Monday, April 21, 2014

Happy Easter!

Dear Friends,

Early this morning, before the sun was awake, my husband and I walked to the top of the hill to enjoy an Easter sunrise service. In addition to Easter being my favorite holiday, this tradition is definitely on to the top of my list.

Last year Alan and I, along with our friend Steve, organized the service but this year I just wanted to attend. I wanted to enjoy being in God's presence. Sometimes it's more difficult to do that when you are making sure everyone else is doing well and the program is going smoothly.

Thankfully two of the teen hostels volunteered and did a lovely job. When we arrived we placed our flowers in a container and were handed a rock. We set up our camping chairs and began to enjoy the early morning singing.

After a few minutes we were asked to bring our rock, which represented sin, and bring it to the cross. Once the rock was placed at the foot of the cross we were encouraged to take some flowers and adorn it. The cross is wooded but a chicken wire has been wrapped around it so flowers could be held in easily.

Music continued to play as people gathered but we remained. I am glad we stayed back because soon afterwards we began to sing Because He Lives by Bill Gaither. This is an older song, one I used to sing when I was a child. As we sang the words, tears filled my eyes and all I could do was listen. I was too chocked up. Here are the words:

God sent his son they called him Jesus
He came to love, heal and forgive
He lived and died to buy my pardon
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives

Because he lives I can face tomorrow
Because he lives all fear is gone
Because i know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because he lives

How sweet to hold a newborn baby
And feel the pride and joy he gives
But greater still the calm assurance
This child can face uncertain days because he lives

And then one day I'll cross the river
I'll fight life's final war with pain
And then as death gives way to victory
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He lives

What a lovely song! And what a wonderful reminder that God is already present in tomorrow. No matter how awful or wonderful it may be, God is present. I began to think of all the people I know who are suffering, from a lost family member, a struggling marriage, a miscarriage, people who no friends, or struggling with depression. God is present today and tomorrow.

I also cried thinking of all the plans I have for Alan and my life (and of course, being a planner, my future children's life...though they aren't in our conversations at the moment). God made me a planner for a reason right? He made me desire the "big picture". I need to remember that God holds the future. Even though life is unpredictable. Even though life on the mission field is changing constantly, I need to continue to remember to live for him because he died for me.

I hope you have a wonderful Easter!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Green Christmas

Christmas in Papua New Guinea, as you can imagine, is quite different than one in the United States. It is the hottest time of year and the grass is always greener in December. I have mixed feelings about being here opposed to the states during this time. Though I would much rather be with family for the holidays I do not miss the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, Christmas music playing in October, expectations for expensive gift giving or LOTS of gift giving, and so forth. I was often frustrated by all that was expected of me during this time of year in the states, especially when I was living on a teachers salary.

However, I felt myself missing Christmas music everywhere, decorative lights all over and candy canes. Although we try our best to make it look and feel like Christmas, it is just not the same. At one point I found myself getting discouraged. After telling Alan, we decided that we would do our best to make our own traditions here. It won't ever be an American Feeling Christmas but it can be a Papua New Guinean feeling Christmas.

We hung the stockings and set up the tree (a 6 foot Walmart special I shipped over here). The ornaments were put up and our tree was topped with nothing other than a Chick-fil-A cow! We played Christmas music any chance we got (Amy Grant, Sufjan Stevens, The Gettys, and She and Him) and made some oh-so-delicious gingerbread cookies (which turned into bars). Here we are putting up our first ornament as Mr and Mrs Halbrooks, a gift from Alan's mom.

I decided I needed an advent calendar, so I made one! What do you think? Pretty spiffy huh! Some Papua New Guinean ladies make these little bilums (woven bags) and sell them at market. I wanted to make one of my own so I looked online. WOW! I decided to use one idea, painting clothes pins and began that process. While I was painting I thought how cute it would be to have each clothes pin holding a tiny little bilum. The next morning we went to market, collected them, and began to fill them with all kinds of goodies: marbles, candies (wrapped in plastic to avoid ant issues), toys, etc. We decided that Alan would open the odd numbers and I, the evens. Feel free to steal my idea if you want to.

