A pleasant journey….

After several weeks’ of uncertainty, and responding to changing circumstances, we are finally on the eve of a flight back to Australia at 6:30 in the morning. As late as Friday last week, March 19, our plans were in disarray, with the Australian government announcing reduced passenger limits between PNG and Australia, and the PNG government requiring all PNG domestic flight passengers to have a COVID test 24 hours before travel – an impossibility for us in our remote area.

Thankfully, the official exemption from the domestic travel COVID requirement was received Wednesday, leaving only the international pre-flight PCR COVID test to obtain. The samples were taken by our mission clinic doctor at 7:30 Thursday morning – a thoroughly unenjoyable experience –  and hand-carried to the testing facility in Goroka, over two hours drive away. We were the ‘guinea pigs’ for this process, with some expressing doubt that the results would be received in time. We boarded our mission aviation flight to Port Moresby (POM) at 9:30am, wondering if everything would fall into place, as indeed each previous step had. We could only trust that God had all things in hand, and that He would enable us to endure whatever came our way.

In POM, we prepared to bunker down in our little motel room, planning to avoid public exposure as much as possible….. then had to deal with Elspeth’s mobile phone dying! [ Yes… the laptop died two weeks ago, and the phone has gone out in sympathy. How on earth do they manage to get the timing so spot on? ] The very helpful motel staff drove us to a shopping centre, where we carried out the ‘purchase phone, setup, test and get out’ mission with the finesse of a navy seal team.

In the meantime, we were monitoring email for the much-awaited COVID negative test results, while preparing the backup plan of getting an alternative test at a local private hospital on Saturday if need be. Then, with a little over a 32-hour turnaround, against all expectations, the test results arrived Friday afternoon at 3:54pm!

In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul lists the hardships and persecution he has suffered as an apostle, then mentions his humbling “thorn in the flesh” in chapter 12. God’s response to Paul’s pleas for relief was “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). We have felt very weak and helpless indeed throughout all of this drama.

The icing on the cake was a text message from the airline confirming our Brisbane flight, and “wishing you a pleasant journey”. If they only knew the joy that is ours at the end of such a tumultuous few weeks.

Prayer points

  • Just one…. praise God for this reminder of who He is, and how great are His works

postscriptum….

That’s what the p.s. at the bottom of a letter refers to…. if ever you wondered. We just posted our March newsletter on the cambellramblings newsletters page, but there was so much to share about our approaching furlough leave in Australia that we ran out of space for one other photo story, and there has been some additional info we would like to share.

Firstly, we mentioned a praise point that we found a tenant to rent our home, and here she is in the main photo above (that’s her on the left).

Talitha came to Ukarumpa in late December from Rockhampton, entering the quarantine process in the community for a reduced period of seven days (they were the good ‘ol days when PNG considered Queensland to be relatively safe). In preparation, Elspeth provided support in the form of getting her pantry stocked and fresh produce delivered, and essential services connected. Post quarantine, the relationship continued with Talitha becoming a regular guest for meals and joining us at Bible study. Please pray that she can enjoy the comforts of our little home, and that her role of teaching in the Primary School will be a blessing to her students and their families.

and finally (Part II)….

We also mentioned at the end of the newsletter the uncertainty surrounding international travel these days. As we finalised and posted online, developments in Queensland are casting a shadow over our plans. The PNG Government reports that 90 COVID cases were confirmed last Saturday, with 65 of these occuring in the capital, Port Moresby. Queensland Premier, Annastaica Palaszczuk, addressed the media yesterday regarding her concerns for the COVID situation in PNG, adding that she hopes to speak with the Prime Minister’s office to “have a look at the flights that are coming in”.

While this sounds ominous, we proclaimed God’s goodness in providing a flight for us on March 28. Until He sets a clear alternate path, we will be sticking with ‘Plan A’. In the meantime, please keep praying….

