Striving Side By Side For the Faith of the Gospel

We currently partner with New Life Mission, a group of churches in Goroka composed entirely of Papua New Guineans. In August of this year, a couple of the New Life Mission pastors approached me and expressed their desire for Bible training. These are hard working men with families who survive on whatever comes from their gardens. Because of responsibilities in their villages, they are unable to go to a Bible College in a far off town where they have no way to provide for themselves or their families. So they preach what little they know of the Bible and pastor their congregations the best way the know how, with no training and no one to disciple them.

Having never pastored a church myself, I am in many ways grossly under-qualified to give these guys pastoral training. However, I have had the benefit of much Bible study and theological education that is simply not available to them. With this in mind, I agreed to a three day a week training program with a few conditions. One condition is that whenever I go into the bush to work in an unreached tribe, they go with me. Another condition is that when we host one week pastor training sessions with all of the New Life Mission pastors, these students must take on the role of teacher for a session or two. They agreed to my conditions, and we started training the week of September 15.

Striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel

As I prepared for our first week, the first question I had to ask myself was, “Where do I start?” I have never been in charge of a Bible school or developed a curriculum. I was at a loss and didn’t know how to begin. I did not want to develop something that is entirely Western based, but the bulk of my education and work experience has been in a Western context. I did not want to develop something that is too dependent on literacy, yet teaching in a totally oral fashion is not something I’m ready to do either. These pastors are surrounded by cults and errant beliefs about Christianity and desire to be prepared to make a defense for the reason of the hope that is in them. In order to do this, they must be able to defend their faith with the word of God. By the grace of God, I put something together that I hope will be helpful to them.

Each day started with a devotion. I pulled material from Knowing God by J.I. Packer, Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman, and Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This was often the best part of the day. We looked at what it means to know God, not just in the sense of intellectual knowledge, but that we can know God in a personal way. We looked at the way Jesus walked with the disciples and how they spent their lives together. We walked through parts of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 and 6 and were broken by our own sinfulness and inadequacy to follow the commands of Jesus. Then we rejoiced in Christ’s overcoming power to fulfill the Law and rescue us from our sin.

After devotion we worked on catechism questions. In Tok Pisin we call this Kwesten na Bekim. The catechism we’re using is one I have been translating from Desiring God. Learning one new question and answer a day, we made it through the first 18 questions, covering topics such as the person of God, word of God, work of God, purpose of man, and sin. For each question, we would together verify my Tok Pisin translation and study each passage of scripture listed. We usually spent an hour looking at the context of the passages and diving into the story. Then we looked to see how and why each passage supported this particular point. We also tried to understand whether it was the main point of the particular passage or more of a supporting point.

The last subject each morning was systematic theology or Baibel Doktrin. For the most part I followed Grudem’s outline in his Systematic Theology and walked through the knowability of God, word of God, and attributes of God. We took Grudem’s basic definition of each point of doctrine and translated it into Tok Pisin, discussed the meaning, then walked through passages of scripture. As hard as it was, I really tried to avoid proof-texting during this portion of our study. For Americans, it is really easy to rattle off a bunch of passages to support a particular point. However, these guys are not familiar with much of the Old Testament, and the context of the New Testament is pretty fuzzy. I wanted them to first understand the passages in the context of the original writer, then see how it supported this particular point, much like the catechism study above. Hopefully this will give them much more confidence in the message of scripture as they move forward in life and ministry.

The afternoons began with a study of Genesis. I was able to find a book called “In the Beginning” by Ian Malins, and I bought both the English and Tok Pisin translations. All of the other subjects we are studying are discussion based, but since these guys do read and study to preach from their Bibles, I wanted to use this portion of study to help them develop their reading skills. So I handed out copies of the day’s lesson in Tok Pisin and gave them about 30 minutes to read over it. Then we would spend another 30 minutes discussing the lesson and the questions provided in the study. This was definitely a challenge for them to read something and then quickly apply it and respond to questions, but it is a needed skill as they continue to preach and teach in their own churches and communities. During our six weeks of concentrated training we were able to get through Creation, the Fall, Cain and Abel, the line of Seth, and the beginning verses of chapter 6 leading up to the story of Noah.

