Mom’s Graduation To Heaven

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Mom’s Last Moments

Many of you may have already heard that Norm’s mom took her final breath and then stepped into heaven to be with our Lord Jesus.  This occurred on Saturday afternoon, March 22.

Mom had been in hospital for about six weeks, fighting a bladder infection which was resistant to the antibiotics, and was struggling with some laboured breathing.  It was discovered that there was fluid building in her lungs and abdomen which they needed to drain off.  Testing of the fluid, plus more examination of her body revealed that mom had Stage 4 cancer throughout her intestines.

Mom was moved quickly to a hospice after that.  We had been wanting to talk with mom on the phone, but time zones and communication challenges had not allowed that for us.  But on our early Sunday morning here in Papua New Guinea, one of our cell phones alerted us to a message.  It was from Norm’s brother who said time was now short for mom.

We were able to get through this time on our phone and via speaker phone were able to say our last words of love and goodbye to mom.  Jill sang “Yes, Jesus Loves You.”  God gave us that opportunity to reach out to mom, and then five minutes after our call, mom took her last breath and then graduated to heaven.

Norm’s brother Murray sent a text back later and wrote, “Yesterday, we were a complete family again during the final moments. Blake held the phone close to Mom’s ear while I held her hand and studied her face closely.  There was an almost imperceptible reaction to your voices and your song – like an internal struggle to hear.  She stopped breathing a few minutes later.  I thought you should know this.”

Our niece Becky wrote this about that special moment,

“When I saw her at 2, her eyes were closed, and her breathing still laboured, but when I sat beside her and held her hand, I felt her try to respond, and her eyes flicked open 3 times. This was around the time that Murray got you on the phone. I know my Dad has said that he believes Granny heard you. I will tell you that I KNOW she heard you.

The peace that washed over the room as you spoke to her and as Jill sang, it was different than how the room felt before. As Jill was singing, I heard Jesus speak, “I am coming soon now.” It amazed me that within moments of hanging up that phone call, her breathing suddenly changed, it slowed and her eyes became heavy and peaceful. And just like that, she walked with Jesus into glory.

The presence of God in that room was like nothing I’ve experienced. He loves us so much, that He knew Mom’s wishes was to hear your voices and your wishes were to share your hearts with her one more time. He honored that, and I just love that about Him. Your voices were the balm to her heart, and I am forever grateful that the Lord had compassion to allow for that beautiful transition to be the way it was.”

Mom is now free from all the restraints and decay that we all experience in our mortal bodies.  Now she is liberated to a new and eternal life of joy inexpressible as she now inhabits her heavenly home.  God did give us this beautiful moment to say goodbye here.  But it won’t be that long before we are saying hello once again to each other when we too will graduate into our eternal home with God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Celebrate with us this passing of a great woman of God, Mavis Elizabeth (Knight) Weatherhead, whom we affectionately call “Mom”.

Norm & Jill Weatherhead
Missionaries to Papua New Guinea

Mavis Weatherhead

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Overcoming Discouragement By Our Faith – Pt. 1

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“I remember you talking about how you knew, at a relatively young age, that you wanted to be a missionary, and that’s what you ended up doing. You had a big dream, a chosen career path early and it came true. What I don’t always think about or remember is what it took for you to get there. You’ve certainly told some stories of life in those years, at the very least I haven’t always connected them.

Would you be willing to share with us some of your story of the difficulties you had on the journey to PNG, the doubts or discouragements that came up in those years? How did you keep “the big picture” in view while being a pastor, a youth leader, a “regular employee”, a student for years in different cities? How did you deal with having that dream interrupted when you came back to Canada?”

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I received an email today that included this portion that I have placed above.  I felt very honored by some compliments given in it.  It has also caused me to look back and reflect on my life and how things have all turned out.  The person who wrote this is very perceptive, in that he knows it has not been an easy road that has brought me this far.

Now I’m wondering how I can adequately answer the questions he has raised.  It’s true that I believed in my heart from a very early age that I would end up doing mission work.  And many people today who know me, probably also have this picture that I have always been on “the missionary track”.