Prayer points

  • that our scheduled flight will go ahead, and the required pre-flight COVID test can be obtained
  • that we trust God and have a genuine peace knowing He is in control
  • for the Australian and PNG governments as they continue to work together in addressing the current health crisis

Praying God’s way….

Yesterday was a significant day. Ten days earlier [ Blog – Living in hope ] we were praising God for the provision of an affordable flight back to Australia on March 28. For several months, the situation had seemed quite hopeless, or at the very least, confusing. There was little we could do to resolve the issue, as the future was so uncertain. The airlines had no answers; governments were reacting to events on a day-to-day basis; Google searches revealed only more grey rather than clarity.

In such a situation, we quite instinctively turned to God. We knew we weren’t alone in this, as many of our supporters responded to our requests for prayer. When the reduced price flight to Brisbane unexpectedly appeared on January 7, we saw this as God’s intervention.

Then yesterday happened.

Just after midday, the SMS message came through advising of the cancelled flight. Checking our email account provided several phone contacts and a link to enquire further, but when we did finally get through to someone, there was little that could be achieved on a Saturday. The airline’s customer service staff member did lodge a request to transfer our booking to an earlier flight scheduled for 6am that same day…. but there may be a catch.

When we checked the airline’s online booking system, the 6am flight shows available seats at a price four times what we have already paid – almost $1,500 more for two passengers. We won’t know what the airline is prepared to do for us until Monday afternoon at the earliest, so again, there is nothing to do…… except pray.

And there is the first of several issues that have us examining our hearts. Has prayer become an “exception”, something we turn to when there is nothing more for us to “do”? Prayer should be more than the joker we play when there are no other winners in our hand. It should instead be our default lead card.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.   1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Even as we pray about this matter, our thoughts instinctively turn to what we want God to do for us. Obviously, we want to be able to board the earlier flight without having to outlay any more funds. We perhaps justify this thought by rationalising that it will be a fantastic account of God’s provision in response to prayer. But is that particular outcome God’s will for us in Christ Jesus? If you missed it, that was issue number two.

And perhaps issue three is the one which challenges us most frequently – are we giving thanks to God in all circumstances, even the times that leave us feeling stressed and frustrated? We have had a number of these circumstances lately. Poor health, disrupted schedules, and travel concerns have been the norm for us these past five months. We certainly thank God for the moments of physical restoration and times when the stress is lifted, but do we remain thankful with hearts full of joy towards God during the in-between times?

The joy Paul writes of is true joy – not the kind that we show by singing “I’m H-A-P-P-Y” through gritted teeth, but joy in knowing the God of peace regardless of how the world is crumbling around us. This kind of joy prevails whatever confronts us, and does not need to sugar-coat reality to get through the day. To explain this last point, here is the detail of a possible twist in the tale.

After the initial reaction to the SMS message and a call to the airline, a thought popped into my [ Keith’s ] head– if we are shifted to the earlier flight, then this may solve another problem we have been facing. The Australian government requires a PCR COVID test within 72 hours prior to boarding an international flight home. A senior nurse working with another mission organisation is currently assisting us in arranging for the tests to be conducted at a nearby hospital – at no cost – prior to our flight. Unfortunately, it looks as though these tests can only be provided on the Thursday morning before…. around 78 hours before our original departure. We are still waiting on confirmation of this, but it is a potential sticking point which, once again, is out of our control. The only apparent alternative is holding off and having the tests in a private hospital in Port Moresby on Friday….. at a cost of $575.00.

Wow! What if God shifts our departure time and we end up obtaining our PCR test 69 hours before our flight. And if He does this without us having to pay more for the earlier flight, how awesome would that be? What a cause for joy!

Do you see the shaky ground we can easily find ourselves on? Our minds race to how God could be working out all things for our good (Romans 8:28). Applying this verse correctly would take another whole ‘blog sermon’, but it is enough for now to point out how this conflicts with the words from Thessalonians. We don’t need to pre-read the script; we shouldn’t mentally toy with the idea of choreographing God’s working through the situation. We should simply be joyful, prayerful, thankful, and rest in God’s will for us.