The second afternoon hour was spent on an expositional study of Jonah using the TNT curriculum that we used during my time at the Center for Pioneer Church Planting (CPCP). We focused on skills like observation, followed by interpretation and then application. We looked at ways to study the historical and biblical context in ways that are accessible to them (think no commentaries and no internet access). We practiced using a Tok Pisin Bible dictionary and a Bible atlas to help visualize where events took place. We looked at how Jonah fits within the biblical storyline and ultimately how Jesus used the story of Jonah in his teaching. Each of the students would prepare their work on a particular passage and then present it to the class. At that point we worked on peer review and feedback in hopes that this would reinforce the idea that we need to interpret the Bible in the community of believers and not each standing alone.

The last course of study was on the nature and work of the church. We started out trying to hammer out a biblical definition of the church. Once we saw how insufficient they were in that area, we began a study of the book of Acts using the curriculum. We studied the book as a whole to understand what Luke is trying to tell us, then we looked at interpretive issues in Acts. Is it meant to be a model for the church today? Do we have freedom to contextualize some of the things we see in Acts? As we worked through these questions, we tried to apply the answers to the local churches that they are working in to see how God would have them apply the book of Acts to church life.

By the end of November, we had spent six weeks in concentrated study, two weeks in the bush with People M, one week in a larger training with all of the pastors, and one week of review to wrap things up, for a total of 10 weeks. The six weeks of concentrated study were very challenging for me personally, as I was teaching in Tok Pisin for 21 hours over a three day period each week. As the weeks went by, the teaching got easier, but the preparation and mental strain were exhausting. In addition to this, we also started meeting on Tuesday nights with some church members who are unable to come to training during the day. My hope is that next year when we start the training again, some of the pastors who went through this first session will be able to teach what they have learned to any new students who come.

This brings me to the students. They are just regular Papua New Guineans who have been changed by God’s grace. Each one of them wrote up a piece on how this training has helped them and they gave me permission to translate it and share it with you:

Pastor Abel grew up in New Life Mission churches. His dad is a pastor. In many ways his story mirrors that of many pastor’s kids in the USA. He heard and responded to the gospel at a young age but then ran from God as a young adult. Now he is married to another pastor’s kid and they have two children of their own. God has since brought Abel into his own belief and he his now a pastor of the New Life Mission church at Magitu. He is a young pastor but has a deep understanding of God’s grace. Here is a piece he wrote about the training thus far:
“This training has shown me many areas of my own life that are not right yet. This time in the word of God has done two major things in my life: I see that the Bible is one story and this is the story of the kingdom of God, the fall of man, and the grace of God to rescue man from his sin. It’s like a light went off in my head showing me how each part of the Bible fits into the one story of God.
This school has also shown me that God is not lacking in anything or any way and that he does not need anything at all. But when mankind fell in the garden, God was gracious and made a promise in Genesis 3:15. On this foundation of grace the story of the Bible comes to us. It has also helped me see the love of God for mankind in spite of our sinful way of life and how gracious He really is.
The things we have studied have corrected and strengthened my personal belief. Before, I thought that my own way of life would determine whether God would call me righteous. Now, as the word of God has taught me, I see that God calls me righteous not based on my work but on the work of Jesus.
This has resulted in a change in my preaching as well. Before, much of my preaching was putting a heavy yoke on the neck of those in the congregation. I wasn’t preaching the gospel but a system of works. These studies have helped me to clearly preach the good news of Jesus Christ.
To wrap things up, I give thanks to God for the school he has provided and for sending you to come and help us understand the word of God to strengthen our belief and further the work of God in Papua New Guinea. I hope we can continue the school next year. Thank you for your work to teach us and may God bless your family and the ministry of To Every Tribe and all of your ministry partners.”

