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.

 

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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.

Life Lessons

All smiles on the last day of the course

All smiles on the last day of the course

We recently returned from the fourth Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) workshop for the cluster three participants at the Abau Training Centre in Yabru. In spite of this being the ninth OBS workshop since February 2014, there seem to be new challenges to be faced and new things to be learned. God is always faithful and each course we learn more about who He is as well.

We landed in Yabru knowing there had been no rain for many weeks. Rivers had dried up, fresh fish were not available nearby, and some of the water tanks for drinking and bathing were quite low. Before our arrival, many prayers had been prayed for the needed rain. As we slept the first night, a huge storm came through dumping inches of water and filling the tanks with the necessary water. It didn’t fill the rivers, but it brought what was needed. We were quick to point the people to God as the source of the rain that had blessed us. Because of the dry conditions, staple foods were more difficult to find. But, again, God was faithful. We never went without food; we got a bit creative a couple times, but God always provided.

Edward works to learn one of his stories.

Edward works to learn one of his stories.

As we studied stories from the life of Moses, The Passover, The Red Sea, Manna and Quail, and The Ten Commandments, they took on new meaning. The story of the Passover points to Christ and His finished work for our sins. It is always exciting to share those insights with some who may have never heard those parallels. We also shared a Seder meal with the participants and staff. Seeing the Passover through the eyes of someone who might have been there is always a unique experience in which each person can walk away with a new understanding of the Passover symbols and their meanings.

The Egyptians ready to chase the Israelites through the Red Sea.

The Egyptians ready to chase the Israelites through the Red Sea.

As they left Egypt and miraculously crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, it would seem the Israelites would be riding high on all that God had done. However, it didn’t take them long to forget and begin to complain. God provided manna and quail for forty solid years to hundreds of thousands of people; what an incredible testimony to His compassion and concern for His people. Even when they complained, God continued to love them and provide for them. Am I thankful for God’s provisions or do I complain? Am I quick to forget all He has done for me?

Five language groups continued to tackle new stories at this course, so they can return to their communities and share God’s truth from individual stories. We are thankful for the impact these stories are making not only on the lives of participants, but also communities. Pray that these new stories will be told faithfully and that God’s truth will be planted in the hearts of many.

Graduation

A crazy moment for the entire group on the last day

A crazy moment for the entire group on the last day

The fifth Oral Bible Storytelling workshop for the Wewak cluster of languages finished the beginning of July. The participants worked hard over the course of the five workshops to learn nearly twenty Bible stories to tell in their communities. Some have struggled to learn the stories well, so we watched with grateful hearts as they experienced a breakthrough during the last course and were able to get a better grasp on telling and remembering the stories.

Antonia shares one of the stories she learned.

Antonia shares one of the stories she learned.

At the end of each course, participants are encouraged to go and share their stories in a variety of venues. This exercise has met with mixed results. Some have gone back and tried to share at their churches, but because of specific ways that things are done, the doors haven’t opened for that. For some, this has resulted in stories not being told much. For others, they have been challenged to find other options. One young man shared how he told a story on one of the local transport vehicles that took him home from the course. Others are able to tell the stories in a variety of school settings. This has brought much enthusiasm from the kids. Still others have been able to share it in wider denominational gatherings or multi denomination meetings within a community. Pray that they will continue to find ways to share the things they have learned.

Jacob receives his completion certificate.

Jacob receives his completion certificate.

As this was course five, graduation was coming quickly. Excitement grew as the day approached. Could they go to town and buy a new pair of shoes or pants for the ceremony? How many people could they invite to come? The chairs were neatly aligned, flowers were picked and arranged from the bounty that surround the guest house, speeches were prepared, and guests were invited. It was a special time to recognize what the participants have learned and to see how they have grown over the course of the workshops. After stories and testimonies were shared, speeches made, certificates given, one of the pastors commissioned them to carry God’s Word back and use it in their communities. The day ended with yummy food shared by all who were present.

God’s Word is going out

Lots of food was shared.  The green leaves each hold a portion of their staple food, sago.

Lots of food was shared. The green leaves each hold a portion of their staple food, sago.

