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.

Young Missionary Couple Start In East Africa

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The Importance Of Orientation On The Mission Field

Entering into an overseas missionary assignment is not as easy as just getting on a plane and moving into a cross-cultural setting and beginning to minister to the people there.  I suppose you could try doing that.  And I know there have been others that have done this, and perhaps have even done well.  But that is probably the exception, not the rule.

You see, there are so many cultural and linguistic barriers that separate us from other people, that one must carefully get trained and equipped to overcome these barriers before effective ministry can really begin to happen.  Below is an except of a newsletter from a young missionary couple who moved to East Africa back in 2010.  Take a look at what they said, being so newly arrived to Africa, and then read about some of our experiences after that.

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 “This month has flown by. We realized it has now been six months since we arrived here in East Africa. It definitely does not seem that long. Looking back, we can see how we have changed, grown and adapted to our new environment. We can also see the incredible amount of blessings God has showered on us. Here’s just a few of the big ones.

Our language learning time was such a blessing. We made many friends and learned so much about the people and culture. A fantastic house became available and the timing was so perfect that we were able to move into it right after language school. We survived our village living and were able to take away so many insights from that experience. And now, we are working full time and things are going well.”

“Another blessing has been our health. We have not had any sicknesses lately which helps us greatly in accomplishing our work. God has also blessed us in the area of friends. He must have known how much we needed good friends to hang out with and relate to while being in such a different culture, because he gave us an amazing team. It has been so wonderful getting to know them and I really feel like we have made some special bonds.

We are also building relationships with a few nationals. It is slow going because of the language barrier but it is most rewarding to be able to connect on common ground. I pray that God is working through us and our slowly improving Swahili to touch their lives.

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 From even just this short report, it is clear that this couple got off to a good start.  They talk about making good friends with others quickly, and how they developed relationships with the national people there.  It is vital that these things happen in order to be effective in Christian ministry, drawing strength from one’s colleagues, as well as building a common ground of friendship with the local people, using the local language as the bridge into their lives.

Unfortunately, things did not go as well for our family when we went over to East Africa in 2006-07.  There are a number of reasons which all added up against us at that time which I don’t need to go into right here.  But probably the greatest of all the mistakes we made, if we can call it that, was that we did not take the time to be properly oriented into the life, culture and language of that country.

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It had been planned from the beginning for us to attend language school to learn Swahili and learn about the culture of East Africa, just like this young couple mentioned above.  We had three choices of where we could do this: two locations were many hours distant from where our mission office was in a large town, or at a language school just outside that town.

We chose the school near our office, partly because we did not want to uproot our family with two teen sons again in a short period of time.  But also because we knew our office was very short handed at that time and we had come specifically to help relieve the workload and leadership responsibilities.  It had been a long time since the leaders had been back home in America and we came to carry the load while they took a break.

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What ended up happening then, is that we drastically cut short our language and culture learning.  I ended up having the most training with just one month at the language school and one month of informal tutoring.  I got to the point that I could greet people, and I knew enough Swahili to pay our guards who watched over our house and yard, but not a whole lot more.

That had great impact negatively on our ability to build relationships with the African people to whom we had come to minister.  We attended a Swahili church, but understood little and had great difficulty being able to worship God, not knowing what was being spoken.  We ended up falling back on speaking English, which limited who we could speak with.

We do know that God used us to help out our East Africa Branch at that time.  But the stress of language and culture barriers were more than we could handle at that time, and our ministry to nationals was minimal for sure.  So if anyone is reading this who wants to minister to people in a cross-cultural setting, please take the time to learn as much language as possible first.  Then see how God can bless you in that new environment, and use you to be a blessing to the people there.

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Heading Overseas To Be Missionaries – Pt. 3

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Our First Week in France – Pt. 2

This will be the final article of three which looks at what happens when a family moves to a new country for the first time and needs to learn quickly how to acculturate, to understand and be comfortable in a cross-cultural environment.  One of my fellow colleagues from Pioneer Bible Translators did this with her husband and children in 2010 when they moved to France to learn French in preparation of being missionaries in West Africa.

My friend gave me permission to take excerpts from her journal that she kept for the first couple of weeks once they had arrived in France.  I found it very interesting that some of the cultural stresses that they faced while adjusting into a modern western-based culture are not extremely different from when we need to adjust to the cultural challenges we find in developing countries of the world.

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Let’s look now at some more areas of life that they had to face and overcome in their new location:

Food (Always the first challenge when you find yourself in a new environment.)

