One meal in the life of a missionary housewife in Sentani, Papua, Indonesia…
Today I want to make lasagna for my family. I’ll make a salad, a loaf of Italian bread and chocolate chip cookies for dessert.
My task list:
1. Early in the day: Sift the bugs out of the flour. Bugs really like flour in the tropics. Mix up the bread dough and let it rise. Dough rises very well on the counter in the hot tropics! Bake.
2. Make the lasagna noodles. Or if I’m feeling lazy I will just go buy macaroni at the grocery store and make “Lazy Lasagna”. I’m glad I can buy macaroni noodles. (Sometimes we could find imported lasagna noodles at the store. Expensive! I wasn’t into spending the money.)
3. Grind the beef for the lasagna’s meat sauce. Brown the beef. (Today ground beef can be purchased in the store, but in the early 2000’s the beef sellers were just starting to grind meat to sell. It was expensive and smelled funny because they used the same grinder for less appetizing stuff.)
4. Make the sauce. Open cans of tomato puree, chop the onions, add the browned beef and herbs and simmer in a pan. If I were a really good wife, I would buy fresh tomatoes and make my own sauce.
5. I have a couple of Lagi bittersweet chocolate bars in the cupboard so I chop them for chocolate chip cookies. There is no brown sugar so I substitute sweet soy sauce and white sugar and I mix and bake the cookies.
6. In between tasks I also cut up a head of cabbage for a salad. I rinse the cabbage in a big bowl of filtered water and then I have to soak it in PK (Potassium Permanganate). I love that pretty purple color but those crystals can make a pretty big mess if I am not careful.
This job takes a ton of water. If I have been faithful to keep up with filtering water, I’ll have enough. If not, I will have to run the water straight through the bucket filter into the bowl of cabbage until I have enough to cover the cabbage. This is not a fast job.
7. While the cabbage soaks I check to see if I have enough vinegar for my salad. Of course today I don’t, so I have to mix some up quick. I thankfully have a little bottle of cuka on hand to mix 4 – 1 with water to make white vinegar. I can’t remember exactly what cuka is but it is concentrated vinegary acid stuff.
8. Now I can chop up some onions and mix up the salad.
9. You can’t have lasagna without cheese so I grate some mozzarella cheese, which I am really thankful is available at the store. (This is expensive too, but I’d rather spend the money on cheese than lasagna noodles!)
10. I also want cottage cheese but I have to make that. This is a slightly more involved process.
For this I need to mix up an extra-condensed concoction of full-cream powdered milk and put it in a saucepan. I heat it until little bubbles begin to form on the edges of the milk. Then I add vinegar. I pour a thin stream of vinegar into the milk while I stir. When the milk begins to clot it’s enough. I stir until the whole pan of milk is clotted and the whey is clear. Then I pour it into a fine mesh strainer and press all the whey out. I add a little salt and pepper, a little milk and an egg and it’s ready for the lasagna.
11. It’s time to put the lasagna together now and get it in the oven. Dinner is almost ready! If I’ve started early enough, it’s still a decent hour. If… that’s big word. I didn’t always start early enough. Life happens. Especially life in Sentani!
12. Supper is finally on the table and my hungry family is happy to have a really nice meal tonight. This makes all of the extra work worth it!
Cooking in Indonesia doesn’t always take quite this much time but it always takes longer than cooking in America. Anything that makes my job more efficient is extremely welcome.
Enter my dream to own a 220v KitchenAid stand mixer.
And this is the whole point of the story…
My wonderful husband decided in 2005 that he wanted to buy me a mixer to help make my job easier. He researched where the best buy was and discovered it was in Australia.
One of our missionary pilots was flying a plane to Australia and offered to go shopping for community members while there. Ron asked if he would be willing to look for a mixer for me. He said he knew right where to look and would be happy to do so. Nice pilot.
Ron gave him a price limit and asked him to also look for a grinder attachment.
The next afternoon, when the pilot landed back home in Sentani, I received a phone call from him that went like this:
Pilot to me: I have good news and I have bad news. Which do you want to hear first?
Me (laughing): Well, the good news I guess, assuming the good news is that you got my mixer!
Pilot: I found your mixer…. (Yay!) (Pause)… and there was a deal on a FREE grinder attachment with the purchase of the mixer… but… they wanted you to send in a coupon and they would mail you the grinder. (Long, suspenseful pause…)
I talked the sale’s guy into GIVING ME THE ATTACHMENT ON THE SPOT!!!!
Me: Wow!!! So, with all the good news, what could the bad news possibly be??
Pilot: The bad news is… it’s red.
Me: WHAT???! It’s RED??? (Seven years later my heart still squeezes at this.)
Pilot: Yes. They didn’t have any other colors. They only had two mixers left on the shelf. They were both red.
Me: It’s red?! My kitchen is red!!!
I was so excited.
A few days later, I was sharing my excitement with a friend… how my mixer turned out to be red. My friend made a statement that set me on a journey that hasn’t ended. She said, “Wow, God must really love you!” I laughed. I really just thought she was being silly, but it seriously stuck in my thoughts.
I asked myself, “What does my red mixer have to do with God loving me? It’s only a coincidence.” But I began to think… I simply wanted a mixer. I didn’t pray for a specific color. I expected my pilot friend to bring me a white mixer but out of all 15 colors that a KitchenAid comes in, he brought me a red mixer… not to mention a free grinder!
Is it true? Does God care that, had I a choice out of all those colors, I would have chosen red? Does He know my kitchen is red? Does He know me? Does He really??? I began to pray that God would show me who He is. I want to know the God who really is, not the God who I think He is. The cool thing is, that when we seek God, He wants to be found. He promises that He WILL be found. He kept that promise to me.
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me
with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13
I found that the answer to my question “Does God really know me?” is an absolute “yes”. For many years I saw God as the disciplinarian. Someone far off that approved or disapproved of me depending on how pleased He was with me. But, beginning with my red KitchenAid, I began to know a very personal, intimate, loving Father who knows everything about me down to the fact that my Indonesia kitchen was red.
So insignificant in light of eternity but this knowledge has deeply changed me. I will save the changes for another blog because the real point of this blog is to honor that pilot.
One year ago last week, that missionary pilot, our friend Paul Westlund, was killed when his plane crashed in the jungle. It is hard to believe… hard to imagine. But today Paul is with his Lord Jesus in heaven. Writing this makes my heart ache. Paul’s life touched so many.
Even three years later, nearly every time I saw Paul he would grin and ask me how my mixer was working. It always made me laugh because he really did think a red mixer was bad news.
But the truth is, it’s not about a red mixer, it’s about the love of a Father who knows us deeply and loves us beyond imagination. Paul is experiencing that first-hand now.
Jesus, please give our friend Paul a hug for us. We can’t help but miss him.
“O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.
You hem me in–behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”
*Note: If you would like to read more about Paul Westlund’s life and ministry as a missionary pilot, you can do that in the book Papua Pilot available on Amazon.