Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Shhh! Listen Up!

When Paul first wrote his epistle to the Ephesians, he was not expecting that it would be printed and passed out to the audience to be read in their leisure before they went to bed. Nor was it meant to be fed piecemeal verse, by verse. He didn't even have verses. It was meant to be read aloud and in large quantities. When Moses first taught the Israelites, when young King Josiah read the Law to the people, when the prophets gave their admonitions, it was always done orally.

When I was in college, my friends and I continually puzzled over this concept—if the Word of God historically acted powerfully in the lives of people during oral presentations, then why not in our churches today? Of course the intrusion of literacy into our Western culture makes a difference, but still we wondered...what would happened if we tried an oral presentation of Scripture?

One of the Word of Witness teams presenting at a local church
Out of the curiosity of some college students,  a Scripture-use ministry was born. Striving to bring the Bible orally to local colleges and churches, we used a variety of methods, from a short weekly chapel of reading the Bible to the Tent of Meeting a week-long push of reading aloud that took a listener from Genesis to Revelation in 98 hours. But, our focus was on a presentation we called Word of Witness, where we created dramatized, memorized 30-minute Scripture presentations without any external commentary, involving up to twenty-five people. Topics spanned anywhere from the story of Hosea to that of David in the Psalms to the life of Paul to the birth of Christ. (you can learn more here about the ongoing ministry, now called Josiah‘s Gift, here and see videos of the presentations here)

After hearing us, one student exclaimed, absolutely incredulous, “Wow! Was all that actually Scripture?“ We started handing out the multitude of Scripture references to prove it. Many of these people had heard these stories since two-year-old nursery, but their responses were almost always the same. This Word—it is

Could Jeremiah be...sarcastic?

Could David be...crying?

Could Jesus actually...exaggerate?

Little did I know that my involvement in leading and orchestrating the various oral Scripture presentations in college would be an echo of my involvement in Bible translation here in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

While telling stories in our English-speaking world is often reserved for children‘s bedtime, in many other places around the globe (like here in PNG), stories and proverbs are the primary means of preserving history, teaching lessons, and communicating eloquently with the audience. These are no mere once upon a times that are discarded with a laugh, but are serious tools of communication within the culture.

When translators come in and begin communicating through the written word, the oral culture makes a leap into the literate world that is more akin to a headlong dive than a gentle wading pool. The transition Western culture made through nearly two-thousand years is done in decades and the reaction is rough. Why read?  they say. We haven‘t needed to yet.

For us English-speakers, those questions seem incomprehensible—it‘s hard to imagine life without the printed page, which has been a part of our lives long before Gutenberg first pulled that sheet off the printing press. But this is not the case for much of the world. Wycliffe and other organizations are working to utilize traditional oral methods and what is called Bible storying to teach people how to memorize and share Bible stories accurately, reaching people in a way that is often more meaningful in their culture. Rather than replace the written word, it‘s meant to complement it and provide context, as well as provide access to Scriptures for people who may never have a chance to read.

This month, I've been involved in doing just that in the Oral Bible Storytelling workshop here in Wewak, Papua New Guinea, where 30 participants from seven languages have been learning the stories of Moses (read more about it here). As the third module in a series of four, one of the aims of this course is to train these participants as future trainers such that this workshop will be able to multiply throughout the country and God‘s Word will continue to impact more people who have not yet heard the story of His love in their own languages.

This week, the workshop is wrapping up and the participants are heading back to their villages to share about God‘s faithfulness and redemption of the Israelites through the sacrifice of a lamb. Pray that through these stories, more people will hear of the sacrifice of another Lamb that reaches straight into their hearts.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pharaoh, Pharaoh! Oh Baby! Let My People Go!

Introducing PNG to a VBS staple!
“Pharaoh, Pharaoh! Oh baby! Let my people go! Yeah, yeah, yeah yeah….!” My two colleagues and I snaked our arms in the stereotypical Egyptian dance as we sang through that great, theologically-deep song I knew from my days of camp staff. Who knew that I’d be dregging it up in Papua New Guinea (PNG)?!

Sometimes the ladies danced and swayed with flowers
Currently, I’m in Wewak, on staff for an Oral Bible Storytelling Workshop, where 30 participants from seven different languages have gathered to learn how to memorize and retell the Bible stories of Moses and the Exodus (you can read more about that here; stay tuned for more!). Each of the groups have faithfully and diligently been working to commit to memory all the little details (and figure out how to translate tricky concepts, like “chariot” or “holy”), and so on Wednesday of last week, we thought we’d take a break and do something a little different.

