Monday, October 29, 2012

Child of Mine Chapter 1 (COM Ch 1): My First Grown-Up Summer

Part I  Growing Up  

Chapter 1:  My First Official Grown-Up Summer

            This was before kids, before marriage.  I was twenty years old.  Almost twenty-one.  And I was going to the other side of the world in a huge leap of faith.  It was a ten-week trip and my first summer away from home.  Away from anything and anyone familiar.  I walked down the boarding ramp to the plane, plodding along in a tan shirt, peach skirt and a big, ugly pair of construction boots.  As I cast a last tearful glance back at my boyfriend, a tangible feeling of aloneness came over me.  (I come from a family of eight.  You never get a chance to feel alone in a family of eight.)  And not just aloneness, but loneliness.  I was all on my own in a way I had never been before.  This was just me . . . well, just me and God.  I would leave home a girl and come back all grown up.
            [FYI: This chapter is long and boring.  So go ahead and skip it.  All you really need to know is this:  I went on a mission trip when I was a young adult, and it grew me up in so many ways.  I grew in my self-confidence and I grew in my faith.  But I would later discover that I had a lot more growing to do and that my faith and confidence were not as hunky-dory as I thought.  Now you can go right to chapter 2, if you don't want to read a really long, boring chapter.  You have my permission.]   


            In fact, I turned twenty-one just one week into my trip, surrounded by thousands of people I didn’t know.  This mission trip was a very big step for me.  Before I left, I was still living at home, working in my step-dad’s office, working with my mom in our youth group, and attending a community college.  But I would be leaving behind everything to go to a remote jungle island near Australia with no one I knew and doing a job that I didn’t really feel qualified for. 
            Even this would not have normally been such a big deal.  But I was insanely attached to my boyfriend, and I didn’t think I could ever live without him.  To leave him and the security of that relationship behind to follow God’s call to Papua New Guinea with Teen Missions International was a very big step.  I would be thousands of miles away, with only a few letters passing between us and no way to keep tabs on all that he was doing.  This would be the make-it or break-it summer for us.           
            This summer would also be a chance for me to experience more of God and to exercise my faith in Him.  God and I always had a pretty good relationship.  He has always been good to me.  I had a good childhood, plenty to eat, a safe home, good neighborhoods.  I didn’t really want for much.  And my faith was solid.  I grew up with faith in Him, and I knew that I could trust Him to provide the money for the trip, to watch over me, and to bring me back safely.  In fact, I kind of expected Him to do it.  I never really thought otherwise.  And since this trip was something that I really wanted to do anyway, I was glad to know that God was helping.  This trip wasn’t so much a test of faith as a little adventure along the way. 
            And it was by far the most exciting thing I had ever done in my twenty-one years.  But as I walked down the ramp to the plane and left my boyfriend at the gate, I was already crying.  Ten weeks!  I couldn’t even make it into the airplane without breaking down.  How was I going to make it ten weeks?  I was glad to have a window seat.  Then I would look like I was just staring out the window while I cried. 
            I was one of four leaders going to Papua New Guinea.  Two males, two females.  And three of us were twenty-one-year-olds.  The only one with any real, adult life experience was our fifty-something head leader, Joe.  Joe and James would help the team do their construction jobs, while LeAnne (as I’ll call her, because her real name is so rare that she might not want to be so easily identified) and I would care for the team.  LeAnne had been on numerous teams before, but this was my first time on a TMI team (not to mention my first time on an undeveloped, primitive island). 
            And what was my job as a team leader?  Part of it was to cook for the team.  Which was funny because I didn’t know how to cook.  I was never taught.  And now I was supposed to cook for thirty-two people?  Not only that, but I was supposed to cook for thirty-two people in all sorts of different conditions: electricity, no electricity, running water, no running water but a bucket of rainwater, a heavy-duty camp-stove, and a mud-oven. 
            What if I got sick in a remote jungle accessible only by canoe?  What if one of the teens did?  What would I do to take care of them?  What about malaria?  Was it really that bad?  (I didn’t want to find out!)  And what about college?  Upon arriving home, I would be heading directly from the airport to my first year away at college where I would be one day late for my junior year.  I would have to rely on family and friends to get my things set up in my room and to make plans with the school on my behalf.  And would my boyfriend of two-and-a-half years be able to wait for me for ten weeks, or would he find another girl while I was gone?  Would other girls be flirting with him while I wasn’t around?  (Oooh, that thought burned me up!) 
            And, most pressingly, what was I supposed to do when I got off the plane?  As we got ready to land, I realized that those details somehow got overlooked in the planning.  The TMI staff knew I was coming in by plane, but it never dawned on me to ask how we meet up.  Did I just stand there and wait for someone to come get me?  Was I supposed to meet them somewhere?  Does anyone even know I was arriving this particular day on this particular flight?  How had I overlooked those details? 
            When I got off the plane, I stood there for a little while, not sure of what I was supposed to do.  No one knew who I was or what I looked like.  But after I-don’t-know-how-long of standing there, looking completely confused and lost, someone came up and asked if I was there for Teen Missions International.  Thank God!  Someone knows I’m here!  I asked him how he knew.  He pointed to my construction boots.  Everyone at TMI wore only construction boots. 
            “The Circle K calls us whenever one of the teens leaves the camp to sneak there for some snacks.  They can always tell by looking at their feet.” 
            One pair of construction boots for the whole summer!  Since we had only this pair of boots, it was crucial to treat them with water-proofer before leaving.  If they got wet, they stayed wet all day.  And we had to break them in by wearing them for a month or so beforehand.  There was no other pair of shoes to change into, should there be any problems with your boots.  No gym shoes, no sandals, no flip-flops. 
            And given that we each had only one duffel bag (that I could climb into, if I wanted) to carry all of our things for ten weeks, I had to pack carefully.  Sleeping bag, air mattress, Bible, journal, work clothes, and the bare essentials, like a toothbrush and shampoo. 
            (Careful, huh?  One week into Boot Camp, people were commenting on how greasy my hair was getting.  I looked at my bottle of shampoo.  It said “conditioner.”  That explained why it wouldn’t lather.  I thought it had something to do with the way it reacted to the lake water that we bathed in - in our swimsuits, of course.  A lake aptly named Bathtub Lake, if I remember correctly.  The one we swam in was unreassuringly called Alligator Alley.  Thankfully, one of the teens shared her shampoo with me.) 
            And that was all!  That was what I would live with all summer.  Oh . . . and the bug spray!  Four cans seemed like a lot for one person.  Or was it not enough?  There was no way to get more.  (Amazingly enough, I didn’t use any of it all summer . . . until the last week in PNG.  Then, within seven days, I used all four cans.  I’m shocked that I didn’t get acute poisoning or something.  And yet, the mosquitoes still bit me so badly that my thighs and legs flared up into a solid, bumpy, itchy rash just from flipping over in my sleeping bag.  I think they took pleasure in the taste and derived power from it.) 
            I chose to go to Papua New Guinea as a leader instead of as a teen team member because I had just reached the cut-off age.  I had a choice.  But I do so love being a leader and in charge.  And I had the choice between Jamaica or PNG.  Jamaica sounded vacation-y and closer and safer.  But I chose PNG because I wanted it to be primal.  I wanted to be away from all civilization, with no electricity, running water, or any of the creature-comforts that we have grown so used to.  I wanted to be challenged as a person.  (And I was still just a little bit jealous that my boyfriend had gone on vacation earlier in our relationship . . . leaving on my birthday . . . without me . . . to Hawaii!  So taking a summer trip was my chance to sort of get back at him.  Hey, I didn’t say it was a good reason.) 
            Family, friends, and businesses helped me raise the $4,000 needed for the trip.  $4,000 to leave all comforts behind and spend a summer living out of a duffel bag.  A summer full of bugs, sweat, trees, the chance of getting bitten by spiders, snakes or a malaria-carrying mosquito.  Parasites?  Worms?  I wanted to be stretched and tested, and a trip like this was a wonderful opportunity to do that.  (Masochistic?) 
            I told my mom that I wanted God to take away all my comforts and really test me to rely on Him alone.  To which she (wisely) replied, “Don’t ask for that or you could get it.  You could lose everything: your health, your legs, your eyesight, etc.  Never ask for that!” 
            Right . . . check!  “Scratch that, God!  I want to be tested in a little, fun, exciting way for a short time and without any really serious consequences.”  So off to Florida I went for the two weeks of Boot Camp that we had to attend before the various teams headed to their separate locations all around the globe.
            Boot Camp was where we trained for our summer.  There would be two-thousand (?) teens learning to saw, hammer, build, evangelize, do puppet-work, and live as a team.  There were four to six leaders per team learning to care for the teens, to cook, to shuttle everyone from location to location, and to guide them in their Christian walks. 
            It was an amazing feeling unlike any I had ever felt before.  To be really on my own for the first time, to not have to report to my parents, or check in with them about anything.  To not have a boyfriend next to me to keep an eye on or to run things past.  I was one of the leaders here, one of the ones in charge.  (Though I really had no idea what I was doing!)  And it felt good! 
            Those first two days of Boot Camp were a flurry of activity.  When the truck from the airport dropped us off, I walked to the main tent (a giant circus-like tent where we had our meetings) and got in line with the rest of the newly-arrived leaders.  When it was my turn, I gave my name and team destination.  The necessary paperwork was filed and orders were given, and I was out of the line before I had a chance to figure out what to do next.  I think I heard something about finding the other leaders, finding our tent site, setting up camp, and getting to the meetings on time.  Or something like that?  (The leaders got there a week earlier than the teens for “leader training.”)
            Great!  Now how about helping me find the people who knew what they were doing and where things were?  Thankfully, a co-leader found me when he overheard me say that I was PNG. 
            “You’re PNG?” came a voice from the back of the line.  “Me, too!”  Good!  That was one person out of thirty-one that I was supposed to eventually find.  James and I gave each other a nod, briefly compared notes, and off we went to find our tent site. 
            Our tent site, unfortunately, was deep in the jungles of Boot Camp, maybe a third of a mile from the main meeting tent.  It was so thick with trees that you would disappear into them within fifteen feet.  Here at our site, there were no lights, no facilities (except a rather crude toilet) and no amenities.  We had, I believe, the most distant, remote site because it was supposed to be practice for having the most distant, remote destination.
            But that’s okay, I could hack it.  Now if I could just figure out where this tent pole was supposed to go?  Thankfully, James offered to set my tent up for me.  Which I was grateful for because I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what I was doing or anything.  And while he did the hard work, I strung up a clothesline behind my tent where I would hang my clothes to dry.  And where I would leave them to dry after they got rained on again.  And I fashioned a palm branch into a broom to sweep my tent and the plastic mat out front that I kept my boots on overnight. 
            You couldn’t really keep your boots in the tents because the mud was so bad.  And it never dawned on me to wrap them up in something when I left them outside all night.  So there was a little moment of thrilling anticipation whenever I pulled my boots on every morning or reached inside to see if they were “all clear.”  All I could think about every time I did this was Flash Gordon and the other guy putting their hands into that big, holey rock to see who would get bit first by the poisonous creature.  Exciting!   
             After a week of leader-training came the teens.  They would be arriving on various buses over two days.  And my job was to stand with other teams’ leaders in the relentless sun for hours as endless lines of buses dropped the kids off.  Then as the kids got off the buses one by one, they would yell their team name, and the corresponding leader would raise his or her hand.  Efficiently, quietly. 
            No other talking was allowed.  We got in trouble if we did.  They were called Special Blessings,  SB’s for short.  Extra chores for the whole team to do during their free time to help the team learn to obey and behave better.  We were “blessed” a lot during Boot Camp, starting with breaking the “No Talking” rule!   
            Did I tell you about the bugs in Boot Camp?  I have never heard a level of noise like I heard from those bugs around our tents.  And I have five younger brothers!  Not only am I the lightest sleeper in the world, but I am not accustomed to sleeping in the middle of a dark, damp jungle where the bugs are so loud that my eardrums hurt.  Seriously, sticking my head into a jet engine would have been quieter. 
