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


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.


God Answers

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

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

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

Course participants arrive on the big truck.

Course participants arrive on the big truck

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

One of our consultants, Rocky, checking a story

One of our consultants, Rocky, checking a story

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

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

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

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

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

2015: Year in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

What’s Next?

The last two and a half weeks have been filled with meetings for the SPES team. The whole team has been at Ukarumpa, SIL’s main mission center in PNG, for language meetings, Sepik regional meetings, and now meetings for all the SIL missionaries in the country. It has been very beneficial as we have listened to things that are happening around the country, thought about shifts in the way we do things, and have begun to address possible ways to deal with those shifts.

The first week of language meetings brought lots of thought provoking questions as well as good discussion. In an organization that is all about Bible translation into a heart language, what are things we can be doing to help communities whose languages are dying? What role can and will the trade language, Tok Pisin, play in these communities? We heard about innovative approaches where SIL is partnering with the churches in a given area to meet the felt needs of those communities. Stories of communities taking ownership, both in getting training as well as providing resources to help fund the work, were shared. The SPES team also had opportunities to share the way God has been opening doors in the Sepik to work with many new language communities. We are also excited about some of the new ways technology is being used to get God’s Word into a predominantly oral culture that we could possibly use in the Sepik.

Sepik regional meetings gave opportunity for each of the translation teams working in the region to share what has been happening in the last two years. We were encouraged as we heard stories of teams who have had relatively slow progress over many years, have times of break-through in the last couple years. God is at work in the Sepik and we are excited to be part of it.

The final six days of meetings encompass all the missionaries in PNG. This has been a wonderful opportunity to hear about things that are happening around the country and ways that God is working in individual lives as well as whole communities. We have been challenged during daily devotional times. We are not just called to make disciples, but we must first be disciples ourselves. How are we showing Christ and His love to those around us? We have wrestled with some shifts in the way that missions is being done and what our response will be. Fifty years ago the majority of missionaries came from the West. Now that is not the case. However, God is raising up a new group of people right here in Papua New Guinea who are excited and want to be part of the solution to getting God’s Word to their own people. How will we go about partnering with these people?

Pray with us as we seek to follow God’s leading and partner with others to bring His talk to language communities in the Sepik.

It takes a team to do the job

Some of the mountains the team may use.

Some of the mountains the team may use.

With excitement and a certain amount of anticipation, Gary and Sam are preparing to begin a fifteen day trek around the Plama area of the Lumi district in Sandaun province November 25. Heading out, they expect to visit nearly two dozen new villages between the two of them. Gary has already visited a few of the villages in the area on a previous hike in August. In talking with a couple Papua New Guineans who will serve as guides, the hikes will be very challenging. From the ups and downs of the steep mountains, to walking through the river beds, many surprises await them.

Scenery from a nearby village

Scenery from a nearby village

Because of the remoteness of the area, most of these groups do not know that a team is coming to talk with them. After several hours of hiking, the teams hope to find the right people in the villages, including but not limited to, active village and church leaders. Because most of the people are subsistence farmers, there is a good chance that the teams will have to wait until late afternoon or early evening to have a big enough group to have the needed discussions.

The trip will have many facets:

  • talking about who SPES is and how we may be able to help
  • beginning to establish relationships with key people in the villages
  • listening to them share about their needs and desires
  • finding out about the vitality of the language through participatory activities
  • spotlighting Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) through an actual story as well as how OBS can help them
  • capturing short word lists to see how closely each village is related to those in the surrounding areas

This venture will take a team of people to make it happen – from the veteran missionary who gave Gary and Sam a crash course on simple ways of taking a word list so that the sounds are depicted consistently, to the SIL helicopter pilot who will drop the teams off to begin their adventure, to the primary guides who are also a crucial part of our OBS trainer team, to those who will help carry cargo, to the communities the teams will meet in each place, to someone in each village who will show the way to the next village (there aren’t signs or road maps to get from place to place), to the pilot from another mission who will bring them back to Wewak on December 10, to the many who are praying for this trip to be fruitful and injury free.  We are thankful for each part of the team who are vital to see this work move forward.

Even though the hikes hold many unknowns, we rest in the fact that God sees the whole trip already and knows how everything will happen.  We also know that He will go ahead of the team and prepare the way each day.

What is the Sepik Partnership and Engagement Strategy (SPES)? A Brief Introduction

SPES is an SIL project targeting all the languages within the East Sepik and Sandaun Province of Papua New Guinea that have no translated Scripture in them. It invites them to be part of the Bible Translation movement. SIL’s decades of experience have resulted in strategies that prioritize impact.

