This sunrise, from our front porch, continually reminds me (Elspeth) each morning that the Lord has everything under control. Why do I worry?
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3 v 22 – 24
Thankful for being able to see my Creator’s hand every morning
[ Keith ] There was an encouraging moment in my role as Finance manager this past week.
With the current COVID isolation protocol effective on our Ukarumpa base, the PNG national staff families that live on centre were faced with a dilemma. Travel to the nearby township of Kainantu was restricted, but a weekend trip to town to stock up on supplies is a regular habit for most families. Not only is the town market open on a Saturday – the day after fortnight pay day here – the lower prices of goods in the town stores make the two kina (90 cents) per person bus fare worth it.
With pay day approaching, the staff voiced their concerns at possibly not being able to travel to Kainantu and return, without compromising the isolation standards which have been put in place. Purchasing sufficient supplies for a large family at the mission Store would seriously deplete their pay packets. Elspeth was helping out in the Store at the time, compiling orders for distribution, and saw first hand the stress that this issue was generating amongst our staff. One commented to Elspeth, “This rice is six kina here, but I can buy it for four kina in Kainantu.” Confronted with the reality of their wages not stretching as far as usual, the staff were understandably upset.
The first I knew of the situation was an email from the senior supervisor of the Store, looking for options of reducing the price on “providing a temporary discount for our staff friends who live on Centre…”. In a meeting with the Store management team, I suggested that we should look at reducing the pricing on essential items in a sustainable way, not just during COVID restrictions, to provide for all of our Ukarumpa families in a practical way now and into the future. The manager’s initial short list of 22 staple food items soon became 83 items after further consultation, and I had some serious number crunching to do. After some reports generated by our software support staff, a day or two – and a late night – produced a result.
Overall, 52 staple items were able to be reduced in price, and the process now rolls on to working with Store management to overhaul the pricing structure generally to guarantee viability. An exercise in financial management meant so much more than that to the Store staff. Elspeth was shopping on the Friday, and they expressed how pleased they were at the new pricing, and “what Keith had done.”
It wasn’t a solo effort. The caring concern of the senior supervisor, with the support from the programmers, just needed some accounting to ensure a workable result. It’s what I do. Discussing the situation later with other finance colleagues, though, made it clear that it takes some pushing to move ideas onward at times.
For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? Esther 4:14
Mordecai’s challenge to Esther was founded on the certainty that God would see His purposes fulfilled, with or without Esther’s involvement. To her credit, she bravely accepted her duty, even if it cost her life.
I am certainly not risking my life when going to the administration with plans for change, but most days are quite full, and there honestly is so much work still to be done. At times it is exhausting, and the workload can be frustrating, but I have clear ideas on what could be achieved with a little effort. I know that God has prepared me for this moment, in terms of experiences and skills, so I can, and should be, using these for the benefit of this part of His kingdom.
Please pray …
• for wisdom, and a Christlike care, for our managers during what are potentially stressful times
• giving thanks for our Ukarumpa team – expatriates and national staff. Pray that we work together effectively to the glory of God
There is a new default greeting as you pass someone on the road in Ukarumpa…. are you leaving or staying?
Some of the departures involve people who had already scheduled furlough leave in the coming weeks and months, and bringing the date forward is simply expedient in the light of closing borders and reduced international flight services. Others have been required to leave as they fall into the high-risk category for COVID-19 due to pre-existing health concerns, or from having had too many birthdays during their lives. Many expats have been encouraged by their mission organisations to seriously consider returning home, and it is this third category in which we find ourselves. There are multiple factors, and we hope that this can clarify for our supporters the process we have gone through in coming to the decision to stay on in PNG.
1. There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in PNG to date.
The PNG Government is responding as best they can with available resources, but as a late entrant into the process, they also have the benefit of learning from the experiences of other countries. PNG tends to be more of a final destination than a stopover for international travel, with minimal points of entry for international flights. It also appears that testing protocols at these entry points are working well to minimise the threat.
2. In Ukarumpa, we are more removed from the large urban areas where COVID-19 may potentially have the greatest impact.
Our organisation has already taken steps to limit travel which may be inappropriate and are prepared for a future which may involve a quarantine status within our community to some degree.
3. By staying, we may make it easier for someone at risk, or for families with children, to make the difficult decision to leave.
