Only One Life
Shortly after my bat mitzvah, my nice Jewish mother shocked our family by becoming a Jewish mother for Jesus! Naturally, she wanted her family to accompany her to the messianic congregation where she had begun worshipping. I resisted for a long time, but one Saturday I decided to go along. I was challenged to see my own sin and need for salvation, and gave my life to the Lord soon after.
After high school I attended Moody Bible Institute, where I met and married my husband, Aaron. We moved to the suburbs of Chicago after graduation, specifically to be near our family. Aaron worked in sales and I was a physical education teacher at a Christian school. We begged and borrowed enough money to buy our first home. We were growing in our church fellowship and it was there, at a small group Bible study, that our lives were challenged.
John Cross, a missionary in Papua, New Guinea, came to speak to our group. He ran a short-term program called Interface with New Tribes Mission,” which exposed high school and college students to the reality and hardships of missionary life. Aaron and I had spent some time thinking about missions in our Moody days, but had dismissed the idea when we saw that we’d need to leave our family and raise our support. The sacrifice seemed too demanding.
Yet John’s talk weighed on us and wouldn’t go away. We began to pray, and with every obstacle came a God-sent solution. In July of 1997, we headed to the Highlands region of New Guinea for a one-year commitment. My first impressions were that we’d landed in an extremely dirty city where people chewed beetlenut and spit the leftover red fibers on the ground.
At the end of the first six weeks John challenged our group to write down on a stick the one thing that would keep us from doing what the Lord had for us. I wrote “my family.” We were then to throw our sticks into the fire. That following year proved to be one of the most challenging we have been through and at the end we were more than ready to go back home. Our daughter, Emma, was born shortly after we returned to America.
We settled back into our nice American lives. The comforts we enjoyed seemed twice as comfortable. Emma’s birth consumed our attention, but God would not allow the pictures of tribal people to be removed from our minds. We had seen them and talked to them. We knew that believers needed to go instruct them in the ways of the Lord.
Almost daily, Aaron came home from work discouraged. He asked me, “Give me one good reason why we shouldn’t head back and tell those people about the Lord?” FAMILY!!! How could I leave my family? How could I take my beautiful baby into that culture? Emma had to have her Bubbe and Bubu around. Eventually, Aaron gave up trying to convince me to go back.
Emma was about six months old when the Lord began to do “heart surgery” on me. I realized that my family had become my idol and I was placing them before my willingness to do what God had for us. I told Aaron that we should put our house up for sale—and it sold in four hours! We entered the New Tribes Mission training in 2000.
During the semester break we came home and, as usual, our family time was precious. We lived at my parents’ house and were spoiled non-stop. They had planned to take our entire family on an Alaskan cruise, which was to be our last “hurrah” before returning to the mission field.
But our world crashed as my brother, Marc, took his own life several days before we were all to leave on the cruise. This wasn’t the kind of thing that happened in my nice, happy family.
My first reaction was to tell Aaron that I wouldn’t continue with our plans in missions. My parents and sister were suffering; we needed to be together. The grandchildren would bring them comfort. However, my parents encouraged us to not forsake our plans to serve God. Despite their tremendous loss they said, “Now, more than ever, go and tell—the time is short!”
With heavy hearts we left our family and proceeded with the training, arriving in Papua, New Guinea in September 2002. Our team is now moving into a village called Wabuku, located on a river and accessible by an hour plane ride from town, followed by a two-to-four hour canoe trip up the river. The Urai people have NEVER heard the Gospel in their own language. Once we complete our language training, we will begin teaching the people the Word of God and will also be translating the Scriptures into their language and begin literacy teaching. Our commitment here is between 10-12 years. The journey is just beginning!
Separation from my family is by far the hardest part of life in New Guinea. But God has not asked us to be comfortable. He asks us to be radical for Him. He has been so faithful to allow special times of visits from family. Friends and family send special packages to us. Last year my mother sent Hanukkah gifts for each night and we filled the house with holiday decorations. Books and pictures seem to be most effective in communicating to our children about their Jewish heritage, and we are thankful that the Word of God explains it all.
Every so often our Emma asks, “Why do we have to be here? Why can’t we just live with Bubbe?” I remind her, “Only one life, so soon will pass, only what’s done for Messiah will last.”