Because it’s time.

Ana and I sat at the kitchen table, coffee (for me) and tea (for her) in hand, as usual. We were wrestling yet again with what to do as we stared at the posters on the wall. I had created three boards to keep track of our progress on the Bible stories: “Approved” by the consultant, “Being Tested” in the community, and “In Documentation”. Almost all of the notecards with our stories on them were cycling between being tested for comprehension and in some phase or other of being documented and sent to a consultant. There was one lonely little story hanging in the “Approved” box. And to add to that, this was preliminary  approval. We were only a few weeks out to our scheduled time to find voice actors, record the Bible stories and distribute them.

Had we trained enough people to tell the stories and ask discussion questions? If these stories weren’t “approved”, were they good enough? What was wrong with what we were doing? Should we push back the recordings? Are we leaving too soon? What about all of our friends here- the ones who still don’t believe, the ones who are young in their faith, the ones who are hurting? We had been crafting and revising these 32 stories for a year and a half. We had asked people comprehension questions, asked them to retell the story from memory. We revised, shortened, explained, clarified, and summarized until we were blue in the face. Its simply a hard task to get people to retell stories without feeling nervous and stopping half-way through. Based on the feedback from the community and the consultants, we are confident that these stories are accurate to Scripture and relevant to the Palawano culture. (And we proceeded to see stories get approved in the following weeks!) But should we be leaving now?

We didn’t have many answers, but one thing became clear. We needed to record these stories and pass them into the hands of our Palawano friends. And we needed to do that soon. Why?

As Ana said so perfectly sitting there at the kitchen table, “Because it’s time.”

Palawanos have (and still have) expat believers working among them for years now (over 30). These co-laborers are faithful to what God has called them to do. They are nurses and teachers, translators and literacy specialists. They have shared the truth of God’s word and the love of Christ in very practical ways. They paved the way for Ana and me to come and work on these oral Bible stories. And over the years, there have been Palawanos who have put their faith in Jesus Christ. They have wrestled with competing worldviews from their community and fierce spiritual opposition from the Enemy. (And they continue to do both.) They have a deep desire to see their friends and family know the same peace they have found, and thus find a way to share eternal hope with them. And now, it’s time. It’s time that they use the translated Scripture and the oral stories that we helped to craft and take them to the hills and valleys of southern Palawan. It’s time that these discipled go and make disciples. It’s time that we as foreigners trust that they too are a God’s special possession, that they may declare the praises of Him who called them out of darkness into His wonderful life. (1 Pet 2:9) They have the same Holy Spirit within them as we do, which is better than all the tweaking of stories and workshops than we could ever offer them.

So with much prayer, the encouragement of our consultants, and the excitement of our Palawano friends, we recorded the 32 Bible stories. We distributed them in the community, connected them with mentors and sent out Palawano believers who would go into the mountains sharing the good news among their tribe.

And you know what? God is faithful. I have only been able to contact one of the young women that went as a storyteller. (Cell phone signal and minutes on the phone are difficult to come by). Her report was so encouraging! “Thank you for helping me. Many people are listening to the stories and we are still learning at church as well,” she wrote. I will continue to keep in touch as much as possible and more importantly, pray for their work.

Now, I ask you to pray for the Palawanos to know Jesus. For courage and boldness of the believers there. That these laborers would see a great harvest.

And pray that the Lord would guide me in my steps to my next home and how to obey Him there. People ask me “Why move to a whole new location and start all over?” Well, because it’s time.

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Our language helper and storyteller (left) with our her new mentor (our consultant).

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Celebrating His Faithfulness!

Ok, first of all, sorry its been so long. I do enjoy writing, but Ana and I have been running all over creation the last few months. We have been running on all fours toward the finish line of the story project. In another blog, I should (and will) post about what’s ahead as I look at leaving the Philippines. For now, a look back at God’s faithfulness in how far we’ve come is in order! First, a peek at what has happened since June in a grocery-list-style….

-Moved suddenly from the town to the city. This, in turn, resulted in increased trips to the village… 🙂 (June)

-“Multiplication” workshop- training mother-tongue speakers to lead story groups and pray for the future of their communities  (August)

-Literacy materials production workshop (September)

-“Storying and Arts Trauma Healing” workshop in Manila (October)

-Assistant taught at an “Intro to Storying” workshop in England (November)

-Community Check (a group from the community listened to all 33 stories back-to-back and gave us feedback on the word choice ~ especially regarding key terms) (December)

-Story Group training in the villages with over 70 people! (January)

-Continued comprehension testing and revision of the stories (June-January)

-SIL Philippines conference, Manila (present)

-Recording and Distribution of stories (scheduled for January 20-31 of 2017!!)