The triumph at the Red Sea called for a victory dance!
While in America, storytelling is often thought of something reserved for children, but in PNG, storytelling is a very powerful tradition that is highly valued with great respect. In addition, music and dance are commonly used to share stories and history, teach lessons and values, and commemorate important occasions. So, one of the assignments for this course was that each language needed to compose a song describing the parting of the Red Sea in their own languages.

They rounded up brooms and mops to be percussion instruments
One afternoon last week, during that horrible point in the day when you’d rather just succumb to the heat and take a nap, we all gathered, bright-eyed and excited to see the performances. And what performances they were! Complete with costumes and impromptu musical instruments made from mops, brooms, and cups (having no traditional kundu or garamut on hand), each group sang through the story and praised God for His deliverance (translating the lyrics for the rest of us afterward).
Some found some cups and waterbottles for makeshift kundu.

Of course, since all the other languages presented a song, English needed to be represented as well. And so, to the delight of my Papua New Guinean friends, that’s how I found myself standing before a crowd, waving my arms and singing, “So I raised my rod and I cleared my through (uh-huh) and all Pharaoh’s army did the dead man’s float!”

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Carving Garlic Powder

Some people, when they want to start cooking, go to the pantry.

Me? I go to the freezer.

One stop shopping--flour, salt, sugar, oats, milk powder, cinnamon, garlic powder...

Right now, I’m in Wewak, a town on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea (PNG), helping on staff at an Oral Bible Storytelling workshop (I’ve blogged about it here). PNG is In contrast to our linguistic centre of Ukarumpa, which sits up in the mountains over 5,000 feet above sea level, here I can see the sun glinting off the Pacific Ocean from my veranda. This region of PNG is known as the Sepik, and like the Amazon, it is home to a lush rainforest fed by a gigantic winding river—quite spectacular, really. But, of course, since it’s a rainforest, it’s hot (the other day I decided I ought to turn up the fan when it was 95 degrees F in my bedroom…at 10 pm) and it rains a lot. Put those together and you have humidity levels that are drinkable.

And it’s the humidity that makes your seasonings turn into rock salt. Literally.

That, my friends, is a chunk of garlic powder. You think diamond is hard? Try this!

Some places use a hot box or a dry box (a cupboard with a lightbulb or other heat source) to try to avoid needing to chip off pieces of garlic powder when trying to flavour your lentil-and-corn-soup, but unfortunately my flat doesn’t have one. The freezer is the next best option (it has the added benefits of being rat-proof, weevil-proof, ant-proof, and cockroach-proof!), but alas, before I could get them to the dry cold of the freezer, my spices had already sucked up the tropical air. Poof! Instant granite!

In Ukarumpa, the humidity doesn’t wreak quite so much havoc as it does here on the coast, but even in the mountains, our house has long since given up trying to make any salt or pepper shaker work (some people mix rice with salt to soak up the moisture, but we haven’t seen success).

So, the other day, I endeavoured to resurrect the novelty of powder.

I smashed and chipped and hacked and carved the ingredients into chunks.

Then I spread them on pans and threw them in my oven on low. After a few minutes, I’d pull them out, crush some more, put them back in…back and forth until finally measuring out teaspoons no longer required sawing at the lump of flavour like a lumberjack.

Back into the freezer they go—too bad there isn’t room for me as well!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Stories in the Sepik

The man stood before the blackboard and reached for the ground. Picking up an imaginary basket he cradled it in his arms, a quizzical expression on his face. What could it be? As he slipped off the lid, he jumped in surprise and all of us in the audience gasped, then laughed. We couldn’t understand his words, but the meaning was clear—the daughter of Pharaoh had just discovered baby Moses!

It was Day 2 of the third module of the Oral Bible Storytelling course held in Wewak, Papua New Guinea, and one of the students had just finished telling the story of the birth of Moses for the first time in his own tok ples (local language). As he finished the story and broke into a grin, we all clapped and cheered—translating the story, memorizing it, and retelling it with flair is no mean feat!

