April 29, 2011
It was dark when we stood on the edge of the river -- flip flops stuck in mud. We had visited the same port repeatedly, expecting the metal mass to have pulled from shore and into the black water. One night after another the pattern repeated itself. Waiting. Tonight while we waited, however; the boat was sunken under the weight of moto-taxis, an entire city’s monthly beer supply, bricks and upside-down aluminum boats stacked one on top of the other. People lined every inch of space that cargo didn’t fill. Our packed Land Cruiser sat on the left hand side of the boat, and the bookcase and mattresses and table to the right of it were smashed together between layers of towels and plastic shrink-wrap under the captain’s quarters.
All week we stuffed fat tarp bags full of shoes and plastic hangers and school books and some molasses to make gingersnaps when we reached home base. I was relieved to be standing in the mud, seeing it all float away. The possibility of that boat sinking seemed very real. My mind started rehearsing the possibilities of what we would do if it did sink. Julia has the notebook in her backpack. It has a list of each bag and what’s in it… And then the men pulled away the wooden slats connecting the muddy shore to the black river. There was yelling and people were waving, and it was gone.
Michael drove the truck along those rough- hewn, wooden slats onto that boat without being able to see what was beneath him—where the boat ended and the river began- and he’s right here beside me right now. I kept thinking how strangely fragile life is, and how if I would’ve been driving that truck onto the boat, we would not be sharing this enchanted last evening in Pucallpa together…
Julia and Abigail could not stop chattering about all the possibilities: Did Ginger have enough bananas and apples and lucuma to last her the 4-day river trip? Would she be afraid? Would she recognize us when she arrived in A-town? Did she feel abandoned? Ginger Valentine, sweet little monkey of mine, we sang hand in hand, walking away from the port into town.
Eight months ago our plane had landed in the low jungle airport to begin the first part of our training process. Tomorrow we would be taking a much smaller nine-person plane to the next stop in training. We would be moving to isolated A-town to live in Ashéninka territory and work along different rivers learning another dialect of the language we’d been studying.
April 30, 2011
I called my parents from the airport this morning, anticipating very little internet availability in the upcoming days. It was good to hear their voices until there was no change left in my pocket and no more voice on the other line.
Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, that Great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well-pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)
I am comforted.
May 2, 2011
We woke early. Our hotel beds were covered in math computation, American history, vocabulary studies and journal s and spelling and reading, and after many hours of hunkering down, we tore pieces from a fresh bread loaf and headed to the house to paint white over crude brickwork. It was oil based. That was a bit more work than we all expected.
Anticipating the possibility of the boat arriving tomorrow with hopes that little Ginger fared well.
Therefore, let us continually offer… our praise to God, that is…giving thanks to His name (Hebrews 13:15).
Thankful to be here.
May 5, 2011
There is one ATM in A-town. We do not have a local bank account. Today, when the ATM announced it would be out-of-service for the next 4 days, we were a bit nervous, with the equivalent of 30-something American dollars in pocket.
It was a first for M. He called his parents and asked them to wire an emergency survival stash—something we could live on until the ATM was no longer out-of-service. They smilingly agreed and the money was wired and we were jumping up and down and resolved to plan ahead for other such surprises.
May 8, 2011
Nathanael woke up at 3:45 to use the bathroom. He had his flashlight with him, and was calling to us from over the wall. Our rooms are divided by a thin, painted, wooden panel that stops short of the tongue and groove ceiling, allowing for 3 feet of blue screening—like something that would be in our windows back home. It encourages air flow and discourages privacy, making for a camp-style bungalow deal.
From the top bunk, Nathanael was pressing his head and flashlight against the screen, calling to us. My eyes were blurry and I think I was still mostly asleep, but I saw his face and told myself I would tell him to stop looking through the screen sometime when I was awake.
For whatever reason, he began to detail everything he was doing: I’m taking my flashlight and going to the bathroom. That music is still playing. It’s really loud. These people here sure like music. They like it really loud, right? Don’t they? Our fan was whirring. This is what I think he said, and then either I was asleep again, or he stopped talking.
Next thing I heard was something like I’m done. I’m getting into my bed again, and it’s really funny that the kitchen door was open. It was all open.
I was now awake. I heard his every word in its chipper triumph that he and his flashlight found the bathroom stall and had returned. (It’s a stall, just like in a public restroom, and the shower is a stall just the same—plastered in turquoise-painted cement -- and they are separated by a tiny white sink between the two of them. It’s perfectly odd and delightful.)