So…. in that context, would you pray with us?

Prayer points

  • that we be resting in God through all of this turmoil.
  • that we be gracious in our dealings with the airlines and medical institutions – whatever the circumstances. [ Keith – this is a BIG one for me personally. Perceived poor customer service generally ‘pushes my buttons’ ]
  • that we focus on being physically able to return home to family and friends – unlike many other Australians overseas at present – and give thanks for this. The financial cost is simply a reality of travel in the present situation.
  • praise God for the people who are doing what they can to help us.

Living in hope…

A spectacular rainbow appeared late yesterday while a storm was brewing behind the distant mountains. That’s our little house on the right, with the gardens extending to the banana plants in the left foreground

Over recent weeks it appeared that we would be caught up in the dramas surrounding international travel which have impacted so many Australians. Though flights from Port Moresby to Australia are barely a few hours in duration, when we looked for flight options in March as intended, the pricing was around four times what we had come to expect!

In our December newsletter, we asked you to pray for a change in the situation, and that we be consistent in trusting God with all of the details.

Well…. praise God! ( as usual). We managed to secure two tickets from Port Moresby to Brisbane for less than $460.00 in total, rather than the $2,000 we were facing. We still need to spend another $1100 in domestic travel and accommodation just to get to our international flight, but avoiding what was an unexpected $1,500 extra cost is a blessing.

Another praise point is that we have a tenant to rent our little Ukarumpa house while we are on leave. Though we have several good neighbours to keep an eye on things, it is a relief to know that our place won’t be sitting empty while we are away. The rent paid will also mean we aren’t out of pocket for the home ownership costs.

So, we simply wanted to say thank you all for praying, and to enable you to rejoice with us at our God who works all things.

A game changer…

As things return to some semblance of normality here, thoughts turn to the past seven months of COVID-19-impacted life on the mission field. To be honest, it was some weekend R&R playing a boardgame – Pandemic – which inspired this blog. In the game, four players randomly receive a character with certain capabilities, and work together in order to prevent a pandemic, as events turn on the players and outbreaks of four ‘infectious diseases’ spread around the globe. The four characters were dealt, and each were of a medical nature – the Quarantine Specialist (handy), Medic, Researcher, and the Scientist. Sounds like an ideal team to combat a pandemic. Left out of play were the Operations Expert, Dispatcher, and Contingency Expert. On with the game!

After initial success keeping the diseases at bay, progress stalled. Getting to fresh outbreaks, and pooling our resources proved difficult without the roles which aided movement, got players working together, and maximised the potential of special ‘Event’ cards. If you are not familiar with the game, it is enough to say that the global disaster spiralled out of control quite quickly. What went wrong? All of the participants had specialist skills for disease control, but our game lacked the support and logistics capabilities to get them into positions to be effective. This is not far removed from the reality of Bible translation in PNG. Our mission community is made up of translation, literacy and scripture engagement specialists, and a large number of support personnel in areas of transport, construction, finance, logistical supplies, education and health services –  essential to the effectiveness of the translation task. Remove one aspect of this, and the impact is noticeable.

The threat of COVID-19 in PNG, peaking from March 2020, saw co-workers leave the country as global mission organisations requested at-risk staff to return home to ensure access to medical treatment if needed. The departure of many older staff, and those with pre-existing health issues, impacted a significant proportion of the translation work. Others who could remain were faced with a suspension of all domestic travel within PNG. With our mission aircraft grounded, teams were cut off from remote village work, and many PNG co-translators were unable to attend scheduled training courses in Ukarumpa. Support work was also impacted, with a number of staff either needing to leave or, as the months dragged on, unable to return to PNG from home furlough in our regular June intake.

