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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Shared Grief

In PNG we ex-pats (short for expatriates, meaning we live outside of our home countries) work alongside nationals. Sometimes our lives intersect on a more personal level. Samuel is a literacy worker and part of the Scripture Use-Media department where I work. This morning everyone from our department went to his home at 10:00 for a haus krai (pronounced house cry).

Last night Samuel took his pregnant wife to a clinic/hospital (PNG-style) in Kainantu (pronounced K9-2) because she was experiencing cramping. The doctor there said she was not ready to give birth and he (the doctor) went home. She went into labor and Samuel himself delivered a little boy about 7 lbs. Then he saw a leg coming out and realized there was a second baby in breach position. Samuel did his best to help his wife, but sadly, the baby died.
Today inside their house, the baby was wrapped in a blanket with his beautiful little head cradled gently on a pillow. Relatives, friends and co-workers (including me) were seated on the floor or standing wherever there was space. Some cried softly, some prayed, some just extended a hand or hug. Samuel expressed gratitude for the encouragement and prayers of those who came. He said if they had known there were twins, he would have driven an hour further to Goroka where there was a better hospital.  Through all this, he expressed his faith in the goodness of God and in the certainty of the resurrection.
Tomorrow Samuel and his wife will take the baby to their home village about 4 or 6 hours away. There, relatives will grieve with them; and there the baby will be buried.
It was a sad reminder that life here is very hard, and the people here do not have what we have in the West. But God gave Samuel the same things He gives us and all His children during times like these—faith, hope, and assurance of his love, power and presence.
 

Monday, May 12, 2014

“Home” again!

Julie and I arrived in Ukarumpa after an inspiring weekend in the village of Kotidanga with John and Lena Allen and the other missionaries who work with them.  It was great to have this reintroduction to life around PNG nationals and living at higher altitudes than we’re used to before getting to Ukarumpa and to have extra time to cope with jet lag.  Still, these pale to the opportunity to more fully observe and hear stories from the Allens about courage, insight and struggle and yet see clear examples of God’s blessing on the work among the Kamea people.
 
Julie was able to observe several sessions of back-translation, a process to ensure accuracy, clarity and understanding, as John and his national translator, Ben, translate the book of Luke.  Julie also participated in the recording of one of the Bible stories into a video.  All told, nine videos are now completed and 16 more are on tap to be completed soon.  All nine were shown one after another Sunday night to ~200 people of all ages, and we know of several conversations with unbelievers where the Gospel was shared.
 
We attended Sunday service and, though preached in the Kamean language (and some in the trade language called Tok Pison), we saw the passion and truth proclaimed as Ben taught about Lazurus during Sunday School and then John preached on Ephesians 1:13-14. 
 
We had thought that we would be returning Monday by a SIL plane to the capital on the coast and then fly directly to Ukarumpa a few hours later.  God orchestrated the need for one of the SIL helicopters to be in the area to haul equipment into a couple of locations, one which was into Kotidanga.  Without our knowledge, John had arranged for us to fly on the helicopter on its return trip to Ukarumpa, a much simpler trip in many ways.
 
What Julie and I didn’t anticipate was the combination of terrain (up to 8500’), cloudiness, and rain.  I rode in the co-pilot’s seat next to Duncan, a young Australian, while Julie rode in the back row, so I had a delightful view of everything.  Julie was white-knuckling a bit because Duncan chose not to go the short, direct route over some rugged mountain chains but instead had to poke his way through the mountains, seeking the longer path of least resistance.
Click to enlarge



Click to enlarge


 
We landed, however, to be greeted by several former friends from Ukarumpa, a couple from JAARS serving their own short-term assignment, and the manager of the IT department (and his wife).  We were taken to our accommodations at the Wycliffe Associates visitors center, provided a quick lunch, and then helped to get our initial stock of groceries (~$175 of which the only meat was one lamb chop!).
 
We’re still dealing a bit with jet lag but, after finishing some “checking in” tasks at the finance office, HR and the post office, we hope to begin the work He has called to PNG to do.  Though much has changed since our time 3 years ago, we already feel at home, thanks to the many friends waiting for us here in PNG, the many friends at hone supporting us through prayer, but mostly because we have consistently understood that this is where God wants us at this time.
 

Return to the Land of the Unexpected

People have suggested we will know what to expect in PNG since it is our second time serving there. But PNG is “The Land of the Unexpected.”  Even before we left home unexpected things happened.

On Sunday morning I jogged up and down to the 4th floor to Sunday School. But later after packing for hours on the floor, I awoke Monday with tight muscles in my right leg, hip and thigh. I tried to walk it off; but by Tuesday when we left for the airport, I could hardly walk. 
On the flight to LA, my heart was touched by my young Cambodian American seatmate who was hoping to reach her father before he died. She had a 24 hour flight ahead of her and was distraught. The Lord gave me opportunity to share and pray with her. When we parted, she asked to hug me.
At the LA Airport, my noise-canceling headphones were stolen from Jon's carry-on bag. In PNG I wear headphones 6-8 hours a day while recording and editing scripture. I need headphones that don’t press in on my ears.
After 24 hours of flying plus lay-overs, we reached Cairns, Australia. By then I was in so much pain I could barely hobble. And I was coughing and congested.  I emailed asking for prayer, but there was no internet connection. The email finally went out the next morning (Thursday night NC time) and within an hour, I was walking pain-free and breathing again. Just in time for our flight to PNG.
Many people were praying that we would not be asked to pay Duty (up to 40% of the value) on the 500 donated micro SD cards we were bringing to PNG. At the airport in Australia, we met a missionary family headed back to Ukarumpa. They recognized us from 3 years ago (though we hadn’t known them before). Noel told us Customs only charges duty on the value above a certain amount. They offered to take some of the SD cards with them.  This put the value of the remaining cards under the amount on which duty is charged. When we went through PNG Customs, we declared the micro SD cards.  The agent asked, “Who are they from? How will they be distributed? Who specifically will get them? How much did they cost?”  We told him they are for SIL (Wycliffe) PNG and listed some of the people groups that will get scripture in their own languages on these cards. The agent said, “Have a good day,” and waved us through.
2nd hardest PNG airstrip.  Must fly over ridge just before landing.
People were also praying about our weekend visit to Kanabea--John and Lena Allen’s village. Flights to Kanabea use JAARS/SIL planes which fly out of Ukarumpa. Thick afternoon clouds and steep mountains make takeoff and landing in Kanabea, the second most challenging airstrip in PNG. SIL could get us into the village in the morning May 9th, but they were doubtful they could ever get us out because of afternoon weather conditions. 

Planes always draw a crowd
 

Church in lower left, clinic in lower center right, housing on far right
Finally, they decided that the plane would pick us up Monday morning on the way to the capital and then to Ukarumpa (to avoid Kanabea’s afternoon clouds). But something better and very surprising happened instead.
John Allen got a call that an SIL helicopter would be delivering a fiberglass water tank on Monday to a nearby village and picking up a portable sawmill to deliver to the Allens. After that the helicopter would return to Ukarumpa. This project had been “on the books” for about 7 months and "just happened" to come about now.  (Yeah, right!)  John asked if they could take two passengers and suitcases. SIL was relieved. The plane would not need to stop for us. The approach and flight, though challenging, was much safer and easier in the helicopter. There would be no extra charge.
Everyone loves to see pictures of themselves
So we left the village like dignitaries.
We probably can’t know what to expect in “the land of the unexpected”; but in every situation, we are confidently assured of the faithfulness and providence of God.