Thursday, February 27, 2020

The best part of that meal—of the whole day, of the whole year!

Our new friend David Hockett told us, “Lunch is ready for you in the dining hall. I’ll drive you up.”

He loaded us into the Nissan and drove up and down and around the grassy hills of Lomalinda. Loma means hill, and linda means pretty—“pretty hill” in Spanish. For a reason only God knows, when He created the earth He raised up clusters of rounded masses on that parcel of land surrounded by the llanos—open expanses of steamy rolling grasslands, an infinite emerald green capped with an unbounded royal blue sky.

Low hollows between hills held swampy jungle—palms and other trees, and, in their shadows, ferns, philodendrons, vines, shrubs, and grasses. Our new home sat nestled in a blue and green world.

In low gear, the Nissan strained up a long, winding, steep hill in the middle of the mission center. Once on top, David pointed out the features of Loma One. “That’s the Children’s Home, where Bible translators’ children live for a few weeks at a time when their parents work in tribal locations.

“And over there,” he pointed to a small blue building across from the Children’s Home, “is the commissary, our store.”

David turned toward a building beside the commissary. “Here’s the dining hall,” he said, pulling to a stop in front of a low, white building with screened windows.

The dining hall. Howie Bowman photo.
He led us inside, where people sat eating at long tables covered with white grease cloth. The staff had expected us, thanks to someone’s foresight, so we found places set for us. Lunch included spaghetti (we’d tasted better), fruit, plain white bread with margarine, and a sugary drink. We were thankful for it—we were hungry.

The best part of that meal, the best part of the whole day, of the whole year, happened when David Hockett introduced us to. . . .

But wait! Before I can tell you the rest, I need to backtrack to the beginning of this new phase in our lives and tell you how my heart broke into a million pieces when Dave and I left Seattle with our kids, separating them from their grandparents and aunts and uncles.

Let me take you back to Chapter 1, and tell you how it all started:

My husband, Dave, had burst through the front door of our Seattle-area home and, with a boyish grin and outstretched arms, announced, “We’re moving to Lomalinda! I’m going to teach there!”

A few seconds passed before I could wheeze in enough air to speak. “Where is Lomalinda?”

“Colombia, South America!”

I collapsed to the floor.

I’d always expected we’d live a normal, predictable, all-American life but, without warning, my husband declared he had other ideas.

As the youth director for our church, Dave had taken college kids to a Wycliffe Bible Translators’ event hoping some would consider missions work.

The meeting failed to persuade any of his young people but, when Dave learned Wycliffe needed teachers for their missionaries’ kids in Lomalinda, he was hooked. He wanted to move the four of us, including our preschoolers, Matt and Karen, to a dinky outpost in the middle of nowhere. (from Chapter 1, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir)

C’mon back next week because I have so much more to tell you.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Surprise! In out-of-the-way South America, a bit of home had arrived ahead of me

We were about to walk into what would become our home. Right then it looked like only a house, not a home. But I was more than eager to nest—to create a loving, secure home for the four of us.

Smiling, David Hockett ushered us out from under the withering noontime sun and into the wide, screened-in porch. He unlocked the back door and we stepped inside.

I don't know which impressed me most at first—the refreshing coolness or how nice the house was. This was no mud hut with a dirt floor! We had stepped into a regular house. It was far from elegant but also far from meager. Built of local reddish brick inside and out, it had a corrugated concrete-asbestos roof and ceramic tile floors, blessedly cool underfoot.

The U-shaped kitchen offered adequate cupboard space, the wooden cabinets painted blue with knobs and drawer pulls like those in the States, and Formica countertops. It had a small four-burner gas range, a stainless-steel sink sporting a Sears symbol, and a refrigerator with a Frigidaire emblem. A window above the sink looked toward the softball field below our yard.

And we’d have lights! During our months of preparation in the States, I wondered if we’d have to read by candlelight at night but, David told us, a central generator supplied electricity. And wells gave us safe drinking water. This place was turning out much better than I had let myself hope.

Two handmade, straight-backed (!) seats, each three feet wide, sat against two walls of a small living room. Made of plywood with gold-striped upholstered foam pads, they were far from attractive but I was glad they matched. We’d soon learn they were not the kind you could sink into—in fact, they were most uncomfortable—but at least we had furniture. Between them stood a small round end table with a golden-yellow ruffled tablecloth.

