Spontaneous Worship

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By Rachel Greco

When mission organizations first landed in an area in Papua New Guinea, they were faced with about fifty languages. The organizations decided to find a dominant language and translate the Bible into that language as well as songbooks, materials for schools, etc. When the mission traveled to a neighboring language, they taught the people this dominant language, so that they became bilingual.

In the Rabaul area, the dominant language, or language of wider communication, was Kuanua. Wherever the church traveled in these first days, they took Kuanua with them. Now, several generations later, no one has been schooled in Kuanua, however it is still used in some churches because there are a few people from that language group still scattered throughout this part of Papua New Guinea.

The churchgoers in this area are reverent and quiet in the services. But when the Baining people are able to use their language, Ure, in the service instead of Kuanau, the difference is as huge as the ocean. “It’s electric, like someone has turned on the lights,” one of the language helpers for the Baining people said.

People will clap, kneel, raise their hands in the air, confess sins, praise God, and dance. No one came in and taught the Baining people how to do these things; it is all spontaneous, a rush of joy and delight in their God bursting out of their hearts as they’re able to worship Him in their own language.

Sometimes if an outsider is at one of these church services, they prefer to listen to the service in the language of the Baining people because of the passionate atmosphere, even though they can’t understand the words. The people’s spontaneous worship contrasts so sharply with the usual quiet, reserved behavior of the Baining people, and reveals that their love for the Lord is real.

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Jimmy’s Story

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(photo: Jimmy and his daughter)

by Rachel Greco

Jimmy’s father and brother had served on Jim and Joan’s translation team for years, but Jimmy never wanted anything to do with God. Then, the unthinkable happened.

A hunting spear that Jimmy stored in the rafters jiggled loose and fell, piercing the skull of his eight-year-old daughter. She was his firstborn, and he was worried. She did not die, but neither did the injury heal. Instead she developed a high fever, and Jimmy knew he had to do something. He asked the local church leader, Johnstead (who is also a leader of the translation team), to pray for her.

Jimmy said, “I’ll do anything for my daughter, anything at all!”

Jimmy was able to get the money together for the expensive two-day trip to the nearest hospital, where he and his daughter stayed for over two months. The girl’s wound slowly healed, but she was also diagnosed with tuberculosis and malaria.

One day a local woman came to the hospital to pray for the sick children. She said to them, “I am sure that at least seven of you will be released from the hospital tomorrow.” And sure enough, not seven, but eleven children were released—and Jimmy’s daughter was one of them.

Jimmy’s rebellion against God had shattered. Jimmy’s first Sunday back spent at church and requested to meet with the Bible translation team to thank them for their prayers. One team member after another shared their thoughts and Baruga scripture with Jimmy. Several of them spoke with shaking voices, obviously deeply moved to see the change in Jimmy. Jimmy himself looked close to tears several times.

One person said, “We church leaders saw your bad behavior for nine years, but we didn’t talk to you about it. We took all our heaviness to God. And here you are.” God has the longing and power to bring people to Him—even through the means of pain and sorrow.

Every Tribe, Language, People and Nation

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Story and photographs by Stephanie Ernandes

I received an email a couple of months ago asking me if I would photograph and video an upcoming partial Bible dedication for the Odoodee people group in Western Province, Papua New Guinea. I am a support worker here in Papua New Guinea. I live here to provide support for the work of Bible Translation throughout this country. One of the ways I do this is by writing. This was my first opportunity to offer my services of photography and videography. Very excited, I accepted.

As the time for the dedication grew closer and this being the first time I’d done anything like this, I grew more and more intimidated by the task before me. What had I gotten myself into? It was an incredible opportunity, but could I pull it off? Then I remembered that Papa God loves to work through His people! It’s through our weaknesses that He is shown strong. I prayed. A lot. Then jumped. God carried me through the rest.

