Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A New Year - A New Beginning

January 20, 2010 marked the two-month anniversary of our life in Papua New Guinea. It seems a fitting time to stop and reflect on this new beginning----for us and now for ELC-PNG. The newly elected leaders will be installed on March 7. A document, Vision 2020, was adopted at the Synod Assembly and now the real work of implementing the goals and synod resolutions begins. So, too, a new stage of our work begins, even though we will still be in orientation for some months to come. We don't know exactly what that work looks like but we feel we have a firm foundation. We have been received with open arms. We are the beneficiaries of the many missionaries that have come before us--pastors, teachers, and health workers---and we are called to work with the church of Papua New Guinea to continue to "build the church and strengthen the faith", a theme that we hear at Chapel every week. While there are likely to be some challenging times, we have faith that people will enter our lives, touch us in ways we never expected, and we will all grow together. That has been the lesson of our first two months. Thanks be to God! Or "Mi tupela tok bikpela tenkyu.." - "We give great thanks..."!

Election of a New Bishop

A murmur came from the crowd around 5:00 when the voting had finished. Then there was the announcement that the counting would begin. Finally, at 6:30pm on January 14, 2010, the new leadership of ELC-PNG was announced. Rev. Giegere Wenge was elected Head Bishop and Rev. Zau Rappa was re-elected as Assistant Bishop. Albert Tokave was elected General Secretary, defeating Isaac Teo, the incumbent General Secretary. The crowd soon dissipated as the sun set, and you could hear drums and singing into the night as people celebrated the occasion. If there was surprise, or joy, or disappointment, it is hard to tell. Some people discreetly offered their opinions but, for the most part, there was an acceptance that the delegates had been led by the spirit and now was the time to unite and move forward.
We stood watching the process for awhile but soon realized that the process would go on for the entire afternoon. I will always remember the quiet patience of the people, broken only by alternating musical groups, playing old-time familiar church music. To our back and to the right was a band. I soon recognized hymn I had heard frequently in my childhood in SW Wisconsin, Just a Closer Walk With Thee. It seemed to fit the scene, now years later and half-way around the world. How can one not believe that God is walking with us........walking together......faithful acts of love? As the band finished its song, then the other musical group would begin. Under the yellow tent was a choir of young boys and men, a truly unique choir. Soon I would hear Beautiful Savior played on conch sea shells, unique to the Salamaua coastal area where we had spent Christmas. The choir is unique to Papua New Guinea and would be the pride of any church music director in the U.S.

The election process was reviewed in great detail. On Thursday afternoon, only the official voting delegates were allowed in the Assembly Hall, seated by district. The voting procedure was reviewed; the three colored ballots, one for each office, were held up for all to see; the ballot boxes were held up to ensure they were empty before they were locked. Then each district's delegates were called to the stage, in alphabetical order, to cast their vote. Outside, masses of people stood in the heat or sat under umbrellas, calmly witnessing the process.

For the past two years, ELC-PNG has been led by Acting Bishop Rev. Zau Rappa (second from left). He assumed this duty following the sudden and unexpected death of the much beloved Bishop Wesley Kigasung. The memory and legacy of Bishop Kigasung was present in many ways during the 27th Synod Assembly. While there was much important business to be conducted, the election on Thursday, the fourth day of the synod assembly, was much anticipated. The ballot included four candidates for Head Bishop, three candidates for Assistant Bishop, and two candidates for General Secretary. (Note the chairs and table on the stage).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Walking Together.......

There was major business to be conducted---changes to the Constitution that put in place leadership directives and accountability, the HIV/AIDS policy, a policy statement on Domestic Violence to Women and Children, the Election of the National Bishop to a four-year term, and new directives for financial management. The delegates took their responsibilities seriously and many people watched, very orderly, very interested, and very faithfully coming each day. Our friends, James and Manoa, came as observers and they wanted to meet Don and Laura Just from North Carolina since Manoa had attended the North Carolina Synod Assembly in June, 2009.

