Singing too-ral-li, oo-ral-li, addity…

As the classic folk song goes, we were bound for southern lands this past week. Not Botany Bay, but Comboyne, New South Wales.

We left Nanango early in the morning to leave time to spare in case we were delayed at the border. As we approached the bridge across the Dumaresq River at Texas we had our vaccination certificates and NSW Entry Declarations on hand, together with our emotive tale of essential travel to be with our daughter for the birth of our first grandchild. The daunting sight of signage stating “Border Closed Ahead” and “Prepare to STOP” greeted us as we eased up to a small hut seemingly in a sea of orange traffic cones where the police officer waited.

“Do we show you our entry documents?” Elspeth asked through the window. “Nah… you’re right. We are only stopping the ones coming the other way.” came the reply.

So much for complex issues crossing from Queensland into New South Wales!

Once again, it was very humbling that issues which have been significant points for ongoing prayer are resolved at the point of our greatest need. Just as we prepared to enter NSW, the worst of the COVID restrictions were lifted, and the prospect of spending time with family in regional NSW suddenly became much less complicated. We used the Matthew reference below last blog, but it still ideally fits the situation.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”   Matthew 6:33-34

God is repeatedly reminding us on this journey that He has things covered. No doubt there will be a point in the future in which everything does not simply fall in place to suit ‘our plans’. It is at that time we will need prayer to humbly submit to God’s good purposes and to trust him fully.

Prayer points

  • Give thanks for our safe and uneventful travel to Comboyne.
  • Pray for Hannah and Corey as the birth day approaches (due mid-October).
  • Praise God that we can be here to support them in practical ways, and share this time with them.

The road ahead…

We have thoroughly enjoyed spending several weeks in Queensland regional towns – particularly as we have avoided the areas of South-east Queensland enduring a lockdown.

COVID has left its mark on our travel plans, however, as we were forced to postpone visits to Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast during August. While visiting these areas may have been technically possible, we chose not to compromise the later return to regional areas, or to muddy our plans to head to New South Wales mid-September for the October birth of our first grandchild.

As we came over a crest south of Mundubbera heading for Kingaroy, the change in the road conditions (above photo) seemed appropriate to our situation, with all of the uncertainties we face over coming months. The figurative ‘road ahead’ appears a little bumpy, with crumbling edges and no clear markings. We are confronted by issues of border closures, travel permit requirements, and even uncertainty over how it may unfold with Hannah potentially giving birth in a region under lockdown. In the very least, we could say that nothing over the next two months is likely to be ‘normal’. Beyond that, we had hoped to spend some time at the National Centre for Wycliffe Australia in Kangaroo Ground, Victoria before Christmas – potentially more complicated border issues!

Jesus understands our tendancy to lose focus and be overwhelmed by the immediacy of our earthly problems.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”   Matthew 6:25

He then draws our attention to the provision God makes for some of the least aspects of His creation – birds of the air and flowers of the field – before realigning our perspective…

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”   Matthew 6:33-34

Join us in bringing to God all of these issues… and whatever other ‘worries’ are on your heart.

Prayer points

  • Praise that we can fully trust God with all of our ‘tomorrows’ – we are thankful for the ways He has proven Himself faithful in so much this past six months.
  • Pray for those in border areas who are struggling with the restrictions, including the local authorities having to deal with the public.
  • Pray that Hannah and Corey will have a birth free from complications, and that we can be there to support them as planned.

Fur and feathers…

Just sharing a bit of fun for a change. Take a break from the current online doldrums and enjoy the cuteness! And for a prayer point, simply praise our Creator for His love of beauty and the variety which He brings into our lives.

Though not as memorable as the human conversations, we have made a habit of photographing Keith’s interactions with some furry friends belonging to our various hosts on our travels. Most are new acquaintances this year, while others have been a case of revisiting past good times of pats, tug-o-wars, and belly rubs.

We have also seen a variety of birdlife in both urban and rural Qld locations. Settling into the church housing at Bell has provided an ideal opportunity for some bird watching. The feathered locals have been conditioned to being fed by the previous occupants, so getting up close shots has been quite easy – we don’t even have to leave the comfort of the back deck!

Yeppoon – Intermediate Egret (a classier ‘bin chicken’ )
Chinchilla weir – Pelican ( as if I had to tell you )
Chinchilla – Apostlebird
Chinchilla – Pied Currawong ( don’t call me ‘Maggie’ )
Bell – Grey-crowned Babbler
Bell – King Parrot? ( happy to be corrected )
Bell – Double-barred Finch / Crested Pigeon ( crowded at the buffet )
Bell – Rainbow Lorikeet ( the greediest of the lot! )

A team effort…

The Malei Old Testament translation team were regular visitors to our Lae centre during our time as managers, and we are excited to share a particular milestone for them. After drafting and initial village checking of Jonah, Ruth and Psalms 1 to 72, an independent consultant check was conducted in Lae during May this year. This one differed to past consultant checks in that it was supervised and led completely by Papua New Guineans.

Malei translator Elisa Kipuctong facilitated the consultant checking by Duncan Kasokason from PNG Bible Translation Association (BTA). It is exciting to have Papua New Guineans applying their skills in such roles.

