Sunday, December 1, 2019

Christmas in the Waiting

As I (Martha) write this newsletter, Christmas music is playing in the background, and I can hear kids playing football in the backyard. Adam’s sisters and their families have joined us here in Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving, and we are relishing the rare and precious sounds of cousins playing together and enjoying the conversations around the table after meals.

As much as I want to focus on Thanksgiving, I must admit that my mind is being thrust forward into Christmas and the journey we have ahead of us. In just a few days, on the fifth of December, we will pull out of the driveway with a fully loaded van headed across the country toward Los Angeles. I can’t help but think of Mary and Joseph and their long journey to Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph arrived at their destination with nowhere to stay. For a long while we thought we might be in the same situation, but God has answered our prayers and provided a place at Atherton Baptist Homes in Alhambra, a retirement community that was established for retired missionaries and that sometimes provides missionaries on furlough a place to stay. It is a huge relief to know where we are staying, and we sincerely thank all those who prayed for us.

We leave Pittsburgh with mixed emotions. We are excited to see our family and friends on the other side of the country, but we are saddened to say goodbye to Adam’s parents and this lovely area. We will miss many things about our stay here: morning chats over bacon and eggs, laying out on the lawn with Asher and Bella watching the birds, sewing with my mother-in-law, going on family walks in the neighborhood, driving through beautiful woods, and my father-in-law’s delicious steaks. And for those who are wondering, we did get our snow, and we will miss that too.

Sledding on a homemade sled
We are so incredibly grateful for Bob and Heather Boyd (Adam’s parents) who have been loving and patient while allowing us to stay with them. It is no easy thing to have a family of five invade your home. They have put up with a lot of noise, messes, and lack of privacy, and they have done it all with grace and kindness. What a blessing it has been for our kids to spend this time with their grandparents! We are so thankful for all their help with cooking, cleaning, shopping, and for all the time they spent teaching the kids new skills. They will be greatly missed!

We are also thankful for all those at Ingomar United Methodist Church, for making us feel welcome. We will miss Pastor David Streets greeting us at the door every Sunday and asking us how we are doing.

We leave the Pittsburgh area on the fifth of the month and arrive in LA on the twenty-second. Traveling through the month of December is going to make for an interesting Christmas season. We typically have very strict traditions that involve Advent readings, the Jesse tree, Christmas caroling, putting up certain decorations, and reading special books. With all the traveling and visiting that we will be doing, we won’t be able to do most of these things, and I find myself asking, where does my Christmas come from? Does it come from baking cookies and putting up ornaments, or does it come from experiencing a season of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ? If I am honest it is both, but over the years we have steered our hearts and traditions closer to the latter and it has been a blessing.

The concept of waiting seems to be something God is teaching me these days. This is going to sound terrible, but I have not been a person who has spent a lot of time in prayer before making decisions. I always hear people say, “Let me pray about that first,” but until recently, I have not been someone who says that, let alone does that. Stopping to pray about something involves waiting, and I am not very good at waiting. For me, waiting means the idea in my head won’t stop spinning, it can mean sleepless nights and inconveniencing other people because they have to wait. A good friend recently shared with me how she is waiting and doesn’t want to move ahead and go before the Lord. It made me think of all the times in my life when I might have avoided struggles or had something better, if I had just waited on the Lord instead of going ahead on my own. Over the past few months I decided to finally try out this praying-before-making-a-decision idea and waiting instead of moving forward, and you know what? It works! God actually works things out when I choose to get out of the way. If we had not chosen to wait, we would be paying double the amount of rent in California, and I would be begging you all for furniture in this newsletter.

That is what the season of Advent is all about, waiting and expecting God to do the miracle, and believing and trusting that he actually will. The nation of Israel waited centuries for their Messiah, but they never gave up hope or stopped believing. During this season we walk with Mary and Joseph on their journey and wait expectantly to celebrate the birth of Christ, and we are reminded and encouraged to continue waiting expectantly for his Second Coming. May you find your Christmas in the waiting, and may you believe and trust that “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Prayer Requests
Please pray for our trip to LA. We are excited to see and visit with many friends and family members. One of the hardest things about being a missionary family is that our kids do not get to grow up with family. At some point they will have to come back and live in the U.S., and we want them to feel like they have strong ties with their family. These visits are very precious to us. Pray that relationships will be developed and strengthened.