Day 1: “The kids are now (impatiently) waiting till 7pm.  That’s when dinner time is.  They have breakfast in the morning.  The kids go to school at 8am (well, ours won’t-they’ll restart their homeschooling next week).  They have lunch from noon till 2pm.  At 5ish comes the gouter (snack) usually some juice and bread with Nutella or Peanut Butter.  Then dinner at 8pm.  Since us American types would positively starve waiting that long, we’ve compromised at 7pm…at least for tonight.

Day 2: “Unfortunately we discovered that the eggs from the grocery store apparently come from free-range chickens because Sophia got grossed out after finding a blood spot in one helping with breakfast.  We’ll see if she eats breakfast this morning or not.

Day 3: “These were no Pizza Hut cardboard pizza’s but homemade dough rolled out very thin and baked right there in a very hot oven (in less than 15 minutes!) pizza’s!!   It was nice to have something that reminded of home.  And we felt proud that were dining at 8pm…the decent dinner hour in France!

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Language

[Note: Nothing is more mentally and emotionally challenging than landing in an environment where you cannot speak the language of the people around you.  Thankfully, this family had some experience learning French by living in Quebec, Canada for a while before going to France.]

Day 1: “Murrielle spoke English to me at the store and boy did heads turn!  We are glad to be in an area where English is rare.

Day 2: “I think it was the Pastor who called, and I think he wanted to come over, and I think I told him we were going shopping, and I think he was ok with that!  If I am brave (read “willing to be humiliated again today”), I will call him after dinner time (8:45pm) and ask him if he’d like to come over for a visit tomorrow.   I hope he’ll stick to the script I have in my brain.”

Day 5: “I think he was not impressed with our French and is wondering how we’ll survive in Africa but that’s ok.  We actually are feeling rather good about our communicating ability in the community at large and have no qualms about Africa where French is everyone’s second language anyway.

Later on Day 5: “There was a different librarian.  She wanted to show Sophia the books for 10 year olds but I explained that Sophia didn’t read French and I needed younger books as well.  I was looking for a basic (think 1st or 2nd grade) history of France but couldn’t find one.  I did find an older one and will try to wade through that.  When I read my library books, I try to write down every word I have to look up.  I began reading an easy general book on France.

[Note: What an encouragement to others.  The secret to learning a new language is to get out among the people and just keep trying to speak and learn new words as you go along.]

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Telecommunication (i.e. “the Internet”)

Day 2: “Perhaps we will finally get to McDonald’s where there is wifi (pronounced wee-fee :0).

Day 4: “The man who is helping us get settled into our home here is supposed to come today and help us get insurance on the car.  That way we can get to McDonald’s for the weefee :0)

Later on Day 4: “We likely won’t get internet at home so will try to get on Tuesdays and Fridays.  I’ll be sad not to keep up with all my Facebook friends’ lives but will email and post my notes to keep everyone in the loop.  And it will aid my French not to have it at home!

Day 5: “They went out to try and buy a “cle” that you can insert into a computer to make it hook up to the internet anywhere (thus making our computer our cell phone using Skype), but were told that while we may be able to buy the “cle”, we wouldn’t be able to use an American credit card to renew the hours.  So we were stymied again on getting internet at home.

Day 7: “We went to the neighbors across and down the street.  They had said we could use their land line to access email today.  After we were through, they offered a cup of coffee and we were able to talk some.

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From this article, and Part 1 last week, we can see that moving to live in a place where the language and culture is foreign to what you know from back home can be very challenging.  But look at how much progress this family made in just one week.  When we believe that there will always be people to help and trust in God to give us the strength and courage, we can all do what we thought was impossible.

Mission Internship In Papua New Guinea

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Through The Eyes of a New Missionary

Pioneer Bible Translators is growing rapidly in the number of career missionaries.  There is still such a big job out there to try to start language projects in every language group of the world that needs a translation.  One of the ways in which we are proactive in the area of recruitment, is to have young people go to the mission field for a summer experience.  Below is a letter from our of our 2012 interns to Papua New Guinea.  Catch the excitement as she shares about her first-time experience to PNG.

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I am currently having a splendid time on the other side of the world and have added a new location to the places I consider home.  After finishing the two weeks of training in Texas and saying goodbye to my other intern friends who went to another country, our group of three successfully completed the 50 hours of travel, making several tight connections and arriving safely in Madang with our luggage!  We spent one full day in the city before catching a small MAF mission plane and went out to a remote village.

The missionary who lead our excursion grew up in this village while her parents worked on translating the Bible into the language of the people.  She works in the PBT (Pioneer Bible Translators) office in Madang, so going back to the village, for her, was really like going home. Not only did the people welcome her as their family but they also welcomed us.  We were so well loved by the people; they took us in and treated us like family and it was wonderful.