            But Boot Camp wears you out so fast that you learn to sleep any way and anywhere.  Besides the heat and walking everywhere all day long, one of the reasons everyone was so tired was the long, arduous obstacle course that the teams had to run every day.  The course consisted of various fun and not-so fun challenges, like organizing the books of the Bible written on large blocks, taking roll call inside a bus, running, swinging over the water to the other side, and, finally, scaling a large wall with a rope and the help of your teammates.  It was designed to build necessary skills, stamina, and team work.
            And not to brag . . . but, alright, I’ll tell you . . . our team got first place in eight out of the ten days.  But not with my help, of course.  Because being a leader, I did not have to run it every day.  In fact, if there were no other reason for being a leader, getting out of the obstacle course would have been enough for me.  I’m not really a wimp, but . . . Yeah, actually, I kinda am. 
            I was more than happy to sit out the OC.  But on Leader’s Day, I had a choice to run it with the team.  And I wanted to try.  Two-thousand kids did it every day, and I was only a few years older than them.  How hard could it be? 
            Wow!  How humiliating!  Here I was, just a few years out of high school, and I couldn’t keep up with fifteen to eighteen-year-olds.  I wasn’t that much older!  What happened?  Just three years before, I was a busy, athletic cheerleader who could climb pyramids, get thrown in the air, walk in the parades, and run a really quick mile. 
            I had done most of the obstacles with them alright.  I could name the books of the Bible.  I could sit in a bus and yell “29” during roll call.  But then came the running . . . and the running and . . . Oh wait, Yes! . . . some more running.  I don’t know how long the running part was because I blacked out somewhere along mile fifteen. 
            Okay, it wasn’t that long and I didn’t really black out.  But running and I have never been on friendly terms.  So even if it was only a half-mile, it sure felt a lot longer as I tried to follow a little dirt path through the thick trees where I could only catch a glimpse now and then of the people ahead of me. 
            Oh, but I did catch plenty of glimpses of the people behind me as I came to a pathetic halt in the middle of the path and doubled over to catch my breath.  Every few seconds, a kid on my team would pass me up and briefly slow down to snicker and ask if I was alright. 
            “Yeah . . . yeah!  I’m fine.  I’m fine.  Just go on without me.  I’m just holding this tree up for a minute.  Thought I saw it wobblin’.” 
            I’d have called it quits right then (my pride is not that strong), but I was already halfway in.  And the only way out now was to keep going.  But as I struggled to put one foot in front of the other, I grew increasingly more worried about the next challenge . . . swinging over the slimy eight-foot-wide (or so) slime pit named the “Slough of Despond.”  Very encouraging! 
            I could barely keep myself upright; how was I going to be able to jump for the rope and safely swing across to the other side?  I had seen the videos!  I saw the other kids fall in.  Or the one unfortunate soul that was just standing there and waiting for her turn, when another kid came plowing into her from behind when he leapt for the rope, throwing her into the filthy, old pit covered in a layer of bubbly mucus.  (Ever seen Labyrinth?  The Bog of Eternal Stench?  You get the picture.)  And if you got wet, you stayed wet all day.  And so did your boots! 
            I rounded the last corner and came into full view of the pit and the ropes.  Fortunately, being the last in line meant that no one could crash into me from behind.  I got to the edge, caught my breath, and took a moment to celebrate that the running was done. 
            And then I saw a rope swinging back towards me from the previous leaper.  Brilliant!  If I could catch it while it was on the back-swing, I wouldn’t have to make a huge leap for the one that hung still in the middle.  It’s now or never!  There was no time to debate!  So with only a moment’s hesitation, I leapt into the air, arms flailing for a secure grasp and . . . I swung.  YEAH! I made it!  I’m on the rope!  Swinging over the slime! 
            And then a most unpleasant thought hit me:  What if I can’t get off the rope?  What if I swing back and forth until I slow down and come to a stop over the water?  Then what?  Will someone come help?  How long can I hang on?  Or what if I jumped off, hit solid ground, and then fell backward into the water?  I would have to wear wet clothes all day and this is my only pair of footwear.  And just look at that layer of slime on top of the water.  This was voluntary.  I didn’t even have to run the course.  But I chose to for fun.  FOR FUN!?!  (It’s amazing what goes through your head in the course of two seconds.)
            So here I was swinging over the pond, afraid to leave the rope, but afraid to wait too long.  I had no choice, though.  I had to get off while it still had a lot of momentum.  So when the rope reached the other side, I let go of it and threw my body toward dry land.  And my feet hit solid ground.  I made it over safely.
            “Yes!  Thank you, Lord!”  I would stay dry that day.  Yes, sir!  No slime for me, thank you very much!  And the last obstacle - scaling the wall - was nothing compared to the slough.  I was just so happy to be dry.  (Ah, the little things you are thankful for at Boot Camp.)   
            Honestly, though, being dry is not such a little thing when you have really limited clothes (like four or five outfits for a whole summer), one pair of boots, and no time to sit and dry off.  And you can never take dryness for granted at Boot Camp in Florida.  We were warned by the head staff that there are days when it is completely clear and warm.  And then, all of sudden, the sky opens up and releases all of its fury in a huge wall of water without any warning.  And then it would be over as quickly as it started.  One of the required items to always carry in our fanny packs (remember those?) was a plastic fold-up poncho.  And we had ours with us at all times . . . except once. 
            One day, we were running late to get lunch.  It was hot dogs and chips.  A good lunch for Boot Camp!  (Fortunately, I missed the years of Spam.)  We left our things in the big meeting tent and took off for the mess hall.  As we stood in line, we realized that we left our rain ponchos back at the tent.   Oh, well, it’s a clear day.  Sunshiney and beautiful! 
            We got our hot dogs and stepped outside into the sun to find a place to sit.  The whole team hadn’t even finished getting their food, though, before the sky opened up with a vengeance.  (Wow!  They weren’t kidding.)   So now we faced a dilemma: run a quarter of a mile back to the tent for our fanny packs, or try to find a place to eat out of the rain, hoping we wouldn’t get caught without our ponchos (another SB). 
            So there we stood, huddled under the tiny eaves around the mess hall, eating our soggy hot dogs and chips from plates that filled with rain as it poured off the roof.  We had learned our lesson and we never forgot our fanny packs again.       
            Aside from that (and a pounding headache that I had for days, before it finally dawned on me to pray about it.  It went away immediately when the team prayed for me!), Boot Camp went fairly smoothly.  And as the two weeks went on, our group got pretty close.  I went from being alone to being part of “family” that was preparing to go to one of the most exciting and remote locations that TMI offered.   
            We were warned about the conditions that we would be facing in PNG.  And we were blessed to have a guest speaker at Boot Camp that had lived for years in PNG as a missionary.  So we got to hear lots of personal stories about the land, the people, the bugs, and the snakes.            
            The snakes!  Snakes called Death Adders!  Sounds pretty obvious to me what one bite from them will do.  And I prayed that I would never be able to claim that I saw a real Death Adder.  The snake that I ran across in Boot Camp was all I could handle.  Here’s what happened in that story:
            We had just retired to our separate tents for bedtime; dirty, exhausted and achy.  As I unlaced my boots and set them outside my tent, I heard this high-pitched screaming coming from a few tents over.  Without thinking or hesitation, I pulled on my unlaced boots and went running towards the scream in the pitch black, leaping through a bush at full speed . . . Dun-Duh-Dun-DUH!  Dun-Duh-DUH!  (That’s the Indiana Jones theme song, in case you couldn’t figure it out) . . . and raced right past our full-grown, adult male leader who was just standing there, looking dazed. 
            And as I got to her tent, I heard it . . . “A snake!  A snake in my tent!”  You never know what you are going to do in a crisis or emergency, so it was interesting to see how little I thought things through before I acted.  All I could think was, Get in there between her and the snake. 
            But when I got in there?  Then what?  I think that I figured if I could get in between them, she could sneak out.  But then what would I do?  Wrestle it with my bare hands?  Pick it up behind the head and pray to God it wouldn’t bite me?  Stomp on it in the blackness and hope I didn’t miss it and make it angry?  What if it was poisonous?
            I jumped in the tent and yelled, “GET OUT OF HERE!”  She’s screaming and curled up against the side of the tent, paralyzed with fear.  As she tumbles out of tent door, I spot the snake in her sleeping bag.  And I start looking for a place to grab it.  (WHAT on God’s green earth was I thinking?)  It was obviously scared stiff, too, so I thought that maybe I could just grab it behind the head and throw it out.  (Umm, hello?  How about getting out of the tent and calling for help?  Or wrapping it up in the sleeping bag to shake it out somewhere?  Or closing the bag and beating the snot out of it with a big stick?  But, NO!  None of those went through my head.  No . . . I was going to PICK IT UP with my bare hands.) 
            It was awfully still, so I got a chance to look at it a little closer as my eyes adjusted to the light.  It’s lower jaw was askew and it’s head looked pretty flat. 
            “Uh, I think you kneeled on it and killed it,” I said.  I gave it a poke, as I flinched backward.  Another poke, another flinch.  When it still didn’t move, I grabbed its tail and shook it a little.  And then I knew. 
            “Andrea, It’s fake.  It’s a plastic snake.” 
            What a relief!  Andrea, though, wasn’t too pleased as she shook uncontrollably and hysterically screamed out into the darkness, “I HATE YOU, PNG!”  The guys giggled a few tents over.  Another SB!  As I learned that night, I could handle the plastic snakes pretty well.  Let’s just hope I never had to find out how I would handle a Death Adder.  (Especially given my complete lack of forethought and common sense.)      
            As Boot Camp went on, I got a chance to develop my skills as a leader, and I finally learned what my role was.  My job throughout the summer was to be a jack-of-all-trades.  Along with LeAnne, I was the team nurse, the counselor, the vitamin and malaria-pill dispenser, the chauffer, the warden, and the co-cook.  And even without any cooking experience, it wasn’t going to be that hard.  Everything was in gallon-sized cans.  Basically just open a can, assemble, heat and eat. 
            And during Boot Camp, I learned to do something that I would be doing nearly every day that summer.  I had never done it before, but it became one of my favorite jobs.  Except for having to be up before dawn to start it!  I learned to make fresh bread by hand.  It was exclusively my job to make several loaves of bread by hand every day before dawn.  And I loved it! 
            I loved mixing the flour, water, and yeast.  I loved kneading the dough, forming them into loaves, and watching them rise.  I loved putting them into the oven (six loaves each day) and smelling that incomparable fresh-baked smell as they transformed into the warm, chewy, golden backbone of the meals.  And I loved the pure satisfaction of making the most basic food item from scratch. 
            The only thing that I remember making up until this point was macaroni and cheese as a child.  And even then, I did it wrong.  I added the cheese powder to the boiling water, and then I had to scoop up the clumpy masses and mush them into the noodles once they were cooked (or overcooked, I should say).  And now I was making fresh, handmade bread. 
            And it woke up something in me; some undiscovered desire to create and to live simply, to enjoy the process and the moment, doing things the way our grandmothers did.  No matter where we went that summer, it was my privilege to bake the bread.  (And I highly doubted LeAnne would have fought me for that job, anyway!) 
            Basically, my role all summer was to be an all-around mom.  No problem.  Piece of cake!  But . . . what did a mom do?  Sure, I had a mom, but I was so busy with my own life that I never stopped to take notes. 
            [I’ll tell you what they didn’t do, though.  They didn’t serve the kids a leftover noodle casserole that sat out all night in the open air in the sweltering heat of a dirty, grimy Papua New Guinea jungle.  Oh, yes . . . we did!  Sadly, this is no joke!  The kids were actually removing bugs from it and we still served it.  And yes, they all got quite sick for a night. 
            I honestly didn’t know that the food could go bad that fast in those conditions under no refrigeration.  I told you - I was never taught how to cook.  It looked alright to me.  Though I didn’t eat it!  To this day, I am just so thankful that none of them died from severe food poisoning.  And in my defense, my co-cook had been a leader many times before me, in many different remote locations, and she didn’t even realize it.  And she was the head cook.  I was just the assistant. 