Pray for safety and protection as we travel.

Pray for Jacob as he finishes up school. It looks like he will have to finish up on the road, so pray for increased concentration and motivation.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Don't Forget to Look

I (Martha) never thought I would actually see it happen, so I forgot to look. And then one day while rummaging through things on the top of a desk, something caught my eye outside the window. My heart leaped, and for a brief moment I felt a sense of giddiness, an emotion that I hadn’t felt in a very, very long time. Looking out across the tree line I spotted color. Just a few patches of amber, cinnamon, and burnt orange, but it was enough to remind me that fall was coming.

My moment of giddiness was fleeting, and it was consumed by the heaviness that had made itself a home in my chest for several weeks. But I kept returning to that window to see if I could get that feeling back, and without fail, I could. I just had to look outside and remind myself that it was really happening.

As a person who grew up in Southern California, I have only ever experienced one fall. While we were in Pennsylvania last furlough, I loved that magical season when the trees are lit up like a brilliant rainbow with colors that I didn’t even know existed. I had waited years to see it again, but the weather was unseasonably warm, with no change in sight, and the anxiety I have been dealing with choked my joy and diminished my hope. I stopped caring, so I forgot to look.

We often forget to look for the good gifts God gives us. This furlough has been an emotional rollercoaster so far. This teen thing is no joke, and homeschooling can feel like dragging a dead horse through quicksand, where we all end up going under for the day. The uncertainty of where we will live in LA has left us discouraged and distracted. A couple of weeks ago, on a day that felt dark and chaotic, I remembered I had the power to do something about the way I felt, so I grabbed a pen and frantically began to write down things I was thankful for.

“I am thankful for a mother-in-law who sits with my son every day and works on Spanish. I am thankful for a father-in-law who makes us bacon and eggs for breakfast. I am thankful for Bella who does her schoolwork with no fuss, and spontaneously cleans the bathroom without being asked. I am thankful for Asher who always gives hugs and has a sensitive heart. I am thankful for Jacob who has worked hard doing various odd jobs in the neighborhood to earn his own money and hasn’t spent any of it. I am thankful for my husband Adam who helps keep Jacob on track with his online school and who has a heart to bring this family closer to God. And most of all I am thankful that I know and worship a God who will be faithful to provide all that we need.”

Writing these words made me see my problems in a different light, and that simple act lifted heaviness and brought feelings of peace. It also helped me to remember all that God has taken me through, and all that He will bring me through in the future. I remembered that God preserved my life during a massive heart attack, picked up our house after it fell over on the side of the road, and has protected our family through six and a half years of doing life on the mission field. And I remembered that in a few months, I won’t be worried about where I am going to live, because I will already be living there.

I no longer forget to look. With every trip to the library or the grocery store, and every glance out the window my eyes are wide open, taking in all the golden and red hues. But I’ve also begun to see something else. There is a reason this season is called fall. All those pretty leaves that I am gazing at are rapidly disappearing, and a tree full of bright amber leaves one day, can look barren and empty the next. Just as quickly as I am watching the leaves turn, I am watching them fall.

What do we do when all that brilliance and beauty is gone, and we are left looking at what appears to be a bare and dead tree? Can I be thankful even when life feels barren and empty? On a recent road trip, I stared out the window trying not to miss the trees and I began to notice that in between all the pretty ones, were trees that had already been stripped down. I realized that I would soon be staring at a landscape that appeared dark, and cold, but before I could panic, I realized something else. Those trees wouldn’t stay that way. They would only be barren for a season, and in his own time, God would usher in spring. Instead of seeing the ugly trees, I am reminded that spring always comes. The worries that I have in my life right now, will not always be here. Spring always comes. The seeds that have been planted will bloom!