This village is so beautiful and is built right on a spectacular river.  The landscape is dotted with coconut palms and fruit trees and picturesque thatched houses.  We were constantly surrounded by breathtaking views. It was so beautiful; we basically lived in a postcard for two weeks.  We stayed in the missionary house,  which is in the middle of the village. 

 

Our primary task was language learning, so on a typical day, we would go to one of the neighboring houses and do whatever the people were doing and try to pick up as much Tok Pisin (which is the PNG trade language) as we could.  We would often sit with the women as they made bilums (which are the all purpose bags that are made out of woven string and I even learned to make one myself).

The people in Papua New Guinea live off what they can hunt or gather from the land.  Some days we went to the gardens and helped gather fire wood or bring back yams or we hiked to the sago swamps and helped in the laborious process of harvesting the white paste from the middle of a certain kind of palm tree.  Sago is served in a number of different ways but is best fried with grub worms imbedded in it.  (Not really, but it was worth the experience. It is best, fried, sans grubs).

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Although most meals we ate in our own food in the house, the women were happy to teach us to cook over an open fire and to help make their meals.  Some of our other experiences include hiking to see a WWII plane that had crashed in the area, going fishing, visiting the school in the village, going to a neighboring village and meeting with the national translators, having a village wide meal, learning some of the native song and dance, and swimming in our fantastic river nearly every day.

My time in the village was wonderful and I would still rather be there.  I did a lot of really cool things, but more importantly I built wonderful relationships and was sad to leave the people who had become so dear to me after such a short time.  I am proud to say that my language learning went well and after only two weeks I can understand most of what I hear and carry on a decent conversation.

The time of meeting with the national translator was very helpful and encouraging.  Throughout this entire time, God has been confirming His call on my life.  I know that being a Bible translator and living so far away will not be easy but I am trusting that God will give me the strength to do what He has called me to.  I am excited to say that I have left a piece of my heart in PNG and have found another place to call home.

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As a “veteran” missionary and Bible translator, I am thrilled when I read letters, such as the one above.  At times, when I go back to PNG on another trip, I can sometimes forget to look around and enjoy the beautiful scenery around me since I have been over there so many times.  But most times I do get that sense again of being transported over into a true Paradise on earth.

More importantly, I am very encouraged when I read of the excitement that a new missionary has on their first-time experiences.  And to see one write of her desire to come back and work long-term as a Bible translator is definitely the best news of all.  I only had a brief chance to meet this young woman in Dallas as she was in my “Introduction to Linguistics” class before she flew to PNG.  But I look forward to the day that God will bring her back to PNG as a full-time missionary.

Remember: “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few”.
Praise God for this potential new Bible translator who wants to return to PNG to serve the Lord in Bible translation.

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* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

Practical Training For New Missionaries

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Weird Wiring & Medical Mishaps

One thing that Pioneer Bible Translators (PBT) is keen on is providing good training for new missionaries so that they are ready when they get to the mission field.  Sometimes we know where we are going, and sometimes we don’t know where we will end up.  But even if we think we know what to expect, the one thing I have learned as a missionary is to “expect the unexpected”.

In my last article about PBT, I shared about the vision of PBT to reach the regions of the world that have the most “Extreme Spiritual Poverty”.  (Read that article here.)  Part of the training that I was involved with last week at our annual training and recruitment week was in the area of “Language Learning and Linguistics”.  But our new PBT missionaries do not just get linguistic training for the field, they also get a number of very practical hands-on training.

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Let me share with you all here some comments from a student who took these practical courses, and then some words from a couple who help to teach these classes.  First of all, one of our new women missionaries who took these courses back in 2010 had this to say:

One of the training classes I took was Primary Health Care which teaches you how to take care of yourself when medical care is not available.  This will come in handy in the villages of Africa.  I learned that if you smell like stale beer but have not been drinking you could have bubonic plague.  If you smell like fresh baked bread, you might have enteric fever.  Some of the other case studies I did diagnosed diseases like HIV/AIDS, yellow fever, cholera and even rabies.  

We learned how to deliver babies including a breech.  Although I learned how to suture a wound you should make a quick note to self that you really don’t want me to stitch you up.  Before that great class I had taken a few others including a Bush Mechanics class.  In that class I learned to wire from solar panels through batteries and a converter to electrical outlets and a light bulb that actually lit up!  These classes were great fun and will be very useful in the near future.

