Six days after Ash Wednesday, we listen to BBC and wait as the whole world waits for more news out of Japan following the devastating earthquake. We pray for our missionary colleagues serving in Japan. Here in Lae we were on tsunami watch for about twelve hours, connected not only with our neighboring Pacific Islands but Chile, New Zealand, California, Hawaii, the Aleutian Islands. We are fine here and had no effects of the tsunami. A BBC commentator described the unsettledness of the Pacific Ocean as “a big bath tub”. A big bath tub! Could there be a more personal description of the vastness of this ocean that teams with life vital to our existence and movement reminiscent of the evening ritual of cleansing our children? What makes sense in this huge, wonderful Earth that gives life and takes it away?
As we begin this Lenten journey, we have just returned to Papua New Guinea from a quick trip back to the United States, journeying to the place of my birth to attend the funeral for my mother, the one who gave Rod life. We begin this journey a little groggy from jet lag, having traversed time zones, climates, emotions, and lifestyles that magnified both our differences and our similarities. What a contrast in climate and culture that we have experienced in a matter of two weeks. It was very cold back home in North Dakota, - 11 F on the day of my mother’s funeral, almost 100 degrees colder that it is in Papua New Guinea. The ground in North Dakota was white, all covered with snow. Back in PNG we live in a tropical paradise of palm trees, banana trees, some of the most beautiful flowers you will ever see and lush green vegetation everywhere and every day. The culture and lifestyles of peoples living in these very different places in the world could hardly be more vivid and stark.
Yet somehow we all are dealing with some of the same issues of life and death. Our friends and colleagues here in Papua New Guinea know death all too well, with young and old alike dying of diseases that would never cause death back in the US. They prayed with us and shared our sorrows even as they were amazed that my mother was 87 years old. Life expectancy here is 50-60 years old. Our PNG friends supported us in our decision to make the long trip back home for my mother’s funeral since that would be assumed, no matter the cost or distance. Of course you would go back to your “as ples,” your birthplace to honor your mother and be with family at this time of sorrow. Family and birthplace define the Papua New Guinea people.
And so we went across that “big bath tub, called the Pacific Ocean back to my “as ples” North Dakota, the place of my birth. We made the journey with your prayers and prayers of people all over this world, pointing out the global nature of our church. We went on a journey made by every human being in this world at some time in their life, a journey back home to bury your mother, the one who gave us life.
We begin this Lenten journey this year thankful for each and every one of you who have made this journey with us and for the common bond that we all share in Christ Jesus, who unites all people of this world together in one holy and global church. May God create in each of us a clean heart and put a new and right spirit within us. May that new and clean spirit keep us bound together in God’s love, even as we live in our very different lands and places.
Rod Nordby and Nancy Anderson
ELCA Missionaries in Papua New Guinea.