Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Journey to PNG video slideshow

musci by Mercy Me

Monday, September 28, 2009

Home At Last! -- A Postscript

After fifteen days of travel and ministry half-way around the world, we are finally home. We left Ukarumpa around 12:30pm on Thursday, Eastern Standard Time and arrived in Rochester at about 9:30am EST today (Sunday). All in, that’s sixty-nine hours of travel – just shy of three days. We’re all tired, blessed and happy to be home with the family and friends we love.

Our long layover in L.A. gave us a chance to leave the airport. So we rented a fifteen-seat van, piled in and drove off to Venice Beach, where the Pacific surf met our weary feet. It was a cool and foggy day, but that didn’t keep young ones from splashing in the waves, or surfer-dudes from riding the curls.

In small groups and in pairs, we walked the beach and wandered along the midway – the street of shops that runs parallel with the beach. There were souvenir shops, head shops, food stands, street entertainers and outdoor gyms. The aroma of grilled turkey legs and funnel cakes mixed with the smell of marijuana. Life and death mixed together.

Hoods hung out in small gangs trying to peddle their own rap CDs; others offered testing for medical marijuana. One young boy sported a tee-shirt with the words “F--- milk. Got pot?” There were no missing letters on his shirt. Our family walked into a souvenir shop and marched back out when we saw the large posters of topless women lining the far wall.

Some would call this “colorful.” It was really a celebration of sex, drugs and narcissism – a worship of the created rather than the creator. Having gone half-way around the world to share the gospel with people who have not yet heard it, this was a sobering reminder that our closest mission field is right here at home – on the streets of L.A. and in Rochester, New York.

As we turned to leave this marketplace of sensuality and license, we stumbled upon another group. They were young men and women; white, yellow, black and brown; a multi-cultural collection of Christ followers. They, too, were on a mission: “to love Jesus and love like Jesus.” So, into the midst of this darkness, they poured light by singing songs of the gospel. Life and death mixed together.

We joined with them and sang along. We were blessed and they were, too. The head shop owner across the walk turned up his rap music to drown us out. There is a war being waged here and it’s more than cultural; it is spiritual and it is real. It’s not about behavior; it’s about life and death. It’s about faith.

Some 4,000 years ago, the great liberator, Moses, laid before his people a choice:

"This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him." (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

Today we have the same choice. Whom will you serve?

Choose Jesus: the Way, the Truth, the Life.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

One Life

Only one life,
‘Twil soon be past;
Only what’s done
for Christ will last.
-- Anon.*

Fourteen people – men, women and children – made a journey to Papua New Guinea on the other side of the world for a variety of reasons and various callings. In the end, they all boil down to a desire to serve Jesus Christ and spread his message of redemption from sin. The world – and American culture – is increasingly at odds with the Gospel of Jesus, but it is a message we cannot and must not keep to ourselves.

There's a reason we call it the Good News. It's not bad news; it's good! Yet, all too often, we who call ourselves Christians act, not like joyous ex-convicts mercifully rescued from death row, but rather like IRS agents looking to spoil someone else's party. Not that there aren't tax cheats and other sinners out there doing things they shouldn't; it's just that being a Christian isn't about changing other people's bad behavior. It’s about introducing them to the Life Changer. Jesus said it best -- as he always does:

“How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (Mt 7:4-5)
Being a Christian is all about first receiving, and then bestowing, grace.

Grace? Yes. It's a little word with immeasurable value. We receive grace primarily and most importantly from God through faith in Jesus Christ (“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast.” -- Ephesians 2:8-9). That grace, in turn, rearranges our lives, causes us to recognize that "plank" in our eyes and put our lives in order. That's repentance, the flip side of grace, and the two cannot be separated. So Christianity does have something to do with a call to better behavior, but the better behavior should be among us self-professed Christians, shining like lights in the world. What a glad disposition that would put on us if only we would learn that simple fact. I count myself among the first who need to remember it (and apply it).

But that fact doesn’t eliminate the reality that polite, refined, educated sinners are just as condemned as vile, despicable ones. And so we share the Good News with whoever will hear it.

