It is so much easier to talk about flights on small planes over the mountains and rivers of Papua New Guinea than to give word to the experience of being among the Long Islanders as they dedicated their newly translated New Testament last weekend. Description of the black sandy beaches into which my feet sank deeply with each step and the blue starfish and the brilliant, hot sun comes more easily than conveying the story of people who waited day upon day upon year upon generation to hear of God’s love in words that could be held long enough to begin to believe it might be true.
On Saturday we few in groups out to the island, ferried on the Kodiak or the Otter from grass airstrip in the Highlands to grass airstrip on the Island where we were welcomed and escorted on a 30-minute walk through the jungle and down the beach to the place where translators Jeff and Sissie have lived and where we would settle for our short visit. In the afternoon some took a hike through the gorge while snorkelers explored the coral reefs just off shore. I walked the beach and chatted with others standing at water’s edge. After supper we met the translation team and heard a few of their stories.
On Sunday we gathered mid-morning to dance/walk down the black beach to the dedication site which had been well prepared before our arrival. People from every village on Long Island participated. Hundreds gathered under the woven palm leaf canopy and the trees that surrounded the small platform on the beach. The event included music and drama, story and speeches. The afternoon brought feasting and more sing-singing. A walk about the nearest village offered opportunity to hear the clear voice of the solar-powered recorded New Testaments playing Matthew’s gospel where people gathered.
On Monday we journeyed in groups back to Ukarumpa.
While I am not comfortable with a single summary statement for a weekend of extraordinary diversity and wonder, I will risk over-simplifying what I observed with this: last weekend I saw Bible translation—this good work of God—as primarily a ministry of reconciliation. God’s original design of the world included a two-way relationship between Himself and the people He loves. Bible translation reestablishes the line of communication between a language community and God Himself with no middle man.