This is our last and final week here at MTI as we complete our language acquisition training. Because this is our last week here, this past weekend was also our last weekend in this 5-week program. So, as a family, we capped off the weekend with a leisurely drive up to Pikes Peak. We had ourselves quite an adventure. Let's just say the road was not quite ready to be driven on yet. As we approached the 12,000 ft point they had just opened up the gate to go up to the summit. Unbeknownst to us, an industrial sized snow plow was coming down toward us on a small two-lane road. As we passed the plow, we suddenly found ourselves facing a sheet of ice on a steep road leading to the summit. We had no choice but to turn around and make our way back down the mountain. Making a U-turn 12,000 feet up in the air on a narrow road with no guard rails made for interesting conversation in our van. Needless to say, we made it down the mountain safe, perhaps a little jittery, but eventually made our way home with no problems. We've resigned to the fact that God gave us a brief glimpse of the adventure that we will likely face while on the mission field.
This week at PILAT, we will continue to learn more language learning methods, how to shape our mouth, twist our tongue, and position our lips to learn new and foreign sounds. Marcella and I will continue to learn more Russian (apparently the closest thing to Albanian they have to offer here). But, we are more excited about learning Albanian soon. In the meantime, please continue to pray that we grasp these new language learning methods and that God gives us the stamina and energy to continue along in this program.
Perestroika and glasnost. These are the only two Russian words I knew when my Russian language learner asked me today if I knew any Russian words. I remember the days when Russia was going through a huge change back in the late 80s/early 90s as it transitioned from Communism to Democracy. My instructor told me she remembered those days too and reminded me that perestroika means "democracy" and glasnost means "free speech" and were the words most often chanted just prior to the fall of communism. What a blessing it was to meet a young woman who survived the oppressive life of communism and is now a born-again Christian helping teach missionaries to become better equipped for the mission field.
We learned a little bit of the Russian language today, not to learn the language itself, but to obtain methods of language learning. In most part, the methods that we are being introduced to are helpful. The method is quite different from what we are all used to in a classroom setting during our high school years. In the classroom, we were forced to learn from a teacher and only memorize what we needed in order to pass a test and receive a grade. In language acquisition, the learner takes control of the learning style and is not so much focused on pronunciation, definition or grammar, but comprehension. In other words, first start out by obtaining a general understanding of what word is associated with a person, place, or thing; and worry about the details later.
Aside from Russian, we received a primer in Pidgin, the native language of Papua New Guinea and other south Pacific islands. This again, was to help us understand how to engage a national or language helper in obtaining some basic language from them. Pidgin was fun, and it sounded much like how the character, Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars talks. Here's a sample: "Orait, mi lukim yu bihain. Gude". In English: "Alright, me look at you behind. Good day". No, this is not some cheesy come on, but the Pidgin way of saying "I'll see ya later. Good day." Thus, you are seeing "behind" the person as he/she departs from you.
We look forward to learning more Russian tomorrow and perhaps a little more Jeh and Pidgin too. Who knows? Everyday has something new in store for us. Gude.
Today was our first full day at our new 2-week program here at MTI called, "Program In Language Acquisition Techniques", otherwise known as PILAT. Already we are being taught how to make new sounds and noises with our mouths that we did not know we were capable of making. We're learning such technical terms as: bilabial and velar fricatives, aspirated and unaspirated stops, glottal stops, and nasal consonants. We're learning how to make sounds with and without our voiceboxes; and other noises only through our noses. We use tiny little mirrors to look at our mouths and see how our tongues are curled and lips are positioned. We also use paper aspiration meters to determine how much breath comes out of our mouths for certain sounds. One coach called all of this "calisthenics for the mouth" as we stretch our lips, mouth, tongue, and jaw.
All of this is in preparation for learning a second language. We found out the English language has 44 sounds, while some other languages, such as Albanian, use slightly more sounds; sounds that are completely foreign to us. The discovery of these new sounds and how to create them will help us become better equipped to learn the Albanian language. We look forward to what the rest of PILAT has to offer as we continue to be introduced to new sounds and new learning methods for acquiring a second language. Please continue to keep us in prayer as we are being challenged each day in learning more about cross-cultural ministry and language learning.
Today was more or less the last day of our SPLICE training program. Tomorrow morning we say our final goodbyes to the community of believers that we have shared our lives with for the past three weeks. Then, everyone will depart and go their separate ways. However, our family will be one of two who will remain behind at MTI for our next training course, PILAT (Language Acquisition).
