The Village Life

IMGP1606Flying over the jungle one cannot help but notice what is obvious for the people living in the remote villages of PNG. If a person needs medical assistance in the bush, time and distance increase the likelihood of a fatality. MAF medical evacuation flights are a necessity in this part of the world as are the vital medical supplies they deliver to remote aid stations.
The MAF-PNG program has a “bush orientation program” for all newcomers. Its purpose is twofold: to learn the culture and the language, and also understand the needs of the communities. With us both flying different aircraft our home base will be in Mount Hagen. Our Bush orientation involved a great deal of planning. Our time away in a remote village without the support of the MAF team gives us a moment to view the world through His eyes, to see things as He does. Our time in Tsendiap was more than a fulfilling of that goal. We were blessed to see the work He is doing each and every day.
IMGP3067We arrived on a Friday afternoon in the community by the only means available; an MAF aircraft. Located only 33 miles NNE from Mount Hagen in the Western Highland Province the flight lasted only 15 minutes, yet we were now a world away from anything we had come to know. Our host for next 7 days is a family living next to the airstrip; local priest and lecturer of the tiny Anglican Evangelist College, Pastor Newton Ekoda and his wife Daisy greet us at the plane along with their two boys, Gerand and Garland. After a short walk from the airstrip we are greeted by other members of the community and are adorned with flowers while some of the students play gospel songs in several languages. Later we learn Daisy is not only the

IMGP2202Sunday school teacher but also the local primary school teacher. Dry season has meant low crop yields. Without regular water and food supplies the primary school students are unable to commute and attend school. Educate is not a top priority when food supplies are low and the rains are very late this year. For the past two years the church has tried to initiate a women’s Literacy Program but without success. Helping to educate the women in the community and raise the awareness of education is difficult when even the children are not attending school. Having visitors in the community reignited the desire for the women’s literacy program so the school supplies of 50+ exercise books, pencils, sharpers and erasers we brought along for the children soon found another immediate use; a different plan than we anticipated but no doubt part of God’s will.
Each morning the sound of the church bells announce its 5:30am; it’s a reminder to thank God for the dawn of a new day.

DSCN1363The dry season allows an opportunity for the women to start their Literacy class on Monday. Daisy volunteered to teach the literacy class and the school supplies are distributed to each lady. All of the women in attendance are married to the Bible College students and are excited to begin their literacy class. Sitting among the 11 woman I am able to assist 2 of them to write the alphabet for the first time. Progress is slow but steady for the few with basic 2 grade primary education. Additional one on one assistance is necessary for the two beginners. So as not to slow the rest of the class we make arrangements to meet at their homes for additional help later in the afternoon.
Pastor Newton and Daisy are generous hosts but our visit is a church-community event. Each day different women share the cooking and by night the meal is shared with different members of the community at the Pastors house. Sitting cross-legged on the floor of the haus-win (an elevated, open patio style shelter), our conversation includes a discussion of Scripture, culture and questions about our home villages and country. Looking around at the faces of the sumatin from Karina Evangelist’s College (sumatin is Tok Pisin for college students) and their expressions while discussing The Word. These men are PNG’s future evangelists preparing for the harvest. The thought reminds me of the Last Supper when Jesus was with His disciples. Even though the disciples spent much time together with Jesus, they themselves had no knowledge of what was to happen nor the understanding of who Jesus really was. This life was the Light of men, soon He would rise from death in the days that followed His crucifixion. Looking around, I see the Sumatin students as Jesus must have viewed His disciples, spending that time together they would reflect back on each and every word He shared with them over their meal. We too learn more of who Jesus is when we spend time with Him, reading and reflecting on His words. It is the basis of any of our relationships when we share time together only then do we learn more about each other.

IMG_0639The night before we are to depart, I visit Annie next door to say my goodbyes. Annie is crying. She explains how the past few days of learning to read has changed her life. Through her tears she says that because she never learned to read she never understood the Bible. Earlier in the week I wrote on the classroom blackboard my favorite scripture verse John 14:27. After class, she went home and asked her husband to read the full chapter. Annie tried reading along with her husband. She gained a deeper understanding of John 14. The tears that Annie was shedding in front of me were tears of Joy.

