This week, for the first time in our lives, we were able to experience life in the bush!
Early Monday morning, we all piled into a land cruiser and headed out on our trip to Kaje. Kaje is a tribe about 10 hours travel time from Madang where we are currently based. Two families, the Goheens and the Meyers, just started working with this tribe in January. They are in the very early stages of the church planting process, i.e. learning the native tongue and the culture of the tribe. They invited us to come spend a couple days with them so we could all get a sense for what life is like way out in the bush.
So our car ride was about 4 hours long on increasingly terrible roads. The farther we got from Madang, the larger the potholes were. And I’m not talking about potholes that are a nuisance. I’m talking washed out roads, break your axle kind of potholes. By the time we reached the end of the road (literally it was as far into the bush as you could drive), our bodies were so tight from just trying to stay in an upright position on the drive.
We pulled into this catholic mission up in the hills. It had a gorgeous 360 degree view overlooking large expanses of untouched jungle. As bunches of kids came running to stare at us, an old, wrinkly, Italian man came to greet us in his boxers. He said we caught him mid-shower haha. But he greeted us in heavily accented English and told us we could leave our car there as we hiked out to the bush. When he realized we were going to Kaje, he raised his bushy eyebrows and said, “I can see their houses from here!” I was so relieved thinking that it must not be that far away. He took us to the vantage point, and to my despair, he pointed to a tiny gleam of a tin roof that was miles and miles away. Suddenly I realized just how long of a journey we had ahead of us. Jacob was SO excited and encouraged me that it was going to be great.
We set out around 1pm, aka the HOTTEST part of the day. Taylor Goheen and John Meyer had hiked out to guide us into Kaje. We began a long descent from the top of the mountain we were on until we reached a large stream. There is a pretty bad drought going on in PNG right now, so thankfully the water wasn’t too high. I was thinking we would be following along the bank of the stream for a while, but silly me of COURSE we would just be hiking IN it for a while! So through the stream we went.
The hike was intense, mostly due to the extreme jungle heat. We were absolutely drenched in sweat within the first 10 minutes. But man was it spectacular! We saw all kinds of huuuuge jungle trees with vines hanging all over. The trail itself was incredible- sometimes we were walking on the jungle floor, but more often we were balancing our way across huge, fallen trees. Our leaders Kelley and Bill call them “jungle sidewalks” which is a perfect description. We heard and saw large birds, bright blue beetles, and weird jungle plants!
We hiked for 5 hours. As we got closer to the village, John and Taylor pointed out an arena, and told us that was where the Kaje people went to do ritual dances to the spirits. It was so cool talking to John and Taylor hearing how the people are eagerly helping them learn language because they want to hear “God’s talk.” Seeing the arena where they spend their time desperately, fearfully trying to appease spirits so they won’t die, contrasted against their eagerness to hear the word of God was so powerful. Soon they will hear about a God who loves them and wants to permanently, graciously restore them to a right relationship with Him. Nothing they do can earn salvation from God but simply believing that He really did send his son to die for the sins they deserve to die for. It gave me chills thinking someday we may be dancing in heaven with people from Kaje!
Also let me just take a moment to say that unreached people are really hard to reach! It is no joke that the gospel could not get to these people unless someone brings it to them- they are in the middle of nowhere. It just solidified in my mind how important it is to recognize the urgency of sending missionaries to people like this who would otherwise never encounter the word of God. The term “unreached people groups” took on a whole new level of meaning for us after this trip.
When John and Taylor said we were coming up on the last hill that their houses sat upon, I was so excited. And then I saw the hill. It really was more of a long cliff. But knowing a glass of cold water waited at the top, we all scrambled up, huffing and puffing. We got to the top as the sun was sinking low, and the beauty of the scene in front of me took my breath away (not that there was even any left after that cliff). About 30 members of the tribe were gathered all decorated with intricate flower headpieces, waiting for us. When they saw us they began to sway and sing a song, welcoming us to their village. As they sang, they sent the kids to bring us flower crowns and take our bags. They walked us to some benches under the Meyers house, sat us down, and gave us a big bowl of sak sak to eat. (sak sak is pulp of a tree that, when mixed with boiling water, becomes like jello. Its dark gray. It’s not very good.) But it’s the gesture that was very touching. We chatted with them for a while and then as darkness grew, they went back to their homes and we got a much needed nights sleep in the homes of the missionaries.