Recently four SPES team members were privileged to be part of a Scripture portion dedication among the Urim Kukwo language communities in the Sandaun province. The team started out early on a Saturday morning and navigated a six and a half hour drive by truck followed by a three hour hike. They were all happy to reach their destination that night. Hospitable village people gladly opened their homes and shared what they had with the outsiders including food and a place to stay. Lots of activity led up to the event including making a grand stand and gathering food from the gardens and fish from the river.

Dancers prepare for the processional

Dancers prepare for the processional

Wycliffe member, Seija Meinander has been working among the Urim Kukwo people for more than ten years, along with Joyce Wood who joined the project more recently. Many people came and joined in the festivities to celebrate the coming of four New Testament books to the people. Singsing dancers adorned with scores of white bird feathers and traditional body paint led the procession to the gathering. Kundu drums hammered out the beat for the music. Speeches were given, a prayer of blessing was shared and a challenge was given. All the books of Scripture were sold in about forty-five minutes. Pray that they would take this challenge to heart. God’s Word is like a packet of seeds. If the seeds sit on the shelf in the house, they have no value to anyone. It is only when they are taken from the packet, planted in the ground, watered, and begin to produce a crop, that their value increases. God’s Word is the same. If the book sits on the table and never gets opened, it gives no benefit to anyone. Only when God’s book is opened and applied to lives can the difference really be seen. How much value does God’s Word have to us?

Lara and Joyce work with the ladies on their language assessment.

Lara and Joyce work with the ladies on their language assessment.

The day after the dedication, the team was asked to address a smaller crowd regarding the vitality of the Urim Kukwo language and what they want to do with their language in the future. Male leaders from each of the three villages came as well as a group of women. Through a couple hands-on activities they were able to visualize some of what is happening in their language community. Already some of the children do not know the language. What does that mean for the future of the language? Are there things they can do to help those children begin to understand more of the language? Pray for direction for these language communities as they decide what their next steps should be.

Technology gives more access

Last week one of the SPES team members attended PacTech (Pacific Technology Consultation) held in Brisbane, Australia. Designed to discuss a variety of subjects related to getting Scripture more accessible through digital means as well as practicing with some of the new software tools, PacTech was filled with hands-on, helpful information. As SPES looks at possible next steps for language communities after Oral Bible Storytelling, these meetings have given some very practical options to consider.

Scripture app builder at work

Scripture app builder at work

One of these options is to begin to make apps that can be used on mobile phones. Mobile phones are becoming more prevalent throughout Papua New Guinea, even in some of the remote corners. As more towers are put in place, even more of these areas will have coverage. The Scripture App Builder is designed to share Scripture across mobile devices. Taking an oral Bible story that has already been recorded, pictures can then be added to represent different parts of the story. The text can also be transcribed and put on the phone. Once everything is uploaded together, you have a story in audio form (for those who prefer oral methods), pictures (to help paint a more vivid picture), and written text that is highlighted as the oral portions are read (for those who want to learn to read or strengthen their reading skills). It seems this could have great potential for those desiring to learn to read their own heart language.

Another session focused on best practices for how to record things well and how to clean up the recordings when they aren’t quite the quality you want. As we look at the various Bible story recordings we already possess, these new techniques will make the audio recordings more useable. This will allow us to use more of those stories on the local Christian radio station getting them out to a larger audience than would ever be possible as one person shares each story in his community.

We are thankful for the people who have developed this software and have the skills to share with us to make God’s Word more accessible.

God’s Word over the Airwaves

Dancers led the invited guests in to the ceremony dedicating the new bungalows.

Dancers led the invited guests in to the ceremony dedicating the new bungalows.

Saturday, April 11, we had the opportunity to witness the opening of four bungalows at the nearby Christian radio station. Laif FM began in 2003 in a small building on Kreer Heights in Wewak, just down the road from the SIL Regional Center. Up until now there has been little else there besides the station building, but these new bungalows will provide much needed space for a kitchen, office, station manager’s house, as well as a transit house for people passing through the area. They also now have solar power as well as a backup generator for when the electricity in town is not able to support the radio station.

