Maliyali request, Aug 13, 2014
I assisted Susan and my daughter Mikayla as they gave over 200 vaccinations to help curb a sudden outbreak of measles in our village, so I was tired. The sun had dropped beyond the Lagaip River gorge and I was walking toward my front door with the last of the medical supplies.
“Brother, brother,” my friend Luk called. “A couple men want to talk with you.”
I paused and looked up toward our meeting house where Luk was pointing. “Do you know what they want?”
“They came from somewhere down river and have been sitting here all day waiting to talk with you.”
I threw the box of medicines through the door and walked away from the break I had been longing for. I hope this won’t take long.
Two men were sitting at the outside corner of our little church building. One of the men extended his hand and said something, but I didn’t catch it.
“He says his name is Sam Yesuwa,” said Luk. “He says he came from the village of Maliyali.”
I shook their hands. I had never hiked that far down the Lagaip River valley. I was told the Maliyali people were part of the Hewa language group but I had never been able to understand their speech when different village members came to speak with me in the past so I feared they would never be able to use the Bible I was in the process of translating.
“Do you mind if we talk with you?” asked Sam, using Luk as his translator, “maybe inside the church?”
Fato and Waina joined us as we entered the hand-split plank building and once we were seated Sam showed me a woven bag made from hand-spun bark fibers. He reached inside and pulled out a few folded papers. “I want to give you this bag with my letters,” he began. “I gave this first letter to a boy a long time ago to carry to you but it only made it as far the village of Kenyelifa.”
I nodded. The hike from Maliyali to our village would have taken several days so it was not surprising the first carrier stopped only half way and then turned around to go home.
“I didn’t realize it never arrived to you until much later. I wrote a second letter to you, then a third and fourth, but never received your response. Eventually I discovered my letters never made it here.”
“Sorry about that,” I said, reaching to take the woven bag and letter. I unfolded the first crinkled paper and saw it was dated four months earlier.
“Go ahead and read it.” I read through the first and then the second letters and was struck by the simple plea for missionaries to come to Maliyali to teach the Bible in their language.
“Earlier, before I was born,” Sam said, “a religious group came to our village and built a little church building. They taught my parents their denominational principles from the Bible in the Melanesian Pidgin language, but my parents couldn’t understand well. Now all these years later I can see that the religious group meant well, but their message has had very little impact in our village because my parent’s generation and my generation don’t understand the language of town.”
I nodded. Though a few people in the scattered villages learned an elementary level of the Pidgin language, they didn’t understand enough to grasp the important truths of the Gospel message. Basic conversational speech was not enough for them to understand concepts such as the undeserved grace of God in sending His Son Jesus to die as a substitute for their sin debt. I had seen that the language barrier often resulted in a confused hodge-podge of legalistic syncretism which led them to believe they were God’s children simply because they got baptized in a church, started wearing clothing and learned how to use outhouses.
“After visiting your village and observing how the Bible you are translating for the people in this dialect is changing their lives I realized we need to hear this message too. I used to think we needed a missionary in our village because they could help us get medicine and store goods, but now I understand it is very important that we hear the stories you teach from the Bible. I need you to send missionaries to our village right away.”
Though I was excited for Sam and his plea for missionaries, his request put an immediate lump in my throat. He wasn’t the first who had been asking for missionaries to come. The requests had started arriving even before we had finished building our first home in the jungle in 2000. Over the years delegations arrived from the villages of Yano, Kinyelifa, Popaki, and other places. The most heart breaking to me was the man Kemiya who arrived at least once a year asking for missionaries until one day I heard he died on the trail, never having heard the message of the Bible in his dialect. Now to this day, whenever I hike past his grave that is near the trail my heart weeps.
I could hardly look into Sam’s eyes. “I have been asking for people to come as missionaries to Papua New Guinea. I have told the story of the needs here in Hewa over and over as I visit family and friends in my home country. I will continue to ask, but unfortunately I can’t promise anything.” My words sounded hollow and empty. Like someone pretending to care. How could I give him hope that someone would arrive to teach him the Bible in his dialect when I myself was losing hope.
Lord, please rise up a new generation who will turn their backs on the American dream in order to take part in the effort of sharing the love of Jesus with the unreached people groups of the world.
“Pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” Matt. 9:38