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.

What is Render?

Recently Gary and Sam attended some meetings in Ukarumpa, in the Eastern Highlands province.  Fred Madden, who works with The Seed Company, came to share about a different medium for doing translation.  Oral Bible Translation allows the translators to translate exclusively in an oral manner.

Using the Render software

Using the Render software

Oral Bible Translation works like this. Initially translators discuss any key words, phrases, or concepts that could be difficult to understand or tricky to translate.  Then they listen to a “chunk” of scripture such as a section of a story or a paragraph.  When they feel comfortable that they understand the portion of scripture, they figure out how to say the section in their heart language.  Speaking into a computer, they will then record the passage using some newly developed Render software that records all that is said. This is repeated until everyone is happy with the translation. Then it goes through a series of checks for accuracy and naturalness.  When the team is satisfied that the rough draft is good, it then goes to a consultant who will also add his or her comments orally on the computer and the team can make the needed corrections.

After all the needed changes have been made and the translators and consultants feel it communicates clearly, the recordings can be finalized.  When the recordings are ready, they can be placed on SD cards that can be inserted into mobile phones or use other electronic devices to listen to and engage with the translated scriptures.

As literacy rates are low in many of the language groups that SPES is engaging with, Oral Bible Translation seems like a good fit for at least some of these groups.  This type of approach would allow more people who know and understand their language, but not necessarily know how to write it, to be involved in the work. It also has a better chance of being used by more people in more places. However, this approach involves potentially more people and therefore more costs.  Pray for wisdom to know if this is the way we are to move forward.

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!

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.

New Territory

Recently Gary headed to a new area of the Sepik on a discovery trip.   Carl, a CBC leader in the Sepik, accompanied him. The Nuku area, south of the Sepik River, is not an area where SPES has previously worked. Different language groups in the area have been asking for someone to come and help with translation in their area, in some cases for many years. Although SPES cannot send a missionary to each area, we would like to provide opportunities for them to receive training so that they can help spread God’s Word in their heart language.

Representatives at the meeting at Nuku Station

Representatives at the meeting at Nuku Station

The purpose of the trip was to explore how many languages are there, what their viability is, how many people are in the language groups, and other preliminary information. The trip to the area took about seven hours on very rough roads in a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Gary was able to visit a couple villages as well as have a group meeting at the Nuku station with representatives from eight different languages. As Gary passed through the area headed to one of the villages, he left a message that he would be back to hold a meeting with interested language groups a couple days later. One of the church leaders took it upon himself to contact all the surrounding language groups about the meeting and representatives from all but one of the groups arrived for the meeting. They were very interested to hear what was shared and excited to think that translation work may happen in their area. Those who attended the meeting were mostly community and church leaders which was helpful as well. They can now share what they have heard at the meeting with others in their communities.

One of the houses seen on the village visit

One of the houses seen on the village visit

Their enthusiasm was encouraging. With larger villages than we have seen in most areas, more people may have an opportunity to hear God’s talk in their language. These eleven language groups represent nearly fifty villages, so further exploratory visits will take some time. However, we have found that making trips to as many of the villages as possible is a necessary part of establishing relationships so that everyone feels included. Fortunately there is cell phone coverage in much of the area, so communicating with these groups will be easier than some of the other groups we have worked with in the past. We are hoping that a project proposal can be put into place to begin Oral Bible Storytelling with these groups later this year or early in 2017. Please be praying with us that these groups can begin to receive training soon.

From Darkness to Light

When the term darkness is mentioned, it doesn’t usually conjure up ideas of happiness or excitement. It can depict death, a sense of heaviness, or maybe being lost. At times, we have felt that sense of darkness as we work in the Sepik. When the SPES team was preparing to run Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) in Sandaun province, they visited one of the villages in the Mamhoaf language group. Both team members felt there was little potential for working with the people there. No active church was present. Few people were even around to engage in conversation. Thankfully, God had a bigger plan.

Demas and his family

Demas and his family

As the Mamhoaf team came and began to engage with the Bible stories during the OBS workshop, God began to work in their lives. Mamhoaf team members gave their hearts to Christ and began sharing the stories they learned. This created a new hunger to know God more and the church was reborn. Last month, one of the SPES team went and visited the area again. Demas is leading the church and the church is bursting at the seams with people. He and his wife are counseling and praying with people. He sees great value in continuing the work of OBS, so he is training three other men to take on the church work so he can more fully focus on teaching others.

