h1

Vanuatu Trip (FULL EDITION)

February 21, 2015
Sunrise over Fiji

Sunrise over Fiji

**NOTE: You can click on the pictures to enlarge them**

It wasn’t until I was on the plane flying over the Pacific that it really began to hit me–the nostalgia, that is. And it wasn’t just the fact that I was going to Vanuatu for the first time. I hadn’t been on a flight from Honolulu to Fiji since going on my DTS outreach in 2006. My my, how times had changed since that trip. I was 22 years old, leading a team of 9 people to a country I’d never been to. Note to self: it’s so much easier traveling alone. It was especially nice this time with the empty seat next to me on all flights from Kona to Port Vila.

front_cover1

First Edition, 2004

There were other reasons I was anxious about arriving at my final destination, and if you’re reading this, then you probably know why. For those of you who didn’t know me 10 years ago, or didn’t read my blog I wrote a year ago (just below this one), here’s the nutshell explanation, and it’ll help act as a guide if you decide to read any further: during my second year at university, I wrote and published a fiction book called Running Through Deserts. It was set in the tiny island nation of Vanuatu, specifically on a tiny island called Tanna. Eleven years later, I was given an opportunity to go to a conference in Port Vila, Vanuatu’s capital, as well as visit Tanna Island for a weekend. The event coordinators had no knowledge of the book or my “authorship” when they asked me to come. To be fair, if the job I was being brought in to do hadn’t been so important, I would’ve hesitated, not wanting this rare interaction with Vanuatu to only happen because of some silly book I’d written when I was 19 year old. Thankfully, the 4K job needed to get done, so I went!

It was an odd thing–keeping my mind fully engaged with the 4K/mapping task at hand while also attempting to absorb every detail about a place I’d spent so many months conjuring up in my imagination over a decade ago. I had a few revelations while I was there: 1.) I realized how much research I’d done before writing RTD. I’d forgotten after all these years how many hours I’d spent raking the internet for any information I could possibly get about this obscure little nation. And it was even 2003 when I did it, when information wasn’t nearly as vast as it is today in 2015. But everywhere I went when I arrived in Vanuatu, I was surprised by how much I knew and how well I’d matched so many aspects of the nation and the culture to my story; 2.) that being said, I got a lot of things wrong, but at least now I know what those things are and I can stop being embarrassed about any mistakes I made. They were things I couldn’t have possibly figured out from my dorm room back in 2003, so where all my insecurities in the details had plagued me this past decade, I was able to shrug them off once I saw what I’d missed. But, when I finished the RTD 2nd edition last year, if I’d known I would actually go to Vanuatu and go to Tanna Island, I would’ve waited so that I could get certain details right; and 3.) God really taught me something about what it means to write with Him. Yes, I wrote the book. Yes, it was published. But I’ve never taken on the identity of “author”…not REALLY. While I was there, particularly on Tanna, I saw aspects of life and the island that matched certain ideas I’d had in my imagination that made me drop my jaw and think, “How did I get THAT detail right? God, you really were with me while I wrote it, weren’t You??” Save for some theological, grammatical, and contextual errors that would come naturally with a 19-year old writing a story about LIFE, I think it’s safe to say that He was hearing my prayers as I conjured up a story that took place on this obscure little island in the middle of the Pacific.

Anyways, back to the trip. I took notes on my phone as I went because I didn’t want any detail to be neglected. When I first arrived, I thought I’d have to write a really long blog giving an update to all the RTD fans out there. Within a few days, I’d determined I’d have to write several blogs to get it all in–like chapters in a book. Then, once I returned to the real world where my life has been nothing but busy (combined with the subsided, euphoric belief that many people might actually care about all the details I’d documented), I decided to stick with the original “one super-long blog” idea. For those of you who’ve still not read RTD yet, sections of the following trip summary may not be totally interesting to you…or maybe it will be, I don’t know. There may be some spoilers, so read this after you’ve read RTD if you prefer. My intention in writing this blog is for all those who were beyond-belief-excited about me finally seeing Vanuatu in person–who’d read the book and asked about certain details that they remembered–to have their questions answered and their thirst quenched. Then again, if you read the book and don’t want the “magic” to be destroyed by corrected details, you shouldn’t read any further either. Yikes…is anyone still reading this anymore?? I anticipate at least 5 people I know will, and those people are worth the time it will take to go through all this. So, here we go.

Arrival in Vanuatu

I couldn't wait to arrive!!

I couldn’t wait to arrive!!

By the time the plane had left Fiji and was flying over the ocean toward Vanuatu, I was officially in bursting-out-of-my-skin mode, and I would remain like that until I left Vanuatu a week later. We flew over the perfect blue water while I tried to read and listen to music, but I was certain we were almost there. I stared out the window, waiting to catch my first glimpse of Vanuatu at any moment. I literally spent almost an hour and a half with my face pressed to the glass, thinking I’ve seen an island, thinking we’re there, only to discover it was just another dumb cloud shadow on the water. It didn’t help that there appeared to be VOG hovering above the clouds, like what we have on the Big Island–a sure sign that there were volcanoes nearby! I tried to hone in on every emotion I’d written into Ella’s character as she landed in a place that was new and exciting to her (I didn’t read the book before I left, but that didn’t matter since I invented every word and scene, and then edited it 20 times). My only obsessive-compulsive regret was that we were flying in from the east when I’d had her plane coming in from Sydney, to the west. It didn’t matter, but I just want you to begin to understand the depth of detail I was observing at.

First look at Vanuatu

First look at Vanuatu

Finally, the plane began to descend. I was sure I’d never been so excited in my life. I finally caught a glance of Efate Island out the window across the aisle from me. Big smile. Then I saw it out my own window and took a bunch of pictures as I took it all in. My country. I knew it, it was familiar, and yet it was a stranger–probably not unlike meeting a pen-pal for the first time (or an eHarmony date, for you Millenials reading this). I scanned every shore line, curve, road, beach, house, and hill as we flew over Efate, hoping to get every morsel of information I could about the reality of this place. We approached the runway and landed in a big rainstorm. I’d arrived! I took note of everything, from the land around the runway to how the airport building was laid out. It was a small prop plane, so we climbed down the few stairs and had to walk across the runway in the rain. I held my hoodie draped over my head and back so that my hair and backpack were shielded from the tropical downpour. The entire tarmac was sitting in half an inch of water, and as I walked to the terminal in my flip-flops, I was shocked at how WARM the water was on my feet. It was like walking through a spa–the water was almost hot!

Arriving in the rain

Arriving in the rain

We stepped out of the rain and into the airport. I’d written only a couple of settings in the book that took place at Port Vila airport. I picked up on my mistakes there right away. I’d made the airport too small, and simultaneously too big. At the beginning of the book, I had it in my head that people would just greet you outside because it was so quaint, and yet by the end of the book, where a pivotal scene takes place in the terminal, I had it busy and bustling full of people coming and going. It was neither of those things. The terminal is small, but still the same as any other where you have to go down a hallway and around a corner before you see your friends waiting for you behind security. In the domestic terminal, which we went through on our way to Tanna, there are a lot of people, but they’re not coming and going. Everyone who’s at the terminal at Port Vila airport is there for the same flight–there’s not a whole lot of activity besides people sitting in the heat of the building, waiting quietly while their flight is called.

After waiting for a while at the airport for one of our guys to submit a Lost Baggage claim, we hopped in the car and made our way into town. Since this story is really about me and my personal connections with the country, I’ll leave out all the people and organizational name details, but we headed toward “missions headquarters” to get settled. I met the couple that leads work for their agency in the country, only to find out a few hours later that they’d lived in the people group where RTD took place. Once I found out they’d spent over a decade in north Tanna, I couldn’t help but laugh. They were a married American couple in their fifties–so certainly older than my characters–but the husband was a tall, super-friendly guy while the wife stood next to him with her long, blonde hair. That was when it struck me: holy crap, they’re Jake and Kathleen in 25 years! Their names even rhymed with Jake and Kathleen, so I was pretty entertained by this for the whole duration of the trip. I eventually told the wife about the book, and she replied in total shock, “Who’d you write it about??”
Me: “I just made up characters.”
Her: “Where’d you get all the information?”
Me: “I just did a lot of research.”
Her: “Why didn’t you email us at the time??”
Me: “Because for one, I didn’t know you existed. And two, when I was writing the book, I never had ANY intention of showing it to anyone–ever–so I certainly didn’t have any confidence to tell people I was writing it! Besides, did you have internet and email in the jungle back in 2003??”
Her: “Then why’d you choose the language group if you didn’t know about us?”
Me: “No, I just needed an indigenous group in a jungle setting. So I narrowed it down to a tiny group on a tiny island in a tiny country in the middle of nowhere that hopefully no one knew anything about. How was I supposed to know I’d come here some day and meet you?!”
Her, after more questions: “Well when we get to Tanna this weekend, maybe don’t tell anyone there about it because they’ll think we were the source of your information, and whether it’s accurate or not, they’ll gossip!”
Me, after years of not telling anyone that I wrote a book: “Hmmmmm, I’m not allowed to tell people about my book? Lemme think about it–OKAY! I wasn’t even going to tell anyone at this event, but I had to tell YOU, at least!”
Her: “Totally!”

So the secret stayed with her, as well as my Kona leader, David (who, by the way, was having a WAY harder time keeping it a secret than I was, haha).

Our cozy little flat

Our cozy little flat

Back to the country. Our accommodation was great: a little flat that looked out toward the bay. There were only 3 single women at the event (5 women total out of 30 people), so we had plenty of space to spread out among the two bedrooms, living room, and kitchen. When I think of being in that flat, though, I only think of HEAT. It was so hot and humid, I felt like I was back in India! Then a couple of the staff working in the building came up and warned us about centipedes. My reply: “Oh, don’t worry, I’m amazing at killing those. Just you wait.” Yes, I am a first-world missionary, but there is something to be said for living in Hawaii where I’ve been trained to deal with heat, creepy-crawlies, and everything else that comes with living in the tropics.

Port Vila Excursions

Just one of the sunsets while were there

Just one of the sunsets while we were there

We all went to dinner downtown at around sunset. To give you an idea about Port Vila, it’s a national capital that has a population of 30,000 people–so basically just imagine Kona being the capital of a country, and that’s about how impressive it is. On a list of 241 countries in the world, Port Vila, Vanuatu is listed as #188 in terms of national capital population. Not much to look at, and yet I was taking in every detail. I love the feel of smaller nations–there’s a rhythm in tiny Pacific Island ‘cities’ that is unparalleled in any other part of the world. At dinner, we all sat at an outdoor fish and chips place that was located on the water. The bay where Port Vila is situated was like glass, and any time of day you looked at it, it was different colors. That first night, the sunset was one of the most beautiful I’d seen. In fact, every single night I was in the country provided the most beautiful sunsets I’d ever seen. That first night, once the sun had gone down, we sat and talked while an approaching thunderhead lit up the night sky with lightning. I was pretty sure I’d died and gone to heaven–and it wouldn’t be the last time on the trip I’d feel that way.

View from The Summit

View from The Summit

The next day, I was awake by 5:30am. That was a typical wake-up time each morning I was there, and it was easy to wake up that early given that it was summer south of the equator, so the sun rose so much earlier than in Hawaii. By 7:30am, I was so excited to do something–anything!–that I couldn’t help but seek out some of the building staff like a little kid, saying, “What are we doing today? What are we doing today?” We ended up going everywhere as a group of about 15 people, taking advantage of the day off before the meetings began the next day. We all went to town to exchange our money, then walked around for a bit taking pictures and looking at shops. I bought a book at the library for a couple of bucks because I was worried I’d run out of things to read. By 11:30am, we were ready for lunch, so our hosts drove us in 2 cars to the top of a ridge outside the city called The Summit. It was a beautiful spot that looked out over the western Efate coastline, back toward Port Vila. We could see other smaller islands

Vanuatu pizza!

Vanuatu pizza!

scattered in the waters. The grounds had botanical gardens we could walk through, as well as a restaurant, which is where we ate. Because I’m always talking about “the best pizza in the world”, I try to eat it in every country that it’s available. Sitting atop a tropical jungle ridge in Vanuatu was no different, so I got a pizza! I walked around the gardens a bit (which some of us got in trouble for later because apparently you have to pay to do that, even though there were no signs, gates, or booths anywhere to be found!). Whatever–it was an innocent mistake and I got some good pictures out of it.

 

Kids playing on the dock at Hideaway Beach

Kids playing on the dock at Hideaway Beach

On the way back down, through the bumpy gravel roads and tropical forests, we stopped at the Tanna Coffee Farm. This was the first exposure to Tanna since I’d arrived, so it got me extra excited for when we’d go there on the following Friday. Apparently Tanna coffee in that part of the world is about as big a deal as Kona coffee is here, so we stayed there for a bit while the guys got their bags of beans. We then drove a little further down the road and stopped at Hideaway Beach for about 5 minutes so that everyone could take pictures. It was a sweet little swimming spot for locals, and since we’d been out in the heat all day, we were a little jealous of everyone jumping and playing in the water. By the time we got back to the flat, there was only enough time to freshen up before we all went out to dinner to kick off the event. Oddly enough, we went to a Chinese food restaurant in town, a beautiful little place that overlooked the town and bay below. As we sat there, another thunder storm approached, so we enjoyed our meal while the rain came down in sheets outside.

