They Felt the Story in their Bones

By Rachel Greco

Willem and Esther Van De Bruinhorst are Scripture Engagement workers for the Aitape West project in Papua New Guinea (PNG). They work with 11 language groups in this region to give them Scripture and aid them in interacting with, reading, and understanding it.

Willem and Esther live in the village of Arop. The rest of their team lives in Ukarumpa and flies to Wewak, and then takes a car to Arop where they hold various kinds of workshops: translation, literacy, Scripture Use, and Oral Bible Storytelling several times a year.

The drive from Wewak to Arop takes about 6-8 hours on gravel roads filled with potholes. The team also travels to all the villages that are involved in the Aitape West project to conduct Bible studies, invite them for workshops, and just to check in on them.

For all this travel, the Van De Bruinhorsts used to use PNG’s public transportation system using vehicles known as PMVs which are like small buses. “We have had a lot of problems with that,” Willem explained. They never knew if the car would show up and often the PMVs would be in need of major repair. “Our biggest concern with traveling by PMV was our safety,” Willem said.

They once saw a PMV that came to pick them up in Wewak roll over because the brakes didn’t work. They’ve also been on a PMV that almost lost one of its wheels.

But thanks to generous people like you giving to Land Transportation Solutions, the Aitape West project now owns a Toyota Land Cruiser and an ATV. “The Toyota Land Cruiser made it so much easier and safer to travel between Wewak and Arop,” Willem said.

The vehicle that JAARS funded for the Aitape West team in its ‘natural’ habitat

Last year the team held some Oral Bible Storytelling (OBS) workshops in Arop. The trainers, who came from East Sepik through Wewak to Arop, were able to use the vehicle. After attending one of these workshops, one participant said, “I told the story in our vernacular. One old man fell down and started crying. He said: ‘I learned so much, now I heard this story in my own language.’”

Before the Aitape West project had vehicles, they couldn’t visit the villages frequently, so they didn’t have a lot of connection with the people. But in the past two years the vehicles have allowed them to visit all the villages three or more times! “This is great, because it brings more connection with local churches, more involvement, more distribution of Scripture portions, Bible Study tools, etc.,” Willem said.

The Land Cruiser also makes emergency trips possible. A few months ago while the team ran an OBS workshop, one of the trainers became very sick. He could barely breathe and needed to get to a hospital as quickly as possible. The team was able to drive him to Aitape so he could get treatment. “This also wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t have the Land Cruiser,” Willem said.

The Aitape West team can’t reach all villages by car. Some of the roads resemble walking paths more than actual roads, which is when they use their ATV gifted by JAARS.

One of the team members travels to a village via the ATV that JAARS funded

Is it even worth all this effort to reach these remote people in the jungles of Aitape West? The Van De Bruinhorsts and their team think so! They’ve seen God help people understand the Bible in their own language, church leaders become better equipped for leading their churches, and youth who were drinking alcohol become interested in Bible stories.

“The people that know our vernacular very well, they felt the story in their bones.”

One participant at an OBS workshop explained the benefit of listening to Scripture in people’s language: “We have told the stories in our churches. Lots of people were so happy with them. The people that know our vernacular very well, they felt the story in their bones. The Word became very clear to them. They can hear English and Tok Pisin [the trade language in PNG], but it is not really clear to them. When they hear it in their vernacular, it’s like good food filling their stomach.”

Thank you for enabling us to ease some of the burdens this team in Aitape West faces as they serve these remote people. Consider giving to Land Transportation Solutions so more people can hear the gospel!