Thursday, July 9, 2020

My Journey to the Bush of PNG

Expect the unexpected is the latest slogan for PNG and traveling to the bush is one unexpected breathe-taking beauty of a ride through a land still somewhat primitive, but what a gorgeous country! 

It was a Wednesday afternoon and I was traveling with our new Bishop, John Bosco Auram, and team from Kimbe to the bush villages of Ulamona and Mantanakunai. The road was surprisingly smoother than expected, not many potholes to slow us down, but each twist and turn revealed a luscious landscape of a variety of tropical trees lining the road and covering the fields and mountains along the way. We crossed bridges over fresh blue- green cold water rivers and at one point, saw a spectacular view of the ocean sparkling in the distance. There was a sense of wonder and discovery in the unspoiled wilderness we passed along the way.  We arrived in Ulamona to songs of welcome for the new Bishop who did his pastoral work as a deacon back in 1999 and they honored him as if welcoming back one of their own.

The next day after mass, we took a dinghy for a two hour trip across the sea to Mantanakunai- where the Bishop was again welcomed with song by the villagers who carried him to his place of honor. We were there to open a new parish in the bush village of Matanakunai (which was a sub-parish of Ulamona.) 
The bush conjures up an image of a wild, uncultivated and rustic land and certainly, Mantanakunai did not disappoint.   Matanakunai is situated right on the water with palm trees swaying in the breeze and vegetation blooming everywhere right on the border of East and West New Britain Provinces. It shares politics with East New Britain while the parish itself is under the Diocese of Kimbe. Was it rustic? I’ll let you decide- - no electricity (a generator powered the stage and church area), pit toilets (yikes - take a deep breath of fresh air before...) 😃 and bush houses that look more like cabins- no real furniture, no kitchen, no bathroom (pit toilet) , no glass in the windows, but it looked sturdy enough to withstand the numerous rain storms that often frequent a tropical paradise like Matanakunai. 

The village would be any artists dream with its unspoiled landscape and friendly people. The surroundings are equal to a tropical resort reminding me of what some northern countries have to recreate inside greenhouses or indoor botanical gardens that can only provide a glimpse into the natural beauty that inhabits such a place. 

Mitchel, a friend I met in Kimbe and lives in Ulamona found me and I asked her to accompany me to Mantanakunai and I’m so glad she agreed. She introduced me to the bush life. One example was the wash-wash in the pristine, but cold river only a few minutes walk from the village. I was totally unprepared for the splash of cold water being poured over me as the (all female) audience on shore looked on - some were amused at my shock and I’m sure for some it was their first time seeing a white meri (woman) experiencing such a wash-wash in the bush. Camping is what comes to mind, but I don’t think I ever had to wash- wash in a river before. Refreshing? - haha- well - okay, I’ll admit - it was refreshing, (after the initial shock wore off...) but brrrrrr - the water was just too cold, even on a humid day.

The opening of the new parish began with mass on both Friday (to honor the Bishop) and Saturday to install the new parish, Fr Cleofas as the parish priest, as well as the Catechists and the parishioners. There was an undeniable sense of something exceptional about to happen when the drums started beating and all made way for the warriors, both women and men, dressed in bilas (adornment of their bodies with leaves, feathers and other bush material and natural paint) spears in hand as they danced, escorting the Bible into the church. 
Lunch followed by celebrations and gifts began in the afternoon of both days with both East and West New Britain well represented by tribes and clans from both provinces as each group dressed in their own unique bilas and danced their ceremonial dances. Gifts included pigs (poor things), food items like taro, money and other honorable contributions. Friday was to honor our new Bishop while Saturday honored the new Parish priest Fr Cleofas. The stage was the main focal point of each afternoon and it looked newly built as it was dedicated on the 13 of June to the St. Mary’s Assumption Parish. There was an area already roped off and designated for the new church that will be built as well as a new priest house (I hope it has a real bathroom).
The church will be surrounded by a tropical landscape of beautiful palm trees swaying in the wind built along dirt roads that lead back to Kimbe or onward to Rabaul. The mountains seen from the village are part of the jungles where many of its people have already moved down into the village area to work or go to school. 

