Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Our House is Built!

It is with great joy that I report to you that our house in the village of Immi in Enga Province is now built. After three years of planning and waiting and delays, a crew of missionaries from the construction department along with Papua New Guinean employees and local helpers from the village of Immi put the house together in under three weeks.

Our house in the village of Immi
I wish I could say that everything went off without a hitch, but the trip did not start out well. On Monday, January 30, ten of us set off from Ukarumpa in a caravan of three vehicles: my small Toyota Hilux truck, a mid-sized Dyna truck, and a large Hino 700, which was hauling the bulk of our building materials. Because the Hino 700 was hauling such a heavy load, we drove slowly. I led the way in my truck, followed by the Hino 700 and then the Dyna. After three hours, we reached Goroka, where we stopped to refuel. As we started on our way, I realized that I forgot to put oil in my truck, so I pulled off at another gas station to get oil while the other two trucks continued on their way. I knew they would be going slowly and that I would easily catch up.

After getting oil and driving for about fifteen minutes, I came around a bend and saw a large truck similar to our Hino 700 that had overturned on the side of the road. At first I felt bad for the driver as I came upon the scene, but then I realized that it was our Hino 700. I pulled over on the side of the road only to see some Papua New Guineans flocking around the truck with great enthusiasm and excitement as if it were Christmas morning. I found out that the truck had swerved to avoid a large pothole and that the front left tire got caught in the soft ground on the side of the road which pulled the entire truck down. Fortunately there were no serious injuries, but there was great concern that our building materials would either be damaged or taken away. Thankfully the tarp covering our materials had not torn off and the straps still held everything in place (although one strap came within a few threads of tearing completely).

One of the straps hanging by just a few threads after the accident
We were also fortunate that the accident occurred near a large Seventh Day Adventist school. When the accident occurred, the head of the school’s security quickly came to the scene and told people to leave our truck alone and to go on their way. Nevertheless, it was still a chaotic scene, and so I climbed on top of the truck and yelled to the crowd in Tok Pisin, explaining that I was not a businessman but a missionary and that the goods in truck were dedicated to the work of the Lord. People slowly began to disperse, and the local tribesmen (including the head of security) assured us that they would look after our things.

We kept trying to call back to our families and coworkers in Ukarumpa, but our phone calls were not going through. Yet, by God’s grace, we were able to contact the head of the construction department every time we called out, and he was able to contact us. He arranged for a rescue vehicle to come and pull the truck back onto the road. The only problem was that the vehicle was more than five hours away. It was a little past eleven o’clock in the morning, but the truck wouldn’t arrive until close to five o’clock. So we sat around and waited.

As we spent the day waiting, the local Papua New Guineans who were watching our truck brought some food for us. And after a while, I remembered that I had a large quantity of banana bread and chocolate chip cookies that Martha had made for the trip, and so I shared our food with them as well, which they really appreciated. Then I sat down with them and we shared stories about life in America and a little bit about our work as Bible translators. At 4:20 in the afternoon the rescue truck arrived and the driver put the truck perpendicular to our truck by driving straight into the weeds on the opposite side of the road. Then he hooked three cables to the side of our truck and used a tiny remote control to operate the cables and pull our truck completely back up onto the road side. Our driver got back into the truck and it started up, but, to be safe, we opted to have the rescue truck tow our truck to the headquarters of New Tribes Mission, about thirty minutes away.

Talking with the local Papua New Guineans who were guarding our truck
It was after dark when we arrived at New Tribes Mission, and at that point we didn’t feel good about continuing on with the project. We didn’t know if our building materials had been damaged, and we also didn’t know how we were going to get everything to Enga. Plus, we were all in a bit of shock from the events of the day. We were all thinking that we would head back to Ukarumpa in the morning and try to get the project going at a later point in time. But when we woke up the next morning, we felt a renewed vigor. We realized that, despite the challenges of the prior day, this was our opportunity to build the house. There were other projects that the construction department was waiting to complete after the construction of our house, and a return to Ukarumpa could mean another long delay. Plus, it felt like a moral victory if we could somehow keep going. So we contacted Mapai Transport, the same company who had sent the rescue vehicle the day before. They agreed to bring a 40-foot flatbed trailer for us that same day. So we started the work of unloading the truck and reloading it onto the Mapai trailer.