Ok, that’s exhausting just to look at- but what’s amazing is that all of it was provided for logistically, financially, emotionally….all of it! Every trip down to the village was an answer to prayer, both for safety, travelling provisions, and connections with our friends. Each workshop has felt like a test of faith. Yet each time, unsurprisingly at this point, God has provided just the right people. In August, I saw an answer to a prayer I had been praying for months. Ana and I had asked the Lord to send us someone who would approach us about learning how to lead a story group, and sure enough, a few days before our multiplication workshop, we had someone request to join us because he too wanted to learn how to tell these stories. We had prayed for an older person to come to that same training, and one of the oldest men in the village, who is one of the most joyful people I know, was able to come all the way to Puerto for the first time ever just to attend. I am humbled by these believers, who prayed for the boldness of Paul, Silas, Peter and Steven as they go reach the dark places in their community. They know those mountains better than anyone and are ready to travel long, difficult trails to bring the Truth to their neighbors and even suffer hardships- their request is that they would be bold.

The most recent training was a small miracle as well. Our story crafters were able to hike up, the rain abated for the training session, there was a packed house, a cook and food enough for all, and not least of all willing and enthusiastic participants! There was one woman in particular who bravely approached me to let me know that she too wanted to learn these stories, because she wants to use them. We also have been praying for 10 voice actors to make a high quality recording of the stories. This past weekend, a colleague of ours offered to recruit some local high school students to be our voice actors next week for the recording, we now have over 10. We have been praying for the future of our crafters and one of our story testing crafters is now making arrangements to work in the highlands with another girl teaching literacy and using the crafted stories. We have been praying for the Palawano believers to take ownership of these stories and of the burden for the lost around them. Just a few weeks ago, one of the only churches in the highlands has decided, on their own initiative, to go in twos and threes to the surrounding mountains to share the good news.

Really, this post could go on and on about all the answers to prayer we have seen in the last few months. And the more I see God work, the more convinced I am that he wants us to pray specific prayers, and pray together, and for one another…because when the answers are so specific, only he can get the praise! I recently remembered my days in high school youth group. Someone would ask for prayer requests, and tons of hands would go up. However, so many  of them would be deemed “unspoken”. I am not sure if it was just the dramatics of high school kids, the fact that they couldn’t think of anything, or if it really was a matter they deemed private and didn’t want people outside their close group of friends to know…but I always felt a little disappointed that I didn’t know what I was praying for….so I couldn’t know when it was answered! How can God be honored if we can’t praise him for the outcome? Anyway, I say this to encourage you to pray, pray often, pray specifically, and share these with others. Multiply the praise, don’t keep it to yourself!

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Palawanos join Bataks to pray for their communities

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An elder who has captured my heart! He is so joyful!

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Our story crafters make goals

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Testing stories in the community

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In England to help teach

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Testing and Revising Stories

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My crafter and I revise stories

 

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We have the same spit.

We climbed the small ladder into our friend’s house, sweaty and out of breath as usual. His house is situated on the slant of a hill that overlooks the mountains that surround the nearby river. Fog settled in over the slopes of mountain ridges already blanketed in the green of rainy season. The view is gorgeous from his village. We sat in his house, his wife diligently weaving her basket, dogs running in and out, corn or something  boiling away in a pot hanging over the fire. As usual, he began to chat about this-and-that and we discussed random news as of late. Eventually he brought up the fact that his audio Bible wasn’t charging any longer (it has a solar panel). Disappointed at the technical failure, I told him we would see if we could get the stories “out” and put them somewhere else. (I was able to get the audio files onto a memory card he can use on his daughter’s phone). However, I figured now was a good time to ask about the stories, and see if he had actually listened in a while. I asked what his favorite story was and he said, “Oh I like the one about where God tells us to be good and not steal things”…..ok that’s kind of generic and I am not even sure there’s a story about that specifically in the New Testament…. So, I began to tell him the story about Peter walking on the water toward Jesus. To my great delight, he began finishing all my sentences and even managed to throw out the punch line, “Your faith is small”. Yay! He actually listened to the stories! We began a chat that was headed in a more spiritual direction.