But that would oversimplify the truth.  More precisely, I had the desire to become a Bible translator from the time that I visited a missionary couple in the mountains of Peru when I was just 16 years old.  But it was 20 years later in 1997, when I was 36, that I finally stepped off the plane in Papua New Guinea and I really began my career as a Bible translator.

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This brings us back to the questions that were asked in the email portion at the top.  What happened during those 20 years?  How did I handle ups and downs and discouragements during those years?  Perhaps I should begin by reflecting upon those early thoughts of “I want to become a Bible translator.”

To be really honest, this thought of becoming a Bible translator was just exactly that – a thought.  Now it was a good thought, and just like a little seed that gets planted in the ground and watered over time, it grew to become a life-dream for me.  But that did not really happen for many years.

The primary focus I had when I was a young person, was the thought “I believe that God wants to use me in full-time mission work.”  Now that’s a BIG idea, and also so very broad that it can include most anything I would do, as long as it was ministry work for Him.  I also felt strongly that this ministry work would be cross-cultural in nature and very likely to be outside of North America.

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In the early years of my adult life, I had many thoughts about what my mission life might look like.  I developed a passion for reading everything that I could find about missionary work.  I read the autobiographies of George Muller, the German missionary who founded orphanages in England, and of Hudson Taylor, the man who opened up China to missions, and of William Carey, the father of modern missions who lived in India and other S.E. Asia countries and brought Bible translation to dozens of language groups there.

I also read about modern mission efforts.  For a while there, I was fascinated by the stories of Christians who were persecuted behind the “Iron Curtain”, the Soviet dominated countries of Eastern Europe.  I kept reading the book “God’s Smuggler”, about a man who they called “Brother Andrew”, and how he would smuggle Bibles into the Soviet Union in the trunk of his car.

These ideas captivated me as a young person, and I felt I was ready to give my life for Christ, to serve Him and even to suffer for Him if necessary behind that Iron Curtain.  As I look back now, I smile at my youthful passion that I had back then.  Now, was I wrong about this passion?  Was I supposed to go to Eastern Europe, and then other interests or “cares of life” came along and distracted me?  It’s hard to know now.

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What I can say is that the desire to serve God in full-time work, most likely in overseas cross-cultural settings, was the beacon that burned within my life.  How to flesh that all out was something else altogether.  I will write in my article next week more about what happened in those late teen and early twenties years for me.

So in part, I can answer the question up above, about the “big picture” path of life.  I do believe that there are some basic facts that are true about each one of us and we must discover to see “how God made us”.  From the time I was 12 years old, and pretty much ever since, I have been a traveller by heart and in life itself.  That has made me a good missionary.

What each person must do (that includes you!) is to find out some of the basics of what they enjoy and want to pursue in life.  Are you a “city boy” or a “country girl”?  Do you work well with people, or like to work on your own?  Are you more of a leader, or a good follower?  What motivates you in life?  Answer some of the basics, but make sure you include God in your thought processes.  Because He may have a plan for you that you need to discover yet.  We’ll talk more on this in one week.

Sunset Cross

Serving The Lord In 2012

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Our Work For The Lord

To sum up what I did from January to April of last year, you could say I checked, checked and checked some more.  I had the privilege to work a friend of mine from our sister organization (SIL) on half of their Gospel of John in a Gulf Province language.  The preparation I did for their project came in handy as I then did the Advisor checking of John for the Akukem team in Madang.

To say that there were a number of challenges when we worked on the book of John for this second group would be quite an understatement.  Incomplete back translations, a late start date, uncertainty on who will arrive and work on which team, a potentially serious inter-clan conflict, and a dead hard drive are just a few of the exciting things we had to deal with.  As many would say, “Welcome to PNG.”

The men were very good to work with though once we got down to the business of checking the Scriptures, verse-by-verse-by-verse-by-verse.  You get the idea.  Including a brief break in the middle while I did more clean up work, it took us six long weeks to go through the entire book.  Our minds and bodies were worn out for sure, but our spirits rejoiced when we could say, “It is finished.”  We could pass the book along in pretty good shape for the final consultant check.

