We arrived at Kudjip on Friday, February 20th. The following Monday morning (after we finished unpacking our three (of ten) suitcases that had arrived) we proceeded to pack a new suitcase for our one-week adventure in a more remote village of the Highlands. This would serve as our family orientation to the language, culture and customs of PNG. We were headed to Ambang which was about a forty-five minute drive from Kudjip. Unfortunately for Ben, one of the missing pieces of luggage was the one that held the majority of his clothes. He resorted to borrowing a few things from his dad and just re-wearing the two outfits he DID have! It was a true bush experience. Ha!
We knew that we would be staying in a missionary home at the New Tribes Mission station in Ambang, but really we had no idea what to expect regarding the amenities of the home. As we drove up the mountain to the small village, nationals greeted us on the road and the yard of primary school children all dressed in their yellow uniforms waved and hollered as we passed in our Land Cruiser. We had to ask directions once or twice and after turning around when we realized we were getting farther from civilization and not closer, we called the other missionary from New Tribes and he directed us to their station. They were right! We were smack in the middle of the village and the smell of the open fires that cooked the morning kaukau (sweet potato staple of PNG) still lingered in the air. The small station consisted of three fairly modern missionary homes arranged in the center of the land with a small common area between them that served as a driveway as well as the playground for the missionary and national children. We were introduced to the Lenz and Hulley families and all of their animals. It turned out to be a bona fide farm there at Ambang! Levi and Robyn Lenz, along with their three school-aged boys, Michael, Daniel and Matthew (and one baby on the way) are from the United States and have been working in PNG with New Tribes for a number of years now. Levi spends his days doing Bible translation work along with a couple of faithful national helpers. Daniel and Rachel Hulley, along with their three children Ben, Georgia and Rebekah, are from Wales and although they have many responsibilities, they primarily do translation work as well. (I’m very sorry to not have a photo of the Hulley family all together, but they left the station before I could get one.)
And now…the animals. There is Socks (the slow-to-warm, but very sweet dog who came running to our porch every time I emptied scraps from a plate into the food waste bucket), Hunter (the weeks-old, tiny brown puppy who was a quarter of Matthias’s size and meek as can be, but scared the boy to death!), Bouncer (the beautiful rabbit that stayed in a cage in the common area and who Simeon loved to feed each day), Stinky (the piglet runt of a litter that was taken in by the Lenz family and not thought to live, but has somehow survived and will soon be returned to their national friends), Shoogie (the sugar glider that I primarily saw sleeping in the hood of Michael Lenz’s hoodie), a couple of chickens, a new family of ducks with the dirtiest little ducklings you ever saw, the village pigs, some of which were worth many thousands of kina (the PNG currency) and lastly, enough flies in our home to make us mildly crazy!
We soon became well-acquainted with our home and our boys were VERY pleased to be greeted by other children as well as toys…lots of toys. Yes, we were in the bush, but where there are children, there are also toys, and Simeon will forever be grateful! These days, whenever we mention a new place we’re going (say, for dinner one evening on the station), Simeon’s first question is ALWAYS, “Do dey have toys at deir house?” Fortunately for him, both Ambang and Kudjip are well-stocked with toys. In our home for the week, there was a train set, lots of books, a bucket of toy animals (including some rather large insects that almost got screamed at once or twice), cars, trucks and plenty of other things that go! The six incredibly sweet children on the station helped Simeon feel right at home and when it was time for them to leave our house that first day he could hardly say goodbye (he didn’t quite understand that he could play with them all-day, every-day for the next seven days)!
Our week was full of cultural experiences and intentional interactions with the national folks there at Ambang. We were, afterall, their neighbors for the week, so it only seemed natural that we join in their routine daily activities. We spent a morning washing some clothes at the nearby river with our new friend, Agnes. She showed me the ropes while the boys and Ben played alongside the (very cold) river and Matthias chewed on a few rocks. It was a grand time!
This was also a perfect opportunity for me to practice my pidgin (the trade language of PNG). Our short hike back up to the village from the river led us through the gardens of Agnes’s family and she pointed out the kaukau, taro and kumu that are all staples in the Papua New Guinean diet.
Another afternoon allowed me to take part in the six-month, four day a week literacy class that takes place in the small common building just next to our homes. The building was built by Steven who is a translation helper of Daniel and Levi and whose land was given to the mission.
This is where the believers gather for lotu (church), Bible study as well as the literacy class. The class is from 2-4 pm and is comprised of local villagers who wish to learn how to read and write their Tok Ples (the distinct language specific to the people group and tribe). There are nearly 800 distinct languages in the country of PNG and this accounts for about one fifth of the world’s languages (although most people do also speak Melanesian Pidgin). I also learned that there is a correlation between the difficulty of a language and the altitude at which the tribe lives. Higher altitude groups generally have more complex languages. Yu Wei, the language of the area around Ambang is a moderately complex language due to the higher altitude. Although the entire class was taught by Daniel Hulley in Tok Ples, I was able to follow along pretty well given the context of the bookwork and with my new friend Agnes by my side. There were about seventeen in the class with a good mix of men and women. There were also varied backgrounds of education including some who’d been through primary school and others who had no previous formal education. But as they learn to read and write, they are afforded the opportunity to read the Scripture portions that are currently being translated into their Yu Wei language. This is an incredible gift to these people and they take it very seriously.
One of our most memorable experiences during our week in the bush was the afternoon we spent with Janet (wife of Steven), Maria, Elis, Marip and Agnes (as well as a handful of kids and animals that came and went as they pleased). We had planned to prepare a typical PNG meal together. We provided some money ahead of time to get the produce needed at the market and the ladies also used some kaukau from their gardens. We also provided the rice and tin fish. I arrived around 3 pm to help start the preparation, and since we had a larger group, they decided to do the preparation and meal in the church building. Our first task was to peel the huge pile of kaukau and then we sorted and prepared the various greens that would be boiled with green onion, carrots, pumpkin (squash), Maggi noodles (like Ramen) and tin fish and then poured over rice and served alongside the kaukau. It was a feast and after the two hours of preparation, we had worked up quite an appetite. Ben and the boys joined us after their naps and the ladies got a big kick out of Matthias chewing on kaukau peels and Simeon holding his plate with great expectation. As we peeled potatoes, laughed and talked I realized how this very mundane-seeming activity of food preparation had created such community among us. We were so different in so many ways, but for that afternoon, we were just friends enjoying a meal together. It was really beautiful and spoke to the generosity and warmth of the Papua New Guinean people. Simeon and Matthias even gave compliments to the chefs by eating (literally) everything that had been prepared for us, including various boiled greens and tin fish!
Our week ended with a worship service on Sunday morning and the children’s Sunday school class that was held on our back porch! What a treat to hear those kids answer trivia questions, sing Bible songs and laugh together.
We had a very blessed week with a lot of new friends. We so enjoyed fellowship and meals with the missionary families and certainly the boys loved their new playmates. We were so proud of Simeon and Matthias, who despite getting diarrheal illnesses for a portion of our time, were very friendly and really embraced their village experience. Well, perhaps all but the time Simeon looked down to see the first large streak of mud on his leg and shorts and exclaimed (disturbedly), “What is that?! I need a na-kin to wipe it. Mama, I need new pants!” Perhaps he’ll need a slightly longer orientation!