By David Parrish
A floral archway erected before the earthen stairway cut into the bank of the lake in front of Peter Tapoi’s house displayed this simple and yet amazing sign. The sign was erected to welcome the Mbore people who had made a very brave and determined decision to step out in faith. It was Peter Tapoi himself who etched those words into that wooden plank. Peter was the first to make such a decision among the Mbore people. His decision to accept the gospel message and all the changes in his life that this message implied appears to be having an effect similar to that of a stone dropped onto the surface of a still pond. A rippling effect has indeed begun.
To continue with this same analogy, the Mbore “pond” has not always been still enough to allow such an effect. Since my wife Alice and our three daughters and I began working among the Mbore people we have learned to love and deeply appreciate them as very good friends, though getting to know and understand their ways has not been easy for us. They do not easily accept outsiders. Building trust between us has been a goal we have had to work hard at.
The history of the Mbore people is one of war and fighting. The “Big Men,” leaders among the Mbore, like to tell stories of great battles that were fought along the Ramu River against enemies from other language groups. The warriors used to hang the skulls of their enemies on stakes around their villages in order to boast of their fierceness and to cause all who knew them to tremble with fear. They were known all through the Ramu valley as a people who would steal your children either to make them into slaves or soup. Undai, the man who taught me to speak the Mbore language, was once such a child whom today will tell you quite plainly how thankful he is that he was not eaten. But the Mbore did not battle only with enemies from other languages, they fought quite often among themselves. According to their own customs, if a Mbore dies, no one is to strike a drum or make loud noises. This allows the people of the village a chance to hear who among their neighbors is celebrating that death. In that way they will know who is responsible and due to be paid back.
Although those days of open tribal war seem for the most part to have ceased, the Mbore have continued to be a people of conflict. Even between those groups who have said they accept some form of Christianity, there has continued to be strife and dissension and a fairly high level of mistrust.
But we have also seen among the Mbore people the work of the One who has the power to calm the waters. Since we first came to work among these people, Alice, the girls, and I have watched God work as He has drawn them together to form a translation team capable of doing the work of translation. He has also caused his message of grace to be told clearly in words that to the Mbore have real meaning. We have seen all the villages pulled closer together as they worked to form a board of representatives selected by each of the different villages, in order to oversee the work. The Mborena Kam Bible Translation Board of Management now oversees all aspects of the translation and literacy work. Since they formed this board we have seen many changes. Leaders of the different communities are working together, listening to the translated word of God in translation checking. Teachers have been trained to teach the children to read and write in the Mbore language, and now these teachers are holding classes in four different preschools and are preparing to begin three more soon. New readers and writers are working with these teachers to prepare new lessons to help begin adult classes as well. In addition to all this work, the board has sponsored several writers’ workshops and is also managing a sawmill project aimed at raising funds to assist with the translation and literacy needs.
Through all of these efforts God has been speaking to these people…and some…are listening.
Peter Tapoi could hardly sit still as the translation of the book of Galatians was being checked at his home. Peter was known among the Mbore people as one of the most factious and hot headed men. He was often chosen to represent others in fights because he has an ability to be both loud and stubborn. But even in the storm of Peter’s life God caused a change. In the Mbore language Peter listened as the book of Galatians explained God’s will to him. Even though he knew he could not always trust other people, (in fact Galatians warns against putting too much confidence in people), he came to understand that he could trust God. When Peter listened to the agreement God was wanting to make with him he was ready to trust him. And so now, like the Apostle Paul, Peter can say, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
As Peter looked past that flower-ladened archway with that amazing sign hanging from it, he watched several men and women giving their lives to God as he had. We all watched together as the water began to ripple.