Returning across the water back to Ulamona on Saturday was amazing. My dinghy left at sundown.  As we watched the sun melt into the water, a ray of pure blue streaked across the sky. Mitchel called it the Ray of Divine Mercy and I never saw something so spectacular. It was in the shape of a rainbow but was only a deep beautiful color of blue. After the sun disappeared, a pitch dark night displayed an amazing array of stars that were reflected off the water as we followed the shoreline. We arrived back to Ulamona with an unbelievable star lineup taking place before us. 

The same room I occupied two nights earlier in the convent awaited my return, and even though there was no electricity, no hot water, a wet and chipped cement floor and fixtures and no real shower, there was a real toilet that flushed and a faucet to wash my hands and to me, it might as well of been the Ritz.

A volcano stands overlooking Ulamona as an ominous reminder of its three eruptions during the past year (2019) that evacuated the entire village- only now people are brave enough to return and rebuild their lives. I was told that the first and second eruptions created a new smaller volcano standing right next to the original while the third eruption mostly flowed underneath both volcanos birthed a baby peak. I prayed that they all remained asleep while we visited the area. 

Sunday mass began with a confirmation class of around 500 youths. The last confirmation took place 4 years earlier. This was one of the Bishop’s first confirmations since his installation and luckily he was comfortable enough to delegate the task to two of his senior priests. With 500 youths, it could have been a very long mass. Again that afternoon was filled with lunch, followed by a celebration that included singing, dancing and gift presentations. 

In the past, Ulanoma welcomed both the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) priests and religious sisters who operated a saw-mill providing the surrounding villages lumber for many years. Unfortunately, the mill burned and all was eventually abandoned. But the church remains and it was almost a replica of the old cathedral in Kimbe.  The missionaries are long gone, but they left behind their buildings and their faith that the villagers embrace and will pass on to the new generation. 

Overall, traveling to the bush was an amazing experience- something truly unexpected.  I want to end my blog on a cute note. I walk to school and it’s about a thirty minute walk. On the corner of the main road and the long road leading to Ruango Junior High is a house with a lot of little children who wave to me every morning and again in the afternoon when I return home. I must have blown them a kiss at one point because now they throw those kisses back at me. It always makes my day in such a cute way. 

Please know that I continue to pray for you as I hope you continue to pray for me. I am discerning whether I should leave at the end of the year or stay for one more year. Please pray with me for God to reveal how long I should stay here in PNG. God bless all of you and - please leave comments. Bye until next time...

Monday, May 11, 2020

My Experience with COVID-19 in PNG

I decided to stay in mission in Kimbe, Papua New Guinea during the COVID-19 pandemic.  I prayed about staying or leaving, and I chose to stay in mission knowing full well of all the complications that came with making that decision. My new assignment this year is to teach Grade 9 English at Ruango Junior High School in the Diocese of Kimbe, PNG. 

After I decided to stay, the country followed the example of other countries by going on lockdown and closing all schools. Schools were canceled for about five weeks and reopened on May 4 for grades 7 and up. Lower grades will resume sometime in the near future. Classes opened on a trial basis and will be closely monitored throughout the month of May. If there are any new cases, schools might be closed again.

Lockdown looks a bit different here in PNG than what I see on TV of what’s happening in the United States and other parts of the world. We still have daily and Sunday Mass in the church in the Diocese of Kimbe. Bishop John Bosco felt confident that his parishioners would defend him if anything should happen to him. The stores shortened their hours and their shelves are stocked with most essentials, however, products coming from other countries are in somewhat short supply. People are required to wash their hands before entering stores and the sale of alcohol is prohibited. The central market is slowly opening but with limited hours. A curfew was put in place from 7pm till 5 am every night, but now the curfew starts at 9pm.  
Unlike many other countries, Papua New Guinea has not felt the full effects of COVID-19. There are only eight reported cases as of today and they all eventually tested negative and also as of today - there are 0 deaths. Some say it’s because PNG is a Christian country that prays together and God has answered their prayers of preventing this virus from entering PNG. Others are saying that it is only a matter of time before it’s PNG ‘s turn to feel the full effects of this dreaded disease, while still others say that it’s the hot climate that kills the virus before it can spread to others. Only time will tell which theory is true or who knows, maybe it’s a combination of all three. Whatever you believe, please continue to pray for a cure and erase COVID -19 pandemic from the world.

