I want to begin this blog by saying thank you to everyone who has prayed for my trip out to pack up our house and say goodbye to the Tigak church. My trip out there went very well, far better than I could have hoped or imagined. Our prayers were answered, though the trip was very difficult and painful.
This blog is a report of my trip, mainly a report detailing how the Lord answered all of our prayers above and beyond what we had asked. It is very long and I don’t expect you all to read everything in it. The reason it is so detailed is not only to give you a thorough report, but also to serve as a future reminder that we can go back to, for myself and my family, to remember all that my last days among the Tigak held and how the Lord sustained and strengthened us during that time. I have included section headings to allow you to determine more easily which sections you may be interested in reading about.
Traveling Back to Papua New Guinea
I arrived in Papua New Guinea just over three weeks ago. My 8,000 miles of back-to-back travel went perfectly until my last leg, when my flight was cancelled and rescheduled for the next morning. This was stressful at first until I learned that I would receive a free hotel stay and food vouchers for a relatively nice hotel in Papua New Guinea’s capital city of Port Moresby. Because of how long I had been traveling it ended up being a nice stopover that ultimately, because it was my last flight, had no impact on my arrival into our village. In fact, the hotel and restaurant were so nice, that looking back I am glad it happened. I was able to shower and get some rest before arriving into our provincial capital, and then heading out into our village.
Upon arrival in PNG the next morning (Saturday), I was picked up by a new friend from Northern Ireland named Dave. Dave is living in the area managing our guesthouse and support center. He took me around to get a few supplies and then we went back to our mission guesthouse in the provincial capital while I awaited my boat back to the village. During this time I was able to see and spend some time with Karl, a good friend and fellow missionary serving in a nearby language group, along with Dave.
Arriving to the Island
I made my way to the beach in the early afternoon and hopped on a boat to get back to the village. Once at the island I was greeted by several of the believers as well as other friends from the village. Our dog Morty showed up, but was confused at first when he saw me. As soon as he realized who I was he started whining excited and went a bit crazy. People gathered and we shook hands. Everyone told me how fat I looked, which I took as a compliment. (I had gained 30 pounds since leaving them) It was very good to be back on the island!
Many people told me right away how sad they were that we were not going to be staying with them. Some even cried as they spoke. Many of the women were very, very sad that Beth would not be living there anymore. The women on our island really love Beth.
After greeting many people, I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening getting settled and then spending time with Aimee, our good friend and co-worker among the Tigak. I was eager to see her, since it was the first time being together since we learned of the news that we would no longer be able to work among the Tigak. This was a good first meeting with her as I was able to share our heartbreak for how this has impacted her. We talked for hours about everything that had happened and she shared how things have gone for her. As difficult as this was for us, it has also been very difficult for her as well, and has turned her life upside down. It was encouraging at the same time to hear her testimony of how this situation that none of us anticipated, has thrust her into deeper dependance on the Lord and how He has brought her through this time, just as He has us.
We planned that the next morning (Sunday) after the believer’s meeting, that I would address the church and share what had happened and why we would not be returning to live and work among them.
Meeting with the Tigak Church
The Tigak church has grown since we left. A new group of believers have been born into the church, one of which was a good friend of mine in the village named Piulin. Currently, the church is being taught through the book of Romans by Paska, one of our Tigak Bible teachers. After a few songs and some prayer, Paska taught on Romans 5:6-11. When he was finished, the church sang one more song, and then it was my turn to speak.
This time of talking to the church and explaining what has happened to our family was something that I was very anxious about as you can imagine. When I began, I shared with the church how much we cared for them and that it was never our plan to leave them. At this point I got very emotional, as did many others in the church. After regaining composure, I was able to explain what happened and explain that while we do not know why the Lord had allowed it, that we could trust Him. We know that “all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rm. 8.28) and that He would use this hardship to conform us to the imagine of Christ. Afterwards I asked if there were any questions, and only one person asked a question of clarification. Other than that, my explanation seemed satisfactory and left no one upset at our family, our organization, or even the Lord Himself.
When I think back over my life, this conversation had to have been one of the most, if not the absolute most, difficult thing I have ever had to do. It was very painful, but it was required for the sake of the church, our team and our family. There is no doubt that I was aided by the strength of the Lord during this time and, among many others, this was a time I know that the Lord heard and answered so many of your prayers for me! Amazingly that talk went better than anticipated. Afterwards many of the ladies were crying, and one of the Bible teachers, named Robin came over and hugged me and wept in my arms. It was very difficult, but I personally felt strengthened by the Lord in it.
After this time of addressing the church, my two main focuses became packing up the house and spending quality time with the believers.
