Category Archives: Mubami

Mubami Pre-Allocation Trip, Day 3

Mubami Pre-allocation Trip, Part 3

Day 3, March 1, 2018

Today we were supposed to catch a ride from Kamusi across to Sogae. Pastor Max spent most of the day yesterday trying to arrange a ride and he told us that there would be a truck coming for us today. So, like the Westerners we are, we assumed that a truck would be arriving today. Before breakfast, we packed up our belongings, neatly organized them by the door and waited for the truck to come. We sat around for a while chatting with whoever came by, and Jennifer enjoyed getting to hold a cute little Mubami kid in her lap.

Jennifer holding a Mubami kid on the porch of Saloma Local Church
Map of the central portion of the Mubami region (doesn’t show Ugu village, which is further south and Kubeai village which is further north). Click the map to download a more detailed map into Google Earth or other GPS apps.

While we were waiting, I had the chance to talk with a few of the Mubami men underneath Pastor Max’s house (homes here are built on posts raised about 8-10 feet off the ground). An elderly man named Gaulei showed me his tattered and torn Gogodala Bible. The Gogodala are a very large language group just south of the Mubami who have had foreign missionary influence since at least the early 1940’s. Their New Testament translation was completed in 1981 and they have been a powerful missionary force in the surrounding region. Four out of the six ECPNG churches in the Mubami area have Gogodala missionaries as their pastors. Gaulei proudly showed me his Bible and I couldn’t help but think that it seemed to have gotten more use than most Bibles I’ve seen in the US. To be fair, though, paper doesn’t fare too well in the tropics so Bibles age quickly.

Gaulei reading from his Gogodala Bible
Gaulei’s Gogodala Bible

I asked Gaulei to read me a passage, curious if he knew Gogodala well enough to understand the Bible in Gogodala. Typically, in a village setting like this, elderly men may know some other languages from nearby peoples, while young men with more access to education may know some basic English or Tok Pisin. Women and children typically don’t know any other language aside from their mother tongue with any significant fluency, though there were a couple exceptions to this norm.

Gaulei struggled through a couple verses with what I would probably classify as the equivalent of a third or fourth grader’s reading ability in the US. But, knowing how to sound out the words of another language is very different from understanding their meaning. I can stumble through reading German—not well, mind you—but I understand basically nothing of it.

“Do you understand what you just read?” I asked him. Gaulei stared at his Bible for a moment then looked at me and shook his head “no.”

I felt like Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch. The Ethiopian eunuch couldn’t understand the Isaiah scroll he was reading without help, either, probably because there was no Bible in his mother tongue at the time. He was probably reading in Greek or Hebrew. Without someone skilled in these languages to interpret for him, he would have been hopelessly lost. Even with Philip to translate and explain it for him, eventually he would need the Bible in his language if he ever hoped to reach his fellow Ethiopians with the Gospel.

Rex reiterated what he had told me yesterday. “He can’t understand it because this isn’t his language, it’s the Gogodala language. So, he can read the words but the true meaning—he’s not able to understand that.” Since there’s no secondary school (grades 9-12) in this area, the vast majority of children don’t make it past grade 8 in the Mubami area—most don’t make it that far—leaving them with far too little English to understand the Bible in what has been described as one of the world’s most complicated languages.

Around lunchtime, the people explained that the truck that was supposed to come get us had to first deliver some people to Diwami, but that upon its return it would take us to Sogae. That was fine by us—as long as the truck arrived by 1 or 2pm we should be able to make it to Sogae before dark. By 2:00, we were beginning to have some serious doubts about our travel plans. Someone told us that they had heard that the truck had to take a ferry across the Wawoi River and take someone a little further towards Balimo, but that when it returned we would all go to Sogae. Balimo is a very long way from Diwami, so we quickly got the point. PNGans are typically less direct than Westerners and have a cultural aversion to disappointing someone. They don’t like to deliver bad news. So, if they know what you’re expecting or hoping for, that’s what they will tell you. (One has to be very careful, therefore, not to ask leading questions, because you’ll almost always get the answer you’re looking for whether that’s the “truth” or not! This often-disregarded cultural phenomenon is probably the source of many misleading statistics.) They hadn’t lied to us, they had simply used a culturally appropriate way of telling us “Yeah, that truck ain’t coming today.” We haven’t been here for a long time, but long enough to be able to read between the lines of this gentle PNG let-down. So, we unpacked our stuff again, set up our beds, and resigned ourselves to traveling tomorrow.

