Snatching Them From the Fire

Tuesday March 5, 2019

We heard yesterday morning that our neighbor, Andrew’s, adult daughter, Janet, had died during the night. She had been suffering from, but not incapacitated by, chronic back pain for about 4 years. Like the woman with the issue of blood, she had gone to many different practitioners, but found no relief.

Her death was quite a shock to us, as well as to the wider Bu’u community. Andrew and his wife came over to see us the day after we arrived last week, and brought Janet to ask for help in getting treatment for her. Janet came with them, carrying her 2-year-old child, reported that she was eating well, and except for the chronic pain in her upper back, was feeling well; there were no physical indications that her life was about to end.

Monday morning we left the house as usual around 6:15am for our daily jog around the airstrip with the dogs. I noted the sound of a woman quietly weeping coming from Andrew’s hamlet, and actually wondered if their baby had died…

At 9:00am we heard that it was actually Janet who had died, so a little while later we walked up to Andrew’s house, joining many community members who were heading there as well. His ‘yard’ is directly adjacent to one of the main footpaths leading out of Bu’u, and we could hear people mourning loudly as we approached. A handful of people, mostly kids, were sitting and standing around the 2 houses in his yard area; it was obvious which one the body was in as the sound of people crying came clearly through the woven bamboo walls. We ascended 2 thin wooden hand-cut steps to a tiny 2’ x 2’ landing directly in front of the equally tiny 2’ x 4’ doorway, ducking our heads to enter the dark, windowless house. Knowing we couldn’t see anything yet, someone’s voice directed us to move to the left. After our eyes adjusted to the gloom we were able to make out some faces. A number of people had smeared light grey mud on their faces (a sign of mourning—think of a white clown’s face), which made it difficult to recognize them. The body was lying on the woven bamboo floor directly across the cold firepit from where we were sitting, surrounded by people 2 and 3 deep, all of them uttering some kind of mourning cry. In fact, everyone in the house was either crying loudly or crying out mourning chants like, “Oh my sister, you will never grow to become an old woman,” and “Oh my child, now who will give me food when I’m old?” Directly to our left was a 3-person male chorus who kept things going by humming loudly whenever the hubbub waned.

The mother was lying on the floor next to the body and those clustered around the body were cradling the head and rubbing the legs and arms as they wailed loudly, seeming as if each was vying to out-volume the one next to them. The muttering, screaming, and loud outcries are for fear of death in general, and more particularly fear of what evil the dead person’s spirit (ghost) might do to them.

In the gloom, with all the commotion of voices chanting and wailing, for a few minutes it was quite disconcerting (don’t forget we were fresh back from furlough), and I felt the spiritual darkness press in upon me. It was palpable, evil was present and active as these poor, ignorant people paid a strange kind of homage to Death, mindlessly performing rites the devil taught to their ancestors. The cacophony of terrorized shrieking made them sound like evil spirits themselves. Truly they are ‘darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them’

In the semi-darkness I finally realized that I was facing Andrew, Janet’s father, squeezed over against the wall on the far side of the body. He looked stricken, and my heart broke for him. I bowed my head and began to pray that salvation would come to this house, that Andrew too would be found to be a son of Abraham. My heart was drawn out for these people, who now in the terror of death were wildly chanting their mourning songs. The powers of darkness were present: ‘Pray against them,’ was instantly in my mind. “Pour out your salvation upon them,” I prayed. “The devil has won another soul, don’t let his kingdom increase, instead let your kingdom come in great power to the Angave.”

We stayed until 11:00am before leaving, but the wailing and chanting continued most of the day and all through the night. After a few hours break at dawn, it went on, and now at 8:00pm I can still hear it clearly, led by one of the professional mourning-song leaders, with the mourners following each line he chants sing-song.

Some male relatives came over today to ask Ray for plywood and nails. For the first time ever they will be using a coffin rather than the traditional burial inside a small cavern excavated into the side of a hill and lined with ferns and leaves.

Another soul lost for eternity. Janet’s fate is forever sealed, no chance to ever escape the terrors humans will face apart from God. This is why we are here—by the power of the Gospel to break through this darkness, this bondage to death that holds them. May the true Light rise upon them, may we see the power of God unto salvation mightily at work in the Angave, breaking down the very gates of Hell and saving these people from out of the darkness , fear, and utter hopelessness in which they exist. “And on some have compassion, making a difference; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear--hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” Jude 22,23

First day back at Bu'u

What was my first day back at Bu’u like? Lots of variety. Praise that we got in after last week’s turnback! There were some clouds around, but the Bu’u strip was perfectly clear.