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As you can see, this young woman was really preparing herself for just about anything that might happen while she will be on the mission field, from doing medical care for herself and others, to doing major renovations and repairs to any house she will be living in.  Thankfully for us, Jill was a nurse (who also took an intensive “Medical Mission” crash course), and I had had some experiences in building projects when I worked for a summer mission ministry called “Teen Missions, Intl.”

Now that we have had a word from the student, let’s hear a word from two of our trainers, a married couple who have a passion to train new missionaries.  Steve has had lots of practical handyman jobs and so he helped with the “Bush Mechanics” workshop, and Becky, who is a registered nurse, helped to teach the “Medical Missionary Intensive” course.  This is what they said after the courses were finished in 2010:

I (Steve) enjoyed helping teach the Bush Mechanics class to 13 recruits. The Bush Mechanics Course is four days in length and many skills are taught such as electrical wiring, small engine repair, designing and maintaining solar systems, making a solar oven and then experimenting with cooking in the solar ovens, lantern operation and maintenance, plumbing, soldering, and designing a bush kitchen.

I (Becky) want to thank the other two RNs and the ARNP person, plus one more volunteer who for helping us with the 9 day Primary Health Care Course (PHC) June 29 – July 7th. We had a great group of 13 students. It was fun to observe them gain confidence as they learned to give injections, role play emergencies, suture, apply splints, and become so familiar with the Village Health Manual that they could take a list of symptoms, find the probable diagnosis, and then come up with a treatment plan.

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I think that perhaps the teachers are more confident in the students, than the students are confident in themselves.  But for the most part, all of us are confident that these budding new missionaries will do well once they get over to their field of service.  I’m sure they will find themselves in some awkward and difficult spots, but with at least this minimal training, plus some help from fellow missionaries, will help them to succeed well on their first term over there.

I know that I quickly had to learn to be a plumber (with pipes of slightly different diameters), and a carpenter (working in wood that bent nails), and an electrician (yes, I have a current when I touch the ends of the bare wires and I see sparks fly.)  J  And even though Jill had her Canadian nursing license, it was illegal for her to practice direct medicine, so we did some “back door” medicine and helped as we were able to.

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So some of us PBT people do have some of these basic skills, but they are mostly for potential emergencies.  And so like our woman missionary above who went to East Africa and told a teacher of 90 students who live away from home to be at school, but also who work to take care of their daily needs, with regards to helping out she told her, “the only thing I could do for them was to share the gospel.”  Then the head mistress of the school very sweetly smiled and gently touched my arm and said “don’t you understand?  That is all we really need.”  YES!  Jesus is the answer for the world today.

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

Overcoming Extreme Spiritual Poverty

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Training New Missionaries To Reach “The Lost”

For many years, Christians have talked about “Reaching the Lost”.  For some people, that expression has made sense, but I think that many people today would not really know what this means.  What exactly does the word “Lost” refer to?  In religious terms, it means to be “spiritually lost”, to not know Jesus as the One who rescues us from sin and the punishment of eternal death in Hell.  In simple black and white terms, we could talk about those who have accepted Jesus and are “Saved”, and those who have not accepted Jesus and are “Lost”.

The reality of “spiritual lostness” in this world is more complex than this though.  There is in fact a direct relationship between those who have accepted Christ as Saviour and Lord of their lives and the accessibility to the knowledge of Jesus as presented to us in the Bible.  It makes sense that where the Bible has been made available to people in a language that they understand, and where there is a network of churches which use and promote the message of the Bible that there will be people who have had their lives transformed by that message and have a strong faith in Christ.

This leads us to the next obvious conclusion.  Where there are few or no churches within a distinct language and cultural group, and where there are no portions of the Bible in that language, there will also be very few or no Christians at all in that group.  It is this reality that has led our leaders of our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators, to coin the term “Extreme Spiritual Poverty”.  In a sense, there is a degree of “lostness” among the people groups of the world, and it has become the mandate of our mission to try to bring relief and the message of the Gospel to these “least reached” people of the world.

    

To get a better understanding of what is involved in impacting the most spiritually needy areas of the world, it is helpful to break it down into three categories of people groups as identified by their languages.  According to most of the official counts, there are almost 7,000 language groups in the world.  This does not include dialects.  These are all considered distinct languages.  Of this number, we know that there are just over 2,250 languages that definitely have the need to begin a Bible translation project in that language.  This represents over 350 million people who do not have even one verse of the Bible published for them in their language.

That is a lot of people who can’t read about Jesus in their own language.  Thankfully there are some of these language groups that do have churches established within them, but they are relying on Scripture that is not in the mother tongue of the people.  But of these 2,250 language groups, there are at least 900 groups that do not have a church of any portion of the Bible in their language.  This represents over 200 million people.  It is these church-less and Bible-less language groups of people that PBT is very concerned about reaching with the Gospel message of Christ and whom we consider to be the most extreme spiritually poor people in the world.

