The term “missions” has been used to define many things over the years. The logic has been whether some program, or method, or type of ministry is the key factor to define what the “mission” is. In some cases it has meant the difference between someone getting financial support, because they are or are not doing “missions.” I have been told on different occasions, “We would like to support you, but we only support this particular kind of ‘mission’ or missionary.” I find all of this ironic and in most cases very sad. I don’t know how you define the term or what you consider it to be. I only know what it means to our family.
“Missions” to us is about the Ap Ma people group in the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG). It is the people themselves that we see as our “mission.” Whether you are applying a bandage, erecting an elementary classroom, training someone to teach, or giving specialized training in operating a piece of equipment, all of these are just good excuses to minister to people. I’m reminded of the movie and quote from Patch Adams, “You treat a disease; you win or you lose. You treat a person; you win every time.” This is not to say that if you are doing something different from us, that it is wrong. Just because your methods or modes are different than ours doesn’t make them less “mission.” The danger can be doing something for “its” sake, losing site of the fact that we should be doing what we do for “HIS” sake.
I believe Christ provided a good model for us when He was on earth. He shared the struggles and hard times with his disciples. Yet He also rejoiced with them in the good times as well. The point is that His goal was about the individual people around him. He shared his life with them, to equip them for when He would no longer be there in person. Knowing that human life is frail and unpredictable motivates us to prepare the Ap Ma people for when we will not be there. To do that, our investment has to be in the people themselves, for His Kingdom. God did all He did for you, me, and all people around the world. We are all created with the purpose of being His.
In some ways the way we go about “missions” is unique, but in some ways it is the old tried and true method as well. We have been working in Samban village for a little over 9 years now. We help meet some physical needs through the operation and administration of the clinic. If our nursing staff or facilities are inadequate to meet the need of a patient, we provide evacuations to town to a bigger and sometimes more equipped hospital. Pre-natal care is a very important service that the clinic offers. The infant mortality rate in PNG is very high. This is due to several factors, but one of them is low birth weight. Through some supporting churches we are able to give new mothers blankets and some clothes for each newborn baby whose mother came to seek treatment at the clinic.
We also meet spiritual needs working in the local church as well. We support the local Sunday School program with lessons, coloring materials, and supplies. Karie is involved in the Weekly Women’s Bible Study. I (Jesse) am involved in preaching, as well as offering discipleship classes on a continuing basis. Getting involved with the young men through sports, such as soccer, provides an outreach as well. There have been many late night discussions in the living room of our home where someone has asked, “What about this passage where it says…?” How can you go to sleep when someone who hungers for the truth has come right to your door? To go to bed just because you are tired would be such a huge missed opportunity. Many times that person who has stayed up late to ask the question does not want to seem ignorant in front of everyone else so he/she has waited up so that no one else is around. It ends up being a 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 been investing our time in training teachers to teach in the local elementary schools. We have had training courses with over twenty-six potential teachers attending. Some of these trainees came from a two-day walk away. The training emphasis is not just in teacher education. Each day of training is enriched with Bible study and prayer times. The entire curriculum itself is based on translated portions of Scripture.
We were so excited at the beginning of last year when three of the men we had been training in the local elementary school in our village of Samban asked to be baptized! That means that all five of our teachers in the elementary school are immersed believers. We have four satellite schools that have been operating in some more immediate outlying villages. As new satellite schools continue to be started in the outlying villages of our language group, we hope to continue the training, as well as the discipleship and mentoring.
That is not the only community development work in which we are involved. We have trained men to use and operate the sawmill and chainsaws. This knowledge and work provides us the building material to erect a local literacy center, which also 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 many buildings built to generate cash crops for the local people. Up to this point, some of the timber that the communities have gained has gone toward six cocoa dryers in six different villages. These dryers allow the people to dry their cocoa beans in the village. When taking them to market, the dried cocoa beans now fetch a higher price.
One other very important way that we contribute to the community development is through a scholarship assistance program to local men and women who desire to further their education. The stipulation with this scholarship program is that for the number of years we support them in their efforts, they will return to work and assist us in the “mission” in Samban. The recipients of these scholarships are carefully chosen for several different reasons. The first is that with limited finances to support them we can only send as many as supporters partner with us to support financially. The second is that if we are to invest heavily in someone, we need to make sure that investment will yield a good return. We have found that someone who sees their education as a way to bless others because of their faith is a much more devoted worker. It’s not just a job to them. It is truly a rewarding experience for us to see someone use their newly acquired skills to minister and help those who did not have the opportunity as they did.
So what does the future hold for the Ap Ma people? The outside world continues to have an effect on the day-to-day living. Only one generation removed from cannibalism, now 70% of the adult population owns cell phones. The outside world is forcing changes that in so many ways are not good for their culture or with their individual interests in mind. 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 is to enable, educate, train, and equip them for the years ahead. This gets back to the old tried and true. We know and want to share that HOPE that we have with the Ap Ma people. There is only one name under heaven that offers life everlasting! It’s the same for the Ap Ma people, as it is all around the world. Christ’s parable of the wise and foolish man and where they built their house illustrates that. We all know that story well. If the Ap Ma people believe and entrust themselves to Him, then their future is secure with Him, just as all our futures will be.
Story by Jesse Pryor ('99)
For more information on the work in Papua New Guinea go to www.oipng.com.