This year marks the 20th anniversary of the summer that I spent living with a tribe in Papua New Guinea. It was the summer before my senior year in college and I was quickly realizing that I needed to figure out what I was going to do with myself after I graduated. I was intrigued by the idea of being a tribal missionary, so I decided to go immerse myself in it and attempt to discern (with all the wisdom a 21 year old can muster) if this was really where God wanted me to be.
I met up with 30 strangers in LA and jumped on a plane with them for our trek across the ocean to Papua New Guinea. We landed in Port Moresby, the capital of PNG and our last taste of civilization for six weeks. I was struck by this bustling city that felt like a step back into the 70’s. During this layover I realized this was our first baby step into an unknown world to many of us. We got on a puddle jumper from Port Moresby to Goroka that would take us further away from any resemblance of familiarity. This was evident when I noticed, 10 minutes into our flight, blood-tinged water dripping from the overhead baggage compartment onto one of the guys in my group. I pointed to his shoulder with a horrified look on my face. He stood up, way more calmly than I would have, and opened the compartment above him, where he found a plastic grocery sack with dead fish. Apparently the national sitting next to him had gone fishing that morning.
In Goroka, after more than 20 hours of traveling, we all crammed into the back of several pick up trucks for an hour long ride to our final destination. As we rode down the dirt roads, into the highlands area of PNG, I was overcome by the presence of eyes watching us. That’s when I noticed, all along our route, nationals peeking through the trees at us. Tribal in every sense of the word…spears in their hands, some with their faces painted, women who were topless, and every one of them barefoot. During that ride, I was smacked in the face with the gravity of the situation. I was 8000 miles away from home, my closest friends were total strangers and I was completely disconnected from everyone I knew…it was 1998 after all and no one had a cell phone nor did we have access to email right away.
And that was just day one of my crazy adventure into deciding if I was cut out to be a tribal missionary! Obviously, I recognized pretty quickly that although I love a good adventure…this particular one might be a little too much adventure for me. I survived my six weeks there and I came away from it with a gratitude for even the simplest of extravagances that we have here in America (like ice cubes), an appreciation for the beauty of other cultures, a keen awareness for the many unreached people in this world…along with a few good stories.
“Ai bilong yumi mas lukluk i go long Jisas.” -Hibru 12:2
“Keep your eyes on Jesus” -Hebrews 12:2