When I stepped off the little ten-seater plane with translator Darrell Hays and the other attendees into this tiny village it was like stepping into a live National Geographic magazine. We were greeted by women elaborately decorated with paint, beads, and striking feathers, their grass skirts gracefully swishing in the wind as they surrounded the plane singing and dancing. Men equally as decorated in war paint danced with bows and spears, some beating drums – a deep base beat resonated. The movement of colors and sound, the smells and the heat overwhelmed my senses. I stood stunned, shakily trying to point the videorecorder and camera in every direction at once.

In the midst all of the chaotic beauty surrounding me, the most amazing part – the part I will never forget – was the moment during the dedication when I heard, out of the mouth of a Papua New Guinean man speaking over a loud speaker, the verse from Revelations 5:9 describing representatives from every tribe, language, people and nation standing before the Lord in worship. I have heard that verse many times and imagined and rejoiced at the thought. I have even shared that passage as I stood in front of churches describing the importance of Bible Translation. But to hear it out of the mouth of a Papua New Guinean man from a small tribe in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, it came alive. As I watched and listened, that prophesy was coming to fruition before my very eyes.

Much like a translator discovers the first time he or she steps into a village planning to spend the next years of their life translating the Bible into a language needing one, I experienced that God shows up. He works in and through us in spectacular ways. What I witnessed was just that, God accomplishing His purposes through us, his weak but fervent children, trying our best to follow Him.

“I have spoken and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed and I will do it.” Isa 46:11b (ESV)

Finding Nema

Story by Karen Weaver

As the helicopter touched down on the lush green mountainside, Garrett looked out at a sea of eager faces and wondered if these might be the people for him.

Having completed his pre-field training, Garret was ready to focus on a specific people group, a daunting task with more than 300 languages in PNG still waiting for God’s Word. He was grateful to receive a list of a half dozen “high priority” language groups to help him narrow his search.

Two months previous, Garrett had visited one of these high priority language groups, located in a flat, watery delta along the south coast. Now he was visiting a group living high in a mountainous region that was not accessible to the outside world by roads, airstrips, or rivers. The only way in had been by helicopter.

In this isolated area Garrett found a thriving community. On his second day there, he enjoyed watching field games and traditional dances. Two men sat with him, explaining the origins of the dances and what the costumes represented, such as birds or bats.

The next day, Saturday, he and a colleague met with the leaders of four villages who had come to participate in a fund raiser event for a local school. Their gathering afforded the perfect opportunity to discuss the need for a translation committee and what would be necessary if a linguist were to stay with them. Garrett was encouraged by the timing of their meeting and by their interest in translation. They even showed him where they could build him a house and a landing pad for the helicopter.

On Sunday, representatives of the women’s group approached him to say they would pray for him at their prayer meeting and asked for his name. They listened as he shared some of his history with them. Garrett felt his heart drawn toward these people who loved the Lord but didn’t have his Book in their language.

The helicopter was scheduled to pick them up on Monday morning. Due to heavy fog and general bad weather, it did not come that day. Or the next. Or the next. On the third day, Garrett’s friend suggested maybe God was keeping them fogged in to allow him the opportunity to share his decision to work among them.

On Thursday morning Garrett gathered the people to announce his decision and was rewarded by loud cheers of enthusiasm. Not long after, the fog lifted and the chopper landed. As he departed through an opening in the clouds, Garrett looked forward to the day he would return to begin living among the Nema people.

God Speaks Our Language

Story by Rachel Greco

A kerosene lamp flickers in the dark as men and women sit on a tin container or palm mat for an evening session of village checking. Leo and Greg have already spent weeks translating the first drafts of several passages of Scripture and then checking their resemblance to the original Scriptures. Now they’re ready for the third step of translation: checking the passages with people in nearby villages, hence the term, “village checking.”

Lote speaking men and women listen to scripture portions read aloud. They offer constructive criticism to ensure clarity and accuracy. They wrestle with the words to find just the right expression to convey the message while preserving the richness of their language. The Lote experts, humble men and women who live off the land and cook by fire, sit in the shadows, now interacting with God’s word in their own language for the first time.

