J driving carabao

Where's the clutch?!

My previous post brought this story to mind. I hope you enjoy it. Please pray for those in the Philippines, even now facing yet another major typhoon. They’re heavy on my heart tonight…

Epiphany in a Smelly Barn

 Christmas Eve, 1997, found me ten thousand miles from home headed for the back side of a barren wilderness. This desert was a young one, surrounded by what had been lush, tropical rain forest. It grew out of the aftermath of Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991. Mudflows hardened, creating an eerie moonscape where villages once thrived, burying lifetimes of memories in gray-green volcanic ash. I was there on purpose, serving God as a missionary.

Five of us climbed aboard a two-wheeled, flatbed wooden trailer behind a tired-looking water buffalo. Our cargo included two cardboard boxes loaded with brown paper lunch-bags. Inside the bags, Melanie and I had brought small gifts from Manila for the Ayta farmers and their families who had moved back to the ash-laden hillsides. Though determined to eke out a living from their devastated homeland, basic survival was a challenge for them. Among the isolated groups were some of my former literacy students. I had to see them one last time before my furlough, and this would be my only chance. Star, a young pastor, brought his Bible along. Noel took his guitar. Helen, my Sambal language teacher, came along for the ride to visit relatives. Melanie and I were the only two from the city; she the only one who didn’t speak the local dialect, and I the only foreigner and the Aytas’ former neighbor.

We started off from the last outpost of settlement, Poonbato, early in the morning. Our ox lumbered along, and the wagon bumped across the rutted ground in rhythm with the sway of his broad hips. Once we were in the middle of the wasteland, Noel handed me the reins. The only challenge in the trackless flatland had nothing to do with the absence of a road; I simply had to keep my face out of the way of the carabao’s rough, brushy tail. Traveling perhaps six hours on the waddling wagon, we saw nothing but gray expanse. The sky mirrored the earth, making us glad for the light blankets we’d brought along. Mt. Pinatubo had certainly left her mark. Miles of what locals called “lahar” filled the riverbed, covered hillsides and even buried coconut trees so that the very tops stuck through the soil like stubby stem-less bushes.

“Our village used to be here,” Noel said, pulling the carabao to a stop.

I couldn’t see a structure of any kind, and wondered how he knew.

“Your house was there,” he said, pointing to nothing. Loss overwhelmed me. I’d only lived among them three years; I could only imagine the grief my companions were feeling.

We moved on in silence, now climbing from the lahar up a rough hill. The carabao trudged on, the wagon bouncing over rocks as we held onto one another. Star hopped off to walk, and Melanie and I followed. We easily kept pace with our weary beast, but we were glad not to have to carry the cargo such a distance.

Now we could see green sprigs of grass and a few other plants poking through the gray dirt. A few trees pierced the horizon.

“We’re almost there,” Noel assured us.

I wasn’t sure where we almost were, but I believed him. He turned his obedient animal into the high grass, and we all piled back onto the cart for the last leg of our journey. A half-hour later, we broke into a clearing. We’d arrived at Noel’s brother’s abandoned barn. A low-slung roof covered a two-sided shelter with an open portion down the middle. On either side, a raised wooden floor about two feet off the ground housed piles of loose hay. This would be our quaint hotel.

Star and Helen set to work building a fire while Noel took care of the carabao. Melanie and I gathered dry grass and unloaded the rice and canned goods we’d brought for supper. The rice and sardines tasted marvelous. We’d worked up our appetites crossing the desert. After supper, we sang some songs, shared a prayer time, and then pulled out our blankets and pillows to sleep. Each of us chose a spot on one of the wooden platforms and cleared it enough to create a make-shift bed. Soon I could hear the deep breathing of four people sleeping. The next day would be a long one.

Although my companions curled up inside their blankets, I was taller and had to choose between covering my feet or protecting my face. The mosquitoes were ravenous, and I was their only choice for fresh fare. Besides that, a scrawny bitch chose the spot just below me to nurse her puppies. Just as I started to drift off, a noisy pig squealed in the clearing and ran, snorting, through the barn.

Sometime after midnight, I gave up trying to sleep and decided to spend my time praying. It was Christmas Eve, after all, and I anticipated bringing a little joy to those we’d visit on the coming day. I thought about the people I loved here and would soon leave behind. I had no idea if I’d see them again. I sat up and wrapped the blanket around my knees. Looking up, I noticed a star shining between the grass roof of our shelter and a board holding the two sides together. The star, perfectly framed by the triangle, shone into the barn and painted a streak of light across the otherwise totally dark room.

