30 August, 2011

and speaking of MK's, here's a new one...

And she's only an hour old or so in this photo! Yes, our second child has finally been born. Heidi Lorraine Koens. She was born at 1:20 p.m. today at the birthing centre just a few miles from where we are here at Horsely's Green (England, for those who came in late). She weighed 7 lbs. 14 oz. and was 22 inches long. The delivery was long and difficult, but without complications, other than the fact that Heidi was facing the wrong direction. Her umbilical cord was wrapped twice around her neck, but as it was the longest umbilical cord the midwives had seen in a long time, (over 3 feet long), there was minimal danger to her on delivery.

I may talk more about this another day--right now I am beat and am going to bed.

23 August, 2011

For Those Who Came In Late...Part IV

"Okay, so what about your kids? How do you justify taking them overseas and effectively denying them the opportunities that other kids in your home countries have?"

Ah, good question. So far, we've got one little boy, Levi, and one baby due any day now, (we don't know if it's a boy or a girl yet). Children of missionaries are usually referred to as "MK's", (Missionary Kids). I know a lot about MK's, because I am one, (or "was one" if you prefer--though once you've got it, the MK title usually sticks with you for life, sort of like OBE, or Ph.D. "Andrew Koens, MK".)

Back to the question--let's examine what life is like for an MK. Naturally, what an MK gets out of his experiences depends largely on what he puts in to it and on what kind of person he is, (I hope you'll forgive me for not saying "his/her" or "he/she"--I have a limited amount of patience for that kind of silliness in writing, and I expect my readers will know what I mean). So!

Many PNG MK's will admit that they don't have access to the following:

--amusement parks,
--video game arcades,
--movie theaters/cinemas,
--sporting events,
--satellite TV,
--cheap high speed internet,
--fast food chains,
--the latest fashions in clothing and hairstyles,
--the latest music,
--a chance to get a paying job,
--fast cars/bikes,
--etc., the list could go on and on.

But most of those MK's will also tell you that they've never missed any of these things, (oh sure, you get the odd one who hates his life and is determined to be miserable), but as I've already said, what you get out of being an MK depends a lot on what you put in to being an MK. Besides the usual things that are common to all MK's around the world, like learning to eat strange food, learning to wear strange clothing or learning local language and customs back-to-front until they become second nature, most of the MK's I know in Ukarumpa are pretty creative in one way or another:

--some build their own go-carts from bits of broken motorcycles,
--others make their own clothing or jewelry,
--an extraordinary number of them are talented musicians.
--some write,
--some paint,
--some take advantage of the high school workshop to become decent carpenters or metal workers,
--some will participate in the weekly soccer game.
--some will get into rugby.
--some are pretty good photographers, (and PNG presents the skilled photographer with no end of interesting subject matter to shoot).
--Some PNG MK's will get ahold of some old car and will learn how to keep it running on next to no money.
--Many ride motorcycles, some will organise motorcycle trips to the cities of Lae, Madang, or Mt. Hagen (I've been involved in a number of these). Some get involved in local off-road motorcycle racing or trail riding.

(PNG MK Palmer B., out having fun on his bike)

--Some get into horse riding and will even get involved in small scale horsemanship competitions.
--There are opportunities for those who are interested in acting, (I've been in several community theater productions myself).
--there are several talent shows each year,
--the topography around Ukarumpa is good for paragliding, so some will get into that,
--many will come up with creative ways to make money like making ginger beer or rhubarb beer (non-alcoholic), baking cookies, running a small scale dairy, providing needed services like cleaning out water storage tanks or cleaning hot water system solar panels, car washes, babysitting or dog sitting, to name a few.
--some will travel out to a translator's language group and will help out with cooking or babysitting while the translators are busy teaching a course in the village
--many will learn a sense of responsibility quite early in their lives,
--most will develop meaningful and lasting relationships not only with Papua New Guineans, but also with their MK peers, who come to PNG from all over the world,
--most, after leaving PNG, are likely to travel to other parts of the world as time and money permit--the wanderlust never quite leaves them,
--many will end up with a deeper appreciation of their home countries; both for what those countries have to offer, and for the problems that face those countries.
--most will end up with a global world view, a better then average understanding and appreciation of different cultures and how cultures can impact relationships between people,
--and again, this list could go on and on.

