Persevering in Prayer

Often when we pray, we do so expecting that God will answer quickly and in the way that we desire.  Well, reality tells us that this scenario is not always the way things play out.

Mehek students work to learn their story.

Leading up to and at the recent Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) workshop in Wewak, many prayers were offered for a variety of subjects.  These prayers included getting the participants to and from the course safely and in a timely manner, good opportunities for the participants to learn the stories well, health and safety for those involved with the course as well as for family members who stayed behind in the villages, and a myriad of other things.

For one of the participants who was planning to attend the course, his wife and son were killed in a car accident just before the course began.  We want people to be able to come and learn more of God’s Word, but this man was not able to come as he had many family issues that needed his attention.

One of the trucks that has provided transport for the workshops.

For reasons we don’t fully know, transportation is a challenge for this particular group of language communities.  At the beginning of this course, we didn’t even know if everyone would get to Wewak for the course.  Through more prayer and a lot of communication with different drivers, trucks, and participants, they did arrive in Wewak, even though a few were a bit late.

As the time approached for the workshop to be completed, transportation again looked like it could be difficult.  More prayers.  Multiple attempts to contact drivers and trucks didn’t seem to give a solid workable plan.  Things happen, but sometimes that can bring more stress.

Thursday morning arrived and there was one truck which could take half of the participants home.  But, what about the other half?  After a trip to town to contact drivers, there was still not a confirmed solution.  It was getting getting later in the day.  What to do?  Prayers continued for a workable solution.  One of the SPES team members walked out of the office to talk to those who remained about what the next plan should be, possibly to leave the next day.  At that moment, a truck drove in and was ready to take the rest of the group home.  God heard our cries!  Thank you, Lord.

One of the participants practices his story before going home.

The participants did work diligently to learn several Christmas related stories that they are now able to take back and share in their villages.  Some of these people seem to face some roadblocks when they take the Bible stories back to share.  Please pray earnestly that God’s Word could break through the roadblocks and that these stories would have great impact in their communities.

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Lumi Oral Bible Storytelling completion

Devotion time

Devotion time

The last two weeks were a flurry of activity as we finished the fifth and final Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) workshop for thirteen Lumi area language groups. With forty-eight participants and twelve trainers, the Wewak Regional Center was filled to capacity. Participants were eager to learn three new stories from the New Testament that they have now taken back to share in their villages. We know that God’s Word does not return empty, so we look forward with anticipation to how these stories will impact language communities in the future.

Learning how to teach about language and how it shifts in communities

Learning how to teach about language and how it shifts in communities

The groups also received some training that they could share with their communities regarding their tok ples (heart language). How strong is the language? Can all the children speak and understand it? What causes communities to move from one language to another?  How can they hold on to both languages in the midst of pressures to change?  They practiced some participatory activities that they can do in their areas so that everyone can see the vitality or lack of vitality in each language group. Before leaving, they were tasked with raising awareness as they share these activities in their communities.

Group photo of participants, trainers, and other staff

Group photo of participants, trainers, and other staff

Friday, 20 January, was the graduation ceremony. The trainers did a great job coordinating and leading this event and making it a meaningful experience. Those who spoke challenged the groups to continue to carry this work and be faithful, even when times get tough. It is a time to act and not just sit and watch others do the work or just think about possibly doing something.

They have now returned to their homes. Pray that they will have many opportunities to share what they have learned. Pray for wisdom for the communities as they discuss what the next steps might be and how those steps could be achieved. Several of the participants were picked to become trainers and continue helping to carry the work of OBS forward in the Sepik. The next group of languages will begin training in February.

Growing Excitement

Participants listen attentively during class

Participants listen attentively during class

The most recent Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) course finished for the Lumi cluster participants last week and the participants began the long journey home on Thursday.  With forty participants from fifteen language groups, it was a busy time of learning six stories during the course.  We purposefully picked stories to do a panorama picture from both the Old and New Testaments so that they can have a better picture of what God has done for us.

