Church Leaders United Together in Papua New Guinea

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The 2013 Madang, PNG “Power In The Word” Conference of Church Leaders

“We (the churches) need to work together. The days of having our own independent ministries and not joining together in ministry are over.” — Madang Pastor

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One hundred twenty-six church pastors and leaders from seventeen church denominations came from all over Madang province to attend the “Power in the Word” conference hosted by the Crossroad Baptist Church. The conference was organised by the Madang Pastors Fraternal with help from PNG Bible Translation Association (BTA), Pioneer Bible Translators and SIL-PNG.

The conference began with a focus on repentance and a time of prayer for the churches, communities and the nation. The next three days were filled with sessions that encouraged and strengthened the leaders. These sessions helped the leaders to see new ways of using the Scriptures in their churches. Topics such as “Power of the Word”, “Using the Vernacular Scriptures”, “Oral Bible Storytelling” and “Preaching and Praying in Tokples” proved invaluable to the pastors.

Other sessions focused on overcoming trials facing the churches. Presentations on “Hindrances to Using the Word”, “Melanesian Spiritism”, “Disunity” and “Western Humanism and Secularism” challenged the leaders to face the issues in their churches with the power of the Word. There were also practical sessions led by representatives from Christian Book Melanesia, Christian Radio Missionary Fellowship, SIL-PNG, Faith Comes by Hearing and Youth with a Mission.

    

Participants were highly interested in the presentation about Scripture Application and Leadership Training (SALT), a program that equips national pastors and leaders in PNG to effectively use translated Scriptures in church ministries. Church leaders in Madang town want to take the training so that they can share it in the rural areas surrounding Madang.

The conference generated a feeling of unity among the pastors and leaders as they saw the need to work together. The “Word” was seen as the common denominator for all churches and denominations—and the translated Word was seen as the best way to express God’s truth to the hearts of those in their congregations.

“There was a great respect for the vernacular and it was often stated that the power of God’s Word is most accurately expr aessed in the vernacular.” — Jim Tomlinson

                                

This church conference of pastors and leaders all coming together to praise the Lord and profess their need for more unity and cooperation among national Papuan churches is most exciting to us.  This is an answer to our prayers of many years, to see the national churches come alive and not just see the magnitude of the task of evangelizing their own people group and others, but also to really start taking on this task, and doing it arm-in-arm with leaders of other denominations.

Even more incredible is that fact that many of them are now clearly seeing that evangelization of their people will be much more fruitful if they use translated Scriptures in their own language.  Putting it another way, Bible translation is now being seen as essential for pastors and leaders to more effectively do evangelism among their own people.  And the spirit of unity which swept through the group was certainly an awesome thing to experience.  Almost makes you think of what it was like in those early days when the Holy Spirit broke forth during the Day of Penetost and the church exploded in very incredible ways.

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As I now begin my long journey from North America back to Papua New Guinea, I am excited to think of the groundwork with has already been laid down by all these faithful Papuan pastors and leaders.  It is very obvious that God is moving among them, no matter what their denominational flavor they may be, to bring them all to their knees in repentant spirits and to hold one another’s hand in the sign of Christian unity over there.

This will definitely be a real boost to the work which I do in PNG.  I have a burning passion to train nationals to learn the “Principles of Bible Translation“, guide them in other skills and knowledge they will need, and then send them back out to their villages to do Bible translation among their own people.  There are so many stories that tell how the task of Bible translation so very often ends up with the result that the translated Word of God grabs hold of their own hearts and we see the lives of the translators become transformed for Christ right before our eyes.

So as I said above, I am very eager to get back to PNG and to see what great and awesome things God has done during these four months that I have been away.  And I am excited about the fact that a real passion for Bible translation has now begun among these churches.  Christ himself said that the gates of hell could not prevail against the church.  Now think how powerful and effective the changing of lives will be when we see more and more church support being put into the Bible translation movement that is representative of what our mission does, Pioneer Bible Translators.

