Beyond our scope

A Kwomtari man tells his story.

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

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

Nai speakers work on consultant checking their story.

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

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

Baibai participants work on crafting their story.

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

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

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

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

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

Photos by Carol Honsberger

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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

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!

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.

Planning the Future of Our Language Workshop

The SPES team, as well as some other SIL teams serving in the Sepik, spent much of last week attending the Planning the Future of Our Language Workshop held in Wewak. This week other teams will be attending the same course at Ukarumpa. Much was gleaned from the course by all who participated. Now comes the challenge of figuring out how to make the material work in our context.

Group discussions at the Forok table.

Group discussions at the Forok table

The participants varied from recent Oral Bible Storytelling workshop participants who are just beginning to work with SPES to other SIL teams who have been working in their language programs between ten and thirty years. The workshop is designed to help language communities assess the vitality of their language. Are there written materials in their tok ples (heart language)? Does everyone in the village speak the language? Do all the adults speak the language, but only some of the children? Do only the older adults speak the language? Do people no longer speak the language, but they still use it to identify who they are as a community? These are all vital questions that need to be asked.

Greg shows how different languages are used in the Urimo community.

Greg shows how different languages are used in the Urimo community.

Based on the answers given and community ownership, different communities will have different action plans that they will pursue. Will they teach their language in the elementary schools? Will the parents commit to teaching the tok ples in their homes rather than just the national language? Will they continue to use their language in certain parts of their lives (gardening, hunting, calling the names of various objects in the environment, greetings, traditional dances, etc.)? Are they no longer using the language in everyday life, but would like to document particular things before there are no longer people who know the language?

Where is your language on the mountain?

Where is your language on the mountain?

The participants found the workshop helpful. Activities were shown and then practiced that can help the communities come to understand where they are on the “language vitality mountain”. Language group participants grappled with the realities of what life could look like in the future. The SPES team is wrestling with the best way to incorporate the materials after the completion of each cluster of Oral Bible Storytelling workshops. We will need time to train mother tongue speakers to do the activities, ask questions and get feedback. After all that information has been gathered, then we can look at the data and figure out how to move forward with each language group.

There is much yet to be learned and developed, but we look forward to seeing how this tool can be used to effectively help language communities understand where they are and take ownership of the language work.

Photos by Gary Abbas

What does it take?

So, what does it take for the Oral Bible Storytelling workshop to happen in Yabru? Some things are similar to the workshops in Wewak. We have trainers in both locations who carry the vast majority of the teaching times as well as mentor the language groups. Local ladies prepare two large meals a day for the participants and trainers. Consultant checkers are needed to make sure the stories are clear and accurate. God’s Word is going out to language areas in both East Sepik and Sandaun provinces for the first time and people are hearing stories and being changed.

The Kodiak will drop us off in Yabru.

The Kodiak will drop us off at Green River airstrip.

Other aspects are different. There are no roads that take us to Yabru, so multiple emails are exchanged with SIL aviation to book flights in the Kodiak to get the trainers and staff to Yabru. We often need to book in conjunction with other teams so putting the puzzle pieces together can be a challenge.

Cargo, weighed and marked, waits for Wednesday's flight.

Cargo, weighed and marked, waits for Wednesday’s flight.

Additional supplies are needed. Mosquito coils will help keep the mosquitoes at bay at night. Reading glasses will be purchased by some who struggle to read the stories as they are working to internalize and translate. With no stores nearby, a shopping trip in Wewak to purchase over three hundred kilos of rice, crackers, tin meat, flour, sugar, two minute noodles, oil, salt, milk powder, and several other things is necessary. After everything is bought, each box is weighed and marked. When the plane lands in the village, carriers will take the boxes back to the center and receive pay based on how many kilos they carried. We rely on the people from the village to provide market food for the meals.

With limited power from solar panels, charging batteries for the recorders has to be strategic. We pray for a good amount of sun to give maximum power. Battery powered lanterns will serve to help the participants as they work to craft and back translate their stories in the evenings.

As the team prepares to depart for Yabru this week, we know that God will go before us and lead the way.  We are grateful that this promise holds true wherever we work.

A time of encouragement

Periodically the SPES team has the opportunity to meet with Wewak area pastors and their wives for a time of fellowship. September 22 was the most recent meeting. Often these times are held at different churches, but this one was held here at the SIL regional center. With each one contributing a dish of food, the work load was easy for everyone. A mix of western and local foods were enjoyed with the finale being ice cream, a favorite for everyone.

We enjoyed listening to stories of what is going on in the Wewak area and hearing how God is opening doors for some of the pastors to work more with government and business leaders here. The ministers fraternal chair and vice chair were invited to a meeting with many government officials soon after the national day of prayer the end of August. The government officials seem to realize that many of the problems that the province is facing will not be fixed by more laws or stricter enforcement. It is only as God makes a difference in people’s lives that things will change. Please pray that God will give these men more opportunities to share about Christ throughout Wewak.

After a time of sharing burdens, we were able to pray for each other. Lifting our burdens to the One who can fix them is the best answer. We trust that these men and their wives were encouraged and ready to continue to meet the challenging demands of pastoring here in the Sepik.