Drama of Jesus carrying the cross

Drama of Jesus carrying the cross

Four new stories were introduced this course.  These were new not only for the participants, but the trainers had not taught these stories before either.  Three of the stories focused on Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.  As connections were made between the lambs sacrificed in the Old Testament and Jesus being our sacrificial Lamb, the lights began to come on as people understood more of what Christ did on our behalf.  A video was shown to help them understand more of what Jesus endured when he took our punishment.  As the men watched, you could hear them whisper, “Enough, enough!” as they saw how much he suffered for us.

Six stories are the most we have attempted during any one course which means the participants had to stay focused and work hard.  One of the memory activities that seemed very effective this time was drama.  Most of these stories translated had a significant amount of action in them, so they were more conducive to cementing the stories in their minds through drama.

Collen leads the discussion

Collen leads the discussion

Daily afternoon debrief with the trainers

Daily afternoon debrief with the trainers

As staff we are excited to see many of the participants growing in their abilities to tell Bible stories.  After each course they are becoming more effective as they go back and share their stories in the village.  During this course nine participants had the opportunity to “student teach” part of the class material.  They were pared with seasoned trainers who coached them, gave them pointers, and helped out when they found it difficult.

At the end of each teaching day, all the trainers and whoever had taught during the day gathered together for a time of debrief to see what went well and what needed to be changed.  Debrief is always a good time to connect as a team and figure out how to prepare for the days ahead.  Some of these participants will have the opportunity to become trainers after the final course is completed in January 2017.  Some of them seemed very natural standing in front of fifty people teaching.  What a blessing that could be, to have incoming trainers with these gifts!  Mentoring is one way that OBS works to train up new workers to continue to help carry this work into more parts of the Sepik and Papua New Guinea.  We look forward to seeing how God will use these trainers in the future.

angel-shepherds-dramaPray for the participants and trainers as they go back and share these stories in their village.  Christmas will soon be approaching and this may be the first time some of these groups hear the Christmas story in their own language.  As they share the stories surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection, pray that God’s Word will impact lives and people will come to know Christ as Savior.  Isaiah 55:10-11 promises us that “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty.” (NIV)

Healing the Wounds of Trauma

David, one of the trainers, leading worship

David, one of the trainers, leading worship

Betty teaches one of the lessons

Betty teaches one of the lessons

Two of the goals of the SPES project are training Papua New Guineans and partnerships. Currently we are engaged in both of those. Last year, we ran a Healing the Wounds of Trauma workshop in Wewak for people from various churches to get training in how to help others deal with past trauma and find healing in Christ. Earlier this year, we were asked if we would be willing to come and run four of these workshops for the Aitape West Translation Project (AWTP). The AWTP is currently working to translate Scripture for ten languages in the Sandaun province. Each year they run four weeks of workshops related to some type of Scripture Use activity. This year the focus is on trauma healing. Sam Smucker took two of the Papua New Guineans who received training here last year to help run these workshops, along with one other SIL trainer.

God has been doing some amazing things and we are encouraged to hear how the course is helping people. Here are a couple of the testimonies that were shared, translated from Tok Pisin into English.

One man shared:

Searching God's Word for answers to life's questions

Searching God’s Word for answers to life’s questions

“In this week long workshop, I learned many things about finding the road to heal pain and trauma in a church setting and in the community. The thing I rejoice in is that God’s Word was in all the lessons. I received and learned in the lessons that I always need to bring my pain and burdens to Jesus’ wooden cross. I really liked this course and I wish that this course lasted longer like 2 weeks.

For me personally, I learned two things that really helped me.

  1. I need to hear the worries and pain of those who are traumatized. I need to give my time to be with them and feel how they feel inside – it’s really important.
  2. All the time I need to help them bring all their worries and pain to God and lay them at the foot of Jesus’ wooden cross. God himself is the reason for all good things and he is always ready to hear and take our pain and burdens. So I feel that I need to help them draw close to God and give their pain and worries to God.”