3 days of meetings

3 days of meetings

Now, if this were a missions update, I’d give all the gritty details about the meetings I was in and what happened with that, but this is an author account, so I’ll skip most of the work-related stuff except for a few details. For one, the meetings went great. There were between 30-40 people in the room for the two and a half days. We really never left the building from morning until dinner, except for when I would go for walks outside at lunchtime to get some Vitamin D from the sunshine (the first day, I went to a local shop and bought a few mini-loaves of sweet bread for about $1…it would come in handy a few days later, but we’ll get to that). Me and another colleague did our presentation and survey work in the afternoon of the second day, and it was a success in terms of both reception from the crowd as well as the feedback we needed from them to move forward with the project we’re working on for them. For more details, hopefully you received my missions newsletter that I sent out that would connect you to this blog.

Tanna Island

On to Tanna! On Friday morning, before the last meetings began, my flatmate and I were sitting in the living room eating breakfast, and she asked me very casually, “Jill, are you excited to go to Tanna Island this afternoon after the meetings?” She didn’t know about the book, or that I had any sort of ‘history’ with Tanna, so I very calmly replied in a monotone voice, “I’m gonna be totally honest with you. I’m not quite sure I remember being so excited about something so much in my entire life. It’s taking every ounce of my energy to keep myself calm because I’m so worried that something will ruin it and I won’t be able to go.”

And that was true. I was equal parts excited and worried (but really more excited). Excited to go, but worried that I’d end up eating a meal that gave me explosive diarrhea or something, or that we’d find out the plane wouldn’t be able to fly us there, or that somehow I hadn’t been put on the list to go (David, Christine, and I had eaten a very questionable fish meal the night before…so questionable that even our host looked at us with a twinge of regret for the impending digestive disaster to come…but nothing happened, Thank You Jesus). It was all just way too surreal that I’d be going to TANNA FREAKIN ISLAND THAT DAY! Given that only my leader, David, and the missionary lady I’d just met were the ones who knew about RTD, I’d say that I did a pretty good job keeping my true feelings and emotions as hidden as I could from the rest of the group. That would not be the case later on as I was standing at the rim of an erupting volcano, but I did pretty good at first. We’ll get to the volcano later.

Because we were such a large group traveling on a small plane to a tiny island, we had to go to the airport quite early and ended up sitting there for a couple of hours. The day before, during the meetings, Christine and I had felt the building shaking. We seemed to be the only ones who noticed and discovered 20 minutes later that a 4.9 earthquake had hit. While we sat at the airport, she suddenly looked at me and said, “Do you feel it? Do you feel it?? It’s ANOTHER ONE!” I stopped what I was doing, sat still, and had a sudden wave of nausea as it seemed everything was subtly moving, swaying back and forth. If you weren’t thinking earthquake, you may have just thought it was a case of vertigo or dizziness. The swaying lasted almost a minute. Of course, we were officially without internet for the next 48 hours, so there was no way of knowing how big it was right away. The next day, while on Tanna, Christine somehow got a text on her phone from her mom saying, “Just saw there was a 6.8 earthquake there with tsunami warning. Are you ok?” So apparently we’d been in a 6.8 earthquake with tsunami warning while at the airport but no one told us. Awesome. Anyway, we sat at the airport for a couple of hours talking. The missionary lady and I talked more about Tanna, her asking a few more questions about the book, but mostly me asking tons of really tedious, detailed questions about the island. I tried to be as subtle as possible, but sometimes it was obvious I was fishing for really bizarre information. “What’s the terrain like? Which way does the wind blow? Do they wear clothes in north Tanna? Were they more traditional back in 2003 than they are now? Was there a road that led to your village?  Did you have a car? What would you do in case of an emergency? What if someone got sick? Did you sleep on beds or on the floor? What kinds of crops do the people grow?” etc. etc. etc. I think she liked the questions, detailed and bizarre as they were. The questions would continue the whole time we were on the island, but I at least got to ask a bunch of them while we sat in that stinking hot airport for a few hours.

We finally crowded onto the plane and made our way south across the ocean. I was a little bummed that I wasn’t on the side of the plane that the island would be on, but I still tried to look out the windows on the other side as we flew. This was where my book observations meant something. From Port Vila to Tanna Island, everything was to be observed and categorized into the “I got it right” or “I got it wrong” categories.

**NOTE: I’m not even halfway through this blog, so you may as well go for a quick walk, refill your cup of coffee, watch an episode of your fave TV show on Netflix, and then come back………..Okay, have you done those things? Alrighty, here we go**

First look at Tanna

First look at Tanna

The north coast of Tanna was the first thing I saw as we were making our descent. I knew we wouldn’t be going there, so I did my best to lean as far over the seats as I could to observe it while we flew past. It was the region of the island where I’d set RTD, so while I’d done a lot of research on the area, I’d also filled in a lot of gaps with my own imagination. It appeared to be the same as everything in my mind’s eye: a rocky coast made up of cliffs, green-forested hills rising above the water, a single dirt road following the coast on the west side. Suddenly, we were landing and I glanced through the other side’s windows to see just a few houses on a beach before we hit the runway at the beach’s edge. The runway was literally feet from the water’s edge, and yet when I’d looked at satellite maps 11 years ago, I didn’t know that the space between the runway and the water was mangrove trees so thick and tall that the ocean wasn’t visible. So where Ella is standing on the runway, looking off across the distant sea—yeah, not so much. One couldn’t really see the sea from the runway like I’d thought. But I didn’t care, I was HERE! I readied my camera in my hand so that I could snap a shot of Tanna in the first instant that I saw it. I stepped off the plane and was met with clear blue sky and white puffy clouds over rich green hills.

Although I didn’t write it down as an observation at the time, my first impression looking back is how QUIET it was. It was so still and peaceful, I almost had a sense to whisper upon arrival. The whole time we were on the island, I always heard the crashing waves, the buzzing cicadas, the mooing cows, and other natural noises, but there wasn’t residual, man-made noise anywhere. It was primeval. The sound of an engine felt totally out of place. I’d been somewhat disappointed to find out earlier in the week that Tanna is one of Vanuatu’s most popular tourist spots and most frequently visited outer islands–upon arrival, I realized how “popular” and “frequently visited” are very relative terms. By the standards of the western world, this place was still completely remote and cut-off from the rest of the world–and I was ecstatic about it!

Standing in front of the Tanna map at the airport

Standing in front of the Tanna map at the airport

We got our luggage, took some pictures in front of a painted Tanna island map, stood outside talking for a while, and finally crowded into several vehicles that took us to Tanna Lodge some 30 minutes away. I sat crammed in the back of a jeep whose window couldn’t roll all the way up, excitedly looking out the window as we drove along. There was talking in the car, but I can’t remember any of the topics–I was like a kid in a candy shop, observing every precious treat that presented itself on the road to the lodge. It was the “main road” for the island, and yet still gravel and full of potholes. We had no idea how nice a road it was until the next day traveling on smaller roads, but we’ll get to that later. As we made our way from the airport, the sun was only an hour from going down, so it was the perfect time of day for lighting.  The hues of the green forest mixed with the golden sunlight, the temperature was cooler than Port Vila had been, and everything was just…..at peace. Except for my emotions….those were about as riled up and crazy as they’d ever been, but I was doing my best to be calm (though not always successfully).

Ni-Vanuatu women doing laundry at sunset

Ni-Vanuatu women doing laundry at sunset

 

We arrived at Tanna Lodge, a “resort” on the southwest coast of the island (I’m sure it was certainly the best accommodation on the island, and it did the job okay by my standards, but if someone who’s ever stayed at a resort in Hawaii thought they were getting the same atmosphere and accommodations at Tanna Lodge, they’d be sorely disappointed!  We woke up all night to mooing cows, for crying out loud!). As soon as we arrived, we were given glasses of fruit juice and keys to our bungalows. I literally rushed to the room, threw my bag on the bed, and ran out the door and down the path to the beach to get pictures of the sunset. I was able to get some of the best pictures I’d ever taken from across a placid creek flowing into the ocean–the perfect setting for the sunset to reflect on the water like a mirror. There also happened to be a few ni-Vanuatu women doing laundry in the water, so their silhouettes gave the pictures great perspective! One of the guys in the group–a fellow from Texas who had brought his 12-year old son along–walked by and said, “Wait, are those women wearing clothes?”
Me: “Yes, don’t worry.”
Him: “I’m just thinking about my 12-year old son.”
A few minutes later, as I still stood there taking pictures of the sunset, the women did take their clothes off to start bathing in the water. Across the beach, the dad looked over at me and I made a waving-off motion. He looked at me puzzled, then glanced at the women in the creek, nodded his head, and turned to his son down the beach yelling, “Tyler! Time to go!” The boy never noticed, and eventually I, too, had to move from my position because there was something a little odd about getting pictures of a sunset with naked ladies in the shot, regardless of how great the water they were in reflected all the colors of the sky! A National Geographic photographer I will never be, apparently.

Enough spaghetti for several people

Enough spaghetti for several people

We all gathered for dinner at the lodge restaurant that looked over the pool, the trees, and the beach. For each meal, we could choose from 3 menu items. That first night, I ordered spaghetti with mushrooms and white sauce, because I love all those things! We all sat and talked for the whole hour it took to get our food–small island kitchens, what can you do? When they brought my plate of spaghetti, me and all the guys at my table stared in shock. They had made about 4 lbs. of spaghetti and put it on my plate. I could’ve taken it as leftovers for another 5 meals. People were taking pictures of it! Later, when telling my roommate about it, I said, “I’ve never been given so much food on a plate.”
Her: “I know. They gave me a lot of food, too.”
Me: “No, listen. It was MASSIVE. I’m talking, like, pounds of spaghetti.”
Her: “Yeah, our plates had a lot of food, too.”
Me: “No, seriously, so much more than all you guys got.”
Her: “I dunno, we got a lot.”
Me: “Okay, picture in your head whatever you THINK they gave me, and multiply it by five.”
I know I’ve already written too much about the spaghetti now, but one other thing that made me smile. The first night on the island in the book, Kathleen makes spaghetti as a “special treat”…it felt very funny eating spaghetti in a dimly lit, thatch-roof building on Tanna Island after writing very similar circumstances so long ago. It felt like a little inside joke God was playing on me.

Whitesands New Testament Dedication in the Village

Travelling through the jungle

Travelling through the jungle

We woke up early the next day, had our breakfast (fresh fruit, toast, and a cheese omelette), and crammed into the various jeeps and trucks again. The first half of the day was to be spent at a New Testament dedication ceremony for the Whitesands people group in a village over on the southeast side of the island. For such a small island, there are 7 different languages spoken there! My people group from RTD–the North Tanna people–were, appropriately enough, on the north side, but I let myself pretend like the differences between the two groups weren’t that much given the few miles that separated them. There were 5 of us in the same jeep for the whole day, and I’m pretty sure our driver was the Tanna version of Jason Bourne by the way he navigated the roads. The road leading east over the hills to the other side of the island was all gravel except for places where it was really steep and had been paved. The driver made this out to be a very big deal–a paved concrete road. This way when it rained and flooded, the cars could still drive it–one of the probably 20 cars on the whole island, but still convenient none the less. Riding in that jeep over a 12-hour period was a better workout than anything I’d done in months. The arm, leg, and ab tensing just to hold on and not smash the people next to me was enough to make me sore for a few days. I had bruises on my hips for at least a week after I got back to Kona. We, of course, were laughing and yipping the whole time. Millions of people pay millions of dollars to go to Disneyland just so they can get in a type of transport device on a track that whips you around and gets your adrenaline pumping for no more than 90 seconds at a time. All you really need to do is go for a typical drive on a typical Tanna road and you’ve just attained a lifetime’s worth of Disneyland visits in a day, minus the screaming kids, annoying music, and overpriced food and drinks.

View of Tanna looking north

View of Tanna looking north

We bumped along for about an hour and a half from one coast to the other. That middle part of the island was also very primeval to me. Some of the trees were so old and big, and it really felt like man had never been there to exploit it–just untouched tropical forest. As we followed the ridge for a bit, we suddenly came down a slope, turned a corner, and there was a view of the whole island facing north. At the bend in the road, all the jeeps stopped and we jumped out to take pictures. It was a fully 180 degree panoramic view, with the hills of North Tanna in one direction, and the plume of smoke rising from the erupting Yasur Volcano in the other direction to the south. I could’ve just stood there all day, taking pictures and staring at the views, but we had to make up some time and were only at the stop for a few moments before piling back into the vehicles again.

Erupting Yasur Voclcano as seen from the ridge road

Erupting Yasur Voclcano as seen from the ridge road

At the bottom of the ridge, the surrounding jungle remained the same, but the road suddenly change from rock and pebbles to dark ash. We were near the volcano now. It seemed smooth at first without all the harshness of the rocky potholes, but we soon realized the roads were worse in the ash because they eroded so much more, so a pothole in ash was deep and wide and practically unavoidable. Sometimes, we were straddling entire ditches with the car, one wheel on each side of little mini-canyons that had formed in the road, but for the most part, we were one wheel, one wheel down, and totally cockeyed. From the time we were in “ash” country, the jeep ride was that much more of an amusement park ride, and we drove those roads until well into the evening time.

