Friday, September 22, 2017

Not A Place For Compromise

Pictured: The valley in which Tariknan is located (middle).

Tariknan was the first village the Mibu church took the gospel to after hearing it themselves. And there are a good number of believers there as a result. The Mibu church has taken the gospel to several other villages as well, even some in a closely related neighboring language. And the resulting believers in many of these outreaches continue to fare well. Yet from the get go one of the things that has plagued the small church in Tariknan is that there are many who struggle with their identity as God's people, Christ's bride, as separate from the rest of the world around them. While they're putting their trust in what Jesus did on the cross to save them from their sin, they've failed over the years to identify themselves clearly as a different group from those around them who do still adhere to the old way of thinking. They know that old way is faulty for sure. But they've been hesitant to stand up against it when it comes around to claim them as its participants. While the believers still live with them and work together with the others in daily life, they've always been hesitant to clearly indicate that that old way of thinking and the religious activities that surround it, are no longer what they identify with. They continue to succumb to pressure to participate in those religious activities and the group that maintains them. They compromise with those who still hold the former way of things. The result of this compromise, and of not making a clear point of distinction is that for years now, every time the church starts to stand up, shake off the dust of this world, and start to sink their roots into the life-giving truth of God's word, the unbelievers around them are able to threaten and influence their decisions so that they remain a mixed group. And when the biblical teaching threatens to shine more brightly, causing more people to step out of that old way of thinking, its stronger adherents tell the believers that they can't continue to teach, or use the community space to gather… and the worst part of it is that the believers are cowed into working out some kind of deal with them before they're 'permitted' to continue being fed by God's word! Despite the consistent advice of the church leaders here in Mibu, (and from us missionaries) and despite lots of handholding along the way, this separation has not yet happened.

We've seen some small steps taken in the last 6 months or so. For example, the church now meets together in their own little hamlet (top of hill, upper left of picture). But right now the church there in Tariknan is at yet another of these points where they're being pressured to show their support for the religious activities that would confuse their identity in Christ, blurring the line of distinction that marks out God's people as holy and wholly devoted to His worship alone. Until they end this compromise they will unwittingly find themselves with their feet planted in the space of non-commital, one foot in each world. Right now the leaders of the church are indicating a desire for separation and are asking for help from the leaders in the Mibu church to come help them stand strong as they explain why they are no longer participants in these things, and why they do not identify with those activities and those old ways of thinking. Please try to remember them in your prayers over the next few weeks as they are hopefully able to graciously, yet firmly, stand their ground.

We appreciate everyone who prays for us and for the ministry here in Mibu, and for those who provide finances each month to graciously take care of our needs and the needs of Mibu Ministry!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Brought Back In

One area of the church in Mibu we've seen come to a place of maturity is regarding biblical church discipline. This is when someone is persistent, even deliberate in sinful behavior, having no remorse and showing no intent or even desire to be changed, despite repeated attempts by people in the church and its leaders to warn and encourage them. It's a natural outworking of those who truly see themselves as the body of Christ, bought with the price of his blood, called to be sanctified, made pure. When someone who claims to be putting their faith in the work of Jesus, yet continues to live in sin, and even defends their behavior rather than show repentance, the rest of the body recognizes that this person is not one of them. They know such a person poses a grave danger to the rest of the body who, though sinful themselves, at least recognize their sin, and loath it, and desire the purity that Christ offers. So the unrepentant person is removed from the congregation, to be considered the same as an unbeliever. The hope is that being put outside of the fellowship of those under God's grace would get their attention, and that they'd once again turn to the one who saves them. Such disciplinary measures might be hard for many of us to swallow when we hear of it, especially given our culture these days. The Mibu church struggled with the idea too! That is, until they saw the failure of NOT having biblical disciplinary measures in place to protect the church and keep her pure. So, more and more, they tried implementing discipline as seen in scripture and saw quickly just how much blessing is to be had through it! One success after another as people who were being excommunicated were coming back into the fold with repentant hearts and changed lives. They saw just how special and serious it is, this new life we're given through Christ's sacrifice on that cross! Through biblical church discipline the person is reminded of the futility and pain of separation that sin causes. Many times, we've seen that the result is that the hardened heart is softened and that eyes are turned to depend on Jesus, and to live in gratitude for what he's done for them!

