A few weeks after arriving in Papua New Guinea, I was asked by one of our regional field leaders, Jan Wols (first name pronounced “yon”) to accompany him trip into a remote village (South Lamogai). He and his family along with another family had been a part of reaching and helping establish a church in S. Lamogai in the past. Of course, I said yes, and was very grateful that I had been invited and was very excited about the journey ahead.
There were several purposes for this trip. This December, some of the new missionaries will be going to S. Lamogai to live for three weeks, a time referred to as “Bush Orientation”. Our job was to go there early to make sure everything was in working order, fix up any problems on/in the house. We would also be bringing medicine for some leprosy patients and Jan would also take this time to meet with the Bible teachers in the surrounding churches from other villages for some further discipleship.
Before we left we had made several arrangement for our travels into S. Lamogai. We planned that we would fly one hour south and then stay the first night with some fellow missionaries on the southern coast, then we would try to find a ride the following morning to get to our second destination, where we would be meeting twenty other people to transport all of our supplies, a four hour hike, into the village. You may have read about some of these preparations in Beth’s blog “Lamogai of Bust” and I am happy and grateful to report to you that all of these plans to travel into the village worked out perfectly. Thank you Lord!
After arriving, we found that the house did need a lot of work (it had been sitting empty for over 2 years) and we had a lot of work to do. While we were there, Jan & I were able to clean the solar panels that had been heavily damaged by algae growth and I was able to replace most of the fly wire (screen) around the house. Jan worked on many other of the practical needs for preparing the house for Bush Orientation and we were able to get a lot accomplished on the house.
However, even though we were there to work on the house, I got a ton of time out with the people, experiencing village life. Not only did I make a lot of friends, but I was able to take part in seeing how they butcher and prepare pigs for consumption, hunting birds out in the jungle, gardening (not flowers, but food), observing a “sumsum” which is a traditional song & tribal dance “ceremony,” and eating, eating and more eating. Most of what they eat I had never tried before and it took some time to get used to. Even now I know what I would avoid in the future! 🙂
They were very relational people and were very helpful to me. They helped me continue to learn Tok Pisin (trade language of PNG) and I would say I made a couple of really good friendships while there. I hope someday I get to see some of them again.
One of the more awkward things that I experienced happened a few days after we arrived. I had known that in Papua New Guinea it is normal for male friends to hold hands. I had very limited experience with this thus far, so it was still something I had yet to fully experience. One day I was walking around the village trying to find some “kaukua” (like a sweet potato) to put into some rat traps for the house. As I was walking I found one of my new friends Benjamin. I told him what I wanted and he grabbed my hand, interlocked fingers with me and walked me around the village for about twenty minutes to go find some kaukau! It was SO uncomfortable, and all the while I felt like everyone must be watching us and thought for sure they were secretly laughing inside their huts. Of course, they weren’t because to them it just looks like a natural friendly expression. That will take me some time to get used to for sure. 🙂
This guy Benjamin ended up being one of my best friends in the village. He is a young guy, around the age 20 and not yet married. I asked some of the believers if they knew if he was “insait lain bilong Kraist or no gat?” In English, “In the family of Christ or not?” They told me they did not think he had heard the message yet, since he was pretty new to the village.
I have decided to start praying for Benjamin to have the opportunity to hear the “gut nius” (“good news”) and have the opportunity to put his trust in Christ.
One of the funnest experiences I had there was going out into the jungle and hunting birds. One afternoon, I noticed a couple of young men carrying around a large slingshot type tool. I asked them if they were going out to hunt birds. They said yes, so I asked if I could come with them. They said okay, so we went out.
As we walked along a jungle trail, one of the guys spotted a bird and took the slingshot and hit it while it was flying through the air. I didn’t know what kind of bird it was, but as he ran into the jungle to find his catch, someone else told me that it would be mine and that I could take it home and eat it. I wasn’t exactly thrilled about eating a wild bird, since I had never done so before. However, I was willing to try it. Next thing I know, he came back out of the jungle with the bird, and it was a bright green, blue and red PARROT!!!
Well, they plucked its feathers and “gutted” it, and then I took it home to cut off what little meat was on it to cook it up. The meat was pretty tough, and no, it did not taste like chicken! 🙂 That was by far one of the most memorable experiences of the trip.
Another cool thing that I experienced there was that a baby boy was born in the village, and the family decided to name him after me! So in this village in Papua New Guinea there is a little boy named, “Tom.” I asked Jan about its significance and he told me that is how they make history in the village. They will know that is when I visited the village, because that is when the boy was born. Pretty cool. There is some “strings attached” with having a namesake, though. Should I ever go back and visit the village, it would be good for me to bring him a gift. If I never go back to the village, I should at least try to send something every few years.
I also met and spent some good time with some of the Bible teachers of the surrounding villages. We would talk about the work going on and they would help me practice language. One day I was talking to one of them, and he asked where we were going to go to teach God’s Word. I told him I didn’t know yet. He responded, “Bai mipela askim God em i helpim yu. Yu no save, God em is save.” In English, “We will ask God to help you. You don’t know, but God knows.”
As Jan & I were leaving the village, one of the Bible teachers wives gave me a hug and handed me a 5 kina (PNG money) bill, which is equal to about $2 US. When I asked about it I was told that she had wanted to contribute to “the work of the ministry” by giving it to me. It nearly brought me to tears. These people had almost nothing.
It was so good for me to witness first hand a prime example of what we are in Papua New Guinea to do. Up to this point of living here, I think I had kind of lost sight of why we were here. Going on this trip helped me really remember that we are here to help bring people who’ve never had a chance to hear the good news in their own language into a relationship with Jesus Christ. We’re not here to force people into a religion, which has unfortunately happened here in Papua New Guinea in the past. We are here to offer hope through a living relationship with a living person. My life has changed because of Him, and I want other people to know Him, too.
Our return journey back was pretty crazy. For one, I had gotten an infection on my foot before we left and there were two other wounds that were in pain and were felling like they were getting infected, and they were on my feet as well. I knew we had to hike out of the village, so I was concerned about these infections.
The morning we left the village, we hiked for eight hours. Thankfully, and I know people were praying for me, I had little issue with my infections on this hike. The hike was still brutal though. Eight hours is a long time under the hot PNG sun! I thought I was going to die. After this hike we found a car to give us a ride down to the coast. When we arrived at the coast, we found a timber camp where we were hoping to catch a boat to take us to the town we needed to catch the plane at the next morning.
Unfortunately, the boat was not there and they had no idea when it would return. So we hung out and waited for the boat. After a few hours it returned but they informed us that it would not make another trip out until the next morning. We would have to stay the night in the timber camp. Someone came along and offered us a place to stay inside one of the main offices for the camp. We gratefully accepted and after a few hours of hanging out with some people learning language, I hit the sack.
Staying at the timber camp was fine, but the main problem was that out wives had not heard from us and would have no way of knowing why we had not made it to the last leg of our travel before catching the plane. We were okay, but naturally, our wives were worried. They wondered what could have happened to us.
Well, the next morning we finally caught the boat and made it back to the town where we would catch the plane. The rest of the journey went smoothly and I was thrilled to see Beth & Jude standing on the air strip waiting for us when we arrived!
There is so much I experienced on this trip, so much to process. I think it will be quite some time before everything really sinks in.