Packing Up the House
I knew packing up the house was going to be a lot of work. The plan was to pack what I would bring back, give our co-workers whatever they would like to have, sort out things that could be used to help the community at a later date, separate out things that would need to go to the dump, could be given away or would be burned.
Thankfully there were a few things that would make the task easier. For one thing, my new Northern Ireland friend Dave would come out for a week to help me. Secondly, we decided together with our co-workers, the Beall’s & Aimee, that we would leave the house set up in a simple way to facilitate a new family joining the team, or guests coming out to enable Aimee to remain in the village while the Beall’s are on Home Assignment in the States. Also, specifically relating to the solar electric system, I would keep the system set up to have spare parts available for the Beall’s or Aimee’s possible needs should things on their system need replacement. Lastly, being able to set apart things for village meant less trips to the dump. All this meant it would be much easier than if everything had to go and I was the only one working on it.
Aimee planned to help, too, and was eager to get started, so we began the packing and sorting on Monday afternoon. Dave arrived the next day and the three of us worked during the daytime for the following four days. During those days Aimee was awesome and made lunch and dinner for us. Some evenings I spent with the believing guys. Thankfully, Dave & Aimee were accommodating to allow me to take breaks here and there to spend time with anyone who would come by to see me.
I was shocked when Saturday rolled around and we were basically almost completely done packing up and sorting through everything in the house! We had only needed to take one trip in with a load to dump, burned everything we could burn and got everything for the village community sorted and placed in bins. There were only a few things for me to sort that I wouldn’t need Dave & Aimee’s help with. I had only been in the village one week, which meant I would have the entire following week free to spend time with people.
I am so thankful for Dave & Aimee’s help. There is no way I would have gotten the house done that fast without them. I expected to be working on the house during my entire time out there. I planned to work on the house and try to spend time with people at the same time. Now, since it was done, I would be totally free to spend all the time I wanted with anyone!
As a side note, it was after the believer’s meeting on my second Sunday there that Aimee read a letter to the church written from Beth that expressed her heart towards them and towards our transition. It was well received and many tears were again shed, this time in response to Beth’s personal communication with them.
Beth had also instructed me to divide up her “meri blaus” and “laplap” collection (PNG clothing) amongst the believing women, something I did at a later point.
Quality Time with the Believers
One of my first nights in the village, before we even began packing, my good friend Paska (a Tigak Bible teacher) came to me to talk. He asked me if I had time if I could teach him some things about how to study the Scriptures. He reminded me (I had not forgotten) that some time ago, when we were in the village last, that at some point we were going to teach him and others practical instruction on how to study the Bible for themselves.
Paska, though a Bible teacher, was feeling his need to understand more thoroughly how to study God’s word on his own. We had known for quite some time that he was eager for the door to be opened for him to learn more in the area of studying the Bible and writing his own lessons. Before writing lessons, he would first need some training in the basics of Bible study. Teaching someone else’s Bible lessons may be an acceptable way to get started, but not to remain forever, a conclusion that he came to on his own.
When he reminded me about this and asked if we could “school” a little while I was there, I told him we would see and that I would talk to Aimee about it. I was concerned because I did not think I would have much time and I certainly hadn’t prepared for teaching him those things.
However, Aimee & I talked about and she felt like it would be a good idea if I had the time. Especially since this topic of study was already one that our team had planned to cover down the road with the believers.
So, when the day came that we were basically finished with the house, I thought about it more, prayed about it and talked to Aimee again. I spent the next couple of days thinking about how to go about it and made a plan with Paska. He got very excited and told me he wanted his brother Robin to come, too, since he was also a Bible teacher and shared the responsibility with Paska. He also wanted another guy believer named Wilam to come, since Paska has had somewhat of a discipleship relationship with Wilam.
We met for the first time on Tuesday morning, and easily filled several hours of pouring over the Scriptures. When I closed our meeting time, the guys where suddenly not satisfied with our plan to meet once a day! Instead they requested that we meet twice a day to cover more material! How could I turn down such a wonderful request? And so, the following days we spent even more time pouring over the Scriptures as I taught them some basic tips for studying the Bible for themselves.
I had not planned for it to last that long, but when I saw how eager they were and how they latched on to everything I was imparting to them, I realized this was the time to really pour in. I cannot begin to tell you how eager they were to learn, excited to understand those principles, and how energizing it was for me, given the last four difficult months of our lives.
This was a huge answer to our prayers that I would be able to spend quality time with the believers. I never imagined that I would be able to do hours and hours of instruction out there among them. At minimum I had hoped to at least hang out with most of the believers at some point in encouraging ways.
