We can handle the times when God needs to fine tune things. Many of you responded to the last Nugget on hearing God’s voice and were encouraged to know that God has knowledge of our chartered course that we don’t know yet. It is reassuring to know that He has our past and our future covered and He is working out the plan according to His will. Ooh, there are some nice Christian clichés in that sentence. Reassuring isn’t it? We even have the jargon down pat to make us feel like there is order in the midst of chaos. Now that I know God has it covered I am happy.
But in this Nugget I would like to address those times when chaos seems to be the order of the day over the whole picture. How do we handle those times?
In order to set the scene for what I want to tell you today I have to take you back into the past. Those of you who have journeyed with us for a while now and / or have been receiving Gems, Nuggets or Trails or have been involved in Deeper Bible for a number of levels have probably heard our story of how we got involved with Mission, translation and sensed the Lord was sending us to Sulawesi. You have heard before the story of the Bruchko and the Sherry Chapman connections which resulted in us going to work in the Rongkong language group and of course last week you read of God’s intervention in our plan to set up house in the village and settle in for the long haul.
Now I feel to embark on the other side of our story. The story of when things fall apart at the macro level. The times when the big picture gets shaky and it’s hard to see just what is going on. When God feels a million miles away and things have grown decidedly cloudy and dark. At times I wonder why God leads us in the way He does. It is almost like lights in the sky guidance. The clarity with which He confirms things is awe-inspiring and I often wonder why do you lead us like this Lord? Then when I look rationally at the things we have faced I figure that such specific leading is to hold us in the hard times, when the going gets tough so that we won’t whimp out and turn tail and run.
When we first made contact with the language group we wondered about their unique ways but just put it down to cross-cultural differences and figured that every translation team would face difficulties and oddities. We just have to tough it out. But we did wonder. Not only was there huge suspicion of us and what we had come to do, but there was also strange behaviour which left us reeling. We had heard that Indonesian people were so gentle and refined, loving and approachable. But not ones we were with. The people group we were with were different. We would return to the city when it was time for me to teach at the university and share our latest stories of what happened in our village and other translation teams would be aghast at the stories we told. “My goodness Ian and Tania, they would never do that in our village.”
Even back in the city where people were known to be hard-nosed and suspicious, forthright and direct we still had stories to tell that would amaze the others. Like people coming up to us in the supermarket and asking us, “What kind of family planning methods do you practise?” Other teams were shocked that people would ask us such things. We worked out after a while that we were different from the other translation teams. The ideal for a family nationwide was a boy and then a girl. We had two girls and no boys, yet our children were older than the other teams going out to the villages to do linguistic work. They were still adding to their families. We had clearly finished, with our girls being 9 and 7 respectively. So we were asked the weirdest questions. I won’t go into all the details but you can ask personally if you want to know more. We learned to tell anyone anything – nothing was taboo or sacrosanct. We would field all sorts of questions and requests. Even down to requests for us to bring an Xray machine or MRI equipment next time to the village. Tania was asked in one village we lived in if she had the medicine making her skin white. When she responded by saying, “There is no such medicine, it is natural on the basis our birth parents” the questioner picked up Tania’s bag beside the bed and began to look for the ointment she was asking for. These people were different. And yes you read that right:- people came into the inner sanctuary of our bedroom to talk, ask their questions and minta minta (ask for things).
We lived in a series of villages during the surveying period of time where we were caught between rival groups of people, traditional cultural groupings and divisions across religious lines, even times where the majority religionists welcomed us and the Christians were suspicious of us. We were caught at other times between rival families of influence, each wanting us to stay with them and after making our choice found we had section of the village against us by virtue of the side we had chosen. We lived a life where anything could happen outside of the ordinary or mundane and probably would – from riots and civil unrest to a murder in a neighbouring village yet connected with the family with whom we were living. Anything could happen which we would have to learn to accept it as normal and press on. After all, we were not quitters and we knew we were called to this unique life, God had shown us clearly over and over. So just get on with it.
I was asked numerous times if I would pick up a leadership role in the group but I said no I wanted to be a field linguist. That is what God wanted us to do. That much was clear. We just wanted to do what God had sent us here to do. But it was becoming increasingly difficult to do for numerous reasons – some trivial and others related to the grand scheme of things. In 1989 to 1990 things were conspiring to stretch us to breaking point. I had spent months working with a new computer programme called Font Shop which enable me to design letter fonts to handle Hebrew and Greek, the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and symbols I designed to capture the variations in the language. I was close to getting it finished to have everything working as I desire where I could switch between the sets of letters / symbols to capture the detail I needed. My computer had also been having problems with intermittent power failure which would end in with the computer dying and me having to restart again, thus losing what I had been working on since the last back up. I learned to back up every half an hour in order to preserve what I had worked on. Suddenly after weeks of work to bring it the project to an end my computer screen image exploded as though a bomb had gone off on screen and everything turn to dust particles which then floated down to end up in piles at the bottom of the screen. Across my screen were written the words “You Have Been Cascaded”. I took my computer to the group computer specialist to do a thorough check to found I had a computer virus called Cascade and a problem with the intermittent power supply to the computer’s hard disk resulting in the regular mini crashes.