Today was perhaps the hardest day for me (Greg) personally. We had to write down the names of people and memories that we will be saying goodbye to before leaving for the mission field. Suddenly, I found myself overwhelmed with a wave of emotions that I could not contain as I looked back over the past 10 years at our home in Euless, TX. This was the home that our newborn babies came home to from the hospital. This is the home that all of our kids have grown up in, had numerous family movie nights, wrestling matches, birthday parties, and sleepovers in. This same house comes complete with measuring marks etched upon an obscure doorframe each year our kids grew an inch taller. Yes, we will be leaving behind some close friends and family, but there are a lot of good memories that I will forever miss. I will miss the Saturday mornings for the past 10 years I have taken my kids to go get donuts and drive to the airport to watch airplanes take off. I will miss the bike rides up and down our street and on our driveway with the kids. I will miss the countless hours spent in our backyard swimming pool during the long and hot Texas summers. I will miss playing catch and swinging the bat on our frontyard lawn with my kids. I will miss taking my kids to school just around the corner and picking them up each day. This not to mention 10 Christmases, 10 Thanksgivings, and 10 Easter Sundays spent in our home.
I know there will be new memories made in Albania along with new family traditions. But, thinking back at the past memories will never be replaced, instead will forever become the very fabric of my being. I look forward to the new adventures, the new vacations, and our new home in Albania along with the joys and hurts we will all experience. I'm sure there will be new etchings upon another obscure door in our new home as our kids enter into their teens. There will be more sleepovers, more bike riding, and more opportunities to not only play catch with my kids, but kids from our new neighborhood. I look forward to this new chapter in my life, but I know I will occasionally take a peek at the previous chapters of my life spent in a little white house in Euless, Texas.
As we wind down our last week of SPLICE, we look back at the past few days and the issues that were covered relevant to the mission field. On Monday, we covered the topic of moral purity and the importance of maintaining it. Missionaries are not immune from falling into immoral activities, relationships, and sin. Therefore, remaining in God's Word, prayer and accountability is imperative. On Tuesday, we talked about grief and loss. Our instructor gave all of us an opportunity to revisit past hurts and losses to properly grieve what we may have not finished grieving. A lot of people expressed their hurts to one another, but more importantly to God in the form of laments. A lot of healing was accomplished on this day, and as a result, a renewed passion and vigor for God and for serving on the mission field. Today, we talked about the exploits of being a Missionary Kid (MK) and Third Culture Kid (TCK). A panel of former MKs and TCKs were present to address questions and issues relating to these special and unique kids.
Over the past few weeks we broke into small groups and talked about certain issues close to our hearts. Yesterday, we addressed our strengths and weaknesses to one another. And today, we topped off the time together by encouraging and praying for one another.
Tomorrow we begin to wrap up things and say our goodbyes. Just as we got to know one another in this wonderful little community, we suddenly find ourselves saying goodbye and parting ways. Parting ways physically perhaps, but certainly not in spirit. I am preparing myself for some tears to be shed and hugs to be shared. And I know some day, we will all meet again as we reverently bow before our Holy God and singing praises to our King!
As we wrap up the weekend and gear up for the last week ahead of our SPLICE program we wish to recap the past week. We learned about the different styles of conflict resolution and how each one us can be classified into one of the following groups: Sharks, Turtles, Foxes, Teddy Bears, and Owls. Greg is first a Turtle and his secondary is a Shark. Marcella is a first an Owl followed by a Fox as her secondary.
We also learned about Stress Management and discovered how we each deal with stress. We went through a simulation involving: hostage taking, sirens, bombs, and mock executions.
We also learned the importance of keeping the Sabbath rest, especially while on the mission field. Even Jesus set aside moments to be alone and rest, and so should we.
We also learned about the different stages of transition to the mission field. We first begin feeling SETTLED at home as we raised support. Then, we leave home and feel UNSETTLED. We will then likely face some CHAOS on the field, but know that God will get us through it and will transition to a sense of UNSETTLED once again before finally getting SETTLED in our new home and lifestyle in Albania.
Lastly, we learned more about stress and pinpointed what our stressors are in life, how to gauge these stresses, and what helps us relieve stress. Stressors and relief is different for everyone. For relief Greg likes a good book while Marcella likes a good bit of chocolate!
Our family got away from MTI this weekend and spent our Saturday visiting the Royal Gorge Bridge. What a magnificent sight. The bridge showed the wonders of man's design, but it was overshadowed by God's creation all around us. On Sunday, we took a short hike up into the low hills of the area and enjoyed a family devotional, reading of Scripture, prayer time, and reflection. This was followed by lunch and a Sunday nap. We feel refreshed and rejuvenated and look forward to the week ahead.
