Papua New Guinea! What exactly are we doing in this south Pacific island nation halfway around the globe from our native USA? Read on to learn more!
We first arrived in this beautiful country in January 2001, after 23 hours of flights. We spent the next several months in a coastal town of the Sepic Region adjusting to life and learning the trade language of Melanesian Pidgin (or Tok Pisin, which is a trade language made up primarily of English-based words and words from 16 other languages, to provide a way for the more than 800 different language groups here to communicate with each other!).
Our plan was to move quickly into a remote bush (=jungle) location to minister among one of PNG’s many tribal groups in the Sepik Region just after finishing our orientation time. However, through various circumstances, we were left without teammates to join us in surveying and allocating into one of these tribes.
We began surveying several areas of the country during our time in ‘limbo’. God truly blessed us during this time with the opportunity to meet many missionaries and glean from their wisdom, as well as do some research into different places and groups that have yet to hear God’s Word in their language. When the plane came to pick us up after one of those survey trips, the pilot told us about what had happened in New York on 9/11 (I think we were some of the small minority of Americans in the world who heard nothing about it until days later!)
Just a few weeks later, we headed back to the US for a few months to spend time with family and to hold memorial services for Chad’s Dad Dave, whose death years ago in Panama had finally been confirmed. Following that time, we began the new year of 2002 back in PNG and moved from the Sepic Region to the Madang Region where our partners Jason and Kellie Knapp were waiting.
Madang is the newest area of PNG entered by NTM as a mission. That spring, we began surveying New Britain island. We landed on a grass airstrip and met with some people from the Tobo tribe, who welcomed us to come back for another visit. During our very next trip, we discovered that the people were not only eager to have us come live and work among them, but that they had even picked out sites where we could build our houses!!
We moved into the Tobo area in the fall of 2002, and began learning their very difficult unwritten language and complex but fascinating culture. After 2 years of formal language and culture study, during which time we finalized the Tobo alphabet for use in reading and writing, we returned to the US for home assignment (furlough) in October 2004.
After a busy but encouraging time of reconnecting with family, friends, and supporters (as well as adding Elijah to our family!!), we returned to Papua New Guinea in October 2005 for our second term. Much has happened so far this term to date:
October 2005: We worked with about 500 Tobo people to resurface our airstrip, which had deteriorated so badly that it had been closed for over a month (we even had to helicopter in!). In less than a week, the job was done, and our strip was in even better shape than when we first moved in!
October-November 2005: We began preparing primers and readers and other literacy materials, using the alphabet developed and finalized during our language and culture study. Working with Tobo storytellers and artists, we developed a series of 4 primers and 3 readers, as well as 3 booklets for literacy class graduates.
December 2005: Janeene began working on preparation of literacy materials for the first classes. Chad began translating 2 of the 3 booklets as well as Genesis 19 in preparation for his first consultant check
January 2006: Jason and Kellie began teaching the first 2 Tobo literacy classes. Chad had the booklets and Genesis 19 successfully checked by a consultant and began moving on, starting in Genesis 1.
February 2006: A work team from one of our home churches, Circle Community in Orlando, FL, came for a visit and to help us with some projects. The 6 men and women rebuilt our rotten deck, put in extra supporting house posts, and many other projects, including preparing literacy materials.
They got to sit in on some of Chad’s translation sessions, and also check out our literacy classes- which Chad taught one day due to sickness in the Knapp household. After 8 days with the team in here, we all flew out to our mission center to take a much-needed break.
March 2006: We had a graduation of 21 students from our first 2 Tobo literacy classes! And 15 of the 21 expressed an interest in being teachers!
April 2006: We went to a team translation workshop for a couple of weeks, along with 2 Tobo men, Tingon and his brother Rigo, who help Jason and Chad respectively with translating the Bible lessons and Scripture portions, respectively.
May 2006: Literacy teachers’ training: Jason taught 12 future literacy teachers from the group that had graduated in March.
May-June 2006: Church-planting and translation consultants flew in for a 3-day visit. One consultant evaluated the first 6 chronological Bible lessons which Jason had translated and then taught them to about 4-5 men. It was encouraging to hear some of the comments and questions the men had, and the lessons communicated very well.
One man, Maleon, shared with Jason after the lessons that he was really afraid and that all this time he had been hearing and believing wrong teaching.
Another younger man, Sondik, told Jason the following about the lessons he’d been hearing, "You know how if we eat different food like the white man’s food, it’s OK, but when we sit down and eat our own food, it really satisfies us and we like it a lot. Well, this is our food!" hese first 6 lessons only go up through Adam and Eve being placed in the garden before the fall, and already we are glad to see these responses!
