Huwagis had been sick for a while. Her husband Ibeebee died last year and she’d been housebound since then. She sat and stayed in the house and didn’t go out anymore, saying there was a problem with her leg. Natalie and Gerdine had visited with her a couple of times and were wondering if it was perhaps depression.
Months went by and her leg became thin and weak. Natalie suspected something was up and contacted our mission doctor with ideas, but it didn’t seem like anything we could help with. The best option was for her to get out to the hospital in town, but it wasn’t looking likely she’d get there. Last week things came to a head. A sore had appeared on her leg, which seemed to be growing unchecked.
It looked like there was no blood flow to the leg anymore and that it was rotting away. Huwagis was moved down to a shack in the bush because the smell was becoming too much. We heard that her big toe had fallen off. On Wednesday evening our team met and concluded that the only thing we could really do for her was to visit her and share the Gospel with her. We had no knowledge or medicines that would help and using a helicopter to move her out to town wasn’t really an option.
Rhett and I decided to go down the next morning to see her.
I lay awake in bed that night thinking about what I would say. I can speak fluently in Tok Pisin, so that was always an option, but as I pondered I realised that recently I’d picked up most of the vocabulary I’d need to try and stumble through an explanation in the Kovol language.
I’ve been working on hortatory discourse texts, one of which is a Christmas carol service message and another an appeal to take to heart what was heard in that carol service message. Well, that was part of the 2nd one. The other major theme was an exhortation not to think badly about the carol service. Yes, they’d done it wrongly, but the missionaries had asked to see it and later they would do it properly, so don’t talk negatively about the service!
I had vocabulary for God creating, Adam and Eve breaking God’s command, Jesus dying and rising and for listening well. The missing piece is that we don’t know the right term for belief yet. I hoped “putting the thinking in your stomach” would work.
A plan formed in my mind. I could tell the story of God creating and giving men what they needed, of the 2 trees in the garden and of Adam and Eve breaking God’s command not to eat and the penalty being death. Then I could talk about Cain killing Abel as a way of showing Adam’s disobedient streak passed to his descendants and to us. I’d show a clean piece of gauze and rub it in the dirt to show Adam’s sin and guilt. Then I’d introduce Jesus and his life. His piece of gauze remained white and clean. When he died he swapped the pieces of gauze (2 Cor 5:21) and promised that anyone who believed in him — anyone who put this thinking in their chests, thought big about it, held onto his clean gauze rather than their own dirty one could have eternal life with him. His clean deeds would be our own and God would accept us.
Would it communicate? The different concepts are familiar from PNG’s religious culture, but would the whole hang together? I was particularly concerned about how to communicate what sin is, because of all the beliefs here about when you talk badly about someone a sickness comes as a punishment, which isn’t really the full biblical picture of sin. Would the big point I was making go unheard because of all the “cultural noise”? We’re hoping to pass out of language study and take time to carefully prepare a batch of lessons that take people from the foundations of the Bible in Genesis up to the gospel. This will be 50-70 lessons where we carefully build things up, and I was to attempt an abridged 15-minute version.
The morning came and I was ready to stumble through in disjointed Kovol, but alas I never got the chance. Upon arriving at one of the hamlets we had the news confirmed that Huwagis had died the afternoon before and was already buried. So we sat and did a language session with the guys who had told us and I asked questions I had prepared on what people did or didn’t find embarrassing/shameful. Life goes on.
On Friday we have language consultants visiting us for our next language evaluation. In March I tested at level 7 out of 9. I’m hoping I can get to level 8 this time round, perhaps even level 9 if I really nail the communication tasks I’m given – but that might be a bit optimistic. Many other missionaries tell me that they were surprised when they reached level 9 because they felt they were far short of it, so part of me is hoping I experience that too! Achieving level 9 in speaking ability means I’d just need to finish the discourse and culture write-ups before being able to start things like figuring out key terms for Biblical vocabulary and starting to prepare lessons.
Today I hiked down to Matanee (an area with lots of Kovol gardens and garden houses) to see how Ulumo was doing with his peanut garden. I never got to see that because we were so busy chatting. I described to them how blacksmiths made nails for instance, and then showed them a video to see what vocabulary they used to describe it. While chatting Ulumo informed me that the lady Gerdine and I had hiked to see 2 weeks ago had died yesterday. It feels like a lot of people are dying around here. It’d be nice to finish language study so we can start preparing to share God’s word with people.
We’re making progress in our language study; that’s a positive to hold on to. If we keep going with it we’ll arrive at the place where we’re well prepared to teach in a way that really communicates. Teaching in Tok Pisin would mean some people understand and some don’t; teaching in Kovol will mean everyone can understand and it’ll “shoot their hearts” in their very own unique God-given language. Every day of gradual (glacial) progress gets us closer!