Beyond our scope

A Kwomtari man tells his story.

Knowing that the vision of SPES is to work with the last one hundred languages in the East Sepik and Sandaun provinces, we understand that we cannot do that alone.  Sometimes our partnerships include working with other SIL teams in these provinces.  Murray and Carol Honsberger have been working with the Kwomtari people in Sandaun province for twenty-seven years.  They have a desire to use Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) to reach out to some neighboring language groups, to help them get some of God’s stories in a format that can be understood by the communities.

In light of that, they asked if the SPES project would have trainers who could come and lead OBS workshops with four language groups (Kwomtari, Nai, Yade, and Baibai) in the Sandaun province.  We give thanks that, at this point, enough training has been done, that we have several trainers who could go and run these workshops.  What a joy and privilege to be a part of getting God’s Word to even more people.

Nai speakers work on consultant checking their story.

Recently these four groups finished their first workshop and all twenty-one participants would echo the words of one Nai speaker: “The OBS course is a tool to use – pray that God will strengthen us. God is opening our eyes and changing our way of thinking. Pray that God will prepare our villages and the hearts of the people to hear. Pray that we will be able to finish all four courses and that we will see real change in our lives.”

Three Yade men came and are praying that five more will join them for the next course. One Yade man wrote: “In this first course I learned about what is involved in giving something to God, and about being a true friend to my wife.”

Baibai participants work on crafting their story.

A Baibai man at the course wrote: “I have been chosen to do church work but do not know how to preach. OBS is teaching me how to share God’s Word.” Pray that the Baibai group will find one more person to join their group. They really struggled through the course but God enabled them to finish all four stories.

Praise God for the united effort of the Baiberi people who hosted the workshop. They are already talking about the next course in February and the preparations they need to make. One of the Kwomtari participants wrote: “OBS has strengthened my faith. It has taught me how to put a story well into my thoughts and keep it there. I have learned how to tell a story with an opening and closing. I feel OBS is teaching and enabling me to do my work as a church leader.”

Yade speakers find just the right words to make their story clear.

Almost all of the participants were lay pastors – some were relatively new believers who had been sent to start a church – they felt lost. After the two weeks they left feeling like they had something they could share and a way to do so. Many were challenged personally by the stories.

We give praise to God for the impact God’s Word is already having on lives and will continue to have in the weeks and months ahead.  Will you pray for these groups to know God more deeply?

Photos by Carol Honsberger

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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.

Meet Amos Dagun

Meet Amos.

Early one morning Amos Dagun had a dream. At that time, he had graduated from school and was looking for work, anxious to build up support for his parents. In his dream, a blue car came to his village of Turubu. Driving the car was a young couple with a baby. Amos assumed in the dream that they had come to speak with his father, but the car stopped outside his own window. Amos knew immediately that the car had come for him and began to gather his things, crying as he went, deeply saddened at the thought of leaving his family but urged by a voice inside him saying, “You go, do not stay in the village.” When he awoke from the dream, his instant reaction was to look for the car outside his window, but he only saw the usual village activity.

Night after night for a week, the dream returned, along with Amos’ questions regarding it – “Will this really happen? Will this come to pass?” Several days passed before Amos heard the noise of a motor passing by his home and stopping at the church, just next door. The car was from SIL and Gary had driven it to Turubu to distribute sign up forms for an Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) workshop. Amos realized that the blue color of the car in his dream stood for the blue logo of SIL. “Whatever happens, I will go and see what happens,” Amos decided.

At the OBS, Amos was the only participant from his Wunabaag tok ples (heart language). This proved incredibly difficult as the course functions with translation and checking, designed for individuals to work together with fellow tok ples speakers and their trainers. Furthermore, Amos continued to feel pressure to find paying work in order to assist his family back in the village. He struggled to understand his tok ples to the extent necessary to translate before finding a fellow speaker to come to the course with him. Amos’ friend was not a regular church attendee, but understood and spoke Wunabaag very well.

Amos teaches the class how to learn an oral Bible story.

As the course continued, Amos’ understanding and appreciation of his tok ples increased while his friend began to feel the true impact of the stories he was translating. The dual effect of Scripture within their lives inspired the entire class. Amos remembers the ability of the OBS course to dig deep into God’s word, “…dealing with me personally,” and “…covering a bigger area,” than a sermon or regular message might.

Amos (right) works with a group during a CMS course.

Simultaneously, the pressure to gain a paying job gradually vanished as the joy and peace of being a part of God’s work began to outweigh the anxiety. As his family witnessed the change in his life, they too began to alter their perspective on doing God’s work. “Thank you for coming, SIL,” he concluded, “we now know more of Jesus and how He changes people.” Amos has taught seven more courses since becoming a trainer and uses the training often in his village, hoping to teach more courses including some Culture Meets Scripture courses.

Written by YWAM (Youth With a Mission) staff from an interview with Amos

God’s Word – Living and Active

Groups work together to learn the day's story

Groups work together to learn the day’s story

Eleven Nuku area language groups continue to learn four Bible stories during this two week Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) course in Wewak.  Yesterday they began learning the story of The Fall from Genesis 3.  As they listened during the devotion time, they grappled with various parts of the story.  Some of their personal beliefs that have been held for many years did not line up with the truth they were hearing from God’s Word.  How do they move forward and reconcile those differences in their own lives?