 

IMG_8263

Village pastor gives an introduction

We finally stopped at an intersection in the dirt road. An out-of-place old, abandoned one-story concrete building–something that appeared to have had some importance at one time given its location at the intersection–stood next to the road. At the junction across from the building was a huge tree where about 50 people were sitting in the shade, waiting for our arrival. We got out and stood there for a bit, a crowd of white people standing awkwardly with the villagers. Only the ones from our group who’d previously worked in Tanna ran over to greet friends and acquaintances from the village. The rest of us just waited to be told what came next. It turned out we would all walk down the intersecting road for about a mile until we reached the village, carrying the Bibles along like the Ark of the Covenant.

 

Carrying the Bibles into the village

Carrying the Bibles into the village

As we stood there, I looked through a crowd of people and saw David and Christine in one of the trucks. He caught my eye and smiled, and I smiled back, put my hand to my heart, and mouthed, “I’m SO HAPPY.” I eventually walked over to them to chat for a bit. We hadn’t connected at all since arriving on Tanna the night before, so I’d been happily taking in all of my Tanna observations without expressing anything outwardly. As we hung out chatting for a couple of minutes, I made a joke about how I should get in the back of the truck and wave like in a parade when we entered the village. I’d totally forgotten he knew my secret when he muttered under his breath, “Well that would be completely appropriate since you’re the only one of us who’s authored a book about this place…”
Me, half laughing-half gasping in shock: “Shhhhhh! We’re not supposed to talk about it here! Remember??”
Him, whispering: “Well, I’m sorry! It’s killing me!”
Me: “Shhhh, enough!”

Crowd of Whitesands villagers making their way to the ceremony

Crowd of Whitesands villagers making their way to the ceremony

The trail of people began walking down the soft jungle road following 4 men carrying a box of the New Testaments on a platform that was resting on their shoulders with bamboo poles. They marched the whole mile carrying the box while everyone else followed–us foreigners, plus several dozen villagers. As we marched along, the villagers walked and sang worship songs, some in English and some in their own language. I filmed most of it (by the way, I’m hoping when my computer is fixed that I’ll be able to string all the videos I took into one!). All along the road, bamboo poles had been stuck into the ground and little orange flowers were tied to them. It was by no means fancy or overly done, but just the few little flowers tied to all the poles showed what tremendous effort they’d put into the event. All along the way, I was smiling wide, observing all the people and grass huts–trying to take in every detail of how the settlements were laid out, how the houses were made, how the people interacted with us and with one another. It all seemed so right and familiar. I finally decided that, in addition to all the research I’d done back when I’d written the book, it was all very much like Papua New Guinea, which I just visited last year. I know every place is different, and I’m sure an anthropologist would have a whole list of differences between a Tannese village and a Western province PNG village, but as far as I could tell, they were very much alike.

Handing out Bibles

Handing out Bibles

When we arrived at the village, those who were walking the road with us joined the couple hundred people waiting in the large grassy center of the settlements. The village pastor led those of us who were visiting to some benches situated under a tarp to protect us from the blazing sun and pouring rain (and yes, we had both in the 4 hours that we were there). The New Testament dedication ceremony began and for those of us who didn’t speak the Whitesands language, it was a little over our heads as to what was going on. There was one guy with us who vaguely translated what was being said. The village pastor spoke for a bit, then a pastor from the North Tanna village whose language had received a Bible several years ago. Then the real-life older-Jake-equivalent missionary got up and spoke, then one missionary from our group who was from Papua New Guinea got up and preached. After at least an hour of people getting up and giving sermons or thanking everyone who made translation possible, it was time to handout the Bibles. There were several in our group who had been to Bible dedication ceremonies in other nations in the past, and they said that this particular one was one of the most calm ones they’d ever been to. People lined up in nice lines, and some had even pre-ordered hundreds of Bibles for churches in neighboring villages, so there was no rushing the pastors to get a Bible. Still, it was a moving ceremony, and the gravity of it hit very hard.

Reading her new Bible

Reading her new Bible

None of these people were born into a world where they could read the Bible in their language. Now they had it. They had their very own Bible in their mother-tongue–not in English, or the local pidgin dialect of Bislama–it was in their own language now! It was so fun to then see people grab their copy and open it up and start reading it. When we congratulated the Tannese pastor on this great accomplishment, he soberly replied, “Now the REAL work begins…..discipleship.”

Village feast

Village feast

The village women then setup a feast of food for everyone–the whole village–and we scooped it all onto our plates. I had rice with some kind of noodle pork thingy–I fully understand that the meat could have really been any animal under the sun, but it looked lean so I scarfed it down. We’d also been told that, because we’d be touring the island and volcano after the ceremony and there would be no place to eat, to bring our own food with us. I know myself, and also know how picky I am even if food is provided, so two-thirds of my purse was filled with the tiny loaves of bread I’d bought earlier that week, peanut butter crackers, and Oreo cookies. As we were sitting there eating this village food, I saw that the 12-year old from Texas was struggling with it a bit. Out of total empathy, I was like, “Tyler, you want some peanut butter crackers?” Without even taking a moment to think about, he shot back, “YES PLEASE.”

Grass huts

Grass huts

“You want an Oreo, too?”
“YES PLEASE!”
So he ran around playing with the village kids while holding his American peanut butter crackers in one hand.

The kids loved the empty boxes!

The kids loved the empty boxes!

During the lunch, there were several groups that danced in unison for the village, and almost all those groups were groups of young people. I didn’t know if they were from the same school, or village, or church, but there appeared to be several different “youth leagues” from the surrounding villages, and they’d all been practicing their routines for the big day. After eating and sheltering under the tarp while it rained, some of us wandered around the village a bit. I walked around taking pictures, trying not to stick out like a sore thumb–fat chance. Tall, blonde, white woman in a group of white men brought on a lot of attention, and there was very little I could do without everyone watching. I finally settled next to one of the trucks taking pictures of the little kids who’d discovered the empty Bible boxes and had decided to use the cardboard for all sorts of fun activities–they sat in them like cars, they tore them apart to use them as slides on the grassy hill, and they finally tore them up so much, they had swords and guns to play with. How these kids even know about swords and guns, I’m not sure, but by all accounts, its not exactly a high-tech movie-watching society.

View from the bungalows

View from the bungalows

After a while, one of the villagers (I assume he was an elder or something) told us to follow him. We had no idea where we were going or where he was taking us, but by golly it was an adventure, and it felt good to move after sitting on those wooden benches for so many hours. He led us down a dirt path through the jungle, turned into an area with small settlements and gardens, and we were suddenly overlooking a view of a bay and the north of the island. It was breath-takingly beautiful, and we stood there a long time just staring at the scene and taking pictures. It turned out they’d built bungalows in that spot so that tourists (like backpackers, etc.) would come stay there–their own Whitesands tourist industry.

Once we’d exhausted the view (not possible), we came back to the village, piled back into the trucks, and left the village, waving to everyone as we went. In fact, for the whole day, whenever we passed anyone on the road, it was all waves and greetings–I don’t think there was one person I saw that day that I didn’t wave at! As we came back to the intersection where the concrete building was located, we turned left instead of right (where we’d come from). Now we were on our way to the volcano!!

Ash Plain & Port Resolution

Driving in the river

Driving in the river

The road between the village and the leeward side of the volcano was the worst section of road all day. There was a gauge in the jeep that showed the angle we would lean at. After a while, we had to stop looking at it because we were hitting like 30 degree angles with the car and we didn’t really want to know that. Even so, we were having the time of our lives, laughing and joking and bumping into each other and falling into each other and clutching anything we could just to stay in one place. I’ve been on a lot of really crazy roads in my day–this one was the worst I’ve ever been on. And to top it off, the driver was talking on his cell phone part of the time! We finally determined that we could relax if he was driving while talking on his phone, and we should be very afraid if we approached a portion of road that made him go, “Uh-oh.” One of the first times we got concerned about getting stuck in the eroded, ashy road, he told us, “I grew up here and I drive this every day, so no worries.” It made me think of the young boy I’d written about in RTD who drove the main characters into the jungle in the north–I’d described him as expertly navigating every bump and pothole. That’s exactly what this real-life driver was like–he knew every dip and ditch in the road, and went over them with no problem (except for a bit later, but I’ll get to that).

IMG_8353

Racing across the barren ash plain

After quite a bit of time on the worst road ever, riding through the jungle, we suddenly turned a corner and burst out onto a wide open ash plain with Yasur Volcano looming over us. This was where I couldn’t contain my excitement any more. I’d done okay in Port Vila. I’d held it in at the village. But our jeep and the other trucks were racing across a wide open plain made of gray volcanic ash while an erupting volcano roared over us. The author in me, the geographer in me, and the natural disaster nut in me completely took over and I was practically screaming and laughing while hanging out the window with my camera. I’ve never spoken in tongues before, but if there was a moment where I ever came close, it was while we were racing across that plain with me yelling, “THANK YOU, JESUUUUUS!” Our driver picked up on my (subtle) excitement and stopped in every place possible for us to get out and take pictures. The other trucks were way ahead of us, but that was okay, because I walked away from the trip with more variety of Yasur pictures then all of them!

Yasur was roaring behind me!

Yasur was roaring behind me!

At one point, John the driver drove all the way to the edge of the plain and up a dune so that we could get a full shot of the barren, apocalyptic landscape. As I stood there taking pictures, the volcano ROARED and a huge plume of smoke burst from its crater. I screamed with glee, pumping my fists, growling with it. I didn’t care, I’d lost all pride at that point and was just so happy. We got in and out of the car very quickly at every stop, driving the route across the plain to the others. The road dipped down into a ditch and we were suddenly driving across a river–not on a bridge, but literally IN the river. Once at the top again, John floored it across the ashy plain and stopped where the other trucks were at, on an ash dune at the base of the volcano.

Ash dune leading up the slope as the wind blew down on us

Ash dune leading up the slope as the wind blew down on us

Up to this point, I’d had to wear a long missionary-lady skirt the whole day, because women who are considered Christian can’t wear pants. Well, I’d worn my capris under the skirt, so as soon as we reached the ash dune at the volcano base, I hopped out of the car, whipped off my skirt, and ran around taking pictures like the tomboy that I am, uninhibited by some dumb skirt. I took as many pics as I could, but admittedly, it was one of the most difficult locations to stay in for more than a few minutes. It was so windy, and the wind came rushing down the volcano’s edge, bringing clouds of ash with it. I’ve never experienced a sensation quite like it before. It looks like normal dust, which is certainly irritating and difficult to breathe in, but this was totally different. The ash felt microscopic, and with every breath, I could feel its invisible particles going in my nose, my mouth, my eyes, my sinuses, my lungs–the only way to explain it is that it feels like you’re breathing toxic air (which we were probably doing that, too, since we were downwind from all the sulfur fumes as well, but it was mostly the ash). I was so excited, running around snapping photos, but I had to admit that we couldn’t stay there for very long. Within a minute, each cough felt like it was coming from some deep part of my lungs, and even then I couldn’t get rid of the coating inside me. Still, it was one of the most spectacular landscapes I’ve ever seen anywhere, so that made it 150% worth it.

The "road" through the jungle to Port Resolution

The “road” through the jungle to Port Resolution

We all drove off, and just as soon as we’d left the jungle and come out onto the open plain, we were back in the trees again. The road between the ash plain and Port Resolution was just as bad as the other road, only this one was surrounded by steep hills and tall grass on both sides. We passed a hidden beach along the way. We only saw it from far away, through the trees, but it seemed like a village was planted on it, and we got the impression that the beach was theirs and not for tourists, which made it seem all the more awesome and mysterious. At one point, we drove past a portion of the road that had been totally wiped out by a mudslide. Book reference time: if you remember a very particular RTD chapter involving a broken ankle, a rain storm, and a mudslide, then you know that this particular mudslide piqued my interest. “Are mudslides pretty common here?” I asked. “Oh yes, all the time.” SCORE.

Spectacular view from the yacht club in Port Resolution

Spectacular view from the yacht club in Port Resolution

The afternoon was waning as we arrived at Port Resolution, where the first explorers and missionaries had landed back in the 19th century. We toured the Yacht Club (which isn’t even remotely close to what you’re picturing in your head right now), but to be totally honest, the view was so gorgeous and I was already suffering from some acute form of ADD that I completely ignored the tour and walked around taking pictures instead. We made another stop in the tiny village of Port Resolution where the chief of the village stopped all the trucks and insisted on giving us a short tour. It was getting close to dinner time, so I pulled out one of my bread loaves and ate it. Tyler’s dad had asked me earlier, “Were we supposed to bring our own food?”
Me: “Yeah, they told us there wouldn’t be dinner out here.”
Him: “I didn’t bring ANYTHING.”
So as we listened to the Port Resolution chief, I handed an extra loaf to Tyler and said, “Do you want this?”
Tyler, same quick reply: “YES PLEASE!”
Christine looked at me, laughing: “Jill, when did you become the mom?”
Me: “I have to be mom to myself so I brought spare food for my picky eating, and his dad said he didn’t bring any food, so I can share.” A few minutes later, “Tyler, you want another Oreo?”
Him: “YES PLEASE!!”
Poor guy, hahaha.

