Merry Christmas

This week the Bible teachers in Mibu are taking their first try at writing their own Bible lessons. Yesterday, ten guys sat around in the office with me thinking, writing, and joking as they began to put their thoughts onto paper. I reviewed with them some of the basics of Bible lessons writing, just as I had learned them. Speak naturally, write out word for word what you want to say, check the material with someone else, etc. These lessons will be taught at their Christmas service. The material is very familiar, but having to use their own notes will help to develop their lesson writing skills even further. Our job isn’t over yet here in Mibu, but with each new skill that they develop and master, I see the need for me becoming less and less.

I was blessed reading the following excerpt from one of the lessons they wrote about Jesus coming to earth.

“Why couldn’t people understand the essence of God’s being? Because He is an invisible spirit being. Therefore, so that people would understand who God is, He took on the attribute of having a body and was born.”

I don’t usually picture theologians in tattered clothes and dingy baseball caps, dirt from garden work or blisters from pig-fence mending still on their hands… and maybe you don’t, either. Then again, no one expected the King of Kings to arrive as an infant, did they? 🙂

May God continue to delight us all with His creative genius. Merry Christmas from Mibu, Madang, Papua New Guinea.

3 Groups

A bunch of us crowded into Keteng’s hut to hear the outreach team talk about progress of the outreach so far in Yongem. Looking around the room, I watched people absolutely riveted on Devit, Yooyooro, Lookas, and Jems as they recounted this last week’s events. For 2 hours they shared how things are unfolding as God’s word is being taught in Yongem. Excitement and gratification were written all over the faces of the people listening as the outreach team reported specific individual’s responses. They leaned forward at the mention of each name as they learned how their relatives are responding to God’s truth.

The team reported that people are falling into 3 groups – the allegorizers, the easy life seekers, and the those that are understanding the heart of the message. I found it fascinating how different Mibu people could identify with each of the three different groups, having been there themselves just a couple of years ago. In response to people’s hang-ups and objections, they kept saying things like, “The Bible lessons will address that in a later lesson, they will understand.” It was so cool to see how they could relate.

So far, the teaching has gone up to the Cain and Abel story. As the Mibu Bible teachers teach, they communicate these accounts as being actual historical facts. But the first group, the allegorizers, try to find some hidden meaning in what is being said, rather than accepting it at face value. For example, because of the fertility cult mentality here, the story of Cain and Abel was interpreted as an allegory of the process of giving birth. Cain represented the child, and Abel the afterbirth. Cain killing Abel was akin to the cutting of the umbilical cord. Please pray for the people that are allegorizing in this way. They completely miss the point of the lesson as they try to find an applications for having more children, better producing gardens, and more success in hunting. Pray that they would learn to accept it for what it says. We have watched many Mibu people come out of this system of thinking, and are confident that it can be done.

The second group is the easy life seekers. These people are following along in the teaching and accepting the truth of the Scriptures. However, the biggest hang-up for them is that their expectations are much more temporal. They are hoping that by attending and understanding the Bible teaching, somehow it will cause them to have an “easy life” like they see in town, complete with electricity, no garden work, money for groceries at a store and time to sit around and do nothing.  Having come out of this type of dreaming, many Mibu people are very optimistic about their relatives in Yongem eventually understanding the heart of the message, coming into a right relationship with God. Please keep praying for this group that they would be convicted of their sinfulness and learn how to get right with God, not so that they can derive a temporal benefit, but an eternal one.

Lastly, there is also group of people who are accepting the teaching at face value. They are concerned with their sinfulness in the sight of their creator, and are looking to hear about the provision that He has made for them. A very old man named Daidai said, “This is the very first time I’ve heard this.” Another man, Joel, said that he has never heard the Bible stories in this light before. According to the teachers, their questions indicate that they are following along and really understanding.  How exciting!

As the lessons progress, there will be many opportunities for the teachers to address the hang-ups that people are facing. Please pray that those who are hanging on to their non-biblical world view would be able to see through it and understand God’s point of view. Also, please pray for me and my family as we head over to Yongem tomorrow to spend a few days with the outreach team there.

T Minus 23 Hours, 21 Minutes

So I could take the day off for Brooke’s birthday last Tuesday, I pushed our regular Tuesday Teachers meeting back to Monday. We had a great time sitting around discussing the final plans for the outreach that will be starting tomorrow in the Mina village of Yongem. Some of the guys going on the outreach asked me if I had any last minute advice for them. I was about to say something profound like, “Just be sure to follow the lesson plan,” but before I could open my trap, several of the other teachers started an on-target barrage of encouragement. Among other insightful comments, I heard:

“You guys have been training for many months, now do the work that you’ve been training to do.”