            Finger-point, finger-point . . . “It’s all her fault.  I didn’t know what I was doing!  I was ignorant.  You can’t pin this one on me.  I’m innocent, I tell you!  Innocent!  Have mercy!  Have mercy,” I scream, as the bailiff pulls me off the judge’s leg that I’m fiercely clinging to.  I know that’s what you’re picturing!  Anyway, I had a lot to learn.  And this would be a learn-as-you-go kind of summer.]
            The last night of Boot Camp was a celebration of sorts.  It was a huge send-off as each team boarded buses heading for the airport to go to their locations.  There was a pizza party, singing, encouragement, challenges to be strong and prepared, exhortations to be wise and godly.  It was a wonderful time, filled with the excitement and anticipation for the journey to come.  And it was also filled with incredible pain.  In my left boot!
            Apparently, I didn’t break my boots in well enough before I arrived (at least they were well waterproofed).  And I ended up with a huge blister on the back of my heel that, I believe, exposed the bone.  We would be leaving for PNG in a matter of hours, and I couldn’t even walk.  One of the teens had to help me back to my tent.  Dear God, please let this heal.  I can’t function if this stays this way.  And there would be no doctors to see.”  Yet, somehow, with a nice thick bandage, it healed.  And it never caused a problem the rest of the summer.  Thanks again, Lord.  (I think it helped that it took several days of traveling to get to our destination.) 
            Well, we boarded a bus that took us to the airport where we slept for hours before our plane was ready.  That was a sight!  Thirty-two huge duffel bags all piled up in the airport with thirty-two people in bright pink (they called it magenta) Teen Missions shirts sprawled out on the floor.  You knew that you learned the secret of sleeping when you could catch a little shut-eye laying on the luggage in a bright, noisy airport.  Every so often, we would look down a hallway and see another team waiting for their plane, all decked out in bright, matching shirts standing by a huge pile of duffel bags. 
            Before we boarded the plane, I got to call my boyfriend back home.  It would be the only time I would speak to him in ten weeks.  I cried through the whole conversation.  But when I hung up, I was ready to look forward and face the summer. 
            We were all full of anticipation as we settled into our seats for the half-day plane ride to Australia.  We would be spending a week in Australia at the end of the summer; but for now, we would have to settle for a glimpse of it from the window of the airport as we switched planes.    
            From Australia, we took a smaller plane up to Port Moresby, PNG’s capital.  Here we go!  We were about to land on the island that would be our home for two months!  As we approached Port Moresby, I had visions of lush rain forests and palm trees with curious monkeys swinging in the branches.  I half-expected (and fully hoped) that there were going to be native women in grass skirts there to greet us with flower necklaces.    
            But I was very disappointed when we stepped off the plane.  Port Moresby was not lush and green.  It was arid, dusty, and dry.  And there were hardly any trees springing up through the baked, brown earth.  Hot dust kicked up all over, and the stale, still air made it hard to breathe.  It felt more like a desert than an island. 
            And the only people there to greet us were some unhappy looking officials.  This is where we went through “customs.”  Which was really just a time for two men to look at all the food we were bringing in and to “confiscate” some of it.  They only took a couple gallons.  A small price to pay.  
            From here, we took a tiny plane in the middle of the night to the village of Wewak.  We would be staying in Wewak for a few days to get some supplies.  After getting off the plane, we took a truck to the old schoolhouse we would be staying in.  And since we arrived in the middle of the night, we couldn’t see anything of the surrounding area. 
            We quickly unloaded the truck as the fatigue set in, and we dropped onto our sleeping bags on the floor.  Boys on one floor, girls on another.  As I nestled into my not-so-comfy sleeping bag on the cold, hard floor, I was thankful to finally be resting in a real building after a couple days of three different planes and a truck ride.  I fell asleep immediately. 
            When I woke up a few short hours later, I stepped outside the building and took my first real look at Wewak.  And . . . it took my breath away!  Port Moresby and Wewak are on the same island?  They couldn’t be more different.  I had spent all night sleeping in the most beautiful place I had ever seen and I didn’t even know it.  We were at the top of a hill that looked down through all sorts of palms and banana trees to the town below.  It wasn’t so much a town as a street running through the valley, lined with a few buildings - a bank, a few novelty shops, a corner store.  Not much, but it was “downtown.” 
            Looking up above the town, there were more lush, green mountains on the other side of the valley, dotted here and there with columns of smoke.  And on either side of the town was sparkling blue water lined with white sands and palm trees.  It was breathtaking!  I just stood there alone for a while, soaking in the beauty.  And in the few days we were there, it never got old.  In fact, I wrote to my boyfriend from there saying that I wasn’t coming home.  I had found where God had hidden Heaven on earth.  He must have enjoyed making that place. 
            Unfortunately, Wewak was just a layover for us.  We spent a couple of days doing Bible studies, devotions, and gathering food supplies.  There was electricity and running water here, and it was the first and last place where we could take a real shower for many weeks.  We did some grocery shopping down in the valley at that little corner store - eggs, potatoes, bread and . . . ice cream.  The best treat ever for the ninety-five degree days.   
            The main part of town was rather small, really just a street or two.  And it was very obvious that we were foreigners.  Everyone else was a deep, dark brown, and we were all glow-in-the-dark white.  I was surprised to see one or two other white faces in town.  We would nod at each other and move on, but we never found out what they were there for.   
            While the locals didn’t take too much interest in us, the girls on our team had been instructed not to go anywhere without a guy from our team.  It just wasn’t safe.  But one day, I found myself alone somehow.  I had gone into town with others from our team, but everyone seemed to have some other errand to run.  And we all went our separate ways.  None of us compared notes to see who would go with whom. 
            And before I knew it, I stood there by myself with a grocery list in my hand.  I only needed to pick up a couple bags of things.  Then I realized, though, that I would have to walk the half-mile up the hill to the schoolhouse, loaded down with groceries and past all the local men that hung out on the sides of the road.  The anxiety began to mount.    
            I quickly got my groceries and began carrying them back up the hill.  The whole half-mile up the hill, I passed these men chewing away on Betel Nuts and spitting the red juice out all over the ground as they eyed me curiously.  It must have been an amusing sight: a short, exhausted, over-heated, glow-in-the-dark girl laden down with grocery bags, trying to look as tough as possible in a bright pink shirt and long, denim skirt.  (Ooooh, don’t mess with her!) 
            All I could do the whole way up the hill was pray.  Well, pray and grunt and struggle to keep hold of all the bags, which seemed to grow heavier and heavier the higher up the hill I walked, all the while trying to look like it was a piece of cake!  And I did my best to keep my head held high, so that I could look brave and ready for a fight, despite the fact that I’m 5’1” (according to my license).  Needless to say, I was very relieved to finally reach our room safely, as I breathed a prayer of thanks to God. 
            When we weren’t getting supplies or doing devotions in Wewak, we were in the backyard of the schoolhouse.  There was a gorgeous frangipani (?) tree that we girls enjoyed pulling the flowers from to wear in our hair.  Can’t get more island-y than that! 
            And there was also a curious hawk that came to visit us daily.  He must have been someone’s pet because he had a band around his ankle.  And he was very tame and even let us pet him.  We spent our free time catching grasshoppers and holding them high over our heads.  He would swoop down and grab them from our fingers.  We’d watch him tear the grasshopper apart, and then he’d look up and wait for more.  (Poor grasshoppers!  Just hopping around, minding their own business.  Never knew what hit ‘em.  But it was endless fun for us!) 
            Wewak was truly beautiful.  I bet that God Himself lingered in that place when He made it.  I would have stayed there all summer if I could have, but we were only stopping over.  And we had more remote areas to get to.
            With a sigh and a long glance back, we boarded a couple trucks that would take us to more trucks.  But these first trucks didn’t have nice, cushy seats.  These were standing-room-only vehicles with no tops.  And we all had to cram into their back ends, standing shoulder to shoulder, grasping for anything to hang onto to keep us from bouncing right out. 
            And if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, we were all in our matching pink travel shirts.  Thirty-two of us.  I felt like we were giant gumballs in a rickety, bouncy gumball machine, just waiting to spill out all over the road.  (Yeah!  I wish I was standing on the side of the road to see these trucks go by.)  At least it was a short drive.  Even this, though, was preferable to the next trucks we took. 
            The next vehicles we found ourselves in were old, uncomfortable, military-like vehicles.  They had room for us to sit in the back on the floor or to lay down if we wanted.  And this would have been an improvement . . . if it wasn’t so bumpy. 
            Because as we bounced along the grass-and-dirt paths that ran through the hills of PNG, kids were getting sick and puking out the back of the truck as we drove.  I kept fearing that one would bounce right out of the open end as they vomited.  And those who weren’t puking were afraid to open their mouths.  They could only sit there with their eyes closed, holding their heads between their knees and rocking back and forth. 
            Which probably was a good thing because then they couldn’t see where we were headed.  Our driver seemed to have a death wish as he drove at break-neck speed, up and down the mountainous hills, weaving this way and that, with no regard for what side of the road he was on.  I don’t think there even was a designated “side of the road.”  Just one narrow path on a bumpy, dirt road that forced you to play chicken with oncoming traffic.  I really thought that this would be the way that I met my Maker.  I’d been sky-diving, white-water rafting, canoeing, flying, boating, plastic-snake-wrestling, etc.  (I’m really not that adventurous, which is the weird part).  But I never sensed eternity as closely as I did in that truck. 
            And we rode in that one for many hours.  Although all that I really remember from that drive was hours and hours of green whizzing past us, interspersed with the view of the tops of my knees as I rocked back and forth, curled up in the fetal position.  We prayed the whole way that we would make it the whole way.  And after what felt like forever, after the sun had gone down and the sky was black, we made it to the river in one piece (and with a little more room in our stomachs).  And we celebrated with another meal of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and a short nap on the floor of the truck until the sun came up.  
            We awoke to the sound of the canoes pulling up to greet us.  But these canoes were not like the canoes my cousin, Tonya, and I used to paddle down a lazy river when we were preteens.  These were huge thirty-feet long (or so) canoes that were dug out of giant tree trunks.  They would be taking us down the Sepik river, deep into the interior of Papua New Guinea.  We loaded thirty-two personal duffel bags, all of our food, gear, tools and kitchen equipment, thirty-two team members, and four or five local guides onto two of these canoes.  That’s how big they were!
             It was exciting at first, walking up and down these giant floating trees, piling up all the luggage, finding your place to sit.  I think we were just so happy to be out of trucks and planes for a while.  But the excitement wore off quickly because, once the trip started, we realized that there wasn’t an inch to move to the left or right.  And so you were stuck where you were for the entire day.  The entire day!  I think twenty chipmunks packed into a paper-towel tube would have been more comfortable! 
            And we rode that way for hours in the unrelenting sunshine, heat, and humidity.  There was not a cloud in the sky to offer a bit of relief.  Thank God, though, that we had a motor on the canoe.  Back in the day, they had to use paddles, and it took them several days of travel, instead of one.  Oh, and I was once again so thankful to be a leader.  I got to pick the choice spot at the back of one of the canoes, on top of the luggage where I could stretch my arms and legs.  LeAnne had also given me a giant bag of candy for the trip.  Just for me!  Although, I did sneak some to the team- members closest to me.  (I couldn’t be that mean!  Besides, they caught me sneaking it into my mouth.)      
            But, the scenery!  Oh, the scenery was so beautiful.  Hours and hours (and hours!) of green “mountains,” and not a building in sight.  No electrical wires, cars, houses, people.  Nothing but green trees, blue sky, and brown water.  And more intimacy than you could ever hope for. 
            In fact, I can now say that I have gone to the bathroom in a way that beats all others.  It beats camping when there were no bathrooms and just a log to hold onto, squatting precariously over a train’s toilet in Russia where you could actually see the tracks below, squatting on a PNG dirt road at midnight when we thought our bladders would burst from the bumpy truck ride, and sharing the toilet with Tonya when we were young and both had to go really bad. 
