WARNING: This is a long blog post. It’s informative, it’s got lots of pictures…but it is long. Feel free to read as much as you want or skim through the pictures because otherwise, you may want to get comfortable.
Over here in Papua New Guinea, we as a team have something called the Big Picture and something called a strategy statement. The Big Picture is a 10-step plan of the work we aim to do over here and the strategy statement is a detailed breakdown of each of those ten steps. Let’s just take a moment and praise God for what we have completed so far:
Training (going to linguistics school, learning Greek, and doing theology training through our church) Partnership Development (raising support) Arrival on Field and Orientation (begun December 7, 2014, ended roughly April of 2015)
We are in the middle of step number four—surveys! Our strategy statement breaks this step down into quite a few sub-steps, but one of them describes the part of the survey process where the wives return to tribes that our husbands have already visited to see if we would be able and willing to allocate there.That is what we did this past week.
After several conversations, Matt and I decided to leave our kids in Madang for the second survey. There were pros and cons with taking them and leaving them, but in the end we decided to let them party for the week at the Lehman house (our co-workers stationed in Madang), along with the three Lehman kids and one of the Canns’ kids for a total of eight kids for four days. Like I said—party.We dropped the kids off at 7:15am and went to the airport where we waited around for our flight to arrive. Just to clear up any confusion, when I say “airport”, I mean “small hanger adjacent to a runway” and when I say “plane”, I mean a “Kodiak”—as opposed to a 747.
Kodiaks are actually amazing machines and perfect for Papua New Guinea. According to their website, they can take off in under 1,000 feet at full gross weight, climb 1,300 feet per minute, and need only 705 feet to come to a full and complete stop…on an unpaved landing strip.To the average aviation enthusiast?Amazing.To me?Slightly terrifying.Have I mentioned that I don’t like to fly?Anyway, our flight arrived at 9:00am and by 9:30, we were taxiing down the runway.
See me in the small plane?See the smile that is too forced because of the fact that my seatbelt looks more like something you might find on a roller coaster or inside an F7, neither of which I want to be associating with my present flight? But, hey–I’m smiling!
The flight lasted 28 minutes from take-off to touchdown. In 28 minutes, we went from being at the hot and humid sea level climate of Madang to the chilly 6,000 ft. elevation of Ukarumpa.We were whisked with our luggage in a shuttle van to SIL’s compound where we checked into their guesthouse. And guess what we found?
A pinecone. That’s right. There are pine trees in Papua New Guinea.
We spent a lovely—if freezing cold—evening at the SIL guesthouse before our shuttle picked us up once again at 6:30am the following morning for our helicopter flight.
When we arrived at the airstrip, it looked like this.
Not exactly ideal take-off weather. So we waited for the sun to burn it off.We waited here.
Our luggage waited here.
Oliver did a lot of this.
The Papua New Guineans waiting for their flight did a lot of this.
Sometimes, Oliver and I together did this.
Finally, the waiting was over and the skies were clear! Thus it was that I boarded my first helicopter. I sat in the co-pilot’s seat, we were all handed headsets (even Oliver), and we were off.
I believe it was this moment right here–
…that I decided flying in a helicopter was possibly one of the coolest things I have ever done in my life and that the sprinkling of people who get to fly over the wilds of Papua New Guinea are singularly blessed in being able to see this particular handiwork of God.
Our first order of business in the helicopter was to circle the village we planned to go to the next day to see if there would be a good landing spot–the results were inconclusive. Having done that, we dropped off some chainsaw parts at another village and then flew on to the main event: being reunited with our husbands. They had only been gone since Friday and out of contact for 48 hours, but it felt like much longer.We flew into Yot Wam and spotted them right away. Can you?
It’s like Where’s Waldo, but with white skin and blue shirts. It was actually much easier than Where’s Waldo. They couldn’t blend in here even if they tried.We landed to a round of applause and shouts from all the villagers as they surrounded us and our husbands. Shortly after our arrival, they presented us with flower garlands and grass skirts (for the women).
Then, they welcomed us to their village with a “sing sing”, basically a tradition filled with men and women dressed in traditional wear singing and dancing and leading us through their village to the hut where we would be staying.
