a roof with semi-open walls, jalousie windows and a concrete floor. There is no air-conditioning, only overhead fans. In the summer months it’s stifling hot, even more so when the power goes out (a fairly common occurrence in the city). I struggle with the heat and humidity in the Southern Hemisphere summer months. Being a middle-aged woman from Texas, I love an air-conditioned room with the temperature turned down low. I compensate for my discomfort by remaining very, very still. My good friend Lee comes to mind. He worked with my husband in the oilfields of Iraq. He would mentally “go to a cool place” when sitting in a searing hot armored car, in a helmet and 30 pounds of body armor. If he could do it in Iraq, then I could certainly do it in church. The gentle breeze created by the overhead fans is a welcome relief. Once the singing starts though, you can sit still no more.

If Lee could do it, so could I

If Lee could do it, so could I

The music at Boroko is spirited and lively. The singing is led by a host of naturally talented praise and worship band members and soloists. They are young and full of life. It’s fascinating to me that Chris Tomlin’s lyrics have made it from worship in Texas all around the world, even here in this small church in Papua New Guinea. His songs are a connection to home for me. I also love the 80’s and 90’s praise songs we sing. They remind me of a time in my life when I was experiencing tremendous spiritual growth. Occasionally we sing songs in Pidgin English or Tok Pisin , New Guineas common language. The rhythms and melodies are infectious…if someone asked me to “rate the record”, I’d definitely say, “It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.” (Only those of you from my generation will recognize that phrase).  It doesn’t matter that I don’t know the words. But it is fun to try to figure them out.

“Jisas o nem bilong yu  em i swit tumas

Swit, swit, swit  swit , Jisas O

Nem bilong yu em i swit tumas”

The praise and worship time is alive with the power of Jesus and I love it.

A glimpse of Boroko

A glimpse of Boroko

The majority of the people who attend Boroko are local residents. The ladies come to church in their brightly colored meri blaus (ladies blouse), adorned with a single flower fastened tightly in the back of their hair. Their dresses remind me of the Mexican housedresses worn in Texas, but with a more Polynesian flare. They look comfortable in the sweltering heat. The men come with their bilims secured across their bodies, around their necks or strapped across their foreheads. These satchels are woven from tree bark. Their color and pattern indicate their village of origin. I chide my husband that his skin tone and stature are clear indicators he is not a local resident, but his Fossil canvas bag helps him fit right in. Many of the worshippers come to church without shoes. I thought this strange at first, but God prompted some sweet memories of my own childhood when I practically never wore shoes in the summer, and of my dear sweet Mother, who loved to tell me about walking barefoot to church when she was a young girl. Once again, I felt connected to something familiar.

Brother Joshua—the older, and Pastor Julian—the younger, lead the congregation. They are both local residents with strong ties to the community.

Joshua is a diminutive, raspy-voiced, honest preacher. In heavily accented English, he teaches the truths of God’s word. His messages are often tailored to the specific troubles of his people and his country with the reminder that trouble is common to us all, regardless of our circumstances. He always points us back to God for His counsel. Joshua is a living example of 2 Timothy 4:7 as he makes his way to the finish line. Julian is tall – he towers over most of the New Guineans in his midst. His strength is in his experiences and his story telling. Hearing him speak about the sufferings and victory over dark, supernatural activity encountered by Christians in this region makes the threat very real. He has a heart for the youth of this congregation and it is obvious he is dedicated to mentoring the next generation. Both Joshua and Julian are welcoming of all who come to worship with them. I am thankful for God’s provision.

My search for a church home away from home was driven by my desire to be part of the body of Christ in my new surroundings. This longing for community brought to mind the exhortation in Hebrews 10: 24-25, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24–25, NIV) On an experiential level, I completely understand this counsel now. On the outside I look different from most people in my church in PNG, but on the inside, I’m much the same. I reach for the bond of fellowship wherever I am because all my homes on this Earth are temporary. I want to spur others on, encouraging them as we await His glorious coming. In this season of my life, I’m doing it with the people of Boroko.

