Soon after my wife and I arrived in Papua New Guinea in January 1962, the field director and I hiked to the location where we were planning to work among Keyagana-speaking people
I quickly began to appreciate the problems we would face as we worked there as a family. My wife was pregnant with our third child. How would I get her out of that remote area with no communication with the outside world and when the only paths were difficult trails?
We had no house. How would she fare with no fellowship with believers and little communication with a strange, fierce-looking people? What about our young children? Then, when I heard the language spoken, I couldn’t repeat or mimic any of it – it was a complete jumble to me.
While we were there, warriors from different groups and carrying bows and arrows gathered to try and make a truce – to stop them killing one another in furtherance of the sorceries they practised! I realised that we would be wrestling against principalities, powers and the rulers of darkness. I thought it all beyond our strength and ability.
My heart sank and I felt sick in my stomach. Of course, time and time again missionaries have faced such problems and worse – and triumphed over them. Nevertheless, I felt hopeless.
Later that week we hiked to visit a missionary who felt defeated and needed encouragement. He was a strong, disciplined man but told us, ‘I can’t do it. I’m a failure!’ Almost instantly I saw it: ‘He’s right. He can’t do it – and neither can I’.
Peace flooded my soul, for I thought, ‘since I can’t do the work God has called me to, he surely will not fail us. He will undertake for us’. I just couldn’t see the Lord abandoning us and his intended work.
And sure enough, since we began missionary work in PNG, we have found the words of Annie Johnson Flint abundantly true: ‘When we reach the end of our hoarded resources, our Father’s full giving is only begun’. He did more than we asked or thought.
Today if you came to visit the Keyagana work you could go into a dark and smoky grass hut and sit with a family around the fire as a father catechizes his children.
You could join a Sunday meeting in one of the churches and hear one of its teacher-pastors read a psalm from his Keyagana Scriptures. This would be followed by people singing our Lord’s praises in their own language, by congregational prayer and by the preaching of the Word.
Or you could visit the women’s meeting and hear one after another pray – for one another, their families and the unsaved. Or at one of the six-monthly conferences you could gather with hundreds of people who come over mountain trails to hear the Word of God preached from morning till evening for several days.
This is the work in PNG that our glorious Lord has accomplished as head of his church. ‘He has built his temple and he has borne the glory … how great is his beauty and how great is his goodness’ (Zechariah 6:12-13; 9:17).
In 1968 we were joined by an experienced missionary couple from Australia: Bernie and Ann Crozier. Bernie was fluent in the trade language and a spiritual leader. They moved to work with a language group called the Menya, in Morobe Province, and evangelised and planted churches. Theirs is a marvellous story of how people were saved and how the new converts spread the gospel into yet other areas.
Ray and Cheryl Gibello (our son-in-law and our daughter) came to obtain experience with us working among tribal people. They have started pioneer work in a remote area of Gulf Province among the widely scattered Angave people. As yet, no one in that whole area shows firm evidence of a work of divine grace.
Our son and his wife, Lance and Robin Hellar, joined us in 1989 and are working among the Yagwoia people in Morobe Province. There is the beginning of a church there among a proud and difficult people.
Thus our work now is among four different language groups in remote areas of PNG with mostly illiterate people who had previously been ‘missionised’ but not evangelised. Works religion, in one form or another, is the religion taught and generally practised in Papua New Guinea. The gospel of the grace of God had not previously been preached to them.
Who will go?
Bernie and Ann Crozier are now back in Australia. He has cancer and may not be able to return to the work. Who will hear Christ’s call and take their place? My wife Martie and I are now in our late 70s. So we do not know how long the Lord will enable us to continue our missionary labours.
Yet there are still openings to preach the gospel where it is not preached! Who will take advantage of these great opportunities? Who will say with Paul, ‘So have I strived to preach the gospel where Christ is not named’ (Romans 15:20)?