For many years in Papua New Guinea, Joice and I lived in a series of “bush houses.” Our bush houses had grass rooves and woven cane for the walls, as well as for some parts of the floor. Any “windows” were a kind of screen wire with interwoven plastic. Such houses needed a lot of regular maintenance and didn’t last long. The roof would leak because of the winds would sometimes make the grass fly off like the local bats at night. The wood would rot, and kids would pry holes in the siding so they could look in our house at night when our lantern was lit.
Insects would also make their homes in the grass roof and in the wood. Not just termites or grub beetles, but on one occasion, in the middle of the night, a giant rhinoceros beetle dropped down from the grass roof and grabbed the back of my head. Having a minor affection for insects and things of the wild, I decided not to kill it and simply threw it outside. However, when the same thing happened the next night, I threw it down the large opening in our “outhouse.” I never heard from it again or any of its relatives.
Rats were another problem in our bush houses. I put a piece of plywood above our bed so that the grass and junk would not fall on us as we slept. The rats, however, thought the plywood was an ideal playground and, like amateur football players, they would chase each other and romp about on it at night. I set some traps and got rid of most of them. The people knew I trapped rats, and some would stop by in the morning to see if there were any critters for their breakfast.
Sometimes I would also hear rats in the “kitchen,” an area where I had made a counter for the small primus cooker and where Joice could cut and prepare food. I had made a cutting board for her as well. One night, I heard a rat in the kitchen, which was not unusual, but I decided to try and get it, which was unusual. I shone my flashlight on the counter area and the rat, a big one, quickly darted behind the cutting board. I just as quickly squashed it, but it left a lot of blood on the board. The next morning I scrubbed the board and told Joice to be careful to cut up things on the side without any blood stain.
We also had a lot of beetles and crickets at certain times of the year. The crickets would see light at places in the woven can walls and would fly into the house through the small openings. We would catch them and give them to the women who would toast and eat them. We caught 99 one night, but number 100 was too clever for us. Karol developed a taste for crickets as well, but Joice and I never did. I tried one, however, and it was better than the brown beetle I also once ate. Eating that beetle was like biting down on a small piece of touch cookie with mayonnaise inside. Not tasty, but Kirk liked them.
We lived in two different bush houses, off and on, for a total of about 5 years. After our first furlough and due to a study program, we decided to move to a closely related language about 45 miles away. I got a carpenter to help me this time, and we built a much more substantial house. It even had corrugated roofing iron on part of one side to catch rainwater for drinking and washing. It was still a “bush house,” but a much nicer one. A friend had made some kitchen cabinets for us, and I was able to buy some rough flooring that I put in the kitchen area. Joice loved it! We had windows (not glass) that opened and later a small kerosene refrigerator and a small generator for lights at night and for power for our two-way radio and our computers.
We also had a house at our operational center, about 500 kilometers from our bush house and it had posts that the house rested on, so it moved around when we had earthquakes. It was small, more like a cabin, but we lived in it for several years after we finished the New Testament, and I was the field director. Eventually, we had 24-hour (more or less) electricity from government generators fueled by a large lake. The house is gone now, torn down with parts of it used to build another house in another town.
After 32 years, we left PNG permanently (or so we thought--we went back later for several months each year for four years). In Texas, near Dallas, we were assigned to teach at our school, so we bought a small house in Duncanville. We had an inheritance from part of a farm in Pennsylvania and I knew I would not be returning there to milk cows, slop hogs, and feed chickens, so we sold our share of the farm to my brother. Our Texas house seemed like Paradise to us, even though it was about the size of some of our friends’ garages.
Houses! We put a lot of money into our houses. There is always something to fix and to upgrade, to paint and plaster, but houses get old and ultimately decay, or are destroyed. “For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything” (Hebrews 3.4).
My body is now like an old house, even a tent according to Paul, so I am delighted to know that I will get a new house, a new body: Paul said, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5.1). It will have a foundation that is built on Christ and will withstand any earthquake and it will be “built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2.5).
Paul and Peter reminded us of houses because they wanted to “to refresh your [my] memory as long as I live in the tent of this body” (2 Peter 1.13-14). This because “Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” (Hebrews 3.6).
Jesus said he has prepared a place (a room in a house or home, but probably not a mansion) for those who believe in him. But I don’t think there are bush houses in heaven.