At the end of the sing-sing, one of the leaders made a stirring speech and presented us with three bags filled with fruit representing Yot’s three “heavies”, or worries, like the fact that they didn’t have literacy and they didn’t have the “tok bilong God” in their own language.Then, they asked Cass and I to say something.Now, public speaking in any of its forms can hold some trepidation. But public speaking in a foreign language you have only known for 5 months in the middle of a rich cultural ceremony you have never seen whilst wearing a grass skirt and a flower garland and holding a rather heavy bag of local fruit?One of the more intimidating things I have done since I turned 30.
After the sing-sing, we walked the length of the village, saw the ground they offered us to build our houses on, and washed our hands in their river.This is the village of Yot.
And these are some of its people.
The rest of our time in Yot we spent storying with some of its sweet people about what we would do when we came, eating a generous dinner of noodles, rice, cooked greens, corn, and chicken (a luxury in these parts), and sleeping on the floor of our hut.
Wednesday morning, we woke up and were blessed once again with the people bringing us a delicious breakfast of sweet potatoes and vegetables.
We said our goodbyes and all four of us boarded the helicopter.We flew to a village in Ndo called Maweroro where there was a moment we thought there might not be enough room to land.
Maweroro, as you can see, is a long, narrow village that looks like a banana running along the ridge of one of the many mountains in the Finisterre range. Helicopter pilots prefer big, open spaces not near any obvious trails or people for obvious safety reasons and in a place like Maweroro, that was not exactly present. But we did manage to land without incident, praise the Lord!
As in Yot, the first thing that happened after we rested for a few minutes was a sing-sing to welcome all of us to their village.Well, that’s not technically true.The first thing that happened was that our pilot asked us if we could ask the people to construct some sort of a fence around the helicopter since the land was so narrow and people couldn’t help but be drawn to it.They had this constructed in less than ten minutes, along with a guard stationed by the helicopter for the rest of the time we were there.
The sing-sing was similar and different in Maweroro—similar in that there were similar costumes and singing and dancing and body paint. Different in that it was mostly women performing the sing-sing and there were a lot more people in this village wanting to shake our hands the whole way through.After the sing-sing, Matt and Zach explained to the people for the second time what they would do if they came to their village (repetition is a good thing here; it’s just part of how you have conversations in Tok Pisin).
After this, we walked around the whole village (hiked would be a better way to describe it) and took a walk down to their water source that happened to be a pool/stream at the bottom of a fifty foot water fall.
There was a big meeting in the afternoon with the leaders and Matt and Zach where the villagers debated over which ground to offer us for our houses. They eventually came to an agreement and half the village followed us out to the ground that happens to be at the very end of the peninsula of the village. It took some time for us to measure the ground to see if our houses would even fit in this area since the village is quite narrow. Our conclusion was that the houses would fit, but just barely.The rest of the day was spent storying with people and eating their fare and sleeping on—wait for it—a mattress! They were generous and kind in offering us these two twin-ish size mattresses and even a few pillows.My friends, you have not known the luxury of sleeping on a floor of a hut with a mattress and pillow until you have slept on the floor of a hut without either.
Early in the morning, we rose, ate the local fare, and said goodbye to our husbands who would be staying an extra day to ask some more questions and meet with the people.
Cassidy, Oliver, and I left in the chopper flew back to Ukarumpa where we boarded another Kodiak back to Madang where we were picked up by our co-worker Jeremy who took us first to get our kids at his house and then, finally, back to ours.I made hotdogs for lunch.
As I write this, Matt and Zach are sleeping on a beach about a three-hour dingy ride away from Madang. If all goes well, they’ll be back tomorrow. They will have been gone just a week, though it has felt like more.Once they get back (and after they take a shower), it will be time to pray. And talk. And maybe write some things down. And then talk and pray some more.We don’t know the future. We believe both of these places need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ clearly and would love to be the people whom God uses to do such a task. Please pray for us as we navigate the pros and cons of each of these places to see if one of them would work for us. Beginning tomorrow, there will be some weighty conversations to be had.But that is tomorrow.For now, I am going to leave it all in God’s hands and trust that He who has been faithful to us thus far will be faithful to us still; that He cares more about His gospel than anyone; and that in the midst of indecision and obstacles, He still has our circumstances well in hand.