Today we had quite a surprise as we learned about how we each handle ourselves while under stress. Early this morning we were divided into two groups and taken to a secluded room and placed into a mock 7' x 4' prison cell with no light and and no view to the outside world. There were roughly 14 of us stuffed into this tiny cell, with simulated sounds of gunshots, bombs, sirens, and planes flying overhead all around us. There was smoke, flashes of light, and loud bangs just outside our cell. As a group, we had to figure out how best to handle the situation. Do we comply? Do we resist? Do we make every effort to escape? Or, do we stay in the cell and hope to survive? An anonymous source informed us that a rescue plane had landed and we were to choose five individuals to be released. Collectively, we all agreed to release four mothers first, along with Greg to protect and escort the ladies out to the plane. Suddenly and unexpectedly a gunman showed up at our cell door, tied up Marcella, and executed several other individuals; after which the simulation was finished and we were all released to our family and loved ones. Thankfully, the two of us survived.
The purpose of the simulation was not to figure things out or what to do, but how we each saw ourselves react to a hostile and dangerous situation. Ironically, both Greg and Marcella took an evasive action, prodding our group to resist and attempt to escape. However, most people were reluctant to do this and remained compliant and fearful to move out. How would you react in a situation in which you were taken from your home, placed in a prison cell with other hostages? These, and so many more questions were asked of ourselves.
Ultimately, the most important factor is to rely on God, for He is sovereign and in control over all circumstances.
For the past two days we have been learning about conflict resolution in the context of cross-cultural ministry. Conflict resolution styles can typically be categorized into four different animals. The assertive, factual, and direct style are called Sharks. Those that tend to avoid conflict and dislike dischord are Turtles. Those that work towards a mutual compromise, valuing both resolution and relationship are called Foxes. Lastly, those that try to please everyone in order to salvage the relationship are called Teddy Bears. Which one are you? Through self-assessment tests we each discovered our style of conflict resolution outside of the family unit. Greg is a Turtle and Marcella is a Fox. Greg always thought Marcella was foxy! Tomorrow we learn about spiritual vitality amongst adversity, for which we are certain we will face at some point while on the mission field.
One week at SPLICE has come to an end. It contained a mixed series of spiritual renewal, self awareness, cultural insight, community environment, and exhaustion. Although we are tired, we are very joyful about the information that was provided. Just when you think you know enough about cross-cultural ministry, WHAM! God whacks you upside the head and shows us we know very little. We are grateful for this. We spent the week getting to know other members of our community, each from various missions agencies, denominations, and backgrounds. We spent time learning about crossing over to a cross cultural environment and how to deal with the different nuances, behaviors, and mannerisms of other cultures. Better yet, how will we react to them? How will we deal with the unfamiliar? A lot of honest questions were asked and explored. One of many things that we learned about is paradox (Pair of Ducks). Our whole family has learned that “Yay ducks” and “Yuck ducks” can live together in our hearts. It’s expected for us to have both excitement and sadness when we think of our move to Albania. My “Yay ducks” are the excitement we feel when we think about all God has done to prepare us for this, the friends that await us in Albania, the opportunities for our family…. The “Yuck ducks” are the saying good-byes to families, leaving our church, home and schools, the wondering how long it will take to adapt to the new culture… It has been such a blessing to be among 40 other people who are here, feeling the same paradox.
When we come down to it, ultimately, it all comes down to one thing: "God help us!" We can't do this alone.
Today, we look forward to spending some time alone as a family, but also some time with the folks of our community. It's unavoidable, these fine men and women for whom God has called are all around us in this wonderful community. We plan to go on a hike to Garden of the Gods today, or we prefer to call it, God's Garden since there is only one God. For which we close this entry out with a loud proclamation of His glory. Thank you God for loving us, for your sovereignty in all matters of life, but most of all, for your Son, Jesus!
Today was our first "official" day of missions training here in Palmer Lake. Although, our orientation did not actually begin until 4pm. Therefore, we had a lot of free time to spend together as a family today. We went into town and visited the Focus on the Family ministry headquarters. A bit opulent for our taste, nevertheless, it was a fun place for our family to hang out and spend some time together. They had a neat play area for the kids and an amazing bookstore. Coleman bought a new Christian book series fashioned after the same genre of the Rick Riordan book series. So, he is looking forward to reading them. Morgan found herself some Chronicles of Narnia books and Drayton found some picture-story books for himself. After running a few errands we made our way back to MTI, had our orientation, and then ate dinner. All and all it was a fantastic day and we look forward to what the week will have in store for us.