He brings up his understanding of God.  “People say we worship many gods, but we don’t, we worship True God and the ‘Rice God’.(Most Palawanos would assure me there are many other lesser gods of rain, thunder, water and so on- he says he only worships these two) You foreigners also worship two gods- the Father, and the Son Jesus, right?”

Hm, he hasn’t even gotten to the Holy Spirit… how to explain the Trinity…. I try for a minute or so to explain the three-fold nature of God, but realize this is something the Holy Spirit must reveal to us, so I leave it be for now. He interjects, “And really, we worship the same God as you do, you just call him something different. We call him Grandfather Ketungkulan (which means he just added one more god).You call him Jesus. They are the same. Grandfather Ketungkulan had a mother named Mary, died on a cross and rose again.” Hm, that’s curious. “We shouldn’t say the name of Jesus, or if we do, our stomachs will swell from a curse.”

Ok, this is familiar now. It is taboo for Palawanos to speak the name of their in-laws, the name of the dead, and probably a few other names as well. They believe it will cause you bodily harm if you show such disrespect as to speak their name. Now he is applying this to the name of Jesus. In some ways, this reminds me a little of the Jewish refusal to speak or even write the name of God (G-d) outside prayer and reading of the Torah for fear of blaspheming his name. (although I believe the Palawano motivation is different, it bears some resemblance…I don’t press this issue with him.)

Instead of refuting his claim and starting a “yes-it-is, no-it’s-not game” about his remark, I ask him about his ‘Rice God’. How is he the same, how is he different than the God-man we call Jesus? I bring it back to God’s character. If you say they are the same things, then the same things need to be true of one and the other, both in their history and their present character. Our friend still holds to his worship rituals of drunken trances to communicate in the spiritual realm, and calling on spirit beings, a far cry from the teachings and character of Jesus. Yet referring to “Grandfather” and Jesus, he reiterates that they both died and rose to life. I bring up the teachings of Jesus, which are unlike any other I have ever heard. Yes, he told us not to lie or steal, but he also told us to not only forgive our enemies but to love them, and do good to them, to die for them even. Our friend responds “Yes, Jesus says that we should forgive and so now, that is what we do.”

Now that is what they do.

Although I believe our friend is still combining his traditional beliefs with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I believe he is closer now than ever to coming to faith in Jesus. Jesus told us to go “make disciples”. Disciples are students. Right now, he is a student of Jesus. He is listening to his words, (which God has promised will not return to Him void) and learning to do what Jesus said! There are a lot of “saved” people who have a hard time accepting Jesus’s teachings. Anyway, what I am trying to say is that for our friend, his understanding seems to be unfolding each time we meet with him. A year ago I doubt he would have ever said that he worships Jesus but just “calls him something else”. On the contrary, he would speak about “your God” or the “American’s God.”

Our conversation ends soon after this remark. He enjoys talking about spiritual matters, and he is grateful that we seem to respect him and want to know more about his culture. He feels very misunderstood by some of the foreigners he has spoken to in the past. Near the end of our conversation, he pays us perhaps the funniest and highest compliment that he can offer.

“We have the same spit.”

Ha! That’s an idiom I won’t soon forget. He is telling us we have the same thinking, that we understand one another. I really hope so. Yet, I hope even more that he will understand God Most High- Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

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Unsolved Mysteries Revisited

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A friend and storyteller stops to talk to us in a nearby village

The sun began to heat the trail just as the steady incline of the hill warmed my leg muscles that morning. This was just a couple of weeks ago. My crafter and I were headed to a friend’s house to test a new story. He was there, as usual, only with a bit of a cold this time. He gladly agreed to listen to our stories as long as he didn’t have to repeat them. Surprise, surprise. No worries though; Salmidu had proven to be an invaluable resource for us in asking cultural questions in regards to our stories.

I plowed ahead with the stories. This day I was not to be deterred- I had the “Prophets of Baal” story in my hands and  I was going to test this sucker and get feedback one way or another.  Ana and I had been struggling to understand the spiritual landscape here. If you haven’t already, I suggest you read my last post here “Welcome to My Brain…” to see what kind of confusion we were encountering. The rest of this post will make more sense. In any case, the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal (see 1 Kings 18) was sure to bring up some interesting questions about worship of other gods.