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Worshiping God Is Good For You

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Worship On The Way – Part 1

Do you remember when you were young and you were told, “Okay, it’s time for church.” Did you ever respond with, “I don’t want to go today.” Or perhaps you just thought these words. For those of you who are reading this and are parents, perhaps you hear these words from your children today. If we are honest though, I think that all of us have had many Sunday mornings we just don’t feel like going to church.

But is that bad? Is that wrong? Can’t we worship God by ourselves at home? Actually, we may be on the wrong track of thinking altogether. Let me back up and ask the question, “What is worship?” Answering that question could take pages and pages to answer. And it is true that we can and should worship God individually, but I want to talk in this article about the importance of our corporate worship of God.

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We are starting chapter 10 of our book study of “Walking with God on the Road You Never Wanted To Travel” by Mark Atterberry. Mark has been a preacher for many years, and so it would seem quite natural for him to advise people that it is important to come to church and worship corporately with other believers. After all, isn’t that the “normal practice” of Christians?

To think like that is to misunderstand the purpose of corporate worship. Going to church is not about attendance and ritual, but is about experiencing God. There is something powerful in the gathering together of believers to jointly lift up the name of God in praise, and there is something very humbling to bow together as a corporate body in prayer, recognizing Christ’s Lordship over all of our lives.

Now back to where we started, the idea that sometimes we do not “feel” like going to church to worship God, have you considered that it is in these exact moments when we feel the worst and life is difficult that we should make the extra effort to get out to our local church? Even with all its warts and wrinkles and problems, the church is the place where we can receive the help that we need. Atterberry gives us some good points in his book why we should continue to gather for corporate worship.

1.  Worship Nourishes Your Relationship with God

Think for a minute what it would be like if we never gathered with other Christians and worshiped God together. Do you think that we would be strong enough to be able to resist the temptations that are in the world around us? Would we get in the practice of setting aside some time every week to put our full attention and focus upon God?

My guess is that it would not take very long before God became less and less a part of our lives. Atteberry cautions us on this very point as he shares from his experiences over the years by saying this:

I’ve heard all the arguments from the I-can-be-a-Christian-without-going-to-church crowd, but I’ve never seen any evidence that their claims are true in my experience, every time a Christian drops out of church and abandons corporate worship, he starts sinking spiritually. Maybe not the first day or the first week, but eventually. I can’t recall a single exception.  (pg. 130)

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The best analogy that I can think of that points to the truth of what Atteberry talks about is that of a small cooking fire, such as they use in the villages of Papua New Guinea. They take little twigs and sticks and work up a fire, but they only put the tips of each stick into the center of the fire. Slowly they push the burning sticks into the center to keep the flame on the tips of each stick at a constant height and temperature.

But as soon as they pull out one stick from the fire, the small flame at the tip of the stick almost immediately goes out. Now they can swing the stick to keep the red ember at the tip still hot, and if they just laid the stick to the side even the ember would burn out. But as soon as they put the stick back into the fire, a flame will again immediately burst forth at the tip of the stick.

The church can and should be our place to keep the flame of our spiritual lives alive. When we go back out into the world from our place of corporate worship it is up to us to keep our spiritual embers alive throughout the week. Then when we come back to worship together with our fellow believers we infuse some more spiritual vitality in our “fire” for the Lord.

2.  Worship Guarantees Your Protection

Consider Ezra 8:22 which says, “Our God protects all those who worship Him, but His fierce anger rages against those who abandon Him.” This was spoken by Ezra to the king of Persia just before Ezra and many other of the exiled Jews began their five-month journey through dangerous territories on their way back to Jerusalem. And we know from Scripture that they in fact did make it safely there.

In a similar way, when we worship God corporately there is a spiritual reality to the idea that we are drawn in under His over arching protective care. Some would suggest that we simply gain psychological and emotional strength from our gathering together with others. But it is my belief, that when we gather together in worship we do not just add to one another’s spiritual strength and vitality, but we multiply our spiritual strength through the bonds of our Christian unity.

