Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In the Company of Greatness, Part 2

“If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness.  We carry this Precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.  That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us.”  2 Corinthians 4:7, The Message

“Greatness is not manifested by unlimited pragmatism, which places such a high premium on the end justifying any means and any methods.”  ~Margaret Chase Smith

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world … as in being able to remake ourselves.”  ~Mohandas Gandhi


Baluka had met us at the Port Moresby airport back in August when we arrived in country.  I remembered him as a very nice young Papua New Guinean man who had helped us with luggage and kids and escorted us from the international to the domestic terminal.  Before he left, he helped us through security and made sure we got checked in for our flight to Madang.  Now, bright and early at 3:00AM, he arrived at the mission guesthouse to help me once again.

The ride to the airport was pleasant as we talked - in Tok Pisin (he knows English quite well, but was determined not to let me off the hook, and told me as much!) - about our families, where we were from, that sort of thing.  Once we arrived, the wait was much longer than I expected, though Baluka didn’t seem surprised in the least.  He and I had the opportunity to talk some more.  Finally I asked him how he came to know the Lord.  A wide smile spread across his face.

“Yu laik harim testimoni bilong mi?”

Yes, I’d like to hear your testimony.

He told me of growing up in a religious, but non-Christian home where, deep in his spirit, he felt the tug to do God’s work.  He prayed often for this, but since his insides were of the “old way” he was unable to follow through.  Time and again, though, God answered specific prayers regarding things such as his ability to continue school, and finally, after getting caught up in the college party scene for a while, he found himself at a dead end and gave his heart to the Lord.  When he returned home at the end of that term, his family could tell that he was different.

He still longed to do the work of God, and continued to pray to that end, but when the chance came for him to play on the national rugby team, he didn’t hesitate.  The situation, however, proved to be too much for him, and he struggled to stay in right relationship with God.

Finally, the opportunity came for him to work for a Christian mission.  Knowing that he needed to remove himself from his present environment, and still feeling the desire to work for God, he jumped at the chance, even though it meant a bit of deception on his part.  After three months on the job, his conscience got the better of him, and he approached his boss to confess and ask for forgiveness.  He was met with a smile and the words, “I’ve known for some time.”

Apparently the boss was just waiting for him to admit the deceit.   He told his embarrassed employee he would get some counsel on the situation and get back with him the next day.

It was a very long night.

Allow me to paraphrase the verdict:

Because you’ve worked three months under the cloud of this deception, said his boss, you must now work three months in the light of the truth.  It will be on a probationary basis, and at the end of the three months we’ll reevaluate.

This was about 15 years ago, and Baluka has served the mission ever since, with a smile on his face, and the truth on his heart.


A few years ago, as his father was getting close to death, he had the opportunity to, one more time, share with him the Gospel.  Always before he had been antagonistic to it, but now, as his body was failing him, he allowed the truth of Christ’s love and the power of the cross to sink in, and he gave his life over to the Lordship of Christ. 

The next day, though he had previously been bedridden, he was up and about.  He had a spring in his step and a radiance about his face the likes of which Baluka had never seen.   Baluka found his father sitting on a pier overlooking the water – one of his favorite spots – and approached him only to hear these disconcerting words delivered with a smile: “Tomorrow I will be leaving you.”

The next day, his miraculous strength gone, his father was confined again to the bed.  He told Baluka and his cousin to go fishing – to get out of the house.  And he reminded him again that this would be the day he would die.

Against his wishes, Baluka went fishing, expecting to come home to the worst.  However, upon his return, his father was still alive, though barely.  Sometime before midnight he turned to Baluka, who was sitting on his left holding his hand, and his nephew, who was sitting on his right, and asked about “the three of you.”

No, Dad.  There are only two of us here.

His father disagreed and indicated his son, his nephew, and, with a beaming smile, “the man standing at the end of the bed.” 

The boys could see nothing.

But the dying man could.  He was smiling at the man who, moments later, would escort him into the Afterlife.  All because his son had been willing to share Christ with him one more time.


This, too, is God’s story.

This, too, is God’s greatness.


Two very different men with two very different stories.  It’s not what they’ve done that makes them great.  It is His Story as it emanates from faces of different colors and bodies of vastly different ages and physical abilities.  It is the image of the invisible God which, despite their personal histories or life’s accomplishments, seem to seep out through their every pore.

And in their presence, I was, most certainly, in the presence of God.


In the Company of Greatness, Part 1

“I was unsure how to go about this, and felt totally inadequate – I was scared to death if you want the truth of it – and so nothing I said could have impressed you or anyone else. But the Message came through anyway. God’s Spirit and God’s Power did it …” 1 Corinthians 2:3-4, The Message

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events ...” ~Robert Kennedy

“No one who has come to true greatness has not felt in some degree that his life belongs to the people, and what God has given them He gives it for mankind.” ~Phillips Brooks

He was quite unassuming, the man sitting next to me at dinner that night. Imposingly tall, yes, but the wrinkles on his face and the slow labor of his walk betrayed his increasing age. And because he was so soft-spoken, I was having trouble hearing him.

“I’m sorry. What did you say your name was?”

“Jim Parlier.”

I was in Port Moresby, spending the night at a missionary guesthouse en route to Buka. The heat was getting to me and I was sure I hadn’t heard right.

“His wife,” prompted my friend, “wrote the book, Poking Holes in the Darkness …

“Yes, of course. I’ve read it.”

More than once.

As we were planning to come to Papua New Guinea, this book opened my eyes to the lives of translators in the bush of PNG. People who sacrificed their lives not only to go to another country, but to go to another country and live among a distinctly primitive people with a completely different culture, all for the sake of bringing them God’s Word in the language that speaks to their hearts.

