Last year, we had a pretty untraditional Christmas Day. After only 7 weeks in the village (we returned from South Africa in October) we ended up being evacuated on Christmas Day due to violence in our mountain range.  Though the gang terrorising a nearby valley have remained active even to this day they did not extend their reign of terror to our language group. So after 7 weeks in town we returned to our village home. (This included a week in Ukarumpa for Elna and Calista to get x-rays of Calista’s injured foot.) We then spent 3 months in Mawerero, re-establishing the reading class, teaching, discipling, building friendships… In May we headed back down to Madang town for a 7 week period. Our aim at this point was to allow our head of security to go home to his family for a while and oversee some work at the FinisTerre base in Madang. In July we went home. This time we spent a very busy 5 weeks in Mawerero. The highlights of this time were the Canns returning from their furlough, and the graduation celebration of the fourth nDo literacy class. In August we left PNG for a 3 month working trip to the US and Australia – Ryan was invited to speak at Countryside Bible Church’s Missions Focus Week. We had not seen any of our US supporting churches for 5 years, so we planned a three month trip through the US – jam-packed full of speaking engagements for Ryan and Elna and meetings to report back on our ministry. We had an amazing, busy time encouraging and being encouraged. We are so thankful for all the people who ‘hold the rope’ for us! 

Kind of strange seeing the Mitchells dressed up and without a jungle in the background…

This trip was cut short – In September, a huge earthquake (7.6 on the Richter scale) shook our mountain range. Both missionary houses came crashing to the ground. The Lord protected the Cann family, and they were able to get out of their house before it fell. He also spared the rest of our village – only three houses got destroyed, and there were no serious injuries. Both missionary houses are damaged to such an extent that they are uninhabitable, unsafe and need to be torn down. Thankfully, much building material can be salvaged and there was very limited damage to our personal belongings.  

We cut our trip short to join the Canns in Madang. Three months became 2, and we headed back to PNG in October. It is now just over 10 weeks later. In the last ten weeks Ryan has made two trips to Mawerero. The first was a 5 day visit with the Cann family to reestablish contact with the village, secure the houses, and salvage personal belongings. The second time he went by himself to remove more of our belongings that he’d packed and prepared during the first trip. 

Using the earthquake and the destruction of our home, God provided a need and an opportunity for us to assess our ministry and adjust our goals. After much prayer and many long conversations we have decided not to rebuild our village house. The main reason for this is timing. Our children are getting closer to their final school years, and even before the earthquake we were planning on transitioning out of permanent village living by latest the end of 2026. That would give us 4 years, of which one would likely be spent rebuilding and one on furlough. So if we did rebuild, we would probably spend only 2 years living in the new house. So while we love our village friends, the small group of believers in Mawerero and the Canns, we have decided not to rebuild.

We believe the Biblical aim of missions is the the establishment of strong, mature, Christ-honouring churches. We are moving away from being those at the tip of the spear, planting churches in hard-to-reach villages. We  are excited about shifting our focus to providing the training and support needed to grow the church in Madang province. Our new short-term (6-9 months) goals are:

  1. Ryan is heading up the tear-down operation in Mawerero. Both houses are not structurally sound and need to be deconstructed. The current plan is to start with internal tear-down (salvaging cabinetry, electrical wiring etc.) during a village trip at the end of January / early February. We also plan on helping with building of an office and a new home for the Canns.
  2. Ryan and Elna will both continue working on resource development and translation. Ryan is writing material on baptism, communion and other key doctrines that need to be covered in Mawerero soon. Elna is translating Biblical Counselling material. Both of them are working in Tok Pisin.
  3. Investigating what ministry in Madang could look like in future. Ryan is interested in getting involved in a revision of the Tok Pisin Bible. There is also a great need for training in exposition, preaching and Biblical Counselling. Any resources we develop in Tok Pisin will be of benefit for the believers in Mawerero and throughout Madang.
  4. God willing, the Twombly family will be moving to Madang at the end of March 2023. Bryan will head up team Madang. While they are preparing to come, we are making lots of long phone calls to get to know Bryan and Kerra. One of our goals is getting to know the Twomblys and working with them to assess ministry needs in town, and determining if our two families can work together as a team more long-term.  

In 2021, we had a 15 minute Christmas Eve celebration, and spent the rest of the evening packing. On Christmas Day we evacuated to Madang, listened to a sermon as a family and had our Christmas meal at a restaurant. This year we had a much more traditional Christmas.  We have been enjoying many home-cooked meals over the last few days, and watched “The Nativity Story” for movie night on Friday with Ian, the Millers and the Canns. Our Christmas Eve was spent relaxing, eating more and exchanging gifts. On Christmas Day, Ryan preached at EBC – the church was packed, as people from all their smaller outlying congregations joined us. And instead of a little table with just the four of us like last year, we celebrated our Lord’s birth with 12 people around a big table, talking, laughing and enjoying way too much home-cooked food – and the best dessert ever!

As we think about the year and all its ups and downs, unplanned trips and fun surprises, changes to flights, interruptions, unforeseen challenges and unimagined blessings, we can only marvel at our great God. The same God who humbled Himself to the point of becoming a helpless babe has sustained us throughout the year. The same God who emptied Himself out, even to the point of dying on a cross to provide a sacrifice so that we might live has remained our reason for living. 

In Ecclesiastes 7:14 we read, “On the day of prosperity be happy, but on the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other so that a person will not discover anything that will come after him.” 

Indeed, we do not know what will come. But our great God knows. And He has shown Himself faithful to guide and sustain us. May we all love and worship Him all the more!