School did start on Monday, May 4 with only 79 students out of 190 in Grade 9 in attendance. We had a short orientation for them about Covid-19 and dismissed them at 10:30 am. Tuesday through Friday, we only had around 100 students and we don’t know what to expect for the next few weeks. Will all students show up or will we continue to have low attendance - which would be nice for the sake of the teachers. As far as face masks are concerned, on Monday, only half of the students and staff wore face masks, but by Friday, only about a handful of students wore them. We have water jugs instead of sinks for students to wash their hands and that is a major problem- the health department told us it was a violation of one of the COVID-19 codes, so male students had to dig ditches to install a water line and hopefully soon we will have sinks installed as well. As we begin this ‘new normal’ of school life up until the State of Emergency is finally lifted and everything turns back to ‘normal’ - whatever that will mean, it is a new and most interesting experience for both students and staff alike. 

Church has never really changed except the grand attempt to practice social distancing, prohibit shaking of hands during blessings and greetings and not taking holy communion on the tongue, etc. It is sort of bittersweet to watch St. Bartholomew, my church in Long Beach, California hold their mass on the internet. It’s nice for me being so far away, but my heart aches for my fellow parishioners denied the opportunity to share in the experience, especially during Holy Week and Easter Sunday- and every Sunday for that matter. 

My Holy Week and Easter here in ‘my’ village of Vavua was not celebrated as gloriously as it was celebrated last year (see my blog about my Easter experience last year, 2019) but we did celebrate the vigil mass on Saturday evening in Vavua. I was able to attend the last mass on Easter Sunday which was beautifully celebrated in the village of KoiMumu, a sub parish of Vavua. To avoid social distancing inside the village church, the mass was celebrated at a specially built grotto in the bush right on the beach. The grotto was originally built to celebrate the arrival of the Statue of the Lady of Fatima as it was brought in a boat across the water back in 2015. It was escorted by a flotilla of boats as it made its way to the specially made grotto built in her honor. I can only imagine how beautiful that sight must have been to see and experience. 

So now PNG is trying to slowly lift its lockdown restrictions - joining with other countries to try to keep this virus away as the world fights for an eventual cure- let us all pray together and to embrace only the positive parts of the ‘new normal’ (for me - I like the idea of washing hands and would not mind if this was done on a permanent basis). Social distancing, however, is really not part of the PNG culture and hopefully, will be one restriction that comes to an end. 

Please continue to pray for me as I continue my mission here in PNG and I will pray for you in return as America and the rest of the world begins to lift the many forced restrictions and as a cure is ultimately found to end COVID-19. 

Until next time- God Bless...

Special Note:  I have had a special honor by one of my previous co- workers, Mrs, Mangmial. She asked me to help name her newborn son. I told her my name is Danita and I was named after my Dad, Daniel. My parents were expecting a big boy, but boy were they surprised when they had twin daughters instead. My twin sister is Debra (or Debbie). I was especially honored when she named her son Junior Daniel Mangmial. Pray with me that he grows up healthy and successfully. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Episcopal Ordination

This is February 2020 following a fast pace holiday that began in December. I had the opportunity to return home to rest from the challenges of my first two years here in PNG and prepare for my new assignment this year. I had an amazing time visiting with as many family members, friends as well as my fellow St. Bartholomew parishioners. I wish to thank everyone who made my visit home special. I am truly blessed by your compassion, support, prayers and visits while at home.
It was only a day after arriving back to Kimbe that the Episcopal Ordination of our new Bishop, John Bosco Auram, was about to begin. Jet lag was not going to stop me from attending and the excitement taking place around me was enough to keep me awake. The ordination itself took place outside in a recreational park in the middle of town. 