Since we had some free time and I was starting to get bored, we walked down the logging road about a kilometer to see another Mubami village called Newtown. While it’s still a part of the Kamusi area, it’s in its own little area off by itself. There were about 10 or 11 homes, most made out of off-cuts of lumber from the logging company with metal roofs, typical construction for the Mubami area. We didn’t really spend much time at Newtown, just walked down there and then back to the church.

Logging road going through Saloma into Newtown and on to Sogae.

That night a group gathered in the church sanctuary around electric lanterns and we talked and ate dinner. I think three different people brought us three complete meals that night. Just as we were finishing the first meal, the second arrived, and then the third. We were stuffed. There’s just only so much rice and tuna I can handle in one sitting, and after having rice and tuna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the past two days, I was not terribly thrilled to see a third helping coming our way. So, we politely nibbled at it a little so as not to offend and then shared it out with all of the people sitting around watching us eat.  (Which, by the way, is as awkward as it sounds.)

After eating we chatted for a couple more hours. Phil amused everyone with a funny story about an elderly couple vacationing in an Asian country where they didn’t speak the language. The couple had brought their beloved house dog with them on their vacation. One night, they went to a nice restaurant and brought their dog with them. Since they didn’t speak the language, when they ordered their food they just had to use hand gestures. Wanting to order some food for their dog, they pointed at their dog and then made the gesture for eating food. The waiter grinned, nodded to acknowledge his understanding, picked up the dog and walked back to the kitchen. Later, he returned with the couples’ food. They ate their meal and then flagged down their waiter to pay their compliments and retrieve their dog from his meal in the kitchen. They motioned for their dog and the waiter just gave them a puzzled look. Finally, the waiter mustered up what little English he knew to say, “You already ate it!”

Everyone, including myself, was dying with laughter at the mortification of the elderly couple who had just discovered that they had eaten their beloved pet. As I looked around the room at the men and women laughing, I felt for a moment like I was with a group of old friends. After just two days, they already become like family to me. I looked over at Jennifer who was sitting on the floor with a group of women and smiled because she looked perfectly at home, like she belonged there despite her different skin color, language, and culture.

Jennifer talking with some Mubami women
Phil Carr (right) and Rex Amadi (left)
Mubami men enjoying conversation

It’s hard to explain why or how, but in that moment I realized that God had given me the answer I’d been praying for. Before we left, I hadn’t made out a list of “qualifications” for what I was looking for in an allocation. I know that lots of people do, and there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that as long as you’re willing to set aside your list if God says so. Some people’s list includes things like “an airstrip within 10 minutes,” or “cell service in the area,” or any other number of qualifications. But for me, such a list couldn’t answer the primary question I had which was simply this: “Are these the people you want me to serve, God?” That question, for me, was the only one that mattered. The rest is simply logistics. So, instead of making a list, Jennifer and I decided to simply pray that God would make his will clear to us. God knows us far better than we know ourselves, so I knew that He would know exactly what would make his will clear to us concerning the Mubami. And in that moment, as we all laughed so hard we cried, it was clear to me. These people were hungry for God’s Word and we had already formed a bond with them that I simply couldn’t explain. Like Jonathan and David, my heart had been inexplicably and inextricably tied to theirs and I simply couldn’t walk away. They were no longer statistics or stories, they were my brothers and sisters, people that Christ died for.

In hindsight, I’m grateful that the truck didn’t come as planned and I’m glad that I didn’t make out a list of qualifications. In all my planning and careful consideration, I’m pretty certain that such a list would not have helped me to discern the difference between God’s will and my own. And most of all, I’m thankful for that elderly couple who sacrificed their dog for a people group in Papua New Guinea that they had never met.

