Road Trip!?

Published Apr 12, 2010

Headed to Mount Hagen

On Friday April the second, Matt flew our family to Mt. Hagen from Ukarumpa, where Matt has been doing flight training, for the national pastors conference. Since Matt has to have an instructor with us there was another pilot on board who was not staying for the conference. After dropping us off he flew the plane back to Ukarumpa. On Monday, John and Lena drove a van from Ukarumpa to Mt. Hagan to join us. Our trip was an hour and a half while John and Lena’s was six hours. After looking at cost, Matt and I decided to ride back in the van with them instead of flying. On Friday the ninth, Sarah Glover and Ashley Otto joined us in Mt. Hagan from the United States.

The plan was for the Bible school students, Pastor James, and his wife Grace to ride the PMV (public motor vehicle) and meet us at Ukarumpa. However in all-things-PNG, that was not to be so. Bro. James became very sick and we thought it would be better for him to travel with us. So he and Grace would now ride with the eight of us and all our bags.

Becky and Sarah
Becky Allen and Sarah Glover

We agreed that leaving early would be better so that when we came to Goroka we could stop and do a little shopping before finishing the trip. So at 8:30 Saturday morning we loaded up the van and started down the road. Our driving today would take us on the main highway of PNG. I should tell you it is nothing like the highways you are thinking of. The road is only two lanes with many, many people walking down the sides of it. There is bush growing on the sides of the road and the people just walk on the road. When you come upon them you have to drive in the other lane so as not to hit them. There are potholes everywhere - some of which the whole car will fit in. Some places in the road have no pavement left. Most of the bridges are one lane bridges and you pray you don’t meet someone there. And countless times, the road has partially broken away leaving only one lane.

One rule we have about road trips here is that you don’t drink a lot, as there are no public restrooms along the route.

About 3 hours into our trip we came upon a small landslide. There were men there working to clean it off the road with shovels but they assured all who came along that you can make it through. The truck in front of us had no problems, so we give it a go. We make it safely through but not with out bumping the bottom of the van on some rather large rocks. Now, we hope that we don’t have to turn around and go back through it. Not long after we saw the sign telling us we have 50 kilometers to reach Goroka, our stopping place to eat and use the restroom. We were very excited to see the sign. But our excitement was not to last long. Just around the next corner the traffic had stopped. The PMVs have pulled over to the side of the road and many were turning around and heading back the opposite direction. We pulled over and some kids on the side of the road told us that there was a big landslide up ahead and the road was blocked.

Matt and Pastor James got out of the van and walked up to see what they could and find out when the road would reopen. The rest of us sat in the van with the doors locked and waited for them to return. A lady walking away from the land-slide came to the window and told us that there was a bull-dozer clearing the road and it should be finished in a few hours and we should just wait. Matt came back and told us that the land-slide is one of three between us and Goroka. The other two have already been cleared but this one was the largest one. It started around the curve and he could hear the bull dozer but could not see it. A police officer keeping the crowd under control said it would be finished in a couple of hours. We talked about it and decided to wait an hour and see how things were progressing.

Matt and James got in the van and we began the wait.

By this time many people have noticed that there is a van filled with “white people.” Most of them just waved and walked on but a small group of kids were hanging around. So Matt called them all over to his window and got a Chick track out to tell them the story of Jesus dying for our sins. The are very interested and even answered his questions. An hour passed and this time Matt and I walked up the road to see how the cleaning work was coming. Everyone was very friendly and wanted to tell us how long it will be before the road will open. We heard many different answers.

Stuck in the mud
A police truck stuck in the landslide

One told us it will be soon, another said a few hours, another said 2 or 3 days, and yet another told us it would be a week. Not knowing who to believe we continued to walked there to see for ourselves. This time we could see the bull dozer but he still had a long way to go before it is finished.

Many people who were on the PMVs were walking across the land slide and getting on the PMVs on the other side. The police kept them back so the machine could do its work; and every now and then they would stop the machine so the people could go through. Matt wanted to walk across to get a better look and to see how much they had already done so he could make a better guess as to when the road would re-open. I did not want to walk through the mess so I waited for him there. As soon as he left me, the police allowed the people to go through. There was now a mob of people coming at me. I did my best to stay to the side and not be noticed. However one man saw me and asked if I am trying to go to Goroka. I told him yes, and he then offered for him and his friend to carry me on their shoulders across so that I wouldn’t get dirty. I politely declined his offer. Matt returned, and we headed back to the van. He told us that things are looking good and we should just wait.

Several of us now need a bathroom break so we headed away from the land-slide to where there are some “stores” to see if we can find an outhouse. We found that the “stores” are in the middle of a little village and we now have hope that someone will let us use the bathroom. We found a lady named Anna and she told us that there are no bathrooms in the village and that everyone just goes to the river. We thought about this and then asked her to show us the way. It is close and the ladies went first. We came to the river and found there are big boulders all around and plenty of places to “go” out-of-site. After everyone is finished, we headed back to the van to wait.

While waiting in the van we played games of tic-tac-toe, watched movies on the girls’ DVD players, and played Nintendo DS. After another hour passed, Matt and John walk up to see how things were going. They came back with the report that it wouldn’t be long and we will just wait.