I think I will tie off this article at this point and pick this up in two weeks with part 2 where Atteberry gives us two more good reasons to worship God.  This article has meant to be an encouragement to you in your Christian walk, and I hope that I have been able to do that.

Powerful Opening (Phil. 1:1-2)

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Greetings & Blessings

It is easy to read the first two verses of Philippians and just pass over them quickly.  We see that the book (actually a letter) is being sent from Paul and Timothy to the church that was in Philippi.  And the blessing of “grace and peace” from God and from Jesus to the believers sounds just like any other of Paul’s opening words to the other churches that he wrote letters to as well.

But I believe we do ourselves a disservice if we rush by these two verses too quickly.  There is much more here that is worth looking into than meets the eye on the first glance.  Now recall from the article I wrote last week (click here) that I outlined four stages to doing a good inductive Bible study.  They are:

  1. Do a text comparison.
  2. Review the Greek text.
  3. Check out Commentaries and Lexicons.
  4. Do a concordance check on significant words.

In this short opening section of two verses, it was not very hard to write up a summary sentence for the section, or to give the section a short title that covers the main idea of the passage.  We did that on the last article.  Now we want to look into some specific words and phrases to discover some of the richer and deeper meaning that is contained within these words and the context where they are found.  Now we get into the meat of doing Inductive Bible Study.

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At our small group study last week, we did the text comparison step and looked for any vocabulary or wording that was significant, yet different, in four different translations.  We looked at this short passage in the New Living Translation, the English Standard Version, the New American Standard Bible, and the New International Version.  We saw the following slight differences in the versions:

  • “slaves” / “servants” / “bond-servants”  (v.1)
  • “holy people” / “saints” / “those who belong to Christ”  (v.1)
  • “elders” / “overseers”  (v.1)

And we noticed that this letter was a) meant for “all” the believers in Philippi, including the church leaders, and b) that “grace and peace” come from “God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”.  One further thing that caught our attention was the phrase “in Christ”.  Looking ahead, an alternate wording for this phrase is “in the Lord”.

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Taking a quick look at an Interlinear Greek Text, we saw that the key words we had found above were also used in the Interlinear text.  Now we needed to do a little research to see if any of these differences would bring out any new or significant meaning to the text.  The first one that caught just about everyone’s attention was the contrast of “slave” / “servant” / “bond-servant”.

It was not surprising to find that the term “slaves of Christ Jesus” made us uncomfortable.  Doesn’t it sound better to be a servant than a slave?  And yet, when we consider as we see in verse 2, that Jesus Christ is our Lord, then we ought to be fine to be called slaves, for He paid our debt of sin by dying for us, and in return, we give our lives over totally to Him as His people.  And that led us to consider the term “bond-servant”.

This is a special term that relates to first century culture.  There were many actual “slaves” in Paul’s day.  Some of them could earn or buy their freedom from their owners.  But if a slave loved his master enough, then he could choose to voluntarily be a servant for life to his owner.  He then became a “bond-servant”.  He literally “bound” himself forever to his owner and willingly served him.

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Isn’t that a tremendous picture as we hear Paul call himself a “bond-servant”? And we too can choose to be willing and obedient servants to Jesus Christ.  And this is where we picked up on the phrase “in Christ” or “in the Lord”.  These two phrases (plus two more variants) are used 22 times in this letter to the Philippians.  It must be important.  And indeed, we found this phrase to be very rich in meaning.

After looking into some commentaries and translation helps, we found that the phrase could be translated as “union with Christ”, “united with Christ”, or “bound together with Christ”.  In fact, in one language group that I worked with, the literal back-English translation for this Greek phrase was translated as “stuck to Christ”.

I thought that was such a powerful picture, that when we are “in Christ”, it is like we are so closely bound to Him that we are in a sense “super-glued” to Christ.  So even as we open up the book of Philippians, we see that Paul, and by his example, Christians are to be willing, obedient servant-slaves of Jesus, and super-glued to Him so that when people see us, they see Jesus in and through us.  Pretty cool, eh?

