The most uniquest thing in the world is PEOPLE. Love them. Enjoy the diversity, creativity, color, spunk, beauty, imagination . . . Life is GOOD!
This next event took place ten years later in another part of the country, among very different people. Brethren missionaries first started their work in the Lumi area of what is now Sandaun Province, this was in the early 50s. There was a good reception of the Gospel and 40 years later there was now over 50 Assemblies in the district. My wife, our year-old daughter, and myself were there to serve these Assemblies. An obvious need was to improve the reading ability and study skills of the elders and other church leaders. PNG people are used to demanding physical work. They will labor outside all day and enjoy it, but sit them down with a book and their eyes get heavy.
About 30 elders came in to Lumi for two weeks to improve their reading and Bible study skills. I lead them through the very basic steps of inductive Bible study; observation, interpretation, and application. We started with observation, and as we studied a passage of scripture I had them find and write down every person and group of people, including human, divine and angelic beings, that are mentioned in the passage. This was a tough assignment for most of them and we spent days practicing. We added more and more as the two weeks progressed.
One morning a man came early and asked if he could address the whole group, as he had something he needed to say. He was perhaps the oldest in the group and had worked with the early missionaries; a well-respected man, so I agreed. When everyone arrived, he came up front and told us he needed to apologize to each and everyone, including me. I had no idea where he was coming from. He continued, “Yesterday you could probably see I was very upset and I need to confess to all of you.” (Still no clue where he was going with this). “I wasn’t angry with any of you, I was angry with God and I need to tell you about it. You see, I have been with you every day last week and now, and what we are learning is so very, very important. But I am angry and complaining to God as to why it took 40 years for this training to come. You are all young enough to learn, but I am an old man now and it seems it is too late for me.”
I prayed silently, “Lord, help me. What am I going to say now?”
I then said to the whole group, “Thank you, papa Afu, for being honest with us. I am not sure what to say, but let me try a couple things we can consider together. 1. Things were different when the early missionaries were here. No one knew how to read and write, so the missionaries focused on these things. Look how many people read now! 2. You say the missionaries didn’t teach Bible study methods like we are doing now, but perhaps they tried and people just weren’t ready for it back then.” There were many nods of agreement. “It looks like this is God’s time for these things to be learned.” 3. “But I want to encourage you, papa Afu, to not give up with this study. We still have a few more days together. Let’s pray together that the Lord will help you, and I know that everyone in this group will be glad to sit with you – at any time – and help you along. Let’s see what the Lord does.” Everyone seemed pleased with this answer and we prayed together as a group.
The point I am raising with this story is that in Western countries we take so much for granted. Reading, writing, analytical skills, objective reasoning etc. are skills we learn early and use throughout our lives. This isn’t true everywhere. It is of utmost importance to communicate the gospel in the forms and expressions that help receivers understand it properly. When helping believers grow and develop into ministry leaders we may need to assist them in very basic skills like these people in Lumi district.
A couple years later, I was involved in early evangelism of three very small tribes who lived three days walk over a rugged mountain range to the south. This was done with the help of Yuna believers.
Each day the people gathered in a house and I would tell Bible stories through an interpreter. The first few days the people listened politely but without much response. On this particular day, I related the story of the woman at the well. I explained arid climates (something they knew nothing of) and what a well is (their climate is such that never in their lives have they felt a shortage of water). When I finished the story of John 4, lively debate erupted in the languages and I waited in wonder until there was a pause, and I asked the interpreter what was going on. He said something along these lines:
“We are of two different opinions and we don’t know what to think. Our question is, did Jesus come to our planet or did he go to the moon or somewhere else?”
Confused, I asked for further clarification. He said, “Where Jesus lived, you tell us they had to dig in the ground to get water, that doesn’t sound like our earth, so it must be somewhere else, maybe one of the lights we see in the sky.”
So, the next hour was spent with me trying to convince them that indeed Jesus came to our world to save all of us. I explained that Israel was in a different part of our world, that people can travel there by airplane. This was interpreted into their languages and they were not impressed. I then said I have seen pictures of Israel and I know people who travelled there and saw it with their own eyes. More discussion. Still not convinced. I prayed silently asking the Lord for help, then He answered.
I remembered an Israeli student from Bible School, Naphtali, who was actually from Bethlehem. When this was relayed to the people I could see dramatic change in the room. When the discussion slowed the interpreter said, “Now we know that Jesus really did come to our earth in order to save us.” Why? “Because we know you, and you personally know someone from Jesus’ clan. So, he could not have gone to another planet, he had to have come here.”
This was a major-breakthrough that so easily could have been missed.
Barely two months into my missionary service, I was the one foreigner among thousands of Yuna people. My assignment was to learn their language in order to help with translating the Old Testament for them.. The only English spoken was at the nearby school. I was asked to give a Bible lesson to the children there on Cain and Abel. I related the story and concluded with some questions.
“Why was Cain angry with his brother?” I asked.
They discussed it among themselves and came back with what to them was the obvious answer. “Cain was the older brother but he was poor. His younger brother had all the wealth, so Cain was jealous and killed him.” The educated pastor who brought me there agreed and defended their answer. I was confused.
Papua New Guinean people are bright, but in the early days their knowledge was limited by how far their feet could take them. They only knew their own world, so Biblical events were interpreted through their own world view. To the Yuna people, Cain was obviously poor because he had to grow food and did not have livestock, which for the Yuna people means pigs. Abel had lots of ‘pigs’, so he was clearly wealthy! This disparity of wealth and status stands out for every Yuna person who hears the story.
Papua New Guinea is a nation of stunning natural beauty. Forested mountains reaching above 15,000 feet, fast flowing rivers, stunning water falls, pristine beaches, living reefs, countless Islands, etc. But the greatest riches of this nation are not its natural beauty.
The 800+ tribes (nations) of people are PNG’s greatest, most beautiful resource: Loved by the Father, died-for by the Son, and being convicted and enlightened by the Holy Spirit. This article seeks to lead you to a better understanding of these people and encourage you to pray with clarity. This will be done by relating three true events. T.B.C…