As my wife Karie (Peck ‘99) and I began preparing to serve as missionaries under the auspices of Outreach International of Papua New Guinea, we discovered that the term missions has been used to describe various endeavors over the years with no universal agreement on the descriptions. We also discovered that a donor’s definition of the word mission strongly affects his/her response to requests for financial support. Therefore, the first thing that we had to do was decide what mission meant to us as we began our work with the Ap Ma people group in the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Ultimately, for us, missions is all about the Ap Ma people; they are our mission. Whether we are applying bandages, erecting an elementary classroom, training someone to teach, or giving specialized training in operating a piece of equipment, we are ministering to the people. I am reminded of the quote from Patch Adams in the movie of the same name: “You treat a disease, you win or you lose. You treat a person, you win every time.”
Christ provided a good model for us when He was on earth. He shared struggles and hard times with His disciples; He also rejoiced with them in the good times. His goal was about the individual people around Him as He shared His life with them, to equip them for when He would no longer be with them in person. We use this model as we prepare the Ap Ma people for when we will not be in PNG, investing our efforts in the people themselves.
The way we go about missions is unique, but in some ways it is tried and true as well. We have been working in the Samban village for a little over nine years. We help meet some physical needs through the operation and administration of a clinic. If our nursing staff or facilities are inadequate to meet patient needs, we provide evacuations to a bigger and better equipped hospital. Pre-natal care is a very important service that the clinic offers since the infant mortality rate in PNG is very high. Because low birth weight is a major reason for the high mortality rate, this service is a valuable one. Through supporting churches, the clinic is able to give blankets and clothes for each newborn baby whose mother has sought treatment at the clinic.
Another focus of our mission is to meet the spiritual needs of the local church. We provide local Sunday school programs with lessons, coloring materials, and supplies. I am involved in preaching, as well as offering discipleship classes on a continuing basis; Karie is involved in the weekly women’s Bible study. Participation with young men in the church in sports has provided an outreach as well. Many late night discussions have taken place in the living room of our home where someone has asked, “What about this passage where it says...?” How can I go to sleep when someone who hungers for the truth has come right to my door? Often that person who has stayed late does not want to seem ignorant in front of everyone else, so he/she has waited until no one else is around. We then have our one-on-one Bible study!
We have concentrated our efforts in community development to meet the basic needs of education and literacy. Karie and I have invested much time in preparing teachers to teach in the local elementary schools. We have led training courses with over twenty-six potential teachers in attendance. Some of these trainees walked two days to attend the courses. The training emphasis is not just in teacher education, but also includes Bible study and prayer during each day. The entire curriculum itself is based on translated portions of the scriptures. We were very excited at the beginning of last year when three men we had been training in the local elementary school asked to be baptized! With their decisions, all five teachers in the school are immersed believers. We have four satellite schools in some of the more immediate outlying villages. As the new satellite schools continue to be started in other outlying villages of our language group, we hope to continue the training, as well as the discipleship and mentoring.
We have also trained men to use and to operate the sawmill and chainsaws. This knowledge and effort provided the building material to erect a local literacy center which doubles as a drinking water source for the surrounding community. With the availability of timber due to the one-to-one exchange of trees for milling with the tree owners, there have been other buildings built to generate cash crops for the local people. Some timber has been used to purchase six cocoa dryers in six different villages, thereby allowing the people to dry their cocoa beans in the village. Therefore, the dried cocoa beans can fetch a higher price at the market.
A scholarship assistance program further contributes to community development .We carefully choose recipients who promise to return and work in our mission in Samban. In this fashion, we have been able to invest wisely in the lives of those who see their education as a way to bless others because of their faith.
The future of the Ap Ma people is being changed by the outside world, often in ways that are not good for their culture. Only one generation removed from cannibalism, now 70% of the adult population own cell phones. To shield them or keep them isolated is not a feasible option. Change is inevitable for the Ap Ma people, just as it is for all of us. The best way to equip them for change is to enable, educate, and train.
There is only one name under heaven that offers life everlasting! We want to offer that hope to the Ap Ma people, to further prepare them to be effective citizens in a changing world.
Our mission continues to be the same although the challenges may change: to help the Ap Ma people know our HOPE in life everlasting through relationship with Christ Jesus. If the Ap Ma people believe and entrust themselves to Him, then their future is secure with Him, just as our futures will be.
For more information on the work in Papua New Guinea go to www.oipng.com.
Adapted with permission of the author and Horizons magazine. The complete article first appeared in the June/July 2013 Horizons magazine.
The article as it first appeared in Horizons magazine is available at johnsonu.edu/apmapeople.