Yasur Volcano & Lava Eruptions

Arriving at the crater just as the sun went down

Arriving at the crater just as the sun went down

One more stop in the middle of the thick jungle where there were missionary gravestones from 1850 (they’d died of malaria), and we were back on the “road”, heading to our final destination: the crater rim of Yasur Volcano. The sun was setting way too fast for my taste. I didn’t want to miss taking pictures at the top if the sun went down before we got there. The jeep climbed the steep, ash trail as plumes of white steam rose from the roadside. We arrived at the “parking lot” while the sun was still just above the horizon of hills. By the time we pulled in, I’d managed to replace words in a well-known hymn with words relating to the volcano, singing it out loud with no hesitation, which is probably the only time I’ve sung a song solo acapella in my adult life. I hope you can imagine how unbelievably happy and excited I was. I didn’t wait for anyone–I leapt up the trail of that crater so fast you wouldn’t believe (that’s how it felt at least), snapping pictures every few seconds as I went of anything and everything I was looking at. Now, sorry to make any guys reading this uncomfortable, but this particular day was–ahem–the first of, well, you know. So as I bolted up the trail, I started getting the worst cramps! I can tell you right now, not only did it not matter, but I was like, “I will not stop!!”

I didn’t yell that, but I was thinking it.

Standing feet from toxic fumes on the thin crater edge

Standing feet from toxic fumes on the thin crater edge

We reached the lower crater edge just in time for it to roar again. I screamed “WOOOOOOOO” along with it so that it wasn’t alone in its excitement, raising my arms in the air. The wind blew up the southern edge of the crater so strongly it almost felt like it would blow us over the rim’s edge. That same wind that threatened our balance was also the only thing keeping the thick sulfuric fumes and poisonous gases from engulfing us. As long as the wind blew, the fumes stayed away from us, but only by a few feet. If the wind let up for even a second, the fumes covered us in their poison. One single breath had me coughing and gasping for fresh air. Later, when I was at the summit filming the fumes in the swirling in the wind, one of the guys stood next to me, looked down into the white fumes and red hot lava pool, and said, “It’s a little unnerving to think that we are only 3 feet from certain death. I don’t know that I like the feeling.” I replied, “Thanks for saying that on video for my mom to hear.”

A local enjoying the surrounding view

A local enjoying the surrounding view

I saw the narrow trail to the summit–the highest point of the crater rim–so I ran up there, too. By the time I reached the top, several things happened: 1.) my cramps were so bad, I had to literally just sit on the ashy gravel for a minute so that I didn’t pass out from the pain (still had a big smile on my face, though!); 2.) my iPhone ran out of storage space, so I couldn’t take anymore pictures with it, but that was okay because I’d brought a spare camera just in case. Its picture quality wasn’t as good, but I’d discover later what a blessings it would be; and 3.) the sun was setting just as soon as I reached the summit. So I caught my breath, let my lower abdomen relax a bit, then I hopped up and started filming and taking pictures again. The view was breath-taking, with a full 360 degree look at the island. The jungle surrounded Yasur’s slopes and ashy plain on all sides, and as we stood at the top of the mountain, a symphony of cicadas could be heard buzzing in the jungle twilight air for miles all around us.

Mere feet from certain death

Mere feet from certain death

At the summit, the fumes were only a couple feet from me, constantly blowing back over us. At the top, the rim was so thin and narrow, it took a lot of my concentration to just not fall in one direction or the other given my issues with vertigo and poor balance. Falling in one direction meant rolling hundreds of feet down a crater edge that was so steep it was virtually a cliff. Falling in the other direction was most definitely a cliff, and only led to a pit of boiling, erupting lava and thick volcanic gases. So yeah, given my history with vertigo, I was being very delicate with my steps. At one point, I was filming everything, saying, “I want to get it erupting! I want to get the roaring on film!” Almost as soon as I said it, the biggest roar of the day bellowed from the crater, the mountain rumbled, and I was so shaken by it, I screamed and immediately fell to the ground on purpose for fear that it would somehow dislodge my footing.

 

Here I am running from the fumes at the summit

Here I am running from the fumes at the summit

It’s really hard to explain the noise this thing made. It was simultaneously exciting, electrifying, disturbing, and frightening. The best way I can explain it (because it was the image that kept coming to my mind while it was happening) is to imagine a huge, metal cookie sheet that is the size of a building and several feet thick. Then imagine King Kong walking over to the metal sheet with a big metal pole and hitting it, just once, as hard as he can while roaring his big animal roar…while also hearing the loudest crack of a bat you’ve ever heard.  Then, as you are hearing that deep, bellowing, metallic, monstrous, crashing noise, imagine that the decibel and tone of it is so deep and resonant that it vibrates from beneath you and goes right through your body. It’s so unlike anything I’ve ever heard or experienced in my life–I think there were a few people in the group who were more fearful than they’d admit at the time, but for me, I was just roaring right along with it in total moronic ignorance. After I took what felt like a hundred shots at the summit as the sun set, I decided it was time to go back to the lower edge where we could watch the lava exploding. The fumes were just too thick at the summit, so we made our way back down the trail just as it was getting too dark to see. They’d told us to bring a flashlight, but in my lava-tubing experience on the Big Island, bringing one flashlight normally means you should bring two, so I strapped my headlamp on my forehead and gave my other one to one of the guys in our group who hadn’t gotten the memo about the flashlights (he was in the same group as the guy who hadn’t heard about dinner, because they’d both come late to Vanuatu).

I got this first lava shot by accident

I got this first lava shot by accident

By the time we reached the lower edge, the sun was totally down, but the sky was still a little light. That was when the lava show began. In reality it had been spewing lava the whole time, but at night, it was one of the most surreal, spectacular displays of nature I’ve ever seen. We all just stood in the dark at the crater’s edge, cameras at the ready, waiting for it to erupt because we never knew when the next lava explosion would happen. Then it would burst forth from the crater, hundreds of feet in the air, and only hundreds of feet from where we were standing–tiny little blobs of hot, orange and yellow lava, flying straight up into the air and whimsically falling to the ground, where they sat in molten-hot stillness until they blackened and disappeared into the darkness of the crater. The first explosion that occurred was one of the biggest, and also turned out to be a fortunate accident in terms of my picture-taking. For one, I thought my camera was on Video, so when the lava exploded, I pushed the button to record but it took a picture instead. I also discovered that my camera was on a long-exposure setting, so instead of little yellow lava dots, I captured trails of lava falling to the ground. I couldn’t have set the camera exposure so perfectly if I’d tried, and the iPhone doesn’t take long-exposure shots, so if the iPhone hadn’t run out of storage space, I would’ve never tried to snap a shot with the spare camera. So for someone who’d never had any experience taking pictures of lava erupting from a crater at night, I ended up with some really beautiful pictures. Shaky and a little blurry, yes, but so much better than I could have planned for.

Spewing lava

Spewing lava

As I tried to get pictures of each explosion, the most surprising thing I discovered about the fountains of lava was how the lava seemed to rise and fall in slow-motion. I’d seen lava fountains on documentaries before, but for some reason, I must’ve just assumed that the footage was being slowed down so that the viewer could enjoy the scene. That’s not the case at all–it really does seem to move slower than something like water. The blobs seemed to fall more at the pace of fireworks after they’ve exploded and slowly fall toward the ground. Between the disconcerting roar of the mountain and the lazy way the lava fell from the sky, it was all so jolting and contradictory. I couldn’t be scared because it was so beautiful and mesmerizing, but I also couldn’t be too relaxed because it felt like the mountain would swallow me whole at any moment. I thought later about how I would have liked to put the camera down for a few moments and just watch the exploding lava more, but the fact is that while I was up there, I just never knew if it would erupt again, so I had to get a shot each time, and then it was suddenly time to leave. Later, the missionary lady who’d lived in Tanna for a couple decades said that we got the perfect show–she said there were times when you could maybe see one or two eruptions, and other times where the lava was shooting so high into the air, it was landing on tourists standing at the edge where we’d been. We’d gotten a lot of eruptions that flew several hundred feet high, but never any that came close to us.

Yasur looms beneath the moon after sunset

Yasur looms beneath the moon after sunset

As we got back in the car, I glanced back up the trail. A dozen little lights could be seen making their way down the black mountain as the crater glowed orange above them. The ride back down the “road” and through the jungle was much quieter in the dark. We’d had a long day, we couldn’t see anything in the blackness of the forest, and there were no more people to wave at as we drove. After a while, we burst out onto the ash plain again. Oddly, I think it was more magical at night than it was in the day time. After being on a bumpy, slanting, jolting road for so long, and then to suddenly be driving at top speed across a smooth surface, it was gorgeous. We were also away from the trees, so as soon as we raced across the plain, I looked up and out the open window and saw one of the clearest, starriest nights I’ve ever seen. No cities or street lights or anything were within hundreds of miles of us–we were out in the middle of the ocean with no civilization around, so the sky was more terrific than I can describe. To enhance the scene, a few cars that were way ahead of us could be seen at the far edge of the plain, a mile away, seen only by their headlights racing across vast, black emptiness beneath the starry sky. I, of course, started in my praise and worship of Jesus again and everyone started laughing. We drove down into the river again, but as John accelerated to go up the steep embankment to get out of the water, the car died and rolled back. So we were just sitting in this river in the dark while he restarted.
“No worries,” he said as he started it back up again. He pushed on the gas while we all cheered him on. “C’mon, Johnny boy, c’mon!!” Up and out of the river we went. Only time we had a problem the whole day. He drove across the plain again, but this time I was facing the great big Yasur Volcano. So there we were: speeding across a black plain with a clear, Milky Way galaxy sky and an erupting volcano whose top was a plume of smoke glowing lava red in the darkness. Doesn’t get any better or more majestic than that.

Evening on Tanna

John the driver sped as fast as possible back to Tanna Lodge–we don’t know why, there was really no reason to, but it was fun nonetheless. I spent most of the time staring at the perfectly clear sky out the window, trying to pick out the thick Milky Way strip at every turn and bend of the road. We would occasionally start whooping and hollering when we approached all the “fun” parts of the road we’d come in on. We were the first back to the lodge at 9pm, filthy and starving. We were still shaking and rattling from the 12 hours of four-wheel driving, so we plopped ourselves down at the seats in the restaurant and waited for our dinner. With ash and dirt covering my body, my hair totally disheveled, and eyes that had gone through a gauntlet of debris because I’d left my contact lenses in as we trekked through ash and sulfur, I realized just how exhausted I was.  I sat there in stillness looking at my pictures for the first time all day. Dinner arrived–grilled tuna–and I’m pretty certain that it was the best tuna I’d ever had in my entire life.

Black sock line on my legs

Black sock line on my legs

Once I’d scarfed it down, I went back to my room and discovered just how filthy I was. I took off my shoes and socks and saw a perfect sock-line of ash. My legs were almost black. I went into the bathroom, turned on the low light, and looked in the mirror. Black ash lined the areas under my eyes and all over my face. I jumped in the shower (which was PERFECT in every way), and had the best night’s sleep since arriving in Vanuatu. When I woke up the next morning, I had fresh fruit and Tanna-style pancakes for breakfast. Because the plane going back to Port Vila was so small, we had to all go on two separate flights. And because it was Tanna Island, place of my dreams, I volunteered to go on the later flight. After the first group left at 8am, seven of us stayed behind and relaxed a bit. Since it was Sunday, we had our own little prayer and worship service. We sang hymnals with no musical instruments and prayed for Vanuatu, the Pacific, and even prayed for the persecuted Christians in Niger (it’d just been on the news that 45 churches had been burnt down my Boko Haram). I thought to myself, “what a life this is, sitting on a little island in Vanuatu, praying for our Christian brothers and sisters half a world away in Niger. God really does unite us with His spirit.”

Last few hours on Tanna were so peaceful

Last few hours on Tanna were so peaceful

I spent the rest of our time on Tanna sitting at a table by the pool, looking out at the trees and the water, reading my book and occasionally looking up to watch people just sitting on the grass and talking in the cool breeze beneath the shade of the palm trees. It was paradise. But the end came and it was finally time to leave, so me and a few others hopped in the back of the truck with the luggage and drove the 30 minutes to the airport. The older-version-of-Jake missionary was in the back, so I asked him some more questions about Tanna, and he talked almost the whole way to the airport. I asked him the really important questions that some friends had wondered about back in California over Christmas time. “Are there many rivers here? Could you do cliff-jumping? What are the roads like up north? Is it harder to travel by car up there than where we were yesterday?” Yes, I told you the weird, detailed questions never stopped during the whole weekend, and I was right.

Driving to the airport in back of the truck

Driving to the airport in back of the truck

He did tell me one fun story about North Tanna life that I’ll re-tell. He said he’d come to Lenakel one day, the main town on the island (no more than a few buildings really), for supplies and saw that there was ice cream for sale. For his wife and kids, ice cream was just about the most precious treat in the world, so he decided he’d buy a tub, pack it on ice in a cooler, and rush back to their village in the north (and he had to go fast because, obviously, there is no refrigerator or freezer back in the village!). So he packed the ice cream in a cooler and sped back toward the northern part of the island. But, as “island-time” goes, a villager in the truck with him asked if they could make just one stop at another village. He was so rushed for time because of the ice cream, he reluctantly said Okay. So he turned down this other road toward the other village, and said that within a quarter of a mile, they got totally stuck in the muddy road (because it had just rained). He said it seemed to take forever to get out of it, and he just couldn’t believe he got stuck on the one day that he’d bought ice cream for his family. He finally got out of it, zoomed back to the village, and arrived just in time for the ice cream to be eaten. So he surprised his wife and kids with ice cream, they stuffed themselves, and there was so much leftover that he invited all the village kids over and let them try it for the first time. Once all the village kids had eaten all the ice cream, he said the adults came to him and, in their own North Tanna kind of way, were all like, “What’s up with that? Why didn’t you share with the adults, too?’

