by Mike Herchenroeder
Several times a year, as the sun is going down, a group of men from the village of Akukem say goodbye to their families and walk on a dirt road through the jungle to the neighboring village of Giri. They arrive an hour later, and by now it is dark. They have come in hopes of catching a ride on a “PMV” into the town of Madang, where PBT’s office is located. The PMV might be a rundown bus, or a large flatbed truck with hard wooden benches in the back for passengers, or maybe even a truck with no benches. If the Akukem men are fortunate, there will be PMV leaving that night and there will be space for them. If they are not so fortunate, they will spend the night outdoors near the road in hopes that there will be a PMV the next night. Sometimes, during the rainy season when the Giri road is too muddy to accommodate PMV traffic, they walk a few more hours to a place where the road is drier.
Wherever they catch it, the PMV typically leaves its village about 9:00 p.m. and drives all night, first on washed out unpaved roads, and then on a narrow, black top road, arriving in Madang in the wee hours of the morning. The Akukem men arrive dusty, tired, hungry, and penniless. Sometimes they arrive cold and wet, because the truck that they rode in was uncovered.
Why do they make this trip? Because they want what we take for granted—a Bible and literacy in their own language. Sometimes they come to work on the translation of the New Testament. Sometimes they come to develop literacy materials to teach their own people to read. We provide a place to stay, food to eat, a place to work, resources, and our expertise—knowledge of the Scriptures and principles of translation and literacy. We provide friendship, encouragement, and guidance. After a few weeks, they return to their village. For in addition to being Bible translators and literacy workers, they are subsistence farmers. If they do not tend their gardens and make saksak, they and their families will go hungry.
The men from Akukem have very little, but they have sacrificed thousands of hours so their people can have God’s Word in their own language. But they are not the only ones to come. Men from other villages and other languages come to Madang by varied routes. Some come alone, some in pairs or in groups, but they all come at great personal sacrifice. Many come, but since PBT has limited resources, we have made a commitment to help only a few language groups, like the men from Akukem. Most go away empty.
Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:37-38 NIV