For much of the globe, lives and lifestyles have changed in the past weeks (months) due to COVID-19. For many people, these changes have rattled them, be it the illness or death of a loved one, or the huge adjustment of their lifestyle due to COVID stay-at-home restrictions.
“These are unprecedented times,” we are told. And yes, they certainly are. At least for us, as humans.
But for our God, the God who knows, none of this is unexpected. In fact it is all exactly what He expected (and planned), and unlike us, He is confident in watching each moment of these days gracefully unfold. Yes, gracefully. Each moment is perfectly purposeful in accordance with His will, and filled with His grace.
As we sat at the dinner table with friends during our annual missionary conference and discussed the ever-changing circumstances, what came to mind for me was the powerful way that God led the Israelites- in a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. In Numbers 9 we read about this, and we see that whenever the cloud settled above the tabernacle, the Israelites would camp. Likewise, whenever the cloud lifted, the Israelites would pack up and set out. All of their movements were at the LORD’s command.
So as we pondered the circumstances of many friends with us and around PNG who were trying to leave the country and return to their home countries, and as the possibilities continued to change on almost an hourly basis, it really struck me that the LORD was completely in control, and that in this unprecedented time, He was and is simply at work to place all of us, His servants, exactly where He wants us to be at exactly the time He wishes, for exactly the purpose He already has in mind.
Interestingly, through all of these rapidly changing circumstances, He gave our family peace at that time to stay in PNG and not try to exit the country quickly. We had flown to another region of PNG for our annual missionary conference, and while we were there, all domestic and international travel was suspended. As travel was shutting down, many missionaries and expatriates hurried to leave PNG for medical and other reasons. Those of us with upcoming furloughs considered if we should also leave. But with much prayer and advice from others, including our sending church, the Lord made it clear to our family that we should wait. We could not return to Tigak (or anywhere else), so we, and many others, hunkered down where we were, knowing we would be remaining in that location for an indefinite period of time. We got provisions and began to settle in to a routine. As we began to settle, the Lord gave us peace with the decision that while we were prepared to stay in PNG, should a possibility to return home to the USA for our furlough open up at some point in the future, we would take the steps to partake of it. (We already had furlough planned for this coming August, we wish for our girls to enroll in school in the fall, and we have a non-urgent medical need to address.)
It was not a week later that the repatriation flight was announced, and before we could blink, we were packing our bags and preparing to travel to the USA.
It was a very unusual experience to be repatriated! The girls definitely got a kick out of traveling across the ocean on the same airplane with many, many friends. It was also unique, of course, to wear masks, to have our temperature checked at multiple checkpoints across the globe, and to walk through empty (EMPTY) airports. Our final flight to Seattle had a maximum of 30 passengers. And of course exiting the airport terminal and not being able to meet and embrace our loved ones after 2 years apart certainly felt odd.
We have now finished our 2-week quarantine (based on CDC guidelines for traveling internationally), so we are free to … continue doing Zoom ‘meetings’ (see pics of girls in gallery above), roam about nowhere, and continue not seeing everyone. 🙂 Actually, for us, most of what folks are now experiencing in terms of feeling isolated from their loved ones and practicing social distancing and not being able to go places or shop (etc.), is in large part what our long-term daily life looks like in Tigak. We are very remote, far removed from our families and close friends Stateside. We go for 2-4 years without being able to embrace them, celebrate with them, or mourn with them. We do not have streaming internet, in fact we have pretty slow internet still (but we’re glad to have some at all!), so we can’t stream live church services or do Zoom meetings. There are no restaurants or grocery stores (just a couple tiny trade stores) or shopping malls in the tribe. And no Starbucks yet. 😉 We regularly send in our supply orders for 2-3 months at a time. For us, we’ve learned that supply buying means that we’re not disappointed with whatever product we receive… or if we even receive something at all… and when we receive it. 🙂 So much of this is ‘the norm’ for us, but it sure feels a bit strange to be experiencing it here in the States!
So speaking of that, perhaps you are wondering what we will be doing now that we are here a few months earlier than expected? Here is a sampling of some of our goals for the present and this upcoming year:
Continued work on Biblical resources for the Tigak believers
More Old Testament Bible translation
Finishing out our homeschool year with our girls
Getting the needed medical help
Our girls enrolling in and attending school for the first time
Visiting many of our supporting churches and individuals, in person or virtually*
A mid-year visit to PNG if/when the doors open to travel to/from PNG again, both to encourage the church, and to hopefully receive a final consultant check on the book of 1 Samuel that Lisa recently finished translating
Please continue to pray for the Tigak church as they continue to press on, just as we all do. We had some great conversations with some of them before we departed PNG, and we mutually encouraged each other that while we are sad to be suddenly apart, that this is not in fact a problem, and the Lord is always with us and always with them. We encouraged them to stand strong, continue meeting together, and to continue teaching, encouraging, and exhorting one another in the Word daily.
Thank you for your love, care, and support for us! Feel free to write to us any time to learn more about the ministry to the Tigak people.
~the Martinez family
*Feel free to contact us directly if you have questions or if you’d be interested in having us share with your family, church or small group, and we’ll see what we can arrange!