“Jesus, O your name it is very sweet to me

Sweet, sweet, sweet, Jesus, O

Your name it is very sweet”

God's provision of fellowship

God’s provision of fellowship

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A Psalm for the Expatriate

Where can I go to escape Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there. If I live at the eastern horizon or settle at the western limits, even there Your hand will lead me; Your right hand will hold on to me.” (Psalm 139:7–10, HCSB)

When we told friends we were moving to Papua New Guinea, many said, “Now, where is that again?” I remember my mother saying, “Isn’t that where the head hunters live?” One friend sent me a photo of a Huli tribesman she found on the Internet and, in jest, asked if he was to be my new neighbor. I knew I was headed to a strange and distant place. I wondered if I would also feel distant from God – something I had experienced before.

Was this to be my new neighbor?

Was this to be my new neighbor?

Early in my Christian life I struggled with my sense of God’s presence. He seemed detached, like I didn’t really know Him. I felt like He was a stern, judging perfectionist and that I could never do enough to please Him. My ideas about God gained a foothold in my unsaved life and it wasn’t easy to shake my misconceptions. Many of my Christian friends have relayed the same experience to me. Without the Holy Spirit , our thinking is disproportionately affected by our temperament, personality and especially our relationship with our earthly fathers. As for me, I had to learn how to have a right relationship with God. Crucial to my learning was a proper understanding of one of God’s incommunicable attributes, His omnipresence. I came to know that whether He felt close or far away, He was in fact, present everywhere, transcending space and time, and even if I tried, I could not escape His Spirit or flee from His presence. The mercy and grace I found through the study of His word in those early years changed how I viewed God the Father. It was a hard-fought battle, but like many spiritual struggles, it was necessary for me to gain a new foothold in my thinking.

As I’ve grown in my Christian walk, God has continued to refine my view of His omnipresence. Becoming an expatriate challenged my perceptions again when I first moved abroad three years ago. To my surprise, I discovered that my American environment largely shaped my thoughts about God’s presence in other lands. Statements like, “you won’t be able to worship there” or “there aren’t any Christians there” or “it’s a Godless country” had great influence on me. These views were well-intentioned, but not accurate. I came overseas with the skewed perception that God wasn’t really present in the rest of the world, or where I was going anyway. What a humbling experience it was for me to learn that God was quite alive and very active in the Middle East. How silly of me to think otherwise, considering that, well…you know, it was the Middle East.

God quickly made His presence known in my first days in my new home in Papua New Guinea. Those days were blessed with the formation of friendships founded on a shared belief in Christ. More than anything, I see evidence of God’s omnipresence in His people He has placed all over the Earth. They are everywhere – He is everywhere.

You may feel God is distant, or quiet in your own life. You may struggle to see any presence of Him in your world. It helps to remember the words of the psalmist, ‘whether in heaven or Sheol, in the east or the west, You hand will lead, Your hand holds on’.

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The Watcher

 

Mother/Daughter

         2 Corinthians 5

“Absent from the body, present with the Lord”

 

The Watcher

She always leaned to watch for us,

Anxious if we were late,

In winter by the window,

In summer by the gate;

And though we mocked her tenderly,

Who had such foolish care,

The long way home would seem more safe

Because she waited there.

Her thoughts were all so full of us,

She never could forget!

And so I think that where she is

She must be watching yet,

Waiting till we come home to her,

Anxious if we are late–

Watching from Heaven’s window,

Leaning from Heaven’s gate.

Margaret Widdemer

Leaves of Gold

1948

In loving memory of my sweet Mother, Mae Walton West

December 24, 1931 – July 1, 2013

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Memorial Day – What Legacy Will You Leave?

Matthew 16:25–26 (HCSB) — 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it. 26 What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life?

I’m fortunate to have the fellowship of women in Papua New Guinea who desire to study God’s word. We recently had a discussion on the type of legacy we want to leave behind when we die – What would we most like people to remember about our life and ministry to others? Replace my name with yours and ask yourself today, how would you like this sentence to read?

Shirley was most beloved for the way she…

It’s a bit intimidating isn’t it? For me, it was a call right to the heart. How do I want people to remember me?