We decided in this stage of the testing to translate the name “Baal” as “God of Rain” since Baal was a Canaanite deity that had power over rain, thunder, or storms. This immediately went over well during testing.

Me: Do you all have Rain God?

Salmidu: Yes, there is Rain God, Thunder God, they have the authority (hello, there’s a word I’ve been looking for) of rain and wind.  They are down here, watching over those things. True God is above.

I continued to ask more about rain god versus thunder god until he clarified:

Salmidu: You see that is the rain god, the thunder, not something else. If he speaks, wherever the sound is, that’s where he sends the rain.

Now I understand that the voice of rain god is the thunder.

Me: Do you have a rice god?

Salmidu: Yes, Rice God- that’s another one. He watches over the rice and waters it or it will die.  Also the woman, the shaman that we buried. When we cook food and bring it to her (grave), its like we are bringing it to God. You ask for rain because its so hot, and you bring a sacrifice.

Me: So you bring this to the grave? And your asking the person right….the one you buried?

Salmidu: We are still asking God above. (here we go, back to the confusion…)

Me: But you are at the grave, asking the person?

Salmidu: Talking to this person is like talking to God. You ask, and they will confer with God.

Me: Like when you make the lutlut (* a traditional thanksgiving feast) you thank the rice god?

Salmidu: Yes, and he goes and tells True God.

I am beginning to get a picture here…..maybe this isn’t such a foreign concept as I thought….

Salmidu: Ok, like if I die, and its really hot and you need rain…. You can come clear off my grave, and I will go speak to God for you.

Me: So what do you call the person, or the god…who speaks to God for you? That person in the middle??

Salmidu: That’s  a mediator. They confer with God for you.

THAT’S IT!! That’s the key to unlocking the mystery of all the previous confusion!

This was the conversation that needed to happen. Mediators are a concept that I do understand. It makes sense why they don’t see prayer and sacrifice as false worship, but rather a means of getting to True God. If you believe someone is more capable or worthy of approaching God, or more so that you are incapable or unworthy, then a mediator becomes necessary. And really, this is true. We incapable, but the difference in understanding is that there is only one mediator- Jesus Christ- (1 Tim 2:2) and that because of this we can approach the God of Heaven.

The rest of the conversation was great in that we got a better understanding of Salmidu’s (and others’) worldview and were able to tweak our retelling of the Elijah story to make it clear that rain god was indeed powerless, and thus could not answer the prophets cries. That Elijah prayed to God himself, and we can too. Will the changes be clear? That remains to be seen.

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Welcome to my brain, enter at your own risk.

 

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Friends walk down a street near our house.

 

 

A fan whirs next to me. We have just finished lunch and the heat of the day is setting in, but I grab my notebook and try furiously to keep up with the ideas my language helpers throw at me. It doesn’t always work. Mostly I ask questions based on things I’ve heard in conversations here.

They use a word for a most-high God that means “true, real, or very” so I have translated it as “true” here, and other people talk about lesser dieties such as the rice, moon, or thunder god- at least one of which I have heard has a name. So here are some snapshots of my conversations:

Me: Ok, so….you have True God…right?

Jolibeth: Right

Me: And you have God of Rice, right?

Jolibeth: Right

Me: And True God is higher than rice god, he is the highest?

Jolibeth: Yes, he is the highest.

Me: Ok, then what is a “Datu, or a Linamin? Can you see them?”

Jolibeth: No, you can’t see them, they live in the forest. Well, people used to be able to see them, but not now, we cant see them anymore.

Me: Why can’t you see them?

Jolibeth: Well, there’s just too many people on the earth.

(In my head: huh??)

Me: Ok, and this God of Rice, you sacrifice to and praise him, right? (she nods) So if True God tells us to only worship him….

Jolibeth (interrupts): No, they are the same- God of Rice and True God. They are the same.

Me: But I thought you said True God is higher?

Jolibeth: No they are the same.

Me: Ok, well, if Pelawans have True God, and God of Rice, and God of the Moon. And maybe other people have other gods, like in America, they have God of Money. What about when True God tells us not to praise those gods?

Jolibeth: No, that’s different.

Me: (Massive confusion)

The next day, I have a similar conversations:

Me: Ok, so you have True God, and God of Rice, right?

Ritchie: Yes. And God of Rice is a baby.