In a nearby language group, revival has broken out in that church too. Numbers of people coming to church have drastically increased. Agai has been in language work for many years, but in recent years has really seen the Word of God come alive for him as well. He is hoping to help Demas do some training to get people more grounded in their faith. The darkness has lifted in these areas and the light is beginning to shine.

Michael, at the last OBS workshop

Michael, at the last OBS workshop

There are other areas in the Sepik that are still caught in the darkness.   Just Sunday, we received a text from Michael, one of the OBS participants in the Inebu One language group. He requested prayer that they could continue to share the Bible stories they had learned. They are facing challenges from people who don’t know the Lord who are trying to stop the work of these participants. Would you pray with us that God’s Word can continue to be shared and that those who don’t know Christ will be brought from the darkness to the light?

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.

 

The Pig and the Garden

We often use metaphors to relay information in a culturally appropriate manner that can more easily be understood. The story of the Pig and the Garden is an example used to help the small people groups with whom we work to better understand some facts about the languages they use. The discussion usually starts with one of us asking some questions…..

Pig and garden

Question:        You have pigs here in the village don’t you? Do they have value to you?

Answer:          Yes, they are used as a bride price… they are protein for our diet… we can sell them for money…

Question:        You have gardens don’t you? And are they valuable to you?

Answer:          Yes, we have many gardens and they provide food. Life would be very difficult without pigs or gardens.

Question:        What happens when the pig gets into the garden?

Answer:          Not Good! The pig destroys the garden.

Question:        But you said you need both the garden and the pig; so how can you have both?

Answer:          We put a fence around the pig or we put a fence around the garden if there are wild pigs. We sometimes blind the pig or tie a rope to its leg.

This simple discussion then leads to a discussion about the languages they use. The Sepik languages we work with have not had any previous translation activity, and the languages they use are the trade language of Melanesian Pidgin (Tok Pisin), their mother tongue vernacular language, and a little bit of English used in the schools (if they have a functioning government-run school). In all of the 28 Sepik language groups that we are currently working with, the vernacular has by far the highest value because it identifies who they are and it is strongly tied to their culture. And in all cases, it is in jeopardy and rapidly being taken over by the trade language of Tok Pisin. The people know that Tok Pisin is gaining in usage, but they have not yet fully realized how much jeopardy their mother tongue language is in. We start showing them that if their children are not learning and using the vernacular language, then they are only one or two generations away from it not being used at all and possibly forgotten. They then start to see the true picture, and many times we have people in tears, mourning for what they now realize is the beginning of the loss of their language and identity. Their first reaction is to believe that the trade language is bad and they need to get rid of it.

The pig and the garden story can help them. We explain how the garden is their vernacular language and the pig is the trade language. Just like the pig and the garden, they both have value and it is hard to live without either one. Actually, in their current society it is important that they are multilingual. Their mother tongue is so closely tied to who they are and has such a high value to them that they need to find ways for the trade language and the vernacular to co-exist. They will need to treat their language like the garden and put a fence around it, protecting it from the trade language that will destroy it.

Part of our work is helping these small language communities develop an awareness of what is happening to their vernacular and culture in a rapidly changing world. Their living environment has changed from the stone-age to the introduction of the modern 21st century in a mere 50 to 70 years. Many of the old traditions and customs are dying, many times without new positive practices being introduced to replace them. This is just one of the reasons why it is so important to have them firmly grounded in Christian faith and why we need God’s Word to speak to them in the form that they can understand best.

by Gary Abbas

Exceeded Expectations

Lumi OBS group photo

Lumi OBS group photo

As we embark on new ventures, there can be a certain amount of apprehension involved. Working with eleven (or possibly more in the future) language communities can feel a bit daunting. But our God is good! As we look back on the Lumi Oral Bible Storytelling workshop that just finished last week, we are thrilled.

Did everything go exactly as expected? No, but sometimes the alternative was even better.

The truck loaded and ready for departure on Saturday.

The truck loaded and ready for departure on Saturday.

