|Folopa Tribe New Testament Dedication
Papua New Guinea, Jan. 16, 2007
What an incredible blessing it was to me to have a front-row seat at the ceremony
dedicating the New Testament translation to the Folopa people of Papua New Guinea! I
stood on ground that few people have seen or ever will see.
On more than one occasion I stopped what I was doing and slowly turned in my tracks
360 degrees to capture the time and place in my mind and remind myself of the
remoteness of this spot. Tucked away in the central highlands of PNG are the Folopa
people, a tribe of about 2,500 people. Neil and Carol Anderson left Spokane 34 years
ago, in 1972, when Richard Nixon was President and the Vietnam War was still raging,
for Papua New Guinea. As Wycliffe Bible translators, they knew they had a lengthy
assignment before them, but they did not expect the task would take 34 years to
It is difficult to grasp the social, economic and cultural remoteness of this place in 1972
when Neil walked in to see if this was the tribe God has chosen for him. For as long as
these people had settled on that ridgetop, certainly hundreds if not thousands of years,
their world was defined by what they could see. Vicious tribal warfare meant the Folopa
people did not wander far beyond the ridges that formed their horizons. To do so was to
invite an unpleasant death. And few visitors came in for the same reason. No roads lead
into the central highlands. These people did not see airplanes until World War 2. When a
fleet of bombers (Australian, perhaps) roared overhead, they killed every pig they had as
a sacrifice to the angry gods and then hid in caves for six months! Villagers in Fukutao
did not see shoes until about 1960. It was around that time that Australians came in to
put an end to cannibalism.
While cultivating vegetable gardens, the Folopa people constantly fight against â€œjungle
creepâ€� (rainfall is 400 inches per year) to protect their plots. They frequently chop
down trees to form fences. But until recently, perhaps the 1950s or even later, they didnâ
€™t have axes. They used stones lashed to the ends of sticks, so it could take weeks to
chop down a tree.
I knew little of this on Jan. 15 as the twin-engine Islander that carried 8 passengers
cruised parallel to the spiny ridge that forms Fukutaoâ€™s Main Street. Slowly the
thatched-roofed huts and lodges were revealed to us, strung along the peak which at some
spots was barely a dozen feet wide. Our turn took us directly over the village as we
approached the landing strip, 560 meters hacked out of a hillside over nine years of back-
breaking labor. The grade is distinctly uphill, but the landing was far smoother than you
Painted red and yellow and decorated with all manner of cassowary feather headdresses,
Folopa warriors and other villagers circled the plane, chanting, dancing and singing, then
rounded up the special guests to escort them down the airstrip and into the village. After
retrieving my tripod and second camera from my bags that villagers would carry for me, I
sprinted ahead of the parade to capture the procession on tape. What a sight! Craig
Campbell, a PNG missionary, captured the moment from behind me in what is now one
of my favorite photos. This shot captures my ministry, filming the work of missionaries
in the Third World to bring their stories back home.
The temperature must have been 90 degrees and the humidity nearly as high. I wore long
pants and a long-sleeved shirt (to protect against sunburn) and a photographerâ€™s
vest, which prompted rivers of sweat as I leapfrogged from behind to ahead of the group
a few more times. Special fences with gates had been constructed with signs to welcome
us. One gate was guarded by a 12-foot python dangling from a pole over the entrance!
(He seemed quite lethargic, possibly due to the safety pin stuck through his nostrils.
A new building that will serve as a church was constructed as a menâ€™s dormitory for
us white-faced visitors. An estimated 500 nationals came for the ceremonies as well. I
have no idea where they stayed. I didnâ€™t see any signs advertising a Motel 6 nearby!
The 23 women guests all managed to find space in the Andersonâ€™s house next door.
An unusually clear sunrise greeted us the day of the dedication. As there was very little
English spoken, it was hard to understand what was going on, but I kept rolling tape
anyway! Hereâ€™s Carol Andersonâ€™s summary of some of the key points (with
some minor editing):
The highlight of the time was a speech by Kitabategi Yonape in
which he recounted his story about being the first evangelist to
enter the Folopa speaking area. He called out a small group of
Christians, the last living members of the first church, and told
how he had instructed them to pray that a missionary would come
and help them learn more about God's word. They prayed
faithfully back in the late 1960s and early 1970s and then the
Andersons arrived. This had been a powerful demonstration that
God answered their prayers. After that there was a drama in
which three men dressed in the old way (leaves and bark) were
shown sitting in a makeshift "Temake Be" which was the spirit
house. They had stones and were praying to them saying "Make
our pigs good, make our wives have children, make our children
good, make our gardens good." The MC of the event Tim Deke,
who speaks English and is a recent graduate of the University of
PNG, explained what the custom had been of praying to spirits
and idols to make their lives good. In the drama, Kitibategi
arrived and preached to them and many of them stopped praying
to spirits and began a small church. Finally, they had Neil arrive
and bring them the New Testament.
