This month marked five years since we first stepped off the plane into the sweltering heat of Papua New Guinea. Ten minutes after descending the stairs of the plane onto the cracked blacktop of the airstrip parking bay, I heard the haunting sound of wails coming from a large group of people waiting just outside the "terminal" ( just a fence that divides the pavement where the plane parks and where you exit the airport). The body of their loved one was being carried off of the plane along with our luggage. Those piercing sounds of sorrow were some of the very first sounds we heard in our new country. Welcome to PNG.
After a few short months we went to live with a group of remote tribal people for the first time as we learned the ins and outs of tribal missions from a veteran missionary couple. Just a few hours after we arrived into that village, the sound of the death wail, and beating of a drum to let all those in the village know that a death occurred, welcomed us to that new place as well. A 12- year old boy died shortly after our arrival, so our first experience in tribal ministry was that of the mourning and burial process. Nothing makes you feel more awkward and out-of-place than being dropped into the middle of a community's sorrow and angst with no idea of what to do or say. You don't even know anyone's name except for the dead boy's being cried out over and over again by his devastated mother. Welcome to the tribe.
Those two gut-wrenching welcomes definitely set the tone for how the rest of our first term would go- marked by so much death and tragedy. But there was also so much life and learning in that first term. Every event, both good and bad, shaped who we are as individual people and as a family. And though this term has been marked by murder and tribal war, we have been spared the tragedy of watching those close to us die. We have been on the edges of these events, these deaths. And surrounding those times of great loss have been times of great joy. Times of accomplishing huge tasks and celebrating significant milestones in our family and community.
God, in His faithfulness, has never left us alone and His presence is what brought us back after our first furlough and what sustains us each day as we continue to live and grow alongside the Hewa people.
I have certainly learned a lot along the way, and if you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you have read each of those lessons as I experienced them at the time. And I cannot even express how much it has meant to have you do that. Reading all your comments and hearing your prayers for us has helped us feel less alone, less isolated, and has encouraged us to keep going when we felt like we weren't really doing any good or accomplishing anything at all.
For five years you have hung in there with us. Loving and praying for us, and more significantly for a group of people hidden a remote corner of these mountains that you've never even met. On their behalf and on ours, I want to say a huge THANK YOU and I hope and pray you will hang out here with us for however long the Lord has us here. It would sure get lonely without you.