Much of our lives in Papua New Guinea (PNG) are consumed with fairly mundane activities. The fact that we live and work in the “exotic” tropical rainforests of PNG does not excuse us from tasks like washing dishes, doing laundry, and taking care of our kids just like normal people here in America. Many times our lives appear on the surface to be very similar to our lives in the States.
There are, however, those moments that punctuate the monotony that remind us that we are NOT living a normal lifestyle. Moments that shake us to the core, make us feel like we’re living in a National Geographic film, and leave us asking “What in the world are we doing here?!?!”
Our first three months in PNG were filled with those kinds of moments. In fact, I would say that during the three months of our Pacific Orientation Course (POC) those earth-shattering, exotic moments were more the norm than the exception.
Like the day I got stuck in quicksand, for example.
One Sunday, we had the opportunity to go on an optional swimming trip. Like most activities in PNG, this was a lot more involved than it sounds. A group of about 20-30 of us missionaries loaded up in the back of a large covered flatbed truck and made the hour and a half drive down the rough mountain roads to the village closest to the watering hole. (I could write a whole story on the trip down the mountain as it was an adventure in itself, but we’ll save that for another day…)
Once we got to the village we unloaded from the truck and began the 30 minute hike down into the ravine where our swimming hole was located. This probably ordinarily would have taken an hour, but whoever was leading the charge REALLY wanted to get to the swimming hole quickly. I was grateful at this point that Jennifer and the kids had opted out of this little excursion and stayed back at POC because it would have been a really difficult hike for them. It was pretty steep and I felt like we were basically jogging down the mountain most of the time!
But it was worth it. After a very sweaty hike through the jungle, we stepped out into the clearing where the watering hole was. It was breathtakingly beautiful. A stream came out of the mouth of a cave, cascaded over a short waterfall into a large rock swimming hole which overflowed into a series of smaller, cascading crystal clear rock pools before flowing off into the jungle as a meandering stream. The tall jungle trees surrounding the pools kept it nice and shady and cool. It was paradise.
We swam for a while, enjoying the cool, clear water and taking turns doing high jumps off of the rock formations into the deeper, main pool. Then, a group of us decided to hike around to the entrance of the cave and follow the stream through to the mouth where it emptied into the pools.
Hiking through the jungle in PNG isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s always rewarding. I enjoyed the beauty of the jungle and the massive trees that form the canopy above.
Finally, we came to the cave entrance. The cave was 10-20 feet tall and wide at most places. There were lots of bats flying around and the cool stream was only a couple feet deep in most places. After 10 minutes or so of walking through the cave, we were at the mouth where it poured over the waterfall into the pools. There was no safe or easy way down the waterfall, so we took a short detour around the waterfall.
Most of this path was under 6-12″ of water from the stream, but it was easily traversable since most of it was peppered with larger rocks we could walk on.
Near the end, however, was a different story. I had lingered back a little from the group, enjoying the scenery around me, so I didn’t get a good look at where everyone else had walked. I hopped off of a rock ledge onto what looked like a short stretch of rock covered by about a foot or so of water.
I immediately realized my error. While the substance under the water had looked like solid limestone, it was in fact quicksand. My right leg immediately sunk up to my knee in the squishy sand and silt mixture which pulled my weight off-balance, forcing me to either fall headfirst into the quicksand or pull my other leg in as well. I pulled my left leg off of the rock ledge and into the quicksand so that I could stay upright and not make a bad situation worse.
As I tried to shift my weight and pull one leg free, the other leg only sank deeper. The suction from the quicksand made it completely impossible for me to free my leg, and any attempt to do so was threatening to pull off my Keens hiking sandals.
A brief moment of panic struck as the realization sank in–I was stuck in quicksand! My wrestling around had only served to make matters worse, and I was now up to my mid-thighs deep in the quicksand, with the water level close to my waist. There wasn’t really anything around for me to grab hold of (I had left my Indiana Jones’ rope back home…😂), and I realized I wasn’t going to be able to pull myself out of this one. Embarrassed at my blunder, I yelled for help–but not too loudly so as not to alert the entire group of my stupidity.
Fortunately, one of our PNGan guides was nearby and turned around to help me. It took him a good bit of effort to pull me out, but I did finally make it out of the bog, shoes and all!
While I wasn’t in any real danger, the shock of the incident taught me a valuable lesson: when hiking through the jungle along a stream, test your footing before leaping in!
Oftentimes we treat our jobs, homes, health, family, and financial status as if they’re trustworthy foundations upon which to build our lives, but they’re not.
On a deeper note, sometimes things in life which appear to be solid and stable are in fact unsuitable foundations. In PNG, between the quicksand, earthquakes, and landslides even that which you most take for granted–the very ground under your feet–can prove to be untrustworthy. But oftentimes we treat our jobs, homes, health, family, and financial status as if they’re trustworthy foundations upon which to build our lives, but they’re not. “At least my job has a guaranteed paycheck,” we say. Does it really? Are you guaranteed your job? Or, “I’m reasonably healthy, so at least I don’t have to worry about getting that illness.” Do you really think that you have control over your health?
It’s true that God expects a certain amount of responsibility and good stewardship from us in these areas of our lives. We cannot live a fiscally irresponsible life and expect all to turn out well. Nor can we treat our bodies with disregard and expect to live a long, healthy life. But we also cannot put our trust in these things. If we do, we will soon discover that they are “broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13), or shifting sand unfit for a firm foundation (Mt. 7:24-27).
The only sure foundation upon which to build our lives is Christ and his Word. He is the only thing in this life that never changes, never disappoints, and is never affected by the chaos of this world. And because he is trustworthy, his Word is also trustworthy.
For millions of people around the world–including the Mubami people with whom we work in Western Province, PNG–the firm foundation of God’s Word is inaccessible to them because it is not available in a language that speaks to their hearts. Our mission is to bring God’s Word to the Mubami people in their own language so they can have access to God’s Word and know how to build their lives upon Christ. Click the link below to learn how you can partner with us in our Wycliffe ministry to translate God’s Word into the Mubami language.