Bomana War Cemetery Papua New Guinea

Bomana War Cemetery
Papua New Guinea

As I contemplated this question, my thoughts turned to my recent visit to Bomana War Cemetery in Port Moresby, PNG. Located near the end of the Kokoda Track, Bomana’s serene and beautifully manicured grounds reminded me a bit of the American cemetery in Normandy. Both are respectful tributes to those who fought and died during World War II. Bomana honors the Australians and other Allied soldiers who lost their lives defending New Guinea from the Japanese on the Pacific front. The rows and rows of perfectly aligned headstones speak of the lasting legacy of the soldiers buried there. Some are a family’s testimony of their loved one’s character, courage and devotion to God. Many simply say, “Known Unto God”, three words that speak volumes about the importance of who really knows their legacy.

Kokoda Trail Head Segeri, Papua New Guinea

Kokoda Trail Head
Segeri, Papua New Guinea

This past weekend the United States observed Memorial Day. It is also a time of remembering the legacy of those who have lost their lives in defense of liberty and freedom for my home country. I was able to watch my home church’s live webcast that took place on Sunday night and I was touched by my pastor’s recognition of the individuals and their families who served and died to keep us free. It was especially poignant for me since, by the grace of God, I have a loved one on the way home from a foreign battlefield. A loved one who lives, yet has seen and experienced the loss of his brothers-in-arms, and knows first hand the importance of their legacy left behind.

The Outpost at Sperwan Ghar Afghanistan

The Outpost at Sperwan Ghar
Afghanistan

I do not pretend to know the validity and purpose of war in God’s sovereign plan today. It is something I continue to ponder. I know only that we live in a world cursed by fallen humankind and enslaved by an evil tyrant (Romans 8:18-25). Even so, I also know that courage and righteousness abound in the brave actions of many who declare their devotion to Christ – on and off the battlefield.

Memorial Day made me think a lot about my own legacy to my family, my community and the kingdom of God. More than anything, this is how I would like my sentence to read:

Shirley was most beloved for her courage in the face of trial, her wisdom in rightly dividing the word of truth, her devotion to her family and most of all, her devotion to Christ.

What legacy will you leave?

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An Alien Arrival in Papua New Guinea

Greetings from Papua New Guinea!

A bit of tribal art in Loloata, PNG

I arrived safely after a grueling 30 hours of travel from Houston that took me through Dallas, Brisbane, Australia and then to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. Someone told me the Dallas to Brisbane route is the third longest operating in the world today. I believe it. Despite the length, my journey was pleasant, quiet and uneventful, all things for which I am thankful. Clean lavatories and no weird odors also help make them more tolerable.

First glimpses of Papua New  Guinea

First glimpses of Papua New Guinea

My connection from Brisbane to Port Moresby was on Air Niugini – an interesting old plane that reminded me of my Piedmont Airlines days back in the 80’s. My Papua New Guinean attendant had to show me how to get the tray out of the armrest. I couldn’t remember how to do it. To her credit, she did not laugh at my privileged western incompetence, though I could read her thoughts. ‘First time flying this route?’ I tried not to think too much about the age of the plane and the type of pilot that would take a job in this isolated part of the world, mostly because I’ll be frequently flying that POM/BNE route and Air Niugini is the only game in town.

My fellow passengers were primarily guys headed to PNG for oil and gas related business. I recognized many of them from when we boarded in Dallas and I’d picked up bits and pieces of their conversations. There were also a few missionary families returning from leave. It was a reminder of the abundant missionary activity that takes place in this part of the world and a precursor of what God had in store for us here that I can’t wait to tell you about.

On our approach to Port Moresby I got my first glimpse of Melanesia. The little I knew about PNG and the surrounding seas and small islands comes mostly from the history books and what I know about World War II – the Coral Sea, the South Pacific, the Solomon Islands, etc.

I also remember hearing references to cannibalism and supernatural activity reported by missionaries who served in this region. Seeing it from above gave no hint of a past of sinking battleships and heads boiling in pots. It looked just like I remembered from one of my favorite movies, Swiss Family Robinson, beautiful and uninhabited.

Ela Beach Market - Port Moresby A mighty bow from one who knows

Ela Beach Market – Port Moresby
A mighty bow from one who knows

PNG’s location in the South Pacific along the ring of fire means lots of seismic activity. Upon my arrival, Jeff greeted me with the news that there had been an earthquake in the Solomon Islands and that PNG was under a tsunami warning. For the second time in the last couple of years The Wizard of Oz came to mind, – “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!”