God whispered into my heart and I enjoyed our private moment. He reminded me Joseph and Mary had come to a simple barn, also surrounded by smelly animals and moldy hay. In a crowded town they were isolated, not by a volcanic desert, but by the uniqueness of their mission. They came bearing a Gift, for the spiritually empty people in the hills and the ones in the busy city. For those wee hours, time was irrelevant. I had enjoyed Christmas in the very presence of the Living God on the back side of the desert in a broken-down barn.

Noel woke before dawn and built the fire where we cooked more rice and ate more sardines from the can. We boarded our carriage just after sun-up to deliver the small gifts to our Ayta friends before they went to their fields. In several places, they gathered in groups to sing with us and listen as Star read from the Scriptures in their language. Children delighted in the small toys we’d enclosed and their parents were happy to get matches, salt, small cans of food and special treats. Seeing the joy on their faces, though, I realized the best gift was our presence. Someone cared enough to seek them out.

Although I never tried to explain my experience to anyone, I understand now what the best gift is all about. It is His Presence, coming into a smelly barn, seeking me out.

Jennifer Evans
April 10, 2008

 

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Maligayang Pasko! Ok, I won’t make you guess. It means “Merry Christmas” in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines. It’s okay for me to say it now, because over there, the decorations started going up in September. All of the “…ber” months are considered fair game for celebrating Christmas. They don’t have other  big things in the way, like Halloween and Thanksgiving. All Saints (Nov. 1) is a holiday, but after families go to the cemetery to honor the deceased, the party is over.

 I can still see the palm trees with their trunks laced in tiny white lights. Some creative people outlined the leaves, too. In one park near where I lived for a short time, I could look out my second-story window and see a huge tree made entirely of colored lights. In the daytime, it looked like a wire tepee. Every house has at least one  parol, a multi-faceted, three-dimensional lighted star, unique (as far as I know) to the Filipino community. The fancy ones were made of capis shells, cheaper ones of colored plastic.  Christmas music sings from passing jeepney, in even the smallest corner food stand, throughout every shopping mall. And – appropriately – the Blessed Virgin and her family stand without shame or question wherever people want to put them. After all, it is her son’s birthday!

I miss it sometimes. That was my tradition for about ten years. I didn’t really have a Christmas tradition in the U.S. Coming back here for the holidays always depressed me. Bouncing between my divorced parents and my precious sister and her  beautiful family, I always felt like a visitor (no matter how hard they tried). Even now, married to a wonderful husband, I’m still trying to figure out what our traditions are (he’s always happy with whatever I request – bless him!). Every year, I threaten to run off – with Gary in tow –  to somewhere warm and stay until spring. Maybe I miss the lighted palm trees…

October 30, 2009

sitkabay

Sitka Bay

Lately I’ve had a certain sense of urgency. Everything is feeling unsettled, temporary. Maybe it’s the unpredictable weather. The economy’s fluctuation doesn’t help. There’s an anticipation of change.

Being the Air Force brat I am, change doesn’t scare me. I have shallow roots and strong wings. I’m living in the same house now going on seven years in a row! That’s a record for me (and I hope to continue to break it with every passing year). But I sense changes coming that will pin my wings. And I want to be ready.

It won’t be long before it’s unpopular to be a Christian. Even now, those of us that believe Jesus Christ is the only way to God are branded narrow-minded and labeled as insensitive, even bigoted. Sharing one’s faith openly may soon be illegal; it already is in some countries. Many question the Christian foundations upon which our nation was built, and seem to want to tear it to shreds. What will be left when they do?

We’ve already shifted further than we think. My urgency is a reaction to complacency.  As a nation – and as Christ’s followers – I think most of us are in denial. And even if we see what’s happening, some of us – me, for instance – feel pretty helpless to try to stop it. The best I can do from here is to try to be ready to stand firm when the change comes and threats are more than verbal. I need to know what I believe and why. I need to have my destiny settled and continue to pursue the heart of God in the dailiness of my life. I want to love people better and more intentionally in Jesus’ name. It’s urgent. Can you feel it, too?

This poem puts things back into perspective. I wrote it after Gary and I made a trip to Sitka, Alaska, a few years ago to visit his son who lived there at the time.  I hope it blesses you.

Psalm 93:3-5:  The seas have lifted up, O Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty.

Remembering Sitka

Gray expanse, seamless sea to sky;
Only ocean overwhelms the eye.
Depths descend abysmal, unexplored;
Even there, You are the sovereign Lord!

Glaciers gleam florescent; pierce the tide,
But far below extends the other side.
Floating somehow on the wat’ry moor,
An icy warning not to be ignored.

 Yet life abounds around it and below,
Varieties which only God may know.
How delicate the balance and how frail;
To think that tiny plankton feeds a whale!