            Obviously, there are no toilets on canoes.  So when you had to go, you hung your rear-end over the edge of the canoe while holding hands with someone on the canoe to keep you from falling in.  And you did this with your rain poncho over you for privacy.  We got really close to each other on this trip!  And the guys were kind enough to turn the other way while holding your hand. 
            I think the only thing more challenging would be to stick your rear-end out of the window of a speeding car and try to aim for a porta-potty on the side of the road.  And the thought of giant water snakes and crocodiles chomping on your tender, exposed areas couldn’t help but pass through your mind, making it extra exciting.  Nothing to ruin your summer quite like a crocodile bite on a bare butt.  Now that I think about it, I don’t even remember toilet paper.  Hmm?  Well, at least we were all in the same boat.  Literally!  (Ha-ha-ha!  I didn’t even catch that until I wrote it.)   
            The only stop that we had the whole day was to a little niche in the mountains called Ambunti.  This is where we stretched our legs, gathered our mail, and ate a fine lunch of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches (Ugh!).  There were rolling hills all over, with this tiny little village (just a few huts, actually) nestled in a valley.  It was amazingly simple and beautiful.  And I would have loved to have soaked it in more.  But before we had time to make more memories there, we were back in our paper-towel tube and headed for Hauna.
            By the time we pulled off the Sepik and onto the off-shoot river that led us to the village, it was getting dark.  I remember the red-streaked sky, the few long stretches of wispy clouds, the first bit of relief from the blazing heat, and the children.  The children in the village all came out to greet us, lining up on the high sides of the bank above us.  I’d never read The Lord of the Flies, but something about that moment made me think of it.  But there were adults, and they greeted us at the pier.
            Hauna’s main house was where an American missionary working in Bible translation lived.  And it had electricity.  Well, one light bulb, actually.  We all filed into the dimly lit room, thankful to be out of our tube and finally able to spread our cramped limbs (and use a real bathroom).  And we were ready for a nice dinner.  Anything other than PB&J.  We had that for three meals in a row. 
            We all grabbed our bowls from our pillowcase-dish-bags (when you add a string, they hang very nicely from palm tree trunks) and lined up at the counter, ready for anything that wasn’t a sandwich.  And there it was . . . a big bowl of rice.  Now, I love rice.  I love rice!  (In fact, my regular lunch in college was a big plate of rice and fries.  Can’t do that anymore!)  But what was that they were putting on top?  Slough slime?  Seaweed?
            I passed on the slippery, green stuff (and oddly enough, my host seemed surprised) and just enjoyed the rice.  And then we spent the evening making some more of our beloved PB&J sandwiches to freeze for several weeks until our return trip back through Hauna.     
            Hauna was just a stop-over.  (So many stop-overs!)  We would only be staying here several days doing some odd jobs.  And our mornings started the same way as they did every day of the summer. . . with devotions.  There was a gnarly, old tree in Hauna that I loved sitting in to do mine.  I had always loved climbing trees, and this one had perfect climbing branches.  I sat up there every morning reading my Bible and praying.  I made it my goal that summer to read through the entire Bible, boring Old Testament and all.  (And I did!  And you know what?  The Old Testament was still boring!  But I did make it all the way through the Bible for the first time!)
            We also helped conduct Sunday worship at the local church, did small repair and painting jobs, smoothed out a tiny runway, and did some minor medical treatments for the villagers.  Although, I have no idea what kind of medical treatments the teens did, because I was always in the kitchen.  I only visited the clinic a few times to bring cookies to the teens that were working that day.
            The building we stayed in was another schoolhouse: top floor for the boys, bottom floor for the girls.  It didn’t have solid walls, just screens.  So everything we did was in full sight of others.  Maybe we girls should have picked the top floor!  I’m trying to remember if there were curtains.  I don’t think so?  Hmm?  I must have gotten more modest as I got older, because I don’t remember being that bothered by it back then.  Maybe it seemed exotic?  Now, it would just be creepy!  
            To be honest, Hauna was not nearly as beautiful as the previous places.  It was nestled into a spot where we couldn’t see much of the surrounding scenery.  Actually, our view was completely blocked by hills.  Everything around us was dirty and brown, except the green trees and the main path that I had to walk between mountains to get to the clinic.  That path seemed lined with slippery, red clay.  And every time I walked it, I could smell the clay and the firewood as the natives cooked their meals over open fires. 
            And to this day, I can still catch a smell every now and then in the air which transports me back to that village.  But it’s not a nice smell, and I couldn’t even describe it if I wanted to.  It just brings my mind back to that path.  And if I close my eyes, I can feel the moist, jungle heat of Hauna! 
            The river that we came down was also the one that we took our baths in, in our swimsuits, of course.  (Yeah!  More bathing in rivers!)  It was thick brown and filthy.  You could actually see people empty their garbage into the river, and watch the junk float right past you.  And there was also a fear of crocodiles swimming by you while you swam or bathed.  But if they were ever there, you wouldn’t be able to see them until they were right on top of you because the water was so dirty. 
            I think we were actually cleaner before we bathed.  Honestly, it would have been more sanitary to wring out your sweaty clothes and bathe in that.  Our guide, Alphonse, once yelled at us when he saw us having a mud-fight.  He said that there were parasites in the mud that could get into our eyes.  (Couldn’t he have said that two minutes earlier. . . before one of the guys threw a huge mud-ball right into my teeth as I was laughing?  So gross!)          
            Crocodiles weren’t the only thing we were concerned about.  We also needed to be on the lookout for the Death Adders.  And we had a healthy fear of getting parasites, worms, and malaria.  And the mosquitoes were worse than I have ever seen.  You’ve seen Wizard of Oz, right?  The flying monkeys carrying off Dorothy?  Those were actually PNG mosquitoes.  (This is where I used the four cans of bug spray on our return trip through.) 
            But apart from the mosquitoes, the garbage baths, and the Death Adders, Hauna did have its own set of charms.  There was a really cool rope-and-board bridge that strung across from one side of the river to the other.  Just like the long, narrow ones you see in movies - wooden planks that were just wide enough for one person at a time.  We had to cross it with long intervals between each person so that it wouldn’t break.          
            For fun during our free time, we would take turns jumping off that bridge into the water below.  And then we would have to fight the strong current as we “spotted” the next jumper, being there to help in case they needed it.  And once again, I had an opportunity to display my amazing lack of strength and stamina as I doggy-paddled in exhaustion back to shore, without taking my turn to spot.  We didn’t need two of us drowning at the same time!   
            As a real treat, we were able to buy pop here for the first time since Boot Camp.  Pop never tasted so good.  (I’m from the Midwest, we call it pop here!  And they’re gym shoes. . . not sneakers.)  It was a nice break from all the artificially-flavored and colored “fruit” juice or reconstituted milk that we drank at every meal.  (I wonder if the person who discovered powdered milk ever had to drink it?)
            And we did have a shower.  Well, kind of.  It was a little bucket suspended from the ceiling that we would fill with river water, and let it drip down on us.  I don’t think it got us any cleaner, but it felt like a shower.  And you didn’t have to wear your swimsuit.  We also had a toilet.  But if we wanted to flush it, we had to walk a hundred feet to the makeshift stairway dug out of a wall of mud, climb down, walk fifty feet more to the river, and scoop up a bucket of water and carry it back.  But it was still better than a canoe and a poncho.
            The children in the village were an absolute delight.  I have always loved children!  (In fact, when I used to play the game of Life as a kid, I didn’t care how much money I got.  I wanted as many kids as I could get.  So whenever we played, the rule was that when you got to the last “have a baby” spot, you would send your car back to the first “have a baby” spot to get as many kids as possible.)  It’s amazing to me, but the kids there, even really young ones, use canoes the way we would use bikes.  They just hop on and paddle away to get somewhere or to pass the time. 
            We couldn’t talk with them, though, because of the language barrier.  But they were very interested in us.  So to have some fun with them, I would draw pictures in the mud with a stick of common things like fish or clouds or birds, and the kids would giggle with delight when they recognized one.  And they loved our hair, especially the blonds (which I am not), and they gathered around to run their hands through it. 
            They were not inhibited at all and seemed to soak up every aspect of our being there.  While they didn’t really care about my dark hair, they did like my photo album.  I once sat there in the middle of about eight kids showing them my pictures from back home.  They loved my pictures of when I went skydiving.  They would laugh and point at me and point up in the sky.  I don’t know if planes ever flew over them.  We never saw any, so I can only imagine what they thought of it. 
            One night, just for fun, our team got to go on a midnight crocodile hunt.  We didn’t catch any crocs, but we did get to see a giant water snake swim by, and we did see the glinting eyes of a crocodile about fifteen feet away.  What we would have done with a croc if we caught one, I don’t know?  It was more just for the fun of the hunt. 
            Fun?  I never had to go to the bathroom so bad in my life as I did on that canoe - not even on the long, bumpy truck ride when I thought my bladder would explode or bounce right out of my body.  For some reason, we didn’t go off the sides of the canoe during this trip.  So I got to spend the last hour of the four-hour trip (when we were all laying down in the canoes in the pitch black of the night to get a little sleep) praying, “Please, don’t let me pee my pants.  Please, don’t let me pee my pants.”  It made the climb up the mud-wall stairs really challenging, as I plowed over those in front of me in my race to the bathroom.  But I did make it on time. . . barely.  (Too much info?) 
            Actually, I do know what we’d do with a crocodile if we caught one; we’d keep him in a bucket in the kitchen and name him Frankie.  That’s exactly what happened when we found out that the other canoe caught a baby croc that night.  We rubber-banded his mouth shut, and kept him there right next to the table where I made bread every day.  I don’t know what happened to him after we left, but I do have a picture of me “kissing” him.  How often do you get to keep a croc in your kitchen? 
            And here’s something I’ve never seen before.  I was in bed one night on the floor of the building, staring out the screens into the distance, when my attention was captured by a tree about a quarter-mile away.  At regular intervals, it would light up and glow green.  Rhythmically, dimly.  The whole tree, the trunk and every branch.  It was mesmerizing.  What was it? 
            And then it dawned on me.  Lightning bugs!  I hadn’t really noticed any out at night, but that’s the only thing it could be.  (That . . . or a possessed tree.)  Thousands and thousands of lightning bugs completely coating the tree and blinking in unison.  (I have since read about that phenomenon, and I think it’s pretty cool that I actually got to see it.  I’ve never seen it before, and I’ll never see it again.)
            For a little sightseeing, we did get to take a hike up one of the mountains, guided by one of our local guides.  The trees were so thick that we could’ve used a machete to hack our way through.  I had hoped, once again, to spot some really cool, rare animals.  (I really wanted monkeys!)  But there really wasn’t much but trees and hiking.  Hiking and trees. 
            And guess who was the only one that had to turn around halfway up the hill and go back because she couldn’t breathe?  That’s right!  Great, big weakling!  (Twenty-one!  I was only twenty-one years old!)  Halfway up, I began to get really red-faced and I couldn’t catch my breath.  I struggled on for a short time, afraid to admit that once again I was an incredible weakling with no staying power.  Inevitably, though, I had to sputter and gasp something about, “Can’t go on.  Must go back.  Can’t breathe.  No!  That’s okay.  I go myself . . . find way back . . . not too hard.” 
            Thank God that the guides were much smarter than me.  They insisted that one of them go back with me because I would never be able to find my way back alone.  But it seemed so straight and simple!  I mean, there was a path around here . . . somewhere . . . wasn’t there?  But, boy, were they right.  As the guide and I zigzagged and stumbled back down the mountain, I realized that I would have spent my entire summer just trying to find my way back.  In fact, I’d probably still be out there somewhere, eating bugs for survival and drinking rain water.  The white, furless Sasquatch of Hauna.
            When I got back to the bottom, red and panting, all I could think was, Water!  Must get in water!  I got to the pier, took off my boots (wouldn’t want those to get wet) and jumped in fully clothed.  It was the most refreshing, scum-filled, mud-bath I ever took.  And I stayed there for a good, long time.  So long that I was still there by the time the kids came tromping triumphantly back. 