One of the ladies who attended the second course shared:

“There were many things in this course that really helped me because I have carried my trauma for many years and I’ve tried to find ways to heal my trauma. I have great joy to be in this course and I feel that this burden or sore I’ve been carrying for a long time now has a way for me to slowly heal it until it is healed.

Each participant was encouraged to write their pain on a piece of paper and take it to the cross.

Each participant was encouraged to write their pain on a piece of paper and take it to the cross.

Everything taught at this course helped me and now it has opened the door for me to help heal my sore first and later help my brothers and sisters. This week was not in vain and it has begun to produce fruit in my life.

One thing I learned that really impacted me was how we could use God’s Word in every lesson to support all the topics taught. Now I feel that I have lots of work to help others to carry their pain and burdens to the wooden cross. Taking burdens to the wooden cross was a great way to help those who felt too ashamed or afraid to share in a big group.”

Pray with us that those attending would indeed find God’s healing from the many types of trauma they have experienced. As they find healing, may they go and share what they have learned with others who need to find healing in Christ as well.

 

The Bigger Picture

Some of the crowd looks on at the dedication.

Some of the crowd looks on at the dedication.

Last week was an exciting time for the Urat people of the East Sepik province. They had been waiting nearly forty years for God’s Word to come in their heart language. Three different missionary families or singles have been part of the program over the decades, along with PNG co-translators David, Enoch, and others. July 30 was the big day. Hundreds from the surrounding communities as well as nearly forty visitors from outside the language area came to witness the event. Commercial flights from the US, Finland, Thailand, and various parts of PNG, as well as two SIL Kodiaks from Ukarumpa carried the visitors to Wewak. Then everyone boarded a large PMV (public motor vehicle) and two other rental trucks to make the six hour drive over pretty rough roads. We were very grateful that the roads were dry or there would have been additional challenges.

Singsing group that led the procession

Singsing group that led the procession

Bibles carried in a traditional limbum bag

Bibles carried in a traditional limbum bag

In the beginning, the sky was fairly overcast giving the crowd a respite from the heat. The event began with a singsing group leading the procession to the grandstand area. Behind the singsing group and in front of the visitors were five women from various denominations carrying traditional bags holding some of the newly printed New Testaments. After arriving at the grandstand area, the visitors were shown to their respective seats and everyone settled in to enjoy the ceremony. Many speeches by denominational leaders, mission representatives, community leaders, and translation committee personnel challenged the people to take God’s Word and read it in their homes and churches.

Pastors praying over the Bibles

Pastors praying over the Bibles

The communities were also challenged to work as a team, whether in their villages or across denominations. Two of our experienced Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) trainers come from the Urat language group. They shared a drama about the man who was paralyzed and his four friends picked him up and carried him to meet Jesus. Upon realizing they couldn’t get him near Jesus, they made a hole in the roof and let their friend down in front of Jesus. Jesus then healed the man. However, had the four men not worked together, the cripple would have never gotten to see Jesus. As believers from a variety of denominations, part of what needs to be seen by the outside world, is unity amongst them. After the speeches, there was a time of laying hands on the Bibles and praying over them by the pastors in the area.

All of the languages that the SPES project is working with have translated Scripture in an oral format, not in a written form like the Urat language. We have already begun to see the effects of God’s talk making a difference in their lives. Pray that people will hunger to read God’s Word for themselves. As they experience God’s Word in a way that communicates clearly to them, it can truly change their lives and the lives of others in their communities.

Through sickness, hardship, pain and struggles, it has been worth it all. To God be the glory, great things He hath done!

God’s Ways are not Our Ways

Often we pray and expect that God will answer in a specific way. Sometimes he does and other times he chooses to challenge us with a more stretching journey. As we prepare for any course, we know the importance of being flexible. The third Lumi Oral Bible Storytelling course in Wewak has shown that need again. As the trainers arrived, we learned that two of the trainers we expected to be at the course would not be attending. This increases the workload for those who are present. What should we do? Could we find a substitute at the last minute or go with what we have? After one failed attempt, we were able to find one substitute which worked out well. Because not all the groups showed up, we didn’t need as many trainers as we expected.

