Flying 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.
We 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
Sunday 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.
The 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.
The 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 refresh 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.