Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Chauffer to Checker

Only two vehicles on the island--and one was this ambulance!
photo by Rebekah Drew
“You should read it,” a man nudged August.  “Yes,” others joined in, ‘Go on! Try it!”

The group of Tiaang speakers had gathered in the first few pews of the church to read aloud the newly translated story of Gideon to check for naturalness, clarity, and accuracy. August stood up and fingered the paper nervously. Read aloud in his language without any practice?! He cleared his throat and began to pick out the words, slowly picking up speed. Suddenly, a smile broke across his face; he was reading Scripture in his own language!

Fifty Tiaang and Tigak Sunday School teachers from Djaul Island, New Ireland Province had gathered for a two week Sunday School book translation and teacher training workshop. They worked hard on translating materials and learning topics including children’s learning styles, skits, songs, personal Bible study, lesson planning, and games. Despite not having attended church in a long time, August had been chosen to use the island’s ambulance to chauffeur the SIL advisers (Hanna, Rebekah, Susie, Inga, and me!) daily to the workshop location. As he drove back and forth, he began to grow curious. What exactly were they doing all day at the church?

August studies a Scripture passage
photo by Rebekah Drew
One day, August slipped into a back bench to see for himself and was fascinated! When volunteers were needed to help check the story of Gideon, he hurried to the church—and there he stayed for the rest of the workshop, throwing himself wholeheartedly into the translation task. He offered to check and read Tiaang stories whenever possible, and discussed them with an animation that no one had seen in years.

“I used to attend Sunday School when I was young,” he shared at the end of the course, “but then you sang that song [in the class],” he hummed a few bars of “Love is a Flag Flown High,” a children’s song about God’s love, “and I remembered!”

Now, August has a renewed vision and passion for reaching the children of his community; he’s excited to coordinate a local Sunday School and attend church again.

I wrote this article for publication for our Communications Department about my time running the Sunday School Book Translation and Teacher Training workshop on New Ireland in Sep/Oct 2014. August joined my adviser checking session and once he started reading, his enthusiasm was unstoppable!

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Perfect Match

Sparks flew through the air as she glanced across the room. Her chest leaped like a flame, and she felt like something was burning straight through her skin into her heart. Could it be...?

photo courtesy of
“AHHHHHH!” The shriek came from the kitchen along with a clattering of pots, as my housemate jumped backwards into the cupboard doors. “THOSE STUPID MATCHES!!”

 I stretched up to glance into the kitchen from where I was curled up on the couch—“did something....

“WHERE DID IT GO?? PUT IT OUT!! PUT IT OUT!!” She grabbed a damp rag from the sink and slapped the burning cinder, smoldering on the countertop. “It burned me!” she turned to me, affronted. “It landed on my arm!”

I grimaced and shrunk back into my seat. “So sorry...”

While Valentine’s Day brings many heated topics to the forefront, you’ll not find something that will ignite such sparks as the topic of matches discussed by those of us living here in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

When you were a child, your mother probably told you never to play with matches. The fireman who visited your school for Safety Day probably told you to never play with matches. Heck, even Smokey the Bear probably told you never to play with matches. Good advice, all things considering.

But I’m guessing what they meant by really dangerous are matches that are actually on fire...and here, when you can go through 30 matches at a pop to get a single weak flicker, that’s actually harder than it looks.

There’s always the chance that the matches themselves won’t have any lighter coating on them at all (so you’re basically rubbing two wooden sticks together), or that the entire box is so damp that it’s growing a pharmacy’s worth of mold (we threw out 12 boxes once...).

But, if you are lucky and the match is one piece and isn’t moldy has a tip of lighter coating and the match box isn’t soaking wet (or the lighter coating has fallen off), then you can move to stage two—clever techniques. Strike it so the match is parallel with the box. Strike two matches at once. Strike it so the match is perpendicular to the box. (always remembering that if you squeeze too hard or hold it too close to the end, the match will snap in the middle... Hold it gently, my young Padawan. Cradle it like a feather.)

Actually, your best bet is to just use a lighter.

If, against all odds, the match actually does light and you are giddy that you might actually get the stove lit and can start making dinner
, then at the apex of your swing, when it’s picked up full momentum, the flaming head will break off and fly across the room, a veritable flaming arrow straight to your heart (or clothes or bare skin or into your bowl of pancake batter or between the stove and the cabinet, where it will smolder and glow and strive for life...

She felt that if she just could cup her hands around the flame, it could grow, and they would have a chance. She bit her lip...was it worth it? If only she knew it was the right match...?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Credit Card Calamities

“Hello, you have reached XYZ credit card company. For lost or stolen credit cards, please press 1. For information about your account, please press 2. For details regarding...”

My friend, Jenny,* and I lounged on the couch, listening to the automated voice rattle off the many options.
“I want to speak with customer service.” Jenny cut in as the skype connection sputtered.

“I’m sorry, but I didn’t quite understand. For lost or stolen credit cards, please press...”

“No, customer service.” Jenny leaned closer the microphone. “CUSSSSTOMMMMMER SEERRRRRVICEEE.”

“Thank you. Please state what topic you would like more information about.” The woman’s voice rattled on, far too chipper for my taste. “For example, you may say ‘accounts!’ or ‘statements’ or ‘purchases’ or...”


