Four Weeks in the Bush and One Amazing Experience
Six weeks after saying goodbye to family and friends in America, Josh and Katie Eicholtz found themselves on top of Nobonob hill outside of Madang at the Pacific Orientation Course (POC) headquarters in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
The course offers an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in cultural training, language lessons, remote medical skills, anthropology, risk management, outdoor skills and much more. It culminates with four weeks of village living and the challenges that brings.
Josh and Katie were understandably anxious about the prospect of non-stop cross-cultural living. Four weeks in a bush house? Washing clothes and bathing in a river? Cooking over an open fire? And experiencing all this with their 17-month-old son, Jacob.
While at Nobonob, they studied Tok Pisin, the main trade language of PNG, as well as how to cook, hike, swim, and live in the bush. Jacob soon found some friends to play with and even picked up some Tok Pisin words—mostly the words for food! All the training and a couple of nights spent with a local family at their house helped prepare the Eicholtz family for bush village living
Then they were off to a different village for a month of realistic living with their ‘wasfamili’ (PNG family) in a bush setting with no electricity and no running water. Prior to going, Katie writes: “Truthfully, most of the time could be filled with living: cooking, cleaning, and watching Jacob. But we’re going to try hard to get out with the local people and learn more about their daily routines. By living alongside them for a short time, we hope to gain a deeper understanding of their way of life.”
So they intentionally spent time with villagers learning more about their customs. Josh reports, “People there work exceptionally hard, living off their gardens for food and retrieving water from nearby streams. We were amazed at how the people can ‘stap nating’, which literally means ‘live with nothing.’ Give a man a bush knife, and he can build a house with bush materials and grow a nutritious garden with a variety of ‘kaikai’ (food). Need a drink? They’ll climb a tree and get a ‘kulau’ (green coconut) full of a sweet-tasting, electrolyte-packed drink. We realized that they’re entirely self-sufficient in the bush. Their way of life is completely sustainable.”
Josh describes a highlight of village life: “Story-telling in Tok Pisin with our PNG family. Around dusk, people would come to our house and sit down with us on the floor. Sometimes we’d cook and eat a meal together or sometimes we’d serve up ‘kopi’ (coffee). Then we’d talk about everything from the customs of PNG to life in America to the Bible.”
Their most amazing experience was showing the JESUS film in Tok Pisin. “Over 100 people from the village came to see the movie projected outside our house. It was hard to tell what our PNG friends were thinking, but within a couple of days, we began hearing stories about how the film challenged them. The very next day, Palm Sunday, we went to church with our ‘wasmama’ (PNG mama). The pastor proclaimed the gospel and challenged the congregation to come to Jesus and live for him alone. Our wasmama went forward and rededicated her life to Christ! The next night, a village papa came to me and shared how he’d never processed all the pain that Jesus went through. He was deeply impacted by Christ’s sacrifice.”
Katie says, “Overall, our village living was a success and we learned so much in a month.”
And Jacob? “He did remarkably well. He loved running around the village with his friends. One of his favorite things was going to the river with us to ‘was was’ (bathe/swim). He could play in the sand while we all enjoyed the cool, crisp river water. Jacob embraced the culture!”
POC helped the entire family to appreciate the culture and feel better prepared for long-term service in Papua New Guinea. Katie says, “POC was challenging and stretching. We made plenty of cultural mistakes and experienced multiple illnesses, but we learned to rely on God and his Word during the challenging times. I was encouraged numerous times by a specific Bible verse. I can’t imagine not having God’s Word in my language. This experience reaffirmed our calling to help the people of PNG receive God’s Word in their heart language.”