All in this together …

This is the first blog since Keith commenced in a finance role at the SIL Aviation base, and although it features an image of aircraft, the main focus is not on these amazing flying machines. The image itself is a rare sight here in Ukarumpa, as aircraft from five mission organisations – MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship), New Tribes, Samaritan Aviation, Adventist Aviation, and of course, SIL – have been stationed on the apron at times over several days.

The pilots and staff have been engaged in a Joint Mission Aviation Conference [ which they probably refer to as J-MAC, given that pilots love acronyms – Keith ]. The gathering provided opportunity to share operational issues, methods of training, and to enhance our partnership in practical ways. Just this past week, our helicopter pilots worked with MAF to assist an aircraft stranded on a remote strip with mechanical issues, ferrying the maintenance team to and from the remote location.

There are a number of mission organisations, international and local, active in PNG, focusing on evangelism, church planting, health and education services, Bible translation and literacy, training pastors, and more. One common factor is the logistical challenges many face operating in a country such as PNG. The landscape is predominantly rugged and mountainous, and the road infrastructure is minimal. Aviation operations in PNG come at significant cost, and not without risk, but without access by aeroplane or helicopter, many remote communities would be isolated from the services provided by mission agencies.

Gazing out the window during a flight from Port Moresby to Ukarumpa hammers home these issues. Amidst mountains and valleys covered in dense forest, a cluster of village houses appears, perhaps alongside a river which provides both a source of water and transport to the next village centre, or alternatively, with a winding dirt track disappearing over the next rise. Were it not for SIL Aviation, getting back to our ministry roles in PNG after time in Australia would be a complex process indeed!

Prayer points

  • Praise God for the technology that allows so many people to serve God in challenging locations
  • Pray for continued partnership between mission organisations, that our unity may contribute to all of us effectively furthering the gospel

Nothing fishy about it…

It has been quite a journey for us with Keith’s health issues, particularly the joint pain in the hands and wrists which has been tentatively diagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis. After a few false starts with medication while still in PNG back in October 2020, Keith experienced complete pain relief from the steroid-based Prednisolone. These ‘little white pills’ worked wonders… but carry some undesirable side effects. And with the advisable time limit of use being just 10 days, it did not provide much of a longer term solution.

Slight difference in the daily dosage requirements…

Enter Omega-3 in the form of fish oil capsules. After a few weeks of popping nine capsules a day, any pain has been reduced to the level of the occasional mild inconvenience. This is a tremendous answer to prayer, as we were concerned about the impact of the pain on Keith’s ability to keep up with the demands of our current round of visiting churches and individual partners in south-east Queensland. With plans to preach on four occasions over the next three weeks, Keith certainly wanted to have a clear head.

Keith will see a Townsville specialist on May 10, after which we hope to establish a manageable solution that will free us up to return to work in PNG. If the fish oil needs to be a long term source of pain relief, then that does not pose a problem. It simply means we may need to make luggage space for around 4,000 capsules…. or 300kg of smoked salmon!

Prayer points

  • Praise God for the pain relief, and at such a low daily cost
  • Pray for a clear outcome from seeing the rheumatologist in May

Back in the dirt …

[ Keith ] … A discovery a few days ago gave me quite a shock – realising that our previous blog posting was in October 16, 2021!  Admittedly, we have published two newsletters since that time, but to me, the blog postings have come to represent points on the journey where an event, or an interaction provides some insight into what God is doing either through us or in us.

Is the passing of twenty weeks without a sense of something ‘blog-worthy’ a cause for concern?

How easily the “cares of the world” take hold, as Jesus warned his disciples from the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20 ESV). We have celebrated a grandchild and supported her parents; hosted Christmas in Northern NSW; helped our younger daughter relocate to Perth and reunite with her husband; and set about long overdue maintenance on our Townsville house. Hardly “deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” (4:19) you might say, as these are all worthy of our energy and effort. But for us, this represents quite a shift from being permanently focused on Kingdom work.

Canavan’s, Campbell’s, Lithgow’s.

These past few weeks have involved serving at our home church in some small ways…. that’s a start. And today we met up with some PNG mission friends, sharing and praying together…. that helps. Next month we intend to be back in south-east Queensland visiting churches and speaking about the next stage of our mission service, with a view to returning to PNG in May…. that will be getting our hands dirty at last.

Until we return to working alongside our colleagues, advancing Bible translation, we will always feel like something isn’t quite as it should be. We are meant to be the healthy plants, firmly rooted, producing a harvest for the Sower, and it is clear to us that our “good soil” lies in the highlands of PNG.

Prayer points

Please be praying for us to maintain our focus, to be eager for Kingdom ministry in PNG and yet open to what God is doing in our lives, here and now, taking every opportunity to glorify Him.

The Shepherd’s voice…

One aspect of supporting Hannah and Corey in the lead up to the arrival of the baby involves tending to the multiple chickens, ducks and quail. This is a recurring responsibility, and Keith has been chipping in here and there as needed, particularly when Corey has other work responsibilities that can keep him away from the house for much of the day.

Some tasks can be easily taken on – topping up feed and water; checking for eggs; cleaning out and refreshing the brooding coops. Going beyond this soon tests the knowledge base, as even something as apparently simple as chickens reveals layers (no pun intended) of complexity. What mix of feed is appropriate? Which birds can be let out to free range together? Are there signs of illness or injury? Are the stored eggs actually fertilised? Addressing these issues highlights the difference between a helpful amateur and someone who has researched the topic eggs-tensively (pun definitely intended).

The birds also seem intuitively aware of the difference. Two of the more difficult roosters – Dave, the old hand, and a newer bird Kosta (Keith named him after Kosta Tsyzu due to his diminutive stature being in complete contrast to his level of aggression) have assumed the responsibility of sorting out the ‘substitue guy’, puffing up their chest and taking an aggressive stance toward Keith at every opportunity. The hens often pick up on the tension, helpfully tearing around the yard while Keith attempts to herd them back into their coops after yard time without running into fruit trees or coathanging himself with the clothesline.

The whole experience is reminiscent of a teaching example Jesus gave on the issue of the Pharisees and their ineffective leadership of God’s people.

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”    John 10:1-5

Ironically, the passage goes on to say, “Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.” (verse 6)

There are no shortage of people clambering to have their opinions heard on many topics, including spiritual issues. Mainstream and social media usher them into our lives constantly. We need to be as wise as dopey sheep and stroppy chickens…. and pay heed only to the Shepherd’s voice.

Prayer points

  • Pray for Hannah and Corey as they await the birth, with the due date sometime this weekend.
  • Praise God that we are able to be here, and to be of some help as needed.

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!