It started long before January 2013, but that’s when we first discovered the role God would have for us in His story, so that’s where I’ll start. Josiah got an email explaining that there were Mouk believers in Papua New Guinea who had started an outreach to a neighboring people group on their island (the island of New Britain). Having evaluated their skills and giftings, they knew they would be able to teach literacy, develop and teach chronological Bible lessons, present the Gospel, and disciple the believers in this outreach. But there was no Scripture available in that language (as is the case for the majority of Papua New Guinea’s 850 people groups), and these Mouk believers knew they lacked the education and resources to be able to translate God’s Word for that people group. So they asked for a Western missionary who could join their team and do the translation. And that request got passed along and was now in an email in front of us.
We were dating at the time, but we already knew God’s plan was to join our paths and send us to Papua New Guinea (PNG) to spread His glory among the unreached there. We were both in training with New Tribes Mission to become cross-cultural church planters. We had been praying about what God might have for us in the future…was this email part of His answer? We began praying about it. Josiah had been dreaming of working in partnership with PNG believers ever since he was a kid. God had directed Rachel into Bible translation since she was 16. Both our hearts longed to be a part of helping PNG believers reach out to neighboring people groups to make disciples and plant churches. This opportunity to join the Mouk believers in their outreach seemed tailor-made for us.
We were planning to visit PNG that summer so I (Rachel) could meet Josiah’s family, who serve as missionaries there on that island of New Britain. God worked things out so that during that summer trip we were able to make a short visit to see these Mouk believers and talk to them about this opportunity to partner with them in reaching another people group. We couldn’t make any promises, we told them, but we would keep praying about this. We still had a long ways to go before we would be able to come back to PNG as full-time missionaries.
Fast forward three years. We’ve gotten married, finished our training with New Tribes, seen God raise up an incredible team of people to send us with love, prayers and finances, and arrived in PNG as career missionaries. We have completed our orientation to the PNG national language and culture and our 3 month bush orientation. We’re now ready to get officially plugged in to what God is doing here in Papua New Guinea. Through every step along the way, God has continued to point us in the direction of partnering with an existing tribal church in PNG to take the Good News to a neighboring people group.
So a few weeks ago, we flew into Mouk to meet with the Mouk church leaders and some of the believers who have initiated this outreach to another people group. We were trusting that this trip would just confirm to us and the Mouk that God was still leading us to partner together, and that’s exactly what happened. Read more about our trip to Mouk.
Our next step is to move into Mouk and spend a year or two learning their language and culture, as this is crucial to good communication and effective teamwork. So we’re gathering materials for building a small house in Mouk and gearing up for diving into full-time language learning sometime in August. We’re excited to join hands with these solid believers whose hearts beat with God’s heart for the world to know HIM. What God has been doing among the Mouk started before we were born, and we are thrilled and humbled that He’s now allowing us to have a small part in what He’s doing in and through this passionate band of believers in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.
We’ve finished drawing the house plans and calculating most of the supplies we’ll need. We’ve counted and calculated and crunched numbers ’til our brains hurt. Now, the really fun part begins…shopping!! We get to go around town, from store to store, trying to find the supplies we’ll need. There is no “Home Depot” or “Lowe’s” here, just a few hardware stores that sometimes have things in stock…and sometimes not. 🙂 We have figured out how much we need of different materials, so now we just find things, figure out the best deals, and start buying supplies.
We’ve ordered some of the “big” things, like corrugated roofing iron, wood (for part of the house; the Mouk are cutting the wood for the house frame), and a generator. The rest of the materials — like fly wire (for screens), 220v wiring, nails, cement, polyurethane, toilet, sinks, etc. — we’ll find, buy, load into a van or truck, and bring back here to Hoskins. I (Rachel) am not usually a fan of shopping, but buying supplies for housebuilding is actually pretty exciting, and I enjoy keeping track of all the lists, price quotes, receipts, etc as we shop. Josiah is great at finding good deals, or knowing the best place to look for those hard-to-find items.
