The Detour

I watched as the doctor’s assistant opened the packaging containing the instruments, neatly laying them out in a row.

Veronica, the woman from the radiology department, had just arrived and was standing to my left. She was making conversation to take our minds off the procedure Cindy was about to undergo, asking about our work and work environment.

Nervously, I asked if we could pray before they started. You could have heard the proverbial pin drop. The doctor regained his balance and agreed, bowing his head in what seemed mock reverence. When I finished with an amen, he added a hearty “so be it.” I wondered if he or his two assistants had ever prayed before.

Opening a small white tube, the doctor applied a glob of gel and then began running the ultrasound wand back and forth while watching the image on the screen to his left. Now and then, he would stop and say something in medicalese to the nurse standing on the other side of the table. I was watching the screen. There was a small round mass the doctor kept returning to. I heard him tell the nurse it was about two or three centimeters in size. Then I watched as he inserted the biopsy needle, guided by the image on screen, into the center of it. There was a loud click, and in an instant he had pulled the needle out and turned towards Veronica, who had stepped up with a small container. He placed a tiny, white strip of tissue, about a sixteenth of an inch wide and an inch and a half inch long, into the container. Veronica capped it and carried it out of the room.

What we had planned as a 10-day sabbatical had turned into a nightmare.

Originally, our itinerary was Balimo, Port Moresby and Cairns, Australia. Our plan was to go “down under” for a short break and price out—maybe even purchase—a portable sawmill for the project. Sawmills in Port Moresby sell for nearly eight times more than we have raised so far (a big thank-you to all who contributed!) We were hoping to find a cheaper, used sawmill and avoid import duty. Cairns is a vacation spot. The weather is usually sunny, and the scenery is glorious. It’s also the closest “first-world” port to PNG, offering all the amenities you’d expect to find in the West.

After we arrived in Cairns and settled into our rented flat, I began making calls to locate a sawmill while Cindy began shopping for things we couldn’t find in PNG and making a doctor’s appointment for herself. She had found a lump in her right breast a couple months earlier and wanted it checked out.

An Australian pastor I had met the year before had given me the phone number of the owner of the largest Australian-owned portable sawmill distributor in PNG. The pastor said I would get a better deal if I mentioned his name, so I referred to him about two minutes into the call. There was several seconds of silence on the other end, and then a noticeable chill in his voice. He become abrupt and even refused to talk to me about a sawmill, saying if I wanted one I had to purchase it in Port Moresby or not at all. So much for a better deal!

The next morning was Cindy’s doctor’s appointment. Cairns has a wonderful public transport system called Sunbus that dropped us off on the street corner nearest the clinic. Cindy was checked in quickly and then disappeared while I sat thumbing through a formidable stack of women’s magazines.

About an hour and a half later, she emerged with a stressed look on her face. They had taken a mammogram and immediately followed up with an ultrasound, and now they wanted to meet with us.

A half hour later, we met with a nice young doctor I’ll call Richard. Dr. Richard said they had spotted a suspicious lump and wanted to do an immediate biopsy. He said he would put an “urgent” on the lab work, and we should have the results soon.

The next morning, Dr. Richard told us it was a stage-two invasive carcinoma. He and others encouraged us to act fast, so I flew back to PNG on Friday to get more clothes and our savings, and to let our people in the village know what was happening while Cindy flew to the States. I caught up with her in northern Montana ten days later, and a week after that we set off for AFM’s headquarters in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where I volunteered as caretaker for AFM’s training center during Cindy’s medical treatment.

The last few weeks have been a blur as we’ve readjusted to a much cooler latitude, driving on the “other” side of the road and American English. It’s nice to be “home,” but our hearts are in the rural villages of our people, the Gogodala. Just days before we left for Australia, Cindy and I planted 15 coconuts, and Steve Erickson and I planted the pegs for a new house on a block of land given us last December. We have logs to be cut, a house to build and churches to disciple. This detour was not on our radar screen.

I’ve not wanted to write this article, fearing it will be misconstrued as a resignation and not what it is—an update on the project. Cindy’s prognosis is good. So far, the cancer is localized. Right now we’re working at getting her immune system into high gear before taking a next step, trusting the Lord to lead. I am not sure where this track will take us, but we’re committed to following Him. Steve Erickson and family will carry the responsibility for the Gogodala Project while we’re Stateside. Please keep them in your prayers.

I may not be writing AF articles as often as normal, so if you want to keep in the loop with our progress and plans, our email is

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