Sunday, April 23, 2006

SIL-PNG 50th Anniversary

Sir Paulias Matane, Governor General of PNG, during the 50th Golden Jubilee Anniversary celebrations

As we gathered in the meeting house, anticipation crackled through the room. Conversation rose to a din, and organizers rushed to and fro on last-minute errands, wondering what had been forgotten. Excitement mounted as 9 o’clock approached, all of us wondering exactly what the day would have in store.

The program started with a celebration of God’s greatness and of the power of His Word. Hundreds of voices swelled in song: “Sing your praise to the Lord!” “He is exalted, the King is exalted on high!” “Let the amen sound from His people again!” “Wonderful words of life!” “Great is Your name in all the earth!” “Alleluia, alleluia, for the Lord God almighty reigns!” “O victory in Jesus, my Savior forever!”

Meanwhile, dozens of our Papua New Guinean colleagues gathered outside, many arrayed in spectacular traditional “bilas” (decorations) of feathers, leaves, flowers, bark cloth, teeth, fur, seeds, beads, paint, and shells. Each man, woman, and child held one of the 159 New Testaments that’s been completed in the last 50 years.

When their time came, they entered the meeting house and streamed across the stage as the names of their languages were called. On and on they came, in a procession that left many onlookers in tears. I don't think anyone could have seen those faces — and the growing piles of Bibles — without crying out in thanksgiving to God for all that He has done.
Then another procession came through, a procession representing all of our ongoing translation programs throughout the country — nearly 200!

After the processions was a time of reminiscence, introduced by a film dramatizing the arrival of the first Wycliffe personnel in 1956. Then we got to hear from some of those people in real life. Alex and Lois Vincent and Des and Jenny Oatridge are four of our pioneers. The two men arrived in 1956, and their wives-to-be arrived a short time later. As they talked about those very early days, we laughed together, and we all ached as they remembered tragedies of long ago. Through it all, for 50 years, God has always been faithful.

And what kind of celebration would be complete without a speech or two? Our guest of honor was Papua New Guinea's governor-general, Sir Paulias Matane.

Sir Paulias was clearly touched by the procession of New Testaments, and by the testimony of our early pioneers. “I was very moved by the faith that you people have,” he said. “Thank you very much for your faith in God.” “Only God,” he continued, “will fully repay what you have done, and your sacrifices for the people of Papua New Guinea.”

Yes, we celebrated our anniversary today. But we also looked toward the future. “You have a long way to go,” Sir Paulias quipped during his speech. We laughed at that, but we also understood the gravity of his challenge. Today, 350-400 communities in this country are still without God’s Word in their mother tongues. We have received more than 100 requests for assistance with translation and language programs, but we do not have the personnel or the resources to respond.

Only God can fill a need so big. So tomorrow, and the next day, and in all the years ahead, we will press forward in the ministry to which He has called us.

And you, friends, are a vital part of that ministry. Throughout the day, we remembered your prayers, your giving, and the countless other ways you support the work in Papua New Guinea. Without you, the work could not go forward. Thank you, thank you for your part in these 50 years.

“By the grace of God, we will carry on,” we sang in the morning worship time. By the grace of God, we will carry on. And won’t it be amazing to see what He’s going to do?

*Article by David Ringer.
*Photos by Craig Campbell.