Our trip in the bush left us filled with hope. MAF aircraft are vital tools in reaching isolated people around the world. Tsendiap is one of those places where God’s work continues to change lives through His Word. Your support of MAF aircraft and MAF families share in equipping these students with Pastor Newton and Daisy’s ministry through Bible education and outreach is just one example of how MAF is fulfilling its mission. Christ is preparing His disciples to go out, 2 by 2, husband and wife, side by side, in the full knowledge of who He is and a willingness to share the message with others.

During our week in the bush, we did a walkabout to a smaller village called Ganjiji. The village is a 1.5 hour walk through jungle vegetation up to a high ridge on the mountain. We arrive in plenty of time to bathe and refrIMGP2603esh in the river before the church lotu (worship service) at 9am. The Sunday worship was followed with a meal after which we had an opportunity to chat Tok Pisin with some of the villagers. A village elder explained to us that Ganjiji had not had a visit from white-skinned missionaries since 1975. “After forty years”, the elder man speaks in Tok Pisin, “we are encouraged we may even be alive to see Christ return as he promised, your visit is a reminder of that hope”. Just before we depart my eyes glance to the middle of the people sitting on the floor. The image remains engraved in my mind: Lying on top of a layer of fresh banana leaves is a baby, quiet, content and naked. By our Canadian standards these people have very little yet they have plenty. These humble surroundings remind me of another time long, long ago. Over 2000 years ago, another child is born into the humble surrounding of a fed trough. Strips of linen which were used for Jewish burial preparations known as swaddling cloth are wrapped around the naked child. This child is our hope, the reason for the season, the only Begotten Son of God, born to die, for us. His life with us and the Holy Spirit He left behind. We celebrate, Emmanuel, God with us. May the truth of that moment dwell with your spirit this Christmas, and the Peace of God abide with each and every one of you into the New Year.

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Expect the Unexpected

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Our earliest experiences in Papua New Guinea remind us how difficult it must be for refugees and new immigrants coming to Canada.  Communicating in a new language and/or living in a new context requires a great deal of adjustment and above all patience.  Almost every person we have met, has been helpful, patient and understanding.  Unfortunately, we forget that we can also be impatient with our own selves as we stumble awkwardly with words and often cannot express exactly what we are thinking.  It can be difficult for an onlooker to separate our personal frustration with language from an outward expression of impatience towards others.  Thank God that He gave all of us Grace.

One person who has been very helpful in our language studies is our daytime security guard James.  He is happy to talk and is exceptionally patient as we work our way in Tok Pisin.  He does not speak English. Many words in Tok Pisin are similar to English so he is quick to figure out what we try to say but certainly there are times when we look at each other in complete bewilderment followed by some good laughter.  Friendships develop over time and James invited us to visit his village about 20 minutes bus-ride outside of Mt. Hagen. The invitation was to help celebrate a new Seventh Day Adventist church that was opening in the community.  Puntbug is small village where coffee is IMGP9848grown among and between gardens and homes.  The coffee is the main cash-crop providing some income.  Some people will work in Mt. Hagen if they can find a job that will have an income high enough to pay for the round-trip busfare of 1 Kina (50cents) each way.  When we arrived we discovered that we were not only invited but that we were to be among 20 others including members of the Provincial Government, Church bishops and local head-men or leaders.  To make it even more of a surprize, we were to give speeches without an interpreter available!

Soon after we arrived, we were herded, along with the other “V.I.P.’s” to a waiting area about 200 meters from the Grandstand.  Some uniformed soldiers with musical instruments lined up on each side of our group and the marching music began.  The sound of the bagpipes had the two of us in fits as we never expected to hear those sounds in Papua New Guinea.  The marching band was actually quite good and marched with all the seriousness of a military tattoo.  I later inquired if this was a police or military unit and was told that it was the Western Highlands Seventh Day Adventist Marching Band!