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Mubami Pre-Allocation Trip, Day 2

*This is the second of a seven-part series about our pre-allocation trip to the Mubami people of Western Province, Papua New Guinea. The purpose of our trip was to discern God’s will regarding us potentially starting a new Bible translation project in the Mubami language, which currently has no Scripture.

Day 2, February 28, 2018

This morning we sat around on the porch of the church building and chatted with people as they came by. We got to meet various church leaders and church members and Pastor Max busied himself most of the day trying to arrange a ride for us to Sogae via one of the logging trucks going through the area.

Sitting on the porch of Saloma Local Church

After an early lunch (more rice and tuna), we went to visit Waliho, a very hot 1.5km walk from the church we were staying at in Kamusi. While Waliho is just as close to Kamusi as Saloma or any other part of Kamusi it is technically a separate village that relocated to be closer to Kamusi from its original location further down the Guavi River. Waliho relocated closer to Kamusi so that the people could get jobs with the logging company. Since it’s one of the only employers in the area, many of the Mubami people are employed by the logging company in Kamusi.

Walking to Waliho

It seemed to me that we were not as well received in Waliho as we had been at Saloma/Kamusi. There was only one man in the village when we arrived—the rest were in the bush working. There was something in the body language and conversation that left me with the impression that there was some underlying cultural tension that I wasn’t understanding. Then again, it’s equally likely—if not more so!—that I simply misread the situation. Cross-cultural body language is, after all, a tough read! The people told us that the men of the village would be back later that afternoon, so we told them we’d come back then.

Traditional carved canoe at Waliho village

We made our walk back towards the church and stopped at a trade store to buy an umbrella. I used to feel silly walking around with an umbrella when it was sunny and not raining, but after walking a while in the hot, tropical sun, you get over such matters of pride quickly! I was surprised by the variety of items available at the trade store. There was a boat motor, a couple bicycles, some cheap plastic toys, a few small solar panels, umbrellas, some clothes, and a variety of basic foodstuffs, among other items. It was a far cry from Wal-Mart and most of the items appeared to be relatively poor quality, but if you were in a pinch, they might suffice for a little while.

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When we got back to the church at Saloma, we sat around for a little while chatting with people. There seemed to be a constant stream of visitors, curious to see who the visitors to their area were. There was a heavy rain in the afternoon, so we waited for it to pass and then made our trip back to Waliho to see if we could catch the men who would have returned from the bush by then. Unfortunately, we found that the men had indeed returned from the bush to the village, but then had departed again. We don’t know whether they intended to give us a “cold shoulder” or if perhaps they just had a lot of work to do that day. But, since you never know what people’s intentions are, it’s always best to assume well unless you know otherwise. The women and children were more than happy to see us, though, so we shared with them why we had come and took some pictures.

Waliho village

On our way back, we stopped by another neighborhood in Kamusi which has a second ECPNG church. Several houses surround the church and most of the people living in this area have relocated here to Kamusi from Ugu village, the southernmost Mubami[i] village. The church is called “Kamusi Urban,” somewhat of a misnomer if you ask me because, despite the relative development in Kamusi from the logging camp, it’s still a far cry from “urban.” We were told that Kamusi Local Church (aka, Saloma Rural Church) had been planted as a branch of Kamusi Urban for the express purpose of reaching Mubami speakers. The logging company has brought in a large influx of workers from all over the country, so the church services at Kamusi Urban are led in English or Tok Pisin, the languages of wider communication in PNG, and the pastor is a non-Mubami speaking Gogodala man. But, since most of the Mubami don’t know these languages, they were not being well served in these services. So, a group of the Mubami—with the blessing and help of Kamusi Urban—planted a sister church in Saloma to minister to Mubami speakers.