As this has become more and more of a normal practice for the church in Mibu they've developed beautiful, indigenous forms for celebrating the bringing back in of a brother or sister into the church! We've seen this happen twice in the last month and a half! The church expresses their excitement by bringing their newly welcomed brother to the door of their place of meeting, offering a prayer of gratitude for them, adorning them with flowers, and bringing them in with a musical procession, dropping flower petals before them, and sitting them in amongst their brothers and sisters. Nobody's looking down on the person. Everyone is aware of their need for Christ and just thankful that one of their bretheren is seeing their need too! Some of the leaders then share about the significance of the event! It's a wonderful, and genuine outworking of an appreciation of who we are as God's people! It's also one aspect of church life that reflects the kind of maturity that gives us confidence in their ability to stand on their own when we're gone someday!

Thank you to all of you who are praying for us and providing financial support to be able to continue the ministry here in Mibu. Seeing things like this are evidence that our prayers and support are indeed producing fruit! We couldn't be here doing what we're doing without your help!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Latest Happenings in Mibu

This last Sunday Sesi and I finished teaching the last of the 1 Thessalonians lessons; eight lessons altogether. There were a lot of new and exciting themes covered as we moved through the text to see what Paul had to say to the young church in Thessalonica. In particular we honed in on Paul's always-looking-forward mindset as he relates the church's existence to the eventual return of Jesus! In just these short few lessons we're hearing this particular topic coming up in discussions, especially as it regards to persevering in the faith! We want to keep seeing more of this as a sign of maturity in the church! Now that these lessons are done, I just need to clean them up, make a few corrections, then print them in book form for the church!

As we continue to move forward I'm putting on the final touches to 2 Thessalonians translation. Then on to developing those lessons and teaching them. After that… gulp… Revelation! This is a fun little graphic I made to use in the lessons; Jesus returning along with his holy ones.

Each weekend I spend some time with the leaders, challenging them in their walk with the Lord as it pertains to their role as leaders. We meet after church on Sunday and spend an hour or two sitting, talking, eating and being challenged about how to grow as leaders here in Mibu. One topic that has been particularly challenging to them recently is regarding humility. This is a principle modeled perfectly to us by our Lord Jesus, and stands in stark contrast to the 'big man' thinking that permeates PNG cultural ideas of leadership. Jesus encourages a very different kind of thinking for those who want to be great… to consider yourself lowly and be the servant of others.

We've been enjoying the companionship and fellowship of the Noyes family these last almost six weeks. They've come into Mibu to do what's called 'bush orientation', an extended taste of bush life and a time to wrap up their study of the Pigin trade language before deciding where and in what capacity they are feeling led to serve on the field here in PNG. The Mibu people have enjoyed serving them by helping them with their understanding of language and culture. We've heard lots of really positive comments about them from folks in the church! It's been a pleasure to have them here! Shannon has enjoyed many times hanging out with Sara. The kids have enjoyed helping with their children and playing with them. And Craig and I have enjoyed lots of strategic, theological, and other discussions! They're a great family and we can't wait to see how God uses them on the field!

There seems lately to be a wave of medical emergencies here in Mibu! The day the Noyes family arrived a young girl was brought up having been cut deeply on her leg by bamboo. Since then there have been 3 other fairly major emergencies. I keep joking with the folks here that they need to get rid of their bush knives and stay away from bamboo! Craig has done much of the stitching and aftercare. It's been an excellent chance for him to test his skills with some basic medical stuff, and also to see just how quickly medical help can turn into a bigger job than we can handle. You see, our strategy does not include doing a medical clinic here in Mibu. It's easily a full-time job, and it's just not what we're here to do. However when a friend is carried up, is in bad shape, and asking for help, we gladly help of course! Every now and then though it seems to come in waves, keeping us quite busy. Sometimes we go 6 months without seeing anything. Then it all hits and it seems like we're suturing 6 people back to back! That's been the story for us lately!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

First Thessalonians in Mibu!

God continues to work great things here in Mibu! His church continues to grow and mature! We are continuously grateful for being made a part of His work like this! And we're also thanking God for your gracious prayers and financial provisions each month! We're all part of the same Body of Christ, working together, whether it's praying, sending, or going, to see His great name known! And we're seeing the fruit of that here in Mibu! Thank you!

Sesi and I recently finished (well nearly all done… just a bit of cleanup on the last few lessons) developing the lessons for 1 Thessalonians. We got the first five lessons (out of eight total) printed and have begun teaching this great epistle for the first time ever in Mibu! We're already a couple lessons in, and it's going very well; already providing new challenges for the church here! People are excited to continue to work right on through.

Once the lessons were done, I got started right away on translating 2 Thessalonians. It shouldn't be too difficult to translate, though there are two places that pose some challenges for anyone doing a thorough exegesis. But I've just about got those ironed out here and hope things can move at an acceptible pace here soon. It doesn't help that I've got so many other things requiring my attention through the day. Both planned and impromptu meetings/discussions, house maintenance/repairs (gotta change the gas bottle whenever it runs out, etc), administrative and logistical stuff, and much much more! Whew! Sometimes I feel like I'm trying to fit 3 full-time jobs into each week!

