My mom used to say: “The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get!” And that’s pretty much how I feel of late. Some days I feel like I work like crazy all day long scurrying from one thing to the next and dealing with drop-ins and phone calls and meetings – and then I get to the end of the day,and I’ve accomplished nothing from my plan. It’s all my work, but good grief already! So I recently posted pictures from my awesome trip to Lae, in the Morobe Province, and mentioned that I’d been sick and busy and would write later. I’ve suddenly realized that it’s been nearly two weeks since I returned from Lae, and I’ve not written about it yet!
Let me give a little background to help set the scene for my trip. The Church Partnership Program is a program that partners churches. Yeah, I know … if you know me, you know I’m being facetious. CPP is an organization of seven churches here in PNG and their sister churches in Australia. The Australian government funnels a great deal of money into PNG through this partnership in order to use the expertise and enthusiasm of the churches to affect great changes in the country.
The Salvation Army is one of the seven churches, and we have a CPP office in our THQ that oversees projects all over the country that provide water, health care, literacy, feeding, housing, training, and more to communities and villages. Once every six months, the CPP members meet for three days to coordinate and share best practices. It’s called “CPP Forum.” This was my first chance to participate, and it was my first real opportunity to travel outside of the Port Moresby area.
An added bonus to my traveling to Lae is that I got to spend the first day of the forum visiting many projects in the area that up until then, I had only processed payments and reports for, and talked about around the boardroom table at THQ. Now, I would get to actually see the places, meet the people, that the projects were all about.
On Tuesday morning after I had some breakfast in my room and got ready for the day, I walked across the parking lot to the small DHQ building of the North Coastal Division, and was introduced to Capt. Buka and Capt. Jenny. They just moved to DHQ in Lae in January, and they’re the divisional program officers. Capt. Buka would be my tour guide for the day.
We drove across town to the Jim Jacobson Center so that I could check on the completion of a duplex that had been built on the grounds to house the officer and another staff family. The center had just been renovated, with a new paint job and some floor tiles. They had also knocked some openings through some interior walls in order to provide access to the various rooms inside. The center provides safe shelter to battered women, HIV/AIDS clients, and others. The day I was there, the women had taken crafts into town to sell. There was one man being cared for who had been accused of sorcery in his village, and had come to hide out, get well and hopefully be relocated to another village where he could live in relative security.
The duplex had been completed, but for one tiny major feature – the power company has not yet come to connect the wire from the pole at the street, to the house. So the officer family lives in the finished home, using only daylight to see, and with no fans to draw a breeze through the rooms. But the officer serves happily, and with a smile on his face he tells me about the exciting new ventures they’re embarking upon to provide better services to those who need them, and to share the Gospel with everyone.
From there we headed out to visit the “Back Road Fellowship.” Heavy rain overnight had turned the road along the ocean shore into a deeply rutted mud bog. Traffic crawled slowly through, bouncing from one mud hole to the next, until we eventually made it to Back Road – a dangerous stretch of rutted blacktop where our safety was ensured only because we were in uniform and the vehicle was marked with the Red Shield. Orphan boys (young men) inhabit this road, selling whatever they can lay their hands upon, stealing what they can, and creating havoc routinely.The city dump is along this road, and The Salvation Army brings food to the dozens of young children at the dump who hang out scavenging food from whatever refuse is dumped daily.
Just past the dump, Capt. Buka honks the horn and waves to a group of boys who are clearing a field of tall grass with huge bush knives. He turns onto a two-tire path and after a short distance turns between a couple of palm trees. He picks his way between trees until suddenly a hall (a roof on poles suspended over rough wooden benches) appears. We park and I’m introduced to Mrs. Sibby, a Salvationist who lives on the property, and who runs the “William Booth Café” where the orphan boys from up and down Back Road come for breakfast each morning and supper each night. The café is only a tiny wooden shack with enough space for a “PNG Stove” (a pit for burning wood, with supports for a pot or two) and perhaps two people to work. Coffee and tea, rice, and bread are the staples served daily.
Barrels line one side of the hall under the edge of the roof so that they collect rain water. That’s the water source for the Sibby family, and for the café. It’s also for the chicken project that’s a money maker and a training program at Back Road. Beyond the hall is a smaller structure covered with chicken wire. We step through a rough door and are introduced to one of two young men who live in tiny blanket-walled cubbies in a corner of the coop in order to watch over the chickens. In a small cage, 52 little yellow balls of fur chirps and scurry randomly at our intrusion. Two small lanterns provide warmth and light for these baby chicks that were just delivered the day before. As they grow, they will be moved outside of the small cage, but still within the safety of the coop, until at six weeks old, they are big enough to be sold for 30 kina each. Funds will be used to buy another 52 chicks, as well as provide food, coffee, sugar, milk and tea for the café. Funds also support the work of the corps fellowship.
