We were in an unfamiliar part of town. Jeff had a map but our driver still wasn’t 100% sure of where we were going. He asked the driver, “What is the name of this road?” Uncertainty breeds nervousness in Port Moresby. No one wants to suddenly find themselves in a “no go” zone without a clear and fast exit route. We passed the Waigani Market and traffic slowed to a crawl. People flowed from the market into the street, weaving their way in front and behind the car. It felt ideal for a car jacking. As we inched past the market I spotted the Stop and Shop on the right and the fire station on the left. Both were landmarks on Jeff’s directions to our destination, the PNG Bible Translation Association. A few quick turns and we were safely inside the guarded compound.
We were greeted by David Gela, the Executive Director of PNG BTA. A mutual friend from the close-knit global Christian community had put us in touch with one another. David graciously invited us to dinner and a meeting of the Pacific Wa’a Partnership. Pacific Wa’a is an association of ministries that works to further translation efforts in and around the Pacific Rim. Papua New Guinea has become ground zero for Bible translation in this region, due to the hundreds of different ethnic groups and languages present in the country.
A spread of local dishes awaited us. There were platters of roasted chicken and beef, steamed rice and local fruits. There were also several large, round bamboo steamers of mumu (food that is layered and cooked in earthen ovens). They were filled with kaukau, corn, pumpkin and kumu (a stalky vegetable similar to our southern collard greens), all of it wrapped in shiny banana leaves. The women who prepared the meal pulled back the leaves, releasing clouds of steam and uncovering piles of vegetables hidden inside. As a guest I was first in line and I tried not to let my self-consciousness show. I tentatively moved down the table, carefully selecting what I thought I could manage without seeming ungrateful. My body has taught me to be cautious of unfamiliar foods in PNG. The locals and the veteran missionaries showed no such tentativeness. They helped themselves to everything on the table with abandon. I watched as they stripped the leaves off the kumu with their teeth, leaving the stalk behind. ‘So that’s how you do it’, I thought. It was obvious everyone was happy to be blessed by such a feast.
There were people from all over the world at BTA that night, representing more than six different ministries that comprise the Pacific Wa’a Partnership. I found myself talking with Jean, a linguist from Virginia serving with SIL (Summer Institute for Linguistics). At dinner I sat next to Debbie and her husband Robbie, New Zealand missionaries who have served the Gulf Province for over 20 years. Across from me was Jonathan, a representative of The Seed Company from Dallas, Texas. All around us were young people serving with YWAM, who had traveled up by boat from Townsville, Australia. Our small world got smaller when we realized the YWAM leaders were Crystal and George Nita John, the daughter and son-in-law of our New Tribes Mission friends in Port Moresby – John and Linda Sutton.
After dinner several of the representatives shared their vision for what the group hopes to accomplish in the coming years. “Wa’a is the Hawaiian word for canoe—a symbol of journey”, Gela told us. “We’re on a journey together led and guided by the Holy Spirit towards the goal of seeing every language group in the Pacific have the Word of God in their own language.”
I was touched by the words of Vae Eli, a majestic Samoan “bear of a man”. In Polynesian fashion, he gestured eloquently with his hands as he spoke of his love for Papua New Guinea and the translation work to be done among the people here. Vae serves as one of the leaders of Youth With A Mission (YWAM) at the University of the Nations in Kona, Hawaii.
It was a privilege to be part of this gathering and to see so many people transcending culture and language for their shared goal. Translation efforts in individual people groups can take decades. Whether it is oral story telling, translation through symbols or the written word, they work with the urgency of Matthew 24:44, “This is why you also must be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” They amaze me – these brave servants who have given their lives to vocational ministry. I am in awe of the task they have set before them. That night, I found a hidden gem of selfless service among the people of the Pacific Wa’a – one of the sweet rewards of the expatriate life as I look at the world through the eyes of my Christian faith.
Read more about The Pacific Wa’a Partnership and it’s participants:
- Wycliffe Global Alliance
- Wycliffe Associates, USA
- PNG Bible Translation Association
- SIL PNG Branch
- SIL Pacific Area
- The Seed Company
- JESUS Film (part of Campus Crusade),
- Youth with a Mission (YWAM) in Townsville, Australia
- University of the Nations based in Kona, Hawaii.
A special thank you to Bob Black and David Gela for coming together to provide Jeff and I with the opportunity to fellowship with this amazing group.