Standing on God’s Truth

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

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Sepik Prayer Calendar for April – May 2019

Here is the Sepik Prayer Calendar April 2019 – May 2019.  Thank you for praying for the language communities in the Sepik.  God is continuing to work in the lives of these people.

Sepik Prayer Calendar December 2018 – January 2019

Here is the Sepik Prayer Calendar December 2018 – January 2019.  Thank you for your continued prayers for the people of Papua New Guinea.  They truly make a difference.

A Fresh Perspective

Sometimes you have looked at something so many times or heard the same story over and over and it seems all too familiar.  Oh, for eyes to see something new and a heart that is open to what God has to show you.

North Palei participants and staff

Recently Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) workshops began for a new cluster of languages in the North Palei district, near Nuku, north of the Sepik highway.  Six language groups arrived in Wewak ready to learn what OBS was all about.  Trainers had carefully picked the stories for this first course.  Their desire was to give participants stories that wouldn’t be too challenging to learn and yet would also give them a good foundation to some of God’s talk.  They also wanted to do a couple Christmas stories as this would be the first time these groups would have some of God’s Word in their language at Christmas.

Michael leads singing during devotions

One of the Christmas stories picked was the Shepherds and the Angels.  A story familiar to most, but many of the participants saw it in a whole new way.  After the story was told during devotions, the group grappled with application questions so they could interact with the story on a heart level.  This is often the time where new insights are shared and eyes are opened.

When referring to Jesus coming to the earth and being placed in a manger (something dirty and lowly), one man said: “That is just like in my life.  My life is like the manger (a place that was dirty and no good), and now Jesus has come into my life and changed me.”

Aruop participants listen intently

Another man, as he grappled with who Jesus really is, said: “I can no longer worship anyone else.  I can only worship Jesus.”

As you come into the Christmas season, where things might have become too familiar, take some time to look at things in a new way.  Read them and hear them like it is your first time and see if God won’t speak new truth into your heart as well.

Translation efforts grow

OBT participants and staff

The third Oral Bible Translation workshop took place in Wewak for Bungain, Juwal, and Urimo language participants in August.  As it was the third workshop, the participants were keen to put into practice the things they had learned in the previous workshops.  Nearly all the stories for this workshop were taken from the Old Testament.  For those participants who had already completed Oral Bible Storytelling workshops, many of these passages had already been learned in story form.  As a result, they were able to finish more stories than in previous workshops because they had already learned the foundation of these passages.

Hilkka (right) consultant checks one of the Urimo stories.

The number of passages each group has translated has grown significantly over the course of the past year.  We are thankful for all of the completed recordings and look forward to how they will be distributed in the future.  The area of distribution is still in process.  What is the best way to share the recordings in each of these language groups?  Could it be different for some of the language groups?  Could it look different for different generations of listeners?  The SPES team looks forward to growing in knowledge in the coming months as they assess the various situations and seeks to find sustainable ways to help the communities more easily access the recorded scriptures.

Gilbert (left) works with the Juwal translators

The advisors also grew in their knowledge and abilities.  All of our advisors have been trainers for storytelling workshops before, but they only began using computers when the translation workshops started last November.  Through some extra training and time “trying out” the computers, they have grown in confidence that they can help others learn to use the computers.  They continue to learn new translation principles and are excited to put them into practice with future courses.

Bungain translators and community checkers work on creating a well translated passage.

Community checkers come and listen to the translated stories to see if they are clear and natural and convey the meaning of the passage.  The checkers who have been at all three courses have grown in their understanding of their job, as well as in their ability to give useful feedback.  Giving constructive feedback is not something that comes naturally, but they learned this skill so they could better the translation work.

Patrick works diligently to back translate one of the recorded passages.

Sometimes roles within a team change.  At this workshop, we had a couple of changes that needed to take place.  We had one new back translator, whose job it is to take the translated text and translate it back into a common language so that it can be consultant checked for accuracy.  Back translating can be difficult to learn, but Patrick came and understood well the task at hand.  He was able to learn how to work the computer and do the back translation and was a big asset to his team.

We are thankful for eager learners who come expecting to learn and who want to find ways to use what they have learned in the future.  May God’s Word continue to go out as these recordings are shared in communities.

Thankful for a Team

The Juwal translators discuss some of the new material being presented.

It was with great anticipation on Monday, November 20, that the SPES team waited for participants to arrive for the first Oral Bible Translation workshop in Wewak.  There were many moments in the last several months when the team didn’t think this time would come.  After many prayers, project proposals written, emails, project proposals rewritten, and a flurry of last minute activities, the workshop is moving forward for the Bungain, Juwal, and Urimo language communities.

Teams learn about computers and the new software.

With new people joining some of the participants from earlier Oral Bible Storytelling workshops, these teams will learn some new concepts and then begin to put those ideas into practice.  Using computer software specifically developed for oral translation, these groups will listen to scripture passages and begin to take the text, paragraph by paragraph, and translate it into a natural and understandable format that their communities can understand clearly.  After it is reviewed for accuracy by other community members, it is given to a consultant who will again go through the whole passage to make sure things have been translated correctly.

We are so thankful for the team who have worked hard to make this come together.  The SPES team has written and revised the project proposal multiple times so that it meets the necessary criteria.  They have visited language groups to invite the needed personnel to come to the course.  A myriad of logistics including arranging transportation, food, accommodation, and personnel, have all gone into the process.

We have three consultant checkers who have agreed to help with this project of three workshops – one who has worked in various countries recently, but has significant experience in the Sepik in the past, another who is a current translator in the Sepik, and the third is a Papua New Guinean from another province who wants to help.  As we have not had courses that have utilized computers before, someone has agreed to come just to help make sure the computers and related equipment run well and take care of bugs issues that come up along the way.

Facilitators confer as they prepare to help the teams.

Cooks preparing food for the afternoon meal.

Most of the facilitators who will be working with the individual language groups are from the Sepik and have been working with SPES in other training capacities.  Three ladies will be sharing the duties for making sure this group is well fed.  They are excited to try out some new menus this time.

If we look further, the team grows even more.  There are those who help make sure the project is written correctly and that all guidelines are followed.  These folks are not on location in PNG.  Then there are those who make sure the money is available and get it to where it is needed.  The team of computer programmers who have written the Render software that can now be used are a vital part of making this workshop a reality.

Last, but integral to the workshop, there is a large team of people who are praying that projects like this can move forward around the world.  We thank God for each part of the team that helps to get God’s Word to the people of the Sepik.

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.