As for those Air Niugini pilots, I have come to learn that many are former MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) pilots who lived and served in the highlands of PNG for many years. Yes, I may well have been traveling with some very special earthly angels who knew exactly what they were doing. Peace be with them.

Air Nuigini - Jackson International Airport, Port Moresby, PNG

Air Niugini – Jackson International Airport, Port Moresby, PNG

Warm regards ‘til next time…

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Alien Abroad ~ Saying Goodbye to Dubai

Dubai/Houston

Dubai/Houston

On January 11, 2012, I boarded Emirates flight 211 – Dubai to Houston, probably for the last time. The inevitable relocation notice came in October that my husband and I were moving on to another assignment in Papua New Guinea. I couldn’t believe my time in Dubai was really at an end. In December, we shared our last Christmas in the Emirates and quickly got down to the business of household inventories, walk-throughs, closing accounts, canceling visas and saying our goodbyes – it was pretty overwhelming. So, as I settled in for the sixteen-hour flight I was thankful for the time to reflect on this most recent change in my life.

The ultimate driving experience

The ultimate driving experience

I consider myself fortunate for the opportunity to reside in the Middle East. Dubai, in particular is a place where everything is billed as bigger, better and faster – it makes living there a lot of fun. From the top of the Burj Khalifa to the dancing fountains at Dubai Mall to the desert safaris, I had some incredible once in a lifetime experiences. Just driving Dubai’s main thoroughfare, Sheikh Zayed Road (affectionately know as Sheikh Zed) was an adventure unto itself. There is however, one aspect of my life in the Middle East that eclipses all others, my surprising journey as a Christian expat living in an Islamic country.

Before our move in 2010, several people warned me that I might have to be very secretive about my Christian faith. I didn’t know if I could worship openly or if I would even be able to participate in bible study. I really wanted to continue some of the work I’d been doing for my pastor in Houston but I was advised not to ship my hardback research library for fear my books might be confiscated. I hoped I could rely on my electronic resources and social media and that my favorite internet study sites weren’t blocked. I heard stories from Christians working in the region of monitored emails, phone conversations and even conversations in public places. Some talked of passports being taken and visas cancelled on charges of proselytizing. I knew had to step lightly because I was in Dubai because of my husband’s employment, something I certainly didn’t want to put at risk.

In reality, I found there was an element of truth to all the things I’d heard about, but the situation was not near as dire as I’d imagined. To be sure – living under Sharia law called for wisdom and discernment in much of what I said and did. And the level of spiritual warfare I encountered caused me to trust Christ as never before. But in the midst of an environment hostile to the gospel, God prepared my path. He showed me how to live, serve and glorify Him as an alien abroad. As a result, I experienced a rich life of faith and several rewarding ways to minister in the name of Christ. Does that sound like a familiar turn of events to you? It should. I know that I didn’t have to look far in scripture to find examples of God’s people living as aliens in foreign lands. Abraham, Joseph, Esther, Ruth and Daniel are some of the most notable that lived the expat life. They had no permanent home, no citizenship and no real rights, yet there is another common thread that runs through their stories. In their faithfulness to God, they were uniquely positioned to become very important parts of the amazing tapestry of God’s story for mankind. The same is true for you and me. By His power we too are able to serve and glorify His name, no matter where we are, no matter how futile our circumstances may seem.

I came to Dubai fearful and uncertain about what I would experience in regards to living out my faith. I came with assumptions and preconceived notions about the restrictions of living in an Islamic country. I left with a new understanding of the universal power of Christ and a heightened awareness of the impact of being an American Christian abroad. In the Middle East, where political and religious tensions are so intertwined, I was able to find my way as a faithful follower of Christ. My life was enriched by the fellowship of other Christian brothers and sisters from all over the world and what we were able to do together.

I look forward to sharing my experiences with you in the months to come – what I’ve come to know, and what I’ve yet to learn as an alien abroad.

If you are a Christian, you are not a citizen of this world trying to get to heaven; you are a citizen of heaven making your way through this world. ~ Vance Havner

View from my new home ~ Papua New Guinea

View from my new home ~ Papua New Guinea

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