I (Jotham) had always known I wanted to be involved in missions. My parents first visited Papua New Guinea when I was one year old, and we were on the mission field as a family by the time I was four. I was saved that same year.
I remember talking with my dad about hell and I was terrified of going there. As I sat there contemplating the reality of hell, I realized that I didn’t have to worry about going there because of what Jesus had done for me on the cross. Immediately I was filled with joy and excitement. I told my parents how I wanted my future friends in Papua New Guinea to know this great news too!
At age 8, I firmly decided I would be involved in missions too. I grew up in a remote area of Papua New Guinea where we lived with the Kaulong people group who, until we came, had never heard the gospel. My parents were intentional to include us kids in the ministry too. We saw early on that even our daily chores helped save time for my parents who were working hard in learning language, translation and literacy.
One of my favorite things while growing up, though, was getting to help my dad with projects. I’ve always had a knack for working with my hands, and my dad was happy to teach me what he knew and do whatever he could to help me keep learning after that. I helped with and did many projects growing up such as rewiring our house, pouring cement, building projects, repairs, small motors, etc. My dad frequently needed my help, and that was common among many church planting missionaries. I saw many who were busy with translation and discipleship but just never had the time to fix their generator or repair their solar electric system, so they just limped by.
I was able to gain some more experience after my high school graduation with well drilling. And later gained more experience with a missionary I looked up to who was the main mechanic for the field at that time. When I returned to the states, I attended New Tribes Bible Institute.
When I left PNG I actually never anticipated coming back. I had grown up with the idea that missions has to be hard, so I saw myself going to the Middle East and likely becoming a martyr. Going “home” to PNG seemed too easy.
But in Bible school, I had many people asking me why I didn’t go back. “You already know the culture and language,” they’d say, “and you’ve said so yourself that they need lots of practical help there too!” God was working in my heart, and I soon realized that the same job I’d always seen myself working elsewhere was the same need that I knew firsthand was desperately needed by the missionaries in PNG.
When I first started to get to know Maria, she was already planning to go to PNG. I was glad to hear it as I know that having the same vision in ministry is very important for missionary couples. I was fascinated to learn later that during one of our first conversations when I’d talked about my passion in missions (to do practical service ministry), she had realized it was the same passion that she had written down in her journal the night before. God had been planning this for us long before we ever knew about it, and now we were excited to watch the pieces fall into place.
I got to know Maria more during missionary training. I was busy with the Tech Specialist course, a program at the NTM Missionary Training Center, focusing on practical needs of missionaries overseas. It was a heavy workload, classes all day and multiple hours of homework each evening – the equivalent of a masters program. I’d always wanted to do this training, and I soaked up everything I could learn. I’d read the textbook Tech Tips for Missionaries at least four times during my growing up years, and was thrilled to finally be doing it myself. But, even during that busy time, I managed to fit in a dating relationship. We got engaged at the end of the summer.
The summer after we got married, we took a vision trip to PNG. Maria was very excited to see where I grew up, the country, the house and village where my parents still serve, and to meet some believers there who were thrilled we were planning to come back to keep helping missionaries.
Even during that trip, there were many projects I could help with. Missionaries said to us, “How soon can you be here? Can you stay and help now?” We were excited that the need God had put in our hearts was real and felt by the missionaries in PNG.
Now, today, it’s hard for me to believe that I get to do something I love as ministry. I enjoy helping missionaries and saving them time and fixing things they’d likely not get around to. Or getting their electricity up and running and making sure they can function well far from civilization. There’s a huge need, and there’s just myself and one other missionary in this role. We’re praying God would send four to six more people with practical skills to help throughout PNG. I really enjoy serving the Lord in this capacity!