Saturday, January 25, turned out to be a glorious day - filled with warm sunshine, tribal drum beats from various locations, a large choir rehearsed while parishioners and participants alike anticipated the blessings the day would bring. Many dressed in their decorative bilas (traditional dress) to fulfill their role within the ceremony that was about to take place. It all began on time at 8:30 am with an escort by the warriors who, with their spears dancing joyously, cleared the path for the clergy to slowly meander their way through the wet grass and the gathered crowd toward an authentic stage decorated in the traditional style of PNG.  The priests and Bishops, many visiting from other provinces and countries, Bishop William Fey who can now officially retire, the Archbishop of Rabaul, and the one and only Cardinal of PNG, Cardinal John Ribat were accompanied by the sing-sing of the choir as they sang the entrance hymns.
Each village within the Diocese of Kimbe was well represented, as warriors and/or dancers brought their assigned item(s) to the altar to present to the mass or to the Bishop. Then it came that moment when Bishop-to-be John Bosco Auram was hoisted into the air three times before he was led to the altar to begin his ordination. He was properly ordained during the mass with all the pageantry expected for such an occasion that announced to all that a new Bishop was ready to shepherd his flock in the Diocese of Kimbe. The mass began at 8:30 a.m. and ended at 12:10 p.m. Those of us sitting in the stands, or standing under makeshift palm trees specially placed inside the park, were truly blessed by the mass and the jubilance of all who participated in the mass. 
Prayers must have been continuous by everyone associated with the event as it turned out to be a beautiful day, especially for an outdoor event. I was told that thunderstorms occurred on a daily basis leading up to this blessed day.  

Sunday began just as beautiful too as the installation mass was celebrated again in the park. It was a little sad for me as I said good-bye to Sr Bernadette who had to leave for the airport. She was transferred back to her beloved home of Rabaul. I look forward to visiting her sometime soon as she begins her new assignment. 
On both days, a true PNG lunch and dinner followed both masses with the Religious sharing in the celebration of our new Bishop. I sat with the MSC Sisters and was warmly welcomed back by many who knew I just returned from my holiday. It is so nice to be back. 

Both days continued into the afternoon with speeches from the religious dignitaries, the Bishops, the Archbishop, the Cardinal and prominent religious and village leaders. Of course there were gifts, presentations, and song and dance to finish out the day. Only on Sunday around 5 pm did it decide to rain, but that didn’t stop the dancers who had waited patiently the whole day for their turn to honor the new Bishop. They danced despite the rain and the thunder taking place around them. I was also honored to finally have my opportunity to dance with the Mammas Group at dinner on Sunday night. Cameras were rolling, but unfortunately mine was not one of them. I also had the opportunity to visit with Cardinal John Ribat (Cardinal of PNG and also the uncle to Sr Bernadette). I thanked him for allowing us to stay at his place in Rabaul my first year in PNG and for the  opportunity to meet and stay with his family. We also talked about his visit to the USA the year before. 

Bishop Bill will sadly be leaving PNG at the end of February. I will truly miss our conversations and visits as I say good-bye to my Won-tok (someone who speaks the same language). 

I will hopefully tell you about my new assignment in my next blog as well as my new home on the grounds of the Diocese. So far so good. This is also a great time to finally learn the language of Tok-Pidgin. Again, I thank you for your support, prayers and encouragement during my visit home and as I continue my mission in PNG and I, in return, will pray for you, too. Your comments are always appreciated. 

Thank you and God bless.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Good Eats (of PNG)

I’m borrowing a title from a popular TV show on Food Network for this blog. I wanted to call it ‘Fast food of PNG’, but that doesn’t really exist here. There are no McDonalds or Pizza Hut or Starbucks or any of the fast food chains (sort of funny because of the joke in the USA about how they exist on every street corner and maybe even on the moon - ha- not here in PNG). There are a few Chinese restaurants that try cooking fast food, but I got sick the first time I tried it and that was it. Now I will attempt to describe a few of the more popular cooking techniques used here in Papua New Guinea. 

The most popular cooking technique in PNG is the MUMU, but first I’ll introduce the AIGIR cooking technique - often  described as PNG’s “fast food” method, then I’ll share how they ‘bake’ in a remote village and I will finally end with the most popular one of all, the mumu.  Now, let’s get started:

AIGIR: Cooking Bananas and Greens:

We begin in the PNG ‘kitchen’ making bananas. These are not the sweet Chiquita type bananas, but a more savory cooking type banana. They might be compared to plantains, but PNG has a rich genetic diversity of edible banana species and is home to about 10 wild banana species that range anywhere from the sweet to the savory cooking bananas.  