Now that we know what the need is, what is PBT doing about it?  For a number of years now we have been recruiting and sending new missionaries over to these parts of the world which so desperately need churches that use translated Scriptures to transform the people of their language group.  God has truly been blessing our mission as we have grown from 185 members to 353 members in just 5 1/2 years.  By the end of this year, we expect that we will have doubled in size for the number of career missionaries.  Our prayerful goal is to double the number of our personnel again in the next six years.  There is so much work left to be done in the world in the area of Bible translation that recruiting new people to be missionaries is crucial to getting the work done.

    

And that was exactly what we were doing this last week.  We just held our annual recruitment and training week here in Dallas, which is known as “Pioneer Mission Institute“.   For 36 years now we have been training and introducing the work of PBT to people who have an interest in mission work and specifically Bible translation work.  This year, we had over 70 students, with just about half that number in each of the two levels, the first level being the “Discovery Track” and the second level doing specialized seminars on practices and procedures for cross-cultural missionaries.

I had the privilege to once again teach the introductory linguistics class to the Discovery Track students.  I introduced them to such topics as Phonetics, Phonology, Morphology, Semantics, Sociolinguistics, Language Learning and a few other topics.  It is always exciting to me when I see other people catch the vision for getting God’s Word translated and available to the minority languages of the world.  But more importantly, they caught the vision that there are still a great number of people who are living without the transforming message of the Bible.  For it is not just translation work and linguistics that matter, but the lives of people who live on this edge of extreme spiritual poverty that we need to reach.

I ask you to be in prayer alond with us that we would find the right people to be added to our mission group that could work together to help bring the Gospel to these last pockets of people in the world who don’t know Jesus, and without a church presence and the translated Word of God, will probably never have the chance to know Jesus.  By faith though, we are believing that by 2050 or so, we will have provided a translated New Testament to all these groups and overcome extreme spiritual poverty in the world.

My Life Testimony – Pt. 3

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My Online Christian Magazine Interview – Pt. 3

Recently, I was interviewed by a Christian magazine regarding my life in Christ and the translation work that I have been involved with for over 17 years now. In this third article that includes portions of the questionnaire, I talk about the training that I have done to prepare me to do Bible translation, and what it was like when I went over to work in Papua New Guinea.  My prayer is that what I wrote will be a blessing to you, and be a testimony to the greatness of God who has empowered me to do His work.

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Q5: Could you summarize the linguistic trainings you went through before becoming a Bible translator? Your childhood episode indicates that mathematics is also important in translating Bible. How so, and what other subjects and experiences are relevant to become a good Bible translator in your opinion? How many languages can you currently read and write?

I have had two years of formal linguistic training.  This includes courses such as: General Linguistics, Phonetics, Phonology, Advanced Grammar, Semantics, Translation Principles, Research into Papuan Languages, Basic Literacy Programs, and Computer Assisted Field Language Research.

Linguistics alone will not make a person a good Bible translator.  I have benefitted greatly by having three Bible and Seminary degrees.  What a good translator should have, I believe, it at least one year minimum of Bible college education.  Then add to that a working knowledge of biblical Greek and Hebrew, as well as experience in Biblical Exegesis. 

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You want a translator to be both linguistically educated and biblically knowledgeable to have a balanced translation.  (The reason why I mentioned that being good at mathematics is helpful is that languages can be analyzed systematically and rules of symmetry and structure found in them just like math has consistent rules and structures to it.)

Over the years I have learned to speak (in addition to my native English) Spanish, Tok Pisin (the trade language of PNG), Nend (the village language of PNG where I worked), and basic Swahili (for the time I was in East Africa).  I can also read biblical Greek and Hebrew.

Q6: How did it feel when you were first sent abroad to the mission field of Papua New Guinea? Was the branch office already established in your destination or did you have to start from the very beginning, befriending the locals first? How did you warm up/ communicate with locals at first? Any case of misunderstanding or hostility? What kind of wisdom did you gain through your efforts to resolve and reconcile? Do you have any interesting episodes regarding such case?

Before coming to PNG in 1997, I had already done summer mission work in Brazil, Honduras, Dominican Republic and Mexico.  So when we arrived in PNG, I felt like I was very much at home here and that this was where I belonged.  Over the many years, I have actually felt more comfortable being in these overseas countries and cultures than being at home in my North American culture.

