As COVID-19 narrows the panorama of my life here in Kemantian, I’ve had more time to listen. All through the night, as the cats caterwaul, the percussive sounds of falling mahogany seed pods hitting the ground or the roof sometimes interrupt my sleep. The skittering of tiny lizard feet on the ceiling over my head assures me I’m not alone. Long before dawn, the crowing of roosters begins. Then, at first light, the cuckoo clock encourages me to get up. As I pray, I hear the chirping of birds and the persistent twang of cicadas indicating it will be another hot day in the jungle. Soon I hear the creaking of the gate as someone comes to get water or take a bath, chatting with a companion. The rhythmic chink-chink of an enkap (wooden sheath for a machete) slapping a thigh tells me that somebody is headed down the trail to their rice field.
As the sun comes out, the warming tin roof begins its staccato popping as it warms. I hear the blare of a radio in the distance and people hollering from one house to another, making plans for the day. “It is so hot! Let’s go to the river.” And I pray.
The ringing of the phone interrupts my thoughts, but I’m happy to talk with my husband who is in lockdown in Brooke’s Point. He tells me what is going on in the world, and I tell him what is going on in the mountains. Then we pray for each other’s day. Before too long I hear, “Mimi, menungang meriklem. Kediyari limbesan ku teteyan mu?” (“Mimi [a number of my grandchildren call me this], good morning. May I borrow your toilet please?”) I invite five-year-old Liam in, and he rushes to use the bathroom and get a hug. I feel loved.
On my way up the trail later, I hear, “Menungang meriklem, Pastor. Embe ke?” (“Good morning Pastor. Where are you going?”) As I ask after the health of my two elderly uncles, sometimes they grin and say they are doing fine. Other times they seem sad, and I listen as they tell me what ails them. I wonder what I can do to ease their discomforts. I feel needed.
Throughout the day, requests come in for help or information, mainly from my staff. Later I hear little Pibiki say, “Minan, ituwe dimu,” (“Auntie, this is for you,”) as she hands me a home-cooked native delicacy sent by her mother. I feel valued.
As evening approaches, the tegnek (mosquitos) squee their excitement at finding my blood as I chat over the fence with people returning home from their fields. When my daughter Jilin comes to visit, two-year-old Xander squeals, “MIMI!” And four-year-old Lanie grins and wriggles from head to toe. I feel adored.
Due to the lockdown, instead of daily classes we prepare materials for our students to do at home. Meetings with churches and their leadership and all the scheduled revival meetings have been postponed. All small groups and home visitations have ceased. This is a slower time at the clinic anyway, as it is rice-planting season, and people are too busy to get sick. We have also had more time to do physical labor as a team, which has helped us get more exercise and mitigate the stress of all the changes. We thank the Lord for the extra time He has given us to finish projects.
When the lockdown began, we were in the midst of 40 days of prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on ourselves and on each of our churches, as we prepared for six back-to-back revivals. When the lockdown hit, we determined to continue praying daily for the Holy Spirit. And with the extra time the Lord has given us, we have had more time to listen to His voice. With no church to attend each Sabbath, we have been using Sabbaths as days of solitude—something very rare for a missionary, especially on Sabbath! At first, our team of missionaries still met for worship Friday and Sabbath evenings. When it was suggested that Sabbaths be days of solitude, several of my staff groaned. A whole day alone? But that Sabbath evening after a day alone, when I asked them how it had been, a number of them said, “It was actually really good. I think it helps that we are especially tired from all the physical labor we have been doing during the week.” As one Sabbath rolls into another, we are finding that solitude is a gift we need to learn how to accept and value. For my personality, solitude is a welcome relief. For other personalities, it is hard to be alone for hours on end. But I believe these times are a gift from the Holy Spirit. It is in quietness and stillness that He speaks, and that I listen best.
I find that as my schedule has slowed down, I’m more aware of His still, small voice. I’m more aware of people when I see them; more inclined to sit and chat—from a social distance, of course! I’m finding contentment in solitude and quietness, losing the need to fill the void with artificial sound. I’m learning to fill the moments of disquiet (what was that sound in the night?) with prayer for peace instead of fear; perfect love instead of terror. I’m praying that I will be more aware of what the Spirit is doing. I’m praying for better ears to hear what He is telling me.