The AIGIR technique (‘fast food‘) begins with coconuts. Coconuts are first husked using a spear type knife and the outside skin is tossed aside to be used for other purposes. Secondly, the milk is poured out and the meat of the coconut is scraped using a special stool with a knife type scraper at the end. (I kept hearing people scraping coconuts, but it can sound like a washing machine- so the first time I actually saw what they were doing and heard the sound, I had to laugh to myself- nope, they are definitely not washing clothes, but instead- scraping coconuts.)
Hendricka is scrapping the coconuts while Sr Bernadette prepares a fire inside the ‘kitchen’. The whole process is fascinating to watch, especially when they call it ‘fast’ food cooking. I guess fast is a relative term when it comes to the different cooking methods found in PNG. 

The coconuts are husked, then scraped. The ‘meat’ of the coconut is separated from the milk. The greens and the coconut are then boiled together on the outside fire - located outside the inside ‘kitchen’. 

Greens called iaibica and another called Kumu Mosum in pidgin are first rolled by hand to soften them. The stones from the outdoor  ‘kitchen’ are brought inside and put into water to release the steam, then the hot stones are placed in the coconut milk. The iaibica is placed on top of the hot stones that ends up cooking them- then more coconut milk is poured on top. Canned fish (or any protein- fresh of course is better, but canned if there is nothing else) is stirred inside the greens.  
Meanwhile, the bananas are boiled inside the coconut milk until they are done.

When the stones cool, they are replaced by hot ones. The greens are then covered for about 5 minutes or so- then the bananas are put on a plate or in a dish, topped with the greens, the coconut cream is poured over all of it and it is ready to eat. 

It is a savory dish despite the bananas and coconut- the greens are similar to spinach and the entire combination is just plain Yum!


In ‘my’ village of Vavua, Fr Bennet began two projects that should assist his parish to survive financially. He built a shelter for pigs and it’s the parishioners’ job to take care of them. He then bought special outdoor ovens and converted one of his buildings on the parish grounds as the ‘baking’ house.

In the morning of the designated baking day (at this point it’s either Tuesday or Saturday), Pricilla, his cook, will mix the flour and yeast and let it rise on a baking table. Each village in his parish is assigned either a Tuesday or Saturday. These women come to the baking house in the morning and roll the dough into individual rolls, put them on large baking sheets and then they are ready to bake. They are put inside the outdoor ovens until baked, then sold for 50 toya each. Some are taken to the small stores within the village and all the money earned is given to the parish. People look forward to buying these rolls, especially when they are still warm right out of the oven. 

I had the opportunity to join the bakers on Tuesday and met some beautiful women who introduced themselves and shared stories of their lives in the village. One woman was from the Island of Bougainville. I showed her a video of me dancing with the Buka students during cultural day at Caritas and it brought tears to her eyes. The stories and the friendly conversation made the time fly and soon the rolls were baked and ready to sell. The baking house and tables were cleaned and made ready for the next baking day. I felt honored to join them as a baker for a day.
 The Mumu

A mumu is when a protein (pig, chicken, fish, etc.) and vegetables such as taro, potatoes - both white and sweet, bananas, etc. are roasted in a ground oven. It is a traditional method of cooking large quantities of food for celebrations in Papua New Guinea. It involves digging a pit, filling it with hot rocks, adding food, then burying the whole lot for hours so it can cook and be ready to eat. 
The mumu is similar to roasting, but that is where the similarities end. The food can either be mumued dry or soaked in coconut milk. 

While the hot stones are heated, the food can be prepared with coconut cream scraped from coconuts, once again by using the special stool with the scraping knife at the end, and the food is then wrapped in large banana leaves that are usually prepared over the same fire that is heating the stones. The banana wrapped food is placed on top of a few hot stones, then the remaining stones are placed on top and covered with more banana leaves. The mumu is usually left for about four hours or, depending on what’s cooking, may sometimes be left overnight. All the food is cooked together while the steam helps keeps the leaves and food moist.

Mumu is a rich and cherished part of the culture in PNG. 'Mumurised' food is rich in flavor and this makes it preferable to food baked in a conventional oven. Cooking food using the mumu technique seems convenient to the people of PNG, but can be labor intensive, especially to someone like me, but the flavor is unbelievably delicious. 
As you can see, the Good Eats of PNG is something quite different than what we are used to in America, but the results are yummy and I look forward to the next occasion to have a mumu. 