“You guys aren’t young children that you need us to lay down the rules, the Holy Spirit will guide you.”

And this as I just sit back and listen with a silly grin on my face.  It is awesome to see how the church has been gearing up for this. Even though only a team of 7 men will be doing the actual teaching, the church has been a tremendous support and encouragement. Last Friday, after the teaching, we had a send off for the guys. Then on Saturday, the 7, along with some others from the Mibu church, made the hike down to Yongem. We’ll be down there all day Sunday, and then the teaching will start on Monday morning. Please pray that Word of God impacts them so that the people of Yongem never forget the day that God’s word made entrance into their hearts and lives.

The Mina Translation

Shortly after a church was born in Mibu 18 months ago, the young believers were impressed with the need to share the awesome truths they had just learned. One man named Bapeke had walked the 3-4 hour hike from his village every other week for the entire six months to hear the Bible lessons. God’s Word made a deep impression on him, and changed his life. When the Mibu believers began discussing how to reach out to others with the gospel, Bapeke knew he wanted to be involved with taking the message back to his own village. He thought about the people in his village, especially the ladies and children there who would have a harder time understanding the subtle differences between their dialect and the Mibu dialect. The Mibu Church felt that the Bible lessons must be changed over into the Mina dialect so that no morsel of truth would be lost or confused. Shortly after, Bapeke, Tomas, Samooel, and Justin were at my door ready to talk logistics. I printed them out a copy of the first several Bible lessons, and got them set up with pens and paper. I have come to really look forward to the days that they show up with pages and pages and pages of work in hand. With hearts fully invested in this work, their zealousness and faithfulness is such a joy!

These two dialects are so similar to each other (You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to) that the process is not as nearly as intense as translating from English to Mibu. Some of the changes are minor. For example, the word “meaning” in Mibu is “yupe”, but in Mina they say “yupul”. Once Bapeke makes a change in one lesson, we can use the computer to make the changes for that specific word in all the other instances in which it occurs. Other changes in the lessons have to reflect the slightly different patterns in culture that exist between the Mibu and Mina speaking villages.

After making all the changes, we read the lessons to several other Mina speakers to make sure that it is communicating the same life giving message. Then we asked for help from an experienced missionary friend who works with a different tribe in PNG to come in and help verify that our lessons would indeed communicate in the Mina dialect.

How does that work, having a missionary from a different tribe come in who doesn’t speak Mibu or Mina? Here’s how: Bapeke invited his friend from the Mina area, Apeke, who hasn’t heard the lessons yet. Then Bapeke read to him in Mina from the book of Jonah, which is one of the stories we use in our Bible lessons. Apeke had to tell the story back to our missionary friend Linda, (see picture) using the common trade language, Melanesian Pidgin. By listening to Apeke’s version of the story, we could compare all the details that he remembered. What elation! The Mina translation was communicating at a deep level to Apeke! And in any places where details were lost or misunderstood, Linda was able to give us pointers in how to work with Bapeke to make it even more clear.

Having been assured that the methods we were using to translate from Ma into Mina were working well, we put the finishing touches on the rest of the lessons. Just yesterday, the last of the evangelism lessons was completed, and will be sent to the printer as soon as the helicopter comes in next, two weeks from yesterday. These lessons will be used to further the Gospel to the 850 Mina people in 11 small villages! God’s Word is alive!

So, when to begin teaching? That is the question I’ve asked the men who have been training and preparing to do the teaching in Yongem, the first of the Mina villages. Please pray for God to give wisdom to the Mibu people as they are working with the teachers and village leaders in Yongem to handle the details of when to begin. There is a good healthy mix of urgency to get the message out tempered with a desire to see maturity in the believers who will teach.

Its been fun to hear some of the questions that the Yongem people have been asking the guys who are preparing to teach. It reminds me of when we first moved to Mibu, and the Mibu people asked us these very same types of questions. “What do you think about our beliefs?” “Is our thinking correct?” “Will we have to change our ways?” In response to these questions, can you guess what the Mibu teachers have been replying? They are refusing to rush it! They are giving the very same answers we gave to them! “Excellent questions, when we get to the teaching, God’s Word will answer those very questions that you are asking.” Praise God that His Spirit is using every day people to create a hunger for His word.

Lesson Themes

The Mibu church has been busy with preparations for her next outreach. Just what goes into getting a group ready to teach? One of the biggest things is simply familiarizing them with the material to be taught, this time from a teacher’s viewpoint instead of the hearer’s. Also important is giving them an understanding of the philosophy behind our teaching. It’s common knowledge that we teach from Genesis 1:1, painting a picture of God through his actions in the Old Testament. But as we teach, there are specific themes that we bring out about the nature of God, Satan, and man. For instance, as we teach creation, we don’t just teach, “On the first day, God created this, on the second day… etc.” We emphasize that in creating everything, God was showing us that He is God. We magnify His awesome attributes, such as His knowledge, and His power, and His love for man.