Are you talking about the kitchen door beside the washing machine or the kitchen door that leads outside? I asked, eyes wide open.
The kitchen is at the back of the house. We walk down a hallway which ends facing a row of modern conveniences: a toilet, a shower, a washing machine and a dryer, which leads to the kitchen. We walk through that door to enter the kitchen, and through another one, at the end of the galley-style passage, to go outside. Standing at the back kitchen door to the left is a tall wall of rock and dirt, an embankment that the kitchen nestles into, from which tall trees and a neighbor’s palm-thatched roof can be seen. To the right, is the parked truck beside a pile of rocks and dirt and unruly thatches of jute grass.
The kitchen door, He insisted, not answering my question, The kitchen door was open.
I got out of bed. I think M was listening, but was not necessarily engaged in the transaction until I called his name. When I came to the end of the hallway facing the turquoise wall of modern conveniences, there was a draft. Cold air blew through both open doors.
For both of our doors being open, I can’t believe we haven’t been…Michael! Michael. Come here.
Just above our washer and dryer, I noticed three nearly 2 foot wooden slats had been pulled away from the house. I was looking onto the embankment the house is built against.
Someone had been in the house. With ease, the culprit had gently kicked in the wall slats, crawled onto the washer and dryer ... M’s phone was gone. And milk and cereal and chocolate. But apparently, Nathanael and his flashlight had cut the venture short, and the gathered computers and an un-plugged microwave were left behind.
Thus began Mother’s Day.
May 9, 2011
There is a fat rat with a very long tail that lives in our kitchen. I wonder if his family joins him. Nano stepped on glass and failed to mention he has a grossly infected swollen toe. The roof is leaking and the kitchen floor has puddles from the storm. M backed into the fence that was just built, and there were a few other oddities that made me long for my own pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream today. But alas, our landlord is here adding another layer of wood to the back of the house, along with more barbed wire, and we have some bright purple violet extract that will heal Nano’s toe in no time and I am remembering the passage we were just reading this before the home invasion.
One… clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid, I am the first and the last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore.” (Revelation 1:13-18a).
When I felt that draft send a shiver down my spine, knowing someone had been in the house, I was strangely, almost instantly made bold by this staggeringly brilliant description of the One who reigns in glory and is above all created things. The One in whom there is no darkness. The One who says, Do not be afraid. I was not afraid. I am the first and the last. The beginning and the End. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore.
An event I had dreaded and anticipated had come to pass and I was standing in the light of He whose countenance is like the sun shining in its strength, and I was not afraid. Chilled. Shaken. But not afraid.
Do not let me be ashamed of my hope (Psalm 119:116).
May 12, 2011
Still no internet. They’ve been coming to the house and working on it.
Today we made gingersnaps and the girls and I grated fresh ginger into the buttery batter while the boys in our family moaned that the smell was awful. The boys don’t do gingersnaps.
The house is coming along in regards to security upgrades. Nano’s toe is healing. The backed-into fence has been repaired and the house has been full of visitors coming in from their native communities. Some are selling pots. Others, finely stitched cloth and purses and others are coming to ask who we are and why we are here and what are we doing.
Today I had only hard rolls to offer because I hadn’t walked to the market yet. They were eagerly accepted by an elderly couple from another indigenous community. We sat on the front porch and visited. They had spent time in Pucallpa, so there was much to talk about and my heart was happy.
The girls and I made chicken in a cilantro sauce drenching peas and carrots and garlic, and they peeled, boiled and mashed the potatoes. We agreed we would serve this when our next visitors came for dinner. The carrot-chip cake came out resembling carrot-chip cake, but sorely lacked the cream cheese frosting we would make in Costa Rica. There is no cream cheese or sour cream in A-town. I suppose that means we could learn to make it. But that will be sometime after we find a language tutor to begin studying the language again…
M is busy working through details with the closet-builder and the internet connection. He runs into one obstacle after another. Each yes seems to mean no and each today must really mean tomorrow. Meanwhile, our rooms have their piles and stacks and suitcases from which we’re trying to make order. Yet the sweetness of having a home here, close to the people to whom we want to tell Jesus’ story, makes the unwieldy transition purposeful. And so we begin again.
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen (1 Tim 1:17).