There are many thoughts to process and I’m sure we’ll be hearing all kinds of feedback from our team in the next few weeks, but here’s my first attempt at writing about a spiritual retreat we held in Wewak for our translators and their wives.
The Aitape West team labored faithfully these past years: translating Ruth, Jonah, Genesis 1-10, Luke, Acts, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon. During this time, several new members joined the work; however, a great number of the men who we met in January of 2003 are still with us today. They have become a close group: praying with each other when a ‘hevi’ (problem) comes up and encouraging each other to follow a godly road instead of doing what might come naturally in their culture (For example, it’s very common to seek revenge for things here, but we’ve seen time and time again that our friends are choosing not to repay evil for evil.) Every morning during a translation workshop, the team gathers for a time of singing and devotions.
As we have gotten to know our PNG teammates, we have “stap baksait” (stood behind them) in prayer whenever they have asked us. We have felt their pain, when they faced sickness, death of children or other family members, threats (to their homes being burned or to their very lives) have been falsely accused, have had to maintain peace within their clans due to tribal fighting over land issues, etc. Ben and I have grieved over injustices that have happened to our friends. Even though our translators face these kinds of issues frequently, (some have encountered these kinds of traumatic events this week, even!) they have chosen to remain faithful and be involved in the ministry of Bible translation. It’s within this context that Ben and I felt that a spiritual retreat for the translators and their wives would be really good.
Three years ago we began planning to hold this spiritual retreat BUT we had no space in our budget for something like this. At the time it seemed like it was a long way off and nearly impossible. Ben felt strongly that our team needed to be in a place like Wewak, away from the hardships that bombard our friends all the time.
-travel is extremely expensive
-food and accommodation are also costly
-most of the families have very small children as well as older ones (20 under the age of 3, who couldn’t be left behind)
-traveling in town would be difficult with so many people
Here’s what God did for us: the funding came through donations from one of our churches and from other teammates’ churches. Also, our project agreed to provide some funding. The center managers agreed to allow these families to come with their small children, and they made sure everyone had a bed. I was told that this was by far the biggest group they have housed here. As far as getting around town, a man who owns a large flatbed truck allowed us to hire it several times for outings to the beach and to town.
Most importantly, God provided a Papua New Guinean speaker, Pastor Ben Aringana (pictured below during a teaching session) and his wife Miriam, who went above and beyond our hopes in terms of teaching. Pastor Ben taught on topics such as: ‘Translator is a workman of God,’ ‘Parenting,’ ‘Christian Marriage,’ and other topics. To have a respected Papua New Guinean pastor and church leader and his wife teach this week spoke powerfully to our translators and their wives. For instance, if my husband Ben or our teammate Matthew had stood up and said “I have never beaten my wife,” it would not have had the same impact as it did when Pastor Ben said it, as a Papua New Guinean who intentionally acts counter culturally to things that are not Biblical. We heard from our teammates over and over that they were grateful for the teaching especially because the theological truths Pastor Ben and his wife Miriam taught made a huge impact. One translator told Ben afterwards that he wished he had been able to hear this kind of teaching when he was a newly married man and father. Some of the women told me that they didn’t really understand what their husbands did as translators before, and that they now know that they too (the mamas) are a part of the Bible translation team.
(above) Pastor Ben
If you read my post from last week, you will know that Ben and I arrived here very exhausted from the previous week’s events. I asked our small group to pray that God would fill us up to overflowing with love for our translators and their wives, where humanly this seemed impossible. God did that, and more, in our hearts. As soon as the trucks rolled in, I felt joy that I haven’t felt in months over seeing our friends again and meeting new ones (I hadn’t met some of the women before, although I have known their husbands for 13 years!). Having a chance to share meals and sit down with them this week outside of our sometimes rather stressful village existence made it possible for us to fellowship on a deeper level, perhaps more so than ever for me, at least. Ben gets to interact with the translators a lot, whereas it’s not culturally appropriate for me to do so unless he is present. Also, several couples approached us in the evenings to pray over hardships they face back home, and this felt like a rare opportunity for us to serve together.
(above) Ben and I had the unexpected blessing of sharing in the ‘gutpela kai kai’ (good food) of the teaching this week. Both of us felt encouraged and challenged in our marriage, parenting and ministry, too.
I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m swelling with thankfulness as I think back on everyone who made this week happen: Beth, Missy, Matthew and Rachel who joined in making beds, washing dishes, organizing food, giving devotionals, and helping in so many ways. Our support team and small groups back at Ukarumpa and even the pilot (who is also in our small group) who prayed for us when we landed in Wewak. Then there were the Wewak center managers who initially allowed this to happen (and for our friend Deb, who filled in for the Managers on her own).
All glory goes to God. He filled us up with wonderful spiritual food and fellowship this week. If God lays it on your heart, please be praying for the men and women of the Aitape West Translation Project, as they have received God’s Word this week. May it take hold and bear fruit in their lives, and may they be salt and light in their communities.