"Walking Together with Faithful Believers in Acts of Love" This theme guided the Bible Study and business activities of the 27th Synod Assembly as delegates and observers gathered for five days from January 11-15. Each day began with Bible Study and singing. "You are my brother; you are my sister; we are all God's family". This was a much-repeated refrain throughout the week. As we sang the words, we turned and pointed at one another, faces lit with delight as we all felt the connection we have as God's family. The Assembly Hall was filled to its capacity of 800 people daily and many people stood outside or sat on the ground as they participated. Delegates were seated with their districts. The meeting was conducted by Acting Bishop Zau Rappa and two elected co-presiders to share the duties. International guests included representatives of missionary partners from Germany (Bavaria, Leipzig, and North Albion), Lutheran Church of Australia, and ELCA in the United States. Several members of Parliament or Governors of Provinces joined us throughout the week.

ELC-PNG 27th Synod Assembly - Opening Worship

One of the most delightful aspects of the Opening Worship was the dance and tambourine routines of the Sunday School children and Youth. Dressed in vibrant colors, all wearing their meri blouse or mission dresses, the young girls, starting at age 6 or 7 and as old as early 20s, set the tone for a vibrant, joyous, and praise-filled worship experience. The Youth program is very strong in PNG and it was exciting to see them at this national ceremony.

As we entered the stadium and eventually took our seats, we began to see the masses of people who had come to attend this Opening Worship. The procession into the stadium was more like the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics than a church processional. People carried their placard with pride. Many were dressed in colors of their district. There was a sea of umbrellas and glowing faces as people arrived. After all of the delegates were seated, Prime Minister Michael Somare was ushered into the stadium, having come from Port Moresby to attend the opening. Reasonable estimates of the gathering would be 20,000, the vast majority of whom remained the six hours of the ceremony in tropical heat. It is rather mysterious to imagine this many people coming to the beginning of the Synod Assembly, knowing that important business was about to be conducted and bringing their prayers and presence.

Sunday, January 10, 2010 began with a bright blue sky and warmed up quickly. Don and Laura Just, official representatives of the ElCA arrived from North Carolina, companion synod to the Yabem District, on Saturday night and rose to take their place in the procession to the Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium where the Opening Worship took place. We gathered a throng of people, each of the 17 districts organized under placards identifying their delegation, and many dignataries. We were led down a mile-long hill by indigenous groups, four different groups with song and dress unique to their circuits and traditions.

The Yabem District, located in Lae, has been making preparations to host the 27th Synod Assembly of the national church for months. The logistics have been phenomenal as a huge assembly hall was built of bush material on the campus of Martin Luther Seminary, host to the church delegates and many observers. Food has been gathered throughout the Yabem District and we saw people bringing yams, sweet potatoes, green bananas and live pigs to the shore when we were in Baukop. There were 350 official voting delegates from the 17 districts but thousands of observers came to Lae. Housing was arranged in five different locations and kitchens were set up to feed the people. It was no small sacrifice for people to come to Lae---by boat, by truck, by bus. Many times the truckloads of people would come to Ampo to announce their presence with drums and singing. Palm fronds and flowers would decorate the trucks and people would frequently stop, get out of the trucks, and perform a sing-sing, the dance and song of their province or village.

Reflections at Year End

We submitted our applications to ELCA Global Mission in early January, 2009 and thus began a process of discernment, prayer, discussion, the interviews and decisions, orientation, and finally, travel half-way around the world to a new home, a different culture, a strange but beautiful country, and loving people ready to receive us. We ended the year of 2009 celebrating New Year's Eve with a communal meal with our newly adopted family that included Lynn, James and Manoa and their children, Hans, and an un-named friend of James and Manoa who just happened to be around for the meal and we pulled up a chair. For our New Year's Eve meal, Manoa bought two chickens and we contributed $K10 (about US$7.50) for fresh fish to be caught by the night fishermen. We decided that we would all gather together around the same table to give thanks for our many blessings. We women cooked all afternoon---sweet potatoes, pit-pit, taro, fish smoked over an open fire, chicken, greens, pineapple, eggplant, rice. In the course of the evening, I found myself thinking about our well-known hymn I The Lord of Sea and Sky, focusing on the last line of the refrain "I will hold your people in my heart". What does it truly mean to "hold God's people in your heart"? It is good to stop and reflect, I believe, on God's call to each of us to hold one another in our hearts. Manoa, James, Gejmsao, Elizabet, Inok, Imanuel, Angua, Lynn, the nameless friend, Pastor Steven---all have made a claim on my heart that is irreversible. The generosity with which we were greeted and the welcoming presence is truly a gift of God. We have been supported by so many people throughout the year, so we know we, too, are held in many hearts. May we give praise and raise grateful hearts as we go into 2010.