Ugu village resettlement in Kamusi
Kamusi Urban Church

I found that encouraging for a couple reasons. First, it clearly demonstrates the need for a Mubami translation. If the Mubami people had enough trouble understanding basic announcements and sermons in English and Tok Pisin, how much more difficult would it be for them to read Scripture in these languages? Second, it demonstrated to me clearly that they understood that spiritual matters simply can’t be communicated well in a second language. Anyone who has ever tried to preach or share the gospel in a second language knows this struggle well. Abstract concepts like “grace,” “salvation,” “faith,” and even “love” are difficult to translate on the fly and they are always interpreted through a cultural lens. Language includes much more than simply letters and definitions, there’s a whole host of cultural information that is implied or assumed as well. The Mubami understand that and are willing to do what is necessary to make sure their people understand God’s Word as best they can. Unfortunately, that ability is seriously hampered by their lack of a Mubami Bible.

[i] Actually, the people from Ugu are quite insistent that their name is not “Mubami” but “Dausami.” They argue that “Mubami” was a name given by Australian colonial workers to their people and is derived from the name of the bones they traditionally wore in their noses. Everyone else that we met (not from Ugu village) insisted that “Mubami” was the original name and “Dausami” was the name given by Australian colonials to the people and is derived from their traditional dreadlocks which they called dauso. In either case, the Mubami now have neither nosebones nor dreadlocks and everyone seemed to agree that they speak the same language, with some minor dialectical differences. This will be an interesting sociolinguistic puzzle for us to explore over the years!

 

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Mubami Pre-Allocation Trip, Day 1

*This is the first of a seven-part series about our pre-allocation trip to the Mubami people of Western Province, Papua New Guinea. The purpose of our trip was to discern God’s will regarding us potentially starting a new Bible translation project in the Mubami language, which currently has no Scripture. 

Day 1, February 27, 2018

Yesterday, in the early morning pre-dawn hours, a massive 7.5 earthquake hit the highlands. We felt it at Ukarumpa, but it didn’t affect us. On the way to Kamusi we flew to Walagu and Bosavi airstrips to drop off a couple MTTs (mother tongue translators) and pick up a couple expats (foreigners—fellow missionaries in this case) from their village stays. On our way there, the pilot flew over some of the hardest hit areas and we took some pictures and surveyed the damage. Whole sides of mountains had just crumbled. As people slept, their homes simply collapsed. Many were killed or buried alive and many thousands of people lost their homes, their gardens, and their villages. It was heartbreaking to see the damage that this earthquake inflicted. According to the news, it was the worst earthquake PNG has seen in 100 years. The expat lady we picked up in Walagu said that her water tank had buckled and broke, spilling out all of her drinking water. People are afraid to go back into their homes (and rightly so), and they are afraid to go out into their gardens, many of which are built into the side of the mountains. The aftershocks continue a week after the quake, some greater than a 6.0 magnitude.

Landslides the day after the 7.5 earthquake
Landslides the day after the 7.5 earthquake

After surveying the earthquake damage, we landed at Walagu and then Bosavi. Though most people back in the US would probably consider Ukarumpa a “bush” airstrip (‘bush’ is the Australian term for deep jungle), I would say that landing at Walagu and Bosavi gave a new meaning to “bush” airstrips for me! Walagu was the first time that I ever thought while landing, “Is it possible for a plane to spin out and roll on landing?” Bosavi airstrip was even more fun! But the pilot handled the conditions with skill and the plane held up just fine. These bush airstrips don’t get nearly as much maintenance as they do rain, so it made for a bumpy landing!

Mt. Bosavi in the distance as we land at Bosavi airstrip.
Landing at Bosavi airstrip

After leaving the Bosavi airstrip, we flew up over Mt. Bosavi and then the pilot took us down into the crater! It was breathtaking. I’ve never seen a volcano up close before and I had no idea how big the crater can be! I’d guess that you could easily fit all of my hometown of Cabot comfortably inside the crater. It no longer surprises me that scientists have discovered new species that are only known to exist inside that crater! It’s basically big enough to have its own zip code. After leaving Mt. Bosavi, we continued flying south towards the Mubami. We flew for a good 30 minutes or more over seemingly endless jungle. I thought to myself, “Now this is bush…”. The scenery reminded me of something I’ve seen in National Geographic films or Jurassic Park.