After nineteen years of living and working among the Managalasi, Jim and Jaki Parlier, along with their national co-translators, dedicated the Managalasi New Testament.

Other than when I was a kid in a candy store, I have not often felt like a kid in a candy store. But I did that night. Now, of course, if you know me very well, you’ll know that I was determined to be in total control of my face, vowing not to betray the enthusiasm that was welling up in the pit of my stomach. I was, in fact, hanging on his every word.

Oh my goodness! I’m in the presence of greatness!

“So, Jim,” I calmly began, “what are you and Jaki doing these days?”

We chatted for the better part of dinner, and I was no less intrigued by him when we finished than when he’d repeated his name for my benefit. In fact, I was even more certain that I was, in fact, in the presence of greatness.

Since completing their translation work in the 1980’s, they’ve returned several times to visit. On one such occasion, about ten years after their translation work was finished, they arrived to find that the several denominations in the area were fighting. Apparently they were disagreeing on various points of scripture, and criticizing those who thought differently. (Sound familiar?)

Jim was at a loss. For the next five years he prayed for God to show him what he could do to help the situation. Finally, in the darkness of early morning God awakened him with His answer.

Get them together and teach them.

Despite the obvious hindrances to such a gathering, within a couple years they had started a Bible school in the area. Before they could ever ask for money, people began offering it. Someone would call Jim up and ask what the need was, and as soon as he rattled off a figure, they were dropping a check in the mail. So certain is he that God alone is doing this work that Jim told the financial administrator of the school, “When we have to ask for money, we’re closing the school.”

They have now graduated three classes totaling about 120 people. However, there have been concerns about decreasing enrollment, so in January of this year, when they were opening registration for the next two-year course of study, Jim prayed with the leadership of the school that God would bring who He wanted to enroll. More than 100 people registered! Some staff expressed concerns about space and suggested they cap the registration numbers. No, said Jim. We prayed that God would send who He wanted to be here. This is His work, and He’ll make it work.

True. His work. His story.

His greatness.

A-Flying We Will Go

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” ~Lord Kelvin

“Flying is hours and hours of boredom sprinkled with a few seconds of sheer terror.” ~Pappy Boyington

Here in Papua New Guinea, you can never quite be sure what you will encounter when traveling. I knew that in a theoretical sense, of course, but when we arrived in Port Moresby back in August, and our connection to Madang was cancelled, it was a surprise. Fortunately, we were booked on the next flight up and we only had about a 4-5 hour delay in the airport. They said the cancellation was due to “mechanical problems,” and maybe that was so, but it’s possible, too, that not enough people were booked on the flight, or even that someone was just having a bad day. Around here you never know for sure.

When I got the call last Friday that my flight from Ukarumpa to Port Moresby (via the aviation department of our mission agency) had been changed, I wasn’t too disturbed. In fact, it was good to know that I would not be picked up at 7:30AM. Instead, I could have a normal morning with the kids and my husband, and even run a few errands before it was time to go.

I managed to say goodbye to the kids as they left for school, but they were either embarrassed by my attempts at affection or eager to get to school (I’ll assume the latter), and they each shrugged me off with an annoyed “ok, bye Mom.” After checking off the things on my list, I came back to the house to wait for my ride to the airstrip. In the twenty minutes I sat waiting on the front porch, I got better quality time with the kittens than I’d had with the kids.

Other than an equipment change (the Kodiak was grounded for some mechanical work, so we rode on the King Air), we took off shortly after our (new) scheduled ETD of 1100 and about 50 minutes later were making our final approach into Port Moresby. The wind was whipping at, the pilot later told us, 25 knots, so it made the approach somewhat, shall we say, tremulous. The gal across the aisle from me was holding her stomach “so it wouldn’t move around so much.”

Well said.

Ukarumpa from the Air

When we arrived at the guest house (three of us were overnighting in Moresby and had been assigned to stay together), we ate lunch and then sat down to watch “real time TV” in the common room. We caught up on the news of the world for a while, but each of us at various times, helped along by the heat, dozed off in front of the broadcast. Gripping news day; what can I say?

I was determined not to stay up too late after dinner because, as I had just discovered, my Tuesday morning departure for Buka was scheduled for 5:20 … A.M. Now, we think we have it bad in the States, but here, even for domestic flights, you have to be at the airport two hours in advance. So, I was told I would be picked up by our mission shuttle at 0300 hours. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for, say, sleeping. (I got exactly three hours and forty-three minutes, but who’s counting?) Normally there is only one flight from Port Moresby to Buka (around 9:30AM), thus my surprise to find that the agent had made a reservation for oh-dark-twenty. But, these early flights do have one thing going for them – their on-time record – and I would eventually arrive in Buka, on time, at about 7:00AM.

I boarded the flight and found that there were only ten passengers on the Fokker 100 (seating capacity: 98). The journey was peaceful. Apple juice and cookies were served –yes, the breakfast of champions. I watched, in between cat naps, the breaking of dawn and took in the sight of West and East New Britain as we passed by to the South.

Bougainville Island on the Left, Buka Island on the Right, with Airstrip

For the next two and a half weeks, I would be grounded on a beautiful tropical island, serving out my days as the conference kitchen manager and meeting some fascinating Papua New Guineans. Should all go as has been arranged, my return flight schedule would take me through East New Britian, in and out of the Rabaul/Kokopo airport, hopefully within sight of the volcanoes so famous for destroying the city of Rabaul.

Currently that was scheduled for February 19.

Flying around here, though, you never know for sure.

We are missionaries serving God and the task of Bible translation by serving the missionary community in Papua New Guinea through Personnel Administration and MK Education. We thank you for your prayers!

For the Bibleless Peoples of the World ...

(Updated 13 April 2013)