WARNING: Some of the pictures below show people in traditional Yetfa dress and may not be appropriate for all ages.
That’s how the celebration began and it only got better!
Not too far behind us Pak Abi – the Indonesian missionary primarily responsible for bringing the gospel to the Yetfa people – and crew arrived. They had the same reception, but with many more tears. Grown men, old men… men who prior to the gospel coming (and even after) shot and killed others for any opposition… were crying uncontrollably and embracing Pak Abi.
Not to be left out, Kel and the boys joined in the dancing – war paint and all!
We were then left alone to get things in order around the house, but that evening a group of men came over to discuss the plans for the weekend. Before we left last time, I had sat down with a few of the leaders and discussed what we might do throughout the celebration. Then, after we came back to Sentani, they formed a committee and really went to town on the planning.
Friday was a focus on traditional Yetfa culture prior to the gospel coming.
Saturday was about when the gospel first came.
Sunday was about the present, particularly focusing on the emergence of God’s Word in their own language.
Friday began with a frenzy of activity.
It began early with putting tarps on as the roof of the large, make-shift tent structure they had built. Then I met with the 17 Yetfa speakers who had each been memorizing one of the translated Scripture stories. This was what I was most anxious about! I had turned the task of getting that group ready completely over to Sion and Jeri. Everybody arrived fairly quickly and lined up in chronological order. And then it began… One-by-one they cited from memory their portion of the overarching story of salvation – from Genesis to Pentecost.
I was in tears.
Although, along the way, I had heard and scrutinized every word in those 17 stories, I had never heard them as a single story. It was powerful! I was moved, even more so because we had worked so hard so that the stories were faithful to Scripture but also short enough and simple enough to be memorized and retold. They have a clear progression and message of salvation.
I was so proud of how well they had memorized each story. I went home and told Kel that I could completely relax and enjoy the weekend now that I knew that that part of the celebration was covered.
After that we scrambled around the house getting ready for our guests to arrive.
Two plane loads of people who had been involved in (or represented organizations that had been involved in) the gospel entering the Yetfa area arrived around noon. The war dance and parade was repeated for each one. After the second plane arrived and dance ended, Bob Cochran, who has been our primary consultant for the story set, was equipped with a traditional Yetfa bow and arrow and whisked away. He was given the honor of shooting (or being the first of about 10 people to shoot) the second of two hogs that they were cooking for a celebration meal.
That was the beginning of several demonstrations of traditional Yetfa culture.
Next they demonstrated how they cut up and cook the hog with hot rocks. Then how they traditionally prepared ‘ple’ (the gooy, starchy food made from the sago tree) without any modern tools, boiling water with hot rocks inside a basket made from a single leaf. Finally, there was a demonstration of how they used to start a fire.
We had two videographers on hand to document the whole weekend, and a lot of this was done to help preserve the memory of their quickly changing culture.
After that the guests were given a chance to rest a bit and get settled.
While we were waiting for the food, a young lady came to the house with a gnarly cut on her leg. So I stitched her up.
Finally the feast began. There were two 55 gallon drums full of rice, wash tubs of noodles, piles of ‘ple’ and hog meat, and a host of people! Unfortunately, as ‘special guests’, we were seated separately from most of the people, so that was a bit awkward, but at the end, we finally got to mingle a bit.
After the meal, we went back to the house for one of the highlights of the weekend!
One of the ‘additions’ to the celebration that the committee had planned was a wedding – a wedding for any and everybody who wanted to get ‘officially’ married! We were asked (on the spot!) to provide some premarital counseling. So that evening, about 8 couples came to our house. Most were going to be newly weds but a few had been living as husband and wife without a ‘proper wedding’ and two couples had been married since before the gospel came and had just never had a ‘church wedding’ – including Sion’s mom and dad!
I led out, with our guests adding insight and counsel along the way. It was a great time and a true thrill for me. We’ve had a lot of involvement with most of the young couples. One of the young grooms, Jonathon, was our first tutor in the Yetfa language, so it was similar to counseling kids who had graduated from our youth group.
The day ended with me showing a short film of photos that I had borrowed and scanned – photos from the very early days, even before the airstrip had been finished.
It was a long, but rich day!
Saturday centered around a single service. It began with singing. Then a crew from Bias put on a war drama and a demonstration of how the first Christians who came would break up the battles. Then a group from a neighboring village across the border in Papua New Guinea presented several skits. Then began a series of testimonies telling how first contact had been made, the names and order of various people who had come in to the Yetfa area, and how the gospel was first received. It was a time of looking back.
That afternoon was fairly relaxed, although one of the videographers and I spent the rest of the day filming testimonies from others who didn’t speak in the service. They shared about the changes the gospel had brought about in their people. It was all done in Yetfa and was directed towards future generations who would not remember what it was like before God’s Word came. It was a preservation of the living memory, and the common themes were “We were in darkness. We killed people. We stole from each other. We killed people for stealing from us. We worshiped evil spirits. We didn’t know God. We were always afraid – afraid of trees, rocks, holes in the ground, bodies of water, spirits, people, nighttime. But when the gospel came, we stopped being afraid.”
That evening we had a special time of prayer for the first-time telling of God’s word through the stories we had worked on in their entirety!
The next day, after a night of heavy rain, I got up early for a last practice with the storytellers. When I got to the big tent, it had been nearly completely knocked down by the rain. I, honestly, thought that it was a loss and started thinking about alternative places where we could gather. About that time a few guys came up, then they began to call for others. Before I knew it, we were cutting things up, tearing the wreck apart, rebuilding it. Others were running out to the jungle to cut new wood to replace broken pieces, and in no time at all, the tent was as good as new.
We gathered for the practice and everybody did great. We had prayer and then ran home to get ready.
The early part of the service was packed with songs and testimonies, but finally it came time for the stories. Then, for the first time, the wider community heard the story of God’s salvation clearly and carefully translated into their own language. When the last story was finished, one of the storytellers shouted out, “We have to tell others this good news!”, and all 17 storytellers ran out of the tent. Then Jeri preached a message based on a primary theme of the story set – ‘do not fear’.
It was a fantastic start to a new phase of God’s work in the Yetfa area! A phase where the fog and confusion of trying to understand God’s Word through a foreign language is removed.
At one point we were sitting and talking about the weekend and God’s Word, and Bob said, “Imagine if you went your whole life and never heard God’s Word in English, in your own language.” It’s an incredible and difficult thought! And this weekend was intended to be the sunrise of God’s Word in the Yetfa area. The last 20 years have been the predawn, where the light is beginning to push the dark away, but there is not yet direct sunlight.
It was a great weekend!
After the main service, we weren’t finished. We had us a wedding! A wedding I will never forget!!!
All the couples who had participated in the counseling were called up front. As we prepared for the ceremony, a few other couples came forward and wanted to join in so that their current marriage would be ‘official’. In the end, I think we had 12 couples.
We lined the men up on one side and the women up on the other. I said a few opening words, then I read the story of the creation of Eve in Yetfa. When we got to the part where God had created Eve and then brought her to Adam, Pak Abi and Pak Yos represented God and one-by-one brought each woman to her groom. Then each man responded in Yetfa, “This woman is a match for me”. Then people came up and prayed for each couple.
After that we had a baptismal service! Five people who had already accepted Christ as their savior were baptized. Each person gave an excellent testimony about their repentance and personal trust in Jesus for forgiveness and salvation. One of the young men, Marten, was convicted of his need for baptism that morning after hearing the story of Pentecost in his own language.
It was the perfect ending to an amazing weekend!