One of the things the Mibu church has been doing the last several years, that I love, is that a contingent of leaders (both men and women) plans and goes around to the different churches to see how each is doing, provide support and teaching where needed, help deal with issues that have come up, and generally just be an encouragement and a force for unity. I hear them refer to this with a pigin term, 'patrol'. So they're doing a church 'patrol'. One of the key leaders who usually is a part of these patrols, is so busy right now he's unable to go. But I had the pleasure of overhearing his discussion with another leader as he prepared him for the task he was handing off to him! I heard such wisdom and discernment in this guy! And when I hear them talking about doing a patrol, and when I hear the reports when they get back, of their times with other leaders in these areas, I can't help but think that the concern for the church that we read of in the apostles isn't being modeled quite well by these leaders!

All in all, there are 7 different village church groups they'll be visiting starting next Sunday. I'll give a sampling of some of the issues they're wanting to look into and address. Some of them are positive, and some of them signs of a messy church. One of the places has a small group of folks who are holding on to some of their former idols… just in case. Another place, sadly, the believers aren't even meeting regularly and the leadership there just seems to be 'asleep' kind of doing their own thing. In contrast to that, another village is doing very well with a number of godly leaders, people genuinely interested in knowing God, and people taking initiative to keep the church growing and moving forward! There are two places that are fairly new Christians, the result of recent outreaches, who they just want to encourage to keep pressing on. And much more! So lots to pray about if you would take the time!

We continue to work especially hard to develop leaders in the church, specifically with the appointment of elders in mind. Each Saturday morning I spend time with the leaders teaching and challenging them in a particular aspect of biblical leadership. This last Saturday we had a big discussion about centrality of the quality of humility in the church in general, but particularly in it's leaders. The discussion was such a challenge, that those in attendance asked if we could go through it again with a larger group on Sunday after the worship and teaching service! Among many other things, this church needs skilled shepherd/elders who give sacrificially out of a deep care for the well being of God's people, and who can teach, guide, and protect. Please continue to pray for these leaders.
We celebrated Abigail's 7th birthday on May 11th! Can't believe how quick she's growing up!

A group of kids just hamming it up in Mibu!
Skyler and Maddie showing me the 'super cool' place they discovered in the jungle near our house!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Momentum in Mibu

One word that accurately conveys the last month or so since we last wrote is 'Momentum'. As our family life and work schedule have settled down into something workable for the long-haul, we see the momentum of ministry getting to where we like it to be. It's taken a lot to get there after coming back though. We are constantly having to balance between what needs to get fixed/repaired and the real work we're here for. It seems the former is giving the latter a run for its money and we're just having to learn to let certain things go so we can be sure to continue doing what we're here to do! It can be incredibly difficult at times! There are so many tasks vying for our attention!

Sesi and I have been working hard developing lessons for 1 Thessalonians, which are nearly done now! We can't wait to teach through this epistle together! While there are a lot of good truths that will be learned as we go through this letter, the ones that are being emphasized a bit more have to do with Christ's return! Paul refers to Christ's coming again, and points people to his return so frequently that it's a topic worthy of some more attention here! Paul uses it as a basis for people to stand strong in their faith, and to encourage one another. The church in Mibu needs to have more of this in their thinking, a less ambiguous view and an anticipation of Christ's return. It'll help keep their eyes and hearts on the goal as they strive to grow in their faith! So Paul's first letter to the Thessalonian believers is a good place to start. Later we'll translate and teach other letters to expand their understanding of what God tells us about the end.

I was struggling recently in these lessons with how the terminology was (or wasn't) working to communicate the suddenness of Christ's return. It became clear that we were going to have to revisit that in the translation. As Sesi and I talked about it and worked out some better terminology, it got me thinking pretty heavily about what his return might be like. What we're given in this letter would indicate it will be quite sudden and drastic, unmistakable, and just dreadful for those who aren't waiting and looking forward to the return of their Savior! Thinking on these things most certainly does make us more apt to want to live a life of thankful servitude to the One who saves us from God's wrath to come! It should be really great to start teaching with some more emphasis toward the end goal here!

