The meaning of Christmas-A village perspective


The village of Tsendiapa and airstrip.

We were on the ground after a 15 minute flight out of Mt. Hagen to a small village called Tsendiap. It was to be our home for the next 7 days where we were to learn to speak Tok Pisin and to learn some PNG culture.
There was a crowd pressing against the fence next to the airstrip and a group of people were crowding around Judith and me when, amidst all of the confusion, Captain Mike Vogel leaned over to me and said “well, I guess you are really on your own now…” and as quick as the aircraft had landed it was off again leaving us in the care of a community.


Click on any image to visit our photo album of Tsendiap

As the aircraft faded into the distance, the silence rolled over us, despite the cacophony of voices surrounding us. People were grabbing all of our possessions, food, clothing and scurrying off to unknown places as we were being shepherded by the local pastor and his wife to where we would be staying. In Tsendiap, there are no roads, no power and no telephone unless you want to walk up to the top of the nearby mountain to pick up a cellular signal from Dusin or Simbai; two slightly larger villages about a full day’s walk away. Both are less than 5 minutes by air. Over the next few days, we really became aware of how disconnected we were from the world that we know. We were really far from a full medical facility if we were bitten by a snake, got sick or injured. We were not physically fit enough to reach any distant village with a medical clinic that had anything more than the most basic care.

It did not take long for us to realize that people in the communityIMGP2399 share. They share food in times of plenty as well as lean times. They share precious resources such as matches, paper, books, Bibles, salt, sugar and cooking oil; every little thing that costs so much to transport to this remote place. Most of all, they share in a common faith in Christ and they gladly share the joy of knowing God with each other and their neighboring clans and tribes. Without Jesus, they would really be alone. They would live in constant fear of death from sickness, accident and injury as well as fear of attack from neighbouring tribes. We were told that in the time before missionaries came, many people feared bush spirits and angry ancestors that were believed to inhabit the thick jungle that surrounds the village causing accidents and mishaps. Tribal fighting was a constant threat and times of peace were rare. Through Christ Jesus, that fear is gone and through the love of Christ, MAF’s aircraft are able to bring both help and hope in those times when someone does get sick or injured or disaster strikes.


A Child is Born

Despite having more than 5 years’ experience working in the third world with MAF’s aviation ministry, it took only seven short days for us to gain a whole new perspective and understanding of people, community and the power of the Holy Spirit in daily life. We saw how people depended on God’s provision and care. We watched as students departed the Bible College to go out to even more remote villages along barely traveled bush trails in the same way as the early disciples went out to spread the Good News of Jesus. We learned that the only way to really know any person is by meeting them face-to-face and spending some time in conversation. God, in His wisdom knew that the only way we could really know Him is to meet with Him in person. That person is the Messiah, Jesus. He came to be with us: Emmanuel or “God with us” as it was written and we sing in Christmas Hymns.

May the Peace of Christ bring you, your family and your community joy this Christmas. As long as you know Him, you will never be alone, you will never have to fear. Blessings be upon you in Christ’s name.

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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.

Our first Walkabout in PNG


Pastor Kambowa preaches in Ialibu

It has been a while since we have posted to our blog.  It is not because we have been too busy…more that we have been engaged every day learning a new language.  Although Tok Pisin in a form of Pidgin English and according to many, very easy to learn, we have not found it to be that way.  Moreover, our English writing skills seem to be a more than a bit challenged lately.  We have been told that this will pass.

Next week we start the first round of flight training to get certified in-country.  We are excited to be onto this more familiar stage of country orientation.  Meanwhile, we did have an opportunity to go out with a team of MAF national staff members who are involved in outreach work in smaller communities near Mt. Hagen where we are currently based.  We traveled with the team for our first work outside of the housing compound since we arrived.  Here is our report:

A Journey to Ialibu (say Yaliboo)

