They Eat People There, Don’t They?
My wife, Gail, and I entered the Anna Bananas coffee shop in Pearl City with some apprehension. We had an appointment with the Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) South Pacific Regional Director, Hank Jones, concerning an overseas assignment for us to consider.
For years, we had looked forward to serving Christ in a foreign country. In our application for an overseas assignment, we had listed our preferences as: China, first because of the sheer number of people needing to hear the gospel, then Japan because of our heritage and finally the Philippines because it had CCC’s Great Commission Training Center located there. We were told that China (in 1977) was out of the question because it was not open to missionary work. Japan was also not available to us because we were married with a 2 year old son, John-Mark, and CCC did not allow families there due to the high cost of living and the large amount of support needed. So what assignment was Hank Jones going to offer us? All we heard was that we would be the first CCC staff in the country, and would establish the ministry there with another couple. That ruled out our third choice. So much for preferences.
But nothing could have prepared me for what I heard. Papua New Guinea. ‘Now where did I hear about that country before?’ I thought to myself. And wasn't it somewhere in Africa, not the South Pacific? Then I remembered ... the National Geographic magazines! Visions of dark, fierce tribesmen with bones in their noses and fierce faces pointing primitive bows and arrows at me flashed through my mind.
"Papua New Guinea," I told myself again. "That's where they eat people, don't they?"
The only thing I remember after that was telling Hank that we would pray about it and would call him on Monday to give him our answer. But I couldn't stop words like 'cannibals', 'headhunters', and 'primitive' from popping into my mind. I had visions of going there and burying my wife and son, killed by angry natives, poisonous snakes or feverish jungle malaria. "Why couldn't God have chosen a more modern country for us to serve in?", I complained.
Then, realizing I knew nothing about Papua New Guinea (PNG), I made a beeline for the library at the University of Hawai`i in Manoa where I served as the CCC campus director. I learned that PNG was located in the eastern half of the 1600 kilometers wide New Guinea island situated immediately north of Australia, sharing it with the Indonesian province of Papua where the events in the book ‘Peace Child’ took place. Back in 1977, the population of PNG numbered more than 3 million people speaking over 700 languages and inhabiting 1400 islands. It sounded like a real challenge, but how could I be certain God was calling us there. And what about the 'cannibals'?
I didn't have to wait long for the Lord to speak to me through His Word. We were scheduled to share about our ministry at a Bible Study meeting on Saturday night. That evening, after sharing, I sat and listened to the study leader teach from Jeremiah 29:11.
"'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.'"
It was as if the lesson was made just for me, and God was making me a promise ... to keep us from 'calamity' and ensure our 'welfare' and future, even in PNG. I marked the passage in my Bible for future reference.
But God wasn't done with me yet. The next morning at the worship service, the Pastor opened the Bible and read out the Scripture. I turned the pages in my Bible to the mark I had just made the night before. It was the exact same text from the Bible Study! God wasn't taking any chances on me missing the point!
On Monday we called Hank Jones and accepted the assignment. We were heading for Papua New Guinea!