A few hours later after many speeches and Judith’s personal testimony that she read to the crowd in Tok Pisin (because she had it in her Bible that she was carrying she was able to read a prepared “speech”), the church was opened with many voices singing in harmony.

IMGP0166Even though we could barely speak the language, the people were friendly and gracious.  It was a challenging day full of big surprises and many “firsts” for our time in PNG.  We praise the Lord that he has connected us to supportive friends and placed us in a country so full of gracious and friendly people who we are able to serve through MAF’s vital aviation ministry.  We look forward to our next “first”; our bush orientation where we must live out in a remote village, on our own for one week.

What is the Bride Price?

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Dispela Meri I Hamas Mani? Tok Pisin. How much is this lady?

Story and photos by Michael & Judith Dupuis

Learning the customs and culture of a new place can be quite rewarding but somewhat overwhelming at times. The day after our arrival in Mt. Hagen, we started our lessons in Tok Pisin and soon after, we went to a village in the Southern Highlands to attend a worship service with an MAF ministry team. Up to now, our encounters with PNG culture have been a bit like drinking from a fire hose.

When a large crowd began to gather just outside our house in Mt. Hagen, we found ourselves at the fountain again. Our previous experience in East Africa has helped us to adjust here in PNG, but processing all of the new culture has been challenging. Fortunately, the Highland people are very patient, friendly and understanding.

It was in Africa that we first encountered a custom strange to most westerners. It is the buying a wife, which is also known as paying the Bride Price. The concept of a “dowry” is not unknown in the western world, but it is rarely practiced among those of European decent. Marriage customs vary widely around the world and in some places it is the woman’s parents, who must pay a dowry to the husband’s family. But in East Africa as well as here in Papua New Guinea, the bride’s family receive the payment.

In Papua New Guinea, just like in East Africa, a son will take on the responsibility of caring for his elderly parents. Saying that a person is buying a wife is not quite accurate. It is not a woman who is being purchased, but rather it is a type of compensation to secure the long-term security of her parents and extended family. Because the wife will usually live with her new husband, the bride’s family will no longer have her help in her family’s daily life. The money presented by the bride groom and his family is understood as a compensation for the family’s personal loss of their daughter. The money goes to the bride’s family and will filter through the community in various ways. The decision as to the acceptable price is more of a community decision, following traditional norms and criteria too complicated for an outsider to fathom. Similarly, it is usually the community that decides who will get married in the first place, and it is not always based on a mutual attraction. Arranged marriages are more common in village settings.

In the West, individual rights and privileges are honoured above all. In PNG, it is the community that is paramount, and so it is rare that an individual will go against the wishes of the community and still be allowed to remain within that community. As western culture permeates this culture through economic growth and development, movies and television, it is taking a toll on communities. More and more individuals are driven to the big cities where they often live a more singular lifestyle. But many are having a difficult time being apart from the supporting network of their home community, which is why Port Moresby, the capitol city of PNG, is one of the most crime-ridden places on earth. Drugs, alcohol and pokies (gambling) provide an alternative community membership. Despite the obvious downside, criminal gangs and communal despondency is still more attractive to many than living apart.

We are Canadians working with MAF in Mt. Hagen, in the central highlands. Mt Hagen is not a big city. It would rank only as a town in Canada. In landmass, it is about the same as a town with around 6000-8000 inhabitants. It would not be big enough for a Walmart but big enough to have most of the shops and stores to support the local and regional population. Nevertheless, a city the size of Mt. Hagen still draws workers from some of the surrounding provinces. The community where we are living has a good number of people from neighboring Enga Province.

When we awoke to the sound of buses and other vehicles outside our compound gate, it was a sign that a large group was about to mass in the small undeveloped strip of land out front. After several hours, many locals as well as travelers from Enga Province had arrived for a Bride Price negotiation.

As we walked out among the crowd, several people came up to us and explained what was happening, and we were invited to watch and even participate if we wished. The scene was a bit chaotic to our eyes, with a number of pigs staked out in the middle of the field surrounded by about 150 onlookers. With the help of an Engan man who could speak a little English as well as Tok Pisin, we learned who some of the speakers were. A number of people were giving what seemed like very eloquent speeches in the local tribal language. Many people were nodding their heads in agreement, while others, like ourselves, did not understand the tribal language, presumably because they too had joined in to watch and were not part of the Engan community.

