Now that we’ve been back from our village experience for several weeks, we’re remembering our experience with nothing but great fondness. As we mentioned before, we’re thankful even for the challenges that allowed us to stretch and grow in new ways. Here are some of the meaningful object lessons we learned, with some photos/videos to illustrate.
LESSON 1: LEAVING A LEGACY
In the first week of our stay, Waspapa (watch/foster father) invited us to plant ‘memory’ coconuts in part of his garden near the house. With his help, we planted three. Our whole wasfamili (foster family) was so pleased that they would always have these trees to remember us by, and that when we came back in the future, we could see them for ourselves. They would grow as the children grow, and they would start to bear fruit after seven years. In this way, we always want to leave a mark of blessing wherever we go. Sometimes we may not see the fruit of our work for many years, even after we’re gone.
LESSON 2: COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
One day Aaron got to go with Waspapa to a nearby field, where dozens of community members from several villages were working together to cut kunai grass. The grass, once dried, would be used to replace the roof of a school building in our village, Zumanggurun. The roof required an enormous amount of the grass, and the work never would have gotten done with just one person or even one village. The whole community pitched in, and several acres of kunai was cut, bunched, and hauled (all by hand) in a single day. Language development work such as Bible translation can only be done effectively in the context of a whole community. The work of a single person or even a dedicated team will never be enough to produce good quality work that will be acceptable and used by the community. Years of focused dedication by dozens of people–from committee members who help make planning decisions to community checkers who verify the naturalness of the translation–are required for the work to succeed.
LESSON 3: EVERYTHING TOGETHER
There were times when we got frustrated not to be ‘allowed’ to do anything on our own. To go waswas (bathe), for example, always required at least an escort, and often a couple extra kids. Something that we were used to doing alone became a group activity. The value in this, though, was that while one of us washed up, the other could stand guard in case someone else happened to want to use that particular part of the river at that particular time. Many times we think we’re better off doing something alone, but we’ve learned it’s often a huge help to have someone sharing the load and looking out for us.
LESSON 4: GOOD FOR US
We were absolutely blown away by the way the children thrived in the village setting. They made friends quickly, learned language well, loved and watched out for each other, and showed admirable flexibility and resilience. Mom and Dad learned a lot by watching them, and we were so encouraged for the future. We’re finding that transition and new situations, while they’re definitely stressful on all of us, have a way of bringing the kids together and bringing out the best in them.
LESSON 5: THE GENIUS OF THE PEOPLE
Our friend Joshua had an immense coconut grove and showed us one afternoon how he harvests the coconuts. Before that day, if you would have asked one of us to go get some coconuts out of the tree, there’s no way in the world we could have figured out how to do it. This man had expertise that came from generations of traditional wisdom. He could do things with simplicity and elegance we could never replicate. People’s knowledge of language works the same way. We as outsiders can study it for decades, but they are the ones who understand it deeply, a body of knowledge drawn from generations of stories and teachings. Bible translation is best done by people who know the language best, and we can only help coordinate and equip the effort. For me to try to do a translation on my own would yield about as much fruit as me trying to harvest coconuts on my own.
LESSON 6: THEIR CONTRIBUTION
One of Evie’s favorite pastimes was reading a Wycliffe cookbook we’d brought with us. One day she found a recipe she could make on her own using supplies we had on hand, and she made these delicious treats for a young friend’s birthday. All her idea. Watching these things being given and received with such joy as the kids passed out goodies to everyone they could find, we were reminded never to neglect the powerful impact our children can and will have. Our whole family was called to this work, not just one or two of us, and we all have something meaningful to contribute to it.
LESSON 7: BIG TALK
While we were in the village, as part of one of our assignments Aaron was able to record an oral story in tok ples (the local vernacular language, Adzera in our case), transcribe it (write it out with the help of a tok ples speaker), interlinearize it (give word-for-word translations) into Tok Pisin, and write smooth translations into both Tok Pisin and English. The story we recorded told of the old ways of our friends’ ancestors (constant tribal war, cannibalism) and how everything changed when God’s talk (the Gospel) came to the area. Here is an excerpt from the end of the story: “When our ancestors got old and died, they died under the power of Satan. Now we are a new group, not learning the things of Satan. We live inside God’s talk; this is big talk, and it straightens the standing of all men – it lives to take care of all men.” The power of God’s talk is Earth-shattering, and we would do well to remember the things the Gospel has conquered in our own histories.
LESSON 8: FOLLOW THE PATH
The vast and beautiful land where we stayed was covered with footpaths created by hundreds of bare feet walking along the same way for years and years. By the time we got there, it was easy to get wherever we wanted to go, because many people had gone that way before us. We’re so thankful to be in a place like PNG with an organization like ours, where hundreds of people have come, over many decades, from all over the world. Our forebears here have learned many of the hard lessons we now don’t have to; they’ve lain groundwork for today’s work to go more smoothly; and they’ve invested and given and worked with excellence and great integrity that has built and maintained the good name we enjoy today, to the glory of God.
LESSON 9: THE HARD PLACES
We eventually talked Wasmama into taking us up on top of a nearby mountain to her real garden with her. We quickly realized why she hadn’t done so before as we were slipping and sliding on the steep grade and huffing and puffing from the exertion. It took us a solid hour of grueling hike to get up to where she works several days every week. It was all we could do to survive the trek up; we couldn’t imagine actually working the ground once we got there, much less carrying the tools up and the produce down! But this is where she happily has her garden–the soil is better here, and the air and sunshine work some kind of wonders on her veggies and fruit trees. We understand that our field is not an easy one. The road to this point has been difficult, and it doesn’t look to get easier. But this is where we’ve been called, and this is where we trust the Lord to grow fruit.
And that leads us to now. We’ve spent the last several weeks learning about some of the potential language projects we might work in long-term. The places we’re looking at are not easy places to get to, but the fields are so ripe. The need is so great. Almost 300 language groups in this beautiful country still need translation work to be started in their language. There’s a chance we could eventually be working with several of them. We hope to have more news for you soon. Please continue to pray for clarity and discernment as we seek first the Lord’s kingdom and His righteousness, and as we trust Him to add to us all the details that need to fall into place. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will continue to send more workers into these fields. Your prayers are desperately needed and tremendously appreciated.
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