Students intently listen to the latest story.

Students intently listen to the latest story.

The phone had been ringing for days as participants called to tell us they had begun their journey to meet the truck in Lumi. Some called multiple times to tell of their progress. We were excited because it sounded like there would be a full house of participants when they arrived in Wewak. The truck showed up and we realized that there were actually ten participants who hadn’t come. This was a disappointment as we desperately want people to have access to God’s Word in a language they understand. If the participants don’t come, they are unable to learn the stories to share in their villages. We rest in the fact that God has a bigger plan that we do not see and he has the exact people that He wants here at this workshop.

In spite of prayers for good flying weather, the day the airplane went to pick up the rest of the participants, the weather was not great in Wewak. In the Lumi area where the participants were, the weather was beautiful. Because of some other failed plans, the airplane had to bring extra participants to Wewak. By the time the pilot landed, the weather was bad, but God safety brought everyone home that night. However, one load of passengers was still waiting at Guriaso who were supposed to be picked up that day. Now what? We had no way to communicate the change – there is no cell coverage in that area and the HF radio was not working and was being brought to Wewak to be fixed. We began to pray that God would keep them there long enough for the plane to arrive the next morning. He answered and the men were still there and thrilled that the airplane had come to pick them up.

Golden Calf drama - Aaron is startled by the "golden calf"

Golden Calf drama – Aaron is startled by the “golden calf”

The disobedient Israelites died after they worshiped the idol.

The disobedient Israelites died after they worshiped the idol.

So, with thirty-nine participants, twelve trainers, two consultants, and two families to help with all the necessary logistics, we embarked on the workshop Wednesday, June 8. Participants are working diligently to learn four difficult and lengthy stories this time. One of those stories is the Passover. With each group that has learned this story, we have enjoyed being able to share a Seder meal together. What an eye-opening time for them as they come to understand more of what took place with the Israelites in the Old Testament and the picture it paints for Christ’s work in the New Testament. Another story for this course is the Golden Calf. The participants used drama to help cement the story in their minds, so they could learn it well. Pray that the stories learned will come alive for each of these men and that they will be able to share God’s talk with their communities and that lives would be changed.

Preparing for the Seder meal

Preparing for the Seder meal

Freed from Lies

Four trainers ready to board the Kodiak

Four trainers ready to board the Kodiak

For the team of four trainers, most of the last two weeks was spent at the Abau Training Centre in Sandaun province running a Culture meets Scripture workshop. Leading up to the course, there were significant hurdles that had to be overcome for the course to take place. Even a few days before, the training centre was under water from so much rain, but many around the world prayed and the waters receded. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we were short of the number of needed trainers, but God again came through in a specific way for us. There was concern about not having enough food, but no one went hungry during the course.

Discussing the armor of God

Discussing the armor of God and our identity in Christ

Early on in the course, it was quite evident that there was a battle raging for the hearts and minds of the participants. God brought together this group of trainers with different giftings to lead these men in understanding more of God’s truth. Each day was filled with teaching sessions as well as practical sessions where they looked critically at their cultural practices. Teaching times included understanding the three realms (people, angels, and God), strongholds,who I am in Christ, and dreams. Dreams are a huge part of this culture. Dreams are always to be followed and never questioned. So this teaching time proved eye-opening as they began to understand that not all dreams are from God nor should they be followed. The teaching times continually took the participants back to God’s Word to discover what God had to say about a given topic. They looked at cultural practices related to hunting, gardening, the mourning haus (how people respond after someone dies), as well as specific topics related to how they view women.

Throughout the course, conversations amongst participants were overheard.   “We have been believing lies all our lives. What we have followed in our culture is not true. Now we understand what God says about these things.” “This teaching has been so helpful for us. We need more of it.”