This is not to suggest that an MK's home-country peers are in any way inferior, or are not capable of all the same things that an MK may be capable of. Far be it from me to suggest that. It's just MK's live so much of this stuff first hand. Their knowledge is based on life experience, and the nature of their lives often demands that they learn things that "normal" kids simply don't need to. The reverse is also true and there are lots of funny stories out there about MK's who went back to their home countries and couldn't figure out how to get a driver's license or open a bank account, as they'd just never had to do that before, or were used to doing that kind of thing in a very different way, (most end up landing on their feet, though).

The parents aren't left out, either. In addition to the many things I've learned about and from PNG and PNGians, I've also learned a ton of stuff about and from my fellow missionaries. Strange non-PNG food that I have learned to like are Vegemite (Australia), and salmiakki (Finland--though this one wasn't too big of a stretch for me because I already liked dutch dubbel zout), and pickled kumquats (China--okay, nobody taught me to like these--I found them in a local store and bought them on a whim--I loved 'em!). Some of my best friends now are Australians, Kiwis (New Zealanders for those who don't know), and Finns, (and of course, Papua New Guineans!). Over the years I have worked closely with Koreans, Germans, Dutch, Japanese, Swedes, and others and have gained an appreciation for each of their different approaches to the work we're all involved in.

So you see, I don't look at the mission field as a place that lacks opportunities for kids; I look at it as a place that offers a whole different set of opportunities. Speaking to my own experiences, I've never once regretted the fact that I grew up in Peru and didn't have the same opportunities my peers in the US had. I treasure the upbringing I had, and I wouldn't trade it for anything! As a kid, I loved being an MK.

And it's still true today, though slightly different--as a kid I loved experiencing a life that was different from anything my American peers were experiencing. As an adult, I love being involved in the work in PNG. Even though there are some aspects my job that frustrate me nearly to tears from time to time, I still plan to keep doing it for as long as we can. I look back on all the jobs I had before, and although I did love one or two of them, none of them can hold a candle to the one I have now. Yes, there are some things I would dearly love to change about my work, (for example, I'd love to have at least three guys doing my job, as there is more than enough work for three men), but the satisfaction of knowing that I am supporting something worthwhile, something of potentially eternal significance and not just fixing toys for people who have too much money, is priceless to me.

End of Part IV

17 August, 2011

For Those Who Came In Late...part III

"Okay," I hear you saying again, "now we know LOADS about YOU. What about the better half of this team? What about Clare?"

When Clare arrived in PNG in May of 2005, I had already been there for nearly 3.5 years. Clare came to PNG to teach in the Ukarumpa International School, Primary Campus. I met her in the first week that she was in Ukarumpa, and while I won't say that it was love at first sight, there did seem to be a mutual attraction from early on. Eventually (Dec. 2005-Jan. 2006) we started dating and in July of 2006 I had the opportunity to meet her parents in Australia. Once I obtained her parents' blessing, (which was important to me), I asked Clare to marry me. We were married in England in Feb. 2007.

(The happy couple in Feb. 2007)

Before we were married, Clare taught the year 2/second grade class. After we were married, she became the vice principal/deputy head of the primary campus. In early 2008 she became pregnant with our first child, Levi, who was born in November of that year. She continued to work at the school until early October, when we left for Australia, where Levi was born. I have already described the other reasons why earlier in this blog, (check the archives back in 2008), but after losing a couple of babies born in our clinic back in the 1980's--babies that would have been saved in countries where more health care options were available--our organisation made it a policy that expectant mothers were required to go to Australia or to their home countries to give birth.

Returning to PNG after Levi was born, I went back to work as usual (but with fewer late evenings at the shop) and Clare started doing part time school work from home during Levi's nap times and in the evenings. She specialised in researching and ordering supplies for the school through the internet. She also did short term teaching jobs, like teaching a beginning music class.

Clare continues to be active in the school, though less so now with an active toddler! She is involved in recruiting new teachers for the school from other countries.

(active toddler Levizilla, recently spotted rampaging through the small English village of Bekonscot...)

I am very thankful for my wife and family. Being single in Ukarumpa wasn't bad at all (most of the time), but I am glad that part of my life is behind me now. Clare capably handles all the things that I find tiresome about the missionary life, like finances, travel arrangements, and--while on furlough--speaking engagements, and she does it happily.

