Sunday, 19 July 2009

Road to Tumbang

A couple of months ago, Robert, my Bible college student friend, asked me to speak at the Tumbang church where he has been pastoring. I kind of mumbled something about thank you for the invitation and maybe someday I would speak there when I was feeling more comfortable with my Pidgin. Kauantz, Robert's wife, brought me a schedule of services for the church a few weeks later. I scanned through the page and found that I was listed as the speaker for July 19th. Gulp. Here goes nothing.

So this week I was working on my talk and feeling a bit nervous. Number one because of the language issue. And number two, I didn't go to school to become a preacher and have never felt that was my gift. I am just a doctor! But the Lord lifted me up with a passage from Jeremiah 1. It was rather perfect, actually. Jeremiah, one of the great prophets of the Old Testament, was having some of the same doubts that I was. Here is what he writes:

The word of the Lord came to me saying,
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."
"Ah, Sovereign Lord," I said, "I do not know how to speak, I am only a child."
But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a child.' You must go to everyone I send you and to say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you," declares the Lord.
Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, "Now, I have put my words in your mouth."
~ Jeremiah 1:4-9

As the day approached, there were a few other concerns that began to surface. Even the more experienced missionaries were not exactly sure where Tumbang was. It was a relatively new church and none of our missionaries had visited there before. Apparently it was out the road to Mondomil, one of the stations run by the Swiss EBC mission. The road was rumored to be in such bad condition that the Swiss missionaries no longer drove it. It was potentially passable in dry season, but we have had an unseasonable amount of rain in the last couple of weeks. The trip was cancelled, and then un-cancelled. We would proceed on the prayers of our fellow missionaries.

The mocha cruiser was loaded up at about 8:30 this AM. The Myers family had originally volunteered to accompany me on this day (little did they know...). Three of our volunteers also came along. We topped off the vehicle with Robert and Kauantz, and Rocky who is 1st year student at the Bible college. The open spaces were filled with hiking boots and shovels in case we needed to hike for a while or dig ourselves out of something. It was smooth riding the short way to Minj, where we squeezed another passenger into the already full vehicle. Willie brought his ax along and made a comment about the road being bad. Well, let's just say the road from Minj on to Tumbang is something you would have to experience to believe. Actually more of an amusement park ride, though not very amusing as you are going along. We bounced and slipped and bounced some more. There were a few rather precarious looking drop-offs along the way. (No worries, Mom and Dad... we were COMPLETELY safe the whole time. Jeff is a most excellent driver.) We all exited the vehicle and walked over one rickety bridge. Thanks to Willie and his ax, the missing boards were filled in with small tree limbs and Jeff was able to drive the cruiser across without falling into the raging river below. We continued bouncing along past the mission at Mondomil. The road actually improved from there, probably because most vehicles cannot make it that far! A few more miles and we arrived at Tumbang. 

Or almost... the cruiser was parked on the side of the road and we hiked about 15 more minutes across a broken down bridge and up a short road. We approached the church and were welcomed by the people with a song, many hand shakes and hugs. Flowers were draped around each of our necks. We were directed into a small building that was made of bush materials: woven mats for walls and a grass roof. The floor was so soft with freshly laid leaves. The church was beautifully decorated with flowers and fruits and vegetables. There was even a small pool at the front with two very large gold fish swimming in it. Plastic chairs had been brought in for the special guests as the regular attenders normally sit on the floor.

Pastor Robert opened the service with a prayer. We were officially welcomed by Willie the ax man and then heard a brief history of the church, which had only opened in 2006. Robert and Kauantz played their guitars and lead the congregation in worship. Jeff Myers sang the wonderful Pidgin version of "How Great Thou Art" and we all chimed in at the end to help with the English chorus. Ten children were dedicated to the Lord and the last was named "Stephanie" in honor of the first missionary to visit and speak at the church (that's me). I shared my testimony with the congregation, about my call and journey to PNG. At the close of the service, we all gathered outside for more hugs and handshakes and a few pictures. Baby Stephanie screamed and cried when I went up to her (I suspect she has never seen a white woman before), which brought on a good laugh from everyone. Our traveling party gathered back in the building for a lunch that had been prepared by some of the women of the church. Ethan particularly enjoyed the chicken foot. Then we loaded back up, bounced and slid all the way home. Only had to dig ourselves out once!

Wow, what an incredible day to worship with our brothers and sisters and to experience the worldwide family of God. It was a bit overwhelming at times. The trip itself was exhausting and I imagine I will be a bit sore from attempting to steady myself in the back of the bouncing cruiser. And I feel so humbled by how the PNGians honored us today, and so very blessed by them. They are such wonderful people.
Thank you, Lord, for the privilege of serving you here.


  1. what wonderful pictures. what a wonderful story. i tear up all the time when reading about your adventures and the people!

  2. So glad it was a wonderful day...and that you all made it safely. We have been praying for you and for this day specifically! "Where God guides...He provides" .. and old saying but still so true!

  3. sort of simple to say, but "got goosebumps" when are indeed having a very special experience that not many people get...may God continue to bless!

  4. Wow Steph! You are right where God wants you at this time in your life and I can see the Joy of the Lord in your face on the pictures. Gos is blessing you in so many ways and you are such a blessing to these precious people!

  5. The next time I have to drive a long detour route because a bridge is being fixed, I will not complain knowing that there are people in the world who have to carry an ax and fix it themselves!

  6. Funny how I remember reinacting travel in a foreign country one day at LLU in class, remember? I think we all wore sheets and swayed back and forth like we were on a boat. Oh, how that wasn't even close to what you would encounter trying to travel! I am glad you got there safely and felt God's presence as you were obedient to share with these people!

  7. Ah, Steph! Your're a real missionary now.

  8. Praise the Lord, Steph. It makes me smile to read about the Lord is using you!

  9. Thanks for the link to the Myers' account. I loved reading that and seeing their pictures too!

  10. Hi Stephenie,
    I just wanted to say how proud I am to know you and to have you as our LINKS missionary. What a thrill it must have been for you to a mom name her chlid after you. I am sure you were a great encouragment to them as you were to us. God's richest blessings be yours. You are always in our prayers. Pastor Gary at Cove Church of the Nazarene