We spent Tuesday walking around the village, meeting people and seeing some parts of their daily life. One sad reality in Papua New Guinea is the lack of education for children in the bush. These tribes are so remote, it is very difficult to get teachers to go live there and teach the kids. Not only that, but the system as a whole is very corrupt, and teachers get paid no matter what their work is like. So there is no incentive for them to actually teach. We saw a school in the village that looked really nice on the outside, but all the villagers said the teachers leave so often that there is rarely school. They’ve never had anyone graduate from eight grade.
Jacob was able to spend time with the guys as they had various language sessions to learn the native tongue. Although many people can speak the national language (Tok Pisin), around the village they speak their native tongue. It is crazy to listen to the tribal language- it sounds so foreign and complicated, with sounds I’ve never really heard used for language before! (Lots of nasal sounds). Jacob and some of the guys helped the missionaries by hauling up some huge pieces of lumber for a structure they are working on.
Papua New Guinea is considered a step down from a third world country so it is termed a “non-developing country.” We have wrestled with understanding why this is, and Jacob made some interesting insights into that during our trip which he is going to tell you about:
- Since being here in PNG we have been trying to understand why this country has never progressed except when influenced by the west. During our trip to Kaje I had the opportunity to go to a bathing area (at a waterfall) with Taylor. On our way Taylor told me that he never brought soap to bathe with and if he did he would only bring a tiny bar. I was curious and asked why this was. Taylor responded by stating that if someone were to see him with soap they would ask for it, and eventually he would have to give soap to the whole village. He then stated that people in the village often did not acquire nice things because they would end up having to share their valuables with everyone else. From this we began to discuss the effect this mindset would have on how a country might progress. The conclusion was that if no one ever desired nice things (because they would inevitably have to share them with everyone else) then progress would be halted to an extent. While this discovery first seemed simply interesting, I soon began to realize how important this notion was. In order to effectively share the gospel with a different culture, it is essential to understand the mindset of the people we are sharing with. This small window into the mind of the PNG tribal person is one of the areas of understanding missionaries here are utilizing in order to contextualize the gospel message. We are enjoying every moment of learning how to be more effective ministers of God’s gospel.
Life in the bush is pretty incredible. Simple living, like I mentioned last week, looks so different than what I had expected. The missionaries had just a few pieces of furniture, simple kitchen items and homeschooling material for the kids. They had so little, and yet their home really felt like a home. Their kids couldn’t have been happier, they had what they needed and nothing more. It was both refreshing to realize what you can live without, and daunting knowing how much Jacob and I will need to give up to pursue being missionaries. But we know that God will guide us in knowing what we need to be able to live sustainably in the bush for our family, and also giving us peace in what we need to give up.
After a wonderful time of seeing Kaje, spending time with the Goheens and Meyers, picking their brains about tribal ministry both the hard and the fulfilling aspects of it, we packed up to leave. Wednesday morning at 6:30am we headed back out for home. What a difference it made to hike in the cooler hours of the day before the sun was high! The only scary thing was about an hour into our trip back, the guide (a Kaje man) told us he had to go and told us we’d be able to find our way back. I was not so sure- we still had 4 hours of dense jungle ahead of us. But besides one incident of hiking too far through a river, we found our way back without a hitch. After the grueling car ride back to base, we were so exhausted and slept well that night.
The rest of the week we all took it easy as our bodies were still recovering. We did our grocery run to town on Thursday, the girls all went out on Friday for a girls day (since all the moms couldn’t go on the hike because it was too much for their kids, so they were just as weary as us hikers having been alone with their kids for three days).
Both Jacob and I can’t tell you how much we learned from experiencing life in the tribe. Seeing the daily life of the missionaries in that context as they work so hard to bring the gospel to the Kaje people was so encouraging. Though we ourselves didn’t get to do much language learning this week, having the opportunity to see firsthand what tribal church planting looks like was worth the time away. We have so much to process and so much to thank God for as we take this journey one step at a time.
– For Jacob and I as we process through what real tribal mission work looks like in looking at our future as tribal church planters
– For the Kaje people that they would have open hearts to hear the word of God
– For the Meyers and Goheens as they work to bring the gospel to the Kaje people