Two years ago, we met Ethnos360 missionaries, Robyn and Levi Lenz, during a missions Sunday at a supporting church. They had just returned from Papua New Guinea on home assignment and we were preparing to head overseas to . . . well we didn’t know where yet, but we hoped it would be PNG.
That Sunday they told about the fledgling church they had helped plant in North Wahgi and the nearly completed New Testament in that tribal language. We picked up a pencil case and magnet as prayer reminders and to help fund the Bible printing. Though it was a brief encounter and I can’t recall any of the names or stories they shared, their obvious love for the North Wahgi people and heart for the new church made an impression.
In February, less than two months after our family arrived in Papua New Guinea to serve with Ethnos360’s Aviation department, we were offered the chance to travel with the Lenzes’ coworker, Daniel Hulley, to North Wahgi for a ten day “bush orientation” trip.
The main purpose for our going along was to gain a better understanding of the PNG culture and Melanesian Pidgin trade language by getting outside the mission support center where we reside and immersing ourselves in village life for a time. The opportunity to see firsthand one of the tribal ministries we have prayed for and will be a part of supporting was one we couldn’t pass up!
The day of our departure started with a 6:45am van ride to the airport. Our quick 25-minute flight to another provincial capital provided Jeff with some observation time in the cockpit. Once there, we loaded into the back of a land cruiser, stopped by the produce and super- markets to purchase food for our stay in the village, and continued nearly two hours on rough roads.
A few neighbors and one very excited dog greeted us as we pulled into a fenced yard surrounding three houses. We stayed in the third, a former missionary’s home, which has been maintained as a guesthouse. With a water system fed by rainwater and a gas stove, fridge and a few lights powered by solar charged DC batteries, we weren’t exactly roughing it despite being entirely off-grid.
During the next eight days we met and spent as much time with people from the church as we could– visiting their homes, helping in their gardens, learning how they fish, raise pigs, cook and just hanging out on the porch and telling stories.
One morning we hiked to a beautiful riverside clearing and learned how to prepare a traditional mumu feast – sweet potatoes, cooking bananas, meat and greens wrapped in banana leaves and cooked (sometimes steamed) over hot rocks.
Another day we were invited to a baby naming ceremony and celebration for one of the young couples in the church. This was made extra special by the fact that they had chosen the name Daniel, in honor of Mr. Hulley.
Though surrounded by God’s beautiful creation, we were very aware the highland paradise we found ourselves in was no Eden. During our short stay we witnessed many effects of the Fall and consequences of sin: The daily toil and challenges of living off the land. Pig bites and undiagnosed illnesses. Polygamy and domestic abuse. Stories of tribal fighting and the societal upheaval caused by alcohol, drug, and gambling addictions.
A desire to share God’s offer of forgiveness and new, abundant, and eternal life through Christ is what led the Lenz and Hulley families to make their home in North Wahgi 14 years ago. After learning the tribal language and culture, they taught from Genesis to Revelation and proclaimed the grand story of God’s redemptive plan.
The best part of our trip was hearing testimonies from believers whose lives have been changed by their understanding of Christ’s redemptive work and joining them for worship and Bible study! Some came from pleasure-seeking backgrounds, formerly caring nothing for God. Others, once trusting in their religious works to earn them God’s favor, are now resting in Christ’s death and resurrection as the means of their salvation.
The missionary team’s primary focus now is on discipling the developing church and completing a Bible translation in the local language. They are just one book away from a completed New Testament!
Sanctification is a process, but the Holy Spirit is working in the hearts of believers as they grow in their knowledge of God’s Word. The church members are learning how to encourage one another and function as a Body, continuing the literacy program and Bible teaching themselves. They also recently began a teaching outreach in a neighboring village, which Jeff was able to visit during our stay. Our prayer is that God would raise up qualified local leaders who can shepherd the church.
The evening before we left, about a dozen of us gathered behind the church for one last meal and time of fellowship together. As I watched one lady sitting cross-legged on the straw floor across from me weaving a bilum and listened to her hopes of selling it to pay her way to an upcoming ladies Easter retreat, I felt so disappointed that I would not be around to see the bag completed or attend the event with her. Though we had to leave again, I knew the memories of our time together and imprints they left on our hearts would not be leaving us anytime soon.
As we flew, drove, and hiked a mile in the church planter’s shoes, we gained a better understanding of the struggles and joys they experience and an appreciation for their perseverance and dependence on the Lord. As we rubbed shoulders with the believers, we were encouraged by their faith and so blessed by their eagerness to help us adjust to PNG and prepare for ministry here.
We praise God for the work He is doing in North Wahgi! We thank Him for the privilege of supporting churches like this one all across Papua New Guinea, as part of team devoted to seeing a thriving church for every people!