I had my students put on the board their favorite foods. Look at the picture and enlarge it. How many can you recognize and how is it different than what you might see on an American chalkboard.  No McDonalds here and because I baked a few cakes for my class- it was written on the board. Interesting!
 I want to thank you again for your prayers and support. Please know that I will be leaving Caritas and venturing out to the villages for the next school year. More details of my new assignment will come in my next blog - so stay tuned till next time and feel free to leave comments. I’ll pray for you as I hope you are praying for me. Happy Thanksgiving back home. No turkey here, but I’ll pass you the greens and bananas soaked in coconut- yum...

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Return to Vavua for a Special Celebration

On the weekend of July 20 - 21, 2019, Fr Bernard (Fr Bennet) the parish priest of The Village of Vavua celebrated his 6th Anniversary of his ordination as a priest and I was honored to be invited to join him on his special day. I was also invited to dance with the Mommas Group from the Diocese of Kimbe. What an honor. 
On Friday night, we met at Momma Helens house in Section 15 in Kimbe where I was shown the dance routines and we practiced together. We ate a delicious fish dinner made with greens and coconut milk and cooked over an open fire. Yum!

We then proceeded to another Mommas home where we, once again, practiced the dances and the songs we would sing on Sunday. There were between 20-25 of us and it was so much fun to be part of this event. 
Saturday, I waited the entire day for transportation, something that is a true problem here in PNG. I finally got on the last truck traveling to Vavua. One group went in the morning, another in the afternoon and my group didn’t leave till 8 pm. We basically traveled at night and made it to Vavua in 3 hours. The ride was slow due to the many potholes and the truck itself was loaded with people riding in the back. We were warmly greeted at 11 pm by Fr Bennet. 

On Sunday, I dressed in my Mommas meri-blouse and was dressed by the Mommas group in my PNG ‘jewelry’. In other words, leaves, flowers and face paint. I felt honored and accepted by this group. We danced up the isle during offertory and sang songs for half of the liturgy. After mass, I was invited to sit on the stage and was wonderfully overwhelmed as I watched the various communities of his parish preparing themselves for their dance, song and gift presentations for Fr Bennet’s Anniversary. The communities were marching and practicing in various places around the church and spilling out to the roadway. The songs, the colors, the pageantry taking place spoke to the popularity of Fr Bennet and how he makes a difference in their lives. He is very well liked and it showed. 
Each community took their turn at their presentations and finally it was my turn to dance with the Mommas of the Diocese of Kimbe. We sang him two songs and then danced two dances. How fun!! I loved it!
After the dance, there was just enough time to go swimming in the ocean and I did just that. I was joined by a few pikininis (children) from the village and the water was warm and inviting. But too soon, transportation was available to take us home- back to Kimbe. We said our final congratulations and good byes to Fr Bennet and off we went. This time, it took two in a half hours to get home.

A few other notes: 

My Director, Janice England, visited Maria and I here in Kimbe. It was nice to see her and to receive a few goodies from home. We thank her for her visit. 

After his two month holiday, Bishop Bill returns to Kimbe. Hopefully, the cathedral will begin to be built now that he is finally home here in Kimbe. 

Please pray for me as I continue my mission here in Kimbe. Please pray for the Sisters of Caritas as well as the staff and students. I will also be praying for you. 

In July we had a two week break, but couldn’t go anywhere because of a volcano that erupted in the village of Ulamona- about 2-3 hours away and it played havoc here in Kimbe where we got showered with ash - everything had to be cleaned. The people of Ulamona had to be evacuated and we felt the aftermath here in Kumbe.  Fr Gabriel, our parish priest here in Kimbe grew up in Ulamona and has been back and forth assisting his own family as they face this tragedy. Please pray for the village of Ulamona and the surrounding area as they continue to recover. 

Feel free to leave comments. Have a wonderful day... until next time... God bless.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Holy Week and Easter

Holy Week is always a special week for me and I can’t believe this is my second year already in Papua New Guinea. Last year, I had just arrived along with Ron and Karen when we were initiated into the West New Britain culture of PNG as we boarded onto the Bishop’s dinghy, the Vatican flag waving away and 5 hours later arriving in Kahlia where we spent The Passion Sunday weekend. We attended Saturday Mass where over 200 people were confirmed in Bariai and celebrated Palm Sunday in Kahlia. Then spent Holy Week beginning with the chrism mass on Wednesday night through Easter Sunday in Kimbe. 

