I love “firsts.” As the mother of young children I get to experience them all the time and there is nothing quite so wonderful as being able to be there for something happening that has never happened before! I get to stand back, watch it and rejoice! We have just been able to be a part of one of the amazing “first” moments with the Tigak church. Well, not JUST the Tigak church, three other language group’s churches were part of this “first” too! This first was that they all participated in the first ever (but hopefully not last) New Ireland Province Believers Conference! This conference was a gathering of PNG believers from four different language groups here in our area of the country (New Ireland Province, “NIP”), along with some of the missionaries who work among each group.
I am overwhelmed as I sit here and attempt to write this report of such a wonderful and blessed time! There is so much that could be said.
The conference was hosted by one of the participating villages (of the Siar language group) so everyone travelled down to them. Our Tigak group had the longest way to travel and it was quite the trip! Living here in PNG, it often strikes us missionaries as being so crazy how difficult it is to travel such relatively short distances here, especially when compared to the ease of travel in the States. The two days it took us to get to our destination would probably have taken about a couple hour drive on a highway or a half hour plane ride in the States! And it would have been a small fraction of the cost as well. Wow. Pretty amazing. It was actually pretty fun to travel with our group as we have never before had the chance to travel with all of our Tigak brothers & sisters at once! 🙂
Our travels started when our whole group left our island at around 6am in the morning on a Wednesday. We loaded into a village boat and sped into town where we smooshed into a mission owned truck that would take us the next 3 hours of our trip. We packed the truck so full no one was sitting comfortably, especially the poor people in the back with all of bags! After squeezing into our places, off we went. We arrived in fairly good time at the “junction” where we would be meeting up with another group of believers. By “junction” I mean a small hut on the side of the road that you would miss if you blinked. Welcome to third world travel! 😀
We parked and waited for about an hour and then we heard them. The large truck full of believers from a nearby language group coming down the mountain- our family in Christ and new travel partners, along with one of their missionaries, Karl. 🙂 It was so good to see them all and everyone was full of excitement! After many happy hand shakes, greetings to all and a quick rearrange of some baggage, we all loaded into what I will affectionately refer to as the “cattle car.” Upon first glance it didn’t look so bad and I really thought I had the best seat in the house, sitting in the very back corner, leaning on the metal side with Iris in my lap, Tom and Jude nearby sitting on a large tire. Turns out that seat was only the best when we were not moving. Once we started bumping along mountainous roads, swallowing dust and being slammed into the metal sides of the truck, things were looking grim for all of us. This “wonderful” ride lasted over 4 hours (not including all the stops we made) and thank heaven by the end of it we were at our stop for the night. We were so covered in dust we could draw on our skin and see the lines! Especially the skin of our PNG friends! My hair was so packed full of dust that when I took out my pony tail holder my hair just stayed in place like it had been hair sprayed! Haha!
Our stop for the night was the Papatar village and the missionaries there were kind enough to provide us with showers, dinner and beds for the night! It was wonderful to be able to rest! We ate dinner with our hosts, Ryan & Shelby, there and then tried to go to bed as early as we could so that we would be ready for our early start the next morning.
The next day started when our alarms went off at 4am. We repacked our stuff, got the kids ready and were waiting on the beach at 5am along with the others who would climb into the boat along with us for the last leg of our journey to Siar- the three hour boat ride. It was decided that the first boat load to go should be the women and children + Tom because I needed him. 🙂 It took three total boat trips to get everyone there! The poor boat drivers! This boat ride was not nearly as bad as the “beloved” cattle car and the scenery as we went was lovely as we watched the sun rise and got to look at the gorgeous mountains all around us the whole way. As pretty as it was, it was still a long sore trip and you can bet we were very relieved when we finally pulled up on shore at the Siar village! The missionaries, Lane & Kerri and Chris & Erin, were on the shore to meet us and it was a very joyful reunion, as well as Madonna, a missionary from another language group who had come in by boat a day earlier! 🙂
After arriving, some of the Siar believers divvied up our Tigak believers and whisked them away to the different huts they’d be staying at. The Siar church had been preparing for weeks to host us all! The different Siar families had worked hard fixing up there huts, weaving sleeping mats and preparing food to be able to accommodate every visitor. It was moving and humbling to witness the beauty of the body of Christ working together in such a way! We missionaries were also whisked away to the missionaries’ homes and we settled right in and tried to relax a bit while we waited the 6+ hours for the last boat load of people to come.
The NIP Conference was ON!