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The last consultant project I worked on in April was the book of Daniel for a third language group.  Believe it or not, it felt like a breeze after the long grueling sessions on John.  In fact, we checked all of Daniel in just a week and a half.  There were a number of “ahhhs” and “ohhhs” and widened eyes as we worked through the apocalyptic material, but the translation was good, and we all got a greater appreciation for the power and majesty of God who rules over nations and kingdoms.

Whenever I was doing consultant checking, Jill helped in the office and the publishing department.  She was able to help prepare questions for the E-1 curriculum which will help teachers to prepare lessons for their own vernacular preschool and Grades 1-2 education program.  She also helped with some Paratext coding for one of our completed New Testament projects, and then assisted me when I became fatigued or needed help with daily tasks around the house where we stayed.

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Then it was time to go back home to Canada.  I made the assumption that “home” would be warm when I got back to Calgary at the beginning of May.  Wrong!!  Oh well, it is Canada after all.  Jill and I celebrated our 28th anniversary on May 11th, and we decided that it would be nice to take a car ride out to the mountains, which are just an hour west of Calgary.  We had barely left the city limits when we both exclaimed, “It’s Spring!”  How did we know?  The orange construction pylons were dotted along the highway.

It was so nice to spend the Spring and Summer in Canada, with family and friends.  I stayed pretty close to home in Calgary and decided to pick up a hobby for the summer.  What did I do?  I retaught myself Hebrew after not using it for 19 years.  (There must be something wrong with me don’t you think, as I actually enjoyed reading backwards again in that strange Semitic font.)

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The other main summer activity for both Jill and I was to visit three churches in the Maritimes (two on PEI and one in Halifax) and then one in Calgary.  I would preach at the service hour, with Jill running the Power Point projection.  We would then talk with people after the services and meet in some homes to tell more about the work that we do for PBT-Canada.

At the end of October, I traveled to Dallas where it is warmer and more conducive to doing my translation checking preparation for my 2013 trip to PNG.  During November and December, I finished preparing my questions for Exodus chs. 1-24 as well as Psalms 120-150 for one group who have finished translating the New Testament.

In the middle of my time in Dallas, I was able to take a trip up to Illinois where I visited a number of our supporting churches.  I spoke in three churches and in three small group meetings over a ten day period.  They are all excited to see what God is doing in me (physically) and through us in the work of Bible translation.

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The big achievement for Jill last year was getting the acceptance letter from the Nursing Council in PNG and the Work Permit which provisionally allows her to do some nursing experience in PNG.  We do wonder if this is the beginning of us making a move towards living and working full-time here in PNG, or if we are meant to continue coming over each year for so many months out of each year.  This next trip will show us where this might lead.

I must mention an amazing thing that is occurring for me physically.  Ever since the churches in the Maritimes, and also Oak Park church in Calgary, prayed for me and Jill and for my healing, I have been doing better and better.  I am rarely using my arm crutches now.  I can walk around inside buildings without any assistance, and I am also starting to take short walks outside with only my pole or not even that.  I believe that God is incrementally healing me, and I am very grateful for that.  I believe He is preparing me for what lies ahead in PNG.

Prayer Card no address

2012 Review In Pictures

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Looking Back At 2012

So much has happened for us in this past year.  There just are not enough words to tell all the stories and to convey our joy over what God has been doing in our lives as a family and through our lives in this work of Bible translation.  Let me share a few pictures with you then to try to capture the highlights of 2012.

Translation Checking in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea

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Working with a team of national men from Papua New Guinea in January along with their missionary translator, a good friend of ours who is also a Canadian.

Glen Graduating From Basic Training With Canadian Army

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After four months of Army Boot Camp, Glen graduated in February 2012.  He was one of three recruits chosen to march in the flags, and he had the honor of carrying in the Canadian flag.

Translation Checking in the Lowlands of Papua New Guinea

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Most of March and April, Norm worked in Madang where our field office is for Pioneer Bible Translators.  He worked with national men from two language groups and checked the books of the Gospel of John and the book of Daniel.