Flying over the edge of the Mt. Bosavi crater
Inside the crater of Mt. Bosavi

When we landed at Kamusi, I was surprised by how “developed” it seemed, at least compared to Walagu and Bosavi. The logging company has built a couple small stores (similar to convenience stores in the US), put in a long airstrip made of crushed limestone, and carved out logging roads to get their equipment around. There’s a large sawmill, a primary school (grades 3-8), and a good number of people living in and around Kamusi.

Kamusi airstrip
Kamusi Logging Camp

When we got off the plane, we were greeted by Adau and Domai—the MTTs for the Bamu language translation project where Phil and Chris Car work. They’re very old now, especially by PNG standards, and their New Testament translation is nearing completion. Back in 1995, Phil had made a trip upriver to Kamusi on a survey with Adau and Adau had been the one to translate an elderly Mubami man’s request for help with Bible translation. Unfortunately, at that time Phil had to tell the man that we simply didn’t have anyone to send to help the Mubami translate Scripture. That unknown elderly Mubami man is most likely dead now, and none of the Mubami seem to know who it was that made the request. So, Adau was very happy that we were there to consider working with the Mubami.

Adau (Center) and some Mubami children

We were also greeted by a number of Mubami men, women, and children. A couple of the men identified themselves as members of the translation committee at Ugu village. We had some difficulty getting word to the folks at Ugu that we were coming, so I was very glad to see that they had received the message and been able to come. I’ve been reading, studying, and asking about the Mubami for three years now, so it was surreal to get to finally meet some of the people I had been hearing about.

Finally, we made our way to Kamusi Rural Church (aka, ‘Saloma Local Church,’ named after the creek that runs through that area), a Mubami speaking ECPNG (Evangelical Church of Papua New Guinea, the dominant denomination in Western Province) congregation in Kamusi. A crowd had gathered around us, curious to know why the waitskins were here (waitskin is not intended as a derogatory term—it just means ‘people with white skin’). The church leaders set a time for later that evening to convene for us to tell everyone why we had come. That night, about 80-100 people came into the church and some of the denominational leaders were present as well. It quickly became clear that, despite our best efforts, no one except a handful of people knew we would be coming, and no one seemed to know why we had come. We told them that a few years ago, our organization had done a survey in the Mubami area to figure out if they still needed their own translation. Some of them nodded, remembering when our colleagues had come back in 2014. “We read their report about your desire for Scripture in Mubami, and we are here to prayerfully consider whether God wants us to come and help you translate the Bible into Mubami,” I said in Tok Pisin. I wasn’t sure how many of the people would understand me, but a handful of the men and a couple women clearly understood and translated my statement into Mubami for the rest of the people. Faces lit up and people chatted excitedly. The elders hushed everyone so we could continue. We explained that there are many languages in PNG that are still waiting for the Bible and that we weren’t sure if God wanted us to go to the Mubami or if he had another place for us to go.

Saloma Local Church (aka, Kamusi Rural Church)

Even as I explained that we had not yet made up our minds, it was hard for me to not just say, “We’re here to help you translate the Bible!” How do you face people who have been begging for God’s Word for decades and tell them, “I’m not sure if God wants me to help you get his Word or not”? Experience has taught me that a need, by itself, does not constitute a calling, but still, I struggled to get those words out and maintain my prior commitment to cautiously pray and carefully consider my decision.

There were some legitimate concerns and questions that I had before I could definitively say “Yes.” Probably the biggest concern was motives—why did they want a translator to come help them? That may seem like a silly question, but there are many examples of people groups in PNG who have had ulterior motives for wanting a missionary, chief among these ulterior motives being cargo cults (PNG’s version of the prosperity gospel). It’s a widespread belief in many areas of PNG that waitskins are deceased ancestors of theirs, come to bring them material goods (a.k.a., “cargo”). Thus, white missionaries are usually well received and welcomed, but oftentimes their reception has ulterior motives underlying their seemingly enthusiastic embrace of the gospel. (This is one reason that Bible translation takes so long—it takes years to learn the language and culture well enough to avoid the numerous potential pitfalls in translation of Scripture!)