I thought it was a sweet story.

Perfect silence at Tanna airport

Perfect silence at Tanna airport

We spent a quiet couple of hours at the empty airport reading and resting before our little prop plane came for us. Once again, the silence was so deep, when the sound of an airplane finally did come, everyone just perked up like we’d all been summoned from some kind of sleep. I definitely can’t say it was the smallest plane I’d ever been on, but flying over open ocean, it definitely felt like the smallest one. As we made our descent into Port Vila, I never thought I’d see it as civilization. Five days earlier, it’d seemed like the tiniest town in the world, but after a couple days on Tanna, it might as well have been Manhattan.

 

 

Last Vanuatu sunset, at Hideaway Island

Last Vanuatu sunset, at Hideaway Island

End of the Trip

Once we arrived at the airport, we went straight back to the flat and only had about 20 minutes to put our stuff down before getting back in the car and going to dinner for our last group event. I took those few minutes to get back on the internet after a few days’ absence, letting my family know I was still alive. We then got back into the car and drove back to Hideaway Beach (you remember? That little touristy beach we’d gone to on the first day? It was about 7 hours ago, when you first started reading this blog?). We all packed into a little motor boat that ferried us to Hideaway Island, a resort on its own little island outside Port Vila. We arrived right at sunset and spent the next hour taking tons of pictures on our last night in the country. The beach was made of big pieces of rock and coral, and the water was so calm and placid, I just started picking up flat pieces and skipping them across the water–we’re talking, like, up to 10 skips each time. Then we all sat down and ate our food. For our last meal, I got pizza again–no shame there. Once the sky was totally dark and everyone had finished their meal, we got back on the little boat and went back to our flats. I had to get up at about 4am the next morning for my flight, so I had to pack up and say my goodbyes.

David and I were on the same Sydney flight the next morning. I tried checking in at the Port Vila counter when the lady told me I couldn’t get on the plane without an Australian visa. I told her I was only in transit and wasn’t even leaving the airport and had checked online where it said I didn’t need one, but she insisted. So David waited with me for about an hour while she worked out a transit visa for me. I wasn’t worried at any point, but in addition to already hating Sydney airport with a passion from experiences I’d had in the past, I was also a little bummed I had to shell out $50 for a visa I knew I wasn’t going to use.  I looked at him and said, “Let’s just house the 4K office here.” While we waited, David and I talked for a bit about a few business items, then he asked me how I’d enjoyed Vanuatu.

“You know the nitrus oxide the dentist gives you? You know, the laughing gas? Well I kind of feel like I was just inhaling that all week.”

Arriving in rainy Sydney on Australia Day

Arriving in rainy Sydney on Australia Day

We landed in Sydney to gray and rainy weather, and it just so happened to be Australia Day. I had a long layover, so David tried to get me into the Singapore airlines VIP lounge with him. He wasn’t allowed to have a guest, but the lady sort of looked me over, asked me how long my layover was, and when she found out it was 11 hours, she went and asked her manager if she could let me in. She finally came back, pointed to David, and whispered, “You can go in, but you have to leave when he leaves, okay?” He wasn’t leaving for Singapore for another 8 hours, so I was more than okay with that. So we parked ourselves at a table next to a window all day with a view of the planes and the rain. I read the whole time, he got his work done, there was all-you-can-eat food and drinks, and it was just the best after such a long week. That evening, I got on an airplane that was only a third full, so every person got a row of seats to themselves so we were all lying flat for the 8 hour red-eye flight back to Honolulu.

And from the time I got off the plane in Kona until this very moment, almost 4 weeks later, it’s been absolutely non-stop!

I don’t think I need to summarize too much of everything I’ve written–mainly because I already wrote in a little too much detail, but also because no one has probably read this far anyway! But I will say this. I walked away from this Vanuatu trip with a renewed sense of passion for writing and story-telling. My credentials for it may not be totally justified after you’ve read this hastily thrown-together trip summary, but never-the-less, the trip really made me wonder about my relationship with writing. For the first time, I really got the sense that it was important to God, not just to me or my friends and family. I walked away thinking, “Wow, Lord, you brought me all the way here, blessed the socks off me with little hidden treasures on this trip…it seems like You care about this aspect of my life that I’ve neglected for so long.” So I started thinking about why I don’t write any more. The main things have been 1.) I don’t have the time or the mental and emotional energy for writing a book; 2.) when I wrote back in college, I had a desk in my room…that way I could write in total seclusion and silence, without interruption. I haven’t had a desk in my room since college, so that needed to change; and 3.) my laptop is so slow, I can’t do any writing on it. So within a few days of returning from Vanuatu, I bought a new desk for my room, I arranged to have my hard-drive replaced on my computer, and the time and energy portion will just have to be by God’s grace.

Whatever the case may be, the trip was like a boost of literary adrenaline for me, and I’m more ready than ever to pray into this dormant aspect of myself from now on!

So thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it! Stay tuned for another book, coming soon!

h1

Secret Identity Revealed

March 6, 2014

From the time I was young, I had a very active imagination.  I’m sure every writer, filmmaker, or artist can relate.  I loved reading books early on, and wrote my first “book” when I was 10 or 11 years old–I have no idea how long it was–maybe 20 pages?  It felt long when I wrote it.  Two kids and their dog get lost in the mountains and have to find their way home.  I tried to write again when I was about 14, but that book never took off…if I ever wanted to, I bet I could resurrect that story.  A couple of teenagers fall in love during the 2000 Summer Olympics….yeah…I know….that’s why I didn’t finish it….at least it wasn’t about teenagers in an arena fighting to the death. 

Why am I telling you this?  Because you know me as Jill the Map Queen, but today I’m revealing my secret identity: Jill the Published Author.  It’s a side of me most people don’t know about, and I generally like it that way.  Let me explain why in this tell-all note I’m writing to you.

This week I re-released the first book I ever wrote and published: Running Through Deserts.  If you’ve met me only in the last 8 years or so, this is probably new information because I don’t like to talk about it.  To my friends and family back home in California who walked through the publishing process with me in 2005, it’s no big shock.  To the former, the following is information on my secret identity as an author.  To the latter, the following is an explanation as to why I’ve stayed in the dark these last 8 years.

I was 19 years old when I had an idea that I thought could be made into a book.  A woman with fame and fortune is also living a life with no hope or faith in anything.  Through a series of events, she ends up spending two months in a jungle tribe in the Pacific with a couple of missionaries.   Even though it takes place in a jungle, the woman has recurring nightmares that she’s trapped in a dry, sweltering desert with no end in sight. It’s about transformation, faith, love, and Jesus.

I’d always invented stories and people in my head, but I’d never thought up one good enough to very seriously put on paper.  The idea for Running Through Deserts was derived from three things: the first happened when I was 17, I went on my first overseas missions trip to Brazil, and stayed at a YWAM base in the Amazon for 2 weeks.  I fell in love with the jungle, tribal people, and anything related to that way of life.  I’d read Bruchko, Mission Possible, The Testament, and one of my favorite movies was Medicine Man.  My paradigm as a teenager was the same paradigm that I’m struggling to change in people’s minds today–that missionaries only live in the jungle with people who don’t wear clothes.  The second thing was when I went on a road trip across the western US with my parents in the summer of 2003.  That was a lot of sitting for hours and hours, staring out at the desert as we drove.  When you have an active imagination, and you sit for hours and hours, your mind starts to play with possibilities and scenarios.  Finally, I have always been obsessed with movies and filmmaking.  I’m certain if there’s a parallel universe out there with a Jill-clone, she’s making movies….mind you, they’re probably made-for-TV “B” movies, but I’m sure she’s having fun as a filmmaker nonetheless.

It was 3 months before I could put my dreams and stories and scenarios into one solid story, and so in November 2003, I began typing an outline for Running Through Deserts. 

I was in my second year at Sonoma State University, and living in the campus dorms.  In fact, most of the book was written in my dorm room at the exact moment that Mark Zuckerberg was in his dorm room creating Facebook at Harvard.  Am I comparing my work of art to the brilliance of Facebook?  No, I just want to let you know that more goes on in college dorms than fornication and substance abuse.  Anyway, I was going to class, working a part-time job as a grill cook, and writing this book whenever I could.  My research was entirely internet-based, and no one, not ONE PERSON, knew I was writing it.  In fact, no one even knew I had an interest in writing.  It wasn’t until I moved into my first apartment the following June that my roommate, Lai Theng, caught me.  I had no furniture, no internet, and no homework due (because of summer break), and yet there I was–sitting on my bedroom floor with my keyboard in my lap, furiously typing away at my desktop computer (also on the floor). 
“What are you doing?” she asked.  I was busted.
“Uhhhh…..writing…”
“Writing what?”
Dang. So she was the first to know…I’d managed to hide it from anyone for almost 7 months.
 
Why was I hiding it?  I suppose because I was, and still am, a little embarrassed.  When people know you as the funny girl, the sarcastic girl, the grill cook, the map-maker, or whatever labels you get used to, it’s hard to communicate to people that beneath the humor and sarcasm, I’m secretly analyzing human behavior–YOUR human behavior–and inventing my own life scenarios with it.  Whenever someone told ME they were writing a book, my first thought was, “Oh, that’s sweet.  You must be weird and anti-social.”  Jesus tells us in Luke that judgment is when we’re measured by how we measure others, and this was never more true than how I judged other fiction writers.  I didn’t want to be classified as that.  School had taught me that writers are eccentric, depressed, suicidal, alcoholic, and reclusive.  I wasn’t sure if you had to be one of those things to be a good writer, or if you gradually became one of those things as you wrote.  It was all just too much pressure to be given yet another label–especially one that already had a universal stigma attached to it.

These things, of course, didn’t dissuade me from writing.  I love writing.  And it was pure passion that was driving me to get it done.  It wasn’t until I got to YWAM that I realized I’d have a lot more explaining to do if people knew about my book.  I had to justify the opinions, personality, and imagination of my 19 year old self–something I’m sure ALL of us just LOVE to do on a regular basis.  All throughout my 20’s, I let the book sit, and I didn’t do much to promote or renew its publishing contract.  Finally, in this last year, I decided a couple of things: 1.) I care about the book and writing too much to keep it hidden anymore, and 2.) if I’m going to release a second edition since my Publish America contract had expired, I was going to release a book I was proud of.  Consequently, a few things about the story had to change.

When I first sat down at my computer 10 years ago to create this story, I had it in my mind that NO ONE would ever read it.  It wasn’t until I was almost done with it that I realized I couldn’t keep it a secret.  With that said, I created a fictional world that I thought no one would ever know many details about–and that I knew very little about myself.  I had to provide in-depth descriptions of places I’d never been, professions I’d never had, and emotions I’d never experienced.  I did what I could with an eclectic mix of research, imagination, preconceived notions, and, most of all, my own inexperienced experience.  While writing a book about a filmmaker and missionary in the Pacific, I had no idea that one day I’d be a missionary in the Pacific with friends who are filmmakers.  It was the epitome of “painting myself into a corner” by becoming a missionary in Hawaii after just publishing a book about a missionary in the Pacific.  I could be as creative and imaginative as possible as a 19 year old–which allowed the creative juices to flow–but I was suddenly in a quandary as my own life and experiences began to take shape after the book was published, and I saw how wrong my perceptions of life were.  I’m certain this is the story of every 19 year old–new to adulthood, allowing themselves to be fully convicted about anything and everything they believe to be true.

When I started editing Running Through Deserts a year ago, 9 years after the fact, I marked the published book with a pen like you wouldn’t believe.  I’m not saying at age 30 I have all the answers, but there’s an understanding that comes with having traversed your 20’s.  You get a better feel for objectivity vs. subjectivity…emotional response vs. analytical thinking…you start to get a feel for what can be classified as true and timeless. 

Those 7 months in 2003-2004 that I was writing, I was on a journey of my own, just as every author is when they’re writing.  My first two years of college, I was a strong Christian with next-to-no Christian fellowship.  Especially in my first year, I was finding my own way as one does their first year away from home.  I was incredibly religious (yes, legalistically so), and was completely submerged in college life.  My roommates were out getting drunk or stoned every other night.  In the heart of Northern California, my professors were liberal and, in some cases, anti-Christian.  I’d been confirmed Lutheran, but the local Lutheran church in my college town didn’t follow certain Biblical values that I held dear.  I was in the campus Christian Challenge group, but I didn’t feel a connection to most of the students in there because when they weren’t at group, they, too, were out getting drunk…or I just didn’t feel a connection with any of them.  My dreams of being a photo-journalist had been radically changed when God very clearly told me at age 17, “I have a better plan for you than that.” So I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life at 19.  I was a Global Studies major still figuring out what topics I liked studying.  So going into my second year at university, there were a lot of question marks, but also some things I knew for sure: I loved Jesus, I loved maps, I loved movies, I loved missions, I loved the jungle, and I loved the Cultural Anthropology class I’d taken in the spring of my first year…and that class had a special focus on peoples of the Pacific.