We saw the work of the Life Changer at work in many people on this trip. One was the Papua New Guinean drug maker and peddler who also took to collecting weapons. To the people of his village, his face became the face of death. But, having also come face to face with the risen savior, he got rid of those things with their trappings of power and surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. Now Jesus is his strength and his shield, and the weapon he wields is love as he leads the little congregation of Ba’e and battles drug dealers and the culture of vengeance that surrounds him.

Another was the American missionary with a similar story.

Most of us don’t have the past history of Ba’e’s pastor, but we all fall under the weight of sin. Some of us are just nicer, more cultured and refined sinners, but sinners all the same. All of us are in need of the life changing work of Jesus Christ who died on the cross, in our place, for our sins. When we come to that realization, then the lives we live and the way we live them begin to change.

*Verse is from John Piper’s book, Don’t Waste Your Life

Finally, Some Photos. And More to Come...


How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!
-- Psalm 133:1

It isn’t unusual that irritations arise when people have to work closely togetber for extended periods of time. The wonderful thing is that this team worked with a remarkable degree of unity – even despite our many differences in personality, callings, giftedness, etc.

Early on, Tony put two verses of scripture before us. Phillipians 2:3-4 says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Our daily devotions in the book of James reinforced that point: let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger….” (James 1:19) We took these things to heart and daily asked for unity among us, and the Spirit of Jesus provided our every need.

I’m sure there were frustrations, but, with God’s help, we didn’t let them get a foothold. And so, His blessings were multiplied, and we continue to hold up through long, tiring days of travel.

Ground Hog Day -- The Movie

We began this day, September 26, 2009 – Marylou’s birthday – at midnight in Australia. We had celebrated with cake a few hours earlier at dinner. At dawn we were greeted by orange-tinted skies over Sydney – the remnants of dust storms that recently engulfed the city and much of the country.

We spent the day traveling to, and waiting in, New Zealand, where we wished Marylou “happy birthday” again. As dark fell on the 26th, we departed Auckland and flew west, across the Pacific and across the International Date Line, by-passing midnight and traveling backward in time zones through night-time toward the dawning daylight – September 26, 2009 – Marylou’s birthday.

We arrived around noon in Los Angeles where we’ll wish Marylou “happy birthday” again and spend our day taking in a few sights on this long layover. Then we’ll be on the red-eye across the United States of America, headed for home – two day-times; two night-times – September 26, 2009 – Marylou’s birthday.

Happy birthday, Mare!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Sky Beneath You

“The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” – Psalm 19:1

Our late-night tour of Sydney by Mario and Caroline, our Christian brother and sister, gave us fantastic views of the Harbor Bridge and the Sydney Opera House, both recognizable around the world. It also gave us a dusty peek at the southern hemisphere sky from way down under.

I love going outside on a clear night and looking up at the stars. Down here, the sky looks different than what I see back home in Rochester, NY. The Big Dipper and Little Dipper can be seen on any clear night in Rochester, but they are mostly out of sight in Ukurumpa this time of year; they set in the north-northwest shortly after the sun. With PNG being slightly south of the equator, the "tail" star of the Little Dipper, Polaris (the North Star), is entirely out of view, being situated directly over the earth's north pole. Other familiar constellations are still visible: Pegasus (the winged horse), Orion (the hunter) and Canis Major (the Big Dog) rise as the evening wears on. Others, not so easily seen from home, are much more prominent here: Scorpio (the scorpion), Saggitarius (the archer) and Centaur (the man-horse), to name a few.

In Ukarumpa, because of the bright security lights, a view of the nighttime sky is often obscured by the surrounding light pollution. But even just stepping into the shadows reveals a view I have never seen up north. The stars of the Milky Way glow with a brightness I had not imagined. The bulging center of our galaxy is easily seen, with one of its pinwheel arms extending northward across the sky. There’s simply a better view of it in the Southern Hemisphere. For someone who loves astronomy, these views are breathtaking. For someone who also loves God, they are nothing less than awe-inspiring.

Whether part of God's great plan or the fanciful minds of those who defined the constellations, the northern and southern skies both declare the good news of Jesus in the stars. The Northern Cross is emblazoned across the northern sky; the Southern Cross graces (no pun!) the south. We could see the Southern Cross high overhead from Sydney. From near the equator, one can see them both – two great testimonies of one great act of transcendent love!