In the center, right next to the livestock, were three colourfully adorned women. The one in the middle was the bride, with two supporting “sisters”. Each time a person gave a speech, all three would run over and hug the person then return to their previous spot in the middle of the ceremonies. We learned that the men and women giving the speeches were agreeing to support the married couple and to contribute some money towards the Bride Price.

By the end of the first day, there was disappointment in the air. Only 4000 Kina (approx. CDN$2000) cash had been raised. Added to the cash amount were 17 pigs and one goat. All together, the livestock was worth about 40,000 Kina or CDN$20,000.

Judith had been taking many photos during the day, and everyone was happy to see their pictures, even if only for the moment captured in time. When the negotiations slowed, Judith was inspired to make a contribution to the Bride Price. After asking about the appropriate amount that would be customary for a stranger to contribute, she made a small donation. Although the amount was not large, it was appreciated by all, and we were both made to feel a part of the community.

Soon after this, the speeches started again. One interpreter told me that the bride’s father had complained in a speech that if even strangers could contribute, then the amount that the family was seeking was fair. Now we were concerned that we might have had an intrusive influence on the proceedings, but we were assured that our participation was welcomed by all and that the father’s tactics were well understood and every bit a normal part of the negotiations. Some times later the talks stalled, and it was clear that the bride’s family was not satisfied with the offering. The father of the bride stated that another meeting would be necessary and that everyone should return later in the week after searching for more money.

After a few days, the crowd returned, along with truck loads of pigs and the goat. Within a few hours, the negotiations were concluded, with the final results being 8,160 Kina (CDN4100$) plus 19 pigs plus and one goat. Everyone was happy as Judith took some family photos of the two families. They all went home pleased with the results, and the two of us learned a great deal about the people from Enga Province and their customs regarding a Bride Price.

Photo evidence of Wild Cessna captured in South Sudan

Not long ago, I posted a photo on FaceBook of MAF’s Cessna Grand Caravan after parking at the airstrip in Arilo, South Sudan.  The photo is somewhat confusing because the aircraft appears to have landed intact in the midst some very colorful trees.  In reality, the airstrip is at the base of the nearby hills and is on open ground and is safe when dry. The photo was taken from a walking path to the village and the point-and-shoot camera was at maximum zoom.

Shortly after posting, I received a comment from a friend, Leighton Jones of Calgary, AB.  Reading his message, I almost fell from my chair in laughter so I am sharing it here for all to enjoy.

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A wild Cessna roams the savanna in search of a mate. Usually reclusive, these beasts of burden are occasionally spotted around dirt strips, operating on a steady diet of contaminated fuel, vacuum pumps and oil stolen from the operator’s 1974 Land Rover.

Identification of the young can be tricky at first; however as they transition to maturity, unique markings will develop around leaking wing-tank drain ports. Marking of territory is accomplished before each migration by leaving a small amount of flammable liquid directly under the nose. This may spread to a wider area if windy.

Exceptionally loyal, wild Cessnas and their mates are highly visible at dinner parties, often regaling their audiences of adventures and exploits long past their polite invitation has expired.

Global population of Cessnas is in excess of 100,000 and it is not considered endangered. ~ Leighton Jones

Thank you Leighton.  Fortunately MAF’s fleet of Cessna Caravan’s are not suffering like the Cessnas you have encountered!