Those dead looking trees now represent hope. Since hope is something I really need, I have decided to do something I have absolutely forbidden my children or myself to do. Hope for snow. In an effort to protect my children from disappointment my mantra has been “Do not hope!” But even if again, we don’t see snow, I think it just feels better to hope.

Friends and family, whatever the view outside your window is, whether it is beautiful leaves, barren trees, or blackened burnt hills, make time for giving thanks, remembering, and hoping for something that will make your heart leap.

Prayer Requests
Please pray for our housing situation in Los Angeles. We currently have no housing lined up, and at this point it looks like we will have to find an apartment and furnish it from scratch. We are willing and able to do that, but the task is a bit daunting. Pray that we will find a good apartment that will allow a six-month lease, and where our whole family can thrive. Pray also that we will be able to find inexpensive ways to furnish an apartment that we will use for only six months (such as borrowing things from friends and buying at thrift stores and yard sells).

Jacob (ideally) needs to finish his online school before December fifth when we begin traveling across the country. Please pray for his endurance, concentration, and motivation.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Difficult Words: Worthy

The third word in our series of difficult words to translate is worthy. I remember sitting with the translation team one day trying to elicit an Enga translation for the word worthy  I said, “Let’s say that you say to your son, ‘If you behave well, I will buy you ice cream’ (yes, they have ice cream in Papua New Guinea). So let’s say that your son does behave well, then he would be ______ to receive the ice cream. How would you fill in the blank?” Well, instead of filling in the blank for me, all I got was blank stares! And after many similar failed attempts to try to elicit a translation of the word worthy  I came to the conclusion that the word worthy is untranslatable into the Enga language with any sort of direct equivalent. So that meant that we had to find another way to say the same thing.

Of course, the most basic definition of the word worthy is that it describes something that has worth.  That means that it has value that is consistent with something else to which it is compared. For example, we say that a car is worth $10,000 when there is someone who is willing to pay that much for the car. To say that our 1989 Toyota Hilux is worth $100,000 would not be consistent with what anyone would be willing to pay, and so it would be wrong to say that it is worth that much. So when we describe people as being worthy, we are saying that there is something about them that is consistent with something else to which they are being compared. To say that a person is worthy doesn’t really make sense unless you say (or imply) what the value of that person is being compared to. For example, in Luke 15:19, when the prodigal son says to his father, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” he is saying that his personal value is not consistent with the value of being considered his father’s son. Another way we could say this is that he is no longer deserving or sufficient to be called his son.

Our 1989 Toyota Hilux—definitely not worthy of $100,000
Because Enga does not have a word that is equivalent to the word worthy, we translate the concept by focusing on the goodness or badness of the person in comparison to the action or circumstance under consideration. For example, we translated Luke 15:19 as follows: “I am not a good man, so do not call me your son.” This emphasizes that the goodness of the prodigal son is not commensurate with being called his father’s son. Similarly, in Luke 7:6, the centurion sends a message to Jesus, saying, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” In Enga, we have translated this as, “Big Man, I am an unimportant person with no reputation, so do not come to my house.” Again, the centurion does not consider his personal value to be commensurate with the idea of a person like Jesus entering his house.

So while Enga has no word that is equivalent to the English word worthy, the concept is very much translatable. By the way, how do you think an Engan man would tell his son that he is worthy of getting ice cream? He would probably just say, “You have been good, and so you will get ice cream.” Sometimes I appreciate that Enga avoids abstract concepts like worthiness and states the matter in a simple, straightforward manner. Although it can sure cause us translation headaches from time-to-time, and sometimes I myself feel unworthy of the task!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Difficult Words: Perfect

This is the second newsletter in a series discussing difficult words to translate. Last month, we looked at the word holy and concluded that it did not mean morally good but set apart for God. This month we will look at the word perfect.

Just like the word holy, the word perfect is one that always makes me cringe a bit because I know that there is not going to be any easy, straightforward way to translate it into Enga. The Greek word that is often translated as perfect is teleios. Like most words, the range of meaning of the Greek is not quite the same as the range of meaning in English. In English the word perfect carries the idea of something that is done without any mistakes. A perfect grade is one in which the student scores 100% and does not get any of the answers wrong. But the connotation of the Greek word teleios has much more to do with the idea of being complete than it does with the idea of not making any mistakes. So it would refer more to the idea of a student completing every assignment required for a particular class than it would to the idea that the assignments were completed without any mistakes.