(Clare happy in Ukarumpa)

End of Part III

12 August, 2011

For Those Who Came In Late... Part II

"Okay great," I hear you say, "so now we have some idea of how you got to where you are, but we're still fuzzy on what you actually DO. From your blog it looks like you just live in the middle of nowhere and play around big army trucks and build motorcycles." (Hopefully my blog is a little more informative than that.)

But the question is a good one. What do we do in Ukarumpa, and why do we do it?

In simplest terms, I fix machines, primarily machines used by people who are translating the Bible in Papua New Guinea. There is a lot of Bible translation work to be done in Papua New Guinea Out of around 800 seperate languages on the Papua New Guinea side of the island, (yes, around 800, I don't think that anyone knows the exact number, as a lot of language survey work is still being done), anyway, out of those 800, there are some which will very likely never have the Bible in their own language, as they are dying out for various reasons. I could be wrong, but I think that translation work is currently being done in about 200 languages (by Wycliffe and other organisations combined), and there are still at least 300 languages where no translation work has even started yet.

Once upon a time, Bible translators working in remote locations needed very few machines. Usually all they needed was a way to get out to the place where they were working, and it usually took them 20-30 years to translate the New Testament. In many places, translators were (and still are) responsible for keeping local airstrips open, which mean that large, heavy duty lawnmowers were needed. In some countries, translators got involved in community development projects, (at the request of the people they were working with and with the blessing of the local government), and so other machines were needed, like pumps, chainsaws, small tractors, etc. Sometimes, a translator would come into an area where the people already had a few machines, and would often help the people to keep them running, (that is to say, he would ask people like me to come help him to keep them running!).

Then in the 1980's, computers came along and greatly sped up the work. Now, instead of writing all the information out on 3"x5" cards and keeping it all in shoe boxes, information could be stored on discs and accessed quickly and easily. At first, computers were kept in central locations within the countries where translators worked, as they were too fragile to travel into remote areas and too difficult to keep running in areas that had no electricity.

As time went on, computers became smaller and more portable and translators began to carry computers with them out to their language areas. Naturally, as there was no electricity to be had in many of these areas, small generators were needed. When utility ATV's were invented in the late 1980's, some translators started using them to get around on the trails in the rugged, roadless terrain where they were working. Some translators had already been using dirtbikes to get around, (I know one translator in PNG--recently retired--who wore out several bikes in the 50 years that he worked in PNG, starting with BSA and Matchless bikes before he got his first Honda in the early 1970's). All of these machines greatly sped up the work of Bible translation; the time it took to translate the New Testament was virtually cut in half.

But unfortunately, these machines also all required maintenance and repairs from time to time. And unfortunately for them, most translators are not good mechanics. Some of them are, but most of them have devoted their efforts to being good translators, (which requires a good chunk of brain wattage, by the way), and simply don't have the time to be constantly fiddling with broken machines.

So that's where I come in. Joe Translator brings his broken or ailing machines to me, (or he transports me to his language area by road, air, or sea), and I do what is needed to keep everything running.

(a big Honda engine off of a large, heavy duty airstrip mower all apart on one of my workbenches. This one died from improper maintenance, but I was able to rebuild it. It worked well for several more years after this photo was taken.)

The obvious question that you should be asking right about now is: "why are YOU needed? Why can't JT just bring his machines to a local mechanic?" And that is a very logical question. The simple fact of the matter is that, in PNG anyway, there are very few good mechanics. It's not uncommon to see machines that are only a few years old already dead and decayed because nobody knew how to fix them. Good mechanics are few and far between in Papua New Guinea, and replacement parts for any machine are also very hard to come by.

So my job now becomes a little more complex than simply removing broken parts and installing new ones. I may find myself working on a Japanese motorcycle one day, a chinese throw-away generator the next day, a heavy duty German diesel engine on a pump the next day, an antique British diesel generator the next, a Swedish chainsaw later that day, an Indian copy of something British a week later, a Turkish or Egyptian copy of a Japanese generator after that, etc. You just never know what is going to get dragged into my shop, and getting parts for them can be a real challenge. Thankfully, we have decent internet access in Ukarumpa, so I am able to find a lot of things online. We have contacts in the US and in Australia who are able to buy parts on our behalf and ship them to us, which makes life a lot easier than it could be.

