As Though He Needed Anything
Article introduced by Matthew Barrett–
If you only have time to read one article in the last issue of Credo Magazine, “Make Disciples of All Nations,” read and re-read the article by the Housley family titled “As Though He Needed Anything.” Bill and Kelley Housley are missionaries to the Inapang people in Papua New Guinea. Read and listen to how they presented the storyline of Scripture and the gospel to this unreached people for the very first time! You will simply be amazed at how God has worked to save so many upon hearing the gospel. And you will also be amazed at the steadfast work of the Housley family. Bill has spent countless hours translating the Scriptures and the work he is doing there is truly groundbreaking. Please continue to pray for the Housley family as they are preparing to also take the gospel to surrounding villages. In my estimation, Bill is our modern day Jim Elliot or Adoniram Judson, and that is no exaggeration. Enough of me talking, read the article for yourself. You can read the article with lots of good on-the-ground pictures in the digital magazine. Or if you just want the text, here it is:
We were sitting in the middle of the small Sunday school classroom at Clifton Baptist Church, in Louisville, Kentucky, taught by Dr. Bruce Ware. In a few weeks, we would be sent out from our church family in order to plant a church in Papua New Guinea. As we listened to the Scripture being read from Acts 17:24-25, we were struck anew with the fact that mission work is not a sacrifice or even a service as men tend to think of it. It is the privilege of gathering worshippers for the glory of God! “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything.” Our wonderfully huge and glorious God, who could send out his message of grace in any way, shape, or form of his choice, has chosen to spread his written Word through the mouths of sinful, yet redeemed men. Each of us has the magnificent pleasure, privilege, and opportunity every day to be a conduit of his gracious salvation to those who are still living separated from their Creator. Amazing! What follows is a brief account of the part that God has given our family the privilege to play in his story.
Papua New Guinea since 2003
In 2001 our two sending churches began to seriously pray about the work that we were to be sent out to do. They prayed faithfully for our training, for our future co-workers, and for the future church plant. Individual families met together for special prayer times each month to lift us up before the Father. We know that this is the strong base that our present ministry is built on and we love that we are not here alone. We are simply ambassadors, the “sent ones,” who are representing a far larger body and a far larger vision of reaching the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It was September, 2003 when we first stepped off the plane with our two daughters, Madison (7 years) and Sabra (5 years), into the humid tropical air of Madang, a town in the country of Papua New Guinea. The country itself is a third world country, occupying half of the large island right above Australia. There are approximately 860 indigenous languages (over one tenth of the world’s total). Our destination, Madang, was a beautiful coastal town. The air and the people were friendly and right away we rented an apartment in town about two miles from the market and settled into learning the national Tok Pisin language. We spent six months learning the language and studying the culture. We teamed up with two other families, the Moores and the Zieglers, in order to start surveying interior villages for allocation. We were excited, looking for one of the 700 or so unwritten languages to work with. The plan was to find a hard-to-reach place that was receptive to our presence, allocate our three families to that village, and then live among them following the incarnational example of Christ. We would learn their language, write the orthography for it, begin literacy classes, work on translation and Bible lessons, and then finally present the gospel of Jesus Christ in their own vernacular. It was a radical church-planting strategy, but we knew we were working alongside a very radical God. We had a human plan based on strategy, biblical principles, and reasoning of course, but it was more than that. It was his plan. It was his commission – his very Great Commission. It was our sheer delight to be part of it.
Beginning in 2004, we made plans with great expectations. The three men were in charge of the survey and the ladies stayed at home and prayed for wisdom and direction for the men. Our mission aviation Cessna pilots first helped us find a fairly untouched area via an aerial pass. Next time around, the helicopter pilot took the men in, checking out the temperature towards outsiders and gathering more information at each stop. Then, through a 10-day hike on foot, the Lord narrowed the path down to the Middle Ramu Valley of Papua New Guinea—to a language group called Inapang and to a village called Itutang. The village was only accessible via helicopter or by foot. Our favorite team saying is, “Hard to reach places are hard to reach!”
The Inapang people group consists of about 3,500 souls. They are hunters and gatherers and live in nine separate villages each about an hour hike from the next. The villages are situated in a wide circle encompassing a large marshy swamp. The village of Itutang, where we live, has 400 souls. They had a small church that a traveling priest had started forty years ago. At least once a year someone from the affiliation traveled through, spoke to them in the national language, baptized their babies, gave them proper names to replace their “heathen” names, and then Itutang was checked off for another year. In the ten days of survey it became very evident to the men that this was a place in need of the gospel of Jesus Christ in their heart language. Through their darkness and their animistic thinking, they looked at our white skins and believed us to be dead ancestors come back to show them the road to the wealth of the western world. Due to our prior studies of the country already, we expected this, but now we were seeing it first hand. So, as the men met with the village leaders and asked for permission to come and live among them, the people were eager for a plethora of reasons, both known and unknown, to take us in. We were on the lofty heights as our team prayed with much excitement and then watched God answer those early prayers as we allocated to the village and made our homes in Itutang.