Lots of people around to meet the plane, and no shortage of volunteers to help us get the re-pack boxes down from the airstrip to our porch.

My first good look at the house and I saw cockroach egg cases everywhere I looked—on the floor, glued to the drop covers we threw over the furniture, on the inside of the covers we draped over the bookcases. And when I opened kitchen drawers half the time a gigantic cockroach or two would scurry away. Roach dirt (lots) in all the drawers and all through the tea towels I store in one of them. The other nasty surprise was ant nests, also in drawers—so far 2 in kitchen drawers and 3 in clothes drawers. Mortein—our version of Raid—is being used liberally!

We are so thankful and relieved that the fridge is running, the water system works, and the solar power works! Our Big 3, without which life here in Bu’u would not be very nice.

Piles of boxes all around the living room and kitchen. We call them re-packs because that’s what we do: we get boxes emptied by store employees and re-pack them for the flight to Bu’u. Amid trying to clean up the house and deal with 4 dogs, we are opening the re-packs one by one. And oh yes, the leaking cans on my storage room shelves: ( The Bu’u climate is not conducive to food storage; this time there have been several massive leaks from burst cans. I’ve already tossed out 5 or so blackened and corroded cans and spent and hour cleaning up the blackened section of floor that they dripped on.

Dinner tonight was pasta with jarred spaghetti sauce and real parm—yay!— that I found in Lae. No shower tonight, a huge storm is moving around the valley, lots of thunder and lightning. We’re both exhausted, it’s been a long day and we’re heading for bed, but first we sit down to pray—much thanksgiving, but also some important petitions to unload before His throne. What would we do without the mercy and grace to help that we find there?

Why Papua New Guinea?

In the previous blog I wrote about my call to missionary work. Now I want to address the questions: 

Of all the countries in the world, why Papua New Guinea? And why the Angave?

Again there are both human answers and God answers.

Regarding the first question, the human answer is that Cheryl grew up in PNG. Her parents were still missionaries there when the Lord called us in the early 1980's, and so, humanly speaking, that was the logical place to go. 

There were people in PNG who had never heard the gospel, people groups among whom an evangelical missionary had never lived, people with no scripture in their tribal language; no Christians, no churches, nothing! So, here was the real question: could we find a place that was more needy than a place that had nothing?  And of course the answer is "No." 

PNG was an open door, with plenty of opportunity and need, and there were missionaries working there whom we already knew; why look further?

So we went to PNG in 1983 with Amos 3, Rachel 2, and Caleb 1.  We spent one year with Cheryl's folks and learned how to do tribal evangelism and plant churches in a tribal setting. We also learned how to develop an alphabet for an unwritten language, and how to begin Bible translation.

We then moved into an area that another member of that mission had recently opened up for mission work, and spent a year there implementing what we had learned. Our intention was to continue working there, but our church back home began experiencing difficulties in leadership, and they asked us to return to the States. 

Seven years later the Lord brought us to our current church and began to slowly open the door for a return to PNG. In 1999 our church leadership formally commissioned me as a foreign missionary, and we returned.

But why the Angave? They are a small group of 3500 or so people living in the jungle, now in 2018, only two generations out of the Stone Age.

So doesn't going to such a small group go against the current thinking to reach the cities, where the multitudes live, where the biggest impact can be made?

Yes it does; but it must be remembered that the majority is not always right; who was right, the 10 spies, or the 2 spies?  The names of those 10 have faded from memory, but everyone knows Joshua and Caleb!

So is it the right course of action to bring the gospel to a small people group? That is the question. I was once told "all the nations of the world live in New York City, there are 160 languages spoken there!" That sounds good, but there are around 7,000 languages in the world, and most of the them are minority languages, spoken by groups with small populations.  FYI:  PNG is the world's leader (by percent) with 832 languages 11.72% of the world's total.

These people do not live in the big cities of the world, they will never live in these places. Jesus told us we should be "fishers of men."  Fishermen go to the fish; they do not wait for the fish to come to them. If we want to catch people from minority kindreds, tongues, tribes, and nations, we must  go to them.  If we want to catch Angave people, we have to go to Angave-land.

Is it worth putting so much time and money and effort into catching Angave people?  Knowing that a single soul is of great value, that is a question a Christian should never ever even think of asking! So when we returned in 1999, Cheryl and I looked for such a place: a place over-looked by men; and He sent us to the Angave.