For this people, Scripture is typically reserved for Sundays, read in a trade language that is not necessarily clear or easily understood. The Bible they use is not usually expected to evoke emotional responses. Thus, the people’s reactions ranged from jovial to profound as they interacted with the Scriptures written in their language at one of the checking sessions:

“This doesn’t sound like God’s Word because it seems like John the Baptist is truly angry.” But that’s the way it’s actually supposed to be, because John really was angry, which shows that true emotions come across in the vernacular that weren’t captured in the trade language.

“When we read the trade language, it’s like the words bounce off our skin, but when we hear it in our language, it cuts straight into our hearts and gets into our blood,” one person said at another session.

For one checking session, Greg spent two days traveling to a village deep in the mountains by bike and walking. Gathered around the village that night, an elderly man heard the scriptures read aloud in his language for the first time. He called the children of the village over and said, “Children come! Listen to this. Before we only had God’s talk in someone else’s words. Now God speaks our language!”

Equipped for Translation

Story by Karen Weaver

Papua New Guineans in every province of PNG are dedicated to translating God’s Word into their own heart language. In July and August, eighteen of these faithful men and women, representing six languages, spent five weeks away from their families so they could receive intense training in Bible translation.

Students learned translation principles, grammar, and the art of writing a sentence that flows smoothly and naturally, yet remains true to the original meaning. Through drama and role play they experienced the excitement of crossing the Red Sea, the hope revealed in the Passover meal, and the joy of writing songs of victory.

All six of the language groups represented already have some Scripture in their language, ranging from two books to the entire New Testament. Each of the participants translated some portions of Genesis and Exodus as part of their training. Most of them plan to continue in New Testament translation as well.

One of the participants, named Vetari, told why he was happy to attend the course. He explained, “At this time, most of our pastors are from other language groups so when they preach it is in English or in the Motu language and it is hard for us to understand. It is much better for us to translate the Word of God into our own language so our people can understand it and use it in their lives.”

Although many language groups in PNG do not have trained translators working with them, the Buhutu, Ghayavi, Kaninuwa, Misima, Saisai, Uare languages do, thanks to the dedication of these eighteen men and women.

These participants have now returned to their home provinces better equipped to carry on the task of Bible translation. They are just a few of the many Papua New Guineans who embrace the fact that God’s Word was written for them and was meant to be understood by all people in all languages, including theirs.

Hard Work for the Kou

Story by Stephanie Ernandes

Men from the Kou language group, a remote area in Papua New Guinea, had heard about other language groups near to them who had God’s word translated into their own language. These men greatly desired to have the Word of God translated into Kou – so they too could have the Bible in words familiar to them. Their community so wanted God’s word in their heart language that they gathered their money together and sent five men away from their homes, families and gardens to come to a Translators Training Course (TTC) for five weeks.

Barry Moeckel, the TTC mentor that worked with the Kou team describes this group, “Although a bit shy, they expressed their gratitude in a way that was very appropriate in their culture—they brought me bananas, several times. They didn’t say anything, but simply handed me two or three bananas, smiled broadly, and walked away.”

The Kou team worked very hard during the duration of the course. Among the many things they learned and did while attending, they translated Genesis 22:1-19 (God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaak, God’s provision of a ram and God’s promise bless all the nations of the earth Abrahams offspring) into the Kou language. How exciting it must have been to return to their community with this, the first-ever scripture written in the Kou language, in hand!

They have been given assignments to complete while they are home such as checking comprehension of the Scripture they translated with their community and translating 10 more chapters of Genesis. After completing these assignments they will, Lord willing, return for TTC2 in 2018 – the second of four training sessions designed to bring these Papua New Guineans to complete understanding of translating Scripture. These men are heros for their people group much like John Wycliffe, the man who first translated the Bible into English, is for us. What an amazing, life giving, life changing work these men are doing for their people!