Grandma reading to Matt when she visited us
Beyond the living room, we stepped into a bodega, a storage room, which the former occupants had used as a study with a desk and shelves. The house had three bedrooms, each furnished with a bed. The bathroom had all we needed—a toilet, sink, and a cement enclosure with a shower head on the wall.

Windows on the west and south sides of the house were only screen-covered openings, but those on the east and north sides had screens over louvered glass because, we’d soon learn, storms came from that direction, and we had to close our windows to keep out driving rain.

It was a modest home, and it was small, but it was a pleasant surprise.

But another surprise awaited me. I spotted a telephone fastened to the wall, the old-fashioned, heavy, black kind from the 1950s.

When David Hockett noticed my interest in it, he explained it would connect us with homes and offices in Lomalinda, but we had no access to anyone outside. At least we could communicate with each other, which was more than I expected.

I stepped closer. The round sticker in the middle of the phone’s dial, where the phone number goes, said EM-4 followed by four-digits—and I squealed. “That’s a Seattle number! Emerson! From our neighborhood!” I knew lots of people with Emerson numbers.

David’s eyes lit up. “Right. Pacific Northwest Bell in Seattle donated our phones.”

What?! My dad has worked there as an artist for more than twenty years. And I worked at PNB summers during high school.” 

I giggled. 
A little bit of home had arrived ahead of me.

P.S. Some forty years later, I learned that my former high school classmate, Jody Burchinal Sherin, had married a young man whose department at Pacific Northwest Bell sent those phones to Lomalinda. What a small, delightful world.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

“Welcome home!” Home?

“I see it!” Laura, our traveling companion and new co-worker, had spent the summer in Bogotá studying Spanish and was eager to return home to the mission center, Lomalinda.

Her husband Loren said he could see Lomalinda, too, but I couldn’t—the plains below looked the same as the scenery we’d flown over for twenty minutes. “Look for a crescent-shaped lake,” he said. But I still couldn’t see it so I handed him my camera and asked him to snap a picture as we approached.

A couple minutes later, I spotted that lake and, as we flew closer, sure enough, I detected tiny buildings below.

My heart raced. 
After a month of living out of suitcases, 
we could see our family’s destination, Lomalinda, 
a mile and a half square, a dot in the wide-open plains.

Our pilot, Ron, set the Evangel down, taxied to a small hangar, and cut the engines. When we stepped out, hot, humid air pressed against us. But it was clean. We would no longer suffer from Bogotá’s exhaust-filled, chest-burning, eye-stinging air. Lomalinda’s people breathed some of the purest in the world.

A crowd gathered at the hangar gave us a welcome as enthusiastic as the one we’d received in Bogotá. A lady stepped toward us, smiled, and introduced herself as Karen McIntosh, our pilot’s wife. She said she and Ron would “Big Brother” and “Big Sister” us for the first few days to help us settle.

Priscilla Bartram, the school principal and Dave’s new boss, also welcomed us. After a short visit, Pris, a large gray-haired woman, hopped on her red Honda 90 and puttered away. The sight struck me as amusing—a woman of her age and stature, who held such a respected position, wearing a cotton flowered dress, tootling off on a red motorbike. I snapped a picture.

By then the men had unloaded our luggage, and I couldn’t help but notice we no longer had to carry out our baggage-guarding ritual. We had landed in a safe place. I breathed easy.

A man stepped over—a man with kind blue eyes and a quick smile—and introduced himself as David Hockett. He loaded our bags into a Jeep-type vehicle people called “the Nissan,” a name unfamiliar to us. We climbed in, and our new friend steered the Nissan slowly over lumpy one-lane dirt tracks, up, down, and around thick green shoulders of hills, steamy in the tropical heat.

David brought us to a stop in front of a low brick house. “Welcome home!” he grinned. (from Chapter 6, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir).

Welcome home, he had said. Welcome home.

That house: Home? It looked like no house I’d seen before, but I did recognize it as one—a rectangular building with four walls, a roof, a few windows, and a big screened-in porch at one end. For months I’d worried that we might have to live in a hut with a dirt floor, but that house looked like it probably had a real floor. I felt a jolt of hope.

Still, I hesitated to think of it as home.

But what is a home?