In order to have impact, SPES embraces oral methods for initially working with language groups. From these oral activities, interest levels can be evaluated before SPES commits to long-term language development programs. Currently, SPES is visiting Bibleless language groups for the purpose of creating training clusters and developing local trainers for initial activities with the new language groups. One type of training that SPES plans to use with Bibleless language groups is Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS). Orally narrating a translated Scripture passage to Bibleless language groups ensures that there are Scripture portions in a language in the very initial phases. This is one of the innovative approaches SPES is using in its language activities.

The backbone of SPES’ impact strategies is derived from a model for effectively directing resources to needs. This model is known as Progressive Engagement. Language needs of a community range from language preservation to Bible translation. SPES is committed to meeting these needs; however, language communities have to show that they are truly interested and will support the language program. Identifying resource areas within a language cluster and providing resources which the community cannot supply ensures two-way participation and commitment from SPES and languages involved. An obvious resource that the language communities have is personnel to be trained. The care and support for these personnel is provided by some of SPES’ partners.

SPES’ objective is to provide training to all Bibleless language groups in the East Sepik and Sandaun provinces so that God’s Word can be heard in the languages that people know best. Using innovative approaches to direct resources to needs and ensure that there is impact enables SPES to carry out its Bible translation activities at an accelerated pace to all new languages.


Developing National Leadership through Partnership

David Bilyeme, a translator from the Urat language practicing his facilitator skills during an O.B.S session.

David Bilyeme, a translator from the Urat language practicing his facilitator skills during an OBS session.

The Sepik Partnership and Engagement Strategy (SPES), an SIL International project in Papua New Guinea, is delighted to partner with other Bible translation organizations to host an Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) workshop. OBS is a way of sharing God’s Word to others by narrating an entire Bible story.

SPES’ partnership with the Papua New Guinea Bible Translation Association (BTA) and The Seed Company resulted in national trainers from Milne Bay, flying to the Sepik area. Six language communities, each represented by a four-member team, welcomed these trainers, all eager to learn the new OBS skills. An OBS module consists of a selection of Bible stories which share a common theme. Each story is heard and reflected on for the purpose of retelling. For instance, stories pertaining to the birth of Jesus were learnt for the purpose of retelling during the Christmas season. Basic storytelling techniques such as setting the scene, character descriptions, paying attention to facial expressions and gestures etc. are used to capture the audience’s interest, but when the story impacts a storytellers’ personal life, it makes a powerful difference.

In order to retain such long passages along with their twists, background details and sequence, a daily routine of memory activities is followed, enabling participants to keep a fixed sequence and wording of a story. This is crucial because main points of a story can be masked by random phrases. Verses are narrated in a personalized manner and main points for Bible sharing or devotion are told such that they stand out in the story.

At first glance, many may presume OBS to be unsophisticated because it uses such simple skills. Yet, the humble servant who chooses to let the power of God work through the art of storytelling, will be amazed at its impact. It is an effective tool for sharing God’s Word where written materials are not readily available, thus allowing a person to become the instrument for God to use and reach out to others.

These narrated stories are translated into local languages for audiences back in the villages. Afterwards, the storyteller translates each phrase into a common language which a translation expert understands. Translation experts then check and eliminate common translation errors in the stories. Once the translated versions are checked and approved by a translation expert, they are saved in a voice recorder which the participants can replay and listen to wherever they are. This will help illiterate storytellers to keep their story straight. All activity is done orally since many new languages may lack a proper writing system.

The Seed Company, which focuses on funding innovative activities that accelerate Bible translation and its impact on new languages, is committed to supporting these OBS workshops in the East Sepik and Sandaun Provinces of Papua New Guinea. So far it has funded two modules; the third will commence in April while the fourth will be held later this year (2013). All trainers and participants receive free boarding, lodging and travel expense as they learn the art of OBS. Each module takes a total of two weeks with practical activities in between the modules. A total of four modules need to be learned in order to become an OBS trainer.

BTA, whose vision is to train and equip PNG nationals in Bible translation work, has supported SPES by way of providing trainers, while SPES itself has gathered the people to be trained.

These OBS workshops are the beginnings of a strategy for accelerated pace and impact of Bible translations in new languages. More than 100 languages in the Sepik region are without Scripture and they are SPES’ focus. SPES needs people who wants to help reach out to these languages with God’s Word. A vital step to meeting this need is the training of nationals to become leaders in the Bible translation movement. This is best achieved through partnerships which enable the sharing of resources. Other important steps include the sustenance and extension of OBS to new languages. Please contact us if you would like to know how you can help sustain OBS or if you belong to one of the language groups listed on SPES’ 100+ Bibleless Languages.