That's it in a nut shell.  Not complicated at all, pretty straight forward. 

I have learned that God often moves in very ordinary, simple ways to accomplish His eternal purposes.

Why I Am a Missionary

Why am I a missionary?

I have been asked that question many times. 

The simple answer is that God called me to missionary work.

Here is what I have written about the day the Lord clearly spoke to me regarding missionary work:

"During the summer of 1980, while Cheryl and I were vacationing at a relative’s house on Lake Champlain, the Lord called me to missionary work.  While reading Mt. 6:24 the Lord spoke to me from the text “You cannot serve God and mammon.” I knew instantly that He was calling me to leave the things of this world and dedicate myself unto labor for Him. I knew I could not have two masters and play some sort of game trying to please them both. He made it clear to me that serving Him in the gospel was the best choice I could make, but there was no real choice: I was compelled."

As true as that is, there was much I had to overcome to get to the field. There was the temptation to not go and to continue to pursue material success; there was the temptation to cave in to family pressure and not go; and the temptation to not go because we did not have the funds.

These were real temptations; but then again, only to a point, because after all, I was compelled.

Cheryl has her own story, but hers and mine have one point in common:  we both realized that the things of this world fade away, and in the light of eternity, they can never satisfy. We want our lives to count for eternity. We both take 2 Cor 4:18 seriously, "For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are unseen, are eternal."  Jim Elliot's statement, "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose," influenced me strongly.

I also came to the realization that missionary work is the only work in the universe guaranteed to succeed.  The Lord Jesus said that all whom the Father had given Him would be saved; none would be lost. (Jn 18:9) Is not that guaranteed success?  What other activity has the 100%, un-conditional guarantee of God to succeed?

I believe Jesus Christ, as the Creator and Supreme Ruler of the universe, is ordering the affairs of this, His universe, in one single, co-ordinate operation, to effect one goal:  the saving of His elect from every kindred, tongue, tribe, and nation. It is not oil, world economics, international terrorism, ISIS, China, or whatever other factor might be in the news; it is Jesus saving His elect from out of the kindred, tongues, tribes, and nations where he scattered them. It was He who scattered them in each of those places (Mt 13:37), and now, at the perfect time for each region, it is He who is sending forth His heralds (missionaries) to proclaim His offer of peace (the external call), and the Holy Spirit (the inner call), and saving them.

He awakened me to these facts, calling me (no, summoning me) to go forth with His gospel to those who had never heard. My training, in accord with New Testament methods, began in 1983, then in 1999 our home church commissioned me to full-time missionary work, and we took up our labor among the Angave people of Gulf Province, Papua New Guinea.



Joyfully in His Service

What on earth are we doing living in the middle of the Papua New Guinea jungle alongside this tiny grass airstrip?

We’re serving the Lord.


And yes, sometimes not so joyfully. He has tested us thoroughly. At every step He asks, “Is it too costly?...Is it worth serving Me?”

In my bible is a scrap of paper on which countless years ago I scribbled a single sentence. That scrap of paper travels around with me for a bookmark as I wend my way through the pages of scripture. Right now it is resting in the book of Romans, between chapters 5 and 6. This is what is scribbled on it: “The personal price often determines the relative value.” David did not want to give to the Lord what did not cost him. Read that story in 2 Sam. 24. He understood that what comes at personal cost has far greater value.

Has it been costly to serve the Lord in Papua New Guinea among the Angave people? Yes.

It has cost us our children, whose lives go on without us. Our grandchildren, whom we see for just a few short months every 3 years. It cost us our beautiful 15-room Victorian home in which we raised our family. It has cost us the comfort and security of living in our home country; as bad as things may be, the United States is still the greatest country in the world. It has cost us the fellowship of our church family. Our friends: we found that for many out of sight is also out of mind and heart. It cost us financial health and wealth when Ray gave up his career in the commercial roofing industry. I has cost us our pride. Our self-sufficiency. Our pets. Beautiful things. Summer cherries. The changing seasons.

Yes, it has been costly.

If I had known ahead of time the high price I would be asked to pay, I think I would have said, “No. The cost is too high.” Yet slowly and inexorably He has led us up incremental steps of grace to the place where, when He asks the question, “Is it too much?” we are able to answer “No.”

And so, even as He comes again and says, “I’m asking this of you. Is the cost too high?” we continue to say, “No, Lord. It’s not.”

 And yes, joyfully.