Me: Oh, right, like the story about the origin of rice? (This is a traditional story about how humans first attained rice and other crops…a couple’s only child had to be sacrificed so that food and thus life could be provided to all people…..sound familiar???)

Ritchie: Yes

Me: And what about the Evil Creatures, can you see them?

Ritchie: No, you can’t see them

Me: Can anyone see them, maybe the Shaman?

Ritchie: Maybe the Shaman can talk to them. He can tell them to stop hurting people.

Me: And what about Datus and Linamins?

Ritchie: I don’t really know about them, I think they live in the forest.

Me: And if True God says to worship him, why would you worship God of Rice?

Ritchie: Well, they are the same.

Me: But you said God of Rice was a baby. Isn’t that different?

Ritchie: *furrows her brow* No…I don’t know.

Me: and Ranggek told me about Bangbabang, the moon god, what about him?

Ritchie: I don’t know who that is.

Later that day….

Me: Ok, so you have True God, and you have the Evil Creatures in the woods, but what about Datus and Linamins?

Gina: Well, I don’t really know anything about them.

Me: What about Diwatas? Are they good or bad?

Gina: They are good. Sometimes they are angry.

Me: Why are they angry?

Gina: Well, if you cut down a forest to make your farm and they live there, they will be angry.

Me: Would they hurt someone if they are mad.

Gina: Maybe, yes they might hurt you.

Ok, I am at the point where some of you might disagree with me, but I am not going to refute the existence of evil creatures in the woods; I won’t refute them to my friends nor to myself. I know, I have lost some of you right there. If so, maybe you should go back and read my post on the “Middle Realm”. You make think their worldview sounds so different, but really now, we syncretize our beliefs all the time. We play switch with our allegiance to True God and God of Self all the time. Anyway, I am with them on this one: there are evil beings that a real, that seek to destroy and deceive.

What I am struggling with is to comprehend how they understand this world, what these realities look like through their worldview. What I have discovered so far is that it’s really fluid. Its not an “organized” theology as we might think of it, but no less real and concerning their everyday lives.

What I am hoping and praying is that all these conversations that seem to leave me puzzled or even frustrated at times, will lead to ideas of how to connect the truth of the power  of the gospel to their current lives

So here’s a look at what goes through my head all the time:  How do I talk about what we put our trust and our hope in? Or rather, in whom and why for that matter? How do you get across what false worship is? Hmm, maybe the story about the creation of the spirit world will have to be longer. Will people identify Satan and the fallen angels with the creatures they fear? Can I be that explicit?…what does Scripture actually say about this stuff? Maybe the prophets of Baal verses Elijah will resonate with them. Maybe I understand what she’s saying…maybe I am way off. What about the trinity? Nah, I can’t even properly explain that to myself in English let alone try and make that into a story…maybe just let that unfold like it does in the Bible. Am I forcing the issue? Should all of this unfold naturally …we have to select stories at some point. I am not here forever, and we aren’t crafting every single story. Just pick one and see what works, Christina. But what if they are all like the Isaiah story…that’s been what….8 months? Still no solution. Surely all the stories can’t be confusing. What about our term for “spirit”…should we change that? To what??? Do I really even know this language? What did she just say again? Man, I’m hungry. I need a nap. I need to wash my clothes. I wonder how I can get rid of the ants that seem to be accumulating under the sink….

The questions here (and in my mind) are never-ending. This, my friends, is why some days I veg out on facebook and Instagram and sit around my favorite coffee shop and eat copious amounts of cake when I come to town. I gotta give my mind a rest. Ok, at least that’s what I’m telling myself. That’s probably just cause I love cake and coffee.

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“Bind them around your neck”

Our crafter’s father was not a kind man. He expressed very outwardly the inward truth of someone who rejects the love of Christ. (This is everyone’s original state, and many people still do, they maybe just aren’t as demonstrative about it) Some of you read my letter where I shared about this man Inampun*, from the village where we used to live. He was often angry towards his family members, threatening them for following Jesus. This saddened us and pushed us to pray for him. Ana and I prayed continually and very specifically for this man. We asked that he would become a “second Maman Medelen”*.