After we bring home the supplies we’ve bought, we get to pack the supplies into boxes, totes, or storage drums. Then we weigh them and label them (with their weight, our name, and the location they’re going to) so that they can be transported into Mouk, either by single-engine plane or truck/boat/dump truck.
The Kodiak’s bumpy landing on the muddy airstrip. The sea of faces surrounding us as we climbed out of the airplane. Vigorous handshakes. Huge grins. People who knew our names because they’d been praying for us to come join them. A church whose heart beats with God’s heart for the world. It’s hard to encapsulate the events and emotions of our trip into Mouk in just a few words and pictures, but here goes:
We flew from Hoskins to the Mouk airstrip along with 6 church leaders from the tribe where we did bush orientation. Due to the timing of when the plane was in the area, our visit into Mouk overlapped with some meetings between church leaders from 3 different tribes. We were warmly welcomed with food, songs, and the chance to shake the hands of all 350+ people who were there (some were Mouk church leaders from other villages).
Even though we’d never met 99% of these people, everyone knew our names because they’d heard we might come and join their team of Mouk missionaries (believers sent out by the Mouk churches to another people group). Within minutes of our arrival, we found ourselves in conversations about more tribes who still have no access to the Gospel. “The bananas are ripe,” the Mouk kept saying, “but the workers to harvest them are few.” (Luke 10:2)
We sat in on the meetings between the church leaders from the 3 different tribes. They talked a lot about the different needs of their churches, how to help each other grow, and the need for unity in the Body of Christ. How can we work together? How do we help churches that are struggling? How do we build fellowship and unity between us? It was a great opportunity for us to see how relationships are forged between church leaders from different people groups, who live in different areas and speak different languages.
Two New Tribes leaders met with the Mouk church leaders, our potential future Mouk coworkers, and the church leaders from the tribe where we did bush orientation. The church leaders from our bush orientation shared about what things they taught us, what topics we discussed with them, and how they helped prepare us for partnering with the Mouk church. All the different parties represented in the meeting agreed that God wanted us (Josiah and Rachel) to join the Mouk in their outreach to another tribe, so then we were invited to join the meeting.
The Mouk church leaders said they were all excited to have us join the Mouk outreach, and they want us to come learn the Mouk language and culture so that we can have a strong relationship with the Mouk church and be sent out by them to join their outreach. They had already decided what village they would like us to locate in (it was the village we were in for these meetings — the one with the airstrip), and they wanted to know how soon we could move in. They offered to help us build a house to live in while we learn the Mouk language and culture.
Josiah shared the story of how God had worked in our hearts and directed us to pursue this partnership with them. We’ll share that story in our next blog post. Then, since we were all agreed that we (Josiah and Rachel) should join the Mouk in their outreach to another tribe, we all lined up and shook hands to show we were “wan bel” (unified). You should’ve seen the grins on everyone’s faces. 🙂
Everyone gathered for a church service to sing, pray, and hear God’s Word taught. Two of the visiting church leaders from where we did bush orientation taught on two different passages of Scripture. Afterwards, we (Josiah and Rachel) spent a while talking with our future Mouk coworkers about how the outreach started and some of the challenges they’re facing.
We all gathered for another church service, and this time, two visiting church leaders from another tribe shared from God’s Word. Then, we all had a big feast of cooked roots (taro, kaukau, etc.), rice, and pig meat. Having a feast like this at the end of a visit is a cultural way of showing we are all unified and parting ways on good terms.
After the feast, the Mouk church leaders talked with Josiah about where we should build a house in that village, and where to get the wood for the house.
The Mouk deacons had a meeting and decided what spot of ground they wanted us to build on, and then we went over and staked out the house measurements (20’x32′). Then we discussed what size of timber we would need for the house frame, and they encouraged us to get the wood for the walls and floor from a place in town, since they thought it would be harder and more expensive to get a portable sawmill to cut that wood and it would take 3 months before the wood would be dry enough to use.
The Mouk offered to cut the wood we need for the frame of the house, and to help us make arrangements for bringing some of our housebuilding supplies in by boat and dump truck. We discussed when we’d be able to return to start housebuilding, and settled on the date July 5th, since that worked best with their plans and with the New Tribes Aviation flight schedule.