Home in Calgary Enjoying a Canadian Summer

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In June, our family celebrated Jill’s birthday (with Glen’s picture in the background); Norm enjoying freedom on his electric scooter; and visiting the Calgary Stampede in July.

Visiting and Preaching in Prince Edward Island

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After being away for three years, we visited three churches in PEI and Nova Scotia to tell about the great things God is doing through the work of Bible translation.  On an off day, we would go spend a day together on the red sandy beaches and cold Atlantic waters.

Together Again

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We were thrilled when Glen was able to come home for two weeks in September.  We had our family together, including a special meal time with my mother, and my brother and his wife.

Time in Dallas and Illinois

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For the benefit of my health, and to work on translation projects, I was going to be in Dallas for two months away from Jill.  We were able to have a short holiday of fun before I headed south to work at the center where our International office is for PBT.  In the middle of this, a trip came together to visit four of our supporting churches in Illinois.

Home For Christmas

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Christmas with family.

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Happy Birthday Jesus!

Celebrating Christmas With Family

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Family Christmas 2012

It is quite natural for family members to get together and celebrate Christmas together.  And yet, we hear of so many families that are not able to do this either because of certain family dynamics, or simply because so many people are mobile and spread out to live in places that are far away from each other.

Less than two weeks ago, our family was spread out between Alberta, Ontario and Texas.  So I realize what a blessing it has been for all of us to be able to come together here in Calgary to be with each other.  It was so wonderful to come home on the 18th and be with my family after being away for two months.  And seeing the decorated tree encouraged my heart to know we had entered into the Christmas season.

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This particular Christmas tree has special meaning for us. When we were in Papua New Guinea years ago, a church in America sent this artificial tree to us so that we could have a Christmas tree in the village way out in the jungles of PNG.  We decorated up the tree in the front lobby area of our house so children in the village could see it, and it became quite the center piece for many discussions with the people and the children.

We had kept many of our special ornaments with us that reminded us of previous Christmas times together.  What a treat though, for us to have a tree from back home to be able to hang all our special decorations.  And of course, as many parents do, we stayed up late on Christmas Eve to wrap up presents to surprise our boys the next morning.

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Even with all the gifts that seemed to multiply around the tree each year, we still made sure we had taught our boys the true message of Christmas, of Jesus who was born as a baby, but who would one day die for us and be raised as our Lord and Savior.  We always tried to have special gifts for each other which we names as our “gold, frankincense and myrrh” gifts.

Now that our boys are young men (one is married and one is in the Canadian Army), we tend to buy less and less gifts and put the emphasis more on the message of Christmas and just being together.  It was still nice to give gifts to each other, (for the very spirit of Christmas is that of giving), and it’s amazing to see how creative we can all be after we said, “Let’s not spend much on gifts this year.”

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One thing we got this year to add to our Christmas tree was a special ornament.  We had found this beautiful ornament of the nativity scene, placed within a small hand-crafted gourd.  It has the family scene of Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus, who are surrounded by the shepherds and the stable animals.

Just about any nativity scene touches my heart.  But when we saw this scene carved and placed within the little painted gourd, it reminded us of the fact that Jesus came to earth for men and women of every culture.  And gourds are something that we would associate with tropical countries, like that of Papua New Guinea, where this Christmas story needs to be shared with all the people who live on that tropical jungle island.

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And that brings me back to my first thought, of how special it is to celebrate Christmas with one’s family.  I am so thankful that I was able to return from my time down in Texas, and that our son in the military was able to get three weeks off for the Christmas break to come home to be with us.

We never know in this life when we will all be able to be together like this, now that we are all adults and leading very diverse lives.  We have a very short time together, but we are trying to make the very most of these few weeks.  It is my prayer that you too have been able to be reunited with family members this Christmas.  And I pray that Jesus is the center of your family, just as He is the center of ours.

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MERRY CHRISTMAS, AND MAY YOU HAVE A BLESSED AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Psalm 151 – Written By My Son

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Did the title of this article catch your eye?  As you may already know, there are only 150 Psalms in the Bible.  But when my son wrote and sent this poem to me (copied out below), I felt like it should belong in the Bible as an additional Psalm.  🙂  I hope you will enjoy reading it and find it encouraging to your faith.

