Thursday, March 02, 2006

Now Lord!

"Now Lord?"
(The story of how the Lord led in the start of the work in the village of Kudukudu. This is Part I of a two part post.

When we first arrived in PNG, I had no intentions on starting a new work in my first term. My plan was language and cultural study, but, as is often the case, the Lord had other plans. Our first six months in country were very difficult and very challenging. Those challenges, I will let my wife write about in other posts. We did have a small group of Christians that helped us when we arrived in country. They were meeting in the village of Sohun. They were a huge blessing to us.

As language study progressed, I began teaching at this church in Sohun. The work was growing and we decided to build a “Sunday School House”. This “house” would be made of bush material. At this time I had been in country about 8 months, and this would my first experiance at building a bush house. While in the bush cutting down the trees for the Sunday school house, Bro James, the pastor of the work in Sohun, told me we need to get Kuni grass. He said this Kuni grass is in another village, and it is used to make the roof of the house. One week later, we traveled to this village; it was the village of Kudukudu. It was a very hot day, well over 100 degrees. I was working in an area with no shade, pulling this Kuni Grass out of the ground. This grass is very sharp, and it was cutting my hands. It seemed to me the villagers hands were immune to the razor sharp grass, but in reality they knew how to properly pull it out of the ground, where as I did not. They loved watching the white man pulling the grass out. They were surprised that a “white skin” was performing villager work. Normally, the white skins simply pay to have the manual labor accomplished. The heat was strong and I decided to take a break. A lapun (old man) came and sat down and a few others with me.

The lapun began to talk to me about the history of this village. As he did, the Lord began working on my heart. In years past, this was a cannibalistic village. When fighting with an enemy tribe, if they captured one of them they would eat him. Then the story turned even more interesting, as he told me how this was the village where the very first missionaries, who came to the island began their work. The missionaries were from the London Missionary Society, and arrived on the island in the late 1870’s. Those who came were Methodist; when they first arrived in the village, they had to leave quickly. The young men of the tribe wanted to eat the white men. This was the tribesmen’s first encounter with a white man. The missionaries fled to the Duke of York islands. The older men in the tribe convinced the younger men, that they needed to find out who these strange white people were, and that it would not be wise to eat them yet.

The missionaries made another attempt and were welcomed in. It was still dangerous, but they did introduce the gospel to the people. A few years later, a Methodist church was established. On the ground where I was sitting, they showed me the foundation pillars from the L.M.S. missionaries’ house. (In the above picture, you can see the foundational pillars from their house. In the pitcure, I am kneeling down and the men in the picture with me are from my home church. My daughter Rachel is to the side sitting on of the pillars.) At the time of the picture they were here in PNG helping me build a church building.) I was amazed. This Methodist church no longer exists in the village. At this time, the village had a United Church, SDA, and ALC. None of these preach the gospel, and all have a multitude of doctrinal errors. (This is true of almost every single village on the island.)

As I was being told the history of the village, my heart was burning for this village. The Lord was clearly working on my heart. However, for me to attempt to start a work in a village did not line up with my time table of how things were supposed to work. The Lord was working on my heart, but He forgot to check with me first. Did He not realize that my language skills were still lacking, and my cultural understanding was still poor at this time? I had only been in country for 8 months. I was thinking, “Now Lord?” The fact still remained, even though the Lord was working on my heart, I did not have an open door into the village to begin establishing a church. That however was about to change in an amazing way!

The rest of this story I will write on the next blog.


SoloZealot said...

I would never have understood what those 'pillars' in that picture would have been otherwise! The foundations are still there physically...

Rob said...

My name is Rob Wright and I am the out-of-shape guy sitting on the pillar in the picture of the “strange pillars”......(on second thought, “round” is a shape… I am in some kind of shape).

My two weeks spent on the island of New Ireland with Brother and Mrs. McGovern and their four outstanding children will forever be etched in my mind as one of the most special, and privileged times in my life. I would love nothing more than to go back for another visit and get to meet their newest family addition, Levi. I desperately want bragging rights to having been the first person in our church here in Alaska to get to hold that little guy in my arms! (lol)

After our arrival in the McGovern’s home village of Namatanai, we rested the first night, went site-seeing the next day, church the next, and then the work started. I truly thought I would lose weight in the extreme heat. Not even close! Mrs. McGovern performed absolute miracles ensuring we were well fed and comfortable the entire time we were there. Although I was always in a sweat when we were eating, and I knew I would be miserably full when I finished, I was willing to accept these dreadful consequences because of her excellent cooking! She is a hero in her own right.