The Siar believers had taken the time to decorate the meeting house (“church”) with flowers and plants all over the place and it looked nice. It struck me as being very special that they did that. The festive village decorations paired with the huge banner the female Siar missionaries had painted made the place look quite “official” for this wonderful event! That afternoon the Conference began with a big meal together. It was a wonderful kick off as everyone relaxed, ate good food and just enjoyed the blessing of spending time with fellow brothers and sisters, some of whom they (and we) were meeting for the first time! I just could not get enough of watching the “buzz” and seeing everyone’s joy over this time! So, so wonderful!
From Friday-Sunday we, the Conference attendees, had meeting times for about 2 hours each morning and 2 hours in the afternoon. The main topic of the conference was “The Gospel: the Foundation of the Church and Our Lives.” In each of these meeting times we enjoyed singing together and hearing lessons taught by a variety of people, some missionaries and a couple Siar believers. Tok pisin, the national language here in Papua New Guinea was used through out the NIP Conference so that everyone was able to understand what was being said! Everyone really enjoyed these times of gathering together. Any time a lesson was being taught almost every adult in the place was taking notes and tracking well. It was so encouraging! Everyone was so eager to learn and to go grow from the sessions. Tom asked one of our Tigak guys what his favorite part of the NIP Conference was and he said it was every afternoon when he and the others were able to discuss the lessons they had heard that day. 🙂 Very encouraging.
Along with enjoying our time spent with the believers from each different language group, we missionaries were also totally blessed by our time spent with one another. Along with having great times of laughter it was also so refreshing to discuss how each other are doing, be challenged by discussions about God’s word, encourage one another and talk about the strategies, struggles and joys of ministry! All of us missionaries who had come are good friends and really love each other, so needless to say, it was constant fun and there was never a dull moment! We were so so thankful for the encouraging fellowship with our fellow “white skins.” 🙂
Through out the Conference time we would periodically check in with our Tigak brothers and sisters and ask them how they were doing, what were they learning, etc. Every time their responses were very encouraging. They all shared in their own way how the Conference was a huge encouragement to them and it was strengthening their faith. They shared with us also how they were spending time with the other believers and having hours and hours and of great fellowship and how they were “strengthening one another.” The two things that stood out to us as being very encouraging for all of them was the time spent with fellow Christians and the teaching from God’s word. Our prayer for all the village churches involved was that they would all be deeply affected and strengthened and it seems that the Lord did answer these prayers. Now we pray that what they learned will sink deeply and that they would hang onto it!
On the last day of the Conference we all had another meal together in the afternoon. Following the meal there was a time for testimonies and for each group to share a worship song from their own language with the rest of us. This session lasted longer than the rest and went until after dark. It was very encouraging to hear people go to the front and share how God had encouraged them over the last few days and what they had learned from the teaching. One young lady named Elizabeth, a believer from a nearby language group, shared and it was really moving to me. Later I gave her a hug and thanked her for sharing. She smiled shyly and said, “I felt like the Holy Spirit wanted me to share something but I wasn’t sure what I would say. So then I just thought-if the Holy Spirit is wanting me to talk then even if I don’t know what to say I know He will give me the words.” 🙂 I was so encouraged by her thoughts and to hear in her own words how clearly she understands the gospel and to hear her express her desire to grow in her relationship with Him. A little later she told me, “When I think about all the things I am thankful for about what Jesus has done for me, I just can’t even count them all, they just keep coming and coming!” Praise the Lord! :’) Elizabeth’s was only one of the many encouraging testimonies we heard from the believers as they reflected on the Conference time!
Before we could all be ready for it, the Conference time was over. It was bittersweet as we all packed up and prepared to travel the long way home. We all felt refreshed and encouraged and were just praising the Lord for such a wonderful “first” for these 4 village churches!
Our travels back were long just as they were coming, except this time instead of breaking it into two days, we did it all in one. Though we were sore by the end, all of the travel went as smoothly as we could have hoped for in spite of getting soaked on our boat by rain and waves! We arrived past midnight to our missions guest house in our provincial capital and some how we made it inside and into the beds to crash! 🙂 Tom took the believers to a neighboring village where they stayed for the night before returning to our village in the morning.
We are thinking often of what a wonderful time the NIP Conference was and so are your Tigak brothers & sisters! Though there are no plans set in stone yet, there has already been much chatter and hypothetic planning about who could host it next year and so on. We will see what the future holds! Until then we thank God for this years gathering and all the fruit that came from it and will continue to come from it! Thank you to those who prayed for this event and also to those who generously gave to help pay for this trip! It was definitely worth it!