As I read it, I was so impressed by his poetic style and his command of good imagery.  But I also saw that it showed throughout his positive faith in God and his Christian character.  Which is amazing for two reasons: 1) In previous years, Glen wrote many other poems.  He has exercise books full of them.  But so many of them were dark as he went through some difficult months of feeling lost.

And 2) Glen is currently training with the Canadian military, which is not a godly environment.  As you read the poem, you can see the “potential enemies” around him, and yet his faith is carrying him through as he works within a very strong non-faith environment.  I am very proud of him, as well as being proud of my other son, Eric, and his wife of 3 1/2 years, as they all remain true and fast to their faith in Christ and their devotion to God the Father.

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Psalm of Glen

Am I your child God?
Do I have your favor?
Do not abandon me in your anger.
Do not throw me away in your wrath.

How high do the wicked climb,
Trampling the honest and holy ones?

Who is left that Believes?

Father you are gracious.
Your love endures forever.
I, a lowly creature, am not worthy.
 

You have bestowed me gifts and abilities,
That which you have given to me
You have blessed my life and wrapped me
In your love and safety.

In times of trouble, to you I turn.
When I am blessed, to you I give thanks.

Oh Lord, Creator of all things,
You bent low and decided to create me.
I am your humble servant.

Teach me, oh Lord, that I may be,
Holy and righteous in your eyes.
Lead me in the steps of everlasting life.

Thank you Father, for this life.
You have given me much.
Much do I choose to owe,
Yet you hold no debt over me.

I am free, by your blood.
So let me be free in your power.

Rise up, Oh Lord and come to my aid
I am surrounded on all sides.
My enemies bare their teeth,
They wish to devour my flesh.

Oh Lord, My Rock, defend me, your humble servant
I will perish under the weight of their foot
On the rocks I shall be dashed to pieces
Rescue me from my imminent Death, Oh Lord.
Be Merciful to me.

For you are the everlasting God
There is none before, there is no end.
You took me into your arms
Called me like I am your child.

Father, my God, how majestic is your Name.
The mountains tremble at your voice
The trees shake their branches
Even the rocks cry out to you

Forgive us Lord, For our blindness.
We are a Deaf, Blind, Dying race.

You are God Alone.

Oh Lord, My God, Have mercy on me.
Turn to me with Favor,
For all I have done for your children.
Do not leave me to be eaten by the dogs
Raise me up on wings of eagles,
To soar above my enemies.

I will have victory, over my foe.
For the Lord is with me.
Strength and power are his.
The world bends to his call.

“You are my child, whom I love”
Says the Lord
” Do not have fear as you walk among the wolves,
Had the Lord not created the wolves as well?
Is there any power greater than I?”
Says the Almighty.

“I will rescue you from your pain,
I will bring aid for your wounds.
Trust in me,” says the Lord,
“And I will guide your path.”

Let my life be an offering to you.
Let my sacrifice and burnt offering be a pleasing aroma to you.
May I serve you with integrity and excellence.
And may your Word ever be on my lips.

Till the last breath, I serve you.

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Allow me one more time to commend what is written above.  I am currently preparing to do the consultant check on 1/3 of the book of Psalms for a language group over in Papua New Guinea.  As I have been studying all I can about psalms, I learned that there are seven key elements found within what is called a “Petition Psalm” also known as a “Lament Psalm”.

These elements, which can be found in this or a rearranged order, are as follows:

  • Appeal: the Psalmist calls to God to listen and pleads for help in a time of trouble.
  • Problem: greater detail is given regarding the problem that he is facing.
  • Request: what the Psalmist wants God to do in order to help deal with the problem.
  • Confession: his claim of innocence and/or a confession of sin before a holy God.
  • Profession of Faith: a strong statement of belief in God, who He is and what He can do.
  • Promise: a vow to praise God, serve Him, and/or a promise to bring God an offering.
  • Praise: a final word of praise or trust in God.

So now that you know this, what do you think about Psalm 151 (Glen’s Psalm).  Can you see all these elements within his poem?  Pretty darn cool, don’t you think?  [“Way to go son!”]

Glen 2010

Starting Our Mission Experience In PNG

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Our Orientation To Papua New Guinea

Last week I shared a story about a young couple that had just started their missionary experience in East Africa.  I was very happy to hear how well their first six months went in their new country of residence.  They sounded like they got a good start to learning Swahili, making new friends, and beginning their time of ministry over there.

I also shared the fact that things did not go quite so well for us when our family went over in 2006.  One of the things that was taken for granted, both by ourselves and those with whom we would work, was that we would do well very quickly since we had already served as long-term missionaries in Papua New Guinea.

What we all neglected to realize was that there are huge differences between life in PNG and life in Africa.  In PNG, our family lived in a remote jungle village of about 200 people and learned a Papuan language slowly over the first couple of years.  Whereas in Africa, we were in a city of about 200,000 people and had to start communicating in Swahili within the first few days we were there.  That is why an orientation to the mission field is so important.

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I am very thankful then for the training that our family got in 1997 at the Pacific Orientation Course up on Nobnob Hill near the town of Madang, Papua New Guinea.  Following their advice, we landed in Madang (after 52 hours of travel) and were immediately whisked off to the training center on the hill.  They believed it was best to go straight to the training center so that we did not “learn any bad habits” by being in the country on our own first.

It was certainly a culture shock for us seeing as we left a frigid Canada behind that February and then came into PNG where it is almost always above 90 F year-round on the coast.  The funniest thing happened though when we first entered PNG at the Port Moresby airport.  Jill saw no reason to keep a winter coat, so she stuffed it under the seat ahead on the plane.  In the customs line, they called her name out (oh no!!) and said, “I think this is your coat, Ma’am.”  🙂

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Once we got to the training center, we had more surprises to adjust to.  Back then, when emails and cell phones were just really beginning to take off, we were told that there would be no communication with family or friends except by letter.  (Really??)  The idea then was that if we were to get posted to a remote area that had no contact with the outside world (except by snail mail), then it was important to start practicing what that would be like while in our orientation course.

The other big challenge for some was that they didn’t even want us to bring any soft drink cans into the center.  (That was hard for Jill who liked Coke so much back then, but more in a minute.)  What was more important, was that they helped introduce us slowly week by week into more of the culture of PNG and the trade language Tok Pisin (a pidginized form of English).

Not only did we learn to speak with the local Papuans, we spent time with some of the families that lived around the center.  We were assigned to one family and we were to visit them once a week and begin developing a relationship with them and learn how the average Papuan lived.  We built fires to cook our food, hiked the jungle trails, and constantly worked at language learning.

The big “test” for all of us at this orientation course was to go live in a village with local people for five weeks.  We lived in thatched roof houses just like they did, built fires to cook on, and lived and worked right alongside of the people.  This was definitely a huge challenge, but after preparing for nine weeks at the center, we felt ready to live just like the Papuans.

Now back to Coke.  I knew what a big thing it was for Jill to have to give up Coke for the 3 1/2 months.  Right in the middle of our village living experience we were going to have our “midway visit and evaluation” by the center directors, which just happened to coincide with our wedding anniversary.

So I had prearranged with the directors to spring a surprise on Jill.  We had a very nice visit with them when they came to our village.  We showed them around.  They talked with the people to see how we were doing.  We had our interview with them.  And then we all relaxed when they said we were doing fine.  Then just before the main director got back in his car, he said to Jill that he had a surprise for her in the car, via my request.  She went over and lo and behold, he pulled out an ICE COLD COKE!!  (I got triple stars in her books for that anniversary surprise.)

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Well, if I haven’t been able to get the main point across yet through my stories, here it is: to be able to enter into a cross-cultural environment and have the most effective ministry possible among the people, you really need to have a good orientation period into the local language and culture.  That is not to say that someone cannot minister to people of another culture without any training.

But to really be effective in reaching the people, we need to learn to “live where they live and walk where they walk”.  And how much better it is if we are carefully trained and eased into that environment.  I pray this article will be of help and encouragement to new and aspiring young missionaries.

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