Dalo Pass Landslide
The landslide begins to open up for traffic to pass

By this time we had talked with many people there and have realized that we are safe. We now have the windows down and the sliding door open just talking to the people. Suddenly we heard gun shots and saw many people running in our direction. We all jumped in the van. John was driving, and he turned us around and we went down the road as fast as we could. The people were jumping into the PMVs and they were right behind us. We pulled into the “stores” area and waited.

We asked a man that had come from the land-slide what happened and he told us that there was a fight between two brothers, and when the police tried to stop it the people went after the police officer. He fired his gun into the air and the people ran away. Seeing that things are back under control, we again drove back up and waited.

Someone came and told us that it was almost finished so Matt, Sarah, and I went to check it out. We saw that it truly was almost finished and returned to the van with good news and to waited.

The kids from earlier were back and ask Matt to tell them a funny story. He did and then they ask for another story about Jesus. He began to tell the story but then the road was now clear to go through. There is only a path through the center of the road so the police were directing traffic. The other side went first which is good because hopefully they would pack down any mud that is left making it easier for us to go through. It was now our side’s turn and the pick-up truck in front of us got stuck. He was eventually able to get through and now our van would be put to the test. We made it on the first try. We all cheered and clapped. We had waited for four hours to get through. Our six hour trip has now taken 7 hours and we aren’t finished yet.

We reached Goroka and met up with the Bible school students. They had reached the land slide ahead of us, walked through it, and took a PMV on the other side. We all went to dinner together and had a good time of fellowship. But, knowing that we still had a two-hour drive and that it would be getting dark soon, we have to leave. The boys would stay there in Goroka and get a PMV the next day. Bro James was feeling better and at first says that he was going to stay with the boys, but then changes his mind and went with us. (He would later wish that he had stayed with the boys.)

We began the drive and everything was going well. Thirty minutes later, John told us that the clutch was slipping and we were having trouble climbing the mountains. Matt tried to call a missionary, Geoff Russell, at Ukarumpa to let him know that we are going to be late because we are having car trouble, but he could not get a cell phone signal. At the same time that he got a signal, the clutch went out completely and the van would no longer go forward. We were now stopped in the middle of the road, in the middle of nowhere, and it was dark. Matt got Geoff on the phone and told him our problem. He is a missionary with another mission and they have a policy that they do not go off the mission station at night to help car trouble because it would put more missionaries in danger. However Geoff would see what he could do, and he would call us back, so we just waited.

Back of the Landcruiser
Selina Allen and Grace (Pastor’s James’s wife) share a close moment in the back of the truck

Two local men came up to us seemingly out of nowhere to see what was going on. We opened the window just a little to tell them what the problem is. They told us that they will help push us out of the road so that we don’t get hit. Matt got out to help them. Once the van was off the road, John also got out. Several minutes passed and Matt came to the window to tell us that Geoff was bringing a Land Cruiser to pick us up but it will be a little over an hour before he would get to us so we would just have to wait.

To pass the time we told stories and played games in the dark van. We didn’t want the lights on because that will draw attention to us. Matt and John were outside the van talking with the two men and others from the nearby village that had joined them. John was able to witness to them while we waited.

Geoff finally arrived and we began to move our things from the van to the Land Cruiser. Chad, another missionary, was with Geoff. I should tell you that the back seat of the Land Cruiser is two benches that run down the side. We would be facing each other with all our bags between us. There were a lot of bags and there had to be a system of getting everyone in. Selina and Ashley (a visitor from the USA) got in and faced each other. Bags went between them and our girls got on their laps. Next, Grace (Pastor James’s wife) and Sarah got in and again bags went between them, and this time a bag on each of their laps. Next Pastor James and myself were facing each other with bags between us and one on each of our laps. Then John and Matt got in, but there was not enough space for them to sit down and the doors to shut. So they stood while Geoff shut the door and then they wiggled into the remaining spot. We were packed in so much that we could not move our legs.

The long winding road started to make a few of us feel sick. The first sight of the lights at Ukarumpa were a blessing to us. Geoff pulled up to the guest house and opened the door. We were all glad to be there but we were having a hard time getting out of the truck. While we were driving, all of our legs had fallen asleep. However we were happy to have finally arrived. Our 6 hour road trip has now finished—14 1/2 hours later.

So, what did this long road trip teach me? A few things about my coworkers; how to make the best out of a situation; but most of all that we have an awesome God. Some would say that He wasn’t looking after us if we had to go through all of that and some might say that He was punishing us. However I say that He is awesome and that He was looking after us all the time. You see, here in PNG we are told of stories of hold-ups, shootings, and muggings all the time. But when we were at the land-slide waiting, we met only nice people. Matt was able to witness to a group of children that we would have never met. Although none of them got saved, a seed was planted. I think God had that land-slide there for that reason. And when the car broke down He was looking after us. If we would have broke down just a few minutes before we would have had no cell phone signal. After talking to to men who helped us off the road, Matt learned that just a little farther up the road is there was a group of “rascals” (bandits). The Lord had us break down in a safe place where we could call for help. Again without our stopping there, those men might not have ever heard of Jesus and how he died for them. A seed has been planted and although we may never see those men again, we pray that someone else would come along to tell them more and that one day they might trust Jesus as their Savior.