While everyone waited the weather changed and it began to rain.
We were all praying that it would hold off until we were finished
but it continued to drizzle. This was in a sense an answer to prayer
as normally it would have been a deluge.
The presentation of the Bibles consisted of the traditional
marchers coming in with three long gift poles held straight up
each with New Testaments tied all the way up. Fortunately all the
books have a clear plastic cover and the men had taped the edges
with packing tape so they did not get too wet. The men were
wearing red t-shirts with the words Folopa Translation Team on
the front and also a lap lap (wrap around skirt type of garment) of
bark cloth. The wives were wearing bright blue "meri" blouses
and everybody painted their faces with white, brown and red
Neil and I marched with the procession as well as it went around
and around. Two men carried a large box of New Testaments on a
pole between them and the whole group finally ended up in the
front and put the box on a table (those up front were amused by
the words on the side of the box that said "Keep Dry"). The
dancing and chanting and singing went on for quite a while as the
rain picked up and got a little heavier. By this time it was about 2
in the afternoon and we were ready for a break to get dried off.
There was one last drama as the people portrayed the coming of
the New Testament with women standing around two tall posts in
the ground at the front. They had a man wrapped up in bark cloth
and rags bound with ropes and face painted and looking very
hopeless. At the top of one post was a PNG flag and at the top of
the other a cross and a bundle. The bundle was slowly lowered as
the people reached up for it. The person on the rope kept raising it
out of their reach and then lowering it again. When they reached
for it it was yanked out of reach again. Slowly it came down and
they finally got it but it was wrapped up in ropes and they couldn't
get the knots untied. The pastor took it from the two women who
had been unsuccessful in getting it untied. He untied the knots and
unwrapped the parcel until they saw it was a completed New
Testament. They waved it in the air and shouted praise to God.
This was a picture of how they had waited for the New Testament
in their own language instead of the truth being out of reach in
some other language they couldn't understand.
The Folopa people then stood in the rain for more than an hour, waiting for their name to
be called so they could come forward and receive their New Testament. Before this
process was complete, both of my video cameras quit working! High humidity is murder
on this type of equipment and the sensors finally kicked in and shut down everything. I
was seriously depressed because there was so much more I wanted to do. Fortunately,
God had supplied Neil with a big cache of silica gel, a drying agent. Someone patiently
dried out a few pounds of the stuff in a frying pan for me and Carol found an airtight
box. We tossed the gel and the cameras in and by morning they were both working again.
Praise God! I believe that the best footage I brought home was shot on the second day.
If the cameras had not been resurrected, I would not have captured the stories and
testimonials that you can now see.
I must confess I have given little thought to the value of having Godâ€™s Word in my
own language. But ponder for a few moments the relationship you have with God. Now
consider all the events that have gone into building that relationship, the sermons,
Sunday School classes, conferences, seminars, Bible studies, small group meetings,
private conversations, personal prayers, etc. Now imagine that none of that has ever
happened. You have never heard of Jesus, Moses or Adam and Eve. In fact, youâ€™ve
never been to school so you donâ€™t even know how to read. Lastly, imagine a strange-
looking black man from Africa hands you a Bible that is written in a foreign language.
When he speaks to you, his language is Swahili.
How large is the gap between where you stand today with God, and that setting
described above? How long will it take you to develop the connection to God that you
have today if you are uneducated and your guide and mentor is someone from a foreign
culture who speaks a foreign language?
As I contemplate this task, I stand in awe of those who take on the assignment of Bible
translation. When they respond to the call of Jesus in Matthew 28 to â€œâ€¦go and make
disciples of all nations,â€� they dedicate their lives to a task that requires incredible
patience, tremendous sacrifice and a persistency that few of us possess. Those who do
this will tell you that they cannot do this on their own. They rely on the power of the
Holy Spirit and the prayers and financial supporters of their friends and family back
I am producing a documentary about Neil and Carolâ€™s life story in Papua New
Guinea. In the interim, I have produced a 40-minute DVD with 10 chapters that tell the
story of what happened in Fukutao. If you would like a copy, please call or email me.
And Iâ€™d appreciate your prayers as I now tackle the assignment of reviewing,
cataloging and editing the Super-8 film, videotape and still photos they have accumulated
over 34 years.
March 10, 2007
Special thanks to Craig Campbell, a support missionary in PNG, and Brent Hulett,
vice- president of Wycliffe Associates, for the use of their photos here.