Who Am I?  Part 19

As you can see, this is the 19th article in this series called “Who Am I?” It has been an interesting exercise for me to summarize the most important events or moments in my life, and I hope that you have been enjoying this journey along with me. Many of these articles dealt with single moments or events that shaped or changed my life in a dramatic way.

This article will be quite different in that I want to try to summarize the five years that I spent as a Bible translator living in a remote village in Papua New Guinea. In some ways, this is almost an impossible task. There are so many interesting stories that I could tell you about these years that I will probably need to set up an entirely new series of articles to run throughout 2012.

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What I will try to do then, is to give you a large overview of these years, as well as my general impressions of the time that we spent as a family in our home in the jungle. One of the first things that people would often ask us is “What was the climate like there? Do you have seasons over there like we do back home?”

And my answer would be, “Sure, we had seasons: there was Wet and Wetter!” Actually, it was not too bad in our area. It would receive about an average rainfall of 250 inches per year. There are some areas of PNG that can have 350 to 400 inches per year. The good news, is that we were not living within the “swampy” region. We lived at an elevation of about 200 feet, at around 7° south of the equator, in a low valley surrounded by distant mountain ranges.

The other good news was that there occasionally was a breeze to cool us off of the perpetual, year-round temperature of 90 to 100°F. The bad news was that the breeze was just the rushing front air that signaled the oncoming torrential downpour. If you were outside at the time, you had to decide if it was worth trying to run home to try to beat the rain. And if you were inside the house, your job was to run around to each room and unroll the plastic tarps and secure them tightly in an attempt to keep the torrential rains out of your house.

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Another thing that people often asked us about, was what the food there was like. One of my favorite sayings was, “Kick any tree, and a fruit will fall out.” We were able to enjoy such things as papayas, mangos, bananas of at least seven varieties, pomegranates, coconuts, watermelons, cucumbers, as well as lemons and lemonade from the four lemon trees in front of our house. And of course, all of us had to at least try eating a grub worm once. But most of our food and supplies would be flown into us on the little Cessna plane that would come into our village every 2 to 3 weeks.

The people though, were subsistent farmers who grew gardens and literally lived off the land and ate anything that they could find that was edible. Each year, they would go to a new section of the jungle and they would have to chop down all the trees, burn them, and then clear the land before they could plant their new gardens. Jungle soil is actually not very fertile, so they would have to slash and burn a new garden area every year.

It would take about 4 to 6 months before the gardens would produce their green vegetables and staples such as yams, taro, sweet potatoes, etc. They would be able to eat food from the gardens for about half a year. After that, they would simply forage for anything they could find in the jungle, as well as eat the starchy substance that they could scrape and squeeze out of the center of a sago palm tree.

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The final most obvious question that people would ask us was, “What did you do while you were there?” And the answer was, we did many things. We studied the culture, learned the language, built relationships with people, raised our elementary age children there, worshiped in the local church with the people, held singing and devotional evenings at our house, helped the people with some of their physical needs and medical needs as we were able to, and much, much more.

All of these activities were important, and we enjoyed living our lives with and among the people in our village. But none of these were the primary reason for us leaving the comforts of North America life and coming to live in the tropical jungles of PNG. First and foremost, our desire was to bring God’s Word to the people living there. And the means by which we would do this would be through the process of doing Bible translation.

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And so, while still doing all of these other activities, my primary focus was to translate the Scriptures into the language of the people. Bible translation is a very slow and methodical process, and often takes many years to be able to produce final written copies of some portions of the Bible. It is with great joy then, that I can tell you that by the end of our five-year period, we had completed the translation of the Gospel of Mark and it is now published and available to the people among whom we lived.

So this should give you an overview and a taste of what living a missionary life was like for us. I have many, many more stories about our time in PNG, and these will provide the material for me to be able to write many interesting articles next year. So stay tuned, there are lots of good stories ahead.