Cecilia Pani stands no more than a couple inches above five feet tall, but her wisdom far exceeds any expectations. Quick to laugh and as humble as she is compassionate, Cecilia exudes an incredible peace that is deeply rooted in the Word of God.
Born along the Sepik river in Kambot, she explained her people were carvers of storyboards. Having moved to Wewak many years ago, she was attending a church with her family when SPES invited representatives of churches across the area to observe a Culture Meets Scripture course, with the hope that they would take the trainings back to their respective denominations. Cecilia’s church leadership, particularly her bishop, urged her to observe the course and later take an Oral Bible Storytelling course.
Cecilia recalls attending the first OBS course with a conviction that she was already aware of everything being taught. She assumed she knew the points that would be made and would return to life after the course unchanged. Upon hearing the trainer speak, however, she realized the talent, dedication and power that the trainers invested in the stories. “I thought I knew everything, but I realized that I don’t have that talent [of storytelling]. I wanted to tell the story, to know it in my heart. You could see in the trainer’s face as he was telling the story, and hear it in his voice, [that his purpose was] to touch other’s hearts,” she remembers. “In my heart I said, I want to come to the training. I want to know the Word of God.” Soon after, she joined the course. Later she was asked to become a trainer.
“In the beginning, I controlled my tongue and I didn’t know how to pray – I only had my own prayer.” Her journey through OBS was one of God revealing Himself through scripture, showing her His grace through the other trainers and coming to each course with the intent of serving God. She explained she would come with her weaknesses, the trainers and leaders at SPES would support and walk with her through them and she would go home encouraged before coming again to learn more at the next course. “I thought I had to be one of them in the beginning. I thought I had to know their language,” Cecilia stated, recalling the many times she would take the teachings home to her children, writing them out on charts and telling them that it was in the Word of God that they would find all the strength they needed to overcome anything in life. As time passed, she realized she was training to simply stand upon the Word of God, to pray, and was called to take the Word back to the villages and families she knew.
“This is God’s Word, not a pastor’s, not a preacher’s, not a bishop’s,” Cecilia reiterated, “So when I talk with church members I don’t tell them ‘do this’, I let the Lord tell them.” Her emphasis rests solely in her love of Scripture and her belief that when the truth of the Gospel is presented, as it is at SIL, and individuals remain neutral in the Word, God will teach us many things. Having taught at the pastoral center of her church, she stands on the truth that the Lord is her teacher and that His name will ultimately be honored through her work as a trainer. “I am not the same person that I was when I came. I leave different,” Cecilia said, reflecting both dreams for the future of SPES and for her own family, church and village.
Story and photos by Youth With a Mission