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One more thing that our study group discussed was that we should not dismiss this greeting of Paul’s so quickly and just say, “Oh, that is how Paul greeted everyone.  He was just saying ‘Hello’ in his letter.”  No, we felt that there was power in the words he chose to use in his greeting.  He wanted God to bless his readers with “grace and peace”.

These words carry the essence of the Gospel.  We are saved by grace.  And when we experience the true grace of God, then the fractured relationship that was once there between us and God is gone, and we can truly experience deep spiritual peace with God.  And we can extend that peace to our relationships with others around us.

And so we considered the idea that we as Christians may want to model Paul’s greeting to fellow believers when we meet them.  Wouldn’t that be interesting if on Sunday morning, instead of just saying, “Hi, how are you?”, we would greet our brother or sister in the Lord and say, “Hello Dave.  God bless you with the His grace and peace this week.  And how are you doing today?”

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Prayers For Translation Checking

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It is mid-February and we are in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.  In the first two weeks of being here, I have been able to finish the consultant checking of Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians in the T. language.  One verse that really created a strong image in our minds of how as Christians we are joined with Christ and together with each other is Ephesians 4:16.

Part of my work as a consultant is to look at the language’s translation to see if it is both accurate to the Greek, but still communicates well in the vernacular language.  See what you think about part of this verse that was prepared for me from the T. village language text back into a reverse English text:

“And we are his skin/body hand parts foot parts.  He causes us, and we all reflexive reflexive [individually] stick to him, and are joined together like with ligaments/tendons and are one skin/body.   And he causes us, and we stick to each other and love each other.”

Isn’t it wonderful that God’s Word can speak powerfully to any people group in the language of their heart?  What a joy to see the Bible come alive to these people of Papua New Guinea.

But not only are these books now checked, portions of them will be used very soon. Here is what the missionaries who work with the T. language wrote in their recent update:

Praise that all the men finished the consultant checking…In addition, just this past weekend I finished writing the scripture use course on unity (a course the T.  people have requested). The beauty of it is that there are so many Scriptures from Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians in this course. In these courses, if we do not have a particular verse translated yet, I use the Melanesian Pidgin Bible (a PNG trade language).

God’s timing is perfect in having those three books ready and available in Tay to be used in such a practical way (and though I’d like to say we are that organized, we did not plan the prep of the unity course and the completion of those books to coincide ;-)…that was totally a God thing!). The unity course will take place during our visit to the village in March.

The next checking session for me will be from Feb. 17-28, when I will work with the missionary and the men from the W. language.  Our goal is to finish checking chapters 21 – 28 of the Gospel of Matthew.  On the last trip here to PNG, I had worked with the W. language team, but due to some illnesses on the team, and some deaths of people in the village, we had to cut short our checking sessions.

Please pray that we will be able to complete the book this time.  We have 8 days to do the eight chapters. One of the men who is coming has not been well, so pray for complete healing for him. The missionary’s health has also been challenged for the past few months, so pray for him as well. And as is always our request, pray for the translation to be accurate, to communicate well in the language, and to be natural in terms of how the people use their own language.

Thank you for your prayers. I am doing pretty well. Certainly the weather of the PNG Highlands agrees with my body more than the frigid cold temperatures back in Canada.  But when I tell people that I function better in warmer climates, often I get the response, “I think that’s true of most people”.  : )  At least my pain levels are lower and more tolerable. Please also continue praying for a clear mind and additional strength for the coming days of checking.

Looking ahead, on March 1st we will fly to Madang and have a few days break before I will start my third consultant checking session. This time it will be with a missionary woman and her team of the A. language. Pray that the men will be able to get into Madang as at this point there are difficulties with their transportation from bush to town.

And for all who have prayed for my wife Jill, she arrived safely here to join me 12 days ago.  She has done some language data work during her time here with me.  And as always, she is a great help and partner to me.  Having her with me is a joy, and she is able to help with so many little things around the house that I am unable to do, especially when I am doing these translation sessions.

Thank you for your continued partnership with us as we work among the peoples of Papua New Guinea.

As His Servants,

Norm & Jill Weatherhead