Coronavirus changed everything. I was used to being kept away from my genetic family and see them only every other year, so travel restrictions despite hard, weren’t devastating. Don’t hear me wrong, I love my family and miss them dearly, but I’m used to that.
I might have somewhat compensated for the distance of my genetic family by creating family everywhere I am and by calling multiple places home. I have “adopted” nieces and nephews, I’ve been “adopted” as a sister by many and I have cultures in Papua New Guinea where I feel at home, where the local language brings my heart to tears.
Coronavirus brought travel restrictions that I never saw coming. Even though we still work in PNG, we no longer work everywhere we used to. In order to keep everyone safe and effectively help in this time of crises and unprecedented need, we have decided to focus on one province for the time being.
When our managing director first discussed this with me, I was heartbroken. I would then be cut off from everyone that I call family and places that I call home, and knowing how “in need” those places are made it even harder. To add to the overwhelming whirlwind, the province we would focus on was the hardest to deliver health services in. It was the area I had the highest ratio of difficult situations & negative memories.
I set out from the ship with a team of 7 health professionals for a 2 weeks patrol. In hindsight, I would have never agreed to go for the 16 weeks we ended up spending on land, but God knew how to lead step by step and give strength, patience and grace for the day to day needs.
I normally love being on land. I call myself a village girl and feel most at home when I can establish strong relationships with the local communities, which I find easier to do on land, living in the communities, eating local food, and learning local languages. So I must say this extended time on land here in this province has been really really for my heart.
The more I serve in Papua New Guinea, the more impressed I am by some of the local health workers! The remoteness and difficulty of the terrain makes it one of the most difficult places in the world to deliver health care, and they do it wholeheartedly, hike through swamps carrying heavy loads, get covered in mud, bitten by swarms of mosquitoes all to bring life and life abundantly to remote communities! I love my job and those I get to serve with, they truly are inspiring!
One of my favourite thing to do on Outreach is to learn some of the local language. I must admit I had not put much effort into learning to tok pleis (languages of the places) of this province prior to this outreach. But I knew my heart needed to, I needed to fall in love with these people. On this patrol, we have spent the majority of our time in Gogodala territory, working with and becoming family with Gogodala people. One of the customs here is to give names to people you become close to. I’ve had the privilege to receive a few new names during the course of our time. Here are some of them: Inato, Tamenato & Waikiyato. While they all hold a special meaning and I love them all, I have gone by Waikiyato most of the time. Waikiyato means light; it’s a traditional torch that is used to light up and lead the way in the dark. Inato is the iron rod that is used for cooking, it holds the pot on the fire; it withstands the flames while holding the heavy load. And Tamenato is a sweet fruit, the local health worker who gave me this name had recently lost his daughter and gave me this name as I reminded them of her and this sweet memory was comparable to Tamenato. Humbled to be given such names and be adopted into such a beautiful culture, sometimes by people who barely knew me! It’s crazy to think that people would have seen these things in me to justify giving me those names. It was like being affirmed by God through His people.
Birthdays are special, you usually surround yourself with loved ones and celebrate your life, the goodness of God in the year that’s past and everyone has their own traditions for how they like to do that. I grew up with a fun birthday tradition “Birthday Bumps” I turned 34 on patrol. This means my family and loved ones organised themselves, picked me up and threw me in the air 34 times in a row! No small feat, incredibly fun and a testament of my trust in them and their love for me.
Not long after my birthday, my team was travelling on the lake and I had plenty time to think and sit with God and realised that I had some pretty amazing memories from the last 12 weeks, learning the languages, times of laughter and building relationships with local health workers, realising that I miss some of the people we got to meet and call “Wawa and Agie” (our mums and dads) from our various patrols, I found myself looking forward to revisiting some health centres and working alongside our friends again, realised that the positive memories we created outweighed the difficult ones and it really started to feel like home.