This weekend I was privileged to be able to travel a few hours west to the town of Kundiawa for the dedication of the recently completed Kuman New Testament. It wasn't quite the atmosphere that I was expecting, which I think had a lot to do with the fact that the dedication was in a town rather than a rural village setting. Still, it was a great experience.
Kuman is the third largest language group in PNG, with 120,000 speakers. Apparently some Lutheran missionaries had begun translating many years ago, but never finished. Dunc and Mary Pfantz, working with SIL, spent the last 17 years on the Kuman NT, and were finally able to complete it.
We drove into Kundiawa on Friday morning, and the celebration began after lunch. A local trumpet school put together a small brass band and there was a miniature parade down the street to the rugby field where the dedication was going to take place. There were probably 250-300 nationals and about 100 "whiteskins" who came for the dedication. The band played for a bit while everyone found seats in either the grandstands or in the grass. (The pictures below are of the parade as it approached the field, the grandstands filling with people, and the same band as it played after everything was over)
For the next few hours, various men gave speeches to honor the occasion, but most of them were speaking in Pisin. Scott Bauman gave me general translations, and I definitely came away knowing a lot more Pisin than when I started! We were welcomed probably more than 30 times, but interestingly, the nationals there knew how everything works. Instead of thanking just SIL in PNG for bringing them the New Testament, they also said, "We want to thank everyone who is supporting the work of SIL for making this day possible." You had a part in this too!
One of the other speakers said, "English is a foreign language to us, and Pisin is a foreign language to us, but KUMAN is OUR language, and our hearts know this language!" The crowd was calm and mostly unemotional during the afternoon, but this was one time that they lit up and you could see that they were excited to be reading the Bible in THEIR language.
SIL director Jan Gossner read John 1:1 in the original Greek, then Spanish, then English, then Pisin, and then finally in Kuman. The crowd really got excited to hear it in Kuman, and I also got a better understanding of why it's important to be able to have the Bible in your heart language. Having had a year of Greek, I understood most of that, and having had two years of Spanish, I understood most of that too, but then when it was read in English, it was a lot more powerful and meant a lot more.
Another speaker challenged the people to use their New Testaments, rather than letting them sit on shelves and get dusty and eaten by cockroaches. He said that other people get their Bibles and are excited, but then sometimes they'll forget about them and it doesn't do any good. He said that the Kuman people weren't going to do that. They were going to use them all the time and recognize how valuable God's Word is.
The regional director of SIL also spoke and started his speech by saying, "These mountains weren't here at one point, and these trees weren't here at one point, and the animals weren't here at one point, and people weren't here at one point, but God spoke, and created all of this with His words, and now you have His Word in your language." We could see the nationals listening intently and looking around at the things which he was describing, then suddenly realizing how powerful God's Word is, and getting excited that now they could read and hear it in their heart language.
After all the speeches were over came the most memorable part of the dedication for me. I was asked to oversee/help with the sales of the New Testaments, so I went down to the tables in front of the grandstands to set that up with a few other people. As we were getting everything ready, the nationals started to bring a few boxes of Bibles from the truck to the table. As they did so, they were holding the heavy boxes high above their shoulders and shouting triumphantly. One man would start a single yell on a certain pitch, then everyone else would join in for a few seconds, and then they'd repeat the cycle. They brought the boxes to the tables, and as we started opening them the nationals started getting more excited. They kept up the yells as they walked in a continuous circle around us and the tables. I wish I had gotten a chance to get a video of that, but at the moment I was setting everything up. Then again, had I not been setting up, I wouldn't have been in the middle of it, and it wouldn't have been quite so incredible.
There had been pre-orders of Bibles, so many of the people had blue tickets to turn in for Bibles, but plenty of others gladly paid 12 Kina there for their copies. A local member of Parliament was there and had given a speech or two, and he bought 3000 Kina worth of Bibles (250) to give out free to local churches. He opened one box on the field there and said they were "free to the first people who get them" and nearly caused a stampede. At another point, Leah Pfantz started reading from the Kuman New Testament and gathered a large crowd around her as she read. The picture below was actually one of the Pfantz's guests telling stories, but it was the same effect both times. (The difference was that I couldn't get close enough to get a good picture of the crowd around Leah)
After it was all over, we split up and ate meals with various pastors and church groups in the evening. They were very welcoming and glad to have us there. After a good night's rest, we traveled back through the mountains to Ukarumpa on Saturday. The shot below gives you an idea of what it looked like. The road across the bottom of the picture is our road, but I'm not sure if the road through the middle was ours or if that one just leads to a village somewhere. Either way, that's what the roads look like through the mountains, though these were more often paved fairly well. You can also see a massive landslide in the top right of the picture that took out a village and part of the highway too.
This week, as I've already said, won't be spent in the Finance office. I'm leaving tomorrow morning to go with a mission trip to nearby Yonki until Friday. More on that later...