Pastor Able teaching on the eternality of God during our big training week in October

Pastor Watty also grew up in a New Life Mission church in the village of Sino. His family is made up of mostly nominal Christians and now all of his family except for his mother have left the church. He was an assistant pastor in the church as a young adult and left his work and his faith behind for a time. But God was gracious and called him back to himself. Eventually the local pastor put Watty back to work. He has been an assistant pastor at the church in Sino and has also taken a temporary role as a pastor at a church in Kimi. Now he is newly married and adjusting to married life and all that goes with that, including building a new house for his wife and expanding his garden in the village of Sino. He hopes to able to move back into a role as a pastor in the next year or so. Here are his comments about the training so far:
“During our time in school I have learned a lot about the Bible. I don’t understand some parts of the Bible and I have avoided teaching them because I haven’t had any training. The word of God is very important and I need more training and schooling to better understand His word. The teaching you have given us will not go to waste. It will bear much fruit in its time. I give thanks to God that he has given me the chance to get this sort of training. May God bless the work that you do.
We have learned a lot of new things throughout our studies. I would like to study all of the prophetic books like we studied Jonah as well as all of the New Testament epistles from Romans to Revelation. I would also like for us to be able to continue our study of Acts.
I believe you are doing a good job here and because of this my life and my preaching will be forever changed.”

Pastor Aron was a leader in a local Lutheran church for over 10 years before coming to the decision that his life did not match up to what he was preaching. He left the Lutheran church all together and did not attend any church for over a year. Through the providence of God he met Pastor Samson who was then pastor of the New Life Mission church at Magitu. Aron walked from his village in Sagifa to attend church in Magitu for a few years before deciding that the people in his village needed a place close to home to worship. So a little over a year ago they started meeting next to Aron’s house in Sagifa. They currently meet under a tarp strung up between bamboo poles. He leads the services and looks after the people in the church or “haus sel” as they refer to new church plants. He has no Bible or theological training and only completed grade 6. When our training plan was decided, Aron was the first person Pastor Abel wanted to invite. Since the first meeting, Pastor Aron has been dedicated to the training even though some of the reading is hard for him. At the end of the training he said:
“I give thanks to God for this school. I have learned a lot of things about the Bible that I did not know before especially in the Bible doctrine, Genesis, and catechism studies. We have learned a little bit through this first session of school, but we have a long way to go.”

The haus sel at Sagifa

Pastor Moses is an older pastor who does not have any formal education. He learned to read and write through self-study and prayer. He desires to understand God’s word and to be a better shepherd and teacher of his people. He has been the pastor of a church at Korepa on the other side of the Goroka Valley, but in January he will become the pastor of Kaiufa. He joined us about half-way through our training this fall. Here are his notes about the training thus far:
“The training in Jonah has been particularly helpful for me. I hope to be able to apply the same principles as we study the book of Ruth over the break. In the past I have just preached individual verses without paying attention to the whole book. It has been good to be able to study a whole book and understand the story. May God bless your ministry.”

This time of training has been very exciting for me personally as well. I never imagined undertaking something like this, especially so early in our time in Papua New Guinea. Given the circumstances, I cannot think of a better way to spend my time than pouring into those who will be here for the long haul. Whatever happens, they will be here in Papua New Guinea. Any number of circumstances could cause our family to leave the field, but these guys will be here as long as they are alive. My prayer is that they will continue to work in places where there is only darkness and spread the light of the gospel.

Pray for Pastors Abel, Watty, Aron, and Moses as they continue their studies and ministry on their own. I gave them an assignment on the book of Ruth to complete over the Christmas break, including some reading and discussions to do together as a group. They got together on their own and planned some outreach weekends to put more of their training into practice while we’re in America. Hopefully we will be able to pick up the training in May of 2015. Your prayers in this matter are greatly appreciated.

One thought on “Striving Side By Side For the Faith of the Gospel

  1. Okay…trying to post again…
    This is awesome. Totally pumped. I cannot even imagine how exhausting this is…??? Love it though!!! We pray daily…or more often than that!!! Keep it up dude!!! Praise God.


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