Like many countries, Papua New Guinea is a very relational country. Relationships are a huge part of the culture here. Walking down the road here in the West New Britain province, you would be rude not to greet and maybe even stop and talk to people along the way to wherever you are headed. Whether someone knows you or not, you wouldn’t be surprised if they asked you where you were headed, or where you came from. Relationships are key here.
I want to tell you a little bit about my friend Arnold.
Arnold lives up the road from us. To get to his house I leave the mission center, walk about a quarter mile up the paved, main road, then turn onto an unpaved road that goes through some jungle and by a few huts. After about a half mile I take another turn onto a small path through a grove of oil palm tree’s, pass a few more huts and after a hundred yards or so, I find myself at Arnold’s hut.
I met Arnold shortly after arriving in Papua New Guinea, but we didn’t become good friends until over a month ago. I found that I needed to get out by myself more regularly for language study and Arnold was more than eager to help me learn Tok Pisin, the trade language of PNG.
Arnold’s family consists of his wife and five kids. They all live in a small hut up on stilts. They don’t have many things. Arnold has a couple of shirts and shorts that he rotates through, they have some pots and pans, and some machetes. He also has a pay-as-you-go cell phone, common here in PNG. Every time I go over to his house, they give me some fruit, usually a pineapple, for me bring home and give to Beth & Jude. Sometimes I feel bad when they give me things as I know they do not have much but this is a very appropriate part of the social culture here-it would be like you offering a drink to a friend when they stop by your house for a visit. Sometimes he asks me for water or to charge his phone for him. It’s the least I can do for all the ways he has helped me in learning the language and culture.
Arnold is a good language helper. Because PNG culture is considered a “shame” culture, it can be difficult to find a language helper that will correct you when you say something wrong. Speaking the language well is important though, so I want to be corrected and Arnold does just that. Also, he is willing to spend hours at a time with me working on language without getting irritated at my seeming lack of progress. 🙂
More important than being a good language helper, Arnold has been a good friend. Ever since we met, we have done a lot together apart from just language study. A couple of times we have gone into the provincial capital together, other times we have cut copra (processing harvested coconut) and oil palm together, and sometimes he has come to the mission center and we have just hung out. He tells me about the culture of Papua New Guinea and I tell him stories of America.
We will be leaving to move to another province soon and I won’t see Arnold for a few months, if not longer. Next week we are going to have a going away “mumu” (a tradition al feast) at his place and he and his wife have gotten t-shirts for Beth & I so that we “will wear the shirts and think of him & his wife.” We also got them a going away present.
I told him the other day that if there is ever an opportunity for him to hear the Bible teaching in his heart language from the missionaries in this area, he must hear it. He told me that he would, but then asked me if I came back sometime, could I teach him. Knowing the limitations of the trade language as well as my personal limitations in speaking it, all I could do was tell him that it is very important for him to hear it in his heart language and point him in the direction of who could teach him. Praise the Lord that their are missionaries in this language group who are working very hard to learn the language and prepare to share the good news!
This is why we are in Papua New Guinea, to give people the opportunity to hear our message of hope in their heart language. We cannot wait to be able to communicate God’s truths in a way that is clearly understood by the people, by the friends that we make in the people group we are here to reach. I have grown to care for Arnold a lot and nothing would make me happier than for Him to hear and believe what Christ has done for him!
- LISTEN! Arnold Tells the Story of Our Friendship in Tok Pisin (mp3)