It seemed that at every turn, there was something missing from our regular pattern of life and ministry. As a community, it was frustrating to have either services available – such as Aviation – with little or no opportunity to serve in their usual way, or a shortage of staff – such as school teachers – to cope during complex times which saw everything from virtual classrooms to carrying the load of multiple subjects. In the Pandemic game, when it all turns sour you simply shuffle the cards and start over. In Ukarumpa, the ‘game’ had turned on us, and some creative play was called for.

There have certainly been positive stories coming out of these COVID impacted times. Translators who have had time to commit to essential tasks such as developing the orthography (systems of writing language), dictionaries, or training resources; support teams who have streamlined processes and found more effective methods of delivering services; discovering ways to work remotely and remain productive in the midst of disruption. In spite of the positives, we are all eagerly awaiting a return to ‘normal’ with long absent co-workers gradually returning,  and perhaps, with a better understanding of the times not being in our hands.

Being a patient, doesn’t necessarily imbue patience….

Keith – I have a renewed respect for those living with chronic illness. Seven weeks of varying degrees of pain, discomfort, and limited mobility had me feeling quite sorry for myself.

After returning from a Lae road trip, a day off with some general home duties on August 31 ended with aching joints in my elbows, to my wrists, and even fingers. I didn’t feel as though I had been overdoing it, and the fact it was both left and right arms had us puzzled. The eventual diagnosis a few days later – apparent rheumatoid arthritis. A flurry of Googling turned up the details, with not much resolving of the mystery. It is just one of those things that befall us fragile humans.

These occasional aches were soon forgotten on the following Saturday evening, with painful stomach cramps that extended throughout the night, feeding a wave of concerns in my mind. In the morning, Elspeth confirmed that my appendix was, in fact, on the right-hand side, with what seemed a complete disregard for the possibility that I am one of the rare people with situs solitus (mirror image of internal organs). With my sudden foray into hypochondria eventually quelled by Elspeth’s assurances, we chose to just hang on for the regular Clinic service on Monday morning.

The diagnosis of diverticulitis brought back some concerns. A colleague here had been rushed to Australia with the same condition late last year, albeit with more dramatic symptoms. A medical evacuation to Cairns under the prevailing COVID restrictions was certainly something to be avoided.

To date, the DV appears to be under control. Elspeth is providing me with an appropriate diet, and I am getting by without any medication. Things are certainly not ‘normal’, but then perhaps this situation will become the new normal for a while yet. When I called my parents after the initial diagnosis, my mum responded with, “Welcome to the club.” At least I can perhaps lay blame on someone else’s genes!

The joint pain endures, with perhaps less peak intensity but greater frequency to the point of almost being constant during the day. I am back at work as close to full-time as possible, and my absence has had a noticable impact. The list of emails requiring some follow up attention blew out to over five hundred, and my coffee cup was obviously in need of some attention as well after all the neglect. As a general overall response to dietary change and the impact of some medication, I am down to two or three coffees a day. Those of you who know me well will understand what a significant change that is!

We greatly appreciate the prayers and messages of encouragement received over recent weeks.

Please keep praying…

  • that the debilitating aspect of the health issues can continue to be kept in check until our intended 12-month furlough leave in March 2021
  • for appropriate medical tests and any treatment to be finalised early during our time in Australia.
  • for our travel plans next year. It would be so much less complicated without quarantine requirements, both entering the country and for our required interstate travels as we visit our supporters across three states.

A dedication with a difference …

Boas opened the box of Ura New Testaments, for a moment falling quiet as the tears welled up. “My people need this.”

Boas had travelled to the SIL Regional Centre in Kokopo to see the recently printed scripture, then he took four copies with him for the village translation team members. The rest of the shipment will be forwarded to the Uramät community in Baining, East New Britain, for a dedication ceremony on September 20. As always, the ceremony is the responsibility of a local Planning Committee, but this will be a scripture dedication with a difference.

