By Carole Spaeth
It had been about 15 years since I had last left PNG, and a bit longer than that when I last saw my Miniafia family and friends. As we skimmed across the water in the boat they had sent to take us from Tufi to Utukwaf, my heart began to pound in anticipation of the reunion that would take place, and the long-awaited celebration as the Miniafia New Testament would be dedicated. David and I had prayed and supported this team for many years, but my excitement couldn’t hold a candle to that of the two translators who met me as I stepped off the boat at Utukwaf. My eyes filled with tears as I recognised first Josiah, then Stanley, and the realisation of the dream of a reunion this side of heaven. David and I were only a very small part in the accomplishments that would be celebrated the next day. It was with mixed emotions that I greeted friends with Oro Kaiwa, and hugged the young ones who had now grown to be beautiful men and women. Even at my joy, I realized that David was not able to share in this, and for that I was sad. But for the moment, it was joy inexpressible.
Over the next day as I observed all the preparations and excitement, and total participation of everyone – from the youngest to the oldest – the excitement in the air was just electric. This was preparation for a historic moment, and the Lord was blessing with picture-perfect weather. I watched as Stanley and Josiah sat almost dumfounded, and thought the realization of the years of work coming to a climax must have been overwhelming.
Well before dawn on the day of the dedication people were bustling about, getting ready for the arrival of the boats carrying the special visitors from Tufi and the cartons of New Testaments, along with a specially carved canoe on which to carry the symbolic New Testament in the procession from the point to the altar that had been prepared in front of the visitor’s shelter. Decorations extended from the shore out into the sea, and at the first glimpse of a boat on the horizon, the people standing on the shore erupted with “Oro Kaiwa!” and the bull-horn barked orders for people to not crowd against the procession. But everyone was so eager, and so excited, it was hard to contain them.
The boat carrying David Wakefield and the special carved canoe was met and escorted by many canoes from the mainland. Conch shells and drums accompanied the shouts of welcome, as paddlers stroked deep and fast to guide all of the boats through the palm arches out in the sea to the point. It was here that I saw Josiah and Stanley standing almost motionless as if in awe of what was happening.
The procession to the village area that had been designated for the dedication ceremony included many dignitaries. Those in the procession were preceded by dancers and choirs, consisting of children, women, and men of all ages. A large artistically decorated tapa cloth banner strung across the path welcomed all of the visitors and they were led onto a long carpet of pandanus mat toward the altar. Bishop Isaac Gadebo was the honored guest who conducted the blessing and dedication ceremony.
After the special speeches, the distribution of the New Testaments began. At one point as David, Stanley and Josiah were marking the boxes for distribution, I saw Stanley sitting with his head bowed. I don’t know his thoughts, but it appeared as if he was praying – or perhaps he was overwhelmed. At any rate, that simple gesture had emblazoned in my mind as the epitome of the humility the Lord has called us all to.
Each village received the number of New Testaments they had pre-ordered. When that village’s name was called out, they each sang and danced as they made their way to the altar to receive their books, and as they carried them back to their station. Drums beating, conches trumpeting and dancers singing accompanied each part of the distribution. I felt almost like I was observing David in the Old Testament when the Israelites welcomed the Ark back into Israelite territory. I thought, “I can’t sit here any longer. My legs were aching to get out with the group and dance.” So I did! Then others joined in, and it was everyone together praising God for the blessing of this tremendous Love Letter in the Miniafia language that he had sent. Tears mixed with laughter just came rolling out all together.
A picture of Josiah shows him holding the New Testament reverently in his hands, poring over the precious words, almost as if he may have been thinking: “God’s Word – in Miniafia!”
Later, as I interacted with several of the people, they were looking at the books they had just bought. At first, it was examining the book itself, and often it was with the statement that they couldn’t read it. As I took just a few minutes to give the basics of how to break apart the long words, and what the glottal stop stood for, they were able to read for themselves! I could see their faces light up as they realized they were reading God’s Word in their very own language!
Sunday in church was special as the men’s choir sang their praises with unbridled emotion. Once again I not only heard the words “Praise to God” but saw the spirit with which those words were said. A large number of worshipers proudly carried their New Testaments, and opened them as Stanley and Josiah each read from it. It was a blessing, too, that some babies were baptized in that service. What better time to dedicate a child to the Lord than when God’s Word is dedicated! From songs, to liturgy, and throughout the service, all I could hear was Miniafia.
Part way through the service my heart again burst open and the tears would not stop. I saw many of the women around me gathered around the few copies of the Miniafia liturgy that were available. This was the book I had facilitated many years before, and even though it was well-worn and faded, they were still using it. I listened, too, as the priest struggled to read the faint words. If God’s Word deserves to be read and understood, shouldn’t the prayers and service be the same? When I asked if I could borrow a copy to bring home to re-do so I could make it more readable, and send a computer file for many more copies to be made. Zechariah let me borrow his altar copy. I have sent the text part to Duncan to be sent to him in the village for proofing.
I want to say how much I enjoyed watching Duncan, too. His exuberance in celebrating this dedication was contagious. It was almost like birthing a baby, I guess, since he’s invested so much in consulting and assisting the translators to bring it to completion. He’s not only a wonderful friend, but a precious brother in Christ.
Saying goodbye was so hard. I know the likelihood of me seeing these sons of mine and all of their families on this earth is remote. But I am so blessed to have been a part of this celebration, and I can’t wait until we are all together at the throne of our blessed Saviour singing, “Worthy is the Lamb! Hallelujah! Oro Kaiwa!!”