December 20th started early, with Jeff, Maggie and I piling into the Land Cruiser. We were going to Kaipale for their special Christmas service. Pastor Ki had invited Jeff to come and preach.
The sun was shining, the air was barely warm, and the road was rough — as always. As we drove, we looked out over the trees and watched the warmth create clouds from the hillsides. We rose over 3000 feet as we drove from Birip to Sirunki. We were no longer in a valley, but were on the saddle of the mountain range. We drove by Lake Sirunki where many LCMS missionary families used to go to relax and play with their families. The warm air turned cool. Everything just felt good.
Jeff parked the Land Cruiser at the gate and about a hundred people lined up along the path from the car to the door of the church. We shook hands with men, women, children, and lapuns (elderly). Greetings of “Merry Christmas” were exchanged, even by those who only speak Engan, because “Merry Christmas” is “Merry Christmas” in Engan (it is always interesting to see what words have made it into Engan from English). I can never get over the welcomes we receive, especially from the lapuns. Most of them don’t speak a word of English or Tok Pisin, but their joy is substantial. They shake my hand with energy, speaking rapidly in Enga. They consider the time when the missionaries were in Enga before as a golden age, a time when things were good. Since they left, times have been hard. They see our faces, and they have hope that things will come better again. It is humbling.
The guitars started playing as we sat down on the bench to the side of the chancel. The guitars play harder and the people sing louder when the missionaries come. A woman was sitting there already with a young baby in her bilum. She let Maggie and me peek inside “Her name is Michelle,” the mom said. “She is getting baptized today. Another mom sat down with a very handsome baby boy.
The service started, and Pastor Ki’s warmth reflected from his eyes and his smile as he conducted the liturgy both in Engan and Tok Pisin. Jeff got up and preached the sermon.
Kaipale is one congregation in Sirunki. Sirunki is the center of The Spirit Movement, a false teaching that proclaims that the Father created the world and then went away. The Son redeemed the world and then went away. Now is the time of the Spirit — and dreams, prophecy, and intuition are better than Holy Scripture. Kaipale is faithful to Scripture and orthodox Christianity and it is important to keep them strong. The God who was born a baby and died on the cross to save them has not left and forgotten them. In Heaven, He continues to love them, to prepare a place for them, to sit at the right hand of God the Father, who is also caring for them and providing them with their daily bread.
After the sermon came the baptisms — seven people stood in the first row in front of the chancel. Six mothers holding six babies, and one old man. Behind each of the women, forming a second row, was a man — the father of each baby. In baptisms here, the mother holds each baby upright, and the pastor goes by and baptizes each one, taking water from a bowl held by someone next to him. Today, Jeff baptized each person as Pastor Ki held the bowl. I could see the water pouring from Jeff’s hand over each head. When everyone took their seats again, seven small puddles sat on the floor.
Two young female confirmands came forward. The head man and head meri, the layleaders of the congregation, came forward and stood beside them to show that they had been examined and accepted. The faith these young women professed was the faith of the Bible and that congregation. Pastor Ki stood behind, with his hand on each woman’s head as Jeff blessed them, one at a time.
Then Holy Communion. Everyone lined up for Christmas Communion. All of the congregations in the area have not been able to have communion for a while. Pastor Danny, who usually brings communion wine from Lae, had his last shipment confiscated by the police, despite having a letter from the police chief. So today, Communion was especially joyful.
More songs and then more handshakes and joy. A three hour service full of good teaching and the joy of bringing people dead in their sins into Christ through baptism. If it had been five hours, it would still be too short.
The faith, the joy, and the perseverence of the Engans always brings us so much joy. “I can’t believe they pay me to do this.” Jeff whispered to me in the middle of the service. In a period of leaving the country, re-entering the country, and possibly re-leaving the country over and over again — it can be hard to remember this. It had been ten months since I’d been able to go out with Jeff when he preached. Being in the congregations always grounds me and reminds me why God has brought us here. It truly is an honor and a privilege to work among these people who need the assurance of God’s love, and in return, give the same reassurance.