New Year's Day Worship

We find that "PNG time" is something that we need to get used to. We were told that the service began at 8:30 so we should show up around 9:00am. We left our lodging at Baukop at 9:30, still needing to walk along a beach and cliff path to get to Asini. When we arrived around 10:00am, only the pastor and one elder were present. We sat on a bench on the side of the church, began singing songs, and about an hour later, people began to come to worship. We began the service around 11:00am but who wears a watch anyway? I took mine off on my third day in PNG and have yet to put it on again! This phenomenon has been true at every worship service and continues to amaze us. What is especially precious is that the people seem to have devoted the whole day to worship and rest, the concept of sabbath that sometimes gets lost in our busy lives, so there is no hurry, no complaining, no visible frustration. When people arrive, the service begins and the worship has always been vibrant and alive. We have much to learn about the natural flow life that is the pace of village life, very congruent with the culture, the climate, and the lifestyle.

We worshipped at the congregation in the village of Asini on Christmas Day and met Pastor Steven, a first call pastor serving three small congregations. He had finished his Seminary training in Finchaufen and had come to Asini in September, 2009. He hiked up the mountain with us to visit the Malalo Mission Station and promptly asked Rod if he would preach at Asini on New Year's Day. Rod had been told by Papuans and missionaries alike that he should always be prepared to receive such an invitation and so he agreed to preach. As part of his sermon prep, we had a Bible Study on the text, the naming of Jesus, with Manoa, James, Lynn, and the family. "Wanem nem bilong yu?" is generally the first question asked: "what is your name?"; and we learned very early the cordial response: "Nem bilong mi em Nancy (or Rod)". This is how the relationships begin, not unlike in the United States or anywhere around the world. It was particularly meaningful to talk about the power of "names" with our Papuan friends,however, in our impromptu Bible Study. We are learning that everyone has an ancestral name but many times adopt a biblical name or a more western-sounding name.

Rod scripted out a beginning and ending in Pidgin but opted to deliver his sermon in English with Pastor Steven doing simultaneous translation. It seemed to be the most respectful and authentic way to approach this invitation at this time as we are still learning Pidgin, and Rod's promise to return again and preach in Pidgin is likely to be accepted by this faithful congregation.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

James and His Craft

It is no small task to transport this furniture from Buakop to Lae. Small motor boats leave and arrive once a day and that is the only transportation. James worked under a tight timeline because the furniture had to be finished and ready to ship on Saturday, January 3 so they could be blessed at a special church service at Martin Lutheran Seminary on Sunday, January 4 in preparation for the National Synod Assembly. We were privileged to watch the entire process from start to finish and, ultimately, to see the chairs in use. It truly was a blend of technical skill and creative expression, God's gifts at work.

We had the opportunity to watch a craftsman at work during our stay. James Kelau, Manoa's husband, has been trained to make lovely bamboo furniture. He was sponsored by the Village Life School, part of the Education Department of ELC-PNG, and sent to Madang in 2004 to learn the trade from an Indonesian man. He spent two months learning this skill and has made chairs and tables, some for special occasions like a Governor's Conference, and some for friends. He was contracted by ELC-PNG to make 20 chairs and two tables for the National Synod Assembly, January 10-16, 2010, so while we were there, he worked long hours and we watched the process from raw bamboo and cane to lovely chairs. These chairs and table were used on the dais for the dignataries and international guests who attended the synod. It takes James 2-3 days to make one chair or table. It is time-consuming work and all of it is done by hand. He has two men who help him, Hans and Simeon, but James is the principle workman/artist. He has gone on to conduct classes twice in 2009, teaching others so they will have a skill and be able to work and care for their families.

