Thursday, September 1, 2016

Food on the Back Burner is Still Cooking

During our furlough in America, I didn’t study Enga very much. Instead I was focused on visiting friends and family, speaking at churches, helping Martha homeschool the kids, and preparing for our return to Papua New Guinea. And when I did study language, I chose to brush up on my Greek rather than spending much time on Enga. You might say that I put Enga on the back burner for a year.

Because I had focused so little on Enga during our furlough, I was quite surprised at how well I understood people during my first trip back last week. I was understanding speech at a level of comprehension that I never had during our first term, and I was able to speak with a greater level of fluency than before (although still far from fluent). Even though I had put Enga on the back burner for a year, it was apparently still cooking!

We had also, by necessity, put our plans of building a home in Enga on the back burner about six months before we left on furlough. The Lutheran Seminary in the village of Birip where we had planned to build our house became an unsuitable choice due to church politics that were outside of our control. So we waited, and we have been praying ever since. Many of you prayed with us as I went to Enga last week to find a new location, and so I want to give you a report of what I found.

At first we were told about a parcel of land that the owner of the largest trucking company in Papua New Guinea was making available to missionaries (specifically Lutheran missionaries) to build homes. Because of the aforementioned church politics, the owner of the company wanted missionaries to have a place where they could live that would be free from such politics. The site would not only have missionary homes but also a police station and a small shopping center. It sounded like a very promising opportunity. When I went to visit, however, I found out that, while there is a great vision for the land, the development is in its very beginning stages, and is not suitable to our timeframe of building in January. Furthermore, the land has been a hotbed of tribal fighting in the recent past, so the owner of the trucking company has cleared the land of its inhabitants, which would leave us relatively isolated. So, while that area might be an excellent place to build a home in five or ten years, it is simply not ready yet.

My fallback position was to build a home on the land of our lead translator, Maniosa Yakasa, in Sakarip village. This is where I stayed during my brief visit, and I love the people and the area. However, the land is packed with homes and there is very little land available. If we had no other choice, we could probably build there, but we would have very little space to ourselves. In the long run that could be a problem because when you are living in a foreign culture, you need a certain amount of private space where you can withdraw at times to avoid cultural fatigue.

On Saturday, I went to the Assemblies of God church in Birip (the same village where the Lutheran Seminary is located). It is a peaceful village, and the pastor of the church had told me a while back that we could build a house on his land (although he would probably want us to pay him to use the land, which, for reasons I won’t go into now, is a bit of a red flag). But without many other options available, I decided to check it out. When I arrived at the church I found out that the pastor had died and there was now a new pastor. So that was the end of that option.

After stopping by the church, I walked a couple of miles up to the village of Immi to visit my friends, Max and Benjamin. Immi was the village where we had stayed in a bush house for five weeks after allocating to the Enga project. When Benjamin and Max found out that I was coming, they walked down the road to meet me. We then walked up to Benjamin’s house, and I told him about our desire to build a house. Then he said, “Why don’t you just build here on my land?” and he showed me a huge sweet potato garden just down the hill from his house. I said, “Well, if we build there, then you won’t have any garden to grow food.” He replied, “We have lots of other land besides this, this is just a small piece of land. You’ve been such a good friend to us that I want to give you this land for free to build your house so that we can be together.”

Benjamin's Land in Immi (It is hard to tell from the picture just how big the sweet potato garden actually is.)
Immi has a reputation for being a place of tribal fighting. But for the last few years, they have been committed to peace. In fact Benjamin told me in the strongest way possible that they have sworn off any more fighting. They’ve even given payments to their enemies to express their sorrow for what they’ve done to them in the past. Benjamin has come to learn that Jesus calls us to love our enemies, and while he used to be a warrior, he is now whole-heartedly committed to following the way of peace.

I told Benjamin I would talk with Martha about his offer, but inside I was glowing. My heart told me that this was where I wanted to be. My spirit told me that this was the answer to prayer we had been seeking for more than a year and a half. This piece of land was just what we needed to thrive: large enough to give us some privacy, close to the main road with something like a driveway for the car, free from the church politics that made us abandon our plans before, and in a place where we have good relationships with the people. There is no electricity in the village yet, but it may be coming soon.

Nevertheless, there are some risks. If we build on Benjamin’s land we will not be in the security of a protected institution as we would be if we built on a seminary campus. Instead we will be among the people. That carries a certain level of risk, but our hearts yearn to be among the people. After all, Jesus left the perfection of heaven to come and live among us, therefore should we not be willing to do the same? There is also the risk of tribal fighting flaring up, which could prevent us from being able to stay in the area. But that is a risk in almost every part of Enga, and we know that the people of Immi are now committed to peace.

So we ask you to pray with us as we pray about building on Benjamin’s land. We are marking Sunday, September 4, as a day of prayer and fasting about this important decision, and we would ask you to join with us in prayer that day. And if you feel led to do so, you could even join with us in fasting for the day or even just for a meal. And as you pray, we invite you to share anything that God may reveal to you regarding our decision. While we are excited about this possibility, we want to cover it in prayer before making our final decision, and we know that your prayers for us will only help us all the more.

Thank you for your partnership with us and for your prayers, and let’s rejoice that when we put our difficult circumstances on the back burner that they are still cooking in the eyes of God.