This year did not disappoint. On The Feast Day of St Joseph, Maria, my fellow American missionary, and I went to the village of Valipai. This was on a Tuesday, where we received special permission in advance from the Sisters to attend the confirmation of about 100 youth. I was able to get to know Fr Joseck, the Parish Priest, better while attending the Melanesian Institute together in Goroka in January and it was an honor to support him in his mission at his parish in Valapai. On the way home, it rained so hard and the roads were so muddy that the Bishop’s truck rolled into a ditch. Maria and I along with the two Brothers and the villagers traveling with us had to vacate the truck and walk up that road in pouring rain until the truck could pick us up again on top of the hill. We were wet, we were muddy, but, oh, what an adventure (especially now that I’m clean and dry).

The weekend before Passion Weekend, I was asked by Fr Bennet to facilitate a one day workshop in ‘my’ village of Vavua. I was greeted on Friday night by the student leaders dressed in their ceremonial outfits and escorted by the villagers to the parish hall where I was warmly welcomed. Saturday, I facilitated the youth workshop to over 100 youths representing 5 villages in the Vavua Parish. My workshop centered on how setting Goals are very important in each of their young lives. GOALS - G- God, O- Opportunities, A- Achievement, L- Love = S- Success. On Saturday night, the youth were joined by about another 100+ children and a few adults to watch a movie, unfortunately, the movie did not play correctly - the disappointment was felt throughout that entire hall. Other than the movie and Maria, my fellow American missionary who was to be our other facilitator, but who could not make it, the youth weekend was a success and ended on Sunday with a thank you celebration. Again, I felt so honored. 
Wednesday of Holy Week, I was picked up by Fr Bennet and taken back to Vavua to spend Easter again in ‘my’ village. The villagers welcomed me warmly. I was able to walk and visit a few of the communities in the Vavua Parish, pick and eat fresh fruit right off the trees and swim in the ocean. 

I attended Holy Thursday Mass in the packed church, once again, many people were outside looking through the windows. On Good Friday, we began the Stations of the Cross processional beginning in one village and ended up at the church in Vavua. It was simply beautiful to participate while the crowd swelled with at least 500 or more parishioners joining our processional along that potholed road with very few vehicles (I think only one or two at the most) who waited patiently until we passed. Friday at 3, the church was packed and as if on cue, the heavens opened with a major storm complete with all the theatrics of thunder and lightening that truly proved it was Good Friday. That night ended with the full moon over the ocean and the Southern Cross shining beautifully in all its glory. It was the first time I was finally able to see it and it was visible enough that I had to bring Fr Bennet outside for him to see it for himself. I think it was the first time he saw it as well. On Good Friday yet! God is so awesome! Just Beautiful!

For the Saturday Vigil, I was again honored by ‘my’ village when I was asked to dance up the isle at the beginning of the Mass with the women while wearing traditional village attire and face paint. The leaves and flowers added an additional aromatic fragrance to the almost 4 hour Mass that night. The Easter vigil is my most favorite Mass of the liturgical year and this Mass was just beautiful. The songs sung by the different villages made it extra special.  

The Caritas Sisters, Beatrice, a Korean volunteer, along with my fellow American missionary, Maria and a visiting American missionary, Matthew, who is stationed in Rabaul were able to join us in Vavua for the Sunday Easter Mass. I think they were surprised to find how warm the villagers were as they were greeted upon arrival. Fr Bennet invited them to attend a second mass in a neighboring village where they were again warmly welcomed. That village prepared a lunch for them that they were able to enjoy while overlooking the ocean.  

I was supposed to join them in the next village, but ended up walking with a group of women in PNG style. I met Margret, one of the teachers at the primary school across the street. I met her husband, the director of the school, and her family. They prepared chicken and taro for a small snack as we visited. Then we finally got on our way down the street, picking up other women along the way. Of course, we had to stop along the way to wait for some beetle nut, some mustard greens and lime. By the time we made it to the next village, Mass was over and Fr Bennet and the Caritas caravan was on their way back to Vavua. I heard that everyone enjoyed themselves that fine Easter Sunday.  

