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.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Kuman dedication

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...