“Oh! I can help you with that,” the machine’s voice answered cheerfully.

“NO!!!” shrieked Jenny, “NO, YOU CAN’T. Customer service! Customer service!!!” We looked at each other in panic, holding our breath until the voice returned: “Please hold while I transfer you to our customer service representative.”

Whew. Stage 1 of the Battle of the Credit Card was complete.

If you have never had the privilege of living overseas and dealing with credit cards, then, my friend, let me enlighten you.

It all starts with one little idea...a little thought that morphs into a giant, all-consuming monster. What if I bought something in my home country and had a friend carry it back for me? Just stop right there.

 photo from
Have you any idea of the mess that will result in you being on hold with customer service for 3 hours when you try to order something because you are using a Canadian credit card to order an item from the US to be shipped to a third party...and then the Canadian card doesn’t go through and so the whole order is cancelled while you are in the village, so that three weeks later, when you return, you realize in a panic that the item didn’t actually get shipped, so you have to switch to your housemate’s American card...but because now we’ve involved a fourth person, the credit card company will call her US home, but then not believe her parents that this is legitimate, and so will demand that you call them back, but then won’t answer, and the deadline for shipping the item to the person who will carry it to PNG for you is shrinking to days...then you stay up super late so you can try to catch them in their time zone when they open up and convince them that you really do want this purchase?!

And don’t get me started about airline tickets! (Poor Jenny...)

Then there is credit card fraud. First you dance the “can you hear me now?” jig as you try to find the best spot in the house where skype behaves itself and doesn’t turn your voice into something from the Black Lagoon. Then the conversation goes something like this:
Me: I’d like to report fraudulent charges on my credit card.
Customer Service Representative: And why do you think they are fraudulent?

Me: Because I live in Papua New Guinea, a large island north of Australia. And I haven’t been to New Jersey in the last year.

Customer Service: I see. And do you have any reason to believe your card would be there?

Me: No, because my card is with me here in Papua New Guinea.

Customer Service: And have you purchased anything in New Jersey?

Me: No. I don’t live in the United States. I live in a completely different country.

Customer Service: You don’t live in the US?
Next is your opportunity to enlighten your company about the difference between billing and shipping addresses, and then you wait months and months for your card to arrive...trying to decide if the delay is either because it was stolen or because the mail service is just slow.

Now, six months without a credit card isn’t the end of the world in this primarily cash-only society—as long as you don’t plan on making any online purchases or having an emergency that requires you to leave the country. But, if you do, then it’s very important to dig through your pile of papers in your filing cabinet and find your card’s PIN number, because by this time, you will have forgotten it, and believe me, you’d rather not face the horrified looks of cashiers when you ask to sign (not an option in many places). And don’t forget to let your company know that purchases are being made across the pond. And then do it again. And again...because inevitably, whichever lucky person you’ve put down as your US contact is going to get a phone at all hours of the night, asking about the terrifying charges occurring in Australia!

No, credit cards aren’t for the faint of heart and will suck days of your life dry. But they are quiet handy—they don’t dissolve in the rain and there’s no need to carry around a bank vault’s worth of cash when you’re travelling. Unless, of course, you’ve been standing in line for the last hour at the airport baggage counter, ready with your card to pay the overweight baggage fees...

 “I’m sorry, we don’t accept credit cards here. Only cash or cheque...”

*names changed to protect the innocent ;)

Monday, February 2, 2015

It Translated Me!

Here's Gillian in the recent Sunday School workshop photo by Rebekah Drew
 “It began in 1998, when I had a dream.” Gillian, a Tiaang speaker from New Ireland Province, wiped tears from his eyes as he stood before 50 Sunday School teachers, gathered for the final day of a translation and training workshop on Djaul Island.

He swallowed. “I dreamed I got up from my house and went to the beach where the[village] elders were gathered in a meeting. When they saw me, [one man] got up and, shouted, ‘Brother! You come over here! We want to talk to you!’ When I approached, another stood and said, ‘We are going to gather money together, 300 kina total, so that we can send you to learn about God’s Word and then you can come back and teach us.’ And then I woke up.”

In 2004, a couple with SIL came as linguistic advisors to Djaul Island to assist with Bible translation for the Tiaang. The past five years, Gillian had been helping translation efforts, but now he was uncertain—was he still supposed to be involved?

“They told me [and my two fellow translators] that they’d like to send us to a translation course. When my community heard this, they gathered money [for our transport]—this money came to 300 kina!

“When I saw this, I realized that my dream had finally come to pass...Now I was certain that God wanted me to go to this school and come back and share God’s Word in my own language.”

But soon, Gillian found that the work of Bible translation would not just impact his community—it would impact him. “I found, when I was translating, the Bible translated me, showing me I needed to understand God wanted me to read His Word and translate it. If I just translate carelessly, and I myself haven’t been transformed, then it’s nothing, because God’s Word must change me first, and only then will I be able to translate accurately and men will be able to understand.”

 I've had the privilege of working with Gillian over the past few years and have been blessed by his testimony of how he became involved in translation. It was my honor to write it down and share it with you!