Moving day came and went and the reality of it all began to settle in. House building itself became a tool for the Lord to chisel away at the weakness of our hearts. Day after day of “slabbing” lumber and putting it up piece by piece finally culminated in a house we would call home. We chose to slab with chainsaws not because it was ten times more difficult than having the helicopter drop some lumber for us, but because we wanted to work with the people, sweat with them, build with them, and live with them. Reality knocked again and we realized anew that we had just moved our two little precious girls into the jungle swamp, which seemed to be the official breeding ground for the entire world population of malaria-carrying mosquitoes. But that is where the people were. The sights and sounds of our new home accentuated this wonderful, but rare experience. Those first months every unknown species of spider and beetle seemed to make its way to our home for introductions. More than anything else, we wanted to be able to clearly communicate Christ’s saving message to them one day. This was the goal that we kept in mind as we battled our fears and anxieties and attempted to learn this new unwritten language. One good day of language learning would be followed by three bad days of trial and error. We would try to introduce ourselves to the villagers but instead said things like, “I am a tree.” And, while this provided much humor for the villagers, it wore on our souls. We would take the inner turmoil and put it in our Father’s hands knowing that we were the living epistles until the Scriptures could be translated.
Striking heat offset by oozing mud tried to muffle our attempts to be “out” where they were. Their gardens were hot, open to the scorching sun as they burned them to make the ground ready during dry season. During rainy season, the torrential rains would run along the trails turning them into slippery paths. God, by his grace, strengthened us to enter their lives and really become part of their village. In every valley, he lifted our eyes up to the hills of his glory. Through every trough, he moved our faithful senders to pray and write words of encouragement to us and then to pray some more. He held us there with the vision of himself coming to free his children who were being held captive and yet were still totally oblivious to their state of captivity to the enemy. We could not have done what he asked us to do here, but he was doing it through us.
Through daily dependence on the Word of God we found his strength enough for each day’s challenges. Language was learned, orthography was written, Bible translation and Bibles lessons for the creation-to-Christ teaching were prepared, and the first day of teaching was set. The teaching was to be over a four-month period. We would teach every morning from 7:30 – 8:30, Monday through Friday. The village built an airy open house with large posts and a palm frond roof for meeting. We hung up a long beaded timeline. Each 1/4” bead represented a year since the beginning of the world. The entire timeline was 50 yards long! The villagers helped put it up and then we marked the year 2007 on it. Then we marked the approximate birth date of the oldest man in the village, Awarankar, who was the last of the Itutang cannibals! Next, we asked him how far back he could remember and marked that date on the timeline as well. The entire span of knowledge of the world in this village measured 18 inches. The people’s history was filled with myths and animistic stories, passed down from their ancestors, of crocodiles and birds that married and gave birth to humans. The people shook their heads in disbelief when we told them that we were going to go all the way back to the very beginning before the very first bead on the timeline and tell them the whole story. We said we knew this story because God himself had written it for us. We told them that we were here because they were part of God’s story. Anticipation was in the air.
2007: The Lord Saves
The first day of teaching arrived and we met as a team to pray. We then headed from the open area of our hamlet into the narrow trail that leads through the village down to the meeting place. As we came upon the trail, something amazing happened. There on the trail was a dead snake. It’s not so amazing to see a dead snake, but usually when one is seen in the village, it is hacked into little piece and thrown off the trail. Whoever had killed this snake had left it whole on the trail with only its head smashed. All of us just sat there for a moment and stared as we thought back to the very first story of mankind. The creation, the deceit of Satan, the fall of man, the curses that we still live with every day . . . and the hope, the hope that we came to proclaim, “He shall bruise your head.” Thousands of years later in this little hamlet, we were strengthened as we realized afresh the faithfulness and the holiness of Christ, that he has indeed defeated Satan at the cross . . . and that even though they were still completely unaware of their need for it, he was about to offer his gracious salvation to this little village called Itutang.
The people sat for four months, rain and shine, every day listening like little children. They heard about an eternal God and his eternal plan. They heard about the gracious Creator who made the place called Eden and how he, the Giver of Life, breathed his Life into Adam. They heard about how God made Eve and the entire universe, all of which was good in God’s sight. They heard about God’s command not to eat of the tree, as well as the unbelief and disobedience of both the man and his wife. They heard about the curse and they felt the pains of it sharply as they contemplated their own hard lives of gardening and gathering food and their endless struggle with working the land and bearing children in this remote area. But, they also heard the hope of the gospel. They learned that there is a deliverer coming. He is coming.
It was almost as if the villagers were living the story again. They were hanging on every word. When we taught about the Passover story in Exodus, we had a man come and take the red paint left behind from the drama that we had done in that morning’s lesson and paint his own door. When we talked about the sin sacrifices that were offered in the Old Testament, my friend Mbarabensem came to me with her huge worry: “We are so sinful. We sin against this Creator God every day. I am so worried because we don’t do these sacrifices and we never will be able to. We don’t have animals to offer. There are no sheep or goats or anything like that here and if we did have them, we would need so many! What are we going to do?” We told her that there was more to the story and that at the end, she would understand. “Just be patient and listen all the way to the end,” we told her. As the story moved toward the climactic ending, they heard about God’s very own Son, the perfect God-man who came to live among us. They heard the story of his life, his victory over disobedience. They fell in love with this Son of God who lived a sinless life while living among the poor and disabled. They heard the story of his death and his victory over sin. Their eyes were opened to the end of blood sacrifices when they saw the drama of the cross. The balloon filled with red dye was pierced under a white cloth and a perfect God-man’s blood spilled out once and for all. And, they heard the story of his resurrection, victorious over death. He is alive! He didn’t stay in the grave. He completely drank the cup of our Creator’s wrath and was granted to sit down at the Father’s right hand, having completed the eternal task perfectly. At the climax of our gospel presentation we witnessed God transfer Itutang souls from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. The Itutang church was born!