            They had gotten a little tour of PNG, saw parts of it I never would get to see.  No monkeys, though, thank God!  (I’m so selfish.  Besides, I don’t think that there are monkeys in PNG anyway.  But I can dream!)  But they did get to see a woman making sago paste, a food staple made from tree pulp (I think?) and river water. 
            And, thoughtfully, they brought me back a piece to try.  If you want to know what sago paste tastes like, eat the eraser off the end of your pencil.  It’s like that, with the texture of a Jell-O Jiggler filled with sand.  (But I’d rather sago than the gutted wild pig that sat for days by the door of our meeting house.  Thank God they never offered us ham.)         
            Well, after several days, it was time to say goodbye to Hauna - until we passed through again at the end of the summer.  We loaded the canoes again (Oh, joy!) and set off for our ultimate destination, a tiny village called Nain deep in the heart of PNG.  It was a very small village with only a handful of huts, no electricity and no running water.  It was accessible only by canoe, and it would take a day to get out and get help, should we need it.  Our job there was to build a small schoolhouse/church building that the neighboring villages would use.  None of them had one and this would help draw the separate villages together.  We’d also be holding worship services for them. 
            After hours (knees to chin, shoulder to shoulder) in the canoe, we were just as happy to see the Nain villagers as they were to see us.  They were all waiting for us as we pulled up to the bank.  It was hot and sunny and excitement levels were high.  (A team goes there every year, so they knew we were coming.) 
            As we met the villagers for the first time, huddled together in one large mass by the kitchen, I felt someone grab my arm and slide something over my hand.  Before I even knew what had happened, I was “claimed.”  We had barely been out of the canoes for five minutes before each person on our team got claimed by one of the villagers.   
            One of the native girls had slipped a black rubber bracelet onto my wrist.  An exclusive friendship, it seemed.  Because anywhere I went, the villagers would point at me and say, “Ellen’s friend, Ellen’s friend,” and they would point at her and smile and laugh.  (I don’t know how to spell her name, but it sounded like “Ellen.”)  Everyone knew who everyone’s special friend was.  And Ellen was always around to greet me and hold my hand.
            Our kitchen in Nain was a big, open hut-like room with no doors.  There was a roof, a dirt ground, and wooden “fences” for walls.  It was just a few feet from the river, right in the middle of the village.  So everything I did was in sight of everyone.  This provided endless fascination for the native women.  They loved to watch me bake.  They would watch as I put something into the mud-oven, and then they would squeal with delight and awe when I pulled it out, all transformed.  They did all of their cooking over open fires. 
            A mud-oven was basically just a metal box with a door.  It was nestled into a large pile of mud which eventually hardened.  It had an open spot under it for firewood.  Every day, one of the teens took charge of keeping the fire going.  I grew to love my mud-oven.  And for never cooking before, I got pretty good at baking bread to perfection in it.  It imparted a wonderful, roasted-over-an-open-fire taste to the bread that I’ve never been able to duplicate. 
            The villagers were not allowed into the kitchen.  So Ellen had to wait outside for me.  I would be in there cooking or reading, and the minute I stepped out, Ellen would come running up and grab my hand and hug me and cuddle me.  I don’t think they have the same sense of personal space and private body areas as we do.  Because it didn’t seem to bother her to nuzzle her face into my neck and to rub her hands all over me, as she kissed my cheek and held my hand.  She was just so excited that we were friends. 
            I do hate to admit it, but being so unaccustomed to that much . . . umm . . . attention, I did find myself hiding out in the kitchen when I needed a breather.  I would look up and smile at Ellen while she paced outside of the kitchen doorway for me, and then I would find some pot to bang around or a spoon to move until she got bored and left. (Is that bad?  I know it’s bad!)  She was nice.  She really was.  And I felt like a bad missionary.  I wish that I could have been more comfortable with their customs, or lack of them.  But for the few times I hid in the kitchen, there were still many days spent with her at my side . . . right at my side. 
            The huts were really primitive.  Just four walls made out of rough branches and wood planks and a roof, all up on stilts with a ladder that led up to the open door, about six feet off the ground.  (This was necessary because the water often rose that high.)  LeAnne and I got to set up our tents inside one of these huts, while the teens and male leaders set theirs up outside on the ground and in the rain.  Joe, our head leader, said, “We are going to take special care of you, since you are the ones taking care of us.”  (Aww, thanks Joe!)  Although, this hut did have a gigantic hole right in front of the doorway.  So we had to be really careful going in and out, or else we’d end up falling six feet to the ground below.
            But I was really thankful to be in a hut and not on the ground, because it rained every night.  But only twice during the day.  That was quite amazing to me and quite a blessing from the Lord.  We needed it dry during the day so they could finish the school house.  And we depended on the rain that fell at night for several reasons. 
            For one, it was our drinking and cooking water.  The teens took turns hand-pumping this water all day to clean it.  And it was also our laundry water.  We did our laundry primitive-style: in a bucket.  And it was our bathing water.  You could bathe in the river in your swimsuit if you wanted to.  But, Hmm?  Let me think!  Bathe in a filthy, parasite-filled, muddy river that never got you clean, risking crocodiles and worms?  Been there.  Done that. 
            Or, my preference, stand stark naked in the middle of the village in a tiny, tarp-encircled “shower,” and wash from a bucket of pure, clean rain water, while everyone worked just a few feet away from you.  I never felt so exposed before, not even peeing off the side of a canoe with twenty-plus people around me.  One good breeze and bye-bye tarp.  I had to fight once to keep the tarp down while I washed.  I don’t know what people saw!  I never asked!
            It was in Nain that I found out what it really means to have nothing to do.  When there was nothing to do, there was nothing to do!  There was no store to walk to, television to watch, phone to use, car to take, snack to grab, or books to read (other than our Bibles).  The kids were usually away at the construction site, so it was just two of the teens (kitchen duty) and LeAnne and I in the kitchen for hours.  And we couldn’t go exploring in the jungles because, well, you just didn’t do that. 
            I spent my time (when the bread was rising or done, and meals were cooked) sitting at the kitchen table reading my Bible or watching the river flow.  It seemed to always be switching directions.  In the morning, it would flow one way and drain into the Sepik.  And in the afternoon, it would flow the other way, rising higher and higher. 
            I also sat there just looking at the village and watching the natives go about their business and looking for signs of wildlife that I may only get to see in a remote jungle.  And there seemed to be a surprising lack of wildlife in this village.  Hardly ever a bird flew by.  (And the teens were so afraid of bird poop in their drinking water that they were the ones who insisted on hand-pumping it all day through a tiny little filter!) 
            I did get a visit once, though, from what I thought was a leftover dinosaur bird.  It came up to the kitchen door to look in while I was cooking.  It was taller than me and had a body like an ostrich and long spikes where the wings should be.  One of the teens decided to scream and run at it to scare it away, but not before I got a picture of it.  And I was glad I did, because it never returned. 
            I found out later it was a cassowary bird and that they can kill a man with their sharp toes.  That teen was lucky that the bird wasn’t ready for a fight.  It could’ve been ugly.  I did end up with a necklace from Nain that had cassowary toe-spikes dangling from it.  And one loaded with dog’s teeth.  (Thank you, Ben T., for that necklace.  You were one of the sweetest, most genuine guys on the team.  I hope you have had a blessed life!) 
            But I gave away my crocodile tooth necklace to one of the teens who really wanted it . . . on the condition that he started to think about other people and tried to do something nice and selfless for the next person who needed it.  (And do you know what?  He actually said that he couldn’t do that, that he wasn’t that kind of guy.  And so I have prayed for him over the years, that God would get ahold of his heart in a deeper way and turn him into someone who served and saw the needs of others.  And maybe that necklace would be a reminder to him of the kind of people God calls us to be.)   
            The only other wildlife that I saw were a couple of really mangy, wiry dogs that hung out by the kitchen door.  Once, I tried to shoo them away with my foot, and they screamed and yelped as though I was grinding my feet on their paws.  Honestly, I didn’t touch them!  But they sure drew the attention from all the villagers, who probably thought I was kicking the snot out of them, the way they were howling.  (Another “bad” missionary moment.)
            We couldn’t speak a word of the same language, so we really couldn’t talk with the villagers.  But one of the girls on our team, oddly enough, was fluent in Pidgin English.  She helped translate and conduct the church service.  All the rest of us could do was sing and make balloon animals.  And everyone seemed to have a wonderful time. 
            The whole village came out for the services, all thirty people or so.  And we were able to learn and sing a few songs in their language with them.  I still sing one from time to time.  Brings me back to that village and sitting around a campfire with the native people.  It really is a pretty song!  Wish I could sing it for you! 
            The language barrier did prove to be a problem, though, when we tried to set up a little medical clinic.  We set it up in a hut a bit off the beaten path and put out a sign saying that it would be open from 1-4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 
            Hmmm?  Why isn’t anyone showing up?  Duh!  They couldn’t read our signs.  On top of that, they didn’t even have a concept of hours and days.  They didn’t even know how old they were.  I tried to find out how old Ellen was, but they didn’t even seem to understand the idea of years.  They just had a wet season and a dry season, over and over again. 
            I don’t know what the teens did in the medical clinic.  I don’t know how much help a bunch of teens with no medical skills could be.  But one day, we were called on because a little baby was sick with malaria, and the parents desperately needed some help.  But all we had to offer were the same pills we took as a buffer against malaria.  There was no real way to prevent it, though.     
            LeAnne and I grabbed our medical bag and climbed the ladder up into the family’s hut.  It was dark and depressing.  There was no furniture in there.  Just the walls, floor, roof, and a blanket.   (It was amazing, compared to the gluttonous excess of stuff that we have in America.  How blessed we truly are!  They, on the other hand, couldn’t understand why we wanted or needed stuff on our walls.  It was too frivolous.  They had just four walls and a few mats.  How easy it is to get caught up in materialism, thinking we need things we really don’t.  I decided then and there to keep things minimal when I got a house.  To enjoy the simple!) 
            The mother sat there in the corner holding her weak, little baby.  And I stood there, not knowing what to do, knowing that this mom and dad were putting their hope in us to make their baby well.  I never felt so inadequate in my whole life. 
            [But I did get to feel that same way twice more in that village.  Once, when a woman asked me to do something about a large lump she had on her bare breast and, another time, when one asked us to help her severely malnourished, crying infant.  There was nothing I could do for either of them. 
            I felt really bad telling the woman with the lump that there was nothing I could do.  She had such hope in her eyes.  Hopefully, it wasn’t life threatening.  I don’t think it was.  Hope!  Hope!  And all we did for the baby was give it some of the flavored sugar-water we drank.  It seemed smart to us - a bunch of kids!  It horrifies me now to think about it: giving a tiny, few-month-old baby artificially colored and flavored sugar water.  What if he was allergic to that stuff?  And most artificial colors and flavors, from what I’ve read, are nerve toxins and potentially carcinogenic, if not definitely carcinogenic.  But we didn’t know any better then.  So we gave some to this baby, as well as drank it ourselves.  I fear that we gave the mother more hope than any real help.  They don’t prepare you for these kinds of situations in Boot Camp!] 
            Anyway, since LeAnne had been on other trips before, she seemed to know what she was doing more than I did.  Or she just faked it really well.  All we could do was chop up the malaria pill, make the baby swallow some and pray.  But as we climbed back up into our hut, I expected to hear the worst in the morning.  And I went to bed feeling useless. 
            The next morning, however, we were met with a happy couple and a better-looking baby.  I don’t know what the long-term outcome of that situation was, but we never heard about any deaths while we were there - except one. 
            Our Christian guide from the area, Alfonse, had to abruptly leave us one day and canoe back home.  His little son had died from some illness.  We had grown very fond of Alfonse, our gentle, selfless guide.  And so it hurt all of us to know that he had been helping us while his son was home dying. 
            But Alfonse was a believer in the Lord.  And when we saw him again, he had a certain glow about him.  One that spoke of a deep sense of joy and peace in the midst of suffering.  He was actually comforting us in our sadness for him.  And he knew that he would meet his son again.  (I look forward to the day when I can meet him, too.)  He was an example to me of how one serves the Lord and praises His name, regardless of the circumstances. 
