Friday, July 4, 2008

Yonki - Elim Lodge

I think this last week will be the most memorable part of my time here in PNG this summer. The Ukarumpa youth group took a missions trip to help the Sommer family start their new ministry, and I was able to join them in that.

First, here's a little background on what the Sommers are doing. They have recently bought a portion of land along Yonki Lake (the reservoir created by the hydroelectric dam that powers about a third of PNG) and will be starting an orphanage there for AIDS orphans. You probably don't know this, but unless something drastic happens, PNG is only about 10-15 years away from being devastated with AIDS like some of the sub-Saharan African countries. Normally, PNG operates on what is called the "wantok" system, where relatives will always provide for each others' needs. This has worked for years, but now there are a lot more orphans, and the system doesn't always work. Relatives either don't have enough resources to do their part, or they will tend to shun orphans because they are afraid of AIDS, or they are ashamed of the parents' actions that caused the situation.

The Sommers plan to build Elim Lodge (named for the passage in Exodus 15:22-27) to care for some of these orphans and to set an example for how others in PNG, hopefully nationals, can do the same. They will be building a house for themselves, a large lodge for cooking/eating, ten huts for the orphans, and some cottages/camping areas for people to vacation, with the hope that they will be able to use those as one source of income and support for the ministry. All this will be within sight of the lake, pictured below.

Monday morning, we packed up and left Ukarumpa. About an hour later, we arrived at Yonki, and spent the next few hours using the Sommers' boats to ferry across to the peninsula and settle in. That afternoon, we started on some of the construction projects we had planned for the week. I was part of the team that used bush knives to clear the tall kunai grass from a large semi-flat area that would become both the playing field and the helipad. Others worked on building a permanent dock along the shore, starting construction of the Sommers' future house, and completing a liklik haus (outhouse) near the haus kuk (cooking house). For the next three days, our schedule was to work on these kind of construction projects (mostly the dock and the new house) for the mornings, then to spend time in the afternoons running a VBS with the national kids from the villages there, and finally to show videos focusing on AIDS awareness in the evenings. This morning we packed up and returned to Ukarumpa.

We had no running water or electricity there, and we stayed in the large prayer house of the nearby village. Here's a picture of the house:

Without running water, we had to carry all of our water up from the lake, then we'd run it through some purifiers so that it was potable. It was still kind of murky, but we didn't mind. We didn't have any showers, so if we wanted to feel somewhat cleaner, we'd have to take soap down to the lake and wash up there. And as you've probably guessed, all we had for a bathroom was a liklik haus. We did all of our cooking with gas burners that we brought along with us, though we did have a mumu with the village yesterday. It was like living in a typical village setting, so that was a neat experience.

For the morning construction projects, I mostly worked on the Sommers' house. I did a lot of measuring and cutting boards and beams for the floor, though we were slightly held back by a lack of tools. We only had one saw (a handheld circular saw), two tape measures, one square, and three hammers. We also had to deal with PNG lumber, which isn't exactly cut to a regulation width and length due to the lack of perfect sawmill facilities. We still managed to get a lot done though. A few national men decided to help us out at the house, so I had an opportunity to practice some Pisin while I worked with them. They always walk around with bush knives, so there were plenty to spare for this picture!

Afternoons were a lot of fun! We had probably 50-60 kids show up from the two nearby villages. We would start with large group games until everyone was there, then we'd do some skits of Bible stories (without having practiced them beforehand) and share a little bit about those and the gospel from Eden to the resurrection, then work on a memory verse before going back to some more games. The kids' favorite games were red rover, "pusi na rat" ("cat and rat", basically cat and mouse), and "pisin, pisin, rokrok" (PNG version of "duck, duck, goose", except they don't have words in Pisin to differentiate between kinds of birds, so we had to do "bird, bird, frog" instead). It was fun to see them getting excited about that, and also to see how the rest of the village would come out and sit on the sidelines spectating, cheering or laughing depending on what was going on at the moment. The kids watched and listened intently to the dramas and Bible presentations we did, so hopefully that will leave just as much of an impression on them. (Some of the dramas we did were the good Samaritan, the prodigal son, and the crucifixion/resurrection of Christ) They were able to memorize the verse by the end of the third day too.

For the video showings, we always had a large turnout. We had brought a generator, projector, screen, and speakers so that we could do that. The first two nights' videos focused on AIDS awareness and prevention (emphasizing abstinence/faithfulness), and the third night's video showed a lot of why the Sommers are starting this ministry. It portrayed a true story of a family where both parents found out they had AIDS and went around to many relatives before they found a brother who would be willing to take their children in after AIDS had taken the parents' lives. The brother's family ended up treating the children poorly in the end. Even though it was in Pisin and I was trying to translate the whole time, it was still moving.

There's so much more I could tell you about the week, because like I said, I think it will be my most memorable experience, mostly because of the time spent in the village and with the kids. I don't want to make this post too long though! I'll end by saying that I got to take my first helicopter ride this morning on the way back from Yonki, rather than driving. That was cool too! It's amazing how it only takes about 10 minutes to get back to Ukarumpa by helicopter, when it's more than an hour by road.

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