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

New every morning …

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

For such a time as this….

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[ Keith ] There was an encouraging moment in my role as Finance manager this past week.

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COVID protocols in place… the 2 metre queue (top), and one-way store aisles

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

That is the question…

Ukarumpa roadThere 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.

To live in interesting times…

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.

Accounting (yawn)….

AccountantIf 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

What were you doing …

… 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.

Barry & Bonnie

 

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.

Kaitlyn Taylor

 

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.

Lynda Wick

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

A fitting end….

 

Thankyou 4Our 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.

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