People of Faith - Our Christmas Family

Weattended church six times in four different villages over our stay. We traveled by boat to Busama and Salamaua and walked the beach and cliff path to Asini. In each place, we experienced great hospitality. We worshipped; we made our little introductory speeches, which got better every time; then a plate of fruit and fresh coconuts were brought to us before we toured around the village. Upon our return, food was brought out and we ate a traditional meal. In each place we met the women who made up Manoa's committee to support the Gejmsao Guest House and Women's project. During our stay, women would come from these villages with food for us, to clean the grounds, to help sew dresses, or to help with laundry after guests had left. It truly is teamwork and a ministry of the heart.

Besides taking care of the Conference Center and Guest House, Manoa travels to the 13 parishes, cooks, washes clothes, tends her garden, and raises her family. Her gardens are on the mountain-side and she walks up to the clearing to dig sweet potatoes, taro (another tuber), and manioc. There are fewer greens on the coast and the fruit is limited to pineapple, ripe banana and green banana (which you fry). Because of her dedicated work for the past 13 years as Het Meri, she was invited to join three other people who travelled to North Carolina in June, 2009 as part of the companion synod relationship. It was no small sacrifice for her to leave her family for three weeks. Because she felt so blessed in being part of this delegation, she was intent on reciprocating the hospitality. Her hospitality and generosity are part of her deep faith. On December 23rd, just two days after we arrived and as we were sitting in our morning language class, Manoa brings her hand-driven Singer sewing machine to the big table in the Conference Room and begins to sew. Shortly after, she comes over to me with a tape measure in her hand and quickly takes my measurement shoulder-to-shoulder. For the rest of the day, Manoa busied herself making me a meri blouse. Not only did she make one for me, but for herself and her two daughters, Gejmsao and Elizabet. By that time, Gejmsao and I had become very good friends, so this was pretty special. Little did they know how special it was to me to wear my meri blouse on Christmas Day to church.We knew that our first Christmas away from our family and friends in the U.S. would be different. As we reflected on what to do over Christmas, Pr. Kinim's suggestion to go to a village was divinely inspired. Not only did we enter the life of the villages we visited and where we worshipped, we gained a Christmas "daughter" in Lynn, our teacher, and found a family with whom we could celebrate Christmas. Manoa Yawsing is the Het Meri (Head Woman) of the Malolo Circuit. She has 13 parishes and about 60 congregations along the coast and in the mountains that she is responsible for supporting the women's ministry. Two years ago she was asked to move down to the coast to be the caretaker of the Gejmsao Guest House, so she and her husband, James, and their four children moved to a simple house at this Conference Center. The children are Inok, age 13, Elisabet, age 11, Imanuel, age 9, Gejmsao, age 5; and since November Manoa has taken in her one-year old nephew, Angua. Manoa's 36-year old brother had died earlier in the year.

Village Life at Christmas

ELC-PNG has 17 districts and within each district, there are
circuits. Within each circuit there are parishes and each parish may have as few as three or as many as ten congregations. We were in the Yabem District, which has a companion relationship with the North Carolina Synod of the ELCA. Malalo Circuit is the oldest circuit in the Yabem District, founded in 1907 by German missionaries. The Yabem District is almost exclusively Lutheran and the roots of the Lutheran Church run very deep and the stories of past missionaries are told and re-told. It was not uncommon that people would come up to us and remember their teacher or a missionary that had had an influence upon them. The Malolo Circuit has a Mission House, high on a mountain above the coast where we stayed at the Guest House. Now the Circuit President lives in the house and he greeted us warmly when we hiked up the mountain on a warm and sultry day.

