Today, death stings...and I hate it.

By Jack Crabtree

Our hearts are breaking. Death is an all too real part of life here in Wantakia. It doesn’t sneak around out of sight in a nursing home, or peacefully take you in a sterile hospital bed with a monitor’s monotone knell, nor is it beautified by a mortician’s makeup or ensconced in an urn on the mantle.

No. Death’s ugly reality stares you straight in the face and mocks you. It touches everyone, and above all else it must be explained.

When the elderly pass, most in our village accept that it was simply their time to go. However, when a young man dies, a suitable cause for his death is sought and must be obtained.

Several months ago, Jeremy and I hiked to a neighboring village to check on a man who we were told was gravely ill. After questioning him, we thought he had advanced tuberculosis and called for a medEvac. The chopper came and carried him to the hospital in the nearest city, where doctors began administering the lengthy regimen required for treating tuberculosis. 

A few days ago, the weeklong funeral for this young Wantakian man was concluded. While in town, the doctors' medicine had initially worked to improve his condition, but after a week in town he began taking “alternative medicine” that was sold on the street instead of the medicine from the hospital.

This new medicine (which consisted of special, powerful crushed leaves, berries, and twigs mixed with water) was promised to cure him much more quickly than the six-month timeline the doctors had quoted him. Weeks later, his body succumbed to tuberculosis.

Our western minds immediately process this news in this way, “Since he didn’t take his medicine, he died.” But for our people, this logic does not fit within their worldview. A young man does not simply die from disease alone. Someone most likely poisoned him or performed sorcery against him. Some sort of spiritual cause must be attributed to the death of a young person, if their death is to “make sense”.

His body was flown to a nearby airstrip, where his family and friends met and carried the coffin back to our village and placed it under a large tarp erected as the “house cry”. The village gathered and wailed until night fell. We sat up with the village under the tarp all Friday night until dawn broke the next morning.

At this point, the man’s closest relatives gathered around the coffin and held a ritual seance of sorts asking the dead man’s spirit to show them who had conducted sorcery and poisoned him. If poison was involved, the man’s spirit would lead them directly to the house of the guilty man, who would then be summarily killed or arrested and fined. After this ritual was repeated and failed to produce any clear results, they buried him.

Yesterday, we were told that the people now believe a new type of magic was used to kill this man. They believe that men from a neighboring language group have obtained a special leaf that turns them invisible and gives them the power to enter someone’s body and kill them from the inside. This new, powerful magic, they say, must have been the cause of this man’s death. He was simply too young for sickness alone to be the cause. Now, the people are afraid to walk the trails alone. Fear of the spiritual realm holds them in its grip.

This morning death mocked us again, when we learned that a toddler died yesterday of a most likely treatable illness. Our village aid-worker left for town several months ago, so the mother took her baby to a nearby village, where the aid-worker told her she needed to go to a better aid post in a village father away.

This woman’s husband has been working in town for some time, so this crisis was hers alone to bear. Instead of immediately hiking to the distant aid post, she came back to our village. Her child passed away that afternoon. She never came to tell us her boy was sick. Horrifically, the surrounding family has scolded her for not taking her child to the distant aid post sooner. Someone must always be blamed; they wanted to blame her.

As Lael, Nora, Rynn, and I sat with this grieving mother in her house surrounded by her family members, I struggled to place my anger. Who was I angry at? Who was to blame? This fallen creation we inhabit? Our Enemy?  As Thomas’ poem goes, I wanted to “rage against the dying of the light” of this poor child, but I know that sentiment is precisely backward.

Light has never existed out here. Instead I cry out for the hastening of the coming of the light of life. One day, secure in the truth of their heavenly adoption, Wantakians will cheerfully bask in the dawning of the true light as they behold Him face to face. One day heaven will come to earth; every wrong will be made right; death will have lost its sting.

For now, death on Pinji Mountain stings, and I hate it. Like Jesus outside the tomb of Lazarus, I hate it. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus,” carries more weight than it ever has before. The context speaks of His second coming, but here on this mountain, I pine for His first.



Interview with a Missionary pt. 1


My friend, James, needed to interview a missionary for his missions class at Moody. Here's the first question. More to follow:

James: What motivated you to become a career missionary?