But, he isn’t the only one to tackle this challenge—representatives from six local languages as well as an additional Tok Pisin group, totaling nearly 30 students, are gathered for several weeks here in April to learn how to tell the Bible stories of Moses and the Exodus in their own languages. This is the third workshop in a series of four led by the participants and facilitated by a team of national trainers from Alotau (I’m here with several other expats to act as mentors and advisors). Together, the group works through memorizing the elements of the story, and retelling it in their own words. In this way, they capture all the meaning and details with the eloquence, gestures, tone of voice, and vocabulary of a vibrant master storyteller.

Storytelling is a deep-set element of Papua New Guinean culture, and thus, retelling Bible stories is a powerful bridge into an oral culture—especially for those languages which don’t yet have access to translations. At the start of this course, the participants gave testimony after testimony of the impact of the stories, which they told in front of churches, walking to local markets, in Bible studies, at work in the gardens, and with the family around the fire at night. “It helps me understand how to preach better,” one pastor explained, and the others nodded in agreement. Another commented that although he is able to read the Bible in his own language, when he retells the story himself, it impacts him at a whole new level. “Em sutim bel bilong mi,” he explained (literally, it shoots me in the stomach/heart meaning, it impacts me deeply).

From describing the frantic search of a shepherd for his lost sheep or the unexpected kindness of a Samaritan, Jesus understood the power of storytelling 2,000 years ago. Whether in the deserts of Israel or the jungles of the Sepik region in Papua New Guinea, that impact remains, and I’m excited to see what the Lord will continue to do with it over the next several weeks!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Smack That Fly!

The fly was larger than her hand, but it didn’t faze the nurse. She slapped the illustrated poster once more and then turned to her audience. “Flies carry disease, polluted water carries disease, and uncontained rubbish and faeces carry disease. This is why your children get diarrhoea.” She paused, looking hard at each of the students. “This is why your children die.”

Students played games to practice making health choices.
Last August, twenty national teachers from eight different languages were seated in the shade, listening intently to the health lecture and furiously scribbling notes. I, along with eight other expat and national staff were leading these teachers in an intense, month-long training to better equip rural teachers in using the local language in education, through topics like principles and practices of literacy, fluency, storywriting, book production, and curriculum and material creation as well as personal development, leadership, and finances. One of my many responsibilities included coordinating the health sessions, and today I had asked a local nurse to present on diarrhoea. You may remember me blogging about those experiences here, here, and here.

The students hard at work at translating the booklet!
And so, on that afternoon, the students were talking about the causes, prevention, and cure of diarrhoea, the number one killer of children in Papua New Guinea. Later, they clustered into groups as they pored over their notes and strained to translate into their own languages a story which could communicate this vital information to their communities. “Did we get all the meaning?” they asked each other. “Read it again!”

The next evening, as several of the women students gathered on the cool veranda, a young mother from a local hamlet approached them, clutching a crying infant to her chest. As they visited, the students realized that the baby was dehydrated and suffering from pekpek wara (diarrhoea). Without hesitation, the women flew into action, sending for me while advising the mother and offering rehydrating fruit according to their training. But when I arrived to see the infant contently sleeping against his mother, there was nothing I could do but smile. “You’ve done everything right,” I told them. “You now know how to protect your children!”

Right now, the students are again gathered in Saidor for the second module of the literacy course for the month of April. This session, they will finish checking these health books and hopefully print more to bring back to their villages.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Where in the world is…?

 When I was young, I loved playing a computer game called Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego???? (and don’t forget it’s knock-off, Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego???). By this point, I bet some of you are wondering the same thing about me—where in the world is Catherine Rivard?

Look at all those little yellow boxes!
Well, right now I’m in Wewak. Let me show you a map. Here is Papua New Guinea. Every other place that has yellow box is a place that I’ve lived or worked. Now see the extra big star? That’s the town of Wewak—where I am right now.

I flew up here on Tuesday (I got to sit in the co-pilot’s seat with the headset and all…unfortunately, my fellow passengers banned me from pressing any of the exciting buttons in front of me—lucky for them, despite the urges from generations of pilots in my blood, I resisted) :)

Wewak is gorgeous :)
What in the world are you doing there, Catherine? Well, I’m on staff for an exciting course called Oral Bible Storytelling. It teaches Papua New Guineans how to memorize and retell Bible stories in a dramatized form in their own languages to reach people with the Scripture who aren’t yet able to read. I’m delighted to be a part of it and see what the Lord has in store over the next month. I’ll do what I can to keep you updated over the next several weeks, but I’ve also written some stories ahead of time to share with you as well. Thank you so much for your prayers!