In other news, Shannon continues to invest a lot of her time homeschooling the kids, an effort seeming to require an ever changing strategy, and financial investment as individual struggles become clear over time. We're having to evaluate some of the curriculum being used and consider whether there might be some different things available to help with things such as math and language arts, where a couple of the kids seem to struggle the most and are getting behind. Now that Shannon is homeschooling all four kids, the time she has to spend with each child is much more limited and it's a daily struggle to get through it all. We're feeling more and more like having someone come to help tutor for a month or two… or even three… would be a wonderful thing to help us get past this speed bump in education. If you happen to know anyone… :)

We recently celebrated Ethan's birthday, where he wanted an insect/spider theme. Shannon and I enjoyed a simple celebration of our 19th anniversary where we had a dinner to ourselves (put a movie on for the kids in the other room) and a 'date' where we painted the walls in my office together. And then we have Abby's birthday coming up in just a few more days, where she's wanting a shopkins theme. Currently trying to figure out how to make that happen!

Two men sit in the house of a recently deceased friend to show their respects and mourn their loss. Their former friend is in the casket in the background awaiting burial, something that sometimes takes a few days while a chance is given to people to come from far away who knew the deceased and wish to come and mourn as well.

Some of the community leaders having a serious discussion about how to get the airstrip work back on track. Recent land disputes have taken the wind out of the sails once again.

We try to take our life science classes outdoors when we can. Here, the kids are looking at the piece of bamboo we marked a month ago, and which we check each week on the way down to the church meeting to track it's growth. This particular kind of bamboo, called 'bovat' here in Mibu, grows about 3-4 feet per week! I have a theory that if we could somehow listen to it, we could actually hear it growing :)

We want to express our sincere gratitude for all of you who are participating in this ministry to the Mibu people through your prayers and your regular monthly and one time gifts! We couldn't be here without you playing your part! Thank you for helping to make this happen!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Celebrating Believers in Tupibu!

(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!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

After A Week And A Half

This last week we've been able to get most of our stuff re-situated, cleaned up, or otherwise repaired, and start to see the emergence of a family routine. Next week is the week that we try to hit the routine hard, getting fully back to the work we're here to do. That's the plan at least. As I say that, I realize my office space has become a storage place. So there's some work there to get that workable again too... well anyway, we're trying! We've been sure to make plenty of time to catch up with friends when they're around, and that's been good!

One thing that strikes me as we return is seeing how many people have built a house up here in the little hamlet where we live, near the airstrip. NEAR THE AIRSTRIP!!! That's the important part. The finish of this beast of a project is imminent enough in their minds that some are starting to live and garden up here so they can be close to the work. From what I understand, they intend to continue to live up here when the strip is done! This is a good sign!

I've been able to have several discussions with folks about the church. I've been to a meeting last weekend, will be having another this weekend, and we got to share in fellowship with our Mibu brothers and sisters last Sunday at church! We're still trying to discern what growth/changes have happened this year while we were away. It's a good start that we don't see anything concerning. In fact, the church leaders continue to do well. Can't wait to get the full feel of things and fine tune how we can serve the church best as we seek to help them mature to the point where we can leave. Of course the translation must continue on, but there are also lessons that need to be developed and lots of leadership training and discipleship. That's just going to take time to figure out more clearly where things are at and what areas to focus on. One thing we do know right now though is that we need to be showing folks more of what God's word says about Jesus' return.

Finally, this weekend I'm honored to be able to hike to Tupiboo (tu-pee-mBOO) where the Mibu church has been doing evangelism lessons the last several months. This weekend marks the last of these lessons! Can't wait to go and see for myself. So tomorrow I'm planning on hiking a ways over there and spending a couple nights. Saturday we'll hear the last of the lessons, and I'll share some encouraging words to those there who are newly trusting the Lord Jesus to free them from their sin and give them new life. I've clearly been in the States too long as I was getting laughed at this afternoon as some friends watched me pack and laughed, hinting that I'm over-preparing :) Hmmm... ditched a few things, but I am realizing that learning to go light is a learned thing... each time we come back! Can't wait to share with you all how our time there goes and how the initial gospel teaching has finished. Of course the gospel is never 'finished'. This is just the beginning of things at Tupiboo.

We're missing our co-workers who had to fly out unexpectedly Sunday morning, cutting our last time before they go on furlough short by a week. Angie came down with an illness that needed urgent attention by a doctor, so their family was medevac'd out. Being the only expats out here is always hard, so we would ask for your prayers for us please. Please pray that our sense of dependence on the Lord would be renewed each day. Pray for strength and protection from the Evil One whose attacks we have felt keenly here in the past. And finally, if you would pray for Geoff's other knee on this upcoming hike. Yes, I had my right knee worked on in the states, if you remember, and that one is feeling stronger than ever, but now my left knee has been acting up :(

We reflect each and every day on God's provisions through you all as you pray for us and provide for our monthly financial needs to live here and serve the church in Mibu! We are grateful for your participation with us in this ministry!

Geoff and Shannon