Not only was the checking process successful from a translation perspective, the translators and language helpers involved spent time discussing the meaning of passages – particularly the Psalms – reflecting on how Scripture should impact their daily lives.

Prayer points

  • Pray for Duncan as he undertakes the heavy workload of consultant checking
  • Praise God for the current progress on the village check of Psalms 73 to 150.
  • Pray that God’s word would continue to impact the Malei people in a powerful way.

An open door…

Our travels south have involved a number of ‘firsts’ in many ways. For the first time, we managed to spend some time with the folks at Sarina, and gave a mission talk at a Yeppoon fish ‘n chip shop! We also gave a Friday night mission presentation at Rocky Presbyterian Church, giving many of those attending a first look at our ministry. At present, we are in Gladstone for the first time, sharing with the congregations in the area at services and mission events over the week. Coming up in August, Keith will be giving three talks at the Callide Valley family camp just outside Biloela – another first for us.

Add to these ‘firsts’ the warm welcome received from a number of our long-standing supporters in Mackay, Yeppoon, and Rockhampton, and we are riding high on a wave of encouragement at the moment.

It has always been our intention to not only be blessed by these engagements, but to be a blessing to the communities we are visiting. Keith has had several opportunities to preach, and providing a break for hard-working ministers is a pleasure for us. We often find ourselves in a position to give some encouragement, and several of the places we will be visiting have experienced some setbacks this past year, with the passing of loved saints, the challenges of adapting to COVID restrictions, and other issues which can distract from local ministry.

One of our regular stops, the congregation at Bell, Queensland, has presented an opportunity to establish an on-and-off base there during our south-east Queensland partnership visits. They are currently without a permanent resident minister, and we are able to stay at a church property in Bell and serve the community in any way that we can while in town. It is just one of those many ‘doors’ which the Lord opens before us, and we have always found Him faithful when we trust Him and walk on through!

Prayer points

  • Pray for our church visits, that they be a blessing for everyone involved
  • Praise God for the new connections made, and the boost this provides for our financial and prayer support requirements
  • seek God’s protection over our continuing travels. Next month…. Bell, Chinchilla, Biloela & Kingaroy

A great crowd…

During a visit to the Gordonvale / Babinda church we were reminded that our ministry is simply the latest chapter in a story going back decades. We met a number of folk with stories of their involvement in bible translation, visits to PNG, or of family members involved in overseas mission. Hebrews 12:1 speaks of Kingdom members who have gone before as “a great cloud of witnesses”, painting an image of them as spectators at a foot race, urging us to keep going with our eyes fixed on Christ. The enthusiasm with which these folk received us was certainly in that spirit, as we shared experiences, gave updates on the current situation in PNG, and prayed about challenges facing us in the future.

It was a treat to meet Yvonne, who arrived in PNG in 1959 to be involved in Bible translation. Without a suitable single female colleague to be paired up with, she was initially assigned to assist the new Finance Manager, John Abernathy, working in an ‘office’ which was a traditionally constructed hut complete with thatched roof. This was undoubtedly God’s working, as Yvonne later become Mrs Abernathy after an Ukarumpa dual wedding ceremony on November 18, 1961.

Keith was thrilled to hear about one of his PNG ‘finance forefathers’ and would love to have spent more time hearing stories of those pioneering days. Duty called however, and we spent the rest of our time having great conversations with people over a BBQ dinner and a cuppa.

Prayer points

  • praise God for those who have gone before us in PNG mission endeavours
  • pray that the next generation would grasp the urgency of the need for more labourers (Matthew 9:35-38)
  • seek God’s protection over our continuing travels. Next week…. Atherton!

Here is the church…

The classic children’s action rhyme goes, “Here is the church… here is the steeple… open the doors… and here are the people.” It is very cute when enacted by a four-year old, but misses the mark somewhat theologically.

Ephesian 5:25-27 tells us that, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish”. This is not recounting some Messianic working bee to tidy up a building, but Jesus’ giving of himself in order to perfect the people of God’s kingdom.

During our time back in Australia we are visiting with many churches – not buildings, but communities of believers all serving Christ and longing for the day that His purposes are fully realised.

One such visit was to the Burdekin area and the sister congregations of Ayr and Home Hill. These folk have always been a joy to be with, and they warmly welcomed us yet again for a morning tea chat one Thursday (top photo), after which we met with the young adult group in the evening. As often happens, we were enjoying things far too much to remember to get a photo.

The following Sunday, Keith preached from John 4:1-42, and we spoke about our PNG experiences after an early ‘munch’ (above). [Apparently that’s a morning tea which rolls into lunch…. if the terminology takes off then the minister Gavin Henderson can take full credit.]

What we appreciate so much about these saints is their commitment in keeping up with our blogs and newsletters, and their faithfulness in using these resources to inform their prayers for us and the ministry in PNG. It is a great encouragement when we refer to a time of blessing, or answered prayer, and to see the recognition in their faces and the response of “We were so thankful for that when we heard!”

Now that is a beautiful picture of the church….. even with wrinkles and the odd spot!

Prayer points

  • Praise God for the true church, and for His declared purposes for us
  • Pray for our health and safety as we travel throughout Queensland visiting supporters up until September
  • Give thanks for opportunities to renew friendships, and to meet new brothers and sisters in Christ

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.