Here in PNG, restrictions are still in place in regard to large public gatherings, so the committee have had to creatively resolve this issue. Local leaders, pastors and village councillors have been invited to a down-sized event, with multiple ‘mini-dedications’ to be held in village churches and communities as the scriptures are distributed to the people over ensuing weeks.

In addition to this the SIL translators, Gary and Peggy Rosensteel, will not be at the event as they are currently in the US, having been advised to evacuate under the COVID-19 requirements earlier this year.

The Rosensteels are praising God that the various village leaders and denominational leaders are united and looking forward to the process.

It is a testament to all involved that they are focussed on the answered prayer, and the potential blessing to the community of the dedication and distribution progressing. To be honest, it would be understandable to be disappointed at the lost opportunity of a big shared event, and for the Rosensteels to feel they are missing out on seeing the conclusion to over three decades of ministry. Having experienced a dedication event ourselves, and seeing many videos of others, they are a powerful acknowledgement of God’s Spirit moving amongst His people.

Yet, serving the Lord can be like that sometimes. Peter wrote of the prophets…

 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.                1 Peter 1:12

However much we invest in kingdom service, it remains the Lord’s work… not ours. If we see a blessing from our efforts…. praise God. If we pass the baton to others to finish the race, then that is the task set for us. We are simply called to be faithful in service – whether that involves carrying the banner high out in front of the team, or applauding from the sidelines – giving glory to God in all that we do.

Please pray …

. that God’s glory and power will be evident in the September 20 event and at each village ceremony

. for the logistical elements of distribution across multiple village communities

. that God’s Word will impact the lives of the Uramät communities, through preaching and personal reading

When God says, “Not yet”…

In case you have not yet read the previous blog ‘But not…’ posted earlier this morning (August 6), we will first provide some context.

Our community here in PNG were eagerly awaiting the arrival of a group from the US comprising of six couples and families – the first en masse post-COVID returnees. Among them are our new Director, an experienced Head of Security, teaching staff, translation staff, medical staff, a pilot, Member Care staff, and – significantly for Keith’s work here – two Finance Office administration staff.

Our scheduled community prayer time Friday afternoon was intended to bring the need for safe travel before the throne of grace, but it may take on more of a form of lament. One leg of their international travels has been cancelled, and the flight has been postponed for another month.

Not only will the roles they were to fill here remain vacant, but the relationships with colleagues and friends which were to be renewed are now on hold. After preparing for departure, they now have to settle back into temporary accommodation, and reenter the cycle of pre-flight quarantine, COVID testing, and obtaining visas to transit through multiple airports. Our thoughts also extend towards their family members in the US who, after emotionally processing their farewells, have to work through that again in the weeks to come.

Please pray for all concerned as we struggle with disappointment and frustration, and for the travellers, sheer exhaustion from the process. Above all, pray that we approach God in a right manner – both individually and collectively – as we lay these feelings and experiences at His feet, and open ourselves to His restorative grace.

But not…

From our perspective, life under the COVID cloud has continued close to “normal”, as much as that is ever the case. With the exception of having to forego a trip to Australia for family reasons – which is a source of sadness – most of this year has played out according to script. There have been, over recent weeks, cases of COVID-19 in the major urban centres of Port Moresby and in Lae, but the appropriate responses are in place, and we are able to isolate ourselves from the primary risk. That in itself is a challenge for us. Back home, people have faced horrendous situations – the loss of family members; unemployment in the midst of a bleak economy; rising social tensions; fear of community breakdown. The impact on us personally – both here and with family back in Australia – has been minimal.

Over recent months though, there are a number of co-workers who are looking to head back to their home countries, in spite of the difficulties, for medical reasons, family crises, or just to have a break now rather than miss the opportunity completely. In the meantime, others are trying to return to PNG after a period of leave in their home countries, but obtaining approval to pass through three or more international airports with various transit and quarantine standards is proving complicated. In the coming days, several colleagues are making a second or third attempt to board flights, all with the complexity of quarantining on arrival in PNG.