At the same time this was all happening our contract with the Education Department in country was up for review and there were some issues that were being worked out at the highest levels of government. We were told not to worry, they knew about the problems at national level in Jakarta and despite the fact that our visa was the first of those in the group to be expired it was not a problem. When the contract negotiations were sorted the visa would be renewed. We had a covering letter from Central Government signed by the Minister to whom we reported stating the situation and covering us all. It was a pity that information had not been sent to the Immigration Dept in our regional capital instructing them to follow up on foreigners whose paperwork was not in order. This happened after a group of Moonies had been travelled around our island spreading their message without permission. I was ordered to report to the Immigration office to explain why my paperwork was not in order.
I duly took the letter with me along with our colleague who related to the Immigration Dept on behalf of all of us. Once there I was threatened with prison if I didn’t come back in four day’s time with a signed letter by the Minister and addressed to the Immigration official in our city explaining our situation. As if that was going to happen. I reported back four days later on the Friday where I felt to call the bluff of the Immigration official and excuse myself from the meeting to the shock of my colleague. The Immigration official acquiesced and allowed me to leave to the surprise of all three of us, the Immigration Head as well.
The next time we went back to the village things had changed. The tone of relationship in the village had changed dramatically and we sensed a distance between us and the people with whom we were living. People were stand-offish and no one was coming to relate anymore. Even the children were not coming to play with the girls. It was clear our situation had changed. It had nothing to do with immigration issues or work processes. Rather it was the result of religious rumours going around about our organisation. Our village head had heard the stories from his brother-in-law who worked on a campus in our major university city. Hence the reaction to us personally in the village. In a nutshell our time there in the village was no longer tenable. We were no longer welcome. (I am abbreviating the story to economise on words.) We could no longer work in the villages and could not apply for a new work permit and travel permits to work in a different area. We had to return to the city while the issues related to the agreement between the government and our NGO was worked out. Those negotiations continue for a further couple of years until we were all asked to leave.
We were shell shocked and in disbelief. This couldn’t be happening. Lord, where are you in all of this? How could this happen? Where are we related to the clear leading You have given us that this is where we are supposed to be and this is what we are to do? What have we done wrong? Have I missed something here? Lord, where does this leave us in terms of the promises we believe you have given us? One of our colleagues in our group wrote a song towards the end of this uncertain time which included the line – “I will praise You Lord, even though I don’t know why things are happening as they are.” That was after about two years of us having to stay in the city and work within our organisation and wait for things to be sorted. We believed that things were going to work out and we could continue with what the Lord had sent us here to do.
During that time when we were confident that things would work out and we just had to be patient, both of us received clear, specific verses from the Bible that we were to return to New Zealand – that we were no longer going to be with this people of a strange tongue but we were to return to homeland. This was often how God had led us in the past where we would both be given the same guidance from the Word of God at the same time to show us both this was what we were to do. I was numb and in shock. This couldn’t be happening! What had gone wrong? What had I missed in all of this? Why was this happening as it was? We returned back to New Zealand sadly disillusioned with the whole experience. There are many elements to this story I have omitted, or that I have truncated for the sake of shortening the saga and preventing the telling from becoming tedious and drawn out.
There in a short space of words I have given you the synopsis of the end of a dream! The culmination of the earlier years of following the Lord, being led by pillars of fire by night and cloud by day only to have it all end in a heap of dust both on screen and in real life at the end of it all. So what were You doing LORD? Was this all just a figment of our imagination? Were you really leading us all these years only to have it all end in the dust? Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It was like the death of a vision, the death-knell of a life’s work brought to a premature end.
So what now Lord? How do we trust You to lead us on from this point? More to the point, how do we trust ourselves to know your voice and to follow Your leading with unwaivering confidence, fully convinced that God will do what He had promised? Yeah right! I believe I am getting to understand what you were feeling Father Abraham. These are the moments when Scripture comes alive in an intensely personal kind of way. I am reminded of a quote from Nate Saint that I have requoted a number of times in the Gems.
God does not waste a hurt if we let Him write the story.Nate Saint
This seems to be a good time to take a coffee break – a week-long coffee break.