(Grab a cup of coffee and sit down to enjoy this exciting update which is a bit on the longer side)
I mentioned in my last post that I had the opportunity to hike to Tupibu to be part of the plans celebrating the many there who are newly putting their faith in Jesus. I've been anxious for the opportunity to sit down and share my experience with you all!
First some background. We didn't even know the village of Tupibu existed until somewhat recently! One of the believers from Tariknan set up this little hamlet for his family back in 2008 for various reasons. Since then others of his family line have also set up homes there. Tupibu sits right on a main throughway for people coming out to the coast. As such one of the leaders in the Mibu church decided at some point it would be a good opportunity to build a house there to witness to folks who very often stop in Tupibu for a night's rest before finishing their long trek to the coast. And then a few months ago, the Mibu church, together with everyone living in Tupibu decided that it would be good to teach everyone in Tupibu about Jesus. These initial evangelism lessons carried on for several months, finishing up this last Friday. The result... most of the people there, 29 in all, have realized their need for Jesus and are trusting in what he accomplished on the cross and his resurrection!
This is where my little weekend trip comes in. When there are new believers the Mibu area churches make a really big deal about it! And why wouldn't they! More of their friends and family are now sharing in the great things Christ has done for them! They're genuinely excited for the new believers and so it's time to celebrate!
We got there late in the day on Friday. After bathing in the nearby river and changing into clean shorts and a shirt, I spent the rest of the afternoon alternating between eating, socializing, and napping! One thing I love about these trips is the simplicity of being. I'm away from all the complications of my house and running water and electricity and internet and all that junk (good junk though). So we get there, and find out that John (see picture) and his four wives who are new believers, will be hosting us. I was so thankful for just having little foam mattress to sleep on, a tea kettle to boil water in for my cheap instant coffee in my little camping mug, and someone always cooking taro, bananas, pitpit, greens, and the special treat of some pig fat! Oh, and also thankful for a clean outhouse to squat in! I just loved the opportunity to have nothing else to think about except spending time with my friends and sharing in the task of being an encouragement to the new believers!
That first day believers from 8 different villages showed up in droves! Without a moment wasted, they all started getting their headdresses, grass skirts, bead necklaces, and other body decorations ready for that night's planned singsing. Many sat around the various areas working through the flowers, leaves, and grass they'd collected along their hike there. Stripping, cutting, and binding the items together into their colorful armbands, arranging their feathers, smearing red paint on their bodies, and tightening and tuning their drums things began to shape up.
As the sun ducked behind the mountains for what makes a much elongated blue hour, a gift was put together by each of the groups that came to show their support. Cabbage, pitpit, flowers, cash, and other little goodies formed a pile atop some banana leaves that were laid down for just this purpose. Everyone gathered around and shared their excitement for the new believers there and their gratitude for being willing to host so many people. A traditional handshake was done and the gifts distributed.
I needed another nap after this :)
I woke up about 8 or 9 that night to the ongoing beating of drums and singing. These singsings tend to go all night long till sunrise. It's been a long time since I've stayed up all night through one of these. I usually try to sleep as much as I can (try sleeping to constant rhythmic pounding drums that you can feel) and when I wake from a shallow sleep, get up and go join the other observers till my eyes won't stay open any more. I then go back to the hut, sleep some more, and start the whole process over again! This time, the whole night was wetted with a constant drizzling rain. But that didn't stop them from singsinging their hearts out; nor me from enjoying my little bits of time observing through the night. It's always fun and interesting to hear the different villages' songs that they've made up to honor God, where in the past they used to sing to manipulate the spirits and their dead ancestors. (I have a short video of the singsing I've been trying for nearly 3 days to upload now, but thus far been unable. Hopefully I can post that for you soon!)
By 7am the singsing was over and everyone dispersed to eat, nap, and clean all that red paint off their bodies.
The rest of the day was fairly full of meetings. The main meeting was an opportunity for other believers to stand and share words of encouragement, warning, and wisdom to the new believers. I had a chance to share here along with the others. Such a wonderful time to hear more mature believers reaching deep into their experience with God to strengthen these new babes in Christ. And very interesting to hear what they see as important to share. It really affirmed to me the value of the work here and just how far they've come! We all heard some great wisdom that day!
We had a few other meetings that day revolving more around administrative stuff, and discussions for the urgent need for leaders to be faithful in their service to the church. Because how often do you have the gathering of so many leaders at once!
I heard one of the teachers recalling to me later that afternoon how during the teaching, when the people of Tupibu realized that Jesus paid the full price for their sin, in which they've been helplessly stuck, their amazement and shock was expressed in mourning the rest of that day right through till the evening! "It was wailing and crying like someone had died," he recounted. It was the gratitude felt when you realize the providence behind just barely escaping some disaster you had no business escaping. He said the people were like, "We almost all died without ever knowing this! We could have totally gone forever without knowing God!"
Let's hope and pray that this kind of gratitude is what continues to flavor their walk with the Lord from here on out! I think it's often the loss of the simple and joyous gratitude of being redeemed and made one of God's own, in favor of the many technicalities and scholastic exercises that make up christian 'religion' that can make our faith seem so dry and flavorless. I love seeing it when it's fresh and raw like I saw and heard in Tupibu!
That evening they decided that another singsing was in order. I was so tired, I think I actually slept through the night on my little foam mattress despite all the drumming and singing. I did enjoy the start late in the evening, and the end, early in the morning.
We started back early the next morning after quickly eating some taro cooked on the fire.
When we passed through Tariknan, we stopped at one of the local bible teacher's home for some food and to discuss some of the issues they're facing there. Wuri and his wife had cooked a nice meal for us. Our meeting kept getting interrupted by a fearless and persistent young cassowary (a large bird, a little smaller than an ostrich when full grown) intent on stealing the food right out of our bowls and hands as we ate!
In total, we travelled 12.24 miles, up and down over 14,000 feet of muddy, leach infested mountain slopes, rivers and landslides. It was exhausting but totally worth what we went for! God is being recognized more and more for who he is here in Mibu and the surrounding areas! We got to see one more reach of his kingdom extended to a new place, to new and grateful recipients of his abundant grace! We can't thank you all enough for your part in it; for supporting us in this ministry through prayer and regular monthly finances!