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


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.

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.