Dickens on My New Guinea Experience

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . It was a season of Light, it was a season of Darkness . . .it was a spring of hope, it was a winter of despair . . .” Dickens opened The Tale of Two Cities with these lines.

These famous words reveal Dickens’ familiarity with Biblical truth. Pause, even for a moment, and think of your life and you may find wonder and terror swirled together–one of the greater ironies of life, evidenced in the heroism of first responders that stood out in high relief against the rubble of 9/11 or the immediate international response to the 7.0M earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010.

As August closed, I once again walked the soil of Papua New Guinea. I smelled the smoke rising from burning, dry mountain sides (preparations for a new garden season), choked on the dust kicked up by scores of four-by-fours plunking through potholes in Madang town, and listened to dozens of languages floating on the tide of evening. Memories hung in my mind like mist in the mountain valleys of New Guinea.

Some memories lend themselves to Dickens-like sentiments. There was the afternoon I passed by the front gates of Modilon Hospital. I was sharing a ride with my co-worker Marsha and a few other people. As we passed by there was a brief silence followed by an outpouring of remembrance: the last time we’d been in the same vehicle at that spot I was rushing her late husband, John, to the emergency room to get help,crashing through gates that had the audacity to be closed when I needed them open! The horror of that night was offset by the heavenly presence of Jesus standing in our midst as 25 of us stood around the foot of our fallen brother’s bed and sang “Majesty”. Jesus’ glory shined through the disjointed emotions, the disbelief of what we’d just witnessed, the need to see through tomorrow, to help our sister make it through the night.

There was the day that my friend William and I, along with a few others, drove to a market near Uria Village. It’d been six years since I’d been in Uria, walked the mountain paths, or visited the houses of my friends, playing at humor in a third language. That day was an odd amalgam of suspense and peace. Arriving at the marketplace along the main road we parked the truck and made the 2 kilometer hike into the village. There was a hue of tension underlying the smiles as I approached the village. Our house had been pillaged and my tools stolen in the six years we were away. I suppose every one felt a little guilty and weren’t entirely sure whether or not I would involve the police in the matter–which could turn out badly for them if I chose to do so. Of course I felt the butterflies. I didn’t know what to expect or what my discoveries would mean to the future of Bible translation with these people. The house was a mess, lots of expensive things missing, but basically fixable. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the house. Tears welled up as I landed at the bottom of the steps.

Lim Auwi and Todd Owen talk as they walk to a village meeting.

Lim Auwi and Todd Owen talk as they walk to a village meeting.

Awaiting me was my friend, neighbor, and clan “brother”, Lim. His face was downcast, his arms open. I approached him and he wrapped his arms around me and wept, and wept, and wept. When the tears subsided, he stepped back. “We thought we’d never see your family again. You’re back!” I was speechless. We walked quietly to the open air pavilion where we would meet with the others. Apologies. Promises of cooperation. Angry words from some. Finally a commitment to stand behind the translators and behind our family. “Your sons are our sons. Your daughters are our daughters. We will watch over them.” As we ate together the mood lightened. I showed pictures of Angela and the kids. Everyone ooh-ed and ah-ed over the photos of the boys. They had grown up in those six years, sporting beards and looking very much like the young men that they are. Stories of our kids’ younger years were told, laughter was heard all around. Smiles. . . there it was . . . I saw it. An abiding love for our family overshadowed by fear of rejection and retribution. The worldview of fear emerged ever so subtly. Oh that they would be free of fear! Love and deep grief congealed in my heart to form compassion.

A few days later I found myself in Tiap Village. I was reunited with old friends and made new ones. Steven is a friend of many years with whom I’ve walked many deep valleys. Pius, a new friend, smiles easily though he has known many trials for his faith. Pastor John, terse and intense brought much joy to my heart as he lead worship without restraint and as he gave himself to literacy work and discipleship,  eager to move the Kingdom of God forward. The Aruamu leaders recognize the razor’s edge that they walk, having given themselves to the translation and propagation of the gospel. Though the New Testament in Aruamu has been available since 2005, there is always the risk that they won’t be used. “Our people won’t change if they don’t have a hunger and thirst for God’s Word . . . we must pray and ask God to give more hunger and thirst . . .” These men put work with their prayers.

Todd, Pius, and Steven at Tiap 2013

Todd, Pius, and Steven at Tiap Village, September 2013

I feel their angst as they give themselves to bring their people to an awareness and love for the Word of God. They are working tirelessly toward finishing translation of the Old Testament. I was honored to share ministry with them and to share in the battle that they are fighting for the souls of men and women.

I’m grateful to God for using both the Somau Garia and the Aruamu to bring a thawing in my heart, to bring me to a spring of hope. The fire in my heart had begun to dim and cool in the wake of fatigue, sickness, and persistent, overwhelming challenge over a course of years. The fire burns bright today.

Dickens wrote about the spring of hope and the winter of despair. These two peoples of Papua New Guinea have known centuries of despair and fear. Perhaps the frost is thawing, the Son is shining, and a spring of hope is proceeding from the long years of darkness. May it be that through the ministries associated with Bible translation we might be heralds of hope!


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