As we stand talking to Mrs. Sibby, a group of boys come wandering through the palm trees. Each one comes to shake my hand and give me his name, and a warm welcoming smile. They’re the same boys who were clearing the field out on Back Road. That property, Capt. Buka tells me, is where The Salvation Army hopes to build a better hall and café. The fellowship is growing and needs more space, as well as to benefit from the better visibility out on the main road. Capt. Buka subconsciously steps up onto a small rock and easily begins to encourage the boys with an impromptu Gospel message. The boys listen gratefully, soaking up the care and concern shown to them in these brief moments.
As we head for the car, two of the young men have taken their place at a small table near the front of the hall. They are preparing to teach lessons to whomever gathers there for unofficial schooling that is offered there. Though we need to move on, I linger, taking pictures, shaking hands, trying out a few basic words of Pidgin that I know. I find that I don’t want to leave. There’s something sacred about this simple hall, café, chicken coop … and the people who call this area their home – and their ministry. God is present, even on this misty Tuesday morning in a palm field.
Back at the Salvation Army compound, I visit with Daniel, one of three young men who teach at the Lae Street School. The school provides educational opportunity to 120 children from the streets whose families cannot afford to send them to “real” school. It was started by two of the young men, just a few years ago, as a ministry of the corps on the compound. Hundreds of street children have gone through the school over the years, and they are looking for a space of their own, where they could have real classrooms, and smaller groups of students. For now, they meet in the large hall that at night sleeps dozens of homeless, lined across the floor on simple mats. In the morning, the homeless pick up their mats, and students file in. They’re divided into two groups, older children on one side of the room, and younger children on the other. Using borrowed copies of books and materials, the teachers give instruction on reading, writing, grammar, and math.
The official tour is over, and I’ve got plenty of experiences, photographs and notes to account for the four projects I had planned to check up on. But the best was yet to come.
During our drive back to the compound, Capt. Buka had pointed out a digital tower at the top of a hill near town and told me that he and his wife had visited there the day before. There are sex workers living up there, and the Captains planned to take some food and soap and toothbrushes up to the families there. I asked if I could go along.
I rested and checked some emails and Facebook in the afternoon, and then around 4 o’clock, Capt. Buka knocked on my door. I joined him along with Capt. Jenny and their youngest daughter Rachael, and we drove up to the top of the mountain. The scenery was beautiful, with lush rolling hills, clouds coming down over the mountains across the bay, and ships resting lazily in the water. We parked, and while Capt. Jenny went to greet the families and let them know we were there, Capt. Buka and I walked up the hill to check out the scenery and get some pictures. When Capt. Jenny said it was alright, we brought out a plastic tub filled with cream buns, some sacks with soap and toothbrushes, and a case of canned Pepsi. Capt. Jenny had her Bible.
We climbed a small rise, and stood at the edge of ledge while the residents sat around on rocks and logs crude concrete steps to listen as Jenny and Buka told them about the love of God. It was conversational, and it was in Pidgin, but I could make out the basis of what was being said. At one point, one of the women told the captains, “We know we’re rejects. Even God has turned his back on us.” Gently Buka and Jenny shared words of hope and love and mercy and grace. They shared scripture. They prayed. We handed food and supplies to each of the women, the children and the few men that were there. As they ate the cream buns and drank the Pepsi, the conversations continued. A woman finally said that if the captains said God loved them, then they would believe it. Then they asked if they could come to meetings to hear more about God’s love.
They thanked us over and over for the food, and more for just visiting and talking with them. They asked when Captains Buka and Jenny could come back, and the captains assured them they would be back again soon.
The forum was informational, and helpful in understanding the mission of CPP and the support it can be to our Salvation Army mission. But for me, that first day was the best—probably my favorite day in PNG so far, because I wasn’t in an office, working at a computer, monitoring projects, paying bills and making reports. I was with Capt. Buka and Capt. Jenny and Mrs. Sibby and orphan boys learning to care for baby chickens. I was meeting people that lived with very little hope – with very little. Yet they were eager to hear from someone who just cared, and to hear about the God of Hope.
That gives meaning to all the busy-ness that occupies most of my time.