Michael tells a story

Michael tells a story

Wednesday the same story was told to give them a chance to hear it again and process what was being shared.  After the story is given, questions are asked so that the participants can interact with the story on a personal level.  Wednesday’s questions focused on what the participants learned in the story and which character were they like in the story.  As many honest responses were shared, it was evident that God’s Word was alive and giving people reason to think about their own lives.

“I am like Eve because I listen to others when they tell things that aren’t true and then I follow after those same things.”

“I am like the snake because I tell others things that aren’t true and cause them to do things that aren’t right.”

“I am like Adam.  I go along and do the wrong things even though I know they are wrong.  I don’t stand up for what is right.”

“I am like Eve because I covet so many things.”

Listening to the day's story

Listening to the day’s story

“Now that I have come to this course and know what is true, I need to stand on that truth.  When other people come and tell me things that aren’t true and try to pull me in the wrong direction, I don’t want to follow them.”

“I need to not deceive other people.  I need to leave those ways behind, and do what is right.”

“I need to stand up and take responsibility in my family.  If my wife is saying things that aren’t true, I need to confront her and try to help her see a different way.  If not, it will cause problems for our whole family.”

It is encouraging to hear these responses.  Keep praying that God’s Word will bring conviction and lasting change.

Nuku OBS workshops are launched

Some of the Nuku area language groups in the Sandaun province of Papua New Guinea have been waiting for years for someone to help get God’s Word into their heart language (tok ples).  So it was with great excitement that we welcomed the arrival of participants from Beli, Pahi, Heyo, Mehek, Yahang, Wanap, Laeko Libuat, Siliput, Yangum Mun, Yangum Dey, and Minidien language groups on Monday.

Crossing a flooded river

Crossing a flooded river

Due to significant rains in the area, swollen rivers and muddy roads made the trip to Wewak a challenge for many of the participants.  The PMV (public motor vehicle) carrying many of the participants got stuck Sunday night, but they were able to dig out of the mud Monday morning and make it to Wewak.  Others waited for rivers to recede enough that they could cross (as seen in the picture) or walk to the other side.  We are very thankful to report that by Monday evening forty-one participants were safely in Wewak ready to begin class Tuesday morning.

OBS trainers serving at this course

OBS trainers serving at this course

Fifteen trainers are leading this course, many of whom are learning new roles and responsibilities this time.   A couple trainers are being prepared to launch a new OBS cluster later this year in Sandaun province.  We also have six brand new trainers who just graduated from the Lumi OBS workshop in January and are working to learn the ropes of teaching and mentoring new language groups.  We are so grateful for the capable and enthusiastic team God has brought together to lead this work in the Sepik.

Learning how to use a voice recorder

Learning how to use a voice recorder

As the participants work at learning the Bible stories, one of the tools used is a voice recorder.  After they have internalized the story and can tell it both in the trade language as well as their heart language, they record it on a voice recorder.  The story can then be played back for the group to check the story’s accuracy.  Tuesday they learned how to use the recorders.

Participants have another two weeks to learn a total of four Bible stories from Genesis.  These stories are foundational to understanding many other aspects of the Bible.  They have been learning the story of Cain and Abel over the last two days and God’s Word is already convicting men of their sins.  Pray that they can learn the stories well and that the truth of God’s Word will change the lives of those present even before they head home.  We wait expectantly to see how God will work in the days ahead.

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.

Traversing the roads, navigating the mountains…

Beautiful view looking out from Libuat village

Beautiful view looking out from Libuat village

Last Monday morning before sunrise Gary, Sam, and Amos set their sights on Nuku Station located in the Sandaun province.  Trips have been taken to this area previously, but they were headed to new outlying areas around Nuku Station.  After a couple of stops along the way, they arrived mid afternoon.  A meeting with an older Christian Brotherhood Church (CBC) missionary proved helpful as he linked local PNG men with the team to guide them to the other language groups.

The road goes up to the next village

The road goes up to the next village

They designed a plan of action.  Both groups needed to drive and then hike to different parts of the area.  Hiking in other areas has been challenging in the past, but this hiking seemed to take things to a new level.  Some trails were narrow with significant drop offs on each side.  Others were steep – here they call them “hand leg” mountains.  Using your hands and legs, you just keep moving up the mountain.  Going down those mountains is a different challenge all of its own.

Rain and dirt lead to excitement

Rain and dirt lead to excitement

Some roads exist in this area, although a few partial days of rain made the mud packed roads very slick.  Before the trip, we asked people to pray for dry weather because we knew the rain could make the road impassable.  Instead of answering our prayers for dry weather, God chose to increase our prayer lives and our faith.  As they returned to Wewak on Saturday, the trip was anything but quiet.  However, after many prayers and some anxious moments, the weary travelers arrived home safely late Saturday night.

Community meeting in Wonum

Community meeting in Wonum

Heading in two different directions, the group was able to visit eleven different villages during the week.  Many of the villages were excited to hear about the work happening in the Sepik region.  Some of the communities have been asking for help for many years.  Plans were shared regarding the upcoming Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) workshops to begin in 2017.  They discussed logistics and who would be the best people to come and get the training.  Usually a Bible story similar to what is taught in an OBS workshop was shared so they could get a picture of what could be learned.

Still more villages need to be contacted in December.  Pray that the people who came to the meetings would choose the right participants for the workshops.  Pray that they have a real hunger for knowing God more as they begin to hear Bible stories in their heart language.  Pray that God’s Word would go out through clear teaching and be well understood.

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!