The “All the Orchids” Story

Around Timothy Seminary, there are many orchids.  Many, many orchids. And they are there because of a pastor who wanted just a few orchids — and the complications of Papua New Guinean culture.

Every missionary or expat who lives in a different culture has stories that they are proud of — where they felt they mastered a situation that seemed unmasterable… and there are stories that leave them shaking their head and shrugging their shoulders. This one is the latter — but at least it also meant pretty flowers.

A Festival in Wabag

On a sunny, balmy day Jeff and the kids went to a festival in Wabag where they saw a multitude of interesting things.  Among them, Jeff happily reported, there was a man selling orchids.

When Jeff asked about buying some orchids, the man said the ones he had there weren’t for sale (???) but that he would bring some by.  He didn’t ask where we lived. Everyone in the province (it seemed) knew where the white missionaries lived.

Jeff returned home and pretty much forgot about it. Weeks went by.

Then one morning…

…we woke up to people chattering outside our bedroom window.  People walking on the trail that runs next to our house on the other side of the fence isn’t unusual — and they are often talking and singing.

This was different. Even though we still understood maybe 5 words in Enga, we could tell it sounded tense.

Jeff put on his clothes and went outside. He returned a little while later.


Things were PNG complicated

The orchid guy and his cousin had shown up, bringing orchids for Jeff. Only thing is, a lot of people weren’t happy about their being there. These guys were related to a guy who had been accused of murdering someone up in Irelya (which is why these guys didn’t show up for a while. They were wanting to keep their word, but also waiting until things calmed down). The kid who was killed was related to a dear friend of ours.

This put us in a hard place as “the missionaries.”  If we backed out of buying orchids from this guy, we’d get the reputation of not keeping our word, but we also couldn’t offend the people we lived with, and most especially, our dear friends.

So we talked with our friends. John had taken it upon himself to be our cultural guide, and he knew these guys weren’t responsible, but that there was a way to do things and he saw our situation, too.  He suggested that we keep our word, but don’t meet with the guy in Birip.birip orchids.jpg

A Reasonable Solution…Maybe

So things had gotten a little more complicated, but that seemed like a reasonable solution, so Jeff moved forward with that…not to mention that he was happy he was going to get a few orchids.


Traim Tasol Strikes Again

There’s a basic principle in PNG morality — especially in dealing with people that are from other tribes or who have money, etc.  It’s called “traim tasol” which translates to “just give it a try.” You are obligated to treat your tribe member fairly, but with others, “see what you can get away with” often comes into play.

Jeff arranged to meet with the guy a few villages down the road, but when he got out of the Land Cruiser, to pick out a few orchids from the bounty that they brought, the guys simply started loading ALL the orchids into our car.  And after all that had already happened, alone in a different village, Jeff didn’t quite feel comfortable correcting the situation. So a few orchids became something like eighty.

All’s Well…

So somewhere, there was a communication misstep or we were just taken advantage of, but the guy was also very nice and wanted us to be happy in our orchid bounty. He got permission to come onto the seminary campus and help us place them around our yard and around the campus.

The picture above was taken by Beth Ritzman, and while it wasn’t blooming when the picture was taken, you certainly can see that it has had many blooms and has blessed Birip with its beauty.  That makes us smile.



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