The accumulative effect is that our community is quite obviously down on numbers. There are people holding down two roles; caring for the homes and pets of absent colleagues; delaying holiday leave as there is no-one to replace them. We are feeling a sense of loss, there is no way to sugar-coat it.

During this time of limitations and restrictions, two scripture dedications have been impacted, being down-sized or postponed. That is a hardship that is difficult to understand in terms of God’s sovereign purpose.

Yet, in all this…

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.      2 Corinthians 4:8-11  

Whatever comes, these moments that Paul later describes as “light momentary affliction” (2 Cor 4:17) are part of the context of our Kingdom service. What else is there for us to do but stand up and keep going?

Please pray …

Our community is coming together Friday, August 7, between 12 and 1pm to collectively and specifically pray for the doors to open between PNG and other countries, to enable desperately needed staff to return, and for those who need to travel home to be with family to have a way to do so. Please pray with us if you can…

  • for six couples / families who are aiming to travel from the US to PNG over August 9-12.
  • for effective processing by various government agencies and airport security staff in the US, in transiting countries, and on arrival in PNG.
  • for patience and contentment for these wearied saints, as they make this journey full of obstacles.
  • praise God that the PNG government has granted dispensation for these travellers to quarantine in their own homes at our Ukarumpa base. Pray that we manage this wisely, and show our commitment to respect the authorities God has placed over us.
  • praise God that our PNG Prime Minister, James Marape, and the State of Energency controller, David Manning, are both committed Christians. It is an encouragement to see press releases which often appeal to people to pray and conclude with “Thank you and God bless”.

Making plans….

We had been somewhat removed from the current global situation, with the limited restrictions and interruptions here not directly impacting our daily lives to any great extent. While keeping track of COVID developments online, a posting from an Aussie returning from Spain provided a different perspective.

www.traveller.com.au/expats-returning-to-australia

The article highlights things that returning expats may take time to get accustomed to, even if they are aspects of our Australian lifestyle which we know and love. This reverse culture-shock is often a reality for returning missionaries. The odd sensation of standing in a supermarket aisle confronted by a seemingly endless variety of goods to choose from; travelling on a smooth freeway surrounded by vehicles moving at 100 kmph, all intent on their destination; being in a crowd and not feeling out of place; simply adjusting to the pace, and volume, and diversity of life in Australia.

The writer also refers briefly to changes in Australia brought about by COVID-19, and that the place people are returning to is not necessarily the home they left. Our generation has not known such a time with closed borders, enforced restrictions of movement, and voluntary isolation for all but essential tasks.

Colleagues who returned to their own home countries this year, in the early stages of the global pandemic, have often been unable to travel, unable to meet with supporting churches, and even restricted from spending time with family members living in other areas.

This uncertainty has us thinking about our intended return to Australia for leave in March 2021. Under normal circumstances we would be scheduling engagements, making travel plans, and ‘locking things in’. While we are still working on some of these, now… it all seems to fall into the realm of ‘hopefully’, and ‘maybe’. Our calendars which so often focus well into the coming year now appear fuzzy, and the uncertainty is discomforting. Part of our 12-month stay will likely (hopefully… maybe…) involve spending time at the Wycliffe centre in Victoria. This point alone takes uncertainty to a whole new level.

Perhaps it isn’t just the surface things which will change in our country. We may end up being a little less sure of our determined futures, and realise that our control systems are not as solid as we perhaps thought.

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. Proverbs 19:21

Please pray …

  • for our current staff shortage here, and those trying to return from overseas in the midst of confusion
  • that PNG respond effectively to the recent occurrence of COVID cases in Port Moresby and Lae
  • regarding the ongoing impact of the pandemic on our global consciousness – may we not lose sight of the real need for gospel truth as we all look to a vaccine
  • that we maintain our confidence in God for all that lies ahead