After packing up our backpacks at daybreak, we hiked for 20 minutes to get to the dump truck that was going to drive us (the two of us, all the visiting church leaders, and 2 New Tribes leaders) down to the coast. Two and a half hours of bumpy, muddy logging roads later, we arrived at the coast and then loaded our things into a dinghy. What was supposed to be a 2 1/2 hour boat ride turned into 5 hours of slowly puttering along. 🙂 At sunset, we arrived at a small town where a truck was waiting to drive us back to Hoskins. So, after twelve hours of travel, we arrived back home, exhausted and covered with salt, sand, and sweat, but excited by how God is working. 🙂
Now that we’re back from Australia, we’re focusing on 3 main priorities while we’re here at Hoskins: 1) spend time getting to know the New Tribes area leadership and the support missionaries here, 2) start meeting with our potential national coworkers and their sending churches, and 3) begin plans and preparations for building a small house in our coworkers’ tribe so that we have somewhere to live while we learn their language/culture and build relationships with them. We’ve talked about those first two priorities a bit in our weekly prayer updates, so now we want to talk a little bit about that third priority: preparing for housebuilding! 🙂
The house we’re planning to build won’t be big, and it may not look fancy, but it should be adequate for our needs while we learn our national coworkers’ language and build relationships with them and their sending churches. We’ve talked about house designs since we were in missionary training in the U.S., and after thinking through and sketching out 5 or 6 different designs we’ve finally settled on one that we think should work for us. It’s a basic 20′ x 32′ design with corrugated tin roofing (pretty standard roofing, unless you’re making a leaf roof), plenty of windows with screen (don’t want the mosquitos indoors!), and made primarily out of wood. I’d post a picture, but…it isn’t built yet! 🙂
So what does planning and preparing for house building look like? Well, so far it has involved a lot of drawing. Josiah’s been busy drawing to-scale plans for the floors, walls, roof, under the house, etc. He’s been calculating angles for the roof, lengths of boards, and the area of the walls and floor. Recently, we figured out how big of a pit we need to make for our septic system, and how heavy one of our filled water tanks will be. All that math we had to do in school is paying off! 🙂
Once we figure out the quantities we’ll need of pipes, fly wire, nails, screws, tin roofing, cement, gutter pipes, etc then we’ll start making trips into town (about 1 hr by road) to find out how much those supplies will cost and where the best place is to get them. We’ve heard that a lot of other missionaries usually spend $30,000 – $40,000 on building a house (and half of that cost is transporting the supplies into the jungle), so that’s a pretty safe estimate to shoot for, but we won’t have a clearer idea of how much this house will cost until we actually do this step of crunching the numbers. We’ve started a special “house building account” to use for designating money for buying the supplies for the house and flying them in to the location where we build it.
We know that doing house building means there is a lot of work ahead of us, but we’re excited to build a house that will be useful not only for us as we learn language and culture and build relationships with our coworkers, but hopefully for other missionaries in the future, who could possibly live in that house for bush orientation, or missionary pilots could stay overnight in that house if needed. This house could also be a big help to us whenever we fly in or out of our future long-term ministry location, since this house will be at the shuttle location where our supplies (and us!) switch between a helicopter (maybe be the most common route into our future location) and a Kodiak single-engine airplane. We pray this little house will be a big blessing!
Hey there from Hoskins! We are now on the island of New Britain, the area of Papua New Guinea that we hope to live and work in long-term. We officially completed our PNG culture and Pidgin study in Madang (on the mainland of PNG), so now we’ve moved out here to New Britain, where we’ll soon start taking the next steps in preparing for one day doing church planting in an unreached people group. So here’s what’s next: we’ll have a 6-12 week “bush orientation” (more on that in a minute), and then __????????__, and then later, we’ll team up with tribal believers to go into an unreached people group, learn their language, and translate God’s Word (while our tribal coworkers teach the Bible chronologically and plant a church). What we don’t know is what all is going to take place in that “gap” between finishing bush orientation and one day moving into a tribe to work long-term. The next few months of bush orientation, and then meeting with New Tribes area leadership after that, should start to clarify what all those steps in between “here” and “there” might look like. There are a lot of options to consider, logistics to consider, people to have discussions with, etc as we begin this whole big process of “allocation” into a tribe.