In early September we received an invitation from a member of the MAF staff to join with a ministry team that would be traveling to a village in the Southern Highlands.
Judith and I had only been in Papua New Guinea for a couple of weeks and were in the middle of our Tok Pisin studies so we were both excited about getting out for a visit but we did have some concern over our lack of proficiency in Tok Pisin. Nevertheless we accepted the invitation. A few days before we were to travel, Kambowa asked IMGP9203if we would be willing to give our personal testimonies as part of the day’s activities at the church. We both agreed and we prepared a brief testimony and tried to translate into Tok Pisin without help from our teacher, Nicki Duncalfe, who was unavailable before we going upcountry.
Early Sunday morning we started our journey along with the other members of the team. When the last of the team was aboard, Pastor Albert asked the Lord for a blessing for the work of the ministry team and for safe travels. The road trip was very scenic and both of us were overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscapes. We noticed small gatherings of people alongside the road socializing and gathering in small groups to enjoy the Lord’s Day. We were greeted with smiles and hand waving as we drove by.
During the drive, Judith asked Kambowa if he could check her translation work. She intended to present her entire testimony in Tok Pisin as well as read two pieces of scripture. The passages from the Gospel of John have been important to her coming to Christian walk with the Lord. As the two of them worked through the text, it became very obvious that Kambowa was excited. He explained that the sermon he had prepared was about the same scripture.
IMGP9250When we arrived at the village we had a brief time for tea, hosted by Mr. David Sodi. Soon after we were walking to the church. Our group of ten or twelve quickly increased to about 30 as children from the nearby Sunday school joined us and then lead us to the church. As we entered, we were immediately immersed in the joyful sound of singing in the local language or Tok Ples.  The two of us “white-skins” joined in as best we could. We were not able to understand the words but the joy and energy of the worship was inspiring. A few of the songs were in Tok Pisin with a songbook provided and one was in English. During worship, the church numbers swelled to near capacity and soon it was time for the local Pastor to introduce our group and the guest Pastor, Kambowa.
Kambowa called the MAF team to the front of the church and one by one we told our names, our duties within MAF and our origins. We were greeted warmly by the congregation. A few of the women cheered when they learned that Judith is a pilot. Shortly afterward, a short video was shown. It was an excellent presentation on the history, the work and the ministry of MAF in PNG as well as around the world. After the video, it was time for the two of us to give our testimonies.

Click to see photos of Ialibu

Click to see photos of Ialibu

Michael was first, telling his testimony in English and Tok Pisin while a local pastor translated his story into the Tok Ples. Judith followed, reading her testimony in Tok Pisin and reading from the Buk Baibel. During the testimonies, members of the congregation called out praises of Hallelujah and Amen as the stories resonated with their own experiences or when the Holy Spirit touched them. Some could be seen crying and there was often some pleasant laughter as the congregation patiently listened to each of us stumbling through a new language.
Pastor Kambowa’s message followed through with the theme of God’s word reaching out, transforming, shaping and directing our lives. It was a message of hope that strongly demonstrates the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word while at the same time reflecting the ministry of MAF. Pastor Albert also used his powerful voice to reinforce the message and to give a rousing prayer that came through, loud and clear to us despite our limited knowledge of Tok Pisin.
After the service, many men and women came to great us. We were surprised at how many went beyond a simple handshake and smile. We were hugged and thanked by both men and women who were looking deeply into our eyes in a knowing and familiar way that expressed gratitude beyond words for sharing our stories. More than that, we were like true brothers and sisters. It was clear that were being accepted as more than a visiting group of church workers.

Judith receives a gift of a Bilum (string bag) from Emanuel

Judith receives a gift of a Bilum (string bag) from Emanuel

During the drive back to Mt. Hagen, we reflected on the events of the day. We had started off with the expectation of getting to know some of the MAF staff members and to learn a little about their outreach ministry. We thought that we would get to see some village living and to experience a worship service in another language. We believed that this cultural knowledge would be useful to our service as pilots. The Lord had a different plan. He showed us that He is alive in the hearts of His ministry workers that have been faithfully reaching out to small communities, sharing the Good News. We saw how the Holy Spirit can bring a message from different parts of the world and deliver it directly to the hearts of those who were meant to hear that the need for Salvation is universal, regardless of age, race, wealth or country of origin. He showed us that we have many brothers and sisters in Christ and that there are more ready for the Harvest.
We are thankful to the team for inviting us and giving us the blessing and the privilege of being part of the worship in Ialibu.

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.


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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