In traditional costume and representing the Highlands region, this group witnesses the dedication of the kitchen bungalow.

In traditional costume and representing the Highlands region, this group witnesses the dedication of the kitchen bungalow.

The heart of Laif FM is to use radio to reach where pastors cannot go. Their target audience is the teens and young adults as they realize these are the future leaders of PNG. At this point, the radio station covers much of the East Sepik region and spills over into the edges of surrounding provinces. Their vision is that the radio will be broadcast throughout PNG by satellite. To reflect this vision, each of the bungalows received a name, one for the region that is currently receiving the broadcast and the other three representing regions to reach in the future. In 2011 United Christian Broadcasters (UCB) Australia began partnering with Laif FM to help with more of the technical and training aspects of helping the station to become more professional, as well as some of the funding.

Guests look on as the ribbon is cut for one of the bungalows.

Guests look on as the ribbon is cut for one of the bungalows.

The UCB PNG chairman Phil Dunk has stayed at the SIL Center Guest House several times as he has been working with Laif FM. During one of his stays, we were running an Oral Bible Storytelling course. He was very excited about getting recordings from the OBS stories that the participants have learned and airing them on the radio. The thought is to begin airing the stories in Tok Pisin first and then possibly down the road beginning to air them in some of the vernacular languages as well. We are excited about this possible partnership of finding new and different ways to get God’s Word to Papua New Guineans. Pray for time in our schedules to get these recordings in a format that will work well on the radio.

Why do I feel this way?

As mentioned before, changes are bound to occur with a trip that has so many unknowns. Changes on the Lumi trip included additional villages not on the map, others no longer at their original location, and proximity of villages.  Other things like food and sleeping arrangements were pretty stable.  With this type of trip, it is hard for the people not to come back changed as well, either in their perspective or ways of doing things.

Beds arranged for the night's rest.

Beds arranged for the night’s rest.

This saksak is cooked in bamboo so it has a different color, taste, and consistency.

This saksak is cooked in bamboo so it has a different color, taste, and consistency.

Gary shared with some friends after his return, “getting up off of my four inch foam mattress bed and sitting in our living room with the electric table lamp on, surrounded by windows covered with screens to keep out the mosquitoes, it finally occurs to me why I am so uneasy; I realize that I am experiencing a form of culture shock.  For the past two weeks I have been hiking many miles up and down steep, slippery, wet, mountain rainforest trails, sleeping on the floors of bush houses and shelters made of sticks and bamboo with thatched palm leaf roofs tied together with vines.  I have eaten the same daily meals of a starchy gel like substance (made from the trunk pulp of the sago palm) and tree leaves, all cooked over a fire.  I drank water from coconuts and the mountain streams.  All of a sudden (after an hour’s flight) I find myself back in Wewak on a soft bed.  I have fresh water readily available collected from our tin roof when it rains into a large metal tank sitting outside our house.  A small gas stove sits in our kitchen next to a refrigerator.  A modern toilet is located inside our house and my laptop computer is sitting on the table.  Electric florescent tubes provide ample light powered by the Wewak diesel generators.  Our own generator serves as backup when those generators are unable to provide enough power for the entire town.  We have soft padded foam chairs, with backs, to recline on, books to read, and paper to write on.  A very small artificial Christmas tree sits on a table bringing the Christmas spirit to our living room.  We can easily drive ten minutes to a Wewak store to buy supplies.  We are so blessed with so many conveniences that we take for granted while the people groups I have just come from, have so little in the way of material things.

A friend cuts open the coconut so the team can drink the refreshing water inside.

A friend cuts open the coconut so the team can drink the refreshing water inside.

My dilemma… my struggle is knowing how to cope with such differences.  Even though the people in the villages are deprived of modern conveniences, you still see happy people and hear laughter, stories are being told, and little children are playing with miniature bows and arrows and balls made of bush materials.  So many have a desire to learn more about their creator God and are anxious to learn more and have His “talk” translated into their mother tongue.  Life is very hard for them!  But, they find joy in each day.  Hopefully, through our efforts and your prayers, we can give them the opportunity to come into a closer relationship and more thorough knowledge of Jesus Christ.”

Photos by Gary Abbas