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A Visitor Has A Great Time!

Published Oct 14, 2009

In the summer of 2009, Mary Mitchell visited the Kamea Tribe with John and Selina Allen. She spent her summer helping Cherith in the translation process, putting together lists of Kamea words, and typing a dictionary. Mary was a tremendous asset, even though she had never spoken Pidgin or Kamea before. The key to a great visit is a willingness to be used by God in whatever role He gives you.  And, as you will see from her letter upon her departure, a flexible spirit goes a long way! We have decided to post her letter so that potential visitors can get a taste of what they might encounter…

Hello everyone,

Sam & Mary Beth Snyder, Amanda Willis, and Mary Mitchell along with our neighbor Nikodimas and some local kids, taken in front of Lena’s haus sik.

Well, I’m back. I think I’ve readjusted to being in the States again for the most part, but I still occasionally answer questions or make comments in Kamea and Pidgin. At lunch today I told someone that my friend and I were “one bel” on something. That’s Pidgin for being in agreement or having the same heart. It took me a minute to realize that the girl I was speaking to didn’t know what I meant.

Most of you know that I went to Kotidanga, Papua New Guinea (PNG), to help John and Selina Allen and their assistant Cherith Stevens with their work in the Kamea tribe. Probably the most unusual thing I did this summer was type a dictionary. Cherith had put together a long list of Kamea words, and my job was to type the words along with their English translations into a computer. The dictionary ended up being about fifty pages long. I learned a lot about formatting, and I was interested to learn, in a morbid sort of way, how proofreading in a foreign language affects the brain. I actually did have too much fun with that project.

Another project was helping type and format the first two primers for the Kamea literacy program. It was exciting (once we finally figured out how to print the document) to take the first rough draft of the first primer to people and watch them study the pages and try to read. Some of the Kamea speak and read PNG’s trade language, Pidgin, and they were very excited to see that the Kamea alphabet is similar to Pidgin’s. Many of them were able to sound out words as soon as they began looking at the primer.

A trip to the mountains of PNG would not be complete without a few airplane problems. On the day we were scheduled to leave the bush and fly to the coast, we got up early to meet the plane. After we waited for several hours, the clouds finally allowed the little plane to land. Well, actually, the clouds were doing their best to keep the plane from landing, but the pilot saw a tiny break in the clouds and dove down to the grass airstrip. We loaded only our essential bags on the plane because the pilot wanted to keep the plane light (the clouds were blocking visibility, and it was smart to keep the weight down) and climbed inside. I settled down in my seat for a nice ride as the pilot taxied the plane into position, and then I saw him lean forward, look at the left propeller, and then turn off the engine. He climbed outside, picked up a stick, and began beating the propeller with it. Finally, he came back to the door of the airplane, put his hands on his hips, and said in his Aussie accent, “I don’t suppose any of you know anything about the starter on an airplane engine, do you?” The fact that you are reading this email tells you that we eventually reached civilization in one piece, but we had our adventures along the way.

This summer I truly learned to appreciate planes, cars, trucks, and all other kinds of motor vehicles. One of the local ladies, Margaret, decided to take the single ladies on a hike to her garden house. Cherith told me the trip would be about two hours. The trip didn’t sound too bad, so we packed for an overnight stay and started hiking that Saturday morning. It was on that hike that a learned the value of cardiovascular exercise, something I’ve tended to avoid since I was in kindergarten. Margaret eventually decided that I would not make it to her garden house in one piece (I was slipping and sliding worse than any other foreigner she had seen), so she grabbed me by the arm and almost carried me up her mountain. I did learn to cross log bridges on that trip, however. There’s something fascinating about walking sideways across a log six inches in diameter and knowing that one wrong step could send you squealing into the river, or mud, or chasm, or whatever, below.

Later we came within five minutes of seeing a bird of paradise. One of the local men came running while we ladies were cooking supper and said that the birds were dancing and that we should come immediately. The bird of paradise has a peculiar dance that I’d heard about but never seen. We shoved our feet into our boots and grabbed our cameras and ran down the trail, up a mountain, back down, up another … running, falling, clawing, climbing, clambering, gasping for those precious molecules of oxygen … and arrived just as the birds flew away and hid in the trees and laughed at us. We decided that they should be called “mockingbirds.” In retrospect, I have decided that this is a funny story, though it didn’t seem very amusing at the time.

The summer had its serious side as well. In America we enjoy a Christian heritage, but the Kamea have never had God’s Word in their language, and their behavior often reflects their ignorance of God and His laws. One day a man came running to the house calling for Mrs. Allen, who is a nurse. Two men in the next village had gotten into an argument over a pig, and they’d eventually resorted to bush knives (knives about three feet long) to settle their differences. Both men had been badly hurt, and the Allens transported them to the hospital on the other side of the mountain. Lying is a another big problem for the Kamea. It is almost a sport for them to tell extravagant stories about each other (and about the missionaries!). By the time the stories pass from one person to another, it is often impossible to tell whether or not the stories ever had any basis in fact. The Kamea men are also prone to take multiple wives. The women often hate each other, and the domestic tensions can lead to interesting problems. Once, when Mrs. Allen and I were leaving market, a Kamea woman asked us to come to her house. She was her husband’s first wife, and the previous night she and the second wife had gotten into a fight—punching, kicking, biting, and dragging each other across the floor by the hair. The ladies were sore and wanted some ibuprofen.

There are a few Christian fellowships scattered throughout Kamea territory. Getty, one of the preachers’ wives, told us how much she wants a Bible in her own language. Every morning she gets up and tries to read her Pidgin Bible, but even though she understands the individual words, she cannot understand the meaning of what she is reading. There is no chance for her to ever get enough education to improve her Pidgin. If she had a Bible in her heart language, she could read God’s Word for herself.

While I was in PNG, twelve villages sent word to the Allens that they wanted someone to come and tell them about Jesus. Because the people have no Bibles, they need a church to learn about God. Once one of the national pastors went on a little missionary journey to some distant villages, and the people in one village said, “If we believe this talk of Jesus, who will come and make us strong in it?” If the pastor had been able to hand them a Bible that they could understand, he could have said, “This is God’s Book, and in it He says that He will teach you all things. He will never leave you.”

The Allens and Cherith hope to have the New Testament translated into Kamea within the next ten years. Please pray for their health and that God will give them good understanding of the language. A specific thing to pray for is that God will help them avoid distractions. There are many needs that clamor for attention and try to pull them away from their language work.

I want to thank all of you for your prayers and support. I have learned so many things this summer, and I wish I could sit down with each of you and describe everything that happened. I’m certain that the wonderful things I saw are the direct result of your prayers. Right now I am beginning my Master’s program in Biblical Languages at Pensacola Christian College. I hope to one day be able to help with translation work in another tribe. (Some estimates say that there are 3000 languages that still need Bibles.) Whenever you pick up your English Bible, please remember to pray for those who still don’t have a single verse of Scripture in their language.

Once again, thank you for praying for me. I would love to hear from you all and learn what the Lord has been doing in all of your lives this summer.

In Christ,
Mary Mitchell

Tags: Kamea, Pidgin