If there was antithesis to Inampun, it was Maman Medelen . Both men came from the animistic worldview- which is dominated by fear of spirits and finding ways of placating them. Both were traditional healers. However, Medelen heard the stories of Jesus and believed in Him! He put his trust in Christ to save him and has been different ever since. His whole countenance exudes someone who has met Jesus. Joy pours out of that man. He has a little audio Bible that he tied a string to and carries around his neck. He tells all his friends at the market about Jesus, even if they laugh him off. He excitedly told us one time- “people in the other mountains don’t know about these stories, I need to bring them to them!”

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Maman Medelen

 

This transformation was what we bodly prayed would happen to Inampun.

And it did.

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Inampun

 

Ana and I returned from our trip to the US and within a few weeks, our crafter came to our house. She was sitting outside one evening working on some of her school work when I approached her. I asked her how her father was and reminded her we were still praying. She said, “Oh he loves listening to the Bible stories now. And he has been coming to church.” I was surprised. “He isn’t angry any more.  And he wants to be baptized!” Then she told us later that he listens to the audio Bible all the time. “He even put a string and wears it around his neck,” she said. She told us how he goes around boasting that their town has so many Bibles! She was very happy to tell us how his character has changed. And now, to top it off, he is working on memorizing the book of Matthew.

We were just floored at how perfectly our prayers were answered. His testimony, and his habit of wearing the audio Bible is a striking picture of Solomon’s words in Proverbs 3: “…let your heart keep my commandments….do not let kindness and truth leave you! Bind them around your neck.”

And it didn’t stop there. The ladies from a village about six hours hike into the mountains came to visit a few weeks ago. Well, more precisely they came to sell baskets. Anyway, we gave them an audio Bible to take home. I saw one of the women yesterday at the market and I asked her to listen to a new story we are working on. “We have been listening to those stories you gave us!” she told me with a contented smile on her face. “There was the one with the man who was blind since he was born. Yes, and Jesus spit in his hand and then made mud and put it on his eyes…and he was healed! Yes, and the other one about the boy who had a spirit that threw him in the fire…Jesus helped him too! Jesus helped so many people…. Those stories are so good!” She was just overflowing with her memories of which stories they had listened to in her village. She says her father really loves them too.

This is particularly exciting as this was the first woman to tell us any stories in her language. She had been selling baskets about a year and a half ago and came to our doorstep. There, she and her sisters told us folktales and riddles until Ana and I were having fun, laughing, and thoroughly confused at the same time from all the new vocabulary. They told us they only knew the words of their ancestors, not the words of God. And here we were this year and a half later and she was retelling the words of God back to me. How beautiful! The Palawanos’ love for stories is an encouragement that once the stories of the Bible are heard in a way that makes sense to them, they are prone to tell and retell them as they do with their own history and folktales. May it be for the Palawanos (and for us) as God intended it: that they love the LORD their God with all their heart, all their soul, and all their strength….that they commit themselves wholeheartedly to these commands … that they repeat them again and again to their children…that they talk about them when they are at home, and while they are on the road, when they are going to bed and when they are getting up. (Deut 6).

*names have been changed for privacy

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If you look, you will see.

As I stumble into the bathroom before dawn, I hear a faint cacophony of sounds in the distance. A motorcycle roars, a dozen roosters competing to herald a new day, a dog barks. Fortunately, the sounds are far enough away that they are still drowned out by the sound of my fan as I crawl back into bed for another half hour.

When the day begins, I go through my morning routine and then sit down with my story crafter. We listen to recordings of people who answered questions about the stories we are working on. She helps me understand what people are saying (sometimes they mumble, sometimes they use words I’m not familiar with, sometimes they just talk too fast for me to comprehend). Based off their answers, we volley ideas back and forth about how to edit our story to make it easier to remember and comprehend. This is the part I love. We laugh about some of the ideas. We record about 20 times due to all the outtakes. Then we are ready to take the story to a village the next day and test it out with new listeners.

Ana and I have only been “back on the job” for two weeks, but already we have been able to grind out some new stories and get back to the routine I just described. We had been in the States for almost two months, and I was admittedly nervous about coming back. Would it take a long time to get back to the rhythm of work? Would people still be available to meet with us? Would we even be allowed to live in our allocation or would we have to move again? Would I forget everything I had learned? Would I be terribly homesick?