I even did a bit of table decoration! Oh yeah.

We enjoyed a Christmas choir and band concert put on by the middle and high school students, which was lovely.

Alan got into some traditions I made up such as: taking a picture while under the Christmas tree, posing while running down the stairs on Christmas morn, and having a silly string war. We pulled out some good ol' puzzles to enjoy the season (it's mango we ate them each morning as well!)

On Christmas Eve my mom invited us and some friends over for a lovely dinner. We ended the evening with the watching of Charlie Brown Christmas, family classic! We have watched many movies this holiday such as Home Alone, Muppet Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Life, Elf, etc. Good times!

The morning of, we woke to a wonderful display of uniquely wrapped presents. Our present selection is limited so Alan and I have decided to step up our wrapping and make that part of the fun. I created a snowman for Alan and he made me an echidna.

My echidna, once I finally got it unwrapped, was peppermint cocoa! SOOOO delicious!

 Alan's snowman was actually a new set of tennis balls.

Our Christmas was very fun with friends and family, great food, and wonderful presents! The weather was surprising cool and rainy. Below you can see my Christmas attire (of course I only wear these jeans at night with friends, not exactly "PNG appropriate")

On New Year Eve we invited some of my single gal friends. I remember being single. You would either get invited to everything or to very little. This year, I didn't want them to have to ask. The food, again, was delicious and the games were awesome. Alan set up the dart board outside and we borrowed a wii for the evening. Catch Phrase was a bit hit! A few minutes before midnight Alan rigged up a glow in the dark smiley face ball, taped it to a string and lowered it from a pull-up bar in our hallway. We may not be able to see the real ball drop but this was very special and brought lots of laughter! Confetti poppers exploded while motorbikes rode around center rolling in the New Year.

Holding to my "working backwards" theme, next up will be...Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Working Backwards

Instead of starting from our wedding in July I figured I would start with my birthday in January, just to be confusing. No, the truth is, I am still organizing and working through wedding photos. The next few blog posts will be "working backwards". Since we are on break for a few weeks, I have time. This blog post is about my birthday.

January 5th I turned 29. Yep, I told you, and I'm not ashamed. I have lived them well and will wear them proudly! That said, my 26 year old husband threw me a lovely and even royal birthday party!
A few years ago my friend Elizabeth and I did a Murder Mystery Party. It is, to this day, one of my favorites. Alan and I looked online and found one called: A Knight of Murder. We downloaded it and began the invites. Our friends responded with great enthusiasm. We probably had as much fun finding the costumes as we did acting it all out! Over the years our community has been blessed with many wonderfully gifted seamstresses who have made costumes for all kinds of high school plays.

The day of, my friend Lindsey helped me decorate our house to look like a Medieval Manor while Alan worked on the cake. He is a cake connoisseur! Carrot cake on the top, chocolate wacky cake on the bottom, what could be better?

 Everyone was given a description of their character and objectives they had to complete before the end of the night. After an introduction and welcome by my husband, Lord Taylor, our friends were free to mingle, enjoy the delicious goodies, and figure out "who dunnit".

The lights "suddenly" went out. A scream was heard (from me...for effect) in the darkness. When the lights came on, one of the guests had died! We all laughed when the victim's spouse was called on to tape off the body of the victim. He was laying on his side with a leg turned up so that is why our "taped person" is so oddly proportioned. Luckily, he was given the role of the evidence man. He presented the evidence, which I obviously did not look closely at, to help us decide who had done it.

We had so much fun...maybe a little too much for some of us :)

I am so grateful for the friends God has put in our lives (and these are just a few) here in Papua New Guinea. I look forward to what is in store for me this year.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Complexity of Culture

I have a blog all typed up and ready to post but it will have to wait. Instead, I would like to tell you about something that is pressing on my heart at the moment.

