Bush Orientation and Next Steps

August 3, 2021

Over the last nine months, we have heard of difficult trials faced by friends back at home. Some of the sorrows that have been experienced in the "comforts" of America far surpass any of the trials that have conflicted us in the "land of the unexpected" (a nickname of PNG). We are learning that the place we find home is not as responsible for our joy and pain as we had assumed. Since leaving home, family, and comforts, we have often been presented with a choice between acceptance or bitterness. But in Jesus, the Creator, our brother and our friend, we have One who has borne the deepest pain, and now he sympathizes for us. May we allow God to foster in us a type of dependence on Jesus Christ that leads us to remember His great faithfulness and accept the circumstances that He's allowed in order to grow our faith. In Him is a well of joy available to us at every moment.

Of course, this is simpler said than done. Needless to say, life has bounced between struggle and joy - in that order. Leaving home is still, by far, the single most difficult thing we have ever done. Just thinking about it still makes me sick. But learning a new language and building new friendships in PNG has been a reward in itself. I can't write about the anxiety we've suffered, but I can tell you that God has been with us through it all. It doesn't lighten the pain, but He provides a light at the end of the tunnel, and we can hope in Him and the future. The anxiety and pain that I'm writing about is behind us. Now we're enjoying an easy life back at New Tribes' main base near Goroka. We can look back at the last nine months now and be thankful for the ways that God has grown us. Thank you for your prayers. There were super tough times when I thought to myself, “I wonder if anyone is praying right now.” And while the specificity of time may not be important, what was/is important is that you all were praying for us. Thank you. (Nate)

We have lots to cover in this update, so let's get started!

Overall, we had a great six weeks in Kuman. We are very, very glad that bush orientation is a part of the in-country orientation training, and your first time living in the middle of a tribe is not when you move into a new tribe long-term. It's quite different to live within a community as opposed to living on a base and visiting a community every day. Coleton Williams and Shawna Williams were great partner missionaries, and we were so happy to have gotten paired with them for this part of the training.

In a village you are woken up by roosters crowing; (fun fact: did you know roosters crow all day long and not just at sunrise? Who knew) or by the 4 AM ringing of a religious bell. Unfortunately, there is a lot of drinking in the community too, which seems to come naturally with poverty anywhere in the world; that led to spurts of yelling or singing most nights. You also get a chance to hear the shouting of the village court at any hour of the day. From what we've seen so far, communities don't often rely on the police to solve problems; they operate within their own justice system. This was interesting to witness.

Currently, it's dry season here in PNG. Our water supply in the bush comes from rainwater that fills a water tank, so we had to ration our water usage for our six weeks in Kuman. We also were down solar energy because a couple months ago a tree fell on the solar system for the house we're staying in and messed it up; we had limited electricity during the day depending on the brightness of the sun, and had no power at night. We had our fair share of sickness, and Nate, an infection. We also of course always miss you guys too. In spite of all this, Nate and I were able to log a combined almost 400 hours of language during our bush orientation. We really felt like we were able to learn a lot during our time there and we're super thankful to God for that.

There's so much I want to say, but I think our time out in the bush has shown me more than anything how critical it is to understand culture when interacting with people from a different country. We are the way we are in America because of our culture, and PNG citizens are the way they are because of their culture. At our core, we're the very same, but because of the intense impact culture has on our molding, we think and operate drastically differently. The best example I can think of is, here, a female dog delivers a litter, and the people won't or can't feed the mom, so the mom eats her own babies to keep her body from starvation. In America, that is an unthinkable tragedy. Here, it's fine. It's just a dog. The things is - If I grew up in PNG as a national, I would think the latter. As an American citizen, I think the former. It's not that I'm innately a better or more compassionate person that I care about the puppies. My culture alone has determined how I view animals, and it has shaped how I view the entire world. It's hard to describe how completely alike and normal we all are as humans made in the image of God himself, and yet so other at the same time. It feels very normal to live here, but there is a lot beneath the surface that will take time to understand.

In the pictures below, we'll show you more of what our day to day looked like in Kuman.

So what's next?

We have completed our training in the highlands.

We have completed our training on the coast.

We have completed our bush orientation.

After bush orientation, the final step is to allocate to a base to help in a support role while finishing language learning and team formation. We've been talking with a few people about working together, so we ask that you would please pray for us as we all make these very important decisions. As we mentioned in a previous update, there are the options to form a new team, plug a hole in an existing team, or join a national family.