Unless you are 44 years old, 40 pounds over weight, live in a place (Alaska) that frequently gets below zero for stretches at a time, had just left -40 degree in Fairbanks, Alaska and found yourself sitting in +130 degree temperatures within a one-week time frame, you don’t know what really being miserable is! Don’t forget 100% humidity. It’s a beautiful thing, to be sure! Simply breathing enough oxygen to stay conscience was enough to email home about.

I always looked at photos of New Guinea and was amazed at how lush and tropical it was. And it is that. However, after my visit I now look at those same pictures and start to sweat and break out in a heat rash just thinking about it ! But, I wouldn’t hesitate to jump on the next plane going there! What an amazing, life-changing experience it was!

Our first experience of going to a village was to show two Christian films. This village was literally against the sea shore on a sandy strip of coastline with various trees including tall coconut trees. Come to think of it, that pretty much describes 95% of the villages on New Ireland.

We arrived a little before sunset and there didn’t seem to be too many people in that particular location. We went ahead and set up the generator, the make-shift screen, and video equipment while the crowd of mostly naked children staring at us in shy amazement continued to grow. It wasn’t too long before straggling groups of people began to filter into the village from every direction. They seemed to just appear from the edges of the jungle. The number in attendance began to swell considerably. Anywhere else, and the crowd noise would have been deafening. Not here. Intense, studious curiosity was written on every face.

Soon we stopped trying to count as the quiet crowd continued to grow into the hundreds. As darkness fell, our flashlights would sweep across the flat plain of the main village. I was awestruck to discover there were easily well over 600 people sprawled out over the landscape! Almost every one of them was carrying a machete and I suspected they each knew how to use one efficiently. Let me tell you, this wasn’t Hollywood! This was Papua New Guinea and there are no 911 operators to call and ask for police assistance. I found myself sizing up Brother McGovern and soon realized he was so much smaller than me, that he would serve no use as a stalling tactic in the event someone reverted to their ancestral roots and got a hankering for white meat. He could only serve as an appetizer at best, but I would surely be the main course!

Even though we experienced technical difficulties several times with the equipment, the films worked and the crowd was patient. No one got a hankering for white meat and Brother McGovern then preached in their native tongue (at least that’s what he told us he was doing) and it appeared well received.

The natives are an amazing people themselves. At first glance, you see only the unnerving, fierce-faced image you have seen so many times in National Geographic magazine. But, smile at them, and IT CHANGES EVERYTHING! Their entire countenance undergoes such an instantaneous change; it is hard to recognize the person you were just picturing as an “extra” on the set of a cannibal movie production. They are a hospitable people eking out a very meager existence from the land and sea. I was very honored to be in their presence.

But, my heart was broken at once for this seemingly forgotten people from one the furthest points on the earth from civilization. They are no different than any other people with respect to loving and raising their families, suffering hardship peculiar to their society, but especially with regard to having a soul in desperate need of Salvation.

To pray for a missionary whom you have a prayer card from is one thing. To pray for a missionary with whom you have witnessed the challenges of his foreign field of service first-hand is another thing altogether.

I have seen the particular challenges presented in PNG. I have experienced the particular fatigue of the work. I have witnessed the particular fruits of strenuous spiritual labor. And I have winced with a broken heart for the burden represented by the suffering and lost souls of this particular place.

Praying for missionaries is different for me now. The attention I give to missionaries visiting our church is different now. The questions that come to my mind to ask about their particular ministry are increased in number and a desire to truly get a good glimpse of their vision for serving there.

As I got on the plane to leave PNG, it struck me that a part of my heart had been ripped out by this place. And that part of my heart is still there today. Perhaps one day I can return to revisit it.

Terry McGovern said...

Great comments Rob! I am going to put your comments on the front page as another post.