When I look upon the vastness of space and behold the uncounted billions of stars in our own galaxy and beyond, I cannot help but praise the God who created them. Some will think that statement odd – especially those who refuse to believe that the universe is the product of a divine creator. I am certain that God created the heavens and the earth, but more than faith declares it is so; more and more, scientific evidence and rational thought declare it as well. Consider this statement from author Dinesh D'Souza in his discussion of the continuing discoveries by astrophysicists:

“In a stunning confirmation of the book of Genesis, modern scientists have discovered that the universe was created in a primordial explosion of energy and light. Not only did the universe have a beginning in space and time, but the origin of the universe was also a beginning for space and time. Space and time did not exist prior to the universe. If you accept that everything that has a beginning has a cause, then the material universe had a nonmaterial or spiritual cause. This spiritual cause brought the universe into existence using none of the laws of physics. The creation of the universe was, in the quite literal meaning of the term, a miracle. Its creaor is known to be a spiritual, eternal being of creativity and power beyond all conceivable limits.

The finding of modern physics that the universe has a beginning in space and in time [is] one of the most important scientific discoveries ever made. It provides, for all who take the trouble to understand and reflect upon it, powerful and convincing evidence of the existence of an eternal, supernatural being that created our world and everything in it.” (From the New York Times Best Seller, What's So Great About Christianity.)

Note: The Southern Cross, which could be seen high overhead from Sydney, is also prominently displayed on the Australian flag, providing a national reminder of Australia’s heritage of Christian faith.

On the Road Again

(Friday, 9/25) We arrived safely at Lae at about 5:30 this morning without a single incident and the first rays of sunlight breaking over the horizon. Bruce drove the bus while Tony, sitting in the front passenger seat, held a spotlight out the window. He shined it on the road to look out for potholes, and on the sides of the road to look out for bandits. As we crossed narrow one-lane bridges, we watched carefully for missing bridge plates – another bandit ploy and another unique PNG experience.

As we left the rascal territory and descended from the highlands, we entered a region of sharp switchbacks, washed-out roads and deep ditches. At one point, as we slowly crossed a section of washed-out road, the bus swayed far to the right, then far to the left, as if it might roll on its side. Once we cleared the mountain pass, it was easy driving – especially for those of us resting in the back.

After a short flight to Port Moresby and a four hour layover, we made our nearly four hour flight to Sydney, Australia, where we had dinner and a short bus tour by Mario (a friend of Tony) and his wife Caroline. Our travels have been good and God continues to bless us with the fellowship of his people. We continue our return trip tomorrow morning: on to Auckland, NZ.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Parting is Sweet Sorrow

Our work in Ukarumpa is nearly complete. We have had many goodbyes with the people of Ba’e village, and that has been very hard. And also many missionary friends – new and old – at SIL. We have come to love them.

It’s evening and we have all gone to our own houses to pack. We will make the three-hour drive through the mountains from Ukarumpa to Lae during the wee hours of the morning – from about 2am to 5am Friday morning (noon to 3pm on Thursday in Rochester). The village pastor and his wife, Ham and Weti, will accompany us to see us off at the airport in the morning. Bruce will drive the bus again and Paula, Peter and Anna will be with us, too.

When we drove to Ukarumpa on our arrival, the views were spectacular. This time, it will be dark, and we’ll be passing through the territory of a man named Patrick. He is what is called a “rascal” – a gang leader to us. He and his gang have recently been blocking roads through the mountains to rob travelers, and the police have been unable to stop him. We ask your prayers for safe passage, not only through the mountains of PNG, but on our long journey home.

We are scheduled to arrive in Rochester at about 9:30 Sunday morning. We look forward to seeing many of you soon.

We still have much to report, and we’ll be updating the blog further, including – as much as possible – updates on our travel. God has given us blessing after blessing on this trip, and I expect there is more to come.

Stay tuned.


We begin today our final full day in Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea, and so far you haven’t heard about bugs. You may recall they were one of Marylou’s big concerns about coming on this trip (did she mention bugs?), and we really haven’t seen any to be bothered by. The lizard in our living room, however, was another story. She handled it very well, though. No screaming; just a very controlled, “Kill it!” (How Christian!) We didn't. It looked like the GEICO Gecko. How could anyone want to hurt him?