Nollan slipped away from the fire unnoticed. Despite the highland night chill, he wanted a shadow’s seclusion. He jerked around at a sudden, louder village noise. Did someone see? No. He pulled the phone from a pocket and tapped the screen on. Light flared. Quickly he looked left then right toward the fire. No one turned. Good. He was invisible now.
The phone showed 4 bars. The video would come faster, with fewer stops. He opened the web browser and typed in the address Rayz gave him earlier.
“Nollan” Rayz had said in a low voice, “you must see this. I do not understand how they let other people watch and make pictures, but you will like it.”
He entered memorized letters. A plain page appeared with complicated marks he couldn’t read—something about “being old enough to see the sights”, Rayz had said smirking. Then, breathing quickly, he lowered a trembling finger towards the ‘Continue’ button.
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea covers eastern Irian Jaya, a large, rugged island north of Australia. For centuries hundreds of ethnic groups speaking over 650 languages lived in thousands of small villages—many unaware of their neighbors’ existence. From the late 19th century, traders, soldiers and missionaries pressed into the convoluted mountains. Despite decades of effort, 85% of the country’s population still live in rural villages, nearly 60% of those in very isolated situations—many days hard walk from even the most rudimentary road.
What feet cannot conquer and cars and trucks traverse with difficulty, airplanes and radio leap with impunity. At the Port Moresby airport, large signs proclaim “600 Cell Towers and More Coming.” Large swaths of PNG without access to roads enjoy strong cell phone coverage that also brings Internet access. Whether brought by trade, transportation or technology, the curses and blessings of 21st century life flow equally well into communities unchanged for generations.
Foreigners and cell phones open isolated PNG communities to a tantalizing world beyond their experience or access. Concepts of money, ownership, and independence from families confront them. An alien flood turns village culture upside down. Bullies, locally called ‘strongmen’, oust traditional ‘path-leaders’—elders revered for their knowledge and wisdom. Crumbling cultural foundations, in turn, drive young people into the margins of village life. They ask, “Who are we?” “Where do we fit?” Stuck between two worlds they find identity in gangs, liquor, drugs, and pornography.
And the church enjoys no immunity. Individual believers may experience deeply transformed lives, but the church as a whole feels neglected and poverty stricken since the missionaries left 30 years ago. Legalism replaces spiritual vibrancy. Division usurps brotherly love. Witchcraft subverts prayer. Having lost touch with authority’s true source, pastors forego walking as path-leaders and instead succumb to strongmen tactics wielding rituals and doctrines that perpetuate their power.
Fortunately, the Lord sends help. Godfrey Sim, Program Manager for Mission Aviation’s (MAF) PNG Program, describes villagers’ enthusiastic response to the Bible Boxes now included on interior flights. At each landing strip, local residents can purchase print or electronic versions of Bibles and other Christian literature, often buying everything the pilot carries.
Godfrey goes on to describes how MAF, New Tribes Missions (NTM), and Christian Radio Ministry Fellowship (CRMF) partner to produce and deliver “an exciting new tool called Planim Pos.”
Planim Pos (literally, ‘planted posts’ used for a house foundation) are a series of books written by NTM missionaries Gordon Wohlgemut and Jim Tanner in PNG’s official language, Melanesian Pidgin English. They use Bible stories to reveal God’s plan starting at the beginning with creation, then continue through the fall, and on to redemption. Viewing God’s story as a whole provides two crucial components necessary for understanding the Father’s heart: context and chronology.
The context of Christ’s sacrifice as savior makes it clear why we need a savior at all. The chronology from Adam, through Noah, Abraham, Jacob, David and succeeding kings down to Christ, resonates deeply with the importance of family lineage to PNG cultures. They see the chain of true, delegated authority coming from God the Father all the way to Christ and confirm that Jesus is, in fact, their chosen Path Leader.
After studying Planim Pos, pastors report they now understand what the Gospel really means. They see that path-leaders work as Jesus did, a servant, not a strongman. When they abandon counterfeit ways, true authority flows. Villagers follow them once again as path-leaders while young people gain confidence in a God who can address their hunger for relevance and deal with their basic youth issues: identity, value, and purpose.
A night bird called above Nollan. Once, twice, three times. He hesitated. Somehow it reminded him of Pastor Nickelson saying, “You are a new creation in Christ. He bought you for a price so you have eternal value. And, he fashioned a plan for your life even before you were born.”
Nollan looked up past the treetops. Stars, many stars. “Are you really there?” he asked aloud. No words, but a feeling, a thought, a conviction grew inside. He sighed, looked down at the still glowing screen, button still inviting touch. Instead he hit the small “x” to delete the address, turned the phone off and returned to the fire.