First, though, we have this last part of our orientation to finish. Our time in Madang was our orientation to general PNG culture and the national trade language (Tok Pisin, aka Pidgin), along with a number of classes to help us contextualize and apply things we learned in the missionary training in the US to church planting work here in Papua New Guinea. Then, we spent 10 days at the New Tribes headquarters here in PNG where we got an orientation to all the different departments that keep missionaries in tribal locations going. These “behind the scenes” people are vital to the missionary work here in PNG — they do things like buy supplies, fly airplanes and helicopters, teach missionary kids, take care of medical needs, keep our computers running, manage finances, etc.
This last part of our orientation is called “bush orientation.” Since we plan to serve as tribal missionaries, that means that most of our life will be spent living out in the jungle – which in PNG is called the “bush.” Living in the “bush” is different from living at a mission center, because out in the bush we have to provide our own electricity (using solar panels and batteries, as well as a generator), and our own water (from rain water collected in the gutters on our roof), and we usually don’t have easy access to a town with stores to buy groceries and other supplies. So “bush orientation” is an opportunity for us to learn the ropes of living out in the jungle, while also getting to live alongside and learn from some tribal believers — because we’ll be doing our bush orientation in a place that already has a thriving church.
The tribe that we’ll be doing bush orientation in is about 2 1/2 hours by truck from the New Tribes center we’re on right now (Hoskins). We don’t know at this point how long exactly we’ll be in there for bush orientation since it is up to the church in that tribe. Missionaries came to this tribe years ago, presented the Gospel, saw God build up a maturing church, and now the missionaries have moved out and the church is growing on its own. We get to go in there, live in the missionary’s old house, and spend the next 6-12 weeks rubbing shoulders with, and learning from, these solid tribal believers. We’re excited to have the opportunity to get a front-row seat to watch the daily ins and outs of “body life” among these believers.
We don’t really know what all our bush orientation will be like, since it is in the hands of the leaders of this tribal church. They are in charge of looking out for us while we live out there. At this point, we don’t even really know what kind of shape the missionary’s old house is in, but we’re thinking we’ll probably have some electricity (from solar panels) and water (though we’ll have to get the rain water tank connected to the house), and maybe even a gas stove to cook on once in a while. We’ll see what we discover when we get into the tribe tomorrow! 🙂
If you want to stay up to date on what our bush orientation is like, or if in general you just want to follow our journey more closely, sign up to get our weekly prayer updates! We send out a short paragraph or two about what we’re up to that week, and then share a few current prayer requests and praises. It’s a great way to stay connected with what’s going on in our lives and to learn specific ways to pray for us.
We’d finished scarfing down Chic-fil-A nuggets and fries, we’d made one final pit stop at the airport restrooms, and boarding was starting in 20 minutes. With the knot of emotions tightening in our stomachs, we knew it was time. The whole group formed a circle, and a few people prayed.
Then, one by one, we started saying our goodbyes. I (Rachel) had already spent the last few weeks crying at the oddest times – at my sister’s wedding rehearsal dinner, in the shower, and late at night in bed. But now, as I hugged my siblings and parents goodbye, the wave of emotions hit me like a ton of bricks. And the tears came.
I couldn’t stop them. It was hard to make sense of the whole tangle of emotions, thoughts, and memories that all coursed through my heart and head. I realized I was crying not only because of all the good times we’d had together over these past few weeks, but also because of all that I would miss in each of their lives while we’re gone overseas. Four years is a long time. A lot of life is going to happen to each of them, and I won’t get to be there for it. My niece will be 6 years old the next time I see her. My youngest sisters will be 17 and 20 before I see them again. There will be so many moments of their lives that I’m going to miss.