Jack: There’s only one answer to this question that will last and help you live well on the field. It took me a while to figure it out. Sure, many factors can play into someone desiring to be a missionary…some good and some…not so much. Maybe you love to travel and see new places and experience new cultures. Maybe you heard a motivating speaker and you’re ready to go do something now! Maybe you’re sick of the American dream, and you want to make a lasting difference. Maybe you feel guilty that you’ve had God’s word in your language for hundreds of years, while hundreds of languages still don’t have access to it. Maybe missions just sounds like an awesome adventure or the best way to get God to like you more….

That crazy list could go on, but only one motivation will truly sustain you. You must be completely convinced by the missional meta-narrative of Scripture. God is a missional God, who made a missional promise to Abraham in Geneses 12 to one day bless  people from every language group on the planet through salvation in Christ. When I saw in Revelation 5:9 and 7:9 that people from every tribe, language, and country would someday be represented around God’s throne in Heaven but knew that hundreds of people groups were still untouched by the Gospel, I had to rethink and surrender my life-plan. Gone were the narcissistic dreams of screenwriting and filmmaking…they seemed so small and pitiful compared to what I was seeing in God’s plan. When I saw that God had counter-intuitively decided to accomplish this incredible mission by working in and through people like me, my worldview shifted.

We love to insert our name into John 3:16, but for some reason we want to scribble someone else’s name into the Great Commission. We want a me-centered Gospel, when everything about the Gospel is others-centered. I saw the command of the great commission was to “make disciples” of Christ and teach them everything Christ had taught, so who better to do that with than those who currently know nothing about Christ?

He commanded the entire church to be involved in some way with seeing disciples made around the world. This mission is beyond us, which is why the entire church needs to work together and also why Christ promised “and I will be with you always,”  as he finished speaking. It’s not a solo mission.

Then I read Paul’s theology of ministry in Colossians 1:28-29, and I began to see how life as mission could be possible. Paul said the mystery that has been revealed is that Christ lives in us. The very Creator of our reality lives in us. He is our hope. Then Paul continued, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”

Mission is me understanding God’s desire to see mature disciples made, working hard toward that end, while trusting and asking for Christ to work in and through me to accomplish His plan. Paul wasn’t passive; he was “toiling” and “struggling”…with Christ’s energy. Again, Christ is with us through it all.

So from Scripture, I can see that choosing to make myself available to God and His global mission, is to live for a purpose that is much larger than myself. The important thing is that this purpose never changes. Even when my circumstances go south, the mission stays the same. This is only reasonable, because Christ’s promise to never leave us stays the same as well. The mission and Christ’s presence transcend circumstance.

I’m trying to learn the Wantakian language right now, and every day (multiple times a day) I’m thinking/praying, “This is impossible. This is beyond me. Help, Lord!” Some days I feel incredibly discouraged, because I’m focusing on the circumstances. I have to realign my thinking and remember that Christ is in me, and He brought me here. My joy comes from Him…not how good or badly I did in a language session!

In short, all your other reasons for living on mission will eventually disintegrate, and you’ll simply be left holding return tickets. Christ and His Word are the only true constants, so hold on to those

Physical reality; spiritual metaphor.  

Physical reality; spiritual metaphor.  

The Bright City Lights



Our family just got back into the tribe after an awesome break in Brisbane, Australia. I ate lots of yummy food that I didn’t make, shopped ‘till I nearly dropped, went on a couple of dates, wore cute “normal” clothes, and saw our precious family. As perfect as it all seemed, I still found myself struggling with sin; often not feeling content and having a bad attitude. This shouldn't have surprised me (I’m still a sinner after all), but I was surprised nonetheless.

One night in Brisbane, as we rode the ferry up and down the river and gazed at the most beautiful city lights I’d ever seen, the Lord reminded me that even though this moment was good, true joy and happiness only come from Him.  He is the only one who satisfies. He is the only one who can fulfill me no matter where I am located in this world.

We’re pretty isolated in the tribe, and I’ve thrown my share of pity parties out there. They go something like this: “If I could just go shopping, or just have some Starbucks, or go on a nice date with my hubby, or have some alone time away from my kids for a second, or at least see my family back home, then I would be so happy.”

As a believer, I sometimes find myself basically worshiping and idolizing created things, instead of giving worship to the Creator. I think of the beginning chapter of Romans (1:25) where unbelievers were doing the exact same thing. At the end of the day, I need to find my joy in Him. When I look for joy and fulfillment in the blessings, instead of the Great Giver of blessings, I am always utterly disappointed. I tried but didn’t find it in vacation, shopping, magical city lights, or even an awesome family.