It is during this time of preparation that the Mibu evangelists are developing their abilities to read a point in a lesson, determine the main themes, and teach accordingly. We work on helping them see beyond just reading the lesson out loud to their audience, but using the lesson as a guide and teaching what they know. Keeping to a theme is a major key here. Rather than simply pointing out what the themes are in each lesson, we have them study the lesson and write down the theme. Then we go over their conclusions. One thing we found after this had been going for a couple weeks was that even though the lesson themes are concise, they are still fairly lengthy to write out. So we had them come up with pictures to represent lesson themes. I loved seeing what the guys came up with!! Here’s a smattering of some of my favorites:

To represent God’s being present everywhere, they draw this picture.

“BV” is an abbreviation for their term for God, “Bamnyu Vangun.”

As the evangelists prepare to teach, they draw this picture next to any point that has to do with God’s attribute of being present everywhere. Then, as they are teaching, at a glance they can easily and quickly refresh their memories as to the main point they are working to get across.

Here’s their simple picture for when they are teaching that God is holy, and by nature his character does not allow him to associate with sinful man.

I like their picture for God’s faithfulness. He does what he will say he will do. When we taught in Mibu, this attribute was paramount, as they place a high value on a person who follows through with what they say they are going to do. This is a timeline. Exactly what God says will happen, it happens just like that at a later point on the timeline.

The picture they chose to represent the need for trusting in God’s very sure promises to save us from our sins looks like this: It’s a man crossing a river on a log bridge. Here, where this is a common event, the picture speaks volumes!

These are only a few of the pictures the teachers use to trigger their memories. As they prepare, they come to a conclusion for themselves which theme or themes are being taught. Then they check their conclusions with the the more experienced teachers who have been given a list of all the lessons and their respective themes. This seems to really help the guys “own” the lessons they teach.

Please be in prayer for us as a church, as there is still much prep work to be done before we are ready to move on with confidence. I feel so much joy working with these men whom we had a part in leading to the Lord, and teaching them how to lead others! Many are now involved in the training process themselves, and I simply act as their cheerleader. It truly is a delight getting up in the morning and doing this as my “job”! (Positions available, inquire by email! 🙂

For His Glory!

Out of Our Hands

A small group of ladies and children sat on the hill up from our house talking about Mata.  I had been friends with Mata, but hadn’t seen her much since she married into another village a few years back.  The news had come from that direction that she was very sick, and not two hours later another messenger brought the news that she was gone.  The news hit hard for us, knowing that she had moved away before the Bible teaching had happened here.  She had not been able to come, living with her new family in a village several days hike away that speaks a different language.  Times like these feel so crushing….

I sat on the hill and chatted with the ladies, talking about Mata’s little son, and who would take him now.  I lamented that Mata had been gone for the Evangelism lessons.  Mata’s Aunt Eson peered into my sad face with her steady dark eyes.  “But she did hear,” she told me.  “Last time she visited, she was staying with her parents.  I told her God’s story.  Her brother, Mark, also spent time telling her what God’s Words says, just how like we learned in the Bible lessons.  We told her, and she believed.  She is with God now.  I miss her, but we will see her again.”   How wonderful to hear that the Gospel goes forth, not just trained teachers outreaching to entire communities, but individual believers passing on what they have learned as they see need and have opportunity.  Eson and Mark and so many other believers here know the truth, and reached out with it to Mata.

Our tears have turned to joy.
Thank you everyone who is praying for the believers here; rejoice with us!

For His Glory!

A Changed Viewpoint

I sat down in Benny’s hut and waited for my eyes to adjust to the dim interior.  He was just recovering from a serious bout of pneumonia, and I was thrilled to see that he finally looked like he was on the mend.  Even though his breathing was still somewhat labored, his eyes shone and twinkled.

Benny began to reminisce about his old beliefs, which he has discarded for a biblical worldview.  He talked about how, before, everyone he knew believed that all sickness and death was caused by sorcery.  (Germs are a new concept here.)  He believed that anyone who was mad at him could capture part of his spirit and work sorcery on it.  They would use a piece of his leftover food, or fingernail clippings, or even simply catch his reflection in the blade of a knife.  He believed that people could steal his spirit, then work sorcery on his captured spirit and cause him to get sick and die.