Explore, small man, the ocean – God’s great gift.
Upon its surface play and work and drift.
But keep in mind her power dwarfs beside
The Maker of her depths, her life, her tide…

Jennifer Evans   8/24/01


Monet Sept 09

Monet napping with her red ball

I just get settled in my comfy chair with my Bible in my lap, and here comes this bottle-brush tail, visible before the rest of her, bobbing into my line of vision. Soon Monet is on the arm of my chair, negotiating persistently for a place in my lap. She isn’t happy with laying beside me; she wants me to move the Book and study her. She’s gazing at me, purr motor at full tilt, rubbing her head against my stomach, licking my hand, nuzzling into the crook of my elbow. I lay the Bible aside and pet her for a while.

Tiny little life that totally adores me, relishes my attention, squeezes her round eyes tight in delight whenever she feels my touch… My precious pet knows instinctively how to worship. I could imagine God wanting me to “climb” into His lap, lay my head against His chest and be totally content to just rest there. I pictured Jesus stroking my head and pulling me into His arms for comfort and reassurance. Knowing how much it blessed me to have this unconditional acceptance from my cat, I realized how much it would please my Heavenly Father if I absolutely trusted Him.

Maybe God put animals in our lives to teach us lessons. To be fair, I have to say my kitty definitely has a mind of her own (just like me!). She can be stubborn, sassy, angry and rebellious. I have to respond appropriately, remembering that she’s really just an animal (not a child!). God does that with me, too. He recognizes my human nature and disciplines me as is appropriate. The analogy certainly breaks down here, but there are some valuable lessons in it.

Worship involves showing what someone or something is worth to you. Monet is pretty limited in how she can show that to me. But she always stays close to me, moving from one room to another when I do and watching my every move whenever she’s awake. I wonder if I’m that congnizant of watching what God is up to and being aware of where He’s leading. Do I study Him as thoroughly as my pet studies me? That’s pretty convicting…

Feeling Opinionated

October 27, 2009

Today I got another letter from an organization called English First (google to find their website). This particular organization is working to get legislation passed that would make English the official language of the United States. This would not mean other languages would not be spoken, but it would eliminate the federal requirement that any agency receiving government funding provide services in whatever language a client requires (I’m adding a page that includes an article I wrote some time ago on the subject. Please read there for more info).

Today’s letter told about an investigation done by a TV station in Dallas, Texas. It seems internationally  airline maintanence manuals are all written in English and English proficiency is supposed to be required – by the FAA – of all aviation mechanics. This prevents mistakes and misunderstandings that could cost passengers their lives. However, airlines have been ignoring these rules and hiring people in these jobs who can neither read nor speak English! Congressman Bilbray (California) is leading efforts to make the FAA abide by its own rules. Good for him, and better for us passengers!

I believe in preserving heritage. My daily work involves helping translate the Bible into the heart languages of people groups around the world(www.theseedcompany.org ). God understands every person’s language and wants to relate to each person in that mother tongue. But we can’t. Humans, in order to have a united country, need a common language. What will happen if we can’t understand one another? It’s already been demonstrated in Genesis 11 with the tower of Babel. When people can’t understand one another, civilizations crumble.

If I didn’t know Who is still in control, I could become quite pessimistic.

Enjoying An Autumn Evening

October 25, 2009

 
Feels like fall…

Feels like fall...

Days like this arouse the poet in me. Crimson and gold drape every oak, poplar and maple tree in decadent color. If I were a pine, I’d be terribly jealous – until winter when everyone else is naked…

Here’s one of those poems I told you about. Please enjoy it as much as I do. I wrote it a long time ago when I lived in South Carolina’s lowlands and worked at a children’s home. Sitting on the dock overlooking a quiet pond, enjoying an evening much like this one…

 

 

My October Wears

 My October wears
a cherry sun in a strawberry sky
pink evening settling softly
into sleepy clouds that rest,
waiting, treetopped,
to tiptoe into twilight.

 My October wears
a velvet night sequinned with diamond stars
and a single pearl,
that million-carat moon,
that early glows orange
and fades to mellow
with her mood.

 My October wears
a crisp misty blue morning
fringed with frosted fragile
lacy thin spiderwebs.
She smiles a yellow sun
into the turquoise
and watches the world
turn into Autumn.

copyright 1984

Up to Speed in First Gear

October 24, 2009

Worth exploring...

Worth exploring...

I feel like I did when I learned to drive: not sure how fast to turn the wheel, or

how hard to press the pedal. I’m quite uncertain if I want to take on passengers, but here you are, ready to ride!

This could be the scenic route. I might toss in some poetry. We might climb a mountain or two when I get off the main drag and ramble. Be ready for some stormy weather, too: you can never tell when a writer just might launch into an editorial!

But if you hang with me through the rough patches, we just might discover some new territory. And the adventure is always worth the trip…