So, what base are we living on and what support role will we be working in while we finish out our language and team formation? (NTM has five bases throughout the country.)

We're staying on the base in the Eastern Highlands. This was the first base we stayed on when we came to PNG back in November. We all have friends here, including Erin, so we're happy to be back. Nate's going to be working in the IT department, and I'm going to be teaching 7th and 8th grade English for the 2021-2022 school year at the NTM missionary school! Both IT and teachers are hugely needed right now in PNG; it's really neat that the jobs we both left, God has seen fit to give us back while we finish our language learning. I'll be teaching two hours a day in the mornings while Nate watches Erin, then we'll swap, and he'll work in IT for a few hours while I watch Erin, and then we'll continue our Pidgin learning for a couple hours each day. We would love to be completely checked out of language and have reached team and tribe decisions by the end of the school year so we can begin the process of moving into our permanent residence shortly after.

We're glad that the bulk of our transitioning is over. In the nine months we've been here, we've moved a total of six times! We're happy that we'll be in the same place for close to a full year before we move again, and then hopefully that will be to our long term location.

During our first few days in Kuman, one of the men cut down a large banana bunch from his garden and tied it up outside our house.

Pretty sunflowers in our backyard

Erin and I tried to get out twice a day to spend time with the women and their kids. The women would often go to their gardens in the mornings to gather the ripe produce, and then sit outside in a central area in the village, spread out a piece of canvas and put their produce on top to sell. (You can see this with the lady in the back in the next picture). In this picture, you can see Erin holding a tapiok chip. Once or twice a week a woman would cook up and mash lots of tapioca, roll it very thin, let it dry for several days then fry and salt them. It was one of Erin's favorite things to munch on when we went outside. They were 50 toya/15 cents.

One of the best ways to progress in language is to tell stories, then record the people telling your story back to you. This way you can go back and listen, learn new vocab and practice sounding more natural. Nate spent a lot of his time doing this.

Nate learning from a group of men outside. Notice the jackets. Most people think of Papua New Guinea as a tropical place (which it is in a lot of parts), but some places up in the mountains get pretty cold: 40s or 50s at night and in the mornings

Sick cuddles with daddy

The mountains are beautiful; this view was just a two minute walk from our house in the village

On the right is my friend, Sabeth. On this day she took me to her garden. In the highlands, gardens are on the sides of mountains and it can be a climb to reach them; her garden was about a half hour hike. Once we got to her garden plot, she cut down some sugarcane, and we sat in the shade and munched on it while we talked.

One weekend we hiked with some PNG men about an hour and a half to a neighboring village to watch a traditional celebration called a singsing. Women and girls dress up like their ancestors, dance, bang on drums and sing. This singsing was to celebrate the beginning of the construction of a new road into a village. It will be the first road going through their village that they've ever had. To put into perspective just how language-dense the country of Papua New Guinea is, this people group who we visited just an hour and a half walk away spoke an entirely different language than the Kuman people. So the Kuman people had no idea what they were saying or singing unless it was done in the trade language. That's just an hour and a half walk away or a 5-7 minute drive!

Two sweet little boys at the singsing.

These young women at the singsing are wearing pigeon feathers in their hair, kina shell necklaces, pig tusks, the fur of a tree kangaroo to cover up the chest, bracelets made from a specific plant called tanget and a traditional skirt.

Erin is ready for school in Papua New Guinea!

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons while Erin napped, Mama Ruth would come over to our house and she'd spend about two hours teaching me Pidgin. She was a huge help.

Every Tuesday night the Christian women or "ol bilip meri" (believing women) would meet together to sing and take turns praising God in prayer and sharing from the Word. This was probably my favorite part of the week.

On the last Tuesday night in Kuman, I got to share with the women why I decided to leave America and the "money life" to come to Papua New Guinea.

After church on the last Sunday in Kuman, the women prepared a big lunch and we all ate together. Eating together symbolizes that there are no outstanding debts or any unresolved conflicts or ill feelings. We are "wan bel." - one belly; of one mind. We ate boiled taro, pumpkin, potatoes and greens and noodles.

A sweet lady in the church made us all bags (bilums) and presented them to us on our last Sunday.

Nate and Coleton are standing with the leaders of the church. The man standing to the left of Nate in the red shirt is Par. On weekday mornings, Par came over to our house. He and Nate would sit outside on the porch, drink coffee and read the Pidgin Bible together.

The Kuman Church