  • We heard early on that the truck would not be able to take the participants home on the day we anticipated. So, we extended the workshop a couple days and the participants were able to learn an additional story to take back and use.
  • One airstrip we hadn’t originally used, ended up being the only one of three where participants could be dropped off at the end of the course, due to weather and other logistics.
  • One trainer wasn’t able to come, but another showed up that we didn’t know was coming.
  • David works hard to learn one of his stories.

    David works hard to learn one of his stories.

  • The last two clusters have struggled to learn stories to one degree or another. One of the SPES members had been praying that God would show us a new way that would help participants learn stories better. He decided on a plan and shared it with one of the experienced trainers who had just tried the same approach in his community. We felt this was confirmation from the Lord and taught with this new approach. The result…better and more natural stories.
  • One thing we have come to understand is that participants either really like or really dislike using storyboards to learn their stories. We have tried multiple approaches, but the vast majority of this group thought they were indispensable. We think they are pretty good too, but it was great to see them come to that same conclusion!
  • Bags of taro, as well as some cooking bananas and pumpkins filled many hungry bellies.

    Bags of taro, as well as some cooking bananas and pumpkins filled many hungry bellies.

    The thought of going to town every day or every second day to get enough market food (taro, kaukau, pumpkin, bananas, and greens) to feed nearly fifty people sounded time consuming. After hearing from a number of communities where we have established relationships that there was no extra food because of the drought, we figured the town market was the best option. But no, God had a better plan. One language community ended up bringing the majority of the market vegetables for most of the course.

We are so thankful to see the way God has gone before us in this new endeavor. We see His blessings in so many ways and we are excited to hear how the stories learned will impact lives and communities. Please pray for many open doors for participants to share what they have learned.

 

Lumi is here!

The classroom is full as participants work to learn each story.

The classroom is full as participants work to learn each story.

After months of preparation and anticipation, the Oral Bible Storytelling workshop for the Lumi cluster of languages began last week in Wewak. Due to the remoteness of the villages, only one trip was made to each of the villages to invite them to the workshop. Most of those visits were done in November and December 2014. So, it was with great excitement that we waited to see how many people would come to the course. We are thrilled to have thirty-eight participants from eleven language groups at this course.

The big truck that carried many of the participants to the workshop.

The big truck that carried many of the participants to the workshop.

How far would you travel to attend an Oral Bible Storytelling course? Some of these participants walked for two days to the closest town of Lumi. Don’t picture this as a stroll in the park, but envision mountains, small foot paths, and rugged terrain. Then they waited for the public motor vehicle (PMV) to transport them to Wewak. This part of the journey took over twelve hours, riding through the night on the back of an open truck. They were tired, cold, and ready to see smiling faces when they arrived. Many of those who came are pastors of struggling churches throughout the Lumi district. Unlike other workshops, most of those attending are from one denomination. We were privileged to have the head of the denomination come and encourage the pastors one afternoon this week.

Throughout the week, there are multiple opportunities to practice telling the stories.

Throughout the week, there are multiple opportunities to practice telling the stories.

As we begin with a new cluster of languages, we are reminded that we are all learners. No one, including the SPES team and trainers, has all the information. With that in mind, we have tried a slightly different approach with how we teach the stories. Repetition is extremely important as stories are learned orally. The participants seem to be getting the idea of how to learn the stories and we are excited to see their progress. As we hear how the stories bring to light struggles for the participants, we pray that they will have this same impact when they are shared in the language communities.

Amos teaches the sequence of Genesis 3 with a story board.

Amos teaches the sequence of Genesis 3 with a story board.

We are so grateful for the team that God has brought together to make this workshop possible. God is raising up capable and gifted Papua New Guinean trainers to do nearly all the classroom teaching as well as most of the mentoring of individual language groups. What an encouragement and blessing they have been to the SPES team as we watch them develop. We also have three consultants who are checking the stories for accuracy and naturalness. Then there are the five ladies who do all the cooking for forty-eight people each day of the course. No one is going hungry and we are very thankful that, in spite of the dry conditions we have had in the Sepik, we have had ample garden food. SPES team members are filling a variety of other roles to make the workshop happen. Please be praying for wisdom and stamina as there is still a full week of the course yet.