Thankfully, the PBT-PNG Branch was well established by the time we came here.  The first missionaries for PBT came to PNG in 1976.  When we arrived, there was a good size office functioning in Madang, and we had over 10 language projects running in the country.  What Jill and I decided to do, rather than go out to the rural areas to start a new language project, was to go to a village in the jungle where a project had already been started. 

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There was one where the missionaries had had to leave due to medical and personal reasons.  The Nend project was started in 1985 and the mission couple did the ground work there (building a grass airstrip and house, and publishing a Grammar Paper plus start a dictionary and part of the translation of Mark).  So when we went to our village, there was already a house and preliminary linguistics done.  This let me get a jump start on language learning, and after five years we had the Gospel of Mark translated and nearly ready to be published.

Because I took over an existing project, I “inherited” some friends and national co-translators.  But we all became good friends, and I made some new good friends of my own who have become excellent co-translators.  There are two major incidents that were very eye-opening and could have been quite dangerous during our time in the village. 

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The first incident I am thinking of is when a young boy died of cerebral malaria.  The father of the boy accused an old man of being a sorcerer and was going to go kill the old man with his axe. You can read the full story in “And The Angels Rejoiced” (Aug. 18, 2011).  Praise God that the situation was resolved peacefully with the two parties were reconciled to each other.  I am very thankful that God used me in this situation to bring about the reconciliation.

The second incident was much more serious and involved the entire language group of more than 2,000 people.  I mentioned this incident in an article I just posted “Satan Is The True Enemy – Pt. 2”.  When the former missionary came back after many years to visit us in the village, rumors based off of PNG legends began to circulate that he was coming back to distribute the wealth of Heaven in terms of material goods.

When this did not happen, the people became very upset and animosities and accusations went around that threatened to break out into a tribal war.  God used me in this situation to hold an all-night Bible preaching and teaching time to help correct the misguided thoughts and desires that believed Christianity and attachment to western missionaries would bring about material wealth in this life.

Language Learning For Missionaries

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Ready For The Mission Field…Almost!

Next week, our students of the SLACA course will give their presentation.  SLACA stands for “Second Language and Culture Acquisition”, which is quite a mouthful to say and is the reason why we use an acronym for it.  This course builds on to the “Introduction to Linguistics” course that I taught from August to September.  It was a very academic and technical course, and you can read about the fun we had with that class by clicking here.

In contrast, the SLACA course is meant to be a very practical, hands-on course to help the students to try to actually learn part of a foreign language.  And whenever you learn a language, you also start to learn about the culture that goes along with the language and the speaker of that language.  It has been clearly demonstrated over the years that language and culture are intricately joined to one another and support the other.

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So what we did for our nine students was to teach theory on one class day each week, and for most of the time the second class period for the week they would meet with a delightful woman from Indonesia who would help them to learn some of her language.  For two months, the students had been in my Introductory class and heard about phonetics, phonology, morphology and much more.  But in this class, they were actually going to put this knowledge into practice.

Each week then, they were to come up with a “Lesson Plan” on what they would do during the language sessions.  They began with simple things, like pointing to objects, or to items in pictures, and they would learn some simple nouns.  They found words for different colors, and learned how to count.  They discovered that there are some formal ways to greet a person in Indonesian, and there are less formal ways.  Then they tried actions, like “I am sitting”, “I am standing,”, etc.  They also had fun giving commands to each other, “You sit!” and “You stand!”

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What made it quite interesting (or should I say challenging) for most of the students, was that with everything they heard they had to write it down on paper using phonetic symbols.  In the previous course, I had taught them the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), which has about 120 symbols which represent all the possible speech sounds that any human can produce.  (I think this drove a few of the students crazy in the first couple sessions, but it was amazing even to them as to how quickly they adapted to be able to do this in future sessions.)

What we wanted the students to learn was how to listen well to a speaker of a different language and how to write consistently all the sounds that they heard the speaker say.  The reason for this is that our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators, works among some of the most remote language groups in the world, most of which do not even possess an alphabet yet for their language.  And that has to be the first step we take, developing a written alphabet, so that in time, after the language can be written down, then we can begin to translate the Bible into that language.

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By next week then, our students will have had six 90 minute sessions with the woman, their Language  Consultant.  Each student will do a write-up on what they have learned over the eight-week course.  They will have a long list of words (spelled phonetically), from which they will do word sound comparisons to try to determine which sounds in the language produce meaningful changes in the words.  That is, they will discover the underlying true sounds and from that produce a tentative alphabet.

