Friday, June 27, 2014

But what about the spirits?

Over the past couple of months, I've had the opportunity to participate in several "checking parties." When a translation is getting ready to be printed, it goes through a process of typesetting, which gets everything looking like a book--from page numbers to headings to footnotes. After Emma, our typesetter, puts it all in order, she calls for a group of volunteers (the "checking party") to go through the translated Scriptures with a fine-toothed comb, making sure every chapter is correct, every Old Testament reference is properly formatted and every picture is credited. You can read more about this experience here.  

Sören and Britten Årsjö have more experience than most at typesetting--they've worked in two different language groups, completing two New Testaments and one revision--and earlier this year, I participated in their third checking party! Here's a story I wrote for our Communication Department about the Årsjö's experiences among their first language program, the Ama.


What could they do?

Sören and Britten Årsjö looked in amazement at the young woman lying on their porch, as Albert, one of Ama translators, pleaded with them. “Please, you must do something!”

When the Årsjös first arrived in 1973, there were no Christians among the 380 Ama speakers hidden deep in the jungle. It wasn’t until seven years later, five spent in translating, that Albert became one of the first Ama to give his life to Christ. Soon, the other translators followed, and God’s love began to spread. But, before the Ama could fully accept this new God, they needed to know—what about sorcery?

In traditional Papua New Guinean beliefs, the practice of sorcery and fear of the spirits govern daily life. In Ama, the word, popuwa, meant “evil spirit;” there was no such thing as a “good spirit.” A cursed person was doomed to die within three days—and if he or she told anyone, death would be immediate.

So, when Albert’s cousin courageously told him she’d been cursed, he acted immediately. They all gathered around the girl and began praying fervently, as well as administered antibiotics to help counteract any potential infection caused by the custom of inserting bone fragments into the sorcery victim’s body. They waited and prayed and waited, the whole village watching. Would she die? Or would this God be more powerful than sorcery and spirits?

The girl lived! The Ama people looked on in awe. This Bible that was being translated—it was relevant! This God who spoke these words, He was there for them too. They no longer had to be afraid.

The Ama New Testament was dedicated in 1990 and a revision in 2010. Before the Gospel arrived, it wasn’t uncommon for only one or two out of ten children in a family to survive due to sorcery killings and poor health care. Today, the Ama population is more than 500 strong! The Ama have truly found new life in Christ—both physical and spiritual.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Ministry of a Piano Tuner

He was almost on his back, squashed between the bench, the coffee table, and a chest of drawers, peering at the wires. “Play it again.” Melissa, my roommate, reached above his head and struck an ivory key, the "A" ringing loud and so abysmally flat that I flinched and the dog jerked up from the couch. “Oh boy,” Keith sighed, then ducked back under the piano, clanking and fiddling and twanging... “All right, again.” And this time, "A" sounded less like a car horn and more like something Chopin would approve. Perhaps now Amazing Grace wouldn’t require as much divine grace just to listen...

Last month, I sat in the Ukarumpa Meeting House, my bilum (string bag), looped over the hymnbook in front of me, as I listened to the new arrivals share their testimonies of how God had worked in their lives to bring them to serve in Bible translation in Papua New Guinea. “I had worked in the security industry for nearly 20 years and my wife was an experienced high school science teacher,” one man explained, “and we wondered, how in the world could God use us in missions? Were those skills actually needed?” The whole auditorium roared in laughter until the pews shook—we’d been fervently praying for years that people with those exact skills would come fill some desperate personnel needs!

From the visiting videographer to the capable kitchen manager who kept 40 people happy and healthy during at a training course (just think of how poorly the course would have gone without food!), the ways God uses the skills He has given us are beyond imagining.  Of course, when you think of missionary, I know you probably have a nurse or evangelist standing in your heads (and by this time of reading my blog, maybe a Bible translator will have joined them), and it’s true that those are critical roles.

But what about an ELL teacher, a finance manager, a Greek tutor and a welder? What about the short-term construction worker who used his farming background to provide direction for our cattle herd, or the accountant who used her ballet experience to start a dance ministry team or a Melanesian culture teacher who happened to also be a physical therapist and could treat my shoulder? Bible translation is a huge task that takes a giant team of people from around the world—people to pray, people to give, people to go...

and even, people to tune pianos.

Want to learn more about some of our most pressing needs (including children’s home parents and teachers?) Check out this video and don't forget to read this blog, or send me an email, and I’d love to connect you with ways to get involved, both short and long term!