As many of you know, the people of the Cliffs village have been on our hearts ever since January of last year, when Ambox and I went over and discovered some real spiritual interest and a desire among many for our two families to come teach them literacy and the Bible in their language (note—this is the same Tobo language we’ve been working in for the past 13 years, with only a few very minor differences—think going from Boston to Atlanta). And as many of you also know, what we thought might have been an imminent invitation was put on indefinite hold by a few key leaders in the community, mostly older men, leaving the others in the village frustrated but seemingly helpless to do anything about it.
Well, with all this in view, after returning from our yearlong time in the USA (which was a wonderful gift from God!), we didn’t want to waste any time getting me back to the bush to see what was going on there, if anything. Of course, first of all I wanted to catch up with our coworkers Ambox and Nailen and fellow believer Daisa, to see firsthand how they’re doing, encourage them, and get their thoughts on the Cliffs.
Arrival–Day One: Wednesday, July 29th, 2015
Ambox and I had planned to set out for the Cliffs on the next day after my arrival in Stone village on Wednesday the 29th of July. However, after the plane left, we had a nasty surprise as we walked back to our longtime home there just up the hill and into the trees a few hundred feet from the airstrip. Thieves had struck again—this time the night before I came! They had stolen the battery and solar panel that were powering our radio, as well as 3 of the 4 truck batteries underneath the house, extension cords used in powering our house even temporarily were cut and stolen, and several other smaller items that were of practical value for use in the bush were also nabbed.
So with all this to deal with, we had no choice but to meet with the community leaders the next day and put our Cliffs trip off until the following morning.
As we worked to clean up and re-secure things at the house, we quickly turned to more encouraging talk since we were so overjoyed to see each other again after such a lengthy absence.
Ambox and Nailen had lost their baby boy back in June 2014, just a few months following our disappointing non-invitation at the Cliffs and days after our arrival in the USA. It was amazing to hear how Nailen was doing so poorly after the stillborn birth that she nearly died. She was weak and couldn’t even talk. The small band of believers prayed fervently, and by the next day she began to recover, slowly but surely! With big beaming smiles as they recounted this story, my friends gave glory to God for his healing of Nailen.
Nailen is as healthy and strong as she had been before her tragic loss. But a question still nagged me, and after some time, I finally had to ask them: “Does this change your thinking about moving to another village like the Cliffs should we be invited to go live there?” Their answer: “No, no! We will go wherever there are people who want to hear God’s Talk! We know that Satan is always going to try to stop and mess up God’s work. And there will always be many heavies (trials). But not Satan, not those heavies, no NOTHING can separate us from God’s love in Yesu, just like it says in Rom 8:31 to 39. And in that we can live and work and lift up the name of our God big every day. There are still these 10 villages here in our area, and everyone needs to hear the good news. So if God opens a door, let’s go inside it. ” So what more could I say to THAT?!?
After several wonderful hours with the whole family, Nailen and the kids went back home while Ambox and I talked long into the afternoon. What a brother! I had come there to encourage him, but I think I got the better end of that bargain!
As I started layering that night, I was thankful that my sleeping bag at the house was not stolen as the thermometer inexorably sank down into the 40s. Why do I always forget how cold it can get here in these mountains? I thought as I nestled deeper into the bag and wondered what the next 5 days of my trip would bring.
Day Two: Thursday, July 30th
I did NOT want to emerge from my cocoon….even to make some hot coffee. But I eventually had to….
That morning, several community leaders came up the house and hollered their greetings. I set down the broom and knew that I now had plans for the remainder of my day. It was good to sit and chat with the guys. Once Ambox made his way down to the house, we all set off for the village meeting house through the dense fog.
During the hour or so before the meeting, we waited by the fire and swapped stories. I quietly found it mildly amusing in a gradeschool sort of way that the guy seated beside me and I shared colorful nicknames…Chicken Egg and Chicken Poop! (Betcha can’t guess why I’m known as chicken egg…. ☺. Poor Chicken Poop’s mother had thought that he resembled that as an infant—talk about giving someone a complex!)
The meeting went on in typical Tobo fashion—several long hours of talking, with virtually everyone in the room getting their two cents in (and two dollars for some!) The upshot was that they would investigate the missing items and search houses that were known to have large batteries in them (times are a changin’ and solar panels and batteries are highly desirable for use in charging cell phones and hooking up small lights in some of their huts!).They assured me that they would catch the culprits and have them return whatever they could and then make them pay me compensation.