            After we finished the school house several weeks later, it was time to leave for good.  Our main task for the summer was done.  But we still had a few weeks of our summer left.  And these would be spent traveling back through all the places we came through on the way in, and then spending a week for debriefing . . . in Australia! 
            Before we left Nain, we gave away most of our clothes to the villagers.  The villagers loved anything we gave them.  Just as we loved anything that we got from them.  Some of the children didn’t wear any clothes at all, and even some of the woman went topless.  While they didn’t need the clothes, they did enjoy getting them.  Before we even got back in the canoes, we saw some of our t-shirts walking around on people with huge grins.   
            We packed up our canoes again, said good-bye to our Nain friends, and started our way back to Hauna.  Once there, we would get our frozen peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for the canoe ride back to Wewak.  (There’s nothing like a whole day of moldy, frozen-then-thawed PB&J sandwiches to say, “Hey, good job all summer, guys!”)  And we would be able to collect our mail.  For the last several weeks in Nain we were unable to receive any mail because it was so remote.  So we were all looking forward to “mail call.”
            We also got to have a celebration, of sorts, the last night in Hauna.  Some of the local men dressed up in tribal regalia and put on a full-out tribal dance and show for us.  We got our pictures taken with them and then had a really special dinner.  There were decorations, nice table cloths and napkins, and we girls all got a neat wooden-and-cowry-shell necklace.  Mine had little, wooden pineapples.  Very island-y!
            And I know it was a really wonderful meal because we cooked it.  Though I can’t remember what it was.  All I remember was that I made garlic bread sticks, instead of bread.  It seemed more festive.  And we said good-bye to Hauna.  Our summer was fast coming to a close. 
            The next day, it was back in the canoes, chipmunks-in-the-paper-towel-tube style.  And we rode that way all through the night as we slept.  We were getting near the end of the all-night ride just as the sun was coming out.  And the scene that I saw just as we awoke will forever be etched in my mind.  As I opened my eyes, there wasn’t a sound.  Nothing but the soft swishing of water as the canoe silently glided through a layer of fog on the water.  The air was damp and cool.  It was almost surreal, ethereal!  And the sun slowly rose over the horizon, turning the sky a light shade of pink and blue and gray.  It was so peaceful, so beautiful! 
            And then the trucks!  Oh, the awful trucks that took us from Wewak were there to take us back.  But it wasn’t as bad this time, for some reason.  Now, I enjoyed the summer and each place we stopped in.  But I was more than happy to be back in Wewak.  After about six weeks with no running water or electricity (except for a little in our short stays in Hauna) and bathing in the dirty river, it was wonderful to have a shower.  A real one!  It was so wonderful!
            The only problem was that, with thirty-two of us needing showers, we had a strict schedule of two minutes each.  Being gentlemen, the guys let the girls go first.  About fifteen of us lined up in the bathroom.  It was a shower assembly line.  As one girl was showering, the next was undressing.  And as the one jumped out, the other jumped in.  I thought maybe, being a leader and going last, I would get to sneak in a few extra minutes.  But just as I was getting ready to climb in, I noticed the guys walking up the sidewalk to the building, right on cue.  Not even one extra minute!  But it was the most refreshing two minutes ever!
            And since our work was done, we had a chance to have some vacation-y fun.  We went to a restaurant on the beach called The Windjammer where we ate, I don’t remember, burgers, maybe.  I just know it wasn’t from a can, and we didn’t have to cook it.  (Food just tastes better when you don’t have to do the cooking!)  And then we swam in the ocean.  Clean water!  The first clean, blue water I had been in all summer.  No brown, thick, muddy water.  No garbage floating past you.  No risk of parasites or worms.  Just the salty, clean water and the cool, ocean breeze.
            We got to shop on that beach, too.  Which actually was just a time to walk around on the beach looking at the things that the local people made and that they were trying to sell for too much money.  It took some bargaining with them, but I eventually got a carved wooden alligator and turtle (which began to get devoured by termites when I got home, until I froze it).  I think I may have even traded my watch for something.     
            They say that Teen Missions gets in the blood, that you want to keep coming back each summer.  As I stood there outside the door of the schoolroom again (where I got my first look of Wewak at the beginning of the summer), looking out over the rolling hills, the palm trees and the crisp, blue water, I made a decision.  If God called me back for another mission’s trip, I would go in a heartbeat.  I even wrote in my journal that I would definitely be back, if not with TMI then in some form of missions.  I couldn’t imagine going back home to a mundane life.  I was made to do this! 
            It was hard to think about leaving and returning back to normal life.  But we couldn’t stay forever.  And we had one more leg of our journey - Australia.  (That made leaving a little easier!)  My whole life I had wanted to visit Australia.  The koala bears and really cool accents!  We would be staying there for a week, debriefing from our trip.  It was a time to rest, recount all of the lessons that we learned over the summer, and share stories with other teams who went to that part of the world.  It was also part of the reason I chose PNG. 
            We took a little plane back to Port Moresby and then another one to Brisbane, Australia.  (I’ve lost count of how many planes and trucks and canoes we’ve been on and how many places we stopped!)  Getting off the plane in Australia was like a breath of fresh air . . . NO! . . . It was like breathing for the first time.  PNG was hot and sweaty and dirty.  Beautiful, but dirty.  (And I have never done really well in too much heat.)
            But in Australia, the air was cool and crisp and clean.  I have never smelled air that clean.  I would move there just for the air.  Really!  That one flight brought us from a hundred-degree day to a fifty-degree night.  You would wake up a little chilled and put on a jacket.  But by lunch, it was a fabulous seventy degrees, and you would be in a t-shirt.  It was the best weather ever!!! 
            We stayed on the TMI campground all week.  And I got to see my first kangaroo on the grounds.  I was walking back to the trailer that LeAnne and I were sleeping in, when I stopped dead in my tracks.  There, about fifty feet away, were two or three kangaroos, as startled to see me as I was to see them.  I fumbled for my camera, but they bounded off too quickly.  Stinkin’ fanny pack!  Oh, well!  I got to see my first kangaroos in Australia.  I was giddy! 
            Even if that was all we got to see of Australia that would have been enough for me.  I would still be able to say that I’ve been there.  But as a bonus, we got to go sightseeing and shopping one day.  We loaded buses again and traveled around Brisbane.  One of our first stops was a pineapple plantation that also sold jewelry.  We looked at a lot of opals.  Why I didn’t buy one, I’ll never know! 
            And then we went to a store that sold leather and animal hides.  I don’t think anyone bought anything there.  Except maybe the youngest boy on our team, a fifteen-year-old that loved to spend his time cutting the heads off of bugs!  (Hmm?)  And then we stopped at the top of a cliff that looked down on the Sunshine Coast.  Beautiful!  And so clean smelling!  (I’m seriously not kidding about the air there!) 
            In town, we bought t-shirts and outback hats and boomerangs.  (Did you know that they are considered weapons and need to be put in the cargo hold of aircraft?  Strange!  I got to carry a primitive stone ax on the plane, but had to put the boomerang in the cargo hold.)  Since I had given away most of my clothing to the villagers in Nain, I had to find an outfit to go home in.  I certainly didn’t want to wear my grimy, sweaty clothes home.  So I bought a cute, flowery, blue dress, a pair of sandals (wouldn’t want to pair the cute dress with chunky, dirty construction boots), and a pair of sunglasses. 
            My favorite visit of the day, though, was the animal reserve.  We walked around and saw a lot of animals that you only find in Australia (outside of a zoo).  I wanted to make sure that I soaked up all that I could because I knew I’d never be back.  So I wanted to know the names of all the animals that we were looking at.       
            “What’s that one?” I asked the man who worked there. 
            “That’s a wallaby.”
            “How about that one?”
            “That’s a wombat.”
            “What about that one over there?”
            “Um, that’s called . . . a deer,” he replied, a little sympathetically. 
            Actually, he said it more like, “Wow!  I guess there is such a thing as a stupid question!”  Oh, sorry!  I just thought maybe it looked like a deer but had a cool, Australian name.  I tried to melt into the crowd. 
            Then we spent some time feeding the kangaroos.  I got my picture taken with my arm around one and feeding one a pellet from my lips.  Although all I could think of was boxing-kangaroos, and I half-expected one to grab my head with its hands and start kicking me with its feet.  But they were very docile.  (I wonder what they fed them?) 
            And then I got to hold the cutest of animals, a koala.  I got a picture of me holding it, while it looked up at me with its cute, little eyes, its big nose, and its incredibly blank expression.  You almost forget that it’s not a stuffed animal. 
            It was all such a great experience.  But one that wasn’t meant to last.  The final hurrah of our summer was another banquet with the several teams that debriefed in Australia.  Lots of good food and enjoyable company . . . for the teens.  They even got to pick a “date” for the dinner from all the teens there.  (No pairing up was allowed all summer.  So this was their big chance.)  The boys would pull out the girls’ chairs.  They would get their food for them.  It was all really sweet.  And we leaders - we got to cook and serve the food.  But, that was okay.  I would soon be on my way home to see my boyfriend (if he didn’t already find someone else while I was gone). 
            And I got a really nice compliment from the head of the Australian TMI staff.  He pulled me aside one day to tell me what a great job he thought I was doing with the kids.  What a nice affirmation!  I had been trying so hard.  It was nice that someone noticed.
            And then it was time to say good-bye to the other side of the world, and head back to LAX where we would say our final good-byes to the team.  But first, I have to say that the plane trip to LAX was the best flight I ever took.  Have you ever flown on Qantas?  That was a vacation in itself.  It was clean and roomy, and the air was fresh and cool, just like Australia.  They even gave us frozen fruit bars.  (Unfortunately, they woke us up from some much needed sleep to do it.  But it was still wonderful.) 
            And the only thing that would have made it better would be if I wore jeans, instead of that stupid, long, denim skirt.  Required travel clothes were denim jeans or denim skirts.  I chose the skirt, thinking it would be cooler on my legs than jeans.  It wasn’t!  I think it trapped the heat in.  And every time I turned in my seat, the skirt would get twisted around my legs, and I’d get sucked in deeper and deeper. 
            I’ve never been in quicksand before.  But I think it may feel something like that.  The more I struggled against it, the tighter its grip got.  I wanted to scream out to those around me to throw a branch or rope my way so I could pull myself out.  And since I thought a window seat would be better than an aisle or middle seat, I had even less room to straighten myself out.  I’m not claustrophobic, but I did start to get a bit panicky.  (I always choose aisle seats now - at movies, buses, planes, anywhere.)  I’m not kidding . . . if I could have ripped off my skirt and sat there in my undies, I would have.  But I think that would be a little inappropriate for a missionary. 
            After this wonderful flight, we disembarked at LAX.  The thirty-two of us had been an eclectic group, and we had some wonderful memories together.  But now it was really time to say good-bye for good and head back to our own states.  It didn’t seem very hard for the guys, but the girls were crying.  And it was my job as a leader to help escort the kids to their various gates.  It took me all over LAX, with many good-byes. 
            My flight was the last one out, and so I had a few hours alone after sending off the last kid.  I can’t tell you how odd that felt.  Here I had been with these thirty-one other people every day for the whole summer, and now it was just me.  I felt even more alone than the flight to Boot Camp at the beginning of the summer.  Aloneness, but not really loneliness. 
            As I walked mindlessly around the airport, I kept thinking that I heard my name being called or one of the kid’s voices.  I would look around and then realize, Oh yeah, it’s just me now.  Lost in a myriad of nameless faces.  But I felt older now, more mature.  I wasn’t the home-tied girl I used to be.  I was well-traveled, confident, and getting ready to live a life on my own now.  Well, with God, of course. 
            Okay, I just have to ask, do you know how bad clothes reek when you’ve worn them all summer, washed them in a filthy lake, and had only had two real showers in ten weeks?  Yeah, I don’t know either, because we couldn’t tell how bad we smelled since we all smelled the same way. 
            I didn’t want to go home with any of my summer clothes, so I tossed what I didn’t give away in Nain before I boarded my plane.  And having some time to kill, I finally had a chance to get good and clean for the flight home.  I washed my hair and shaved my legs and basically took a sponge bath in the airport bathroom sink.  Then I put on that cute little dress that I bought in Australia and the new pair of sandals, the first footwear that I wore all summer besides construction boots.  My feet felt so light, I was gliding through the airport. 