As we began unloading, we were delighted to discover that the building materials had suffered minimal damage. Almost everything was still intact and usable. The team worked very hard from early in the morning until late at night unloading and loading, and by 8:00 p.m., the job was finished. Mapai came back the next morning (Wednesday) and hauled the flatbed away, although they had told us that it wouldn’t arrive in Enga until Saturday. So we made plans to transfer all the items for pouring the concrete post pads into the mid-sized Dyna and headed up to Mt. Hagen, and then to Enga the next day. We started as soon as we arrived (Thursday afternoon) and had the post pads ready by the time the truck arrived on Saturday. What followed was an intense two and a half weeks of construction starting each day at 7:00 a.m. and finishing around 6:00 p.m.

Transferring building materials to the Mapai trailer
Our friend Benjamin, who had donated the land for us to build, also let our team sleep in his house during our time there, and Benjamin’s wife, Martha, cooked all of our dinners for us. We would bathe in a small waterfall hidden in a cave just downhill from the roadside in cold, yet refreshing, river water. Benjamin and his family slept in a camping tent we had brought, keeping watch over our tools and construction materials at night. They had never slept in a camping tent before and really enjoyed the experience. As for us, there were eight of us in Benjamin’s two-bedroom bush house, but it worked out just fine as we all slept side-by-side, three to each room and two in the main room. By the time three more construction workers had arrived the following week, we already had the roof on the house, so four of us moved to start sleeping in the new house.

Trouble Getting River Stones
There are many more experiences I could share about regarding our house building project, but due to the length of this email, I will share just one. We needed to build a drain field for the septic tank. A drain field is basically a long, deep trench that is filled with large stones to give the septic water overflow a place to drain. So we needed to collect a large number of stones from a river for the drain field (enough stones to fill the back of a 12-foot long flatbed truck). So Benjamin told me to drive the mid-sized truck down the road to a stream. After driving a short distance, Benjamin directed me to turn off the road onto what looked like a walking path but was actually a 'road'. Nevertheless, I proceeded along the ‘road’ as he directed, praying as I drove along that the truck wouldn’t get stuck or tip over due to the conditions. As we got close to the river, I was instructed to turn the truck around and back it up the rest of the way, which I did nervously, praying as I went, and fortunately reaching the river with no incident.

Digging out the septic tank drain field
The river was in the land of the next tribe over, and as we began pulling stones out, one of the local landowners forbid us from taking any stones. Benjamin and those who had come to help us argued with the landowner for about fifteen minutes, trying to get him to change his mind. But no matter what they said, he wouldn’t budge. In my flesh, I began contemplating what I could say to him. I thought about saying, “Look, I drive to Wabag town all the time, but if you don’t help me I will never stop and take anybody from this tribe to town.” But as I stood there thinking such thoughts, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and reminded me, “If you love [only] those who love you, what reward do you have?” So, when it became clear that he wasn’t going to allow us to take any stones, I went to him and said the exact opposite of what I had been thinking. I told him, “You don’t want to help us, but that is okay. When I go to town, I will still stop and pick you up and take you if you want to go to town. There are no hard feelings.” He didn’t quite understand what I said at first, so I repeated it and shook his hand with a smile. Then we all started back to the truck. As we were walking back to the truck, he said to us, “Kuki mendalapo nyalapa,” which literally means, “Take just a few,” but in practical appication means, “Go ahead and take whatever you want.” So we started filling up the truck with stones, and he even got into the river and helped us. Later he came by the house to see the progress, and I gave him a can of Coke, which is a sign of friendship in Enga. God is good!

Thank You for Your Prayers!
After finishing the house in just three weeks (including travel time and delays), we returned to Ukarumpa exhausted. It took about a week for me to recover and regain my strength. We are planning on ‘moving in’ at the end of this month. We will still split our time between Ukarumpa and Enga, but having a house in Enga now will allow us to spend much more time there. Please pray for us as we transport furniture to the house in Enga and get settled in. Pray that our furniture would arrive in Ukarumpa in time for us to transport it to Enga when we go up later this month and pray for safety as we travel on the road.

Thank you for all the prayers and support along this journey of building our house in Enga and translating the Bible into Enga. We couldn’t do what we do without the prayers and support of faithful partners like you!