When I was here in Papua New Guinea as a teenager I had quite a narrow view of PNG culture. With my impressive two weeks of language and culture training, living in a community of mostly missionaries and their kids, and my many years of third-culture experience, I believed I had it all figured out. A girl at my school was hurt by a Papua New Guinean man and all the sudden I deemed everyone in this country to be mean and bad. I even developed a fear and frustration toward Papua New Guineans so much so that I right out told God I never wanted to return.

As you can see...God and I worked some things out. In January of 2011 my plane landed in Madang, a small town where I would spend 16 weeks attending language and culture training. Though nervous, God walked me through my fears, misconceptions, and frustrations. The last day of our training, my group was waiting to leave our shopping trip when one of our leaders got robbed. Catching him in the act, I screamed at the top of my lungs "STILMAN", which means just who is stealing. Startled, he backed up quickly and began to run. I'm sure he didn't anticipate my continual screams and pointing. As I was screaming a mob of people who didn't even know me tackled him to the ground and proceeded to take him to the police.

On the way home, I realized something. I realized that I no longer believed as I did when I was a teen. When one person sinned, he was the sinner...not his whole family or his whole country. Something inside of me had changed during this time of training. I had been welcomed into a Papua New Guinean family's house, into their village, and lived with them for five weeks. They had sheltered, cared for, loved, and protected me. They had become my friends. There were Papua New Guinean helpers at our training course who had helped me learn the language over tea every day. Instead of seeing them as "different," I saw them as children of God, as fellow Christian workers. This thief helped me notice the goodness of the Papua New Guinean people around me. He was stealing, but everyone else was helping us...even though we were strangers to them. They didn't want this guy giving them a bad name just like I don't want thieves in my country giving the United States a bad name.

I was reminded of these things this morning when my eight Papua New Guinean students came into class laughing about a fight that had occurred between two neighboring villages. They were obviously not aware of the consequences of such fighting and its seriousness . Changing my morning plans, as teachers often do, I decided to sit them down and give them a chance to talk through the situation.

We talked about the way of our cultures and the way of God. I explained that as Christians we need to look closely at the way our families and relatives have done things and ask ourselves, "Is this the best way?" I told them that there are many things in my culture that I don't feel like God would be happy with me doing: drinking too much, I told them, or neglecting children - things I thought second graders would understand. As followers of Christ we can't always follow the ways of our culture. If the Bible doesn't agree with how our culture and family have always done things, I told them, then we need to make a decision. It might be pretty hard. 

 And then we talked about things in this country that are contrary to the will of God . We talked about fighting and why people fight. Often a lot of little things build up and finally it all comes out. Sometimes they are not "walking in the way of the Lord" as Jeremiah says. I reminded them of Joseph's brothers. They didn't start with hatred...they started with jealousy and it slowly built into frustration, anger, and then hatred.

We prayed, and I told them that the desire of my heart is to see them grow into godly men and women who think of others above themselves. People who serve the Lord no matter what their job is, who seek peace and offer forgiveness. After praying, my students shared other stories of things they had experienced or heard. I was given the opportunity to tell them about the power of Jesus' name and encourage them to follow the examples of the godly Papua New Guinean men and women that work among us here in Ukarumpa.

My talk with them lasted about forty-five minutes or so. Afterwards we went on with the day, but my heart remained in our discussion. Every good teacher wants their students to succeed and grow in wisdom and discipline. Working in a different culture has challenged me. What will become of them? Their culture is very different than mine. Opportunities are limited. But I don't care as much about their academic abilities as I do their hearts. Will they choose to follow "the way of the Lord"? Will they study the Word? Will they proclaim peace, forgiveness, and love? Pray with me that they will.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The past two weeks

Ever since I have known Alan, he has spoken highly of Rugby. It was his home away from home. He spoke of if with fond memories. Everyone who heard of this rustic mountainous town in Tennessee, wanted to go for one reason or another. I promised Alan that when we were back in the states we would go. Now that we are back, it turns out, we will be able to go twice during our five week trip.
We have been in the states for two weeks now. Quite a lot has happened. We flew into Dallas, Texas and stayed a night with my friend Lynn. It was great for her to finally meet my soon to be husband. Lynn and I have been friends since we were little girls. I assure you all, she approves of my choosing!