I was also compensated for a prior break-in that had occurred while Ambox and Nailen were dealing with their tragedy (I believe that break-in was the 7th of what are now 8 separate incidents in Stone village!!) Let’s just say that even though I was heartened by the response of the current community leaders, these last two robberies only served to reinforce the decision we had prayerfully made years ago that it was high time to move on.
But move on to where? The Cliffs? That was still a gigantic question mark in my mind as my head hit the pillow that night. Will that question have a different answer this time around?
Day Three: Friday, July 31st
It was yet another frigid morning in the 40s. Sunrise soon brought the temps up into the 50s and even 60s. I was grateful for blue skies and sunny weather as we set out in the brisk mountain air toward the Cliffs. Both Ambox and I prayed for the people there, as well as for my knees (that they would hold up well on the trip) and that his sickness would not bother him on the journey (he wasn’t feeling well the past week or so with something that I think is pleurisy. It affects many Tobo people and I think it even got me in its clutches on a few occasions.) During the 6 ½ hour hike, we were grateful that both prayers were answered in the affirmative. We do make quite the pair, I chuckled to myself. We each struggle with our infirmities, but we won’t let anything stop us from trudging over to the Cliffs, even if we were to find out that the people still won’t invite us.
As I gasped for air on the last mountain up to the Cliffs, I wondered to myself why I had enjoyed so many cheeseburgers while in the States. They were delicious, but I’m sure paying for it now! I was grateful that it had only rained on and off throughout the last 2 hours of our trek. The rains of the past several days, however, had already left their mark, as much of the day was spent sloshing through the mucky mud and trying to avoid slipping on slick rocks and roots scattered throughout the steep trails.
Our host Kris met us just outside his house in the middle of the village. Any questions in mind as to what kind of reception we would get were rapidly dispelled by his warm greetings. He and Ambox embraced and exchanged kisses—reserved for close family members and friends who haven’t seen each other in a while. Kris also hugged me and kissed me on the neck. I was touched by his gesture of friendship.
Kris’ older brother had been working for a mining company in the gold town of Wau further south in our province and was killed in a gruesome bulldozer accident. Kris and his family (and basically, most of the village) were waiting for the body to come into the village via airplane. According to custom, people mainly stay near the village and sit in the house of the immediate family of the deceased as part of a mourning period, which in this case will last up to several weeks. As sad as this event was, it was actually perfect timing for us to come visit. Ambox and I had even brought a bit of sugar and teabags for a very culturally welcomed offering. This, coupled with our visit and stay, meant a lot to Kris and his relatives.
Interestingly enough, the main topic of conversation kept going back to one thing: the desire of the people to have us come to the Cliffs to live among them. Ambox and I, having been here before, were not sure if anything different was going to come of things this third time around. Kris vented his frustration with the “old guard” who he felt were denying the people this important service we wanted to bring to their community. He at one point said, “You know, I think it would be good if we just told them we want you guys to come and that the rest of us are all one-insides (in agreement) to have you come.”
At several times during the afternoon and evening, Kris ducked out of the hut, leaving Ambox and I to rest and chat about things together. I couldn’t help but wonder whether he was out to do some simple errands, or if more were afoot with other fellow villagers and back-door meetings.
That night, a relative handful of men came to visit us at the outset. The numbers grew larger as the evening wore on. A common refrain from them as we talked was “This is the third time now you’ve come to see us.” This made a big impression on them, evidently, as this seemed to spur much discussion among themselves and including us at various points in the conversation…all with the intent to take some action on what to do with us. The group could have stayed later, but they had all pulled several all-nighters before our arrival and needed to sleep.
After they left, the fire waned and it grew cold. I layered as best as I could and shivered most of the night until the fire was stoked before dawn. I was even a bit jealous of the family members whose beloved pig snuggled next to them for the mutual warmth offered! Ambox and I have been down this road before, and the talk was encouraging back then, too. But talk is just that…talk. I prayed another quick prayer of thanksgiving for the expressed interest and favor of the people while pleading with God for more…like words translated into action….like an invitation…
But would we get one? Had the status quo changed since our long absence?
Stay tuned for the second and final part of this 2-part story…..