As I prepared for my June travels to the other side of the world, I heard that the Long Islander culture in Papua New Guinea is a gift-exchanging culture. This meant, I was told, that it would be appropriate to take some small gifts to give to those who might carry my bag for me or in some other way assist me in my 48 hours on their island. Additionally, there was a good chance someone would approach me and hang a necklace of small shells or seeds around my neck and giving them something in return would be the thing to do.
As I considered options I remembered a gift I’d been given last Fall when I was in Indy. My friend Libby had made me a bracelet on her rainbow loom. That kind of bracelet would make a perfect gift. I wrote to Libby’s mom (who is my peer) on Facebook and asked her to ask Libby if she’d be up for making me some bracelets. I explained why.
And then things got out of control. Other mutual friends saw the request I’d posted and their kids wanted in on the fun. Soon there were a dozen or so kids making bracelets. Since it was already out of control, I asked if they’d take it to the next level–something I was considering doing myself with the dozen or so bracelets I expected to be carrying with me but that I could in no way do myself by this late in the run up to travel. I asked if they would get snack sized Ziploc style bags and in each one put a finished bracelet, enough bands and hooks to make about three more, and (if they could/would) a photo of the child(ren) who made the bracelet kit.
Because another mutual friend who lives here in Orlando was going to be in Indy at just the right time, she could carry them from Indy to Orlando and hand them to me just in time for me to pack them and go. They sent a lot of kits. I didn’t count, but I’d guess the number to be around 150. Like I said, it was out of control.
These kids had been so generous that I had more than enough to share. Their contribution of time and talent and treasure enabled me to also supply my colleague Jennifer and a high school student we met in PNG who was also there for the New Testament dedication with plenty of bracelets and kits to more than cover our needs. It was great.
Now, at this point I need (or want) to tell you that both Jennifer and I had a bout of the 24-hour flu that hit just a couple of hours after we arrived on the island which impacted our ability to hike up and down the hill to where the villages were. (It actually impacted our ability to do just about anything for a while.) In the midst of the temporary setback I wrestled with God over my ridiculous vision of sitting under a palm tree surrounded by happy children laughing together and making bracelets while others looked on with wonder at the beauty of it all. God won.
We did respond to giftings and assistance with bracelet gifts in return and finally—on Sunday evening and within 14 hours of our scheduled departure—we handed out about a hundred kits to children on the beach near to where we were camped. We nearly caused a riot. I think I demonstrated how to make the bracelets to two or three small groups of children and that was that.
The next morning as we took the 40-minute walk down the beach and through the jungle to the airstrip, I began to see bracelets on the wrists of children and adults in the various villages we passed through. Then I noticed a necklace which I knew we had not given to anyone. This proved that some children were figuring out how to weave these bands together and were making their own things from the kits. I was thrilled and thanked God for letting me see evidence of what we knew would be true.
At the airstrip we had to wait in the hot sun for the plane to arrive and unload it’s cargo of fuel drums and food stuffs. I looked over at one of the older girls and recognized a more complex pattern in the bracelet she wore–one like another that Jennifer had made and given as a gift when we arrived. Woo hooo!
Because that bracelet caught my eye, I paused long enough to see something else. In her hand was one of the audi-Bibles (a solar-powered listening device with the Arop-Lokep New Testament recorded on it) and she was listening to Scripture as she stood there with her friends. We’d been seeing and hearing the audi-Bibles all morning and once again I rejoiced and thanked God for letting me see evidence that the Scriptures were being used.
But in the moment, I saw something else. Something I’d seen a few other times that morning but that I had not seen. The audi-Bible was inside a ziploc bag.
God had used my need to have some gifts to give and the out-of-control generosity of a handful of kids in Indy and the need for easily-accessed packaging of bracelet kits to get the exact thing He wanted on the island to protect His Word from the sand and sea. Hallelujah!
We never imagined that God would do what He did and in fact had different plans that were good, but not that kind of GOOD. Like the five loaves and two fish Jesus used to feed thousands of souls, God makes all things new.