God used the comforts of the first world to teach me to be content with where he has me.  Even on vacation in one of the most beautiful places in the world surrounded by the people I love them most, with every form of entertainment at my fingertips, if am not looking at my Jesus, a shallow fleeting happiness is the best thing possible. With God, I’m filled with a joy that transcends mere circumstance. With God, I have purpose that is bigger than ME.

Now I’m back in the tribe with a fresh perspective, and I feel so privileged to minister here among the Wantakians with my family.  Isolated? YES. Wearing the same two skirts and shirts every day? YES. Seeing fire lights instead of city lights? YES. Making breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day? YES. But now I’m filled with  lasting joy because of Jesus, and I know that I’ll be joyless the minute I start giving worship to anything but Him. O Father, Help me keep my eyes on You.


The Unmotivated Missionary


Where does your motivation come from? That is something I’ve been asking myself lately. Aren’t I a missionary? I’m supposed to be one of the most spiritual and disciplined people on the planet, right? Hardly. In fact, lately I’ve found myself unmotivated. I’m a wimp when it comes to jungle living, and as I try to learn the Wantakian language, I want to throw in the towel on a daily basis.

When we first moved out here, I was gung-ho – waking up at 4:45 am every morning, learning language all day, and even sometimes at night. I knew the message we came to give these people was important, and I didn’t want to waste any time. The last few weeks though, it’s been hard for me to get out of bed before seven, and at night my headphones are going on to watch an episode of Chuck instead of learning language.

A Motivated Savior

I need help. I’ve tried to drum it up myself  – “Think about these people’s eternity,” or “Think of all the people standing behind you and supporting you.” While these are good motivations, I’m finding they’re simply not enough. As I sit on my front porch here in the jungle and lift my eyes to the 8,000 ft. plus mountain towering in front of me, I’m reminded of the psalmist’s words... “I lift my eyes unto the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of Heaven and Earth.”

I knew who to turn to, but I wasn’t sure what His answer would be. My prayer used to be, “Lord, I’m not motivated, help me to be motivated.” Then I came across a truth that has made a world of difference. In John chapter 4 we hear Jesus say, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing His work.” Jesus’ motivation came from doing God’s will and finishing the work He was given to do. So much so that when asked if he had already eaten, He confidently said, “I’m so motivated to do the work God gave me, that I’m not even thinking about food.” Wow, that’s motivated.

If only I could get that motivation in me. Here’s the truth, it already is. When I trusted in Jesus, He came inside. His life is in me! Suddenly, my prayer began to change. No longer was it, “Lord, help me to be motivated!” Instead I prayed, “Jesus, you have always been and will always be motivated. I know you’re in me, and I trust you to be my motivation.” Do you see the difference?

This truth doesn’t just go for motivation either. Not patient? Jesus is. Not loving? Jesus is. Not humble? Jesus is. The list could go on. God isn’t expecting you to be something. He already knows you’re not. That’s why Jesus came – not just to take your place in death, but to take your place in this life as well. Quit trying to be better, Jesus is already the best. If you’ve trusted in Him, He is your life.

“I have be crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives within me. The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

No one ever said...


What Jason said angered—no offended me a little. What he said next broke my heart.

The moon had yet to rise as three Wantakian faces shown in the soft glow of my headlamp. Tonight we were hiking to the other side of the mountains to Wananara, a neighboring dialect of Wantakia. Our village rugby team would be playing the Wananara  guys in the morning, so we needed to get moving if we didn't want to miss it. As is often the case, we had no idea God had much more in store for us in Wananara than a day of rugby.

   Pre-evangelism consists of many things, but the process of “becoming” must be chief among them. Christ became flesh and dwelt among us. A man of sorrows, he experienced the hardships of his time, felt the same emotions, cried against his own pain, was outraged by injustice. He became the human condition, before he cured it.

We slept on the trail around a fire in the rain. As dawn broke upon the day, we came to the end of the ridge. Our breath caught as Wananara spread out below us. Green rolling hills and a lolling river dominated a landscape punctuated by mountain peaks in the distance. My nerdy mind jumped back to the hobbit’s initial reaction to seeing Rivendell for the first time.