And so I cried. And I held them tight, trying to etch those hugs in my memory. Trying to memorize their faces, their voices. Trying to choke out the words “I love you” between my tears.
For Josiah, the wave of tears welled up inside him and started leaking out his eyes even before we all circled up to pray. But as our pastor prayed for us, prayed for God’s guidance and peace for us, he felt an incredible sense of calm come over him. It’s not that he wasn’t sad to leave our family, because he was. He cares about them deeply. But the tears and pain were overwhelmed by an even greater sense of peace and security in knowing that this is exactly what God has for us. He still felt the pang of loss as he hugged our family members and friends goodbye, and as we waved one last time before we disappeared out of sight.
Since walking down the jetway to the airplane in Kansas City, both our faces have been watered many times with unbidden tears as memories of our family members flood our minds. I’m sure we looked pretty strange to many people as we sat there on the plane with tears running down our faces.
Please understand I’m not having a pity party, and you don’t need to have one for me, either. I’m just trying to give you a glimpse into the real heart and guts of what it’s like for missionaries saying goodbye at the airport. It is honestly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
So if you were to lick our fingers, you wouldn’t taste the nuggets and fries we had for lunch, or the soft pretzels we ate during our short layover in Dallas….you would taste the tears that we have wiped from our own faces, from each other’s faces, and from our family’s faces. The tears that mean that we care so very deeply for our family, but we have to leave. The tears that realize that no matter how tightly we hold them when we say goodbye, we still have to let go.
“I’m sorry, but according to our records, you still haven’t received approval for your visas,” the lady from the Papua New Guinea embassy explained. This was the third time I’d called to check on the status of our visas. The New Tribes missionaries in Papua New Guinea who were helping us with our paperwork had applied for approval for our visas in mid-March, and we’d applied for our visas through the PNG embassy in Washington, D.C. at the end of April. “Usually,” we were told, “the process only takes 15 business days”. It had been two months. What was the hold up? We kept waiting, kept praying. Our faithful prayer warriors were on their knees for us, asking God to grant us our visas soon. And then we checked the mail. We were looking for some packages that had items we needed to pack for Papua New Guinea. When we picked up our stack of packages, however, there was a white priority mail envelope in the stack. We opened it, peeked inside, and there they were. Our passports, with the visas stamped inside them! We had been so busy packing and getting ready to leave for Papua New Guinea. And then out of the blue, God provided our visas when we were least expecting it! Praise Him! Now that we have both our Papua New Guinea work permits, and our PNG visas, we are essentially done with our paperwork!
So what’s left to do?
Thank you so much for praying for us over these past several months. Please keep praying for us in these last 4 weeks in the United States!
On January 19, 1888, the old historic Knox Church was filled to capacity. [At the Goforths’ farewell meeting], one particularly memorable story was told there of a young couple bidding farewell to their home church as they were about to leave for an African field known as “The White Man’s Grave.” The husband said , “My wife and I have a strange dread in going. We feel much as if we were going down into a pit. We are willing to take the risk and to go if you, our home circle, will promise to hold the ropes.” One and all promised.
Less than two years passed when the wife and the little one God had given them succumbed to the dreaded fever. Soon the husband realized his days too were numbered. Not waiting to send word home of his coming, he started back at once and arrived at the hour of the Wednesday prayer meeting. He slipped in unnoticed, taking a back seat. At the close of the meeting he went forward. An awe came over the people, for death was written on his face. He said:
“I am your missionary. My wife and child are buried in Africa and I have come home to die. This evening I listened anxiously, as you prayed, for some mention of your missionary to see if you were keeping your promise, but in vain! You prayed for everything connected with yourselves and your home church, but you forgot your missionary. I see now why I am a failure as a missionary. It is because you have failed to hold the ropes!”