So I asked them, “Why do you want the Bible in Mubami?” Max Saiya, the pastor at Saloma Local Church, and Rex Amadi, the chairman of the Mubami District ECPNG, both passionately explained, “Our people are not well educated. We are bush people. I and few of the other men known Tok Pisin and a little English, but our wives and children don’t understand these languages. When we preach, we have to read Scripture in English, Tok Pisin, or Gogodala and our people don’t understand the Bible in these languages. We need the Bible in Mubami so that our people can understand God’s Word.”

“Well,” I thought to myself, “That’s as pure a motive as I’ve ever heard.”

Pastor Max translating for us to the Mubami people.

That night, they brought us rice and canned tuna in brine for dinner—a special (and expensive) treat that they themselves don’t often eat. To us, of course, it’s one of the blandest meals imaginable. Hardly what you’d hope for after a long, hot day. But the kind gesture was not lost on us. We stayed up talking with the people until probably 9 or 10 that night. But, it had been a long day and we were ready for sleep. Someone brought us a bucket full of tank water for bathing (a precious commodity—their only source of clean drinking water) and the pastor let us use a corner in one of the two rooms in the back of the church for our bucket baths. So, we took turns taking bucket baths in the pastor’s office. The floors were simple wooden slats, so the water drained right through to the ground. I chuckled to myself as I imagined this scenario playing out with various friends and relatives back home and the looks on their faces as they asked incredulously, “You want me to take a shower where?” It was not my first bucket shower, thanks to POC, but it was the first time I’ve taken a bucket bath in the pastor’s office!

After our bucket baths, we settled in to sleep. Phil took the opposite side of the room we had taken our baths in and Jennifer and I took the other room. By the time we set up our mosquito nets and air mattresses, I was drenched in sweat again. I often wonder during village living if there’s even a point to bathing, but at least it provides some relief from the heat, however temporary.

As I lay there drenched in sweat, I was comforted by two thoughts. First, I was very glad I had thought to get these little USB powered fans and battery packs! They’re not much in terms of cooling power, but it’s better than nothing! The second thought was that whatever suffering I was enduring was nothing compared to the spiritual suffering that comes by not having God’s Word in your heart language. For the Mubami “The Greatest Story Ever Told” has not yet been told—not fully. It’s still locked behind a closed door of a foreign language. Hearing statistics and stories about people without Scripture is moving, but to hear the passionate plea for myself was heart breaking. It’s miserably hot here, and it seems like we’ve flown to the edge of the earth and jumped off. But how can I say “no” to such a request? I’ve traded my American Dream for God’s Dream, the dream of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-11) That is a trade I will never regret making. What a privilege it would be to play a part in bringing God’s Word to these people.

Our sleeping arrangement in Pastor Max’s office–a mosquito net hammock with a hiking air mattress under it.

Missionary-ese:
MTT–Mother Tongue Translators; our national partners who do the work of Bible translation

Expat–short for “expatriate,” a foreigner (like us)

Bush–an Australian and PNG term for deep jungle and undeveloped areas

Waitskin–literally, “white skin;” a non-derogatory Tok Pisin term for people with white skin, often used to describe foreigners in general.

Tok Pisin–a Pidgin/Creole of English, widely spoken throughout much of PNG. Literally, “Pidgin talk” or, alternatively, “Talk of the Birds.”

Cargo Cult–PNG’s version of the “prosperity gospel;” It takes many shapes and forms, but at its core is an attempt to manipulate Christianity in order to obtain “cargo”–stuff.

Tank water–Rainwater collected from the gutters into large water tanks. For most people, it’s the only source of clean drinking water. Once it runs out, life gets difficult…

Map of the central portion of the Mubami region (doesn’t show Ugu village, which is further south and Kubeai village which is further north). Click the map to download a more detailed version into Google Earth or other GPS apps.

 

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