"Fear not!" is something Rod and I say to one another many times as we have followed this call to PNG. We have been blessed and protected every step of the way, so when Pr. Kinim suggested that we go on a two-week cultural and language immersion over Christmas and New Year's, we said "em orait!" ("that's alright" or "sure"). It was a chance to enter into village life and immerse ourselves in the daily life of a village. Lynn Kawage, a young single woman who works in the Finance Department, accompanied us as guide and language teacher. She is from the Chimbu Province in the Eastern Highlands, so this trip to a coastal village was new for her, too. She devised a good program of language classes in the morning and then "wokabut" in the afternoon to practice what we had learned with the village people. We cooked our own food over an open fire (three meals a day for 14 days) and had a nice room in a bush house. Arrangements had been made for us to stay at the Gejmsao Guest House, a project of the women of the Malolo Circuit. We travelled to three other villages---Asini, Salamaua, and Busama--either by boat or on foot.

"Fear not, I bring you tidings of great joy!" If my Tok Pisin were better, I could recite this familiar greeting from the angel as it was spoken at the Christmas Eve drama at the Lutheran Church in Buakop, a coastal village about 1 1/2 hours south of Lae by boat. Whatever the language, though, we certainly understood the universal message of hope as the announcement of the birth of Jesus is heard around the world. And we adored the little sip-sip (sheep) as 15-20 little children crawled on hands and knees into the sandy town center, a grand stage for the re-enactment of the Christmas story as told in the Gospel of Luke. The Christmas drama was multi-generational and two hours long, one of the most comprehensive and impressive re-enactments I have ever seen. Following the service, the visitors were asked to introduce themselves so Rod and I, with modest preparation, gave a greeting in Tok Pisin. It didn't matter what we said; we were warmly greeted. Then we walked back to our guest house, pondering many things in our hearts just like Mary.

Community Life at Ampo

Rod will work in the Finance offices as Assistant Internal Auditor. Mr. James Penna is the Department Director and has served ELC-PNG in different capacities, most recently as the Internal Auditor. He has a young staff of dedicated workers, several of whom have completed accounting degrees and several of whom are women. Lothar Stock, a German missionary, also works in the Finance Department. It will be some time before Rod goes out on audits but he's likely to travel to the hospitals and schools around the country, as well as work with the headquarters departments. The first order of business has been to learn Tok Pisin, the "everyday language". While English is the official language of PNG, Tok Pisin is the conversational and relational language and native dialects (some 800 of them) are still spoken in the villages. Pr. Kinim Siloi has been our main contact during Orientation. He set up a two-week orientation schedule for us and contracted with a young woman to give us Tok Pisin lessons. As the offices at Ampo closed for two weeks over the Christmas and New Year's holidays, Pr. Kinim suggested we go "out of town" to continue our language training.

Ampo is the name of the complex of the national church headquarters of ELC-PNG. It is located northeast of "Top Town", named such because it sits on a hill above the shoreline and shipping wharves. It consists of the Main Building where administrative offices are located and several smaller buildings that house departments such as Education, Finance, Land & Property, HIV/AIDS Project Office, Health Clinic, and Chapel. There are three longer streets and several short intersecting streets that make up the residential area. All missionaries and several Papuans who work for ELC-PNG live on Ampo, and houses are also rented out to non-ELC Papuans.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Settling Into Life in Lae, PNG

We arrived in Lae and were helped immensely by other missionaries. There are five Germans and two Australians working in Lae with the Lutheran Church. They drove us around to purchase what we needed to set up house, buy household goods and groceries, open a bank account, etc. We are provided housing on Ampo, the complex of ELC-PNG, the national Lutheran Church headquarters, and have a very nice post-house. We have a lovely backyard with papaya and banana trees and tropical flowers. We also inherited a cat, Tiger, a yellow tabby survivor from earlier missionary occupants. Sam is a workman who also came with the house. He watches over the property and tends the yard and garden. It is hot and humid in Lae (over 200 inches of rain/year) and housekeeping can be a challenge.