In addition to all that, I was experiencing what can only be described as “adult adolescence”.  I remember feeling like the transition into adulthood was something no one had warned me about.  When I was a kid, they’d all warned me that when I became a teenager, all kinds of new things would happen.  Teenage adolescence is so widely known, and yet there hadn’t been one person who told me about the 18-22 year old period of life when I’d have to start figuring a lot out on my own.  How to deal with co-workers, bosses, situations of temptation, disappointments, harsh realities, etc.  It’s such a formative time in every person’s life, and I wasn’t dealing with my season of adult adolescence via the same rites of passage that my peers were.  I wasn’t pushing the limits, seeing how far to the edge I could go before dropping off.  In fact, I was doing just the opposite by following every rule and being responsible in every way.  Some aspects of my life at that time were legalistic, others were simply me being obedient to the Lord, and I’m grateful He protected me.  But as a result, I was experiencing all these new things in life in a completely sober, wide-awake way, and I couldn’t keep my observations to myself any more.  At that time, I didn’t have a spiritual mentor to process things with, yet I was seeing the real world at work: how people behaved, how lost they were, and I wanted to help them.  But I’m not an evangelist.  And as funny and outgoing as I can be, I can be equally shy and unsure of myself.  I wanted to get all my thoughts, feelings, observations, and dreams out, and at this point in my life–what I could easily classify as one of the loneliest times for me–I put my “adult adolescent” observations of the world into fictional characters.  So in the second edition, I wanted to change some things that I’d written the first time around.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  When I went to edit Running Through Deserts this last year, I was simultaneously proud AND humiliated by some of the things I’d written during my adult adolescence.  There are still sections of the book that positively resonate with me–I can truly say that I put a little bit of myself into each of the 3 main characters, so some of the experiences that they have were written completely out of my own life.  The chapter where Ella spends her first night in the dark hut in the jungle was based entirely on my first night at college–and really, my first night away from home.  That first night, I fell asleep early, woke up at midnight, and didn’t sleep a wink.  I was sure that I would NEVER get sleep as long as I was in this new place.  And I had a digital watch that beeped on the hour, and every time it beeped, it was one more hour of my new adult life that I had failed at.  I currently write this with a smile on my face, because now–12 years later–I’ve been all over the world and have had to sleep in every type of environment you can imagine.  Anyway, I gave Ella a digital watch and a sleepless night.  I LOVE that I put the chapter “Hard Night” in my book.  It reminds me how scared I was, how the enemy tried to attack and frighten me, and how God has redeemed that night 1,000 times over.

And as proud as I am of chapters like that, I’m just as embarrassed about other chapters.  For the second edition, I re-wrote a lot in those chapters.  When I was younger, I thought big speeches at the end of a movie were really great, inspirational, and adequately displayed the journey the main character had been on, so I put one in at the end of my main character’s journey.  Now, I see that third-act speeches are very cliché and cheesy, but I couldn’t take it out or else I’d have to re-write the book.  So I kept it in and changed some of the wording.  This way, my main character’s speech is cheesy, but it’s Adult-Jill-Approved-Cheesy.

The Characters.  For the second edition, I was happy I didn’t have to re-write a lot about my characters.  I made Kathleen, our moral voice and missionary extraordinaire, less physically like me.  I took away her “tallness”, and gave her a little bit of stage fright.  She became her own character as I wrote her 10 years ago, but I still don’t want people reading her as me–she’s Kathleen.  She is her own character.  It was my fault to make her tall and sarcastic.

I didn’t do anything to change Jake for the second edition.  He’s still the Christian girl’s dream man as far as I’m concerned–and I was pleased that at such an idealistically young age, I still managed to make him flawed.  Some may disagree with me, but my opinion is that there’s nothing sexier than a flawed man walking in total grace and hope of Christ.  His conscious decisions to keep on the straight and narrow are what we all hope godly men will be like.

Ella is my hope for the future of mankind.  She’s the impossible case–the dead, dry, disillusioned, unbelieving, bitter skeptic.  If you haven’t read the book, I don’t want to give too much away, but when I thought of that instant moment when her entire paradigm shifts, it was that moment that made me want to write the whole book.  There are a few places in the second edition that I still wish I’d made some revisions to her character, but at the end of the day, I had to let her be who she was: a roller coaster ride of fear, emotion, faith, love, and spiritual warfare all rolled into one.  She’s everyone I always pray for, who I hope will one day see how REAL and GOOD God is.

The Place.  When I was researching places I could put my characters in, I wanted it to be somewhere that no one would typically know anything about.  I found a webpage with countries in the Pacific, and I picked a country name that I’d never heard of: Vanuatu.  How was I to know that 3 years later, I’d be doing a DTS that was taking an outreach there?  How was I to know that I’d become friends with people who’d been there, and were FROM there??  It was naiveté, but I’m still pleased with how I wrote Tanna Island.  I’ve still never been there, but as I read through the book for the second edition, I couldn’t find anything I wanted to change about the geography of the place.  Most people will probably never make it to that tiny island, so I think I’m still safe.

As for Australia, I’d always wanted to go there when I was a teenager, and in my mind, Darwin was an exotic place where I wanted to put my fictional missions agency.  Just this last September, I went to Cairns in Queensland for the first time.  As I walked around the city and observed its geographic importance to missions activity in the Pacific region, I instantly knew that for the second edition, Darwin would be changed to Cairns.  I’m very happy with that change, and stand by my decision to move it.

The Tribe.  It was difficult to re-read my perceptions of indigenous village life, because some were clearly my own preconceived notions, and others were just ignorance.  I’m sure if I’d lived for a season in a tribe, I could more adequately explain what it’s REALLY like to live in such a remote place.  I did get some compliments about the book from a couple of “jungle missionary” friends of mine, but I’m sure they would’ve changed certain things I wrote.  As I’ve joined missions and met countless missionaries working in remote locations, I see how I romanticized a lot of what goes on in the middle of the jungle.  That’s partially ignorance, but it’s also how my 19-year old self dreamed of one day being that kind of missionary.  For the second edition, I couldn’t change much of the descriptions of village life because a.) I wouldn’t know more details than I did before, and b.) the whole point of the story was for a woman who had EVERYTHING to see that you could live with nothing and be okay.  I know that’s still true, but I’d be less inclined to write that people in the jungle are just fine without help from outsiders.  In all honesty, I think clean water, medicine, and education are too important to ignore or withhold from a tribe just because we don’t want to “westernize” them.  I tried to word this the best I could in the second edition, but my romanticized ideas of indigenous life still peek through.

The Professions.  I wrote Jake and Kathleen as the types of people I imagined every missionary to be.  Strong, athletic, quoting Scripture wherever possible.  Then I became a missionary myself, and that is one big reason why I swept my book under a rug after I joined YWAM.  I saw how many different types of us there are out there.  I’m not like Kathleen at all.  I sit at a desk, clicking on a computer mouse, making maps and answering emails.  I watch 30 Rock and action films, and drink the occasional beer.  I’ve been to our campus prayer room only a handful of times, choosing instead to meet with the Lord from my kayak in Kealakekua Bay.  But young, religious Jill was perfectly fine writing saints as characters.  I had pigeon-holed my fictional characters into what other people think missionaries should be.  I perpetuated a worldview that I try and fight today: that missionaries are only people in the jungle with machetes, working with tribes.  I couldn’t re-write Jake and Kathleen, but if I could do it over again, I’d be more liberal with who those two characters are as HUMANS saved by grace, not as saints whose holiness is based on their actions.

For the filmmaking aspect, and Ella’s job as a Hollywood director, I shake my head in disgrace.  It was only after I started making friends with people in the film industry that I thought, “Oh crap, they’re gonna wanna read my book some day, and they’re gonna think I’m an idiot.”  I’m well aware of the shallow levels at which I had to write Ella’s life and career, but it is what it is, and I suppose if you’re a young adult reading the book, it will feel more realistic than if you’re an actual Hollywood director.  Thankfully, most everyone who’s read Running Through Deserts is NOT, in fact, a Hollywood director, so I can sleep soundly knowing maybe I fooled you into thinking I know what a filmmaker in that industry actually has to go through every day.

The Romance.  I wanted the main focus of the book to be about Ella and her personal transformation, but I also felt completely obliged to plop a romance in the book as an engaging secondary plot.  The other day, two filmmaker friends of mine were joking about how a typical “Christian novel” is actually an Amish romance.  This made me laugh, but as I drove home that night, I began to worry that my simple book was yet another terribly clichéd Christian romance novel.  I’m still not sure how well I wrote my two romantic leads.  When I wrote it, I’d never been in love.  I’ve still never been in love, and have never had a deep desire to get married.  This, of course, doesn’t mean that I can’t write romance.  Heck, Jane Austen was never married, and her books are what every love story is based off of.  Not that I’m Jane Austen, but you get what I mean.  I love love.  Love is the best.  Goooo LOVE!  Maybe I’m too sentimental, and still too idealistic, but when it came to the “love story” in this book, I even added a little more.  I’m most engaged by my own writing when someone is heroic for the one they love.  As cynical as I am about mooshy-gooshy-ooey-gooey-touchy-feely romances–fictional or real-life–I still love when the guy fights for the girl.  It’s why we love superhero movies.  They are the accentuated desire of everyone’s hearts–the guy wants to be a hero, and the girl wants the guy to fight for her.  Period.  I stand by my ooey-gooeyness…it stayed in, and even had a little more added to it.

As I wrap-up this chapter I’ve just written about this secret part of my life, I want to explain my own reason for re-releasing this book–and my reasons for keeping it hidden for the past several years.  When the book was finally done in June of 2004, I was pretty excited.  It had become a part of me.  I told people little-by-little.  I gave my mom a copy for her birthday just one week after I’d finished it.  I told some new friends I’d made at my new Bible study group.  I slowly and nervously began the process of getting it published.  A lot happened in that year after I wrote Running Through Deserts.  I discovered what I wanted to do in life: to become a Geography major and make maps.  I had gotten plugged into a great church through one of my dormmates.  I had a local family that I could go hang out with once a week as they fed me homemade meals and let me play games with them.  I found a Bible study with people that turned out to be lifelong friends.  And I found a publisher that would publish my book.  Granted, it was a publisher that was frowned upon by the publishing community at large, but this was before Kindle Direct or Amazon CreateSpace let you self-publish so easily, so I wasn’t about to be picky.  They could print my book, and I could see my beautiful, flawed, transformed characters come to life on paper.  The signed contract was for 7 years.

Everyone I worked with knew about my book, everyone I went to church with knew about it–at both my college church and my home church in Salinas.  A year later, when the book came out, I had several book signings.  I was on the radio and in the local newspaper.  My Salinas church family really came around me and supported me–I think almost every member of St. Ansgar’s bought at least one copy.  Some of my college friends came and sat with me at a couple book signings.  It was glorious, amazing, and fun….but then, it wasn’t.  I didn’t know at the time that I was introverted–someone who gets their energy from being alone, and watches as their energy gets used up on people–so I couldn’t figure out why I was just tired of talking about my book to people.  I had to market myself, convincing people to buy the book and read it.  It was a lot of small talk, and I’m terrible at small talk–REALLY terrible at small talk. I like depth and substance, feeling comfortable around people–and publishing a book made me vulnerable to everyone, so any person I didn’t know could suddenly have input into my young thoughts and opinions about life.

Then there was the criticism of the book that came from some in the Christian community.  There were certainly places I tried to make it more biblically accurate for the second edition, and I’m grateful for the feedback given to me in that regard.  But then there was the expectation of what a Christian novel should be like.  Guess what: my main character, who’s NOT a Christian, says bad words.  I cleaned it up a little in the second edition, but I wanted to keep some of them in there.  People who don’t care about what the Bible says about the tongue DON’T CARE about what comes out of their mouths.  People say bad words.  And you know what?  If and when I write another book, there will probably be some bad words in that one, too…not because I’m okay with bad words, but because if someone who is NOT a Christian can relate to a character, then that’s an accomplishment.  All this to say, I didn’t like how judgmental and legalistic some Christians were being about a story that communicated Christ’s transformational power in a person’s life.  I had those religious expectations hanging too heavily over my head.

Finally–and this is the big reason why I stopped telling people about the book–things had happened in my process of revealing I’d had a fiction novel published.  For every 20 people who were proud, happy, and supportive of me, there was one person whose eyes glazed over when I told them.  And those were the looks I couldn’t shake.  Those were the ones I remembered.  They were the looks that clearly didn’t know what to do with this new information.  They were looks that were trying not to be jealous, but displayed how confused and unsure they were of this new accomplishment in my life.  The analyst of human behavior was now observing genuine excitement from most people, as well as genuine dismay from others.  And some of those looks came from people that I was really close to, and my heart broke.  I suddenly didn’t want to make a big deal about the book.  Others had had dreams about writing, and I’d never publicly expressed any desire to write.  Then, voila! Jill wrote a book, and she’s getting it published.  Whatever knife some of those people felt in their heart when they heard I was getting a book published, I felt double the pain in my own when I saw their unguarded reactions, because I didn’t know how to deal with their rejection.  It was really REALLY hard.  How does a 20 year old find their way through that?  I’ve had to pray through a lot of that, and my decision to re-release the book after so long did not come lightly.  I finally had to ask myself, Am I holding back because I think the book’s not good, or because I’m fearing man?  Is my identity in Christ?  Is the place I get my approval from God–really REALLY from God?