–From Jonathan Goforth, by Rosalind Goforth in the Men of Faith series. P.36,37
It wasn’t even one of those days that you can tell from the moment you wake up, “this is going to be a bad day.” Nope, no warning for this one. The phone alarm goes off, we pray for a bit, then roll out of bed. I’m the first one in the shower, feeling groggy but otherwise fine. Next thing I know, I have a bad crick in my neck. In fact, it’s so sore I can’t turn my head to the right. Great. I try turning my head any direction to get it to loosen up, but no such luck. Guess I’m going to be stiff-necked today. 🙂
“What time did we tell your brother we’re leaving for church?” I call out. “8:50.” “Eight FIFTY? I thought Sunday School started at 9:15, and we need to be there a half hour early to set up, so we need to leave at eight FIFTEEN.” “No, Sunday School starts at 9:45.” “Are you sure? Let me check their website.”
I check the website, it says Sunday School does in fact start at 9:15. Josiah’s not convinced, so he calls the pastor to double-check the time. He says Sunday School starts at 9:45. Okay, so we’re leaving at 8:50. (turns out I had been looking at the wrong church website – woops!)
We make it to church with enough time to set up our display table, and set up the PowerPoint we’re showing in Sunday School. Josiah checks it, it works great. Everyone comes into the sanctuary for Sunday School, the pastor introduces us, and we get up to speak. The PowerPoint doesn’t work. We can switch from slide to slide, but all that shows up is the slide background and title. Nothing else. No pictures, no text, nothing. So Josiah starts sharing his life story while I run out to the car to get our laptop (that we had just taken out there because the sound booth computer was working great), run back inside while turning the laptop on, and hook the computer up to the projector. Where’s the PowerPoint file? Oh, it’s on a flashdrive Josiah has up front in his pocket. Run up there, he hands me the flashdrive, run back to the sound booth, we get the PowerPoint up and running on our laptop. Yay! Now we’re in business.
Josiah tries to switch to the next slide, and nothing happens. Is it the “clicker” battery? Is the distance too far? Why won’t it work? We set the laptop up on the edge of the sound booth. Now it works! Whew. Thank you, Lord! Now we’re rolling.
The rest of Sunday School is pretty uneventful. I (Rachel) get into the morning service late because I’m trying to fix a toilet that won’t flush. After the songs are done, Josiah gets up to preach. He’s preaching on Luke 24:35-49. He’s in the middle of talking about how Jesus opened the disciples’ minds to understand the Scriptures that prophesied about Him. My ears start to pick up on some strange sounds. Scratch, scratch, scratch. Is that chirping I hear? I try to ignore it and focus on the message. The noises get louder. Pretty soon everyone in the congregation is well aware of the scratching, scuffling, squeaking, and chirping going on overhead. People start snickering. Everyone’s distracted. What in the world is going on up there?!? “Don’t worry, those are just my friends,” Josiah assures people. 🙂 Everyone laughs, and now we can all focus more on the sermon than on the family of raccoons taking up residence in the ceiling above the right side of the sanctuary.
After the service and some pizza, we start packing up to leave. Some of our friends at the church ask us to hang around until after the church business meeting so they can say goodbye to us. So, after packing up our display table and loading everything in the car, we sit in the foyer and wait, and wait, and wait….Two hours later, the business meeting is done, so we say our goodbyes and drive back to New Tribes Bible Institute in Jackson, MI (where we’re staying). Josiah’s brother texts us with the details for the church service we’re speaking at that night. We’re going to have an hour and a half between getting back from the church we’d just spoken at that morning and leaving for the church appointment that night. Okay, that’s still enough time to take a quick nap (we’re both exhausted). We lay down, pray for the meeting that night, and start to doze off. The phone buzzes. Two different people start texting us. Then the phone rings. By the time we hang up, we have exactly 4 minutes til our alarm will go off. *sigh* So much for the nap. We pray for a few minutes, then we’re up and off to another church.
Thankfully, the evening service went smoothly. The PowerPoint worked great, there were no raccoons, and we had a great time connecting and sharing with people about God’s heart for the world.
No, this isn’t the missionary version of “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day.” These kinds of days are actually pretty normal for us. Plans often change, electronics quit working, but we know God is always in control and He’s using these challenges to strengthen our dependence on Him, and to prepare us for the road ahead. Whatever happens in a day, no matter how crazy things get, God is working, and we’re thrilled to be a part of what He’s doing.