Sorry, I guess maybe I'm rambling a bit--I like my job and I like the unique challenges it presents me with (most of the time!) and it's easy for me to get lost in the minutiae when talking about it.

(in Bougainville with a translator and his at-that-time-future-son-in-law. We are figuring out why there was suddenly smoke rolling out from under the hood and are rigging up a new wire to replace a burned one.)

End of Part II.

11 August, 2011

For Those Who Came In Late... Part I

Every now and then I find it beneficial to remind people who we are and what we are doing. This is especially true while we are on furlough and more people are visiting my blog!

To borrow a phrase from the old Phantom comic strip whenever the writer wanted to remind people of Phantom's history: For Those Who Came In Late...

My name is easily found here on this blog, so we won't waste time on that.

I first felt called into missions when I was 10 years old. At that time, my parents had just moved the family to Peru, where my Dad was working as an aircraft mechanic for a small missions organisation based in Florida and working exclusively in South America. At that time, I knew that I wanted to use whatever God had given me in the same way that my Dad was doing, supporting missions in a very practical way.

As time went on, I discovered that I, too was mechanically inclined, as they say, and I eventually became a motorcycle and small engines mechanic, though I was never afraid to work on any other machine when I needed to. In high school, still in Peru, I learned how to use a lathe, how to weld, how to design and build my own parts from scratch when necessary, sometimes making changes along the way in an effort to make a machine work better for a specific purpose.

(me, my friend Richard, my brother Peter, Peru, 1990)

After high school, I returned to the US with a plan to get whatever schooling I needed to get as fast as I could in order to return to Peru within 4 years tops. Through the generosity of a family friend, I was able to attend a year of Bible school, but my grades weren't the best, and my very kind, very generous friend very justly decided that her money was not being invested wisely and decided not to help me anymore.

I left school and went through a period where I drifted from job to job, apparently aimlessly. In the back of my mind, I still had a burning desire to get back into missions and to use my skills to support the work of other missionaries. I even knew that I wanted to work for Wycliffe Bible Translators, as the goal of translating the Bible was one that I could support without reservation. But I wasn't sure how to get the training I needed, and I wasn't even sure what kind of needs there were. I remembered mechanics in Peru who were good at fixing everything, working on a 4x4 one day and a refrigerator the next, but I had no idea where to go to get general Mr. Fixit training.

I began to despair. I began to believe that I would never get the chance to go back to the mission field, and that the Lord must have some other life for me, something undoubtedly humdrum and boring. I knew that I could get a loan for school if I needed it, (and I would have), but I just didn't know where to begin, and I was very much opposed to being in debt.

In the meantime, I was drifting from job to job; I had a 40 mile rural paper route, I worked in a nursing home doing linens-type laundry and waxing and buffing floors, I worked in construction for a brick mason, I worked in a small print shop, I worked in a huge warehouse, and finally I got a job at a motorcycle shop where I had been trying for years to get in. During all this drifting time, I did the odd motorcycle or car repair job on the side, while also repairing and maintaining my own old clunkers, (I used to brag that I had never spent more than $400 on a car). What I didn't realise was that I was slowly getting the education I had been looking for.

About a year after I got on at the motorcycle shop, I attended a Wycliffe Associates Banquet with my brother and a friend of ours. We were all interested in missions, but at this point in my life, I had resigned myself to the apparent fact that I would never be a missionary myself and had started to ask God to give me a "pet" missionary to support, one who was doing the kind of work I wanted to do so badly. At the time, I was 24, maybe 25 years old.

While we were seated at our table, my brother noticed a piece of paper laying out that had a list of job that Wycliffe was looking for people to fill. "Hey, look at this," he said to me, "they need motorcycle mechanics." "Yeah, right!" I said. I didn't believe him, I thought he was just messing around with me. "No, really," he insisted, "Look!" So I looked and sure enough, "motorcycle mechanic" was on the list.

I could hardly wait for the banquet speaker to finish his presentation. As soon as it looked like he was done, I got up and made a bee-line for him, and asked him what I had to do to get into Wycliffe. He agreed to send me a preliminary questionnaire, and the rest, as they say, is history, though it took me a few more years of applications, training, etc., before I was actually assigned to PNG.

End of part I

(Andrew in PNG, the early years!)