The schedule for the short 30 minute flight from Juba to Arilo had us on the ground for most of the day before the return flight in the late afternoon. Judith and I were invited to visit the church and lodgings for the Bible translators while the group of pastors and translators met with team members working in Arilo.  It was an amazing place full of joyful people. Although hard to describe with words, the feeling was captured in melody by Julie Andrews when she sang “the hills are alive with the sound of music”  A better and more robust description can be found in Isaiah 55:12

The mountains and the hills
Shall break forth into singing before you,
And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

As we walked 1 km from the airstrip to the the village we could hear a flute playing; its sound carrying far as it rebounded from the surrounding hills.  Some trees were blooming and the contrasting colours were vivid and alive. It was as if the trees were applauding the music; leaves resonating in harmony with the sound of the flute. We eventually met the young boy playing a four-hole, homemade flute made from a scrap of plastic pipe.  The Lord blessed us on that day with a special memory that will live forever in our hearts.

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Gaining Perspective

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Returning from working in East Africa has been difficult in ways that we would never have imagined.  From our perspective,  South Sudan is a place that can bring plenty of discomfort to someone born and raised in Canadian society where we take many of our (western) ways for granted.  Our first experience with local customs was standing at the visa and immigration window at the Juba airport where are least four South Sudanese nationals were pushing in front of us and had their arms and passports shoved through the same window we were standing. The very concept of lining up in turn, is not generally respected as we came to learn on several occasions.  Poverty, corruption by police and government workers, corrupt business practices, child marriage, and lack of worker safety are a few of the things that we had seen or experienced.  We had been prepared for this, in part by the Perspectives Course instructors and through an intensive cross-cultural training program with Mission Aviation Fellowship. (thankfully MAF does not participate in corrupt practices!)

Photo courtesy of Africageographic

Photo courtesy of Africageographic

We quickly gained a perspective on the horrible roads and insane driving habits that cause outrageous scenes of carnage nearly everywhere we traveled; some seemed almost as horrid as the aftermath of civil war in South Sudan.  There is no amount of study or forewarning that can fully prepare for it. It was sad to hear nearly weekly stories from national staff who lost family members to traffic accidents. I remember when my mother used to say to me when I was a badly misbehaving child: “When your father gets home, you’re going to be in big trouble!”.  I often wondered if mothers in Juba and Nairobi would say the same but substitute: “If your father gets home…” Over time we developed a perspective that driving was one of the most telling symptoms for the troubles in the region. People behaved on the road much like they did in every other way. If you have had the opportunity to watch the TV show Don’t Drive Here, you may notice that nearly every malady that I have described is prevalent in the cities that are featured on that show.  Lack of care and concern for a neighbour can be seen in driving habits.

The simple fact is that self-centered desire, greed, me-first, my-right, my-time or any other mine-style thinking exists in every IMG_6309society to some degree or another.  From our new perspective, it seems like places where the Gospel has not been heard or practiced, it is the norm.  Christ Jesus taught us that the greatest of laws was to love God and to love others (Read Matthew 22:34-40).  Sounds simple and without going into the amazing depth and breadth of the Gospel and the redemption that it offers, it is really that simple.  In societies that have taken hold of the Gospel, even those who may have grasped the learning but deny the teacher, it is easy to see that care, concern and respect for others is a significant aspect of daily life.  Whether it be through charity, paying taxes, yielding in traffic or simply standing up so another can take your seat on a bus, thinking about and doing for the welfare of others can be preached, learned and practised regardless of the cultural context.  When a society is transformed by the Gospel of Christ even driving styles change.  When a society begins to forget the Gospel, it soon becomes apparent and once again, driving styles will reflect change seen in some cities even within the same country.  Of course, driving is not the be all and end all in the measure of a society and not all societies drive; that is not the point: transformation is! While working in East Africa, we saw individuals as well as whole communities transformed as they began to love their neighbours as themselves and act in ways that affirmed their new beliefs.

A very good tool for preparing to work in a cross-cultural context is the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.  It is a 12-16 week course that was developed by the US Center for World Mission. We studied at the William Carey College at UBC and
barebumboykorrkenyadid the whole thing in 10 days. This course is not just for someone going overseas.  It explains the concept of missions and missional-thinking that can be understood and embraced by almost anyone.  It clearly helps to give a perspective on missions and to open ministry to gain new perspectives. If you are thinking of serving in mission or for those who wish to develop and encourage mission programs, the course will have plenty to offer. The Perspectives course is recommended for the volunteer worker at a street mission, a person seeking to know more about God and their purpose, to a church pastor or an experienced cross-cultural missionary or anyone willing to make themselves available in His service.