(**note: if you’re worried you were one of those people, fear not.  Those ones walked away from me–abruptly or gradually–years ago.  And if you’re just having those negative reactions right now reading this, you’re having them while privately sitting at your computer, as opposed to glazing over right in front of me)

It was only just recently that I decided a couple of things: 1.) I have to rely on God for approval and identity, even if it means being more comfortable with my own success.  Success became something I wanted to shy away from so that others–specifically more insecure people–could feel better about themselves.  It’s why students don’t want to look like the “teacher’s pet” by giving the right answer in class, or why some of us are skeptical about taking on leadership roles.  We stifle God’s greatness in us when we do that, and I just don’t want to stifle anything good He wants to do in my life anymore.  And 2.) as flawed, poorly written, cliché, cheesy, and idealistic as my book may be, it’s a book about Jesus, and how He pursues someone in a place of total desolation.  It’s about how good and real and faithful He is, and if a story like that isn’t out there, then something worse is going to take its place.

Now that I’ve “come out of the author’s closet”, the same question will come up that came up back in 2005 (and sporadically since): when’s your next book coming out?  I typically dodge the question with a blush, and say, “It’s really hard to write a book.”  And it is….but honestly, the writing is fun for me.  Emotionally exhausting and ulcer-inducing, but fun.  The publishing process, the publicity, the talking to strangers about it, the attention, and the “Christian” expectation are absolutely no fun at all.  I foresaw this problem when I first signed my Publish America contract for Running Through Deserts.  I was worried I’d never be able to write again after that book came out.  I was worried my love and passion for writing would wane once people started criticizing it.  So in secret, for 7 months during my third year of college–November 2004 to June 2005, just like the one before it–I wrote another book.  I’ve only told a couple of people about this one because I wasn’t sure if I was happy with it.  But I’d like to spend this next year getting it to a place that I feel happy self-publishing it for my friends and family once again.  20 year old Jill wrote that one, so there’s still plenty to go back and fix, but I’m excited about it.  It’s going to be cheesy and romantic, and will most likely be cliché and predictable, but I loved writing it.  I’m happy I wrote it when I did, because the future panned out exactly how I thought it would: it just got too hard to carry on writing after the first book came out. 

I’ve got about 3 other books I could probably start writing in the future, and I’d be excited to know what “Jill in her 30’s” could come up with.  But I’m busy pioneering new schools, running a global mapping department, helping with a campus leadership team, and making sure I keep up with all the new releases on Netflix.  But some day, I’m sure I’ll write again.  I hope I’ll be more prepared for the questions about writing; for the jokes people crack about me being an author; for the overwhelming excitement of some, and, conversely, the obvious eye-rolling of others; and for the perception that people will suddenly have about me.  That author.  That weird girl.  Yup, that’s me.  But since you already know me, these things should come as no surprise to you…because I’m weird.  Really really weird.  But at least I’ve written a book people can veg out with on a rainy day.  Booyah.

To purchase Running Through Deserts in eBook and/or paperback, click HERE.

h1

Armenia, Part 3

August 21, 2012

My time in Armenia was mostly all related to the DNA class time, but of course, the best stories normally come from the outings!  I didn’t get out of the building nearly at all the first week we were there, so when it was decided we’d be taking a field trip to Lake Sevan (said like say-von) that first Saturday, I was so excited.  It turned out to be quite a gorgeous lake, some 25 kilometers from our village.  We were dropped off at the foot of a hill that had a monastery at the top of it.  With no explanation of what we were doing, we were sort of left to go climb the hill and explore the grounds.  Everywhere there were people selling artwork, jewelry, photographs, etc., which pretty much proved what a touristy kind of place it was.  We climbed the old stairs and reached the top to a spectacular view.  If you’re friends with me on Facebook, I’ve posted all my photos there.

The monastery was called Sevanavank, and it had been built in something like the 9th century….a concept of time and history that Americans can’t even come close to grasping given our “baby history”.  It had stood for a thousand years, right up until the Soviets ruled Armenia, at which time a wealthy land-owner was building a nearby estate, needed materials, so came and took all the stones and materials from the buildings….TRAGIC.  Now, they’ve begun to renovate and rebuild, and it’s still quite a beautiful spot to look across the span of the lake and imagine how grand it must have been before it was destroyed.

After the monastery, we walked about a mile to the spot where our picnic would be on the lake’s shore.  I was freaking out, realizing how used to the ocean I’ve gotten…it’s probably been years since I was on a lake, that I recall.  For one, as people swam, I couldn’t help but wonder about sharks…no sharks in this Armenia lake, as it turns out.  Second, it was weird to look across a body of water and see mountains on the other side…like, “Whoa, this ocean is pretty tiny.”  All this to say, I could have sat at that lake all day, just enjoying its beauty that I so rarely get to experience living in Hawaii (yes, that sounds like an oxymoron, since Hawaii is ‘paradise’, but when you live there all the time, you forget how beautiful other parts of the world are, too!)

The time at the lake was so nice.  The weather couldn’t have been nicer, and the food was really good.  We had fresh cucumbers, tomotoes, peaches, and figs, as well as Armenia’s most popular food, Armenian kebab.  Not my favorite, but I ate half of it…so there!  A group of us sat there for a couple of hours, and I was intrigued as each person at the table had stories of what it was like to be a missionary in the Soviet Union back in the 70’s and 80’s—stories of smuggling Bibles, smuggling information, dodging arrest, escaping secret police, etc.  Made me realize how “un”missionary I felt, but then again, God has us in a totally different generation of missions now….the Internet is the up and coming missions field, because it’s how we’ll initially reach every nation.  But it was still fun to hear all those stories of some amazing pioneers.

The next day, Sunday, I decided I wanted to walk to the local monastery in Tsakghadzor.  I’d make a day of it, so I left on my own around 10am.  It was already a hot day, and I was in my shorts and tee-shirt.  I mention this because I felt so bad once I got to the monastery.  Not only did I not realize they would be having active Orthodox church service at 11am, but I was in shorts with no head-covering.  I tried to lay low as I walked the grounds, taking pictures (after all, it was still a tourist spot).  When I was there, I ran into some ladies from the DNA conference.  5 of them were Russian, and 1 was Ukranian, and I hadn’t gotten to know them at all during that first week of the conference because I just assumed they didn’t speak English.  When they saw me, they shouted, “Jill!  Come with us!  We’re going up the mountain!”  Well, I had nothing better to do that day, so I joined their group.  They were lovely, and I was so excited to make friends with them because I’ve never had Russian friends, hahaha.  It turned out they all more or less spoke enough English for us to get to know one another and have a fun time.  Three of them were named Olya, so that made life a little easier, too.

It turned out that while they were at the Kecharis Monastery, where they found me, an Armenian family sort of adopted them and gave an impromptu tour.  So here we were, following this group of Armenians around, whom we didn’t know, getting a tour of the monastery, plus a little chapel up the hill–all built between the 11th and 13th centuries!  After that group left us, the 7 of us walked about 20 minutes up the valley until we reached the resort that is for skiing in the winter time.  For 1000 dram (or about $2.50), we could take the ski lift to the top of the mountain.  It was so peaceful and beautiful as we rode up.  The gals had also heard that you could ride a horse at the top.  This, to me, meant that everyone gets a horse and you all go on a trail ride.  Nope, not so….that’s not ridiculous enough.  No, instead, there was a sad little horse you could ride for about $1, with a man who is whipping it to go faster one minute, and pulling on its tail to slow it down the next.  It was absurd, which meant that I had to do it, lol.  So once my new friends had all taken their turn, I hopped on.  It was really way too small for my legs, but that was part of the ridiculousness 🙂

After the horse ride, I had lunch (a sandwich that I couldn’t tell you precisely what was on it), and then we took the gorgeous ride back down the ski lift, with a view of the valley stretching away before us…so far you could see to Lake Sevan.  The group split at the bottom–the older ladies taking a taxi, the younger ladies staying behind, and me walking back alone to get to a meeting with the DNA core team.

Once back, me and our core team (David, Judy, Andrey the Armenia director, and the Hoodikoff family, who oversee all Easter Europe region) went to a restaurant in town. We sat and talked for a couple of hours, eating lots of tomatoes, cucumbers, and meat.  We went out a couple more times that week, to get some “non-soup, non-potato” food, which at that point we’d outgrown.  One evening I got a mega-mushroom-cheese-crepe…mmmmm…

All-in-all, a lovely country…every other building there is condemned and abandoned, showing signs of former Soviet rule…but then every building in between is built beautifully, like the people are wanting a new start.  Made me think–if this is how far they’ve come in 20 years, then in another 20 years this country is going to be well on its feet…and whenever you can have a sense of hope like that for a country, then you know it’s a good one!

Blog about travels to Switzerland will come soon, in the next blog!

h1

Armenia, Part 2

August 20, 2012

Even though I’ve already left Armenia now, I’ll try and catch up on my blog like I’m still there.  The internet there was quite poor, in addition to the fact that I was so tired whenever I would’ve had a free moment to write everything down!  Where to begin?

After arriving in Armenia, I had to keep convincing myself I’d made it.  It felt like such a whirlwind experience to receive my passport in the mail, clean my house, pack all my stuff, and travel 36 hours across 14 time zones.  Once there, we dove right into the conference, so I was just very numbly taking it all in.  Since I was half asleep when I wrote my last blog, I’ll try not to repeat anything.

The first few days there, I was quite happy that the food was much better than it had been when I was there 2 years ago.  The hotel we were staying at, in the small village of Tsakghadzor, had good cooks, so I was very pleased.  After about 10 days, though, those feelings subsided a bit, but at least I did better than the last time!  It was mostly all soups with potatoes or rice in them…and with a nice layer of oil floating on the top of everything.  They served potatoes, lentils, barley, and buckwheat in their lunch and dinners, porridge or rice in milk for breakfast, and ALWAYS bread.  I ate so much bread….too much bread.  But some meals, that was all I thought I could get down (case in point: borscht with cabbage, mystery meat stew, chicken barley stew, which I called chicken oatmeal, and the real stomach killer–sour cream barley stew…..no, not “sour cream”, it was “sour” cream).

The conference itself went very well.  The Eastern Europe region is full of very hard workers with dreams and passions for mercy ministries, education, and family.  So many people we spoke to are working with orphanages, prostitutes, or drug addicts.  It’s one thing to work in those places in a place like the US, where things are pretty well set up already.  But in a former Soviet nation, well, these workers are just my heroes.  They came from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and Armenia–the 6 nations of the YWAM Eastern Europe region–and many different bases from within those nations.

The conference aimed at teaching some great Biblical principles—how our beliefs and worldview shape our actions, what it meas to have good character and integrity, and principles in leadership.  They even got a 4K presentation from yours truly, hehe.    By the end of the 2 weeks, I felt like all the topics that were addressed really struck a chord with the participants, and I found myself truly praying and hoping for more multiplication of workers, resources, vision, and passion in this very needy region.  That, of course, is all the serious business stuff that happened.  Fun field trips and adventures in Part 3, so stay tuned!

h1

Armenia and Travels, Day 1

August 6, 2012

You know you’ve been missing the international travel when you enjoy the tiny little things about being in another country. It’s been exactly one year a 2 days since I was in another country, which is a record for me since I was about 15 years old. But here I am, in ???, Armenia (that’s right, I don’t know the town…will let you know later).
After an incredibly doubtful month of speculation as to whether my passport would arrive in time for my August 3 flight, I clutched it at my side as I made my way from Kona to San Francisco to London to Yerevan, Armenia. It was truly a miracle that the Lord got it to me just 48 hours before my flight left…I was beyond grateful to Him.
The flights were good. Of course, I could turn any of them into an entertaining story, simply because the joy of travelling inspires all those literary juices to flow. It helps, too, to be mentally creating Facebook statuses as I go—but with Internet available in small chunks while I’m on the road, I’ll have to string them all into sentences and paragraphs, and resurrect my blog. With that’s said:

My overnight to San Francisco was relatively uneventful. I was grateful to have about 6 feet of legroom in the exit row and no one sitting in the middle seat. And I DID sleep, though it didn’t feel like I did because, ironically enough, the flight that should have been the warmest was actually the coldest and United didn’t give blankets OR pillows. Thanks, United—for nothing. When I landed at 5am, I was still very tired. I found a stretch of chairs at a nearby gate, set up by bags to be pillows, and slept on and off until about 9am. There was even a flight that left at that gate—one minute I’m surrounded by people waiting to get on their plane, the next, I wake up to find myself completely alone…and very odd sleep state to be in.