As an older couple (but not too old!) we can choose to be more effective in our work schedules, we can survive on less supplies, and we don’t place many other demands on stretched community services, such as schooling and health care.
4. We honestly believe we can be of Kingdom service by remaining.
This is the big one! If we were not really needed here, of course we would leave. Our work in Finance (Keith) and now administrative support in the Medical Clinic (Elspeth) are critical to the continued operation of the mission base. Without Finance processing, the supply and logistics systems would be compromised, and the Clinic is at the forefront of the response to the current situation. We also want to be here for our PNG staff. They have a hard road ahead if COVID-19 reaches a point where it is directly impacting their communities and families.
On that note, we are being realistic regarding the very real threat that COVID-19 poses for PNG communities, so we ask that you pray with us in regard to these specific issues.
1. That COVID-19 not become a widespread health issue in PNG. The comment has been made that it would be a miracle of grace for PNG to be spared in this way. God is a God of miracles, and a God of grace, and for this reason alone we pray.
2. That the social issue (which is already here) not be something which divides this country in destructive ways. There is a growing social media wave of misinformation, dissatisfaction, and scare-mongering. PNG is no different from the rest of the world in this way. Already, people are blaming foreigners for the situation we are in, and it may not take much for this to represent itself in aggression towards the many people who have made a home in urban PNG centres.
Similarly, if COVID-19 does arise in urban areas, it is unclear how the rest of the population in rural areas may react. They may take action into their own hands to block travel, and repel anyone looking to escape the virus by returning to their home village areas. This could very easily get out of hand.
3. On a more holistic level, the idea of self-quarantine, and social distancing is totally at odds with PNG culture. Here, family is everything, and “family” is a broad term which extends beyond the borders of house and even village. It extends to those of one mind, and one spirit. It especially extends to the family of God. Pray that this situation does not result in PNG people becoming insular, suspicious of outsiders, and less welcoming. That would not be the country we have come to love.
This is a very brief update, with an emphasis on currency.
Our mission community is meeting tonight (Wednesday) at 7:30pm for an open information and discussion on the implications for all of us of the COVID-19 issue.
Many of our friends have already been impacted – holiday leave in Cairns has been cancelled; stopovers in Australia to renew decade old friendships as folk complete their PNG assignments have had to be forsaken; translation staff in remote assignments have been requested to return to the home base in Ukarumpa. These are all regrettable disruptions, but I cannot help but think of the thousands who have lost loved ones already, who may be undergoing quarantine and treatment, or who may be in genuine fear of contracting the virus.
We have been effected in terms of Keith’s father, Ross, and a family friend, John, having to cut their visit short by several days to avoid getting trapped without a flight back to Brisbane. We are thankful that an earlier commercial flight was able to be booked, and that our mission organisation could find seats on a connecting flight to Port Moresby.
Please be praying for wisdom for our mission leaders, here in PNG and in the home countries, as they determine the best course of action for all of us.
It has been suggested that we should consider returning to Australia, but we feel secure and supported here – no COVID-19 cases have been reported in PNG to date – and would hate to see our work grind to a halt as a result. That said, we also need to respect the position that our supervisors are in.
If you are under 50 years of age, you may not remember a TV advertisement for H&R Block which featured a tax agent at her computer. To the voiceover, “Margaret just found a large tax saving for her client”, the agent gives a silent fist pump, then looks around before returning to her work. Accounting is not often described in terms of excitement, but several developments in my [Keith] work of late could at least be considered momentous.
Coming into the Finance manager role carried some concerns, particularly that as an organisation with its administrative base in the USA, many of the financial principles are different from those applied in Australia. With one exception….
When an issue came up related to GST processing, my comments on how to approach it were met with glazed looks. It turns out that Americans do not necessarily have a firm grasp of GST complexities. I had found my niche! Further investigation soon revealed that the organisation had a GST credit with the PNG Government totalling 750,000 kina around AU $300,000 and there had neither been an effective means of reporting on this, nor a clear intent to resolve the issue. [ In case any accountants are reading this….. it’s a long story, but just understand that Government procedures in PNG differ from those in Australia. ]
Together with one of my PNG accounting staff, and the input of IT support, we have corrected some errors with various computer systems and can now submit the appropriate reports to recoup the funds. We have offset around 90,000 kina so far this year, and are aiming to have the entire amount recovered by September.
