MOUNTAINS! COLD AIR! RAIN! PROP PLANES! All of these and more make up this fantastic week at the central area conference in the highlands of Papua New Guinea!
So New Tribes Mission Papua New Guinea is broken into 3 different regions: Sepik, Central, and Islands. Once a year, each region has a conference where all the missionaries from that region come out of the bush in order to get together, hear what is going on in each other’s tribes, as well as the field as a whole. We were able to attend the Central conference this week, located in Goroka up in the mountains (the supply and headquarter base for the central region are located here). It was an UNBELIEVABLE week.
On Monday, Jacob and I along with Kelley and Bill (our leaders) boarded a tiny (and I mean TINY) prop plane to take the 30 minute flight into the mountains. I was SO nervous. I had never ever been in a plane this small with seemingly so little blocking me from the outdoors! But I swallowed my fear and got on board. Jacob, on the other hand, was super excited. He got to sit in the cockpit and wear the headset so the pilot could tell him everything that was going on. It was nerve wracking at first, but I ended up LOVING it! It was amazing to have such a beautiful, aerial view of Madang where we have been for the last 2 months. I could appreciate the tropical blue of the water so much more from above.
I could also see firsthand why the “cargo cult” mentality we’ve discussed in earlier blog posts, is such a prevalent thing. Here you can see the giant ships literally bringing cargo onto shore.
The flight went smoothly, and we entered the mountains. The views literally took my breath away. After being at sea level for 2 months, it was incredible to feel the cool air and see the looming mountains poke through the clouds as we soared through. We only hit one spot where it felt like the plane just dropped and I was suuuper nervous, but it was over quick, and before I knew it, we were landing!
We got a tour of the two bases that support all the central region missionaries, as well as New Tribes Aviation. It was so amazing to see the people and the place that makes living in the bush possible. I will take you on your own tour of the inner workings of New Tribes PNG:
New Tribes Aviation takes care of all transportation with helicopter, prop planes and Kodiak flights into and out of the bush. They don’t just drop you off and pick you up though. They do emergency evacuations, help you build your house in the bush, they bring you your supplies, and they just plain encourage you.
Lapilo: the central area base of support workers. These people do everything.
Supply buying: When you as a missionary are out in the bush, you have no access to groceries. What you do is send in an order to the supply buyers at Lapilo. They will go grocery shopping for you, both at their store on base, and in town. They will make sure your order is completely filled out, package it up, and place it on the proper shelf to get to you in your tribe.
Doctor: There are two medical doctors located at the base. I could NOT believe how beautiful the doctor’s office was! It looked JUST like a medical office in the US! It was clean, they had tons of medications, eye charts, examination rooms, even a mini emergency room! They were very busy this week as all the missionaries and their kids were on base getting their yearly checkups. Praise God for the sacrificial service of these doctors who gave up great salaries in the states to come here to be medical missionaries. Truly this field could not operate without them here to take care of everyone!
There is a school for kids from kindergarten through to seniors in high school. There are many teachers who have also given up their careers in the states and Europe to come here to provide solid teaching for the kids here. There are accountants, engineers, carpenters to help build homes for the missionaries out in the bush, electrical guys who install solar panels on the homes, plumbers, the list goes on and on. We met an elderly couple working in a print shop on base who were literally beaming when they told us about their job. They had worked in a tribe for many years. As they got older, they moved on base and took up working the print shop so that missionaries could send in requests for bibles, literacy materials, and anything else they need printed in their tribe’s native tongue and not have to spend the time doing it themselves. This couple told us that they loved their job so much because, “we are helping bring the gospel to all these tribes by allowing the missionaries to have more time learning language and culture and not having to take the time to print all their own materials.” They eagerly showed us a computer file full of material from each tribal work in the central region who they have printed material for (in the native tongue of those tribes). How cool is that?!
On Wednesday, the conference began. Each morning, we gathered in a large tent and sang songs together. A pastor from the states came to PNG to encourage and teach the many missionaries. It was so great to be poured into by a pastor speaking in English! I forgot how much I missed listening to sermons and being able to be ‘fed’ from the word. And we’ve only been here two months! I can’t imagine how the other missionaries felt who only get this once a year!