The flight to London could’ve been worse. I had a center seat, which for me is like a nightmare. But a short Korean lady on one side and an 8-year old boy on the other assured my legroom. Not to mention it was probably my first United flight where we had personal TV screens for the full 10 hours’ flying time. Let’s just say: The Hunger Games, The Lucky One, The Avengers, Little Miss Sunshine….not bad for an airplane. United—you’re forgiven for no blankets on the previous flight.
I arrived in London at 7am, around the time the sun should have been setting in Kona. I can’t describe how “dazed and confused” I was walking across Heathrow airport….waiting for it to get darker when it only got lighter. I went through the process of freshening up the best I could in the bathroom—contact lenses out, brushing teeth, etc. At one point, while brushing my teeth, and nice Indian lady asked if she could use my toothpaste. Without hesitation, I was like, “Sure!” And as she took it, second-guessed my “awakeness” and thought, I don’t know that lady…

Once again, I had a 7 hour layer in London, but sleep could not be stopped, so much like San Francisco, I found a stretch of chairs and slept for a couple of hours. Heathrow is different, though….EVERYONE is all in the same room waiting for their flights, so I was constantly surrounded by people….but always different people every time I opened my eyes. I also knew how tired I was because every time I woke up, I had to remind myself that I was travelling alone, because I kept thinking that there were other people with me, particularly my parents, haha. I woke up and ate a bit, and tried to stay awake, but it didn’t happen, and I floated in and out of consciousness until they called my gate for my flight. I was excited to have my own TV on the flight to Yerevan, too, but that ended up not mattering since I slept about 3 of the 4 hours of THAT flight, too…much too my dismay, because that makes it harder to sleep once you arrive at your destination!

As usual, I’ve spent a lot of time writing about nothing, but fear not, this is where the blog entry really takes off.

I arrived in Yerevan, Armenia at 10pm. I was praying that there was someone there to pick me up. I went through immigration, which turned out to be much less of a fiasco doing it 2 years later, after I’d done it before I knew which lines to stand in and when. Those experiences in 2010 that made me feel like an idiot turned out to not be for nothing! I came out pretty quickly to a large group of Armenians waiting for the arrival of loved ones. I didn’t see anyone there for me.

The thing I liked about that situation is that there’s no shortage of people who will help you get where you need to be, but not in an obnoxious sort of way. How many Armenian men I had asking if I needed a taxi, I’m not sure, but once I said No, they were polite and moved on. One of them even offered to lend me his cell phone to call my contact. After about 15 minutes of waiting, I took him up on the offer. I got in touch with Andrey who, as it turned out, had a taxi driver of his own waiting for me at the gate. I think he’d come after I’d arrived so we never found each other until I called Andrey and Andrey called him.

So began a great midnight taxi adventure. We left Yerevan at around 10:45pm. Andrey, thankfully, had told me on the phone it would take an hour and a half to get to the destination. It was way outside the city. So off we went—me and my taxi driver, who didn’t speak a lick of English (and as it turns out, I don’t speak one syllable of Armenian). He raced through the streets of Yerevan with driving skills that would challenge Jason Bourne, and pretty soon, we were on a highway in the countryside, driving through the darkness as the bright moon rose over the hills.

The weather had been hot in Yerevan, but I noticed the elevation must have been changing as the air got much cooler. Pretty soon, I was really wondering how much further, since I had to still try and get a good solid night’s sleep. Meanwhile, the radio blared Armenian music while my driver enjoyed a cigarette….oh, the little things. His phone kept ringing, and he would shout loudly into it…I never did find out what it all meant, but it turned out to be related to our own journey because suddenly we were pulled to the side of the highway as he talked loudly at the person on the other end. As he spoke, pulled down a smaller dark country road. “Well, this is great,” I thought. After more calls and turns, we were back on the highway, but headed back in the other direction.

I thought maybe he was lost and had no found his way, because after a bit of driving, he put on his hazard lights and drove slowly down the shoulder of the highway. Between that and the phone calls, my assumption was that he was trying to follow directions of someone on the other line and was moving slowly. Then it seemed like more than that. He was looking for someone. Every other car on the side of the road with its hazard lights on (and you’d be surprised how many there were at midnight) were glanced at with careful observation. After a few miles of this, he finally pulled up next to a car with its hazard lights, looked over by a man and a boy that was probably about 11. I still don’t know what they were for. Whether their car had broken down, or maybe whether they were the only ones who knew where my destination was, I’ll never know. But they hopped in the car and spoke rapid Armenian to one another. The driver then put his hazard lights on and drove in reverse in the lane back up the highway (yes, there were cars coming,, in case you were wondering) until he got to a place he could do a u-turn. We then headed north again, pulled off on another dark and deserted off-ramp, all the while the men speaking to one another rapidly.

After a few minutes, and a few turns, we came upon a small town. The driver pulled up a gravel driveway, stopped in front of a building with glass doors, and then the stranger in the back motioned to me, pointing up the steps. I was really REALLY hoping that wherever they’d brought was the right place. No one spoke English! They helped me take my luggage up the steps (including the little boy), and once at the top, made the universal hand sign for “Show me the money.” Still hoping I was in the right place, I gave it to them and they left.

Now I was in this building—it occurred to me it was a hotel as a fellow took my suitcase and I followed him up the stairs. Another man had told me a room number in English. Sounded good! Once to the top, my helper banged on my room door until a tired-looking blonde woman, who’d just been woken up, answered the door. When I said, “Are you with the DNA conference?,” I was ecstatic when she answered YES. Finally! I knew I was in the right place for the first time in a couple of hours.

After discovering that the hotel provided neither sheets nor towels, I prepped myself to sleep in a scratchy blanket laid on the bed. Didn’t matter, though. Once I put my soft fleece sweatshirt over it and laid down on that soft fabric, I was out like a light, and only at 1am, hehe.
And speaking of out like a light, I’m writing the blog with a half a brain….the last 3 or 4 paragraphs were just written after our first full day of class, and I’m falling asleep at the keyboard. More to report on later.

(PS. After I wrote the story above, about the weird taxi ride, I found out that Andrey’s taxi driver friend was actually NOT my driver, but rather a friend of a friend…and that friend DID get lost, so Andrey’s friend was the one with the boy that we picked up on the side of the road….all that trouble for a gal just trying to get to some sleep!)

h1

Let the School Begin!

April 5, 2012
I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last update—things have been pretty crazy!  It was 5 years ago in July that I was having an awful day…maybe one of my worst ones I’ve had in my time as a map-making missionary.  I was discouraged, and feeling like maybe I wasn’t in the right place….or that maybe I was in the right place but everything was pretty rotten in terms of work dynamics.  It was on that day that we had a campus staff prayer meeting, and an idea hit me like a truck as we were praying: start a 3-month UofN school where you teach Christians to make maps.  I knew that this was from God because it was so clear, and came on a day that wasn’t exactly an inspiring day…my sights were so far from thinking, “I’ll pioneer a new school for missionaries, one that’s never been done before.”  No, it was definitely from the Lord.  And so the epic battle for the School of Mapping began…we started with small trainings and workshops, moved into seminars, and finally began curriculum development for a 12-week school.
This school begins tomorrow!
Before you think that everyone came running to sign up, hit the brakes for a moment.  You should know that we are running the school with one student….and we are ecstatic.  That ecstasy came after alot of prayer, contemplation, and understanding, but we are nevertheless completely excited.  I’ve learned (and continue to learn daily) over the last few years that trying to integrate something like mapping and research into the Mission is a really hard thing to do….a really hard thing to do.  It’s a kind of pioneering that requires endurance, perseverance, and a total reliance on the word of the Lord, because sometimes that’s all you have anchoring you.  With this said, after we lost some of our students to health and financial issues, and after we prayed alot about it, we decided that in pioneering, you have to start somewhere….so we’re starting with 1.  So the official school consists of me, my co-leader, Sonny, and our staff-student hybrid, Sharon!
We’ve also decided to open our weekly lectures to the campus staff and students for free, because this is the only way to get word-of-mouth marketing that we didn’t have over the past year (because no one knows what the school is, because it’s never been run!).  We’re hoping more people will see what it is we teach, the value of it, and will hopefully sign up when we run it again next year!  So we’re happy with our one, and hoping for a few more…..let’s just say, as others have prayed for our school, there have been alot of quotes of the Scripture saying, “Do not despise the days of small beginnings.”
Please pray for us over the next 3 months…I can’t even make a list of all the different prayer requests, because it would triple the length of this email, haha!  But I would like to say what I hope for, and maybe you can help me from there:  I want to see School of Mapping become a known course on campus, one that people will want to join in years to come; I’d love to see Sharon, our student, walk away with so much impartation, as well as mapping skills, after the 12-weeks; that Sonny and I would work well together, have good communication, and just have fun!; and that God would use our small (but hopefully significant) school for His purposes, no matter the size.
That’s a start, and I hope you have made it this far through the email, hehe.  I hope to hear back from you soon, please let me know how you are doing…I’d love to hear from you!  Thank you so much for all your amazing  support, I so appreciate and value your love and prayers!
h1

February Update

February 22, 2012

It was an under-challenging Fall season…and it really annoys me that my attitude can change depending on how much work I have.  But a few weeks ago, I really felt the Lord say, “Be grateful for what I’ve given you in this season.”  That word came so swiftly and subtly that I just picked it up and ran with it in an instant, and I’ve felt joy return to the every day tasks I’m responsible for.  Not only that, but within a day of responding to that word, so much happened:  we’ve been getting more emails from people interested in joining our team, or people who are interested in mapping…more in the last few weeks than in the last year even!  Not to mention, more big floor map orders, more people coming to me for projects, and more people asking me to come present at their schools.  These last few weeks have been really fun in terms of work.

Some of the projects I’ve been working on: re-defining the Ch*n* Omega Zones, creating maps of the nations in the Pacific, continual floor map projects, presenting 4K to schools and staff gatherings, working on Slingshot tasks, and creating a student assessment document for the School of Mapping coming up in April.

The Ch*n* OZ project has been slow-going…I work on it when I have nothing else to do, and when I have a big chunk of hours to just sit and work on it.  There are 26 provinces that need fixing, I have done 1 so far, and even that took me one whole day’s worth of work…no matter how that sounds, that’s really ALOT.  Especially with more leadership responsibilities, for me to even get a good 6-8 hours to work by myself in a day…that never happens, so the next 25 provinces will be tough.  I do get to share the work-load with Sonny, though, so that should be nice.  The map of the Pacific are for a new push to reach all the islands of the Pacific.  YWAM wants to send ships all over the region, and guess what….they need maps!  So I’ve been putting together alot of statistics tables and maps related to island populations, people groups, ship ports, etc. in the region.  I just got done making about 27 maps-one for each country- and their ship ports.  Our floor maps have been a hit lately…we’re getting orders from all over the world, and they’re not just people in YWAM.  I’ve been trying to invest more time into these, because they are really our bread-and-butter in 4K at the moment…they are the thing keeping people engaged with us for now!  The mapping curriculum took a good chunk out of my week last week…alot of skyping with Sonny in Kentucky, and figuring out how to structure the course.  I’m really happy with the final results, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in the response we’re getting for the school.  If we can have even a couple of people here on April 5 to do our course, it will be a really big miracle…thankfully, I know a Guy who’s really good at miracles, so please pray 🙂  We SO want to run this school!

Running parallel with what I’m doing is what my staff and work duty students have been working on…tracking all the outreach locations our Kona base goes to, translating all our 4K resources into Korean so that the Korean community will want to use our stuff more, and doing more research to add to our Interactive Map.

One thing I’m proud to say I’ve been doing is sticking to a New Year’s resolution I made, which is to get out and do more fun things in my spare time.  By the time I came home for Christmas, I was really hating living in Hawaii.  This, I decided, was because I just wasn’t getting out enough.  I think when you live on an island, you need to make more of an effort to be more active, or else you suddenly feel very much like you’re stuck in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  So, like I said in my last update, I invested in a kayak!  And except for the weekend when I had a cold a few weeks ago, I’ve been going kayaking at the crack of dawn every Saturday morning.  I’ve always felt like it’s really hard to advertise the beauty of Hawaii when you’re supposed to be this “poor suffering missionary” in the eyes of others, but I just can’t play that card…I need exercise, I need fresh air, I need beauty…otherwise that desk chair every day becomes unbearable…  And it’s been so great, building up the muscles, seeing the wildlife.  I’ve gone snorkeling a few times, last week we were kayaking and saw whales from far away, and just this last Saturday, I was kayaking in the middle of dozens of dolphins!  It was glorious!

There are 3 things I’m praying about at the moment that I would love if you could join me in those prayers:

1.) Continued prayers for the school, and for STUDENTS!  We’re so excited about this school, it’s going to be awesome in terms of its content…we just want  more people!

2.) I’m very seriously praying about doing a 3-month School of Biblical Studies next September.  I haven’t decided where yet, but I have decided that my time will just keep filling up after this year, especially if we do more courses, so this may be my best shot to take a course that dives deep into the Bible.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I feel like my knowledge of the Word is so elementary compared to where it should be…I feel like it’s an investment I need to make as someone who wants to be in long-term ministry.  Please pray that the time AND the finances would be released to me…it’s not only a challenge to raise the money for the school, but I’d have to decide what to do about my place…I’d really need someone to rent it out from me for the 3 months if I wanted to keep it.

Thanks so much for keeping up with my life, and I just pray that the Lord would bless you so amazingly in this season He has you in!  Until next month (when I hope that I can update you on the final stages of preparing for our School!).