It may have helped that I was actually pretty tired and ready for some routine by the time I arrived back in Palawan. My last few weeks in the US were filled with visits and speaking engagements. I then flew to Manila and then on to Korea to see my sister. I was getting over jet lag, but enjoying all the time I could spend with her for a week.  Then when I came through Manila I had to head to our organization’s guesthouse to drop off paperwork and do some laundry before making a quick turnaround to hop on the plane once more to come to Palawan. I was so frazzled that by the time I got off the plane, I ran to the bathroom so quickly I didn’t realize I had run straight into the men’s room. It was empty when I went into the stall but definitely not when I came out. Talk about embarrassing….and hilarious. Needless to say I was ready for a few days of sleeping in and doing laundry so that I was ready for a regular work week of testing stories.

And you know what? God answered so many prayers. We were able to go back to our allocation and house. People have been able to meet with us. Even people that were previously uninterested. I didn’t  forget the language. (I was a little tongue tied at first but no, I didn’t lose it!) Our crafters did show back up, and even a few extra people willing to help. I haven’t been overwhelmed by homesickness. Its  a reminder to continually commit these things to prayer (as I had asked many friends and family to pray over these things before I left) and that I can trust Him with how he answers. Its amazing to see how God works and how we really shouldn’t worry about anything, but submit everything to him and thank him for the answers. (Phil 4:6)

Last year, I jumped on the bandwagon and chose one word to focus on all year. My word was “listen”. I chewed on that word and what it meant and how it could apply to my life. It was great. I learned a lot about listening to other people (please tell me if you feel otherwise, I want to know!), listening to God’s Spirit and even about how the voice of Jesus will make the dead alive! This year, my word is “see”.  The verse that sparked it was Psalm 27:13-14 “Yet  I am confident that I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living. Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” I am not saying my year will be a bed of roses. The psalmist wrote these words as he was crying out for mercy, but he was confident that God would hear his plea and answer. And that he would see God’s grace and mercy in his lifetime. I am confident of the same. Sometimes my vision may become blurred by hardships or distractions, but his goodness is still there. He makes the sun shine and the rain rain on the just and the unjust. He brings us a new day every 24 hours. He changes hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. He gives us his Son, Jesus. And not only that (although that would be enough), he gives us good gifts- little things- all the time. Like all the answers I mentioned before about readjusting to life in Palawan. Like a day of rest once a week and joy at meeting with other believers. Even the gift of laughter and learning to laugh at yourself.

So as I finish up my week, I encourage you to look at your past seven days and see what God has done for you. 🙂

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Lots of speaking and sharing about the ministry while I was home.

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Korea was beautiful!

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Small Surprises, Big Hopes

We sat down at our (almost) weekly session with the young mothers in a local village. This time children were calm, babies nursing as their mothers retold the stories we shared and patiently answered my questions I asked to check their comprehension. I was already floored that one sweet young woman named Ana and her friend Nursilin could remember almost verbatim about half of the story on their very first retelling. (That means they had only heard the story twice). They make a strong case for the power of oral tradition and the capacity to pass information on accurately. But then as we wrapped up the session, she astounded me once again. “I go home and write these stories down.” She is a skillful reteller so I am confident that her written record is accurate. What surprised me was that her interest spread beyond our weekly hour together. She isn’t doing this for me, she is doing it for her. I was excited and told her one day she could even lead a group and teach these stories to other people. “No, I’m too shy” she said. “Well maybe if it was just other women, or the children?” I asked. “Yes, maybe” she said and smiled softly. There was a look on her face that told me she wanted to believe she could do something like that, but doesn’t have the confidence…yet. But her words and her quiet excitement encouraged me more than she knew that day. Those are the moments that remind me of why I’m here, of what I hope to see in the future. I want to see the work we are doing passed off to the locals; for them to take ownership of both the process and the results, for it to be their work. I want them to know God is the God of the Palawanos. His stories are theirs too. Its moments like this one with Ana and Nursilin that I can’t wait to work myself out of a job here. 

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A Goldilocks Day

My teammate Ana captured the joy of our adventure yesterday. There was a moment during our laughter and conversation at our new friends house where I realized this is just….right. It was exactly where we were meant to be for the afternoon. Enjoy her retelling!

Pilgrim Songs

The third one was just right. That was our experience yesterday while testing stories in a new village – a place I had no idea we had passed by numerous times. Christina, Gina, and I climbed out of the tricycle and walked around in the peaceful morning looking for people to talk to. After two days of recording testing sessions over boisterous or querulous children, I was grateful that the children at the first house we visited seemed to be in an especially calm mood. The conditions were perfect, but the woman we talked to there didn’t seem comfortable answering questions about Gina’s story.