The Lord really encouraged me during this time with the fact that He was never calling me to be super missionary among the Tigak, or God’s gift to church planting. Feeling this way always brought discouragement. Instead, He has called me to be His simple servant, someone who would simply give others what He has taught me, someone who would simply pass along what I had been given.
Not only was I meeting with the guys during the day, they would also come over during many of the nights and we would drink coffee together and play Uno. This was a fun way to let our hair down and laugh.
As for the ladies, I was able to spend limited time with some of them, but it was harder as it is not as culturally acceptable for me to spend tons of time with them alone. The few times I did get were with other male believers.
I am so thankful for this time I had with the believing guys. It never would have happened if Aimee & Dave had not helped me pack up the house, so I am super grateful for them. I am also grateful to the Lord for this time we had. It was truly a gift.
My final Sunday on the island was another anticipated day with some anxiety attached to it. I knew it would be emotional, and it certainly was. After the believer’s meeting, the church held a small feast to say goodbye to me. Everyone cooked some food and brought it, potluck style, and we ate together. Paska made his famous Octopus Stir-Fry that I blogged about a year and a half back. He knew it was my favorite dish.
At this time I spent some time with some of the lady believers to hear how things had been going for them. One of the ladies talked me about how much she was learning as they were going through Romans. “I never knew that God has given us new life in Christ. I never knew we had a new name!” she told me excitedly.
Nearing the end of our feast, some gifts were given to Beth & I from the church. We were loaded with a bunch of small bags of crackers and Twisties (cheeto like chips) to bring back for the Jude & Iris. We were also given a nice basket for Beth, and a large cloth map and flag of Papua New Guinea. Some also gave me small amounts of money for my trip.
After this, a few people stood up and said a few words. One woman present wept loudly after she shared. Hands were shaken, and hugs were given. Needless to say it was a very emotional time. This was the first of three series of goodbyes, the final two being the next morning.
After the feast was finished and everyone dispersed I went back to the house. The remainder of the afternoon was spent in prayer and reading the Scripture as I prepared for my final encouragement for the church that night, as I had planned one final “talk” to give before I left.
We met in the evening and after some singing and praying, I shared with them from the Word. My talk had mainly to do with the hope of Christ’s return and why He has not yet come back, found in Acts 1:9-11 and 2 Peter 3:3-4, 8-9. Afterwards, I again told them that we loved them, would never forget them and would continually pray for them. Finally, we encouraged each other (Paska after I was done, too) with the knowledge that this life is very short and that one day we would see each other again.
After we finished meeting, we heard someone making a loud announcement throughout the village. It was a “maimai” which is a village leader in charge of instructing the community for different events and in charge of some of the customs of the people. He announced throughout the village that I would be leaving them and to make sure they come in the morning to shake my hand. He also told them to give one-two kina as a way of saying goodbye. He talked about how much we had done for the community and that they needed to make sure to come and say goodbye.
Later that night, the guy believers came over to my house and we drank coffee and played Uno one last time. I had also instructed the ladies to come by and told them that I had something for them. When each one came, I gave them a pile of Beth’s clothes and told them that Beth loved them and wanted them to have them. Every single women wept as she received Beth’s clothes.
Goodbye on the Beach
The morning of my departure from the village was again, very emotional. A group of guys came up to the house and took all of my stuff down to the beach for me. Some of the stuff was things we were giving to other missionaries. Also, included were my two 50-pound suitcases and carry on bag. These 3 bags contained the only things I could bring back with me from our home, a handful of treasured items representative of the 4 years we called Papua New Guinea our home.
Once everything was down on the boat and ready, I spent another five minutes just looking around the empty house. It felt weird. I wept as memories flooded my mind: Us sitting as a family at the dinner table, images of the kids running around playing while Beth cooked in the kitchen, Wednesday evenings as we sat with Jude and did Awana, team meals with our co-workers, pushing the kids around the house in my office chair with wheels. Lots and lots of memories. Lots of laughter. I walked around the house and prayed, thanking the Lord for everything we had in it, as all of it was completely a provision from His hand. Hopefully it would now be His provision for someone who would take our place.
I said goodbye to our dog Morty. Paska had agreed to take him, which was a relief because I had decided I needed to probably put him down. It was hard to say goodbye to Morty. He had been my constant companion. Everywhere I went in the village, every day, Morty followed me everywhere. I am thankful that Paska was eager to have him.
I stepped out of the house, took one last look inside and locked the door.
I headed down to the beach and was surprised to find that almost the entire village had showed up to say goodbye. The village chairman made an announcement, and everyone came over to me to shake hands, some passing me small amounts of money, some crying and all saying “Thank you.” After the first wave of people came through, I was surprised to find that the Tigak church had gathered together with Aimee and they began singing one of their favorite songs, a Tigak translation of the hymn, “It is well.” When they were finished, I said goodbye to many of the believing ladies who would not be accompanying me into town.
Afterwards more people came by to shake hands, and finally the village chairman spoke and thanked us once again for living among them and helping the community in the ways in which we had. He teared up as he spoke as well.
When he was finished I thanked the community as well and told them we would never forget them. I walked down to the boat with Aimee, the believing guys and one of the believing ladies and we boarded to depart for town. (Aimee would come in and spend the day in town and see me off at the airport in the morning.)
Everyone stood on the beach and as we took off I gave a final wave and they all waved back.
I looked back at the island as it became smaller and smaller making our way to town. It was weird. We had spent the last three and a half years of our lives calling that our home. We expected it to be our home for much longer as we never anticipated leaving this early. It was weird knowing that we would probably never come back.
When we arrived in town we waited for Dave to arrive with a truck to pick Aimee & I up along with all the stuff. Once the truck came it was time to say goodbye to the believing guys.
I spoke to them as a group and challenged them one last time to grow in the word, have unity amongst themselves and always look to Christ. To each of them, I told them I loved them and then hugged them. This was the most difficult time of the entire trip emotionally speaking. There was no anxiety, just deep, deep sadness like something being ripped away. My friendship with most of these guys goes deeper than many of my friendships even here at home in the States. All of us wept as we said goodbye.
I hugged the few believing ladies who had come, too. There were also a few people who came to say goodbye separately from the village. A man named Francis, also known as Boxer, was my language helper. We had developed a deep friendship and saying goodbye to him was very hard as well. Another young man came and placed a necklace of shell money around my neck as a gift. One of the believing ladies handed me a bracelet to bring back to Beth as well.
I walked up to the truck, waved one last time at my friends and brothers and sisters in the Lord, and got into the truck. For the next few minutes I sobbed in the back of the truck as we drove to our provincial support center.
Last Day in Town
After we got back to our provincial support center, we unloaded our stuff and I got myself situated in the room I would be sleeping in that night. I then went back into town with Dave & Aimee to check on my flights, grab a few last minute items (like PNG coffee) and take pictures around. I felt silly taking so many pictures of things that never really mattered to me to have pictures of, but knowing I would probably never return, I wanted to make sure I got everything to be able to look back and remember.
I was able to grab a last lunch with Karl, the missionary from a nearby language group, and later that afternoon, I took Dave & Aimee out to dinner to say thank you for all of their help over the last few weeks. It was a nice time to spend with them, and it was good to express to Aimee once again (as best I can as a guy) how great she has been as a partner and a friend. We then went back and swapped pictures from the trip, and I hit the sack for my early departure the next morning.
I was able to catch all of my flights back, even one that was delayed a bit. Also, I was thrilled that I was able to bring back my speargun along with our bags! One nice thing is that I met up with some other missionaries, Greg & Kristen and their two girls, heading out of PNG in the capital city of Port Moresby. Turns out we had three flights together, all the way from Port Moresby to Phoenix, Arizona! It was nice to have some company and I was encouraged by our brief times together while we waited to board planes.
When I finally made it to Michigan, it was wonderful to embrace my wife for the first time in three weeks. I was also so happy that all of my bags had made it all the way back, without any issues, including nothing getting taken away by customs. (Not that I had anything to hide, but one country in particular is notorious for being sticklers over some PNG made items) The kids were asleep when I got back to the house, but of course, we had a wonderful reunion in the morning.
Overall, this trip went way better than I could have ever imagined. Yes, it was hard. It was probably the most challenging and emotionally difficult times of my life. However, I knew many, many people were back here praying for this time (and many others all over the world) and I have to share that the Lord answered every single on of our prayers; everything from smooth and safe travel, to my initial explanation to the church, packing up the house, spending quality time with the believers, and saying goodbye at the end. I guess that is why I have written all of the above in such detail: to give credit to the Lord for answering our prayers far above and beyond what we could have imagined going into this.
Most significantly, the time I spent teaching the believing guys was not even on my radar going in. I had no idea that would happen and it wasn’t planned for. But the Lord gave us that time together.
So I guess I just finally want to say thank you to everyone who prayed for us during this time, those who have prayed for this ministry in the past, those of you who have supported us, and have continued to support us through this difficult transition. Our united investment in the lives of the Tigak was not a waste. It was cut short, but by no means a waste. Lives have been changed, including our own, and we are grateful to the Lord for the time we did have.
And now we move ahead in the strength and lovingkindness of the Lord. We will always carry with us the memories of our time among the Tigak.
“Giro paliu.” (Thank you so very much)