Talking about cultural practices

Talking about cultural practices

After the course ended, the trainers met a man from Samanai who had previously come to the Oral Bible Storytelling workshops. He planned to come to this course, but then a young man died in his village. They suspected a woman of sorcery related to the death, so they killed her the same day the young man died. These very topics were discussed at the workshop. Had they known the truth of God’s Word, it could have removed their fears and the results could have been different. How tragic as these people are still in bondage to the lies of the evil one. As one of the course participants was returning home, he learned that his older brother had just died. Please pray that the truths the man has learned at the course will make for a very different outcome in Miarfai. Pray that God’s talk will continue to go out not only in the participants’ villages, but also in the surrounding areas and that people would be freed from lies they have believed for so long.

God Tests Abraham

Class time

Class time for some of the language teams

The story of God testing Abraham, as found in Genesis 22, is one of the Bible stories learned at the most recent Lumi Oral Bible Storytelling course. This powerful story always brings about thought provoking discussions. Some of those discussions come as people begin to realize the picture of the ram being offered in place of Isaac is symbolic of Christ being offered instead of us, as payment for our sins. Another aspect of those talks is when people are challenged to see what type of impact the story will have for them personally. Following a time of singing and sharing the actual story, the presenter usually asks two or three questions to help the audience think more deeply about the story. Sometimes the questions are fairly straight forward like, “What parts of this story made you happy or sad and why?” Other questions go much deeper. “How did this story help or challenge you? What change is God asking you to make in your life based on this story?”

These were some of the thoughts shared during the morning devotions:

  • “I can’t give God excuses when He asks me to do something.”
  • “I must submit to God as Abraham did.”
  • “I can’t be greedy with the things God gives me. I need to share them with others. When I am greedy, God will not continue to give things to me.”
  • “I did not know that God was calling me to come here. Before, in my village, I would get drunk and go around and make trouble, but then God called me to come to this course and I came.”
  • “When God called Abraham, he followed what God asked him to do. I, too, must go back to my village and do the good work that I have learned about here.”
The ram caught in the thicket

The ram caught in the thicket

Abraham prepares to offer Isaac

Abraham prepares to offer Isaac

A part of learning each story includes a memory activity. For the story of God testing Abraham, the trainers chose to have the participants act out a drama so they could remember the sequence of events. Drama is a big part of Papua New Guinea culture so the participants try to put themselves fully into the characters. The bleating of the ram caught in the thicket and Abraham poised to offer Isaac are both pretty convincing. We wondered if the rams might get hurt as they chose to be caught in a low hanging rope. They will remember those parts for sure!

The participants come from thirty different villages. Pray that the stories learned will have an impact in each of these places.

 

God Answers

Our colleagues in this ministry - the trainers who lead these courses

Our colleagues in this ministry – the trainers who lead these courses

This week marks the two year anniversary since the SPES team began doing Oral Bible Storytelling in the Sepik using our own Sepik trainers. We give praise to God as we look at what has happened over the last two years. The twelfth OBS is currently underway in Wewak. In that time, two clusters of five languages each have completed five OBS courses. The current workshop is the second for another thirteen languages. God’s stories are being taken to the remote and forgotten corners of the Sepik. With over a dozen trainers, we have been able to expand the work of OBS to more areas. Even as we have seen God working in many communities throughout the Sepik, we are also keenly aware of His working even in the current workshop. Over the last couple weeks, we have prayed a multitude of prayers related to the Lumi Oral Bible Storytelling workshop in Wewak. At times it is helpful to just pause and realize how God is answering those prayers.

Course participants arrive on the big truck.

Course participants arrive on the big truck

We prayed for safety in getting the participants to Wewak. God answered by bringing fifty participants to this workshop from thirteen language groups. Most walked one to two days and then rode a public truck overnight arriving in Wewak in the morning. Big rains had drenched Lumi where the truck was picking up the participants. Thankfully there was a smaller 4-wheel drive vehicle that made three shuttles to transport the group fifteen kilometers (nine miles) to meet the big truck. No rain at the airstrips meant that all three airstrips were usable and not boggy.

