Most people in Papua New Guinea know that we live in “The Land of Unexpected.” Sometimes it feels like an adventure. Sometimes it’s tough to swallow.
I’ve learned that although I appreciate knowing what is happening (and I really like my lists), if I lower my expectations and let go of My Plans when necessary, the frustration levels decrease. I still experience distress at times, particularly when a big change happens the night before (like last month when Jacob had a double ear infection and we weren’t able to leave for another planned vacation). All this to say, I’m learning that Good can come out of Hard Things if I allow myself to go through the process of grieving and transitioning.
In January we all had an opportunity to hold onto our plans loosely. We planned for our teammate Beth and I to go on a Walkabout: to do reading fluency workshops in seven villages (at the request of church leaders) and to introduce the idea of listening groups using solar powered audio listening devices, (AudiBibles: pictured below charging in the sun) containing the recorded book of Luke.
It turns out that Beth became severely ill, struggling to breathe and talk. At the same time, Ben and I caught a respiratory virus over Christmas. We had planned as a family to go to Madang for a much needed holiday, but sickness consumed us and we decided to cancel that trip. When it appeared that all three of us still struggled with illness well into January, we decided that a Walkabout would be physically impossible for us. Ben arranged for our intern Luke to go on a SALT (Scripture Application and Leadership Training) course while we all stayed in Ukarumpa to recover.
We called Emil, the Papua New Guinean leader of the project, telling him that we would have to cancel the Walkabout because we were sick. He quickly reassured Ben, saying, “that’s ok, we’ll hold a translation workshop for 1 and 2 Timothy ourselves. You stay there and get better.” Ben assisted the translators remotely from Ukarumpa with their translation questions and computer problems via Skype while our teammates Luke and Laura were on the ground trouble shooting computer and generator issues.
When I asked the translators how the workshop went, Clement said,
We didn’t worry about you being far from us. We could maintain it and keep going without you there. If you aren’t here, the work won’t fall down. We just thought about the work and kept going. If one of us has a problem in our lives, where someone is sick or dies in our family, we are a team, we can keep working.
Another coworker, Jonathan, a man of few words, but wearing a huge smile spoke up,
we’re in the group and we work as a team.
Most Melanesians value teamwork and good relationships, so my heart jumped when this translator said this.
On another note, the fact that we can have Skype communication and cell phone reception all over the Aitape West make working remotely much easier. Onnele translator Dominic explained,
this Skype we have, it makes our work easy. If we didn’t have it, our work would be hard.”
We knew that this technology has made relating to our Papua New Guinean colleagues even better.
It keeps us connected, and available to each other, which is really important for maintaining relationships in the culture we live in.
To Ben and I, it appears that Skype chatting also allows our colleagues to speak freely about difficult and deep issues—we suspect this is because it’s not face to face, but fits in the indirect way of communicating, something we’ve come to recognize as a cultural trait here. Nearly every day, when we are away, we receive some word from the translators asking for help on technical problems or asking us to pray about personal problems they face.
I’m thankful that this work isn’t just dependent on us being around for it to happen. God has placed these gifted men, leaders in their communities, here on the Aitape West Translation Team for the purpose of taking the Scriptures to their people.
They can keep going, even if we aren’t physically present.
In fact, it’s sometimes a good thing when we can’t be here, because they have more opportunities to take initiative on their own, practice leadership and continue working together as a team.