In PNG, Easter is followed by Easter Monday when most all the stores are closed and it is a day of rest. It was nice to have one last day in ‘my’ village before beginning another school week. I enjoyed swimming in the ocean. One of the biggest honors for me is that ‘my’ village gave me a village name. At first, they were going to name me after their river, but when I found out that it meant Jump in English, I persuaded them to name me after a flower instead. So my name is Gili-Gili which means Hibiscus, a more appropriate name after all. I like the Hibiscus flowers and they remind me of Florida. The name Vavua itself means small seed- yup, that’s what I am. 
So again, this year, Easter was an enjoyable time and the opportunity to celebrate in ‘my’ village made it extra special. I continue to pray for all of you as I hope you are praying for me. At this time, I am asking for extra prayers of support as I continue to volunteer as a teacher. It’s very challenging for me as many of my students don’t have the textbooks needed to teach them properly. Please pray for the Sisters, my students, my staff and the Diocese of Kimbe. I welcome your comments.

Until next time, God Bless...

Friday, March 29, 2019

Melanesian Institute Part 1: The Good

The Melanesian Institute was a wonderful experience. There were 13 priests, 4 Religious Sisters, 4 Religious Brothers and two Lay Missionaries. They all represented the world and I was the only American. Goroka was so nice and the weather was cool and refreshing. We had three weeks of training (beginning January 7) and I developed great new friendships.  

The seminar itself was very good. It answered questions about my mission and helped to put my almost first year experiences into perspective. We had many opportunities to share our various experiences and received many great suggestions and ideas on how to help us move forward in our mission. 
We were put into groups and had to come up with a few dances and mini plays for our Saturday night get-togethers. My group had a Priest from China, a Priest from Mawai, a Priest from Kenya, a Sister from Nigeria, a Brother from India and me. We actually won one of the cultural competitions. I was so proud of my group and we had so much fun together. We left with some great memories. 
A few of us had a chance to visit the Don Bosco School in Shindu Province as a side field trip. It took us 3.5 hours to get there, but a beautiful drive through the mountains. That was a special day with a few of my fellow missionaries who were associated with St. Don Bosco. The church was very nicely decorated and the community spirit was warm.  

A few of us took another e- ride adventure as we drove to the top of one of the Goroka mountains (the 4 wheel drive was necessary) where we toured an outhouse commode and shower making factory. We saw how they manufacture and install them under sanitation regulations. The ones they had completed were locked and we could not see inside, but was told there was a small sink to wash your hands. ???? Would have liked to see proof of that.

The grounds were beautifully landscaped and lush with flowers, trees, fruit, a waterfall and other beautiful vegetation. There were animals there as well and the view was awesome. The clouds parted and the mountains and valleys opened up. But again the road was a dirt road filled with potholes where a four wheel drive was necessary, especially after the continuous rains during the rainy season in PNG. This e-ride adventure took about two hours. The countryside, the village huts along the way were always nice to see.  
The meals were really good and very tasty and nourishing. But what was truly interesting, no dessert besides fresh fruit. Nothing. At an American seminar, there would be all kinds of goodies - cakes, cookies, ice cream, candy of all varieties, etc.  Here - no sweets except ice cream and cake for feast days and special occasions (a birthday or two). 

Our last day in Goroka, we had an international food fest where we made a dish representing our culture. Fr Jacek, a Polish Priest from my own diocese of Kimbe helped  me make stuffed cabbage representing my Polish background and his country of Poland. I can’t believe I made this dish, but the cabbage was just so beautiful in the market place and I was so hungry for it, too.  If Fr Jacek wasn’t here, I probably would have kept with something really simple, like guacamole- the avocados were nice too. There was a variety of food to sample from different countries. It was especially fun going from kitchen to kitchen with others making dishes representing their countries and sampling the food they were making. Everyone was joyful and proud of their cultures and were eager to share what they had. Everyone who tried our stuffed cabbage, some eating it for the first time, enjoyed it and it was yummy.  

I just wish I could have taken the weather of Goroka and transport it to Kimbe. I bought lettuce to take back with me to Kimbe, something you cannot always get in Kimbe. 

This is the end of part one (the good...) of my Melanesian Institute experience. Thank you again for your support and prayers. God bless you all and I welcome your comments.

My Journey to the Bush of PNG

Expect the unexpected is the latest slogan for PNG and traveling to the bush is one unexpected breathe-taking beauty of a ride through a l...