The machete wound probably wouldn’t require stitches, but infection was a real danger in tropical Papua New Guinea (PNG). I wrapped a clean cloth around my bleeding finger, angry with myself for being careless.
“Lord, what am I doing here?” I questioned. “How am I serving You? What does skinning bark off logs have to do with mission work? “
New to PNG, I was homesick and the knot in my stomach wouldn’t go away. At night I dreamed of friends and family back home.
When we had arrived six weeks earlier, my husband Dennis and I were assigned to work at Jonita Center. It was a small regional center providing services for seven Bible translation teams. Harry and Natalia Weimer, a couple in their 50s, were doing Bible translation at the center and did not have time to meet planes, buy supplies for teams, maintain the generator, do bookkeeping and care for overnight guests. Those would be our responsibilities. In addition, my husband, trained as an industrial arts teacher, would do some construction, including our house.
When we arrived at the small airport in a single-engine Cessna, the heat and humidity overwhelmed us. Doug Parrington, a translator, was waiting for us in a pickup truck. Harry and Natalia were also in the truck, waiting to board the plane on which we had just arrived.
We knew that Natalia had been ill for some time with a stiff neck and bad headaches which puzzled the local doctor, but her condition shocked us. She was sedated and unresponsive to the activity going on around her.
“We’ve decided to go to Ukarumpa (the main mission center) to see the doctor there,” said Harry as he gently lifted his wife out of the truck. “We’ll probably be gone for three months until Natalia is better. In the meantime, you can live in our house while you’re building your own.”
Harry was supposed to supervise our work. Now what?
So here we were, skinning bark off logs cut in the jungle to make posts for our house. An area had already been cleared for us in the jungle.
Doug and Margaret Parrington decided to do their translation at Jonita Center so we wouldn’t be alone. We welcomed their advice when shopping for supplies in unfamiliar stores in town.
Part of our building material was “bush material,” part was log off-cuts purchased locally, and some lumber had been ordered from a coastal city.
When our lumber order finally arrived, Dennis inspected it. Puzzled, he said, “I know I ordered roof rafters and floor joists . . . but this shipment contains only flooring.” Straightening out the order took months.
The news of Natalia’s condition wasn’t encouraging. The mission doctor checked her for cerebral malaria and encephalitis, tropical diseases affecting the brain. These were ruled out, but without proper diagnostic equipment, he reached no diagnosis. Harry arranged to take her to Australia for medical help.
Then one day the sad news came. Natalia was diagnosed with an inoperable cancerous brain tumor—and the next day she died. We were shocked.
What Would We Do?
Grieving deeply, Harry made funeral arrangements, and Natalia was buried in the little cemetery in Ukarumpa. He then told us he would be back at Jonita Center in two weeks. We would need other housing.
What would we do? Our money was tied up in building supplies, and house building had reached a standstill. Arranging housing at another mission down the road wasn’t practical without transportation. Then we had an idea. With $200 we had left, we put up a 12- by-15 foot workshop to live in temporarily.
In our haste, we had failed to put down a moisture barrier (a sheet of plastic) when pouring the concrete floor—a big mistake. Our floor was always damp; sand stuck to our feet and stuck to the damp floor.
Before going to sleep, we would brush sand out of our bed with our pillows and brush off our feet, a ritual repeated nightly. The room was constantly damp, and our “Sunday best,” would often be freckled with mildew. Leather belts turned green. Cockroaches played in the open cupboard Dennis built, and one night a snake slithered up our window screen, looking for an opening to squeeze through.
“I hate this place!” I shouted tearfully one night, feeling depressed. I directed my anger toward my shocked husband. “I hate the roaches, the snakes, and the sand. When will I ever have a place I can call home?”
For emphasis, I stomped on empty egg cartons I had been saving, and kicked them across the floor. Not only did I not feel better, I now felt guilty for my lack of self-control.
Why Am I Here?
Back at the center, Harry resumed his Bible translation. Having completed one New Testament several years earlier, he tackled two related languages with 14-year old boys as national translators. He would go over the passage with them, and they changed the words which were different in their own languages.
Natalia had been Harry’s typist, and now I took over typing from hand-written manuscripts. I sweltered in 90+ degree weather, while using a Remington manual typewriter patented in 1926. (We had electricity for only four hours nightly.)
During the time we lived in Harry’s house, I had inadvertently read his written request to the branch director of our mission for a couple to manage the center. He wanted the wife to be a 60-word-per-minute typist who would be able to train Papua New Guineans in typing. I had once managed 45 words per minute and certainly couldn’t train anyone else.
But Harry didn’t get the couple to match his request perfectly, and wrapped up in his own grief over his wife’s death, he said little about my help. I mistakenly assumed he was disappointed with me and my ability. “Lord, why am I here? I’m not at all what Harry wanted.”
Then one day Jim Parlier, our regional director, stopped at our center on his way to the village where he worked. He and his wife Jaki had just completed a New Testament translation (1976) in Managalasi language.
Just great, I thought. The last thing I need right now is an evaluation of how we’re doing.
Accepting a cup of tea, Jim sat down at our table, and asked us how things were going. The conversation was strained as I choked back tears.
Sensing our uneasiness, Jim began a story.
“When Jaki and I first moved to the village, it was really rough. We were isolated; the Managalasi villagers didn’t understand why we were there. We were often discouraged … so discouraged we thought about quitting many times,” he said, pausing to reminisce.
“Do you know what made the difference?” he continued. “Chululu, a young village man, was mean and people were afraid of him. But he was the best reader in the village, so we had him check our translated Scripture. God’s Word spoke to him, and after he accepted the Lord, his life was completely transformed.
“The Lord used Chululu to show us what we were doing was valuable to Him,” said Jim as he finished his tea. “The Lord wouldn’t let us quit.”
Then Jim turned to me. “Harry appreciates the typing you are doing. If he didn’t have someone to type for him, he couldn’t continue his translation.”
That was a turning point for me.
Nothing in our workshop house changed. The sand and mildew were still there, and we had to live in the workshop another six months before our house was built.
I was the one who changed. Suddenly I saw that the Lord was more interested in my availability than my ability. I was making a difference for eternity —and Jonita Center became a place to call home.
This article first appeared in the spring 2001 issue of Word Alive Magazine. Janet’s story took place in 1977. She continued typing for Harry Weimer for nearly three years, during which time the rough drafts of the Moixodi and Aneme Wake New Testaments were completed. The Seevers spent four years working with Wycliffe in PNG. Janet has served with Wycliffe a total of 43 years, now in Calgary as part of the prayer team.