“A house is walls, doors, a roof and floors. A home is harder to define. It’s a place where our experiences find life. A place soaked in meaning. Home is the experience that happens in the house.” (Marilyn R. Gardner, Communicating Across Boundaries)

I thought of the homes Dave and the kids and I had lived in, and my parents’ home, and Dave’s parents’ home. Those were real homes.

It occurs to me now that besides a home that’s framed within four walls, there’s also a home community, a home culture. I suppose such a home is an idea, a feeling—a feeling of understanding the culture (no matter how informal or personal), a sense of understanding people around me and being understood by them, a feeling of fitting in with the routines and rhythms, a feeling of comfortable, settled belonging.

When I first landed in Lomalinda, my idea of home was north of Seattle, near Richmond Beach and the Edmonds ferry dock, a community of family and friends who knew and loved me. It was a familiar church and grocery store and gas station. It was the Seattle Times newspaper, KOMO radio, KING TV, the Space Needle. It was the Sonics and the Mariners. Home was two breathtaking mountain ranges, the Cascades and the Olympics, and two glorious bodies of water: Puget Sound and Lake Washington.

But in Lomalinda, all of that was missing. The people we’d met were so very nice, but they were strangers. They couldn’t know me or understand me, and they certainly didn’t love me. I didn’t know their culture, I didn’t instinctively know their routines and rhythms. The temperature was hot and thick and steamy, so different from what I knew in Seattle. Instead of driving on paved roads, in Lomalinda we’d walk single-lane dirt tracks. The soil was a different color, the vehicles and trees and shrubs and flowers and even the air—all were different from any place I’d ever called home.

They say, “Home is where the heart is.” That aptly described me when I got a first glimpse of the house assigned to us. House, not home. Home was where my heart was, and it wasn't in Lomalinda.

I would have to reorient my thinking about what a home was or where home was. I would have to leave behind the feeling we were not at home and, instead, transition into feeling we were home. 

And, by the grace of God,
I felt a strong instinct to build a nest, to pull my little family together
in a safe, happy place all our own.
I felt compelled to make that low brick building
into our home, though at that time, on day one,
I had no idea how challenging that would be.
It would prove to be a tall order
for a young lady who had just turned twenty-nine.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

“Push your feet against mine when we take off. You’ll need to brace yourself.”

It was time to board the Evangel. Back then, as newcomers, we didn’t know of its fame and capabilities. Neither did we know that Ron was renowned as a pilot and, together with the plane, he was the stuff of legends.

While Dave and the Rush guys, Loren and Doug, hauled our bags to the tarmac, Laura and I performed our guard ritual until all the luggage sat on the ground next to the plane.

Beside it, under the wing, stood Karen and Matt, who had a firm grip on his Winnie the Pooh. I snapped a picture.

We watched Ron weigh each piece of luggage and push it into place in the little twin-engine, strapping the load securely. He asked us our weight, recorded it in his paperwork, and suggested Dave sit in the co-pilot’s seat.

Ron helped the rest of us climb into the cargo-passenger section where we strapped ourselves onto free-standing, hand-made, padded, square seats, sitting sideways with our backs against the fuselage, facing one another.

Ron climbed into the pilot’s seat, started the engines, checked the plane’s functions, contacted the tower, and taxied the small aircraft onto the runway, revving the engines.

Ron on the right
Sitting opposite me, Loren hollered above the roar, “Push your feet against mine when we take off. You’ll need to brace yourself.”

In one throbbing, thunderous minute, we were on our way to Lomalinda, twenty-five minutes away. Ron flew low above the llanos, one of the world’s most lush tropical grasslands, an immense savanna in the Orinoco River basin.

Except for several white houses with red tile roofs, everything below was green—light green grassy hills and what looked like broccoli: dark green tropical trees crowded along streams or in swampy areas.

Our flight took us over grazing cattle, an occasional campesino (small farm), buildings gray from age and weather, and cattle paths and dirt roads like curly orange ribbons.

“Look down there,” Loren pointed, “that’s the Ariari River. That means we’ll be in Lomalinda in a few minutes. Get your camera ready!”

I held my breath, my mind a-jumble, my heart pounding in my ears. We would soon glimpse our new home, that vague, hazy, foreign place we’d wondered about for a year and a half. (From Chapter 5, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir)

Noticing the good stuff, finding the joy

I began to notice more good stuff going on in Lomalinda .     God was offeri ng me new opportunities. He was offering me a new perspectiv...