In Dallas we picked up a beautiful red 2005 Pontiac Vibe. A Wycliffe member was buying it for his recently married daughter and needed to get it from Dallas to Orlando. We volunteered to take it to Charlotte, North Carolina. The car worked great! After driving pieced together cars in Papua New Guinea, this was a treat! God was gracious to us by providing this car. It certainly saved us money but also gave us freedom.
After visiting Lynn we began our road trip from Dallas to Alabama. In the past two weeks we have been in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina. We really aren't trying to win a "how many states can you get to in five week" challenge. It was so nice to be on smooth roads, driving faster than 30 miles per hour (our typical driving speed on our center), and just being able to be alone.

We spent a week in Alabama together visiting Alan's family. Alan became my tour guide, and what a tour guide he was. He took me to the house he grew up in, the house he lived in when he was in college (affectionately called the Wolary), where he used to work, and to a variety of delicious restaurants. What a cute area! It was fun to go places with him. He also introduced me to his friends, who I feel, will quickly become my friends. It is comforting to know that when we are in the states we will have a place to "fit".

I met his family that week, his parents, two brothers and my future sister-in-laws. They are lovely! I had no idea that I was loved so much by people who hardly knew me. It sure makes things easier. We were showered by hugs and gifts from his parents. My mother has also expressed her delight that I am marrying into a family that cares for me so much.

The first weekend we all headed to Rugby. Alan's older brother and wife came up from Atlanta. We all met at their family house, Martin Roost. This house was built by Alan's great grandfather. We took a walk and I admired it's simplicity, age, and beauty. I was honored to receive the Halbrooks' tour, which, I have been told, is the best! They introduced me to the waterfall, which I proceeded to jump off into a icy cold pool below. I received a lesson on catching fish with a homemade fishing pole and a lesson on removing a fish from the hook (something I have always been terrified to do). Alan and his brother Ben proved their manliness by slathering mud on their bodies and doing a war dance. I, may I add, did not participate in this. We were later treated by a delicious four course dinner at a cozy bed and breakfast owned by a close friend of the family.

Although it was a short visit, it will always be in my memory. In the midst of wedding preparation, travel, and other stresses...a rest in the mountains of Tennessee was very much needed and welcomed. I have been initiated into the family. Alan and I will return in a little while and I am sure I will have just as much fun, if not more.

In five days we will be married. I can't believe it is so close! Tonight Alan travels from Alabama to North me! I can't wait! He had stayed in Alabama another week while I went to North Carolina to help my mother with wedding preparations. Each day brings more and more people to Waxhaw for the big day. July 5th can not come any sooner! There are so many people that I want to see and so many things I want to do, but there is just so little time.

Monday, May 20, 2013


The eyes of my five Papua New Guinean students twinkled when they were informed of our newest Social Studies topic- Papua New Guinea. As they sat up straighter I could see the pride well up inside each one. Over the next few weeks, the class would be studying their country. That meant...they were the experts. 

School rarely comes easily to these students. They have worked very hard to learn everything, beginning with the English language. So when the occasion arises like this one, where they don't have to fight so hard to learn something new, they seize it. They become the leaders.

I, on the other hand, struggle a bit with our Social Studies units. Each term we study a different country. So far we have studied Australia, USA, Japan and now PNG. Being an American who grew up in Colombia, my limited knowledge is evident. It's a good think I am teaching eight and nine year olds!

To begin our PNG studies unit the children were sent outside to find materials to build a traditional bush house. They were given the option of gluing it down on a piece of paper or building a 3-D model. This project may take a few weeks, but in my perspective, it has peeked their interest. 

