Reconnoitering the FEBA

Posted on Posted in The Storyboard Articles

From the Autumn 2001 The Storyboard by Jan Messersmith

When we had a staff meeting to discuss this issue of The Storyboard  I broke my “never volunteer” rule.  We wanted stories and editorials illustrating the myriad reasons why people visit foreign mission fields.  Being an old soldier, I immediately found a military analogy.

For missionary troops, the Theater of Operations – the area where war is being waged – is the whole world.  And strategists (your World Outreach Committee) participate in Command and Control wherever they have troops in the fray . . . Papua New Guinea, a village in Haiti, across the street from where you are presently sitting – all over the place. We are all supposed to be missionaries, right? But if you want to get out of the Pentagon and get your boots muddy, you head straight for the FEBA. The FEBA, in military parlance, is the Forward Edge of the Battle Area.

Arnold William Messersmith as he looked at Milne Bay, New Guinea – WWII

According to the DoD (Department of Defense) the FEBA is “The foremost limits of a series of areas in which ground combat units are deployed . . . .”  That’s a pretty apt description of what you will soon experience upon arrival in Madang, PBT’s command, control and communications headquarters for Papua New Guinea.  In truth, there’s very little command and control going on.  Our troops have little need for orders from headquarters. Out on the line, it’s all about beans and bullets – tactics and supply. Toilet paper can be as important as a computer part (okay, more important).  Someone missing a regular radio schedule could be a sign of trouble. We are, for the most part, numbed to the fracas, but visitors feel the tension immediately. A PBT Board member once described it to me as “barely controlled chaos.” Ask any soldier.  I’d bet even the most successful of battles would be described similarly.

So, the interesting question is:  Why would anyone want to come here for a visit? There are many reasons for visiting a foreign mission field operation.

One that we encourage is The Mother of All Vacations. Not many places can top PNG on anyone’s “been there, done that” list.  Realistically, however, many people cannot justify the expense of a trip halfway around the world just for a vacation, no matter how exotic. While we never want to neglect the holiday aspect, most of our visitors have a broader agenda.

Many come to see family members or friends. The positive effects of such visits on field workers cannot be overstated. It is a blessing beyond description when family or friends make such an investment in time and finances to show their interest and love.

Our greatest numbers of visitors are college students participating in PBT’s internship program. The PBT International Service Center, coordinating with the PNG, Guinea, West Africa, and Tanzania branches, offers summer internships each year. Six of these interns have become long-term workers in PBT branches. Others, besides college students, come to investigate career opportunities.

Work teams, short-term project workers, and church representatives comprise another category of visitors. We always have a variety of tasks, both large and small, that we just don’t have the capacity to accomplish with our resources. This usually means we don’t have the manpower, but sometimes we also need additional financial assistance.  We have been blessed several times by groups of workers who claimed projects as their own and supplied the materials and manpower. Official visitors from churches also contribute much to our operations. We think of these visitors as direct ambassadors to our supporters.

Burlington, Kentucky work team member Joe Rectenwald and PBT handyman William Pari

</>Missionaries can explain methods and requirements until they are blue in the face to mission committees, often with no feeling that they have communicated anything at all. However, if somebody on that committee has been to the field, it is a different story altogether.

I’ll take a little space to add a personal observation and make an embarrassing confession. I used to think to myself, “We’re the professionals.  If you really want to help us go forward, just send us the money you would have spent on your trip.” Now I wonder how I could have been so ignorant, egotistical, and shortsighted. We are always blessed by our visitors far beyond what we could have expected. And they constantly remind us of the team relationship that we have with our supporting churches, families, and friends. Sometimes I remind myself of our dependence on God’s providence by standing in back of our main office and staring at our two-story multi-purpose building. A rough looking bunch of Tennessee carpenters built it in less than two weeks.  It would still be vacant ground without their help. This happens to us all the time because God’s promises are kept, and good folks go out of their way to lend us a hand.

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