20151016_130359We continued to a different part of the village, where we met another woman who seemed unoccupied. We explained our intention of telling stories and asking questions about them, and she directed us to yet another area where, she said, there were many people to listen…

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The Middle Realm

I would venture to say that most people reading this blog, believe we can understand the natural world based on empirical evidence and scientific discovery. Theories can be tested, data gathered; we can explain or control most everything we see and experience. We even have ways of defining human interaction, our relationships and our thought life. We call all this realm science, be it natural or social.

I would also guess that your view of reality doesn’t end here. Most people would agree that there is an unseen reality as well. Whatever you place your faith in- whether it is an impersonal cosmic force like kharma, the many Hindu gods, or the God of Abraham- you would likely agree that there are actualities that exist outside of this world. There are answers to questions that transcend human experience on earth. We could call this high religion.

But what about when these two worlds collide? Do we have any room for such an idea in the construct of our minds? Can the natural world interact with the supernatural? Are there beings or forces unseen that interact with humans or nature? For many people around the world, the answer is yes. Some call this the middle realm. The seen and unseen interact, creatures and spirits that can do harm to humans, forces and powers directly affect our destiny. They may consult mediums or others who are in touch with these forces. They seek cures and answers that the scientific community cannot offer them: the inexplicable decline of health, incurable diseases, how to avoid accidents or unforeseeable events, how to avoid or deal with drought and disasters on the land, or even questions like why did my child die?

For Westerners, Christians included, most simply ignore this realm. We don’t truly believe it exists. We see the forces of the world be it gravity or the odds of having a large yield of crops as impersonal in nature. It can fit into the first category of the natural world. We consider ourselves enlightened. We don’t believe in such things as fairies, witches, ghosts. There are no real answers to the unknowable questions, just coincidence. Sure, if you are a Christian, you’ve probably read the verses in about “spiritual forces in heavenly realms”. But thats it, right? That’s all in “heavenly realms”.  We don’t actually believe (at least we don’t act like we do) that this has daily bearing on our lives. Lets look at the whole of that same verse:

 1For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Eph 6:12

I have been challenged recently: does what I say I believe in about the nature of the spiritual realm coincide with what I actually believe? In Palawano terms, to “mengendel” or “mengarap” is a word that means both believe and act upon. It cannot be separated into two meanings. If you don’t act on something, you don’t actually believe it, right? Makes sense to me. Do I actually pray in terms of what the spiritual powers are doing in this community? Do I live with the belief that the Divine interacts with the human?

Over the course of time here, I have met many people who talk about this “middle realm” all the time. They have explanations for why it hasn’t rained enough, or they seek the answers if they don’t know. Often the problem is related to sins committed in the community. Offerings must be made to atone for said sins. Other times, there are spirits or creatures who are envious of the people here, or perhaps angry with them. They too must be appeased somehow, or curative measures taken. Often there are unexplicable illnesses- why did a healthy young man suddenly vomit blood? The clinic in the mountains has dealt with multiple spirit-possessions. The kind that came out only through prayer. This is real. These aren’t children’s stories or something they create to make sense of their world.

As I pray for these people I realize that in our Western “enlightened” ideas, we have comfortably swept all these things under the rug. Its their darkness, their problem. Conveniently enough, we don’t recognize our love of the world, our chasing after things less than God Almighty and our love of SELF as false worship. Our pet sins and weakness are just “struggles”. We don’t see that as being under the influence of “mighty powers in this dark world.” I am convinced that it is.

 First, Jesus had some pretty strong words about those who don’t follow him:

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44-45

That same father of lies would love for Christ’s followers to believe they too are still his slaves. That they must live under his power and submit to his desires. Peter says he prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Whether you fear him or he lulls you into thinking he is not actively working to seduce you into sin, he has you fooled.

But there is hope. If the supernatural and natural collide, then this should have major implications for us who believe in Immanuel, God with us. He ensures us victory, if we who have his Spirit but take hold of his promises:

“…if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you… Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will liveFor those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. If God is for us, who can be against us? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Rom 8

Make no mistake, this is no passive stance- the Lord tells us to “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes”. It is an active faith, to walk daily with the Spirit of God.

The question is, do you believe in the middle realm? Like, mengendel??

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