            I also saved one pair of underwear just for the flight home.  Thanks to my friend, Gina!  She had been on a trip with TMI to the Bahamas years before.  And she knew how gross you felt after working all summer.  So she bought me a new pair of underwear and told me to save it for the flight home.  I was so thankful she did or else my whole outfit would have been nice and new and clean, except for my hard-worked, filthy-river-washed underwear.  But thanks to Gina, everything I wore was clean.  I can’t tell you how refreshing it felt.  It must have been how the person who invented soap felt when he (or she) first said, “Eureka!  I’m clean!”
            After all this primping, I still had hours to wait for my flight, and I was dead tired.  But for some reason, I couldn’t sleep.  My mind felt energized . . . alive.  As I walked to my gate, though, my body rebelled and I began to black out.  Literally, the room started going black around me, and I had to use the wall as a guide to get to where I was going. 
            When I counted, I realized that I had slept for only five hours out of the past four days.  With all the packing, traveling, frozen-fruit-bar wake-up call, and getting teens to their planes, I just didn’t get to sleep at all.  But I made it to my gate, laid down on a very cushy seat, and rested my eyes.  And, boy, did I wish I bought a cute little jacket to go with my cute little dress.  It was freezing! 
            While lying there across the airport seats, trying to keep warm and catch a little sleep, I heard a voice next to me, “So, where are you headed?”  Oh, no!  Please, I just want to sleep!  But the man next to me wanted to talk.  So I got one last chance to witness to someone that summer, as I told him where I had been and what I had been doing. 
            “Isn’t it better to leave those people alone?”  he asked.  I took it as a chance to tell him about God and salvation and the hope that we find only in Jesus.  I think he was more amused than anything, and I couldn’t convince him of the benefit of Christ.  But when I saw him again on the plane, we smiled at each other and gave a little nod. 
            After ten weeks of being gone and a lonely, red-eye flight, I was back in my home state and standing at the gate, looking for the boyfriend who was supposed to pick me up.  But no one was there.  So I figured I should just go down to luggage claim.  I stood there in the midst of other weary travelers watching an endless line of luggage roll before my eyes when, all of a sudden, a bouquet of red roses popped up under my chin. 
            “Would you ever marry a guy like me?”  he said.  I turned around and fell into his arms for the first hug all summer.  Which was cut short when I immediately saw my boomerang go by on the luggage carousal, and I jumped through the crowd of people to claim it.  If it was a make-it or break-it summer, we made it.  And then, after being gone for ten weeks and barely getting to tell him about my summer, he drove me right to Trinity to drop me off for my first year away at college.  (What a selfless guy!) 
            And before I knew it, there I stood in my new dorm-room.  All my things were in place and everything was set, thanks to my faithful family, friends, and boyfriend.  And even though I should have been in my first day of classes, I was allowed to take the day off and spend it with him - just relaxing, getting my things in order, and anxiously waiting to meet my new roommate, Jen.  (Who I’m sure was a little confused when I chose to sleep on the floor for the first few nights.  They warned us about this tendency in Boot Camp.  It takes a little re-acclimating after sleeping on the ground all summer!)    
            I had just had the biggest summer of my life.  And it grew me in ways that I had never grown before.  I knew once I went home, I would be “older” somehow.  Changed.  When I left, I was a twenty-year-old who still lived at home and worked with her mom and her step-dad.  When I returned, I would be standing on my own two feet, following my own path on the journey to adulthood.
            And I learned a few things about myself that summer.  First, I learned that I had a wonderful ability to disregard all caution and thinking and to throw myself into dangerous situations with no idea of what I was going to do (the rubber snake incident).  I also learned that I was a pathetic wimp who wanted nothing more than to avoid running and swimming and extreme heat at all costs, and that I never wanted a window-seat again.  (Hey, that’s okay with me.  I like me just the way I am!) 
            More importantly, though, I also learned a few things about the Lord that summer.  I learned how it felt to have to rely on God for certain things; raising $4000, keeping us healthy, keeping us safe, etc.  I never did get malaria.  (Thank you, Lord!)  And we never did see a Death Adder.  (Thank you, Lord.)  These were things that I couldn’t do for myself.  I had to put them in God’s hands.  And He was faithful. 
            In fact, He took care of us so well that I found it quite easy to trust in Him and to rely on Him.  Faith came easy that trip.  I think it helps that it was coupled with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement and a youthful expectation that God would provide.  I mean, He’s God, He does that!   
            That summer, I was a leader.  But before I even started that trip, I had decided that I wanted to be a servant-leader.  I did enjoy certain privileges, such as the candy, having my tent in the hut, traveling on top of the luggage, and extra time to swim while the kids worked.  But I wanted, as much as possible, to serve the kids that I came to work for. 
            I’m not holier than anyone else.  I just felt that the best way to get connected to the kids was to serve alongside them, instead of favoring myself over them.  I didn’t want my summer to be just about the work I did, if it could be so much more.  If I could invest in the lives of the teens in one way or another, maybe I could have a small, positive impact on their Christian walk and faith.   
            So I cooked for them and I cared for them as best as I could.  Even if it was uncomfortable for me.  Like I said, I had to get up before dawn to start the bread every day.  (But in Nain, that wasn’t too hard because there was a really loud rooster perched right under our hut that would crow every morning before dawn, setting off a chain reaction of rooster-crows down the river.  All day long, I’d ask the teens, “How does rooster for supper sound?”) 
            And since we had no electricity and there was no light anywhere, I would hold a flashlight in my mouth to shine on my work station.  My mouth would be aching after ten minutes of mixing and kneading and forming the loaves.  But they had to get done early so that they had time to rise before the fire got lit in the mud-oven.  I even found time and energy one day to make them into cinnamon rolls as a surprise.  The kids loved it!  They were actually crying!  I looked at it as a service to the team.
            And when they were loading up the canoes, I saw another opportunity to serve.  Instead of just standing there and “overseeing” the work as I could have done, I grabbed the duffels and spent my time loading with them.  I wanted to connect with them in a way that I couldn’t if I just stood and watched. 
            And when we rode in those terribly bumpy trucks out of Wewak, I could have sat in the better seats up front by the driver.  They asked me.  But I chose to sit in back with the kids.  If they were going to go through it, I wanted to go through it with them.  I don’t know if it had any impact on the kids or if they felt closer to me because of it, but I felt better about it.  (Honestly, though, if I had known that it would be that bumpy, I’d have sat up front in a heartbeat.  I’m not that selfless!)
            I tried hard to look at the mundane tasks as acts of service for the Lord and the kids.  It was my mission, the job that God gave me for the summer.  And I wanted to honor Him by putting my all into it.  And three times I even found myself in situations that could have been dangerous - the snake incident in Boot Camp being one of them.  You know how dangerous those rubber snakes can be! 
            Another time in Hauna, one of the girls on our team did get malaria and she needed to spend the night at the main house.  I went with her, and I spent the night on the floor of her room so I could check on her throughout the night.  As I laid there, I could see things running in the rafters behind the thin sheets of plastic covering the ceiling.  Rats!  They were everywhere.  But I didn’t give it much thought, and I slept well. 
            The next morning, the girl’s fever broke and she was fine.  But when I told the missionary who lived there about it, she asked if I at least slept in a mosquito net.  The horrified look on her face suddenly made me feel very doomed . . . and stupid. 
            “No, I didn’t.  I hadn’t even thought of it,” I mumbled.  She said that she’s lived there for years and she would never dream of sleeping without a mosquito net.  Umm, thanks for the late warning!  I could have just as easily been bitten by a malaria-carrying mosquito as I could have by rats.  Yet, thank God, it never happened!
            And the third incident happened in Nain. The river had switched directions again and was rising rapidly during the day.  Since our kitchen had no floor and was only forty feet or so from the river, we were taking on water.  It was everywhere around us and filling up fast.  Thankfully, though, the kitchen must have been on higher ground a little bit because it was only snaking in here and there around our feet.  So we could work unhindered.   
            However, there were little ditches just outside the kitchen that winded through the village, presumably dug out to hold water overflow.  (And poop!  Many times you would see the woman carrying naked babies and just letting them poop wherever they stood.  And you’d see it in the ditches, too.)  And these now had become rushing streams. 
            As I was climbing up into my hut for a moment, one of the kids came up and told me that two of our girls took some pool rafts down one of these ditch-streams into the jungle.  They brought these to use as air mattresses, and now they were floating through the jungle on them.      
            I ran and got our head leader and Alphonse.  And apparently, this freaked out Alphonse, and he told us that it was very dangerous because it could lead them out onto the main river, the Sepik, where they would be gone.  They would never be able to find their way back if that happened and . . . what about the crocodiles? 
            (I could almost hear the news report:  “Yeah, we have spotted two white, teen girls floating down the mighty Sepik river with no paddles on what appears to be . . . wait? . . . is that a? . . . yes, a blow-up pool raft!”)  
            So Alphonse, Joe and I went down the banks of the stream looking for them.  We tried to walk high up on the banks, but the water had risen so high that is was difficult to maneuver between the palm trees.  Unfortunately, I lost my footing once and fell over.  And as I fell, I looked for someplace to put my hand to break my fall.  But all I could see were these nasty spikes coming out of a palm tree.  I had no choice.  I planted my hand right into them.  It was that or my face!  They left little black specks under my skin.  Well, at least I didn’t land in the stream.  The dry boots, remember? 
            Eventually, as we yelled their names and got deeper into the jungle, the girls came back toward us walking in the stream with their rafts, looking really sheepish.  They knew they were in big trouble.  A big SB!  As we neared camp, we had to cross over one of those ditches-turned-streams.  And you either had to take a huge, super-hero leap over it and hope you got across, or you had to jump in and climb out the other side.  (Where is the rope to swing on when you need it?) 
            One girl made it over, but the next one fell in.  And she looked up at me with these huge, saucer-eyes full of fear.  They just seemed to scream for help.  Without even thinking, I jumped in behind her.  (Why do I do that stuff?)  I thought maybe I could give her a body to push off of to get to the other side.  After I jumped in, though, I understood what the terrified look was for.  The ditch was a lot deeper than it seemed, and the current underneath the surface was incredibly strong.  You could hardly fight against it.  (At least, I could hardly fight against it.  Great, big weakling here!) 
            I was up to my chin in water, and I desperately searched the ground with my boot for a foothold.  Then I pushed her with all of my might while someone pulled her out from the other side.  Then they grabbed my hand and pulled me out, too.  I was soaking wet, from my chin to the bottoms of my boots.  My lovely, dry, only-pair of boots that I managed to keep dry all summer was filled with disgusting, dirty, poop-water. 
            Needless to say, I was not too happy.  And I was exhausted.  Emotionally and physically!  I sat down, took off my boots and began picking black specks out of my hand.  And since I was already drenched, I spent the day carrying the girls on my back through hip-deep water to the toilet.  No need for everyone else to get their boots wet.  Although I didn’t get malaria, I did end up coming home with some kind of a foot something-or-other that flares up every now and then.  I’m sure it’s from that day.  (Gross, I know!  Sorry!)  But it could have been so much worse.  Thank you, Lord!   
            And you know what happened, in all my attempts to serve the kids, to draw near and share their load, to get on their level, or “rescue” them?  It was near the end of our stay in Nain.  I was dishing out the food to the kids alongside LeAnne.  And they were commenting on how good the food was. 
            And spontaneously, they all joined together in a song of thanks for all the good food and service . . . to LeAnne!  Now, here was a girl who spent her whole trip focused on the other guy leader, who didn’t have to get up every morning at 5 a.m. and hand bake six loaves of bread with a flashlight in her mouth (she slept in), and who didn’t help load luggage or ride in the bumpy back of the truck.   No offense; she just didn’t do that stuff.  But she got the praise - the big Thank You! 