For the past month we have been sorting through the boxes that we had in storage for the past four years.  The scripture passage:  “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19) has a new meaning as we saw mold, mildew, rust and rot had taken a toll on our worldly belongings. At least some books were saved and stumbling on the Perspectives books and study material again has been a blessing.  It has given us a reminder and a whole new perspective that even our own Canadian culture is foreign. (Of course you will have to take the course to learn why!)

IMG_6209Our reflection on Perspectives has helped us to revive as well as helping us to rejoice at the  joys and blessings that we have experienced in our time in Kenya and South Sudan. One could say that we have gained a new perspective as we are looking forward to serving our Lord through MAF’s aviation ministry in Papua New Guinea. There are few roads in the highlands near Mt Hagen where we anticipate being posted. Nevertheless, we can hardly wait to get the perspective on traffic there!

The Time of Christmas

IMG_0777-001In Canada, aside from the abundance of snow, commercialism is the most noticeable difference at Christmas time.  Canadians seem very focused on shopping, gift exchanges and food. Our experience in Africa was seeing a society much more concerned about being together with family for the celebration of the birth of the eternal Christ.   Of course, both here and there, people enjoy time off from working. Many travel to spend time with relatives and friends at Christmas although the words “spend time”  is not how most Africans would think of it.

In Africa, time has a feel or sense very different compared to western thinking.  To describe it, I would say that in the west most people feel that time is escaping; it is left behind.  Whatever we don’t accomplish within a designated time means time lost; never to be recovered.  In Africa, time is clockalways coming. There will always be more time, regardless of what we may want to do or the artificial limitations we try to place on it; there will always be more time.  The perspective on time is one area where our cultures clash, especially when it comes to working, where time is essentially a commodity by western standards. Employees get paid for time that is used and are evaluated by how well they use it which, leads to a great deal of frustration in Africa for both workers and employers.

Christmas is a time for travel.  Canadians enjoy many ways to travel: airlines, trains, buses and personal vehicles. In IMG_0701 East Africa, for the vast majority,  it is walking, riding overcrowded buses (matatus),   or less crowded motorcycle taxis (boda bodas). Some will ride in the back of dangerously overcrowded trucks. In South Sudan, there is the luxury of the rare but equally overcrowded river boat.  During the Christmas rush in Africa, prices inflate three to four times normal and there are few regulations enforced on transportation to ensure safety. Accidents are frequent with many fatalities.  Roads are often little more than dirt racks so it can take up to several days to travel more than 100km.  For many, another day’s walk may be required to get from the main road to their home village. That is why the Christmas holiday period is a particularly challenging time; or should I say immediately after.  The two main factors: poor transportationDSC04357 and inflated costs, usually results in many workers waiting for the rates to drop before heading back to the cities to work.  As the holiday period ends, most NGO’s, companies and even government offices, are paralyzed because less than half of the workforce will be back in place, the remainder will trickle in over the next two weeks or more!  The returning workers feel no shame over their late return, it is just the way it is. Besides, it is only time and there will be plenty more of that coming.

Imagine what it would be like in Canada if businesses and government had no idea how many workers would return after the holidays. At least one thing that we can learn from our friends and coworkers in Africa is the importance of spending time with family.  No matter how perilous the journey, it is made with perseverance and determination.  There is no time like the present, to be present but let us also remember that the Christ came to reconcile us with God so we can spend eternity with Him (see John 17:20-26).  Merry Christmas everyone!

(The ‘reason for the season’ see Luke 2:10-11 ) But the angel said to them,”Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people; today a Savior is born who is “Messiah (Christ) the Lord, was born for you in the City of David.

 

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Here is a link to our Christmas Newsletter (Dupuis Christmas 2014) for anyone who has not subscribed to it.  We use a spam-free emailing service to send out our quarterly newsletters.  If you have received it in the past but have received our newsletter recently, please send us your current email address so we can update our mailing list.  Thanks.