Exciting? Perhaps not. Momentous? It certainly makes a difference in our operational budget for the year, and anything that extends the capacity of SIL to advance Bible translation in PNG is momentous in my estimation.
Please pray …
• praising God that He has equipped us to serve in PNG
• that Keith can make time to recruit and train staff in the Finance Office
• that SIL continue to show good stewardship in administration areas, that the work of Bible translation is effectively supported
… in 1979? or 2003? or 2016? Where were you? What were your plans for the years ahead?
In 1979 Keith finished year five in primary school, in 2003 Elspeth began her second year of university, then in 2016 we returned to Australia from Papua New Guinea (PNG) after our first term as mission support workers with Wycliffe Bible Translators Australia. Some other folk that we have met here in Ukarumpa had other completely contrary plans for their lives.
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1 v 27
Barry & Bonnie arrived in PNG in 1979 to work as a high school teacher and as a translator. After 40 years of serving the Lord in PNG, next year Barry & Bonnie will be retiring from active missionary service in an overseas context. Their plan is to return to their home country to rest and reconnect with family and friends. They aren’t sure if they will fully retire yet or keep pottering along serving the Lord where they eventually settle.
• Praise that Barry & Bonnie have faithfully served the Lord wherever He has sent them.
• Please pray that they will choose wisely whether they retire or continue working part-time in a mission capacity.
Kaitlyn was 7 months old when she arrived in PNG in 2003 with her parents who were following God’s calling to provide His Word in the Nukna language that had no previous written form of communication. In 2020, Kaitlyn looks forward to finishing year 12 at the Ukarumpa International School then heading off to her birth country for study and work.
• Pray that Kaitlyn will finish well here in her Year 12 studies.
• Pray also that she will be able to transition back to her birth country with minimal culture shock after living almost her whole life in a completely different culture.
In 2016, Lynda arrived in PNG to work as a physiotherapist but soon became involved with the Scripture in Use team; now working full-time leading workshops in the Morobe and Madang Provinces. In one workshop, Lynda teaches local PNG people how to battle spiritual warfare and confront cultural rituals that are at odds with their Christian faith. In 2020 Lynda is looking forward to a one-year furlough in her passport country where she will reconnect with her family, friends, church and supporters. • Please pray for Lynda as she spends time with her family and friends being refreshed after 4 years mission service overseas.
• Lord willing, Lynda plans on re-joining the efforts here in PNG to encourage, promote and teach about putting the Bible into action. Not just believing but doing.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3 v 5-6
Our last days in Lae were quite humbling, as people showered us with thanks, bilums (woven string or knitted woollen bags) and expressions of appreciation for us giving assistance, offering hospitality, providing training, and simply showing kindness.
The warm thanks in the cards shown here came from members of our regular Huon Gulf Multi-Language Project team, in Lae for a workshop during our final weeks. Perhaps the thoughts that mean the most to us are those that express how we have encouraged and served the PNG national translation teams.
At an afternoon tea, Elisa Kiputang (pictured below) led several speakers from the national teams in sharing how they had enjoyed coming to Lae and being accepted as a vital part of this ministry. All of them noted being greeted with warm smiles and handshakes, and how they felt comfortable approaching us for practical help at any time. They are a tremendous group of men and women and we will miss them greatly.
Even more, we will miss our beautiful staff. We had a farewell lunch with them at a local restaurant on our last Friday workday, but they wanted a follow up on the Tuesday before we left for Ukarumpa.
They hosted a sausage sizzle lunch – we’ve trained them well in Aussie culture – sang two praise songs, and served a farewell cake. The speeches expressing their appreciation for training and encouraging them, or for simply giving them a chance when they felt that they may never find permanent employment, had us all in tears. Even writing this brings on the emotions.
Overall, these events represented everything we have come to love about our work in Lae, and we couldn’t have thought of a better way to finish.
Please pray …
for the Lae staff, as they transition through temporary management to new permanent managers around March 2020.
for Larua ( third from right) in her leadership role between managers.
thankful that our desire to ‘finish well’ turned out God’s way and not ours – there were plenty of unfinished tasks around Centre.