            At the end of the thank-you song, one person at the back of the crowd somewhere managed to quietly slip in there, “and you, too, Heather.”  (Yeah, Thanks!  I really feel the love!)  I was hurt.  As I smiled and feigned happiness, I was really hurt and embarrassed.  I was embarrassed that I had to stand there with a dumb grin on my face and acknowledge the other leader’s efforts.  Embarrassed that I had to keep slopping out spoonfuls of food on the trays of people who didn’t notice the things that I had tried so hard to do . . . for them! 
            No, I was worse than embarrassed . . . I was invisible!  I wanted to crawl in a hole.  Then I could nurse my wounds in private and not have to stand there with that dumb grin plastered on my face.  I fought back the tears as I wrestled with my thoughts and my envy.  I wanted some recognition, some thank-you for all the things I deliberately did to reach out to the kids.  Had they missed it?  Was it taken for granted?  Was I just a joke? 
            And, yet, the Lord used that to teach me a few important lessons. 
            Even as I stood there dishing out chicken dumplings from a can, the thought immediately hit me, I wasn’t there for my glory.  I didn’t do what I did so that it would get noticed and I could get praised.  I went on that trip to serve the team and to serve the Lord.  Ultimately, I wanted to see God glorified through it all, not myself.  (At least, that’s what I said when I first left for the trip.  Although, I momentarily forgot it.) 
            And that meant doing my job to the best of my ability, with no expectations for a thank-you.  I had to let go of the pain, of my right to be praised.  I did what I did for the Lord and that had to be good enough.  I had no rights to the glory (even if I did want a little recognition).  This is why the compliment from the Australian staff leader at the end of the summer meant so much.  Someone noticed!  Even if it wasn’t the people that I was serving and making sacrifices for. 
            Knowing that the glory belonged to God seemed to put my thoughts in the proper place.  But my feelings were still quite hurt.  And then I realized that it must be how it feels to be a mother.  At the time, I didn’t have kids, but I did have a mother.  And I couldn’t recall really noticing all the things she had ever done for me or thanking her for them.  I just expected her to do certain things since she was the mom.  But as I stood there dishing out food to ungrateful people, I was beginning to get a sense of how it felt to serve and sacrifice and give of yourself, and to not receive much in return, not even a thank-you or a pat on the back. 
            A mother obviously shouldn’t do it for her glory.  She should do it for the benefit of the children and the glory of God, (after all, the very role of a mother is one of servant-hood) that one day her children may know God and praise Him because of her example and witness.  And maybe then, hopefully, they will rise up and call her blessed.  (And when the kids have grown and have their own kids, may they then realize the sacrifices and work that went into being the mom and be thankful.)  As I spoke about my trip in front of our church, I made sure to give my mother a big thank-you for all the years of her work and sacrifice that went unnoticed.  It only seemed right.
            And much later, (in fact, it wasn’t until I was typing this) I realized that the way I felt is probably similar to how God must feel at times.  (Not to set myself anywhere near the same place as God.  It’s more of a little, pathetic example.)  God could have stayed up on high, watching everything happen, doing the minimum of providing life, food, and air.  But He didn’t just stop there.  He knew that coming to our level and being a servant-leader to us was the best way to connect, to show us that He loved us.
            So He shed the superior clothes of Heaven and put on human skin to live and work alongside us, even though it cost Him.  It cost Him big!  He went through the same things we do so that we would know that He understands, that He’s there for us and that He loves us immensely. 
            But how many times do I not even notice His sacrifices, His blessings, and His care?  Especially when they are so commonplace.  My very attitude of expecting Him to do things for me this whole trip, without really humbling myself before Him, tells me that I was taking His gracious guidance and providence for granted.  It was presumption, not humble expectation.  There’s a fine line between a) having faith and trusting Him to do His Will and b) presuming or expecting Him to bless mine.  A fine line between being thankful for His care and taking it for granted. 
            In fact, of His greatest sacrifice of coming here to die in our place, I used to think, Of course, He had to come down here and do that.  He’s God.  We can’t do it for ourselves.  But it’s nothing for God to come to earth and die.  He can do anything, even bear the pain.  He’s God. 
            Rightly so, though, somewhere along the way, I was convicted by just how arrogant that attitude was.  No, He didn’t need to come down here to save us.  He could’ve wiped us all out and started over.  (If I was God, I would have.  Thank God that He’s God and I’m not.  He’s so much more patient and loving than I could ever be.) 
            But in His amazing love, He chose not to.  The thought of destroying us and losing a relationship with us was more to bear than the sacrifice and pain of leaving Heaven and coming here, of putting on flesh with all its pains and limitations and dying a horrible, slow death on the cross.  He chose that for me and He chose that for you.  And once I grasped that concept, I was so humbled.  How dare I think that He absolutely had to do that for me, like I was His reason for being.  Like He was here to serve me, instead of the other way around!   
            Just as I had felt slighted by the team, I wonder how many times God feels that about me?  How often do I take, take, take from Him with little thanks in return?  How often do I expect things from Him without acknowledging the things He’s already given me?  Without acknowledging that He is the giver of all things?  In fact, that whole trip I had expected Him to provide and to make the path smooth for me.  And in His graciousness, He did.  And I was thankful. 
            But was I praising Him because He is worthy of praise, no matter the circumstances, as I had seen Alphonse praise Him?  Or because He gave me what I wanted?  I had taken His goodness for granted and probably didn’t even realize how good I had it. 
            Jesus came down here as a servant and put us first and did things He never should have had to do.  For my sake!  For our sake!  Because He loves us . . . not because He had to!  And how little do I live my life as a life of thanks?  Honoring Him with my actions and my speech?  How often does something or someone else gets the praise He deserves?  How often am I proud of myself when I should be grateful to Him?  How often do the blessings outshine the Giver? 
            [It’s not that I’m not thankful, it’s that I forget to notice sometimes.  As a long-time Christian, the freshness and newness of seeing how God moves and works in my life is sometimes overshadowed by the daily grind of life.  And when God blesses me for a long time and life is good, I begin to expect it.  And then I get miffed when something doesn’t go my way.
             Oh, Lord!  I prayed for a good parking spot.  And look how far back I am!  You know that I hate walking in the snow with a baby.”
            Or “God, it’s just too hot out here today!  You know that this would be a much more enjoyable day if it would cool down a little bit.  Or maybe send some clouds.  And why mosquitoes?  Why?”   
            It’s like when we get a box of cookies at our house or a bag of candy.  The first piece is considered a treat.  And I’ll give it to the kids after dinner with flair, “Oooh, how about a treat?  A piece of candy or one of the new cookies?  Wouldn’t that be nice?”  And the kids will get excited and be caught up in joy and thankfulness.  (They’re pretty easy to please!) 
            Well, after a couple days of this, it moves from, “Wow, a cookie!  Thanks, Mom!” to “Where’s my treat?”  As though a “treat” is a necessary, nonnegotiable part of the meal.  An unearned gift turned expected.  This really bugs me, and it’s then that I realize the confusion caused by labeling it a “treat.”  And so I will correct them and say, “No, a treat is not the same thing as dessert.  Dessert is something most people expect after dinner.  But we don’t usually have ‘dessert.’  We have treats: little, sweet, food-gifts that I decide to give or not give depending on what we ate all day.  It’s not something I give out ‘just because.’  So you can’t just demand a ‘treat.’“  (Too harsh for a four-year-old?)
            Well, I can see now that over the years I had been expecting treats from God: blessings or preferential treatment because I was used to getting them.  And on top of that, I deserved them because I was just so good at being a Christian.  I felt like I had some inflated sense of importance.  And a job only I, in my righteous uniqueness, could fulfill.  I bet God was just so proud that He had me working for Him. 
            And so it was shocking to me to read that in Exodus 4:24 God was going to kill Moses because Moses broke His law - circumcision.  Even Moses wasn’t safe from the punishment for breaking God’s laws.  Moses!  There was nothing super-special about him that he could get away with violating God’s holiness.  And if Moses, being the most humble man on the face of the earth and allowed to talk face-to-face with God, didn’t “deserve” any preferential treatment from God, how much more so is it with me!  Very humbling!]
            Anyway, back to PNG.  As I stood there, indignant about being overlooked, I realized that I had been expecting God’s favor, because I was a super-special human or because I earned it.  I had thought that I was “doing good things for God,” pleasing Him in a way that only I could.  And apparently, I was gauging how well I was doing by people’s reactions to me.  But when the praise didn’t come as I thought it should, I began to struggle with the thought of, What am I doing all this for?  Does my service matter or make a difference?  Can I be satisfied that God alone is pleased and praised, even if I’m invisible to others?
            As I struggled through the bitter jealousy and self-righteousness that was slowly eating away at the corners of my ego and self-image, God was beginning to show me something that I had never grasped in all my years of “being good” and “being a success.”  He was challenging me to lay aside my “right” to be recognized for my accomplishments, and to offer to Him the praise that I felt I deserved.  And to decide Who I was really working for.  Myself or the Lord?  I had no right to violate God’s holiness by jumping in and trying to steal His glory and shift the focus from Him to me.  But could I be okay with that?     
            Through that experience, God had humbled me enough that I was beginning to see this truth:  Our purpose in this life is to find Life in Him, and to praise Him and to glorify Him.  Because we need it, and because He deserves it.  It’s what we were made to do!  Our goal should not be to see ourselves glorified here on earth, but to live in Him and to bring Him glory, that others may find Life, too.  We need to be concerned about building eternity . . . not a nice, little, satisfying life in a place that will burn up in the end.        
            And the best way for us to glorify Him is to remain vitally connected to Him and to do our best in whatever job He gives us, whether it’s something big, like running for a political office, or something small, like serving meals to our hungry kids.  That’s why He created us, why He came down to us, why He died for us, and why He continues to live among us in the Spirit.  So that we could have a glorifying, fulfilling, vibrant, eternal relationship with Him. 
            Yes, it’s about His incredible love for us and His desire for what’s best for us.  But it’s not just about me!  It’s about magnifying Him, singing His praises, fulfilling His plans through our obedience, and bringing Him the most glory possible!
            Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
            In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
            1 Corinthians 10:31:  “. . . whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”    
            Whatever God does, He does for our good (our best, really) so that we will have a full life.  And He also does what He does for His glory.  They are all tied together.  What’s for His glory is also for the best in our lives, but not necessarily in our physical, temporal lives.  The problem we have is that we define a “full, good life” as being “happy and carefree” on this earth.  And God wants more for us than this temporary world has to offer.  We want to decide what’s for our best and what will make our life full, instead of realizing that we’ll get it when we put His glory first.
            That trip, that summer of growing up, would mark the beginning of a critical evaluation of the condition of my relationship with the Lord.  One that - because I’m a stubborn, slow learner - would take over a decade.  I started the trip with a smug confidence in myself and in God’s provision and blessings.  But somewhere along the way, I began to notice a deep, sinister weakness that threatened my relationship with Him: the desire to be in control of my life and to do what I wanted to do and have Him bless it and have others praise me for it.  While it looked like I was “doing good things for God,” I was really working for myself and my glory.   
            As I said, I like to be a leader and I like to be in charge.  I like having a firm grasp on my life and making educated decisions (as you’ll see).  I like being independent and standing on my own two feet.  So I guess you could say that what I’ve wanted was a Vending Machine God.  A God who was there for me when I wanted Him and who would grant my request and work out all the details when I wanted it!  That’s what it’s all about, right?  Be good and keep your nose clean so that when you need anything, you can ask Him and He’ll work it all out?   
            I’ve known and loved the Lord from the time I was eleven.  And I’ve always been very concerned with doing this Christian life well.  I wanted to please Him, and I wanted life to be full and vibrant and worth something, for His glory.  I just didn’t realize how much I got in the way of that.  I didn’t know that something was off in my relationship with Him.   
            But thankfully God knew me better than I knew myself.  He knew that my life and my relationship with Him could be so much more.  I turned twenty-one that PNG summer, and I had grown by leaps and bounds on my trip.  But I never learn a lesson just once.  And as I would come to find out, it would take a lot longer to make these lessons stick.  These lessons and many more that I didn’t know I had to learn.  I had so much more growing to do.
   

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