Wednesday, June 29, 2011

AGARABI - A Treasure finally received!

It is 50 years ago since Carol and I, as a young and enthusiastic couple, arrived in the Papua New Guinea outstation of Kainantu in the Eastern Highlands of that country to start a primary school among the Agarabi people.

Our own primary objective - following a missionary call to both of us, was to bring the good news about Jesus to the people of Papua New Guinea. While that was easier with children, the language barrier was substantial with adults. We soon found that there was no Scripture in the local language, which made it difficult for local pastors to bring the gospel to people's hearts. Interpreting from the English text just did not do it! It needed their mother tongue to bring true meaning.

Lorna Luff was one of the first members of Wycliffe Bible Translators/SIL when it began work in Papua New Guinea in 1956. In 1959, Lora began working among the Agarabi people and Jean Goddard from America joined her in 1961. Lorna and Jean worked in the Agarabi language for many years and much of the New Testament was translated in rough draft. In the late 1980s Lorna retired to Australia, and Jean, not wanting to continue alone, began helping other translation teams.

It was not until 1995 that Ron & Michelle Olson arrived from USA. Ron, along with two local guides and his son Ben, conducted a three-day survey, hiking through the entire area of the Agarabi language. Their objective was to determine the dialect boundaries, and to discern the Agarabi people's desire for a translation of the Scriptures in their own language.

On the third day of this survey trip, tired ad ready to go home, Ron and his group entered the last village they intended to visit. A local man, out of breath from hurrying, came up to Ron and said in the trade language (Melanesian Pidgin), "I want you to come to my house so that we can talk about Bible translation." As they began walking up the steep hill to Darasi's house, Darasi began relating his story to Ron. Darasi had worked with Lorna and Jean many years earlier as a village checker and interestingly, was one of my student in the early 1960s.

Darasi told Ron that on this very day, when he was at a clinic about 20 miles away, he felt the Holy Spirit directing him to return home as soon as possible. because he had an important visitor. So Darasi hopped on a PMV (Public Motor Vehicle) - the PNG equivalent of a bus service, and then hurried along the bush road that leads to his village, Kanimpa.


Darasi concluded that God wanted him to continue to work with the Olsons on the translation of the Bible into his language. In June 2009, the last book of the Agarabi New Testament went through SIL's rigorous 'quality control' testing.

The presentation and dedication of the Agarabi New Testament was planned for 22 May 2011, and unless something drastic happened, there was no way I would not be there to share the occasion. I suppose, in a sense, it was a sort of concluding chapter in our association with Agarabi people over 50 years. Though our love for them will never go.

As it turned out, daughters Brenda & Heather - along with husbands Graeme & Brent, plus grandchildren Kathryn & Thomas, also put their hands up to be part of the party. Dear Jan wasn't altogether sure about venturing to, what is a much reported dangerous country. I full understand her concerns, but reassured her that we would be among friends in Kainantu and of course, would be very careful.

Meet the family! Pasin & his family are introduced to
Brenda & Graeme, Heather, Brent, Kathryn & Thomas.

Kathryn especially, drew plenty of attention!

This is therefore my story about the dedication of the Agarabi New Testament. This chapter will be followed by more stories about other experiences during this visit. I did not take many photos myself (too busy saying hello to everyone) and I am grateful to Graeme, Sandy, Jeff, Ron, Jan & Thomas for supplying images that so highlight the celebration!

Mine has been a special joy to follow the development of the Agarabi Scriptures translation project and, as I said earlier, to see the active involvement in this project of one of my former Agarabi students. As a student, I knew him as Narao, but he has been quick to point out to me that I both misheard and mis-spelled his name so long ago! Hmmmm! Yes Teacher!

Good to meet up with Darasi again!

It has also been a special delight to meet Ron & Michelle Olson & their family. We first visited them back in 2005 along with Brenda. Since then, we have delighted in their friendship and enjoy their companionship on life's journey.

What a special day when we saw for the first time the printed Agarabi New Testament - the Kama Vaya!

This is a special moment. Michelle & Ron holding the Agarabi New
Testament and a number of booklets to assist in literacy.

Much planning and work by the Agarabi people had gone into celebrating the coming of this Treasure, and on Sunday 22 May, the village of Kanimpa waited with expectations the events planned for the day!

The Agarabi children shared in the excitement.
The platform, all set to welcome God's treasured Word! The above little one had a comfortable seat, while others sat onthe grass or just stood, enjoying the proceedings.

Being welcomed back by the Agarabi people is special, but no more so than for Ron & Michelle who lived and worked in this village for 15+ years. It was quite obvious that they are much loved and appreciated:

The smiles say it all!

As is appropriate on occasions such as these - and especially considering that it has taken so long, music played an important part:

It all created such a special atmosphere!

SIL Director, Tim Lithgow, gave the gathering a wonderful address about the coming of Scripture in the heart language of the Agarabi people and how much more meaningful the good news is in one's own language:Ron spoke movingly about the history of the translation project and how he and Michelle were privileged to play an important part in the translation of God's Word:We very much enjoyed meeting Sandy & Dawn who represented Ron & Michelle's home church in USA. This church has been an important supporter and partner with the Agarabi people and the Olsons. Dawn spoke on behalf of the church and presented the Agarabi people a small hand-held audio unit that plays the New Testament in the Agarabi language - an ongoing project. I fully support this media as it will reach people who themselves cannot read or who do not have a New Testament.

Ron with Dawn, holding the audio playback unit. I was also asked to bring a word of encouragement.
After all those many years away from PNG, it surprised me that my
Tok Pisin (Pidgin) flowed so easily. From what I heard, my little
speech was well understood.

In contrast, there was a delightful skit about how things were in what were 'dark days' (their words), before the good news of Jesus came to the Agarabi people. It was amusing and brought many memories back of the days when traditional singsings were part of my early contact with these people.
Warriors in traditional garb preparing for a confrontation with white missionaries.
And below, first contact with the Lutheran missionary. Above: The Olson family enjoying the drama.
Below: As did Jan & Kathryn. Plus the gathering of many Agarabi folk & Wycliffe personnel
from every vantage point!

It was finally time for the most important part of the day, and that was to bring the Holy Scriptures into the village and be presented to the people. When Ron asked for some help in bringing the boxes of Testaments to the front, I was unable to resist going with him to carry the precious treasure to the people. I felt very small, knowing acutely the incredible work put in by all the translators and others. It was such a special moment!

Ron led the procession, followed by his son Josh, then 'yours truly'
and others including Graeme, Brent & Thomas.
A carton of 40 books was almost too much for this 'old man', but
by God's kindness, I got there - a little out of breath!
The above photo shows all who did the 'hard yards', plus there
were those in the past who were recognised in absentia.

For K10, it was excellent value! Young and old purchased copies. A priceless joy! This dear old man, the village Elder, dignified and respected! Ben, Sandy & Dawn with villagers.
They represented so many others who were a part in this event.
For Jan & I it was a special moment we shared.

Michelle sharing the joy of God's Word. With two of my own past students, sharing the coming of God's Word. Hallelujah! And this is surely my favourite of all the above photos.
Agarabi men sharing their new found Treasure. It is a precious sight!

I really don't know how to finish this blog, because in many ways it is a fresh and new beginning! I feel very privileged to having shared in the Agarabi people's lives for 50 years. I relived those long ago 'colonial' days and now see a proud people who express themselves in a new age of independence. My prayer is that the words from Holy Scripture will be a special influence in lives of generations to come.

In the words of Darasi, when speaking what God's Word in Agarabi means to him, 'It tastes like honey on bread!' Check it out on the following link: