We lived in a thatched-roof hut in Papua New Guinea, and many nights I would lie in bed as the rats ran around the house fighting for food. Some even ran under our bed or on the rafters behind my head. I hated rats! Because the house had cracks between the rounded split timber floors, all sorts of creatures came to visit. One night a nine-foot python crawled onto our daughter’s bed looking to snatch the family kitten for a midnight snack! Life here was a little more than I had bargained for.
Why had I come to Papua New Guinea to live in the jungle? Why did I have to live months without running water, washing clothes in a river? Did the local people have to follow and watch me every time I stepped outside, like I was some kind of circus attraction? At times I longed for the comforts of home, with washing machines and hot running water, where friends did not think I looked or acted strange. I loved living overseas, but there were times when the hard things about life caused me to question why we had come.
Over the twelve years we were there, the first years were hardest. Living conditions were rough, and privacy was at a minimum. Adjustments became a way of life. Desperate loneliness, intense tropical heat, the language barrier, and a vastly different culture often overwhelmed me—not to mention all the bugs. Everywhere I looked insects scurried around—earwigs, spiders, ants, mosquitoes, stink bugs, flying ants, and even roaches. It was easy to focus on the difficulties I faced, rather than seeing them as opportunities to trust God, to adapt and grow.
While facing these daily challenges, I also realized the tremendous privilege God had entrusted to me as His servant overseas. Sharing the gospel with those who had not heard was an honor. Rather than dwelling on the hardships, I began to learn that focusing on the positive would help me adapt to my new circumstances.
Develop a Positive Attitude
It is important to develop a mindset that seeks to find the positive side of a difficult situation. This does not come naturally to me, but learning to look for good things in circumstances shows a trust in God’s plan for your life. A positive outlook sees something discouraging from a different perspective. The place where you live and minister will have disappointments. To keep from getting discouraged, learn to see things with an optimistic viewpoint. Instead of becoming annoyed at the villagers who followed and stared at me, I learned how to make friends with them. Even when I did not know much language, I knew how to ask someone’s name. I learned to build relationships. As I made friends, my loneliness lessened. With time, language barriers and cultural adjustments diminished.
One time my husband planned and prepared for a special group of church meetings. Then, the weekend before they were to take place, everyone in the village decided they needed to go into the jungle to make sago, a staple starch in their diet which was obtained from the sago palm tree. If sweet potatoes and bananas were in short supply, they needed to have sago to eat. They left the village, and our plans came to a halt. Anger and discouragement were not worth the effort, and we used the extra week to catch up on correspondence and other jobs, and we even found time to relax. After their return, we rescheduled the meetings.
Perhaps there was someone who would not have been at our first meetings that God was orchestrating to be at the second one. Proverbs 16:4 reminds us that the Lord works out everything for His own ends. Remembering that God is in control in all situations encourages a proper focus.
Avoid the Negative
Negative attitudes see the worst scenario or the gloomiest outcome. Discouragement, unhappiness and cynicism can take hold in our hearts. We do not see God as being in control, and our faith becomes shallow as we choose to perceive life from this angle.
Grumbling and complaining against God resulted in the Israelites wandering 40 years in the wilderness. Because of their negativity and lack of faith, God prevented all but two from entering the Promised Land. “How long will this wicked community grumble against Me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. So tell them, as surely as I live,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will do to you the very things I heard you say: In this desert your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against Me. Not one of you will enter the land” (Numbers 14:27-30, NIV). God sees complaining and negativity as a serious offense.
But Caleb was different. He followed God with his whole heart: God says “But because My servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows Me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to…” (Numbers 14:24, NIV). When others around him were frozen in fear and grumbling against God, Caleb spied out the land knowing he trusted a God who would conquer all the difficulties the Israelites faced. He was allowed to enter the land as his reward. Caleb made a choice to trust in a God who was much bigger than his circumstances.
Negativism not only affects us, but it also influences those around us—our family, friends, or teammates. I occasionally saw a missionary friend who was negative about everything. She whined about her house, other missionaries, the culture and language, and her circumstances. You name it, she complained about it. I liked this friend, but when I was around her I felt dragged down too. Her pessimistic attitude had become a way of life for her, and she refused to look at the positive. From my perspective, her life was miserable because she chose to make it that way.
Be like Caleb; have a spirit that is willing to trust in an all-powerful God. Challenges will come, but what attitude will you have? It is a choice. God reminds us of what He wants our minds to dwell on when He says …whatever things are true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on these things (Philippians 4:8, NIV ). Decide to be positive. Life will be less stressful if you do. Not to mention the fact that your husband, your teammates, or those you work with will love you for it!
Praise God for His gifts
In Life Lessons from Job, Dr. Criswell Freeman said, “You need not fall prey to the habit of negative thinking. With practice, you can learn to focus, not upon the gloomier aspects of life, but upon God’s priorities and your possibilities. When you do, you will spend less time fretting about your challenges and more time praising God for His gifts.”
I never did like the intense heat, but I learned to live with it. However, I did love the tropical rainstorms that would cool off the weather and fill our tanks with clean, pure drinking water. The bugs? Well, I stayed as far away from most as possible, but I came to realize that even in God’s insect family He has made a wonderful array of interesting creatures with many colors and characteristics. Even some of those became a wonder to behold!