Thursday, January 21, 2010

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.

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