As with any new birth, when the labor subsides and you hold the beautiful newborn in your arms, the work has just begun. And so it is with the Church. We had a village full of newborns, but they needed spiritual food. Thankfully, many of the adults were now literate. We printed all the translation portions that we had on hand and kept writing. Bible lessons, library books with Bible stories—anything we could think of we used. At the same time, we were working strongly on the translation process. We reviewed the Creation-to-Christ teaching again from the new viewpoint of being children of God, secure in His arms, and then we moved on to Acts. The translation stayed just ahead of the Bible lessons and each week they were printed for the people. This work has continued even today as we follow a teaching plan that provides a firm foundation and overview of the themes of the New Testament. After learning from the book of Acts, the Itutang church was taught the books of Romans, Ephesians, 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, and Titus. The church is now studying the books of 1-2 Thessalonians and Revelation before going back to review the gospel. Next, the church will study the remainder of the New Testament epistles.
Translating the Scriptures and Discipling Believers
Since the first presentation of the gospel, three new village churches have been planted from our Itutang home church and there are two new outreaches planned for this coming year. We are also planning on crossing the language barrier of the neighboring language group called Tanguat in the next year. Some from the Itutang church will go and live among the Tanguat people. They invited another western missionary family to come and join them and assist them in the area of translation. The Lanier family has now moved into the village and they are in the midst of learning the language and culture of the Tanguat people, working underneath the Itutang church to help reach this new language group. The Itutang church is growing and has been blessed with the good gifts that God promises to every body of believers. The Lord has given us village literacy advisors who plan and oversee the literacy programs in six different village schools. He has given us village translation editors who can spot spelling and grammar mistakes and can touch-type and track changes for us as they edit. He has given us capable Bible teachers who teach in the power of his Spirit. He has given us wise men who are leaders in the community, settling village disagreements according to the biblical standards of his Word. He has even given us women who lead other women. He has also given us men and women who are eager to learn. Some are enrolled in the touch-typing course here at the village Resource Center. Some teach the basics of women’s health issues. Some buy and sell goods to the community. Some organize groups to cut gardens for teachers. These ministries have developed over the years as we sit and learn together what it really means to live as a community under the Word of God. The school for this learning has been community disagreements, family struggles, and outside harassment from other villages. All of these challenges are the things that drive us as a body to the Word for answers. He is teaching us, as a community, how live day by day in submission to his Word. He is teaching us to live among each other as he lived among us as God incarnate. And, we still have a long way to go.
We know one thing clearly: doing this work is no sacrifice and there are no regrets. Would one regret giving up a large bag of sand in return for a small bag of gold dust? No, this job is a privilege. We are just as sure as Mordecai was when he spoke to Esther, saying, “If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place.” There was no doubt in his mind that deliverance was coming, it was only a matter of “through whom.” Who would be his conduit? Would Esther embrace the task and get to play a part? God is sovereign and he is the eternal God. He offers his children, you and I, the privilege of working hand-in-hand with him in completing his plan which he set in place before the beginning of time. His Son, Christ Jesus, will build his Church. He will have his own children from every tongue, tribe, and nation just as he has written. He will bring us into eternity with great rejoicing. It is our belief that he has planned it and that he will do it—that he is doing it right now. It is that belief which opens the door to a correct view of missions. A sovereign and perfect God has graciously chosen to use imperfect and needy conduits to pass his saving message on from one generation to the next and bring his children home as worshippers. It is a gracious privilege and it is there waiting to be embraced every day by every saint. He is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything. Embrace the task today and live radically for Christ!
Ngote sugum mpega anin pam ambui pu, anin ande ge ze be apesin.
(By God’s Grace and For His Glory)
Bill, Kelley, Madison, and Sabra Housley
Did you enjoy this article? Read others like it today in the March issue of Credo Magazine, “Make Disciples of All Nations.”
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) These words, spoken by Jesus after his resurrection, are famously known as The Great Commission. As disciples of Christ, it is our great joy to go and tell the nations about the good news of salvation for sinners through Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. The March issue of Credo Magazine will seek to ignite a passion for missions. And what better timing as this year marks the 200th anniversary of Adoniram and Ann Judson setting sail aboard the Caravan with to take the gospel to Burma. Contributors include: Ted Kluck, Jason Duesing, Nathan Finn, the Housley Family (missionaries in Papua New Guinea), Kenneth Stewart, Brian Vickers, David VanDrunen, Matt Williams, and many others.