By Sharon Kozar
If you have been around a Christian church for any amount of time, you’ve heard some manner of the expression “the least and the last.” Maybe you didn’t really think about what those words mean. But let’s think about it for a moment.
Someone is “the least and the last.”
How does that statement make you feel?
Does it evoke any emotions at all? Are you indifferent? How would you feel if someone called YOU the least and/or the last? Does anyone want to be “the least” of anything? Does anyone want to be “the last” at anything? Does this saying mean anything to you at all, or are they just words?
During our Annual General Meeting in January, these words were discussed as far as a tagline we chose to use for Pioneer Bible Translators – Papua New Guinea Branch. Part of this term is used to describe those who are the last to hear God’s word in their mother tongue; their heart language. I had heard the term “the least and the last” before, I think you have too. Maybe if you are like me when I heard them before, you just kind of brushed the words off. I didn’t give the weight of the words too much thought. But not this time. This time it was personal. I understand when they say “the last.” My Papua New Guinean Mama is among the last to receive God’s word in her language. I get that. What I struggle with is that my village Mama is considered one of “the least.” That is a painful reality and I don’t like it. When I heard the words that day, it was like a punch in the stomach. I instantly saw her face. This is the woman who opened her home to me without first laying eyes on me. She is anything but “the least” to me.
In January 2014, I was enrolled in the Pacific Orientation Course (POC). POC is 4 months of training to learn cultural differences when going from a western lifestyle to life living and working in Papua New Guinea (PNG). It used to be referred to as Jungle Training. All missionaries who have been called to work with Pioneer Bible Translators PNG go through POC. Village living is the final part of the course, after three months in a classroom learning various aspects of language and culture.
POC taught us a lot before sending us to live in the bush. Now it was time for a family to take me in as their daughter, and teach me true PNG culture in their territory. The POC truck dropped me and my Australian teammate off and left. There wasn’t another American around for miles – hundreds, as far as I was concerned – because I was so far out of my comfort zone. Considering how long it took to actually get to the village and be dropped off, I felt like I was in another world altogether.
So we arrived in my village. There was Mama. She couldn’t have smiled brighter or had a more welcoming home for me. She had a house built specifically for this. As far as I felt, it was for me. She wanted to “house some POC students to help them learn the PNG culture.” What better way than to be dropped off with my cargo, into a village with people whom, to my knowledge, didn’t speak a word of English?
It wasn’t easy coming from my comfortable home in America, and going to a “bush house” (a home woven from materials they gathered in the jungle). But there was my Mama. She is my age, but I have no trouble calling her “mama” because she is my PNG Mama. She looked out for me those weeks. She helped me learn to cook outside and wash in the river (including myself, dishes, and my laundry). She went with me to the outhouse at night, to scare away the dangerous snakes… she even killed a snake in the outhouse, just after I had been in there. I didn’t see it… thankfully! One day, when we were bathing in the river, she hollered, “Snake!!!” and we got out of the water until the danger had passed. Mama watched out for me in every way possible. So tell me, how could anything about my Mama, be considered “least?”
The sad truth is that my Mama is indeed considered one of the least by the world. She does not have access to the Bible in her heart language. None of her people do. And so many, many people don’t care. She is one of the least and the last. Saying that hurts. So… now what???
This has to be part of the reason I was brought to PNG; to write my heart about the least and the last so you would know. Maybe God is calling you to mission work. Maybe He is calling you to come work in Papua New Guinea with us. We are in dire need of literacy specialists. We have translations that are close to being completed. Soon there will be books that go out to hundreds of waiting hands. Will they be able to read it? I don’t know. Right now, there aren’t enough literacy specialists for the amount of work that needs done! Maybe you’re gifted with your hands, good at fixing and maintaining buildings and cars. We need people willing to come live and serve in town, keeping a strong infrastructure in place to support our bush teams. Maybe you’re interested in translation or in helping people connect to the Bible or in using your administrative abilities. My deep desire is for you to RESPOND TO GOD. Come join our team as we go To the Least and the Last.
Please click here to find out about our needs and to learn more about who these least and last are.
Sharon serves in administration.