As the second rugby game of the day was about to begin, I laid down in the grass to catch a quick nap. We’d be hiking back another 18 miles that same evening, and I needed to recharge. BJ’s voice cut through my drifting thoughts, “We’ve got visitors.” Annoyed, I groaned as I assumed a seated position. “Who needs to talk to us?” I thought. Shame chased my selfish thoughts away as two faces materialized across my vision. Jos and Jason, elders in the church in the neighboring Aziana language group, had hiked three hours to encourage us.

Nearly 50 years ago, the Aziana people lived on Pinji Mountain—the same mountain we live on now with the Wantakians. The Wantakians had chased them off the mountain—killing many Aziana in the process—and continued to raid the Aziana people until they moved to their present location, about 25 miles away.

A New Tribes church planter finished the Aziana Bible translation more than a decade ago, and now three healthy churches with mature elders remain. They received God’s Talk for free, and now they have a burden to see their former enemies, the Wantakians, reached with that same message of grace.

They’ve been involved with our church planting team from the very beginning. Jos and several others hiked with us on our first survey of Wantakia. Several came to help us during house-building. Now they’ve committed to bring 100 men and women to help our people dig our airstrip for two weeks; wanting nothing in return, which is unheard of in these cultures. Today, the elders started three simultaneous outreaches in Aziana villages where they will teach from Eternity to Eternity (Creation to the end of Revelation). These guys are phenomenal. Please pray for them.

We followed Jos and Jason to a shaded area overlooking the rugby field below. After sitting, Jason pulled out his Bible, donned a pair of reading glasses, and looking a little nervous, said, “I have a few things I’d like to share with you all.” We glanced at each other, wondering what might be coming next.

“We’ve seen a lot of New Tribes missionaries come to Papua New Guinea over the years. You all are very well trained, which is great, but we’ve also seen many of you all leave before the work was finished. Some had a hard time learning the language. Some got sick. If something horrible happens, like if one of your children die, you cannot go back to America and leave this work before it’s finished.”

He paused to give his words a chance to sink in. I felt angry. If one of my children die? I don’t want to even think about that possibility.

Then Jason continued, “When tragedy comes upon us, we have nowhere to go. I can’t buy a plane ticket and leave the Lord’s work unfinished. God has marked me to carry on His work in Aziana, and I cannot walk away from it. If our children die, or another tragedy happens, we must continue on in the Lord’s work.”

Opening his Bible, Jason read from 1 Peter 4:12-13, “Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in His suffering, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad.”

Then he flipped to Philippians 4:6-7 and read, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

Lastly, Jason read about Paul’s response to the “thorn in his side” from 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, “The Lord said to me, ’My grace is enough for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

Again, he paused, closed his Bible, took off his glasses, and looked each of us in the eyes. “These verses have brought me much comfort,” he said, emotion growing in his voice. “Two days ago I buried my youngest daughter. She was only a few years old, and she drowned in the river.” Several children had gone down to the river to wash, but they didn’t watch the youngest well, and she drowned.

“I’ve buried three children, but I cannot leave the Lord’s work unfinished. With His help I will continue, and I’ll see my children again. I walked here today to tell you all these things the Lord has been showing me these past few days. The Lord has brought you all to Wantakia to do His work, and you must finish it. Even if disaster come upon you, you must continue to do the Lord’s work.”

I walked over and hugged Jason. I couldn’t imagine being in his shoes. Would I be thinking of encouraging others, just two days after a horrible tragedy like this? Would I be looking for excuses to quit? Would I be searching for the exits? Would I be questioning God’s wisdom? His plans? His goodness? Or would I rest in His promises like Jason? Would I grieve with hope?

For the next few hours I sat in the grass next to Jason as he showed me pixelated pictures on his cheap camera phone of his family, his daughter, his orange groves, his home. I sat and listened to his stories, his memories, doing my best to be a member the body of Christ. To provide a measure of comfort.

Slogging back to Pinji in a midnight rainstorm, I had plenty to think about. Who am I depending on for the strength to live day in and day out? In the good times, am I walking in dependence on Christ, or does it take a tragedy for me to remember Who is in control? Can I find joy in Christ during the hard times? Has Christ ever failed me? Once? Nope. And he won’t.

I may not know what the future holds, but I know that God will be faithful. I serve a God who has suffered more than I will ever suffer in this life.

I think of Hebrews 2:9-10, “But we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death on behalf of everyone. For it was fitting for him, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”

Truth that is dependent upon circumstance is not truth. Truth is an immovable thing; a fixed certainty. God is completely faithful. God is enough.