Our classroom is currently sprinkled with kunai grass, twigs, branches, pieces of plants and banana leaves. Multiple students begged to skip recess and Music class in order to work on their houses. "Wait until tomorrow", they were told. As they left the classroom to go home, I could hear them planning with each other and comparing notes. Isn't it wonderful! They are learning and they don't even realize it!

Walking home today I thanked God for the ability and desire to learn. It doesn't come easily to all of us, and it certainly never has for me, but I am able. As a teacher, I hope I never forget the twinkle in the eyes of students, the dedication of the struggling, the accomplishments...even the small ones, and the pride of belonging.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

No Water

In Ukarumpa we get water from two places: the rain and the river. The rain falls on our roofs, runs through our gutters and is deposited into a large tank, called a water tank. This water is mostly used for drinking. (this my sound disgusting to some but when you live in a county with very little pollution- in comparison, the water is much cleaner. But that doesn't keep some people from filtering their water)
River water pumps from the river and into our houses. We affectionately call it ram water. This water is often used in our toilets and washing machines. Which water is used when, depends heavily on the size of your tank and the size of your family. Being a single gal and living with another single gal in a house designed for a family of seven, our tank is almost always filled (if not, we have back up tank). The only thing we use ram water for is our toilets and our laundry room sink. Everything else in our house is on tank water. It is not uncommon to be at a families house that has ram water in the shower, the washing machine and some of the water faucets. (you can see the darker tint of the ram water in the picture below)

Now that you understand how the water system works in our little community I will tell you how it is not working at the school, at present. The first day back at school this term, we were informed that the water pump (connected to the rain water tank) on the Grades 2-6 side of the Primary Campus, was not functioning properly. The pump had been damaged and needed to be fixed. This meant that for a few weeks we had NO water on our side of campus. I am guessing it was because they didn't want to pump up river water while they were fixing the pump.

If you have ever taught in a school in America you would know that this situation would be DEVASTATING! School would probably close. Sanitizers would be bought all over town. If school weren't closed, children would bring in gallons of water to compensate! I can only imagine the problems it would cause. (I take this all back, because it wouldn't happen. A worker would come in and it would be fixed with in the hour. It must be nice to have resources readily available.) But this is not what happened here.

Unlike America, these kids get their "allotted amount of dirt" per day (not by any desire of their parents). They climb trees, play in mud, they are almost always...dirty. Even on Sunday, when their parents try hard to keep them clean, it is inevitable. I can't even keep MYSELF clean walking from my house to the school. We live on dirt roads. In a country where it rains regularly. So when everyone heard there would be no water...nothing really changed. My students didn't bother to wash their hands. In fact, I think they thrilled that they couldn't.

By the third day, I was a bit disgusted. I had run home that afternoon and the first thing I did, was wash my hands. It hit me then that there is really no reason why I couldn't sanitize my students. Before heading to school the following day I grabbed my faithful travel sanitizer. (Honestly, it hasn't been touched since I was in the village two years ago) Thankfully they all thought it was great fun to watch the sanitizer dissolve on their hands and were always begging for more.

Our days without water quickly came to an end, but now, I had another problem. Since our water hadn't been working for a while, my students would often go to the sink and turn it on. When no water would come out they would walk away, like any child would. Later that day we would return to class and the water would be pouring out of the faucet. This only had to happen one time before I made signs for each faucet. Now anytime the water does not come out of the faucet, we turn the faucet OFF (what a concept) and put the little sign on. They love putting the sign on.
Unfortunately, after only a few days of working, something connected to the water pump died again. We now have to order another part from out of country that will likely take a few months. The ram water was turned on again and now flows through all the sinks and toliets on the Grade 2-6 side. I have put away my sanitizer and sucum to the idea of my students washing their hands in river water. If they use soap they should be fine, right? haha! It won't kill them. If anything, they will have a better immune system. I still look forward to the day where I can fill my water bottle up in the sink again.