After the sermons, we would have a time for “field reports.” This was a time for each team to report what was going on in their tribe, and what God had done over the course of the year. I am not even kidding you, the work that is going on here in PNG is absolutely mind-blowing! God is using each of these missionary teams to reach his unreached people. As we heard from different teams, I was brought to tears over their hardships, but also their joys. The joy that each missionary exuded over the tribal church plants was tangible. I will highlight just one particularly amazing story among the many we heard:
Tangguat: This is one of the most exciting examples of God working through his church to reach those who have never heard. Back in 2008, Bill and Kelley Housley (our leaders) planted a church among the Itutang people. After the Itutang heard the word of God and
believed, they became very burdened for a neighboring tribe (Tangguat) where many of them had family. They realized if the Tangguat people did not hear God’s word in their own language like the Itutang had, they would not be saved. They as a church, decided they wanted to do an outreach to the Tangguat to bring God’s word to them. But they needed help. They had never done anything like this before, and needed someone who could to train them. Bill and Kelley brought this request to the New Tribes missionaries looking for a place to allocate and told them this was very different than the usual New Tribes work, but that it was the opportunity of a lifetime to help come alongside the tribal church to allow them to reach out and fulfill the great commission. One family (the Leneers) and one single woman (Promise) took up the challenge and began working with the Itutang church. There were some bilingual Itutang believers who knew the Tangguat language. They taught the missionaries Tangguat. The missionaries then worked alongside the Itutang believers to help them build a literacy program to teach the Tangguat people to read and write. Once the literacy program was complete and the Tangguat had literate people, the Itutang church along with the missionaries began translating and formatting Bible lessons. They worked through the whole old testament chronologically, translating key stories into the Tangguat language. At one point, the Itutang believers met and one elder asked them, “whose work is this to reach Tangguat?” Half of the believers said “it’s God’s work” and the other half said “it’s our work.” Not a single one said it was the work of the missionaries. How amazing is that?! The day finally came for the Itutang to take the day long hike to Tangguat to begin teaching chronologically through God’s word. Each day the Itutang believers taught, with almost the whole Tangguat village in attendance. Not once did the white missionaries teach- it was all done by the Itutang believers. When they taught through Jesus’ death and resurrection, explaining the significance of that, many, many Tangguat people believed and were saved!! Now the Itutang and Tangguat churches both encourage each other, teaching and learning from God’s word.
Tribe after tribe was discussed, and over the course of the week we were able to see an incredible picture of the field of PNG as a whole. Guys, God is MOVING here. Seriously- there have been so many churches planted in so many tribes here. But the beautiful thing to me is that New Tribes is not about just planting a church. It is about bringing that church to maturity. This means discipling that church through the hard times, translating the bible into their own language so they can have it to read, in their own language, for generations to come, and teaching the church how to multiply itself through outreaches to neighboring tribes. Jacob and I were both so encouraged by the amazing work God is doing through His faithful servants here who are people from both Europe and America, just like you and I, who have considered God’s call to make disciples of every nation and faithfully followed Him to the jungles of PNG.
But guess what every single one of them had to say about their sacrifice? “It is worth it. God is always worth it.” As we talked to missionary after missionary, each one said the same thing. Even through the hardest things imaginable, each one said that to see God change the hearts of the tribal people before their eyes, bringing them from darkness into light, was worth every struggle. It really challenged me to hear this. Do I really believe that God is worth it? Even amidst the hardest times of my life, do I still think that? Often I do not. The God of this world, who created everything including me, who watches humanity turn on him each and every day, yet loves them enough to kill his very son to provide a way for them to have peace with God- this is the God I don’t think is worth it?! Just goes to show how much growing I still have to do…
We had a great time at conference rubbing shoulders with amazing men and women of God. We can’t wait to get back and share more with you about the various tribal church plants here in PNG. Here are the names of some tribes that have believers we will be worshipping with in heaven some day:
Tangguat, Pal, Dinangat, Simbari, Mibu, Tobo, North Wahgi, Itutang
And these are the names of tribes where the missionaries are still working on the language and culture, and the gospel has yet to be presented. Pray pray pray for them!
Menya, Wantakia, Manam
We were able to do many other exciting things this week:
Ping Pong competition:
I found my first PNG latte on American national coffee day!
Jacob was able to play basketball:
We participated in skit night:
We went down this epic slip and slide:
And finally, on Sunday, we got to drive out with a bunch of teens to a local cliff jump into a river. It was such a great way to end this fantastic, amazing week!!
-With just 2 weeks left here in PNG, we are both excited and sad to leave PNG. We feel like we are going to have a lot of processing to do and a lot of transition in coming back to the states, so just pray for our hearts as we prepare for this.
-We get to go visit another bush location this week! Pray for us as we interact with the Dinangat people (many of whom are believers!)