He went on to say that in the Bible teaching he learned that man has only one spirit and that at the instant it separates from the body, the body dies.  So it is impossible for anyone to steal his spirit.  He mentioned that even after trusting Christ he still was confused on this issue and would pray to Jesus for protection from the sorcery.  He said that he sees this kind of prayer, even though it was to Jesus, was a form of worshipping Satan.

He explained, “God and God alone holds life and death in his hand, and Satan tricked us people into believing false things about the nature of our spirits.  Satan’s first sin was to try to take God’s place, and his ways have not changed.  He still distorts things so that we will fear him and not God.”  Benny’s grasp on these truths made my heart sing.  What a testimony to the power of the word of God!  He can change centuries upon centuries of false beliefs!

What a blessing to see God’s word in action, and the transformation that is slowly taking place in the hearts and minds of the Mibu people.  God’s word really is making a difference in the way they live their lives!!!

For His Glory in Mibu!

Benny

I poked my head in at Benny’s hut the other day and found him home and wanting to chat.  We weren’t talking long when he told me that he wants to be baptized.  Many of the Mibus were baptized awhile back, but Benny is the Mibus’ representative to the government and so is often away, like when the first wave of baptisms happened here.  When I asked Benny if he would share with me why he wanted to be baptized, I was truly blessed to hear this testimony from him.

Benny told me how he used to wonder about how he would get to heaven.  He said, “I knew I was sinful, and I often went against what I knew to be right.  I tried to earn favor with God by giving money and even by sacrificing pigs.  I learned that Jesus died for us and rose again, and in His doing that, God forgives us.  I still sin, but in spite of that, God looks at me as righteous because He does not look at me or my sins, but He looks at Jesus and calls me righteous for what He sees in Jesus.  I want to do what is commanded and be baptized.  That’s all.”  I didn’t even try to keep the grin off my face.  What a joy to call Benny a brother.

Thank you for your prayers.  God hears!

For His Glory!

Sivi

The first time I met Sivi, he was only visiting home here on a school break.  He was curious and excited about the new colorless people who had moved in and who sounded like little toddlers that could only spit out phrases like “good morning” and “it’s hot” and “get out, doggy!”  Sivi wanted to know firsthand why we were here and what our plans were, and how many of the circulating rumors were true.  I’ll never forget that first conversation, knowing he was headed back to town and to school.  I remember telling him in the trade language, “Just be sure, Sivi, be sure you come back when we are ready to give this important talk from God, when we can speak your language and explain well what His message is for you.”  I don’t know if he remembered that conversation like I did, but Sivi came back, and he stayed for it all.

Sivi went to be with the Lord on Wednesday, April 18, 2007.  Thank you so much for your prayers for him, and for those who already miss him acutely.  He was too sick to speak a word the last week he was here in Mibu, but the conversations we have had together this last year leave me and his family resting in the comfort of his love for his God, and his presence with Him now.  I picture him, healed and strong, his lazy eye straight and gleaming, maybe reflecting the glow of those golden streets.  I wish we could ask him what it’s like there, and it if all was worth it… but I guess we already know that.

Meanwhile, our lives continue here.  Brooke continues with homeschool and the latest project, together with our co-worker Shannon, of putting together a reading-practice Mibu story booklet.  Shiloh reminds us daily that her 11th birthday is approaching soon (July 3:), Marietta is constantly on the lookout for something else to paint on, and Solomon turns sticks into swords and boxes into castles.  We are grateful to you, our friends and family, for sharing in this journey with us.

For His Glory!

Ups and Downs in Mibuland

We just arrived back in Mibu after going out for our yearly school testing.  The kids did well, which gives us the courage to keep plugging away at home schooling, even if we’re only parents, not teachers!  🙂  It does seem like we’ve been gone more than home lately.  Our whole family spent two weeks over on the island of New Britain attending a translation workshop.  We learned a lot, and really enjoyed getting to know some of the missionaries who work in the islands off the coast of Papua New Guinea.  Our kids loved the time spent with the other missionary kids there (they love ANY time spent with other MK’s!!)

The day we returned from testing, the Mibus were able to use a helicopter supply shuttle to also fly in Sivi, who has been very sick and was in the little clinic on the coast in Saidor.  He is dying from meningitis (a severe complication from malaria) and his family wanted him home to finish looking after him and bury him  here.  It has been hard for all of us to see him like this; but the Mibu church is rallying around him and praying with him and his family.

We had a communion service on the Thursday before Easter, that was led completely by the Mibu leaders.  It is so refreshing to see them so thankful for the eternal life they have been promised.  We worshipped together while Keteng led us through the story of the last supper.  After the communion service, worship continued through the evening and went all the way until the next morning!

We have been so encouraged with the evidence of God working in their lives.  He is working in our lives, too, and teaching us so much.  Thank you for your love and prayers for all of us!