One of our consultants, Rocky, checking a story

One of our consultants, Rocky, checking a story

We prayed for consultants who could check all the stories for the groups. In spite of asking more than a dozen people, it was very difficult to find three. In the end, there were finally three confirmed. However, after the workshop started, we found out one of the consultants was unable to come due to family obligations. What should we do? We prayed and talked with the Sepik regional director. She worked hard to locate someone who could come on the flight the following day. We are so thankful for Tommy’s willingness to come at the last minute. The next day, another consultant texted that he had malaria and would be unable to come. We came up with a plan that would allow the stories to still get checked. However, in the end, he was well enough to come and do some checking. This situation has challenged us to think outside the box and find ways to begin training consultants here in the Sepik. Without this, we might not be finding ways to build capacity in this area.

Some of the ladies plus the driver who brought market food for the course

Some of the ladies plus the driver who brought market food for the course

With a course this size, six cooks spend multiple hours preparing food twice a day. Store food is usually not too difficult to find (rice, tin fish, ramen noodles, crackers, salt, and basic things like that). However, getting enough market food (root crops, pumpkin, cooking bananas, and greens) for over sixty people is a tall task. Consider that many of those at the course live primarily on garden food so even rice is not normal fare. God has once again blessed us with a language community nearby, Forok, that has brought over 550 kilos (1230 pounds) of market food. We always find this to be a huge blessing and a win-win situation. They don’t have to go and sit at the market to sell their wares all day and we don’t have multiple trips to town carrying heavy bags of produce.

We look forward to seeing what else God has in store for this workshop. He has been faithful to hear our prayers and answer them.

2015: Year in Review

As we approach the Christmas holidays, we reflect on the past year. It has been a busy year and we are thankful for so many things. While the year has been filled with its share of challenges, we can see God moving in a variety of ways.

God has brought new team members to help in the SPES project. A new couple joined in January and helped out in various workshops and developed curriculum for assessing the next steps of working with the language communities. Later in the year, Rocky and Wendy Dede moved back to Wewak to be more involved with the SPES project and staffing at various workshops.

Amos receives his certificate at OBS graduation. He is now working as one of the new OBS trainers.

Amos receives his certificate at OBS graduation. He is now working as one of the new OBS trainers.

Two clusters of languages that began Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) workshops in 2014 completed the last of five workshops in 2015. What a joy to hear testimonies of how lives have been changed and God is growing people to become more like him. Out of these two groups, God has also provided some new trainers to help in future Oral Bible Storytelling workshops. We are excited to see how God will grow these men into leaders, not only in this work, but also in their communities.

The newest cluster of languages from the Lumi area began their Oral Bible Storytelling workshops in September 2015. With over ten languages involved, this was the most challenging workshop logistically, but we also saw these men really grasp the teaching and methods early in their training. We look forward to hearing testimonies from them in January as they return for the next OBS workshop. This is the first Christmas that the majority of these languages will have any Scripture in their own language. May God continue to use His Word to penetrate hearts.

CMS participants go to God's Word to find answers.

CMS participants go to God’s Word to find answers.

Three other courses were held this year to help pastors, lay people, and language groups continue to grow. Healing the Wounds of Trauma was held in May. People came and learned how to deal with trauma in their own lives as well as how to help others work through the same process. The first module of Training National Trainers was held in October for pastors. Designed to help them exegete Scripture well and apply it to life, this program is set up for them to learn and mentor others as well. A Culture Meets Scripture workshop was held in October to help people grapple with how their culture and actions line up, or maybe don’t line up, with Scripture. Always a very intense course, it was good to see people begin to take a hard look at things in their everyday lives.

Discussing the next steps in language work for the Juwal language communities.

Discussing the possible next steps for language work with the Juwal language communities.

New training was developed and implemented to help language groups assess how their language groups will move forward after OBS. We are thankful for the new people we have been able to work with in each of the languages communities in this step. Some of these communities are now wrestling with whether they allow their language to continue to shift to a language of wider communication or whether they put forth a lot of hard work to try and sustain their language.

We have seen God’s faithfulness in providing people at the needed times. He has provided the necessary resources to run workshops and make village trips. He has given the team good health. He has given us wonderful Papua New Guinean colleagues to work alongside. Thank you Lord for a good year!