Our friend Kavaluku came to visit the other day. He’s kind of the “cool” uncle who is part of the older generation, but still young enough to show off his dancing and who climbs the massive trees to cut down branches (but mostly to brag that he’s still got it). He visits often and is a regular accessory to our porch crowd. Conversations with him come easily and, though his accent is a little difficult, he is a tenacious language helper and friend. When he came, it was clear something was on his mind, but in PNG style we chatted for a bit first.
The subject of vanilla came up (one of the new crops in the area that they are learning more about), and Rhett mentioned that if they were interested, they could use our thermometer to boil their vanilla beans at the correct temperature on Wednesdays, while we were outside for medical. At this, he paused, and the reason for his visit came out. He expressed his concern that we were spending a lot of time helping them do their vanilla properly, and it was taking time away from learning the language.
We tried to explain that growing vanilla was part of their culture, and so it was also our work right now to be learning about that as well; but he said again: he was concerned.
We tried to explain that offering the use of our thermometer while we were already working through that week’s medical wasn’t taking any time away from learning the language; but he said again: he was concerned.
We tried to explain that our recent trip to Madang was not time taken away from language to learn about vanilla, but that since we were there anyways, we met the vanilla buyers to clear up some questions; but he said again: he was concerned.
We tried to explain that this was one small way that we could practically help and love our Kovol friends, and we had said “no” to many other things in order to focus our time and energy on learning language; but he said again: he was concerned.
He ran his fingers through his beard and told us that he was getting older, his hair was turning gray, and he didn’t want to spend his time and energy (or ours) learning how to do things of this ground before he heard God’s talk. Things like business and money could wait until after, He reminded us that when we came, we had promised them 4 things: We would learn their language, teach them to read and write their language, translate God’s Word into their language, and teach it to them. All the villages agreed with these four things being our focus. He said, “You told us one, two, three, four things. Five, six, seven, eight are too much. You didn’t promise those other things. They’re too much.” He was also concerned that the younger generation would become too preoccupied with making money and they wouldn’t care to listen to the teaching later.
He went on to reiterate a common concern among the people here, that language is taking us way too long (this usually precedes their latest idea of how to bring the knowledge quicker, like teaching us naughty words or telling us the “correct” version of their origin story). It is hard to explain that learning a language can take a long time when their children seem to learn it so quickly!
This was a first for us; stating this so directly to us is a very unusual thing in this culture, especially for our people, who never blame us for anything (seriously, when we get sick, they still blame themselves! We’re still trying to figure out how to correct that one…). This is why they’ve spent so much time trying to figure out our “language learning problem” by telling us different stories, etc. They have assumed the fault was with them! For Kavaluku to call us out on something that was worrying him was huge, and humbling.
It struck me then, as we spoke with him, that even though I was not getting distracted from language by vanilla (truly, this does not occupy any notable time), there were times when I was getting distracted by other things: improving my garden, cleaning our house, cooking nice meals, Facebook… not bad things in themselves, in fact, they are mostly necessary things! But I find that it is not usually the sinful stuff that distracts my mind, sometimes to the point of idolatry. It is the good things, those things I cannot just cut out of my life, that claw their way up my priority list until they’re taking up my time and energy and crowding out my quiet time and the work the Lord has placed us here to do.
The constant battle in my mind of how to spend my time is, I think, one that is very common because it is so easy to defend the choices I want to make. It is in my nature to revert to what is easy and relatively comfortable as opposed to the frustrating hours it takes to slog through those verbs and grammar points. After all, my family needs to eat and it’s so much cheaper to grow my produce and my produce needs to be protected from that roaming bulldozer of a pig… and there goes my day, fully justified, working on my garden. Yes, it is a good thing, and yes, it is a wrong thing if it begins to take all my time and attention. In the end, it comes down (as it does for everyone) to dependence on a Father who knows we need to eat; knows we need to connect with our families; knows we need order in our lives and who loves these people here and wants them to know him and love him back. Thank goodness we have a Father willing to help us sort all this out!
Praise the Lord that he uses even those who do not belong to him (yet) to bring rebuke and direction to my heart and my day. The urgency is real. The desperate need is real. Thank you Kavaluku for delivering just the kick in the pants I needed. And thank you Father for your deep love for our friends here, and your unending patience with this distractible, sinful child.