One area of particular interest for the guys was hearing that Adam and Eve are our ancestors- black and white people. Many people here have always wondered if this were really true, or if we and they indeed came from 2 different ancestors. Please pray that God will use these lessons to be written and taught this fall to pierce people’s hearts with the amazing truth of His Word.
Speaking of God’s Word, most of the first 22 chapters of the Bible in Tobo were officially checked and approved. From the Creation all the way to the story of the ram being sacrificed in Isaac’s place, these stories are now in the Tobos’ words! Pol, the Tobo man who worked with the consultant and myself to check these Scriptures, shared with me afterward that "I was really happy to hear these words in my language." Praise God!
June 2006: The first Tobo-taught literacy class was kicked off, with Sondik teaching and 2 ladies assisting him (all three had gone through the teachers’ training course).
August 2006: Chad finished drafting the Old Testament portions needed in the teaching of Phase 1 (about 1100 verses) and began drafting New Testament portions. Also, the second Tobo-taught literacy class began, with Nikos and Saniya teaching 15 students.
September 2006: Janeene and Kellie finished drafting more stories along with their Tobo lady friends that will be compiled and put into another post-literacy booklet.
October 2006: The first Tobo-taught literacy class graduated, with Sondik handing the 7 proud graduates their certificates!
October 16, 2006: The teaching of Phase One began. Phase One refers to the first round of teaching through the Bible in chronological order, and moves from Creation (Gen 1) through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. We taught for 5 days a week until mid- to late January 2007.
January, 2007: More than 40 Tobo men and women believed when the Gospel message was presented. Praise God for the birth of the church in Tobo-land!
Jan-May 2007: Phase Two began shortly after Phase One. Over these months, the new believers gathered together for the first time and we covered many of the same OT and NT passages, as well as several new passages, with application for new believers. Among the truths learned, reviewed, and solidified during this time: we are saved not by anything of ourselves or any works, but solely on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice once and for all. We have eternal security because of what HE DID for us! Also, we need to share this important message with others around us. Also, the promise of the Holy Spirit and how he works in our lives as believers was introduced during this time.
June 2007-present: Phase 3 runs through the book of Acts and provides grounding in the history of the early New Testament church and challenges the believers in the area of outreach. Other truths learned during this time include baptism, the breaking of bread to remember Christ’s death, and how the same Holy Spirit who gave power for the early church to minister boldly in spite of persecution is available to give us the ability to share Christ with others in the midst of strong opposition that is still being felt in the community among the Tobo.
Spring 2008: Three Tobo men (Kips, Welsen, and Tingon) have begun teaching through the Phase One evangelistic lessons in the same village where they first heard them. Only a handful of unbelievers have been coming, but those believers who have been coming to review the lessons have been drawing great encouragement through the review of God’s great message for all people–for THEM.
May 2008: Knapps returned to the US for their year-long home assignment. We continue to wait on the paperwork needed to leave the US and return to our ministry in PNG. The Williamsons press on alone in the village studying the Tobo language and culture and developing great friendships with the people there.
Future: – Teaching/Discipleship
Phase 4 begins to delve into the NT epistles and provides further grounding in doctrine as well as application for practical Christian living. Later on in this phase, we will be studying the endtimes.
During all these phases from 2 on, we will be emphasizing discipleship and living out our faith in practical ways, and applying the teaching of Scripture to our daily lives, and encouraging the believers as they meet together and leadership emerges and functions, all leading toward an independently-functioning and healthy indigenous New Testament church body.
Translation: We will continue to press on, getting the Scriptures into the hands of the lesson teachers and readers who will be able to read and study it for themselves. Currently translated, printed and in their hands are the Phase One portions of Genesis and Exodus, the book of Mark the portions of Acts for use in Phase 3 teaching.
Currently Chad is working on Romans at this point. The goal is to finish the entire New Testament and then back to other key OT passages. It is our desire to train future Tobo translators to take over the work and keep working on into the rest of the Old Testament.
Literacy: We are encouraged by the handover to the faithful Tobo men and women who are teaching and helping out others to learn to read and write. We have followed up with occasional visits to the classes and look forward to seeing the classes continue to spread out among the different villages and family groups in our area.
Our desire is that all the Tobo men, women and children would be able to read the Bible and Bible lessons and understand and study them for themselves and as groups. And one day, we’d like to see Tobo Bible teachers writing up their own lessons!