You’ve not lived ‘til you’ve heard folks from PNG say, “Hoe-dee-yo.” That’s what I tried to teach the men at the men’s camps I lead in Goroka and in Lea Lea. I would greet them with, “Apenun Olgeta” which is pidgin for “good afternoon everyone,” and then I would tell them that where I’m from (Kansas) we have a similar greeting, so if I was learning their language, they should learn mine, right? Oh, by the way, if you’ve not figured it out yet – that’s “Howdy y’all.”
I was blessed to be part of these “Men Only Weekend” events in the two divisions. I was asked to present on “Being a real man in society.” For the Friday night keynote, I used an acrostic for REAL to teach about man’s responsibilities in Relationships, Environment, Actions and Loving. I had two sessions on Saturday morning, and I focused on the “R” and the more important relationships of being a husband and a father. That evening they used the movie “Courageous,” and then on Sunday morning I preached about being made new in Christ – about a fresh start.
There was much laughter, solemn discussion, and challenging questions. The men were eager to listen to this strange red-headed American as I talked about notions that created discomfort for their culture. Yet they willingly admitted that some of their ideas needed to be challenged and changed.
One of the more controversial issues was as I discussed demonstrating honor and love toward wives. Things like saying, “I love you,” or touching a hand, a cheek or a shoulder (outside the bedroom) are just not done. I heard responses like, “She would think I’ve gone crazy,” or “My wife would take a frying pan to my head,” were repeated more than once! But one young officer made the crowd roar when he promised to try it, and quoted the scripture, “I press on toward the goal …” That became a rallying cry for the weekend.
A highlight for me was on Saturday morning, after the pre-sunrise prayer walk, when the corps officer in Lea Lea, Capt. Alvin, took me for a walk through the seaside village. From the corps hall and quarters, we walked about a quarter-mile up the one road that runs from Port Moresby to Lea Lea. The road ends at a circle surrounded by homes, a few shops, an open air market where villagers sell fish and crabs, beetle nut and garden produce to one another. Then a modern wooden footbridge connects this outlying part of Lea Lea to the actual village across the small bay.
It’s not often they see a white man walking through their village, and especially one with fiery red hair, so I’m getting used to being seen as a novelty. The people greeted me as I passed, and responded with grins when I would ask if I could take a picture. The children eagerly jostled for position when the camera was pointed their way. Overall, the people are cheerful and friendly, open to this stranger wandering through their village.
There were stark highlights as we walked. Children sat at the edge of the footbridge fishing, their only equipment being a pop bottle or a medicine bottle with string wrapped around it. Yet the would sit with their gear dangling in the water, and proudly displaying their catch which they kept in a plastic shopping bag. In the village, houses are crowded close together in the deep soft sand, but neatly organized in rows with “streets” running between.
All the houses are built high on stilts, and under the houses, clothing is hung to dry, or equipment is stored. There are small cooking fires protected from the rain, wind and sun. On porches, steps or in doorways, children sat, just watching the new day begin. At an open space near a big church, a small girl repeatedly dropped a plastic jug with a hole cut in the side down into a corrugated steel-lined well dug in the sand. She masterfully twisted the rope until the jug turned to fill with water. Then she would haul it up by hand, pour the water into empty 5-litre jugs around her, and then repeat the process.
We walked between rows of houses and headed to the beach. The homes facing the water, I was told, are the prime locations, and have been handed down by families for generations. They are high on stilts like the rest of the village, and many have multiple levels of porches facing the water. My assumption is that this allows them, whatever level the tide is at, to keep their homes high and dry, yet have access to the beach and their boats.
Boats are everywhere up and down the beach. They’re called dingys, and each is a 15-20 foot long fiberglass shells. The boats are used for fishing, and to transport people to other villages and markets to buy and sell goods.
As I walked barefoot along the beach, people from the homes came down to the water to bathe, and children played in the gentle serf. A young man carried a boat motor on his shoulder out to one of the dingys. (The motor and fuel are kept in the homes for safety, and hauled out to the boats only when needed.) The boats are anchored near the shore and bob lightly in the waves.
Back at the Lea Lea Corps compound the Captain filled a small plastic bucket with water from the storage tank and set it on flat stones lining the bottom of a tiny corrugated steel hut. Before breakfast I had the chance to “shower.” There’s a plastic cup in the bucket that is used to pour water over your body. You have to be judicious, using enough water to get wet enough to bathe, but saving enough to adequately rinse after soaping and shampooing. It’s an interesting exercise, but after the sticky night’s rest and the walk through the village, the bath was refreshing and I was grateful for the kindness and hospitality shown me.
There was great worship and fellowship and discussion during my morning sessions at the men’s camp, and I drove home for the afternoon. I was able to bring Sandy back with me for the morning worship, since the plan was for the Lea Lea corps to join with the men for the service. I parked the truck and as we got out, I heard a chorus of “hoe-dee-yos” coming from a group of guys sitting in the open sided hall waiting for the service to begin.
It was humbling and gratifying to see men lining the altar after the service, praying that God would make them the husbands and fathers that He wanted them to be. My work in the office at THQ is exciting and challenging as I strive to keep up with the projects, reports and funding requests. But being out in the villages worshiping and ministering with the people of Papua New Guinea touches me deeply, and really makes this “missionary” service come alive in my heart.