Then they will go up from the sound level to the word and sentence level and give us their best analysis they can for how words are put together, in which order, and what their functions are within the language.  For some students, they will feel like they have not progressed very far.  But in fact, they will have enough vocabulary, and enough sentence structures worked out, that we are going to have them do a role play in a Market Scene where they will pretend to greet the seller and speak with them to buy some of their products.

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 I think everyone will do well next week, both on their written analysis of the language, as well as in their little 5 or 10 minute role play of the Market Scene.  What is really amazing is that if you put all the time together of the six language sessions, it would only total 9 hours with a language helper.  That is only two or three days in a formal language school program.

And why would we do all this you might ask?  Because we want our new missionaries to be as equipped as possible in as short a time as possible to have them ready to jump into a language and culture overseas and start their mission ministry among their chosen people group to bring God’s Word to them in their own language.  Whew!  That’s a long sentence.  But the hard work that we do here in getting them prepared for over there is always worth the effort we put into it.

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I have been so privileged to come down here to Dallas and help teach our new missionary recruits for PBT over these past few months.  It has been hard for me to be away from my family for so long.  Mostly I came here to this hotter climate to help me function better with my muscle disease.  But seeing these young people get equipped and ready to serve Jesus overseas has been a double blessing for me.  And for that I thank God.

Being Obedient to God

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Who Am I?  Part 22

In the last two articles of this series, it is quite obvious that our family was going through a difficult time. Our older son Eric had to go through 2 1/2 years of chemotherapy to overcome his leukemia, our younger son Glen was restricted from having friends over to keep the house germ free for his brother, Jill was juggling being a mom and studying her nursing refresher course, and my mission work kept me traveling across country and also caused us to move twice for me to teach at different Bible colleges.

This certainly was not what we had expected for our lives as we thought we would live in Papua New Guinea for many years as we engaged in doing a Bible translation in a remote village of PNG.  As I shared in earlier articles, being a Bible translator was a dream of mine ever since I was a teenager.  And Jill too had desired to be active in mission work just as long as I had.

So one of the issues that Jill and I wrestled with, in addition to the worries we carried concerning Eric’s health, was what would be our future role in mission work.  I don’t recall where I first heard it, but the concept had been ingrained in me for a long time that as a Christian, either I was to be sent as a missionary, or I was to be a sender of others to be missionaries overseas.  Send or be sent was the message I believed.

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I asked God to help me be faithful then as I traveled across Canada as I worked for our mission as a missionary recruiter.  But my wife knew my heart and the way God had made me better than I did at this time.  Both of us went in 2004 to the annual recruitment and training week of Pioneer Bible Translators which is held in Dallas each June.  And while there, Jill asked the current Branch Director of East Africa if there was anything I might be able to do.

This simple question opened up the door for me to travel to East Africa later that year and join a few others as they made a Prayer Journey through a portion of that country where they were based.  I was also able to teach a Phonetics course to about 40 national men and women who were interested in becoming Bible translators to their own language groups.

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When I returned from this trip, the question was raised whether or not our family might become a part of the work over there in East Africa.  It would mean uprooting the family again.  We would need to sell our house as we looked at being gone for up to two years, or longer.  Jill and I would need to get some additional training in Dallas since they really needed some administrative help in that Branch.

Each one of these actions would carry their own challenge for us.  But as a family, we felt that God was not only opening this door of ministry opportunity, but was in fact calling us to do this.  And so agreeing as a family to be obedient to God to follow His leading, we put our house on the market and planned to hold a large garage sale.  Jill and I believed that if God was behind all this, then He could certainly orchestrate the sale of all our things.

And you know what?  Our house was barely even listed officially on the real estate web sites when a very good offer was made on it.  I think from the time we placed the house on the market to the late hour at which we signed the sale document was only 3 1/2 days.  So then we had our garage sale planned for just before leaving Calgary, and we sold almost everything (except the kitchen sink as they say), including all of our beds.

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The last six months of 2005 was spent in Dallas as Jill and I went through a course called Management Development Orientation Course (MDOC).  This turned out to be crucial training for us as we found out just before going to East Africa that all of the Directors of the Branch very much needed a furlough break and PBT was needing some veteran missionaries to help fill the gap over there.

As it turned out, I became the Acting Director of the Branch for over a year, and Jill was handed the responsibility of running the Finance Office for most of the 18 month period that we were over there.  This was quite incredible when you think about it since Jill was trained as a nurse, not as a business or finance manager.  But she had an amazing ability to manage the financial accounts, and after only getting about three weeks training, Jill showed that she could organize the system and run that office very efficiently.

