On Learning a New Culture…

We were awakened this morning by a slow, steady drumbeat, a signal from one village to the next. A villager had died. This is the way of telling, and of mourning. 

Our language school sits on top of a mountain and is nestled among several villages. Some of these villages have a large wooden drum, called a garamut, used to communicate with surrounding villages. A garamut is what we heard this morning. It signaled the women of the village to come cry and wail with the family, a practice not unlike the wailing we read about in the Bible. 

A garamut in a village we hiked to

This culture is fascinating in so many ways, and the road to learning it well is a long one. However, this morning God showed me that in any culture, death is real and difficult, but that He sustains those who trust in him. 

The past two months have been a time of great learning. In addition to learning language, we have been privileged to learn a great deal about Melanesian culture so that we can begin to understand our PNG friends better. We have also spent a considerable amount of time learning how to get around in the country, whether by foot or PMV (public motor vehicle). We now feel much more confident about navigating our new world. 

Riding a PMV (Public Motor Vehicle) to town

We have hiked extensively through the jungle during our time here. Last week, Jeremy, Sam, and I spent an entire day hiking to a village through very rugged jungle, then spent the night there. The purpose of this trip was to do a survey of the village. The topics we covered were language, traditional practices, medical availability, land, government, church, and school. The villagers were very happy to talk with us, and we sat with them for hours. In this culture it is inappropriate to ask direct questions, but if you sit and talk with people for long enough, you can ask these questions in an indirect manner. It was a real treat on this evening to hear several tumbuna stories from one of the leaders of the village. Tumbuna stories are similar to fairy tales or Aesop’s Fables, but are specific to life in PNG. We heard a story about how the first coconut tree grew, and a very confusing story about a little boy who was taken away by a wild spirit because he did something wrong. After everyone else had gone to bed, Jeremy stayed up with some of the village men for a while. The conversation turned spiritual, and Jeremy was able to share the gospel for the first time in Tok Pisin, walking through the four gospels with the men, as well as some old Testament scriptures. Jeremy said that this conversation was the highlight of his time at language school so far, as this is the work we’re here to do! 

Leaving for our overnight hike
Storying in the Haus Man

We found out that the people in this particular village don’t have access to a Bible in their language, but God showed us just how big He is. The language in this village is a very close dialect of the language group near our language school (so close that the only major difference is the pronunciation of some words). It just so happens that a sweet American couple lives beside the school and has been working on a translation since 1978. The New Testament is complete and in use, and the Old Testament is undergoing final checks before printing and distribution. We informed the translators of the need for Bibles in the village, and now they are checking into the possibility of distributing Bibles in this area. This is exciting news! To God be the glory!

Olivia and Everett have very much enjoyed their classes. They spend most mornings in Tok Pisin lessons, then the afternoons are spent learning about the history, culture, plants, and animals of PNG. On some days they have lessons about building fires and cooking over them. Other days they go on long hikes through the jungle with Papua New Guinean guides. I have been very impressed with everything they have learned and accomplished since we’ve been here. Their progress in Tok Pisin is phenomenal. Children are amazing language learners! 

Our time at the Pacific Orientation Course is almost complete. On Wednesday, we will be going to live in a village in a different part of Madang for four weeks, then we will go back up to the mountains of Goroka to be reunited with our teammates and dear friends. In the village, we will live in a bush house and will be under the care of a village family. Our daily lives will closely mirror those of the villagers, from cooking over a fire and washing clothes and bathing in a river, to working in the garden and spending time just sitting and talking with people. The children may have the opportunity to spend a day in the village school, which will potentially be a rich cultural learning experience. We are looking forward to this time in the village, but need prayers as we step into a completely different way of life. 

We have learned so much here, but we have also had some difficulties. Learning a new language is a frustrating endeavor. Living in very close community with thirteen other families is challenging. Trying to acclimate to a new culture can be baffling. Being exposed to new illnesses is frightening. Dealing with our own sinfulness and that of others can be devastating. But, as always, the Lord has sustained us through these challenges, and we are able to say, even more confidently than before, that He alone is our rock. 

Prayer Requests

  • Village Living

Please pray for us as we travel to our village home on Wednesday morning (Tuesday afternoon for most of you). Pray that we will be able to show the love of Christ to the villagers, and that we will learn everything we can from them. Pray that, as sickness inevitably comes, we will hold fast to the reason we have come to PNG and not get discouraged. Also pray that we can establish some good relationships in the village. 

  • Family Life

Pray that we will remember to spend time together talking about the important events in each of our lives. Pray that, as parents, Jeremy and I will continually lead our children to Christ in every possible situation and teach them to always rely on Him. We fail at this on more occasions than I care to admit. Pray that Jeremy and I can find time together as a couple, and that God would continue to bring us ever closer to Him and to each other. 

  • Children

Please pray for all of the children as they continue to adjust to this new way of life. 

Pray for Sam specifically as he battles loneliness and seeks to find companionship in this new place. One of our team members had planned to meet us here in January but has been unable to make it to Papua New Guinea yet. This has been disappointing for Sam, as this team member is a single man in his twenties who we thought would be a good mentor and friend for Sam. We are praying for guidance and that Sam would learn to rely on God through this. We’re also praying that God will bring him a friend. 

Please pray for Olivia as she is learning about being a young woman in a different culture than her own. Expectations of girls here are a bit different than they are in the States, and we’re trying to balance our way of doing things with these expectations. Pray for lots of grace as we navigate this challenging issue. 

Please pray for Everett, as he is having a tough time adjusting right now. He had gotten fairly comfortable in Goroka during our first month in PNG. Then we came Madang and his world got turned upside down again. He’s having some separation anxiety issues, which I know is a result of lack of stability. We are doing everything we can to help him through this, but we would very much appreciate your prayers in this matter. 

Thank you so much for your continued support of our family. We love you all and miss you so much. We pray that God would continue to bless you and your family.  

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One thought on “On Learning a New Culture…

  1. I am absolutely amazed at your faith, determination, and the calling that you've accepted for your lives! All of you are an inspiration!! Prayers are coming your way! Roy McNiel


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