A great example to illustrate the difference between the idea of completeness as opposed to the idea of not making any mistakes is Matthew 5:48 in which Jesus exhorts his disciples, saying, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” When we approach this command from the perspective of the English connotation of the word perfect, we think that Jesus is commanding us to never make even the slightest mistake as we go about our walk of faith. If that is indeed what Jesus is saying, then it is an impossible command. But I don’t think the Lord Jesus is in the business of giving us commands that he knows we are incapable of ever following.

However, when we consider the Greek connotation of the word teleios, we see a different emphasis emerging, especially as we look at the greater context of the passage. The greater context of Matthew 5:43-48 clarifies that Jesus is telling us, as his disciples, to love our enemies. And he encourages us to do so by reminding us that our Father in heaven “makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” In other words, the emphasis is on the fact that God is complete in showing his love. He doesn’t show love only to the good and the just; he shows love to the evil and the unjust as well. He does not neglect to love anyone; he is complete in how he loves people.

Jesus further illustrates this point by telling us that if we only love those who love us, we are no better than tax collectors. Rather we are to be complete in showing love, not only to our friends, but also to our enemies. Jesus is not commanding us never to make a mistake in our attempts to love others. Rather, he is commanding us to be complete by not neglecting anyone, but rather showing love even to our enemies.

So how do we translate Jesus’s command to be perfect/complete in a language like Enga, which does not have an abstract noun for perfection or completeness? It is a challenge to do so. In our first attempt to translate Matthew 5:48, we came up with the following:

Your Father who stands in the sky loves bad people and good people alike; therefore live in such a way that you love [people] doing likewise.

That was a good translation in terms of capturing the heart of what it means to be perfect or complete, but we felt that it inserted too much interpretation into the text so that we were no longer translating the text but explaining it. Sometimes this is a necessary step in the translation process so that you can truly understand the heart of the message. But we were not content to stick with an explanation rather than a translation, so we went back to the drawing board, considering how we might translate more literally while also capturing the idea of completeness rather than the idea of not making mistakes. This is our revised translation:

Your Father who stands on top of the sky lives in such a way that he does not neglect any of the straight ways, but rather he holds to them; therefore live in such a way that you are doing the same.

The idea is that God is complete in the sense that he does not neglect any good thing that he should do. He is complete in doing all that he should do. Therefore, we should behave in the same way, not neglecting to do all that we should do. It doesn’t mean that we are commanded never to make a mistake, but it does mean that we commanded not to be incomplete in how we carry out the commandments of God. To be sure, God does not make any mistakes, but the heart of Jesus's command is for us to strive to be complete in our love.

May we be complete in loving others, extending our love even to our enemies.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Difficult Words: Holy

I always cringe a little bit whenever we have to translate the word holy into Enga. Without a doubt the word holy has been the most difficult word for us to translate. The Enga people have traditionally understood the word holy to mean very good, which is simply a misunderstanding of the true meaning of the word. I suspect that many English speakers also do not quite grasp the meaning of the word holy, believing perhaps that the word means something like very good with respect to a person’s moral conduct.

But the word holy does not mean very good; it means set apart. For example, if you have a certain set of dishes that you only use for special occasions, in a sense those dishes are holy because they are set apart for a special use; you don’t use them for everyday meals. In the New Testament the word holy means something or someone that is set apart for God’s purposes. For example, the Ark of the Covenant was a box or chest that was set apart for a very special purpose. It was not to be used to store just any items, but only the two tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were written, as well as the jar of manna and the staff of Aaron that had budded. To show that this particular box or chest was set apart for God’s purposes, it was kept in the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle, which only the High Priest could enter, and only once a year on the Day of Atonement. There is no sense in which a box or chest can be morally good, but it can be set apart for God’s purposes. Just as an object can be set apart for God’s purposes, so also can a place, as we have just seen with the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle, which represented the presence of Yahweh with the people of Israel. Now a person can also be holy, meaning that he or she is set apart or dedicated to the purposes of God. In fact the word saint is the same word as holy in Greek and is related to the English word sanctified, which simply means that a person is set apart for God. It does not mean that a person is morally good (although we rightly expect people who are set apart for God to be morally good as well).

The Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy Place
By far the easiest category of uses of the word holy to translate is places because Enga has traditional spiritual houses. So when holy is used to describe a place we can translate it as nee nyetae, which means a special place that has restricted access. Incidentally we found this to be a helpful word to translate temple. Before, the Enga people were translating temple as the big worship house. But when I asked the translation team what sort of things happened in the big worship house, they said that people would sing songs and listen to a sermon, and they said that everyone had access to such a place. But none of that is the case with the temple in Jerusalem, which was restricted to the priests, and so we translated temple as God’s restricted access house, which communicated much more clearly the sanctity (i.e. set-apartness) of the temple.

But objects, people, and abstract concepts (like holy commandment) cannot be described by the words restricted access. The words restricted access can only apply to places. So to describe objects, people, and abstract concepts as holy we must somehow indicate that they are reserved for God. The best way that we have found to do this is to say that they are Gotenya latae, which means that they are in the state of having been said to belong to God. It is not just that they belong to God but that they have been designated as such. This translation generally works well, although sometimes we have to make some minor adjustments.

God is holy because he is set apart from evil
By far the most difficult context in which to translate holy is when it refers to God himself. For example, in 1 Peter 1:16 God is quoted as saying, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” Well we can’t say that God is set apart for God; it doesn’t make any sense. But what we can say is that God is set apart from evil. So we translated this particular verse as “There is no sin upon me; therefore live in such a way so as to avoid having any sin upon yourselves.” Alternatively we can describe God as being holy by saying, “There is no one like him.” God is in a category by himself, and in that sense he is set apart.

May each one of us realize that we are called to be set apart for God’s purposes, and may we dedicate ourselves to serving him alone!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Up In The Air

As this email is being delivered to your inbox, we are flying over the Mediterranean Sea, traveling from Doha, Qatar to Boston, Massachusetts (assuming no delays in our travel plans that is). Once we land in Boston, we will have a short layover before catching a flight to Pittsburgh, where we will meet my (Adam’s) parents at the airport. Furlough has begun!

Flying over the Mediterranean Sea
Actually, we aren’t supposed to call it furlough anymore. We are supposed to call it Home Assignment. And there is good reason for that as I will continue working on the Enga translation of the New Testament even while we are back in America. Thanks to technological advances and Internet capabilities, I will actually keep in regular touch with the translation team as we send and receive our translation files back and forth across the world. During our Home Assignment, I plan to finish my Advisor Checks for the remaining books of the New Testament, and I hope to back-translate many of those same books into English in preparation for final consultant checks when we return to Papua New Guinea next year. After all of the consultant checks are done, we will begin making final preparations for recording and printing the Enga New Testament!

Some of you may be wondering if our financial situation changes at all while we are on Home Assignment. It does not. So please continue to send your financial gifts in the same way that you have been sending them. And please be advised that even when we are in America, we are still required to raise the same amount of funds to continue with this work. So thank you for your continued giving and for your prayers.

Now … on to that first slice of America bacon!

American bacon

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Twenty-Four More Days

Twenty-four more days until we wake up early, get into a van for a bumpy ten-minute ride to the airstrip, and climb into a ten-passenger Kodiak airplane that will take us to, what I consider, another dimension. Transitioning from life in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to life in the US is no easy thing.

Our conversations around the dinner table are filled with chatter about all the amazing things we will get to experience, like our favourite foods, smooth roads, and fast internet. But our conversations often get confused when we use the phrase “going home.” For Adam and I, “going home” means going to the US, and for the kids, it means going to PNG. In those moments I am brought back to reality and remember that furlough isn’t all about great pizza and YouTube videos. I remember that even though the kids got to see New York City, Washington D.C., and Niagra Falls during our furlough in 2015, Bella asked almost on a daily basis, “When are we going home?” And I am reminded that every time we visited new people—and we did that a lot—Asher held my hand for the first twenty-four hours. So even though I am ready and thrilled to go on furlough, I am going into it with a bit of apprehension.

The first time we went back to the States in 2015, we did a lot of things wrong, and we weren’t mentally prepared. We ignored all the advice to stop somewhere to rest and buffer the transition between PNG and the US. We had lots of immediate plans to see friends and family, and we couldn’t wait to do all the fun things like go to restaurants, the zoo, the beach, shopping—the list was endless. The great land of America was waiting for us with all its food, folks, and fun. But that wasn’t exactly how it went. We were exhausted from jet lag, Bella arrived with lice, Asher got a fever, the air conditioning in the mall made us freeze to death. Our kids thought we were lying to them about their bedtime because they didn’t believe it could be light at eight o’clock at night, and we had such a hard time finding shoes for the kids that they ended up going to the beach in tennis shoes—in October, three months after we arrived in the US! One time, the kids freaked out when they saw a squirrel at a park and tried to climb a tree to catch it, only to be told that they weren’t allowed to climb the tree. Couldn’t climb a tree? What planet were they on?

These are small things really, and mostly make for funny stories, but there were big things too. People, friends, family, church—it had all changed. We had changed and no longer looked at the world the same. Needless to say, our 2015 furlough wasn’t the Disneyland experience we thought it would be. I could debrief about that for hours, but that is the past. We learned from it, and now we are looking forward to what is next, hopefully a bit more prepared.

Our first stop will be in Singapore to rest and have some very needed family time. We arrive in Pittsburgh on July 1, and our kids are very excited to see their grandparents. This time we have no big plans for the first couple of weeks—just settling in, and of course, dentist appointments. Settling in means getting a car, ordering homeschool curriculum, and if Bella has her way, shopping for new clothes. I just keep telling her to hold on, and that no one is noticing the holes in her clothes. We can’t wait to drive on smooth roads, be anonymous, and eat amazing ice cream. But we still have a ways to go before we get there. The next twenty-four days will be a whirlwind of cleaning and packing up our house. I am finding this to be nearly impossible to do while still having to do the everyday things like making dinner, picking up after everyone, and dealing with school events and homework. Please pray that I would manage my time well and have extra energy.

We will also be saying good bye to many friends, some of them for two years, and some we will not see again because they are leaving PNG permanently. This never gets any easier. My heart is heavy when I think of all the goodbyes my kids have had to endure. These are the days when I question and doubt everything. But I know and believe that we have not come here in vain, so I have to continue to believe that God will protect the hearts and minds of my children. 

Jacob, Bella, Martha, Adam, and Asher Boyd
Recently, while reading Hebrews 4, I was struck with how many times the word rest is used. This passage is warning us that we should not fail to believe and receive the promise of entering God’s rest.

“God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it.” - Heb. 4:1 (NLT)

The passage continues for several verses to speak of God’s rest. All I could think was, this is part of the good news! How had I never noticed this before? We are called to believe and obey the commandments of Jesus, and one of the results is entering his rest. And rest is what I need. God is the calm in the storm. He is my rest. It has been a long time since I have slept through the night. I find myself awake with my head spinning with worry. This is the direct result of not trusting that God can take care of all of my needs. Believing that in my head and living it out are two different things. When I find myself awake at night, I am slowly remembering to pray and surrender instead of worry. I am learning to remember that I can choose to enter God’s rest. I don’t always do a great job of this, but I know that renewing your mind is not an overnight process. Today I hold on to the hope of this promise, and I will choose to trust that God will walk with us during this transition, and this furlough. Lord, thank you that the promise of entering your rest still stands, and may I tremble with fear that I might fail to experience it.

Please be praying that we will say good goodbyes and have the closure here that will allow us to be mentally and emotionally healthy to thrive during our upcoming furlough.

We still need housing in or near Sylmar, CA, from mid-December to the beginning of July 2020. I know it is a long shot, but I have seen God do way bigger things than this, and so we are continuing to pray and trust that God will provide the right place for us.