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Meanwhile, I too found that a heavy responsibility was placed on me to oversee all the work of the Branch.  The national translation programs continued to make progress, oversight of fellow missionaries and interns was handled, and relationships to national employees and their work with us were maintained.  The work was exhausting, but I am glad that God saw fit to use us to help hold the Branch together during a critical period.

I must admit that the work did take a toll on the family though, as Eric felt that it was best to do his Grade 12 studies back in Canada.  And as this left Glen on his own a lot, then he too wanted to return to Canada, and did so a year later.  Neither decision was done without prayerful agreement in the family.  But the life we had as a family in PNG when they were younger could not be recaptured in our time in Africa.  But that is just the life cycle for us all.  And so my next article will look at Jill and me becoming parents to college-aged children.

Missionaries & Language Learning

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How To Learn a Language in 6 Easy Lessons

Tomorrow should be an interesting day.  I’m thinking about the students that I have been working with for the past two months.  From the middle of August until the middle of October, I taught seven students a course called “Introduction to Linguistics”. These students are some of the new recruits we have in our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators.  They are preparing themselves to serve in support roles in different field branches or projects that PBT has around the world.

The introductory linguistic course covered quite a wide array of topics such as: grammar, phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics. All of these topics are so important to the ministry of Bible translation that each one of them is a full course by itself when a person pursues advanced linguistics. But in this introduction class, we would just scratch the surface of each topic, just enough to expose these students to the main concepts. (I did feel bad at times for the students as they would just start to understand the topic, and then I would teach the next topic, and throw their minds back into the fog.

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What is significant here is that for most of these students, they would be involved in some support role on the mission field, not a primary linguistic role like in Bible Translation, Literacy Work or in Scripture Impact. This is not to say that what they will do is unimportant or second-class.  On the contrary, some of them will do Church Planting, Branch Administration, Missionary Care, etc. Some women may focus their energies on raising the family, doing home schooling and supporting their husbands who are the linguists.

The truth of the matter is that every missionary is just as important as any other missionary, because every person is a member of the team and vital to doing their part to see that the Scriptures are being translated, churches are planted and lives are being transformed.  Therefore, as a veteran missionary and a staff member of our international office in Dallas, it is my desire and my goal to help equip all of our new missionaries the best that I can so that they will succeed well when they eventually go to live in their field of assignment overseas.

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The first course is finished now and I am proud of all the students who worked hard and did well learning the principles of linguistics.  What they need to do now is to apply these principles to real language learning experiences, which will be the focus of the next course.  What is real fascinating, and encouraging to the students, is that by learning these basic principles, they should be ready to learn any language spoken in the world.  In fact, I did a demonstration for them on the last day to show them how true this is.

The demonstration I did is called a “Monolingual Approach” to language learning. Imagine for a moment that I found myself in a linguistic/cultural setting where I could not speak any of the peoples’ language, and they could not speak any of my language. Also, let us assume that the language of this other person is not written down, and so there are no grammar books or any other instructional books available to help me learn this language. How would I even begin to communicate with this person?

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This was the scenario I painted for the students at the beginning of my demonstration. I told them that I would only speak the village language that I learned while we lived in Papua New Guinea, and the person helping me with the demonstration would only speak Russian. Through the use of gestures, repetition, and physical objects, I would prompt my helper to speak and then I would write down whatever I heard her say on my flip chart.  In a matter of 45 minutes, I had many sheets of paper filled with all of the expressions that I had elicited from her.

The next task was to analyze what I had written down, and by comparing the various phrases and sentences that I had gathered, I was able to “understand” some basic concepts about Russian.  I had discovered that Russian is like English in their general word order. Namely, the subject of a sentence goes first, the verb comes in the middle, and objects of the verb go last.  I had found a number of different pronouns, a handful of concrete nouns, and a few verbs.  I also had elicited a large number of different sounds from all the words and could then begin making the initial orthography, or alphabet of the language.

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The students were fascinated and impressed by this demonstration.  But more importantly, they all saw how it really was possible to take the principles of linguistics which I had taught them to be able to learn a foreign language.  Thankfully, there are very few places in the world today where this kind of scenario will happen.  There will almost always be some speakers of the target language who will be bilingual in the official world language that the country uses, like English, French, Arabic, etc. Or at least they will know the regional trade language of the area.

Before closing off this article, I must answer the question that I’m sure someone must be thinking.  Why would we go to all this trouble of learning these minority languages of the world?  Actually, the purpose is clear: we want to be able to translate God’s Word into their language